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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?

     At three in the morning on August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, saw a light under the movie star's bedroom door. After knocking and getting no response, Murray called Monroe's psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. The doctor arrived at the Brentwood, California hacienda shortly after being summoned and upon entering the bedroom found the 36-year-old actress dead. Following a considerable passage of time, Dr. Greenson called the Los Angeles Police. (Before alerting the authorities, Monroe's psychiatrist phoned Peter Lawford, an actor friend of Monroe's who rushed to the scene. Peter Lawford happened to be President John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law. Lawford was also rumored to have fixed the president up with Monroe.)

     The first detective didn't arrive at the scene until 4:30 that morning. Based on the state of Monroe's rigor mortis (postmortem body stiffening), the officer estimated the time of her death to be 12:30 AM, give or take an hour. In the bedroom the detective found 15 bottles of prescription drugs and an empty bottle of champagne. The scene was never processed for latent fingerprints.

     Because of the delay between the time of death and the arrival of the police, valuable evidence from the bedroom and the house could have been removed and destroyed. For example, Monroe was known to have kept a diary. Had she been sexually involved with President Kennedy and later with his brother Robert, the U.S. Attorney General, her journal might have contained revealing and embarrassing information related to, among other things, a motive for  her murder. The diary was never recovered. Monroe's phone records also turned up missing. Regardless of how Marilyn Monroe died, the case had all the earmarks of a cover-up.

     Five or six hours after Marilyn Monroe's sudden and unexplained death, her body was turned over to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office for autopsy. The so-called "Coroner to the Stars," Dr. Thomas Noguchi, performed the autopsy. According to all accounts, he did a thorough job which included a careful examination of Monroe's body for signs that she had been injected with something toxic. The forensic pathologist did not find any evidence of foul play.

     A toxicology test of Monroe's blood revealed high levels of Nembutal (38-66 capsules) and chloral hydrate (14-23 tablets). Based on Monroe's autopsy, the apparent circumstances surrounding the death, and the toxicology report, Dr. Noguchi ruled her death a "possible suicide."

     The medico-legal examination of the corpse, however, was not complete. Because the samples had been "lost," there was no toxicological analysis of Monroe's stomach and intestine contents.

     In 1982, twenty years after Marilyn Monroe's death, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office reviewed the case and issued a report. The cold case investigators, aware of the flaws and problems with the initial inquiry, concluded that Monroe had probably died of an accidental overdose. However, not everyone, then and now, ruled out the possibility of homicide. Perhaps the most popular theory of murder, and the motive behind it, involved keeping Monroe from spilling the beans about her affairs with the Kennedy brothers. The well known forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, publicly expressed his opinion that Monroe could have been injected with a toxic substance.

     In 2011, the Associated Press, anticipating the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death on August 5, 1962, attempted under the Freedom of Information Act to acquire the FBI's voluminous file on Marilyn Monroe.

     J. Edgar Hoover, as part of his war against domestic communism, monitored the activities of hundreds of novelists, actors, musicians, screenwriters, sports figures and politicians. In 1955, the bureau opened an on-going intelligence file on Marilyn Monroe. Agents kept track of where she went, what she did and who she associated with. FBI investigators conducted hundreds of confidential interviews of people who knew the actress. None of this information was made public.

     Nine months after its request for the Monroe FBI file, the bureau replied that the agency no longer possessed this material. The Associated Press then requested the files from the National Archives which also denied possession of the Monroe data.

     In January 2013, the FBI finally released its file on Marilyn Monroe. Heavily redacted, most of the information focused on Monroe's travels and associations with people suspected of being communists. There was no proof that Monroe was herself a communist, and no information that added insight into the manner of her death.

Monday, March 27, 2023

The High-Profile Sanford Rubenstein Rape Allegation

     On October 1, 2014, prominent Manhattan, New York defense attorney Sanford A. Rubenstein attended civil rights activist Al Sharpton's 60th birthday party at the Four Seasons restaurant. Following the gala affair, two female party attendees accompanied Rubenstein back to his penthouse apartment. One of these women, Iasha Rivers, sat on the board of Sharpton's civil rights organization The National Action Network.

     The 43-year-old board member's companion left the Rubenstein apartment sometime after midnight. Iasha Rivers, however, decided to spend the night with the rich lawyer. The next morning, Mr. Rubenstein's driver took her home.

     Iasha Rivers, 36-hours after being driven home from Rubenstein's penthouse, went to a hospital with bruises on her arms and vaginal bleeding. To hospital personnel, and later the police, she claimed that Sanford Rubenstein had drugged and raped her that night.

     In her police complaint, Iasha Rivers said that after her party companion left the penthouse, she began to feel "foggy" then lost consciousness. According to her account of that night, when she awoke, Mr. Rubenstein had her arms pinned and was raping her.

     The rape allegation against Mr. Rubenstein led to a three-month investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. On January 5, 2015, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance announced that after his investigators questioned dozens of witnesses, reviewed medical records, looked at surveillance camera footage, and considered toxicology results, he didn't have enough evidence to support a criminal charge against Mr. Rubenstein.

     In justifying his decision not proceed with this case, prosecutor Vance said that a toxicology test of the alleged victim's blood failed to show the presence of anything other than traces of alcohol and marijuana.

     Benjamin Brafman, Mr. Rubenstein's attorney, said this following the district attorney's announcement: "What happened in this case was consensual sex between two adults who were fully alert and fully awake throughout."

     Kenneth J. Montgomery, Iasha River's attorney, in calling the district attorney's office investigation "incredibly inept," accused investigators of ignoring evidence such as his client's bruised arms and a bloody condom that had been recovered from Rubenstein's apartment. The attorney criticized the district attorney for not presenting the case to a grand jury.

     In questioning the results of the toxicology test, Mr. Montgomery pointed out that his client did not use marijuana. "I think," he said, "they never wanted to pursue this case from the very beginning." The lawyer also announced that he had just filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Rubenstein on behalf of his client.

     Mr. Brafman, speaking for his client, Mr. Rubenstein, said, "Rape is undoubtedly a serious offense; to falsely accuse someone of rape, however, is equally offensive."

     On January 6, 2015, the day following District Attorney Vance's announcement, The New York Daily News, citing a source within the NYPD, reported that officers had found, in Rubenstein's penthouse, a prescription for Viagra issued in Al Sharpton's name.

     Al Sharpton responded quickly to the tabloid's Viagra story. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "No, I don't know anything about that." According to the civil rights leader, this Daily News reportage was nothing more than a New York City police conspiracy to embarrass him. "If the motive of the cop was to embarrass me, at sixty years old, I am unembarassable."

     Rank and file New York City police officers had been offended by what they considered Al Sharpton's anti-cop rhetoric in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. Sharpton was considered by many to be an unrepentant race-baiter who used his clout in the black community to extort money from corporations afraid of being labeled as racist. It was not a stretch of the imagination to believe that New York City police officers would want nothing better than to embarrass this man. Al Sharpton's claim that he could not be embarrassed, based upon the history of his career, had the ring of truth.

     In March 2016, the attorney for Iasha Rivers and the attorney for Rubenstein quietly agreed to drop their clients' lawsuits against each other.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

One English Teacher's Version of "Show, Don't Tell"

     To fill the one-day absence of a high school English teacher, the principal of Options Public Charter School in the Capitol Hill section of Washington, D.C. arranged for a substitute through the Delaware based company SOS Personnel. On Friday October 17, 2014, a 22-year-old substitute from Fort Washington, Maryland named Symone Greene reported for duty at the D.C. charter school.

     During her first English class, Green flirted with a 17-year-old 11th-grade football player who helped out in the classroom passing out papers and retrieving supplies. Near the end of the class period the student gave the teacher his cellphone number. Over the next few hours the substitute teacher and the football player exchanged flirty, sexually-oriented messages. At one point the teen asked Greene if she considered herself "kinky." Her reply: "I don't tell, I show."

     When the 11th-grader returned to Green's classroom at three-thirty that afternoon, they were alone. The other students and teachers were attending a pep rally in anticipation of a football game that night.

     The student, encouraged by the earlier flirting, asked the substitute teacher if she would be willing to perform a number of sexual acts. The boy's request led to various sexual acts performed by the teacher behind the classroom desk. Greene didn't know it, but her young sexual partner secretly videoed the encounter on his cellphone.

     It's not surprising that the student almost immediately showed what he had recorded behind the desk to his teammates. The next day several more people viewed the videoed classroom encounter online.

     During the weekend following the publicized incident, Green and the boy continued to exchange text messages. He asked, "When u trying to see me again?" She replied, "Oo. u gona get me in trouble. Chill. We gotta be slick with it."

     On Monday October 20, 2014, a faculty member who viewed the sex video online reported it to a school administrator. The staff member called the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Child and Family Services agency.

     After a detective telephoned Symone Greene to arrange an interview, she, apparently unaware of the video, texted the student and instructed him to tell the police that she "only helped him with his resume." She wanted him to say that "nothing else happened while we were in the classroom together."

   At the detective's urging, the student sent Green a text to which she angrily responded: "Omg…Don't talk to me ever again. I'm bout to be put in jail…This can ruin my whole life…Why couldn't u just keep it to urself?"

     On October 21, 2014, the Tuesday following the sexual encounter in Options Public Charter School room 266, officers with the Metropolitan Police Department arrested Symone Greene on the felony charge of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor. While the age of sexual consent in the District of Columbia was 16, that defense didn't apply in student-teacher encounters. 

     After the defendant pleaded not guilty to the sex charge, the judge released her from custody. Until the case was resolved, Green was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

     In July 2015, Greene pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of obstruction of justice. Judge Rhonda Reid Winston sentenced her to three years of probation. 

     Perhaps female secondary educations majors should be required to take a sex education course featuring how teenage boys behave after having sex with a teacher. For one thing, they all kiss and tell. In other words, they literally talk out of school. Moreover, some of them record their teacher sexual adventures. These education courses could be enlivened with dozens of recent case histories. And finally, a secondary education major assigned a research project might investigate why so many of the women who engage in sex with their students teach English.   

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Christopher Dorner: An Ex-LAPD Officer's Spree of Murderous Revenge

     On Sunday night, February 3, 2013, a woman walking to her car in an Irvine, California condo parking structure discovered the bodies of a couple in their twenties slumped in the front seat of a white Kia. The victims, each shot more than once in the head from close range, were identified as Keith Lawrence and his fiancee Monica Quan. The pair had met at Concordia University where they were basketball stars. Lawrence was employed as a public security officer on the campus of the University of Southern California. Monica Quan, for the past two seasons, was an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of California Fullerton.

     The double murder, occurring in one of America's safest cities, baffled detectives who couldn't figure who would want to kill this couple.

     At a press conference held on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, Irvine Chief of Police David Maggard announced that his detectives had identified a suspect in the double murder. The suspect, 33-year-old Christopher Dorner, was still at large, his whereabouts unknown. In January 2009, Dorner had been fired from the LAPD. The attorney who represented him before the Board of Rights Tribunal and had handled his appeal of the board's ruling of dismissal in October 2011 was Monica Quan's father, Randal Quan. (Captain Quan, after retiring from the LAPD in 2002, began practicing law.)

     Chief Maggard identified, as a key piece of evidence linking Christopher Dorner to the Lawrence/Quan murders, a 11,300-word, 20-page "manifesto" the Naval Reservist and ex-cop had posted on his Facebook page. Addressed to "America," and titled "Last Resort," Mr. Dorner outlined a plan and rationale for murdering everyone associated with his 2009 dismissal from the LAPD. (Officer Dorner had accused a fellow officer of excessive force in the arrest of a schizophrenic man. An internal investigation revealed that Dorner had made false statements in the case. For that reason he was fired.)

     In his manifesto, Christopher Dorner made specific reference to his former attorney, Randal Quan. He wrote: "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, so I am terminating yours." In the rambling document, Dorner accused Randal Quan of suppressing evidence that would have exonerated him.

     In reference to his intended victims in general, Dorner wrote: I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether off or on duty. You will now live the life of a prey. Whatever pre-planned responses you have established for a scenario like me, shelve it. The violence of action will be high. There will be an element of surprise where you work, live, and sleep...I know I will be vilified by the LAPD and the media. Unfortunately this was a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name...Self preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago on January 2, 2009. I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people."

     One doesn't have to be a forensic psychiatrist to interpret Dorner's manifesto as the deluded, grandiose ravings of an angry, revenge-seeking man suffering from serious mental illness. In this document he came off as the proverbial ticking time-bomb.

     Later on the day of Chief Maggard's press conference, Christopher Dorner was in San Diego where he tried to steal a boat. As he drove to Corona, California 60 miles east of Los Angeles, he tossed his wallet out the window of his vehicle. At 1:25 the next morning, he shot at two Corona police officers who were working a security detail. A bullet from Dorner's rifle grazed one of the officers who could not pursue Dorner because other bullets had disabled their patrol car.

      At 1:45 Thursday, February 7, 2013, in the neighboring town of Riverside, Dorner pulled up alongside a patrol car in his 2005 Nissan Titan pickup. The police car was stopped at a traffic light. Dorner opened fire on the unsuspecting officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The suspect, described as a black man with a shaved head, sped from the scene.

     Los Angeles detectives in Torrance, California, early Thursday morning, shot at a pickup truck they believed was driven by the fugitive. In fact, the vehicle was occupied by 71-year-old Emma Hernandez and her 47-year-old daughter Margie Carranza. Mother and daughter were delivering the Los Angeles Times. Emma Hernandez was shot twice in the back and was listed in stable condition. Margie Carranza was treated at a nearby hospital for injuries to her finger and released. 

     The U.S. Marshals Service and 10,000 police officers launched a manhunt for Christopher Dorner that extended from California to Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. His last known address was in La Palma, California in northern Orange County not far from Fullerton.

     On Thursday evening, February 7, 2013, the manhunt centered in Big Bear Lake country 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles where schools and ski resorts were shut down. SWAT teams, officers with bloodhounds and other law enforcement searchers were in the area after the discovery of Dorner's burned-out pickup trick. The area was also being searched from the air. Back in Los Angeles, every station house was locked-down and under armed guard.

      On February 9, 2013 searchers found Christopher Dorner's charred remains inside a burned cabin not far from his pickup truck.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Derek Medina: The Facebook Wife Killer

     After dating a few months in late 2009, Derek Medina and Jennifer Alfonso got married. Because he was the jealous type and extremely controlling, they frequently fought. Early in 2012 Jennifer had enough. They divorced, but a few months later, after Medina talked her into it, they remarried. For Jennifer this turned out to be a terrible mistake.

     In 2013, the 31-year-old Medina and his 26-year-old wife lived with her ten-year-old daughter from a previous relationship in a townhouse in South Miami, Florida. She worked as a server at a nearby Denny's Restaurant. He had a job as a property manager at a Coral Gables condo, the most recent of his string of short-term employments.

      Derek Medina had self-published six online books with rambling nonsensical titles like, How a Judgmental and Selfish Attitude is Destroying the World We Live Because the World is Vanishing Our Eyes. He had also written a book about one of his passions--ghost hunting. Medina had dedicated his most recent work--How I Save Someone's Life and Marriage and Family Problems Thru Communication--to his wife Jennifer.

     In addition to being a prolific writer, with 143 videos featuring himself on YouTube and Facebook, Median fancied himself a public person. As an extra on some TV drama, he had gotten a taste of the entertainment world. On YouTube, his handful of fans could see him hitting golf balls, playing pick-up basketball, showing off his tattoos, riding in a boat and having a drink poolside with his wife. Derek Medina was a poster-boy for cheesy narcissism where everyone is an aspiring celebrity.

     On the morning of August 1, 2013, Medina, on his Facebook page, published a disturbing photograph of his bloodied wife lying dead on a linoleum floor. In the message accompanying the death scene photograph, Medina wrote: "I'm going to prison or [getting the] death sentence for killing my wife. My wife was punching me and I'm not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did. Hope you understand me. Love you guys. Miss you guys. Take care Facebook people. You'll see me in the news."

     At noon on the day he shot and killed his wife, Medina walked into a South Miami police station and informed officers that he had shot her to death. He told homicide detectives that Jennifer had threatened to leave him which led to a heated argument. According to Medina's account of the killing, he grabbed his pistol from a closet on the second floor and pointed it at Jennifer who had followed him up the stairs. After he put the pistol back into the closet, the couple returned to the kitchen where she took possession of a knife. He wrestled the knife out of her hand, but the fight continued with her punching and kicking him. Media told the detectives he walked upstairs, retrieved the gun, then shot his wife to death in the kitchen. At the time of the killing, the victim's daughter was in a second-floor bedroom.

     After killing his wife, Median changed his clothes and drove to his parents' house. He left the little girl behind with her dead mother. He did not call 911, but posted the photograph of Jennifer's corpse and the accompanying message on Facebook before turning himself into the authorities. He wanted his Facebook fans to be the first to know what he had done.

     Later that afternoon police officers with the South Miami Police Department, armed with a search warrant entered the townhouse where they found the victim and the 10-year-old girl. At the request of the police, Facebook personnel removed the death scene photograph from the site. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Derek Medina with first-degree murder.

     Jennifer Alfonso's former boss at Denny's told a reporter that Media was so jealous he didn't want his wife working at night, or even to talk to other people on the telephone. Every time she threatened to leave him and they fought, he'd beg her forgiveness and promised to change. The former boss said that after one of their fights, she would come to the restaurant "bruised up."

     An Amazon.com reviewer posted the following comment regarding Medina's 42-page book on how he had saved a marriage: "Medina hits the bulls' eye with this definitive guide to marriage. He pulls no punches as he gives out advice to die for. Don't waste time and grab a copy at this killer price, as we are sure to hear more about this rising star in the news..."

     The local magistrate denied Derek Medina bond.

     In November 2015, following a short trial in which Medina did not testify on his own behalf, the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. On February 5, 2016, the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Nicholas Helman Ricin Case: Beware of the Jilted Nerd

     In 2013, 19-year-old Nicholas Helman lived with his mother in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a town of 8,000 in Montgomery County within the Philadelphia metropolitan area. One of the young man's neighbors in the Eleanor Courts apartment complex described Nicholas as the kid you went to school with for twelve years but don't remember.

     Helman, a quiet, unassuming Eagle Scout, worked at the Target store in Warrington, Pennsylvania. He also spent a lot of time searching for geocaches--objects that were hidden and could be found through GPS coordinates posted on the Internet. Casual acquaintances thought that Helman was much younger than nineteen.

     In the summer of 2013, Helman met a young woman his age at an Eagle Scout picnic. They began dating and he fell in love. When she left him for another man in November 2013 the devastated Helman began sending threatening emails to the new boyfriend. When the object of his wrath brushed off his threats, Helman decided to poison his competitor to death. This was not behavior befitting an Eagle Scout.

     On March 7, 2014, Helman confided to a fellow Target employee that he had just placed an envelope in his rival's mailbox that contained a scratch-and-sniff birthday card laced with ricin, a deadly poison. (Ricin is a protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal.) Helman bragged to his confidant that anyone who came into contact with his ricin would be dead in a few days.

     Helman identified his poison target as his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, a man who lived in Warminster, a Bucks County town 40 miles north of Philadelphia. The shocked employee wasted no time in calling the police.

     Police officers, on the day Helman confided in his fellow worker, went to the Eleanor Courts apartment complex to question the suspect. Upon their arrival they arrested Helman as he tried to sneak off carrying a backpack and a piece of luggage.

     Under police questioning Mr. Helman admitted that he had placed an envelope containing a birthday card in his rival's mailbox. He said his intent was to scare his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, not to hurt him. He was motivated by the desire to get the girl back. Helman claimed that the birthday card was harmless.

     Police officers found, in Helman's backpack, a white bottle labeled "sodium hydroxide" that contained a crystal-like powder. The suspect also possessed a recipe in a notebook that listed ingredients such as caster beans, sodium hydroxide, mixing materials and other substances.

     Investigators telephoned the poison target's residence and spoke to his mother who said her daughter had just left the house to fetch the mail. The police caller instructed the mother to put the mail back into the box and wait for the police.

     Nicholas Helman was taken into custody and booked into the Montgomery County Jail on the charge of harassment. Shortly after the hazardous materials team retrieved the plain white envelope without a stamp, address, or return address, Helman posted his $50,000 bond and was released from custody.

     After toxicological testing confirmed that the birthday card contained ricin, a Bucks County prosecutor charged Nicholas Helman with attempted first-degree murder. On March 19, 2014, FBI agents and local police officers, backed up by a SWAT team, surrounded the Helman apartment. Following a two-hour standoff, the suspect surrendered to the authorities. A judge denied Helman bail pending a psychiatric evaluation.

     The next day, police officers found a stash of ricin tucked under a gas manhole cover in Hatboro not far from Helman's apartment.

     In November 2014, Nicholas Helman pleaded guilty to the attempted murder charge as well as the offenses of attempted aggravated assault and risking a catastrophe. In July 2015, Judge Alan Rubenstein sentenced the 21-year-old to twenty to forty years in prison. The judge called Helman's crime "extraordinary" and compared his behavior to that of a terrorist. "You are bright. You are articulate. You are responsive," said the judge. "But I don't think you appreciate the damage you have caused people very close to you."

     As deputies led Helman out of the courtroom in handcuffs, the prisoner wept as he said goodbye to family members. It was doubtful that in prison Mr. Helman would encounter many other Eagle Scouts.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Leroy Kuffel: A Police Pension For a Sex Offrender

     Round Lake Beach is a northern Illinois town of 26,000 on the Wisconsin state line. In 2009, Round Lake Beach police officer Leroy Kuffel, a 29-year veteran of the force, got into serious trouble. In February and March of that year, the 52-year-old cop had sex with his son's ex-girlfriend. She was sixteen. Following his arrest, Kuffel admitted giving the teen gifts and taking her out to dinner, but he denied having sexual relations with the minor.

     In January 2010, following a three-day trial in a Lake County court, the jury found Kuffel guilty of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. (Had the girl been a few months younger, he could have been charged with statutory rape.) The state prosecutor recommended that Kuffel be sentenced up to seven years in prison. The defendant's attorney pushed for a probated sentence. In speaking to the court, Kuffel apologized for what he called "bad decisions."

     Sentencing-wise, Judge Daniel Shanes took the middle ground. He sentenced Kuffel to sixty days in the county jail followed by thirty months of nighttime incarceration at a halfway house where the inmate would be allowed to work during the day. The judge also ordered the ex-police officer to seek sex offender treatment. (Since Kuffel considered his relationship with the minor nothing more than a "bad decision," what good that would do.) At the conclusion of the thirty-month work-release program, Kuffel would be under probation for three years.

     On September 20, 2009, while working during the day and spending nights in custody, Kuffel began receiving his $48, 000 a year police pension. Following a legal challenge by Round Lake Beach municipal authorities, the town's mayor, in January 2013, announced that Illinois state law required that Kuffel, notwithstanding his sex offense conviction, be paid his police pension.

     Under Illinois law, no pension benefits will be paid to a retired police officer convicted of any felony relating to, arising from, or in connection with his law enforcement job. Since Officer Kuffel had been off-duty when he had sex with the minor, the above law did not apply to him. (One could argue that Kuffel's victim might have been intimidated or impressed by the fact he was a cop.) Had Kuffel, while off-duty, murdered his wife, under Illinois law, he'd still be eligible for his pension benefits.

     By 2013, Kuffel's increased monthly pension benefits were based on an annual  income of $53,709. When the ex-cop turned 65, he would rake in $70,079 a year. If Kuffel lived to the year 2026, he will receive, in total pension benefits (not including health care), more than $1 million. Not bad for a registered sex offender.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Killing Home Invaders: The Byron Smith Murder Case

     On November 21, 2012, the day before Thanksgiving, a resident in a neighborhood in Little Falls Township south of Little Falls, Minnesota phoned the Morrison County Sheriff's Office to report a suspicious car parked at the foot of his driveway. To the officers who rolled up to the red Mitsubishi Eclipse, the lone occupant of the vehicle, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady, said that he and his 18-year-old cousin, Haile Kifer, had been riding around when they ran out of gas. He was a junior at Pillager High School in Little Falls and Haile was a year ahead of him. She had left the vehicle to find a gas station. One of the deputies gave Brady, a nice-looking kid interested in wrestling and the martial art of Taekwondo, a ride home. His cousin Haile, a high school gymnast, diver, cross country runner and softball player, had nothing in her background that would arouse a police officer's suspicion.

     Byron Smith, a 64-year-old retiree, lived in a modest, township home located a few miles north of Little Falls. In recent months Mr. Smith had been plagued by a series of home burglaries believed to have been committed by teenagers looking for drugs, money and guns. In October 2012, burglars had broken into his house and stolen weapons and other items. The fact Byron Smith had been a physical security expert who specialized in preventing criminal intrusion into government buildings added to to his frustration and anger over being a repeat burglary victim. 
     In 2007, Byron Smith, after serving overseas in places like Bangkok, Thailand, Beijing, China and Cairo, Egypt, retired from the U.S. State Department. He had been one of a handful of highly trained security engineers responsible for making embassies and consulates difficult for terrorists and spies to physically penetrate. An expert on anti-intrusion building design, locks, access control, alarms, video surveillance, protective lighting and physical barriers, Smith had overseen the construction and renovation of these government facilities. 
     Byron Smith's job not only required technical knowledge and experience, it came with top security clearance. This meant he had been thoroughly investigated for mental illnesses, personality disorders and possible substance abuse. Moreover, he had to live a straight-arrow lifestyle to avoid the potential of blackmail. Mr. Smith was also familiar with handguns and assault rifles. It is not difficult to understand why this man had a particular dislike, if not hatred, for criminal intruders. 
     On Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2012, a day after the Morrison County Deputies checked out the suspicious Mitsubishi south of Little Falls, Byron Smith, while sitting in his basement heard the sound of breaking window glass. The sound of footsteps on the first floor told him that he had at least two burglars in his dwelling. The government retiree grabbed his Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle and waited. 
     Mr. Smith readied his rifle when he saw the feet of one of the burglars at the top of his basement stairs. When the intruder's torso come into view Mr. Smith fired twice, striking and killing Nicholas Brady. Mr. Smith dragged the 17-year-old's corpse into the basement and laid it out next to his workbench.  
     Not long after he had killed the high school student, another set of feet appeared on the stairway. As Haile Kifer descended into Smith's basement far enough for the homeowner to see up to her waist, he fired the Ruger. The girl collapsed and her body tumbled down the steps. She was still alive, and gasping for air. Byron Smith interpreted the sounds the wounded girl made as she struggled for air as laugher. He tried to shoot her again, but his rifle jammed. Mr. Smith dragged Haile deeper into his basement and laid her body next to her cousin Nicholas. After replacing his rifle with a handgun, Mr. Smith placed the muzzle under the girl's chin and pulled the trigger. 
     Instead of calling the police and reporting that he had shot and killed two intruders in his house, Byron Smith decided to spend the night with the dead bodies lying in his basement. The next morning he called a neighbor and asked if he could recommend a good attorney. The neighbor replied that he didn't know any lawyers. At this point Smith informed the neighbor that he had killed a couple of burglars the previous night. He asked the neighbor to call the authorities. 
     While homicide investigators were processing the death scene, deputies searched Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi parked a few blocks from Mr. Smith's house. The officers identified the vehicle as the suspicious car they had checked on the day before. At that time they had also questioned Nicholas Brady, the boy who lay dead in Smith's basement. Inside the car searchers found six bottles of medicine that had been prescribed to a Little Falls Township man named Richard Johnson. They also recovered a jar of pennies and some foreign coins. 
     A Morrison County prosecutor, based upon Byron Smith's account of the shootings, charged him with two counts of second-degree murder. While under Minnesota law the occupant of a dwelling can legally use deadly force against an intruder, the homicide defense didn't apply if the burglar was killed after the threat had been neutralized. Byron Smith, when describing to the police what happened to Haile Kifer, said, "If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again." Mr. Smith characterized his follow-up shooting of the girl as a "good clean finishing shot under her chin up into the cranium." Neither of the teen intruders had been armed. 
     On Sunday, November 25, 2012, three days after the fatal shootings, 68-year-old Richard Johnson, upon returning to his Little Falls Township home after vacationing in Spain, found that it had been ransacked by intruders. The burglars had used a crowbar to smash a sliding glass door. The home invaders had stolen bottles of prescription medicine Mr. Johnson took to treat diabetes and high cholesterol. The burglars had also taken a collection of foreign coins and some pennies. The police had recovered these items three days earlier from Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi. Investigators figured that Brady and Kifer had burglarized Mr. Johnson's home on the day before Thanksgiving about the time one of Johnson's neighbors reported the suspicious car. 
     Byron Smith was held in the Morrison County Jail on $2 million bond. 
     It seemed that Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer had been breaking into older people's homes looking for drugs, money and guns. House burglary is a dangerous business and it had gotten these youngsters killed. They were smart kids and should have known better. As for the man who shot them, his life, at least as he knew it, was over. Byron Smith should have known that the way he killed the 18-year-old girl, burglar or not, was murder. You can shoot home invaders, but the law won't let you execute them.

     On April 29, 2014, after three hours of deliberation, the jury found Byron Smith guilty of two counts of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Lonnie Kocontes Cruise Ship Murder Case

     In 1991, Orange County, California attorney Lonnie Kocontes and Micki Kanesaki, a paralegal working in the same law firm, met and began dating. They married in 1995, and in 2002 were divorced. After the break-up they continued to live together in their jointly owned Mission Viejo house.

     On May 21, 2006, the couple, in an effort to rekindle their relationship, boarded the cruise ship Island Escape in Spain bound for Italy. Five days later Kocontes reported his ex-wife missing. He said he had awakened on the morning of May 26 to find his ex-spouse gone from the cabin.

     The next day, Kanesaki's body washed up on the Mediterranean shore near the town of Calabria in southwest Italy. The Italian police boarded the Island Escape to question Kocontes and members of the crew. According to the dead woman's ex-husband, the 52-year-old had left their cabin at one in the morning on May 26 for a cup of tea. She never returned. Kocontes told the officers that Kanesaki had been threatening to commit suicide.

     Not long after Kanesaki's death at sea, Kocontes, in speaking to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, said, "I was committed to this woman. I loved her with all my heart. I wish I never had gone on the cruise."

     Micki Kanesaki's death was not investigated until Kocontes, in 2008, began transferring more than $1 million from the dead woman's bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife. FBI agents and Orange County detectives came to believe that the lawyer had strangled Kanesaki to death on the ship then threw her body into the Mediterranean. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered somewhere between Sicily and Naples. The authorities also suspected that Kocontes had planned the murder in Orange County, California before the cruise and was motivated by money.

     On February 15, 2013, Federal Marshals arrested Lonnie Kocontes at his home in Safety Harbor, Florida. He stood charged in Orange County, California with one count of special circumstances murder for financial gain. The suspect awaited his extradition in the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. The minimum sentence the 55-year-old could face was life without the possibility of parole. Because he was accused of murdering someone for money, Kocontes was eligible for the death sentence.

     Shortly after Kocontes was extradited back to California, his third wife provided information to Orange County investigators that incriminated him in Kanesaki's death. In May 2015, two of Kocontes' fellow inmates at the Orange County Jail told his lawyer that Kocontes had asked them to murder his third wife. Before killing the murder-for-hire target, the hit men were supposed to make her sign a letter that accused the police of forcing her to lie about his involvement in Kanesaki's death. The defense attorney turned this information over to the local authorities who charged Kocontes with solicitation of murder and several lesser offenses.

     In December 2018, the judge presiding over the Kocontes murder trial declared a mistrial after testimony revealed that some of Kocontes' taped jailhouse conversations violated the lawyer-client privilege. 
     Lonnie Kocontes, in June 2020, was retried for the 2006 cruise ship murder of his wife. The jury found him guilty as charged. Three months later, the judge sentenced the 62-year-old to life without the possibility of parole.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Hair Salon Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     Radcliffe F. Haughton, a 45-year-old former Marine who lived in Brown Deer, Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee, was estranged from his wife Zina. He resided with their 13-year-old daughter. Zina Haughton and her 20-year-old daughter from another marriage worked as hair dressers at the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin eleven miles west of downtown Milwaukee.

     Radcliffe Haughton had moved to the Milwaukee area ten years ago from Cook County, Illinois where he had grown up in the Chicago suburban communities of Northbrook and Wheeling. When he departed Illinois he left behind a history of arrests for disorderly conduct and domestic violence. In Brown Deer he became known to the local police who arrested him several times for similar offenses.

     In January 2011, neighbors called the police when they saw Haughton throwing clothing out a window then pouring tomato juice on his wife's car. Officers came to the house and saw him through a window holding a rifle. They ordered him out of the house but he refused. After a 90-minute standoff the officers left the scene without taking him into custody. Zina Haughton said she didn't want her husband taken into custody. He was later charged with disorderly conduct, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to anger management counseling.

     On October 2, 2012, police officers were called to a gas station in Brown Deer by a witness who saw Zina Haughton barefoot and badly bruised in the face. Zina told the police she had been assaulted by her husband who had threatened to kill her. Still, she did not want him arrested. Officers went to the house where they spotted Radcliffe through a window. When he refused to come out of the dwelling the police departed.

     Two days later, when Zina Haughton approached her car in the hair salon parking lot she discovered that someone had slashed her tires. The next day police officers arrested Radcliffe and charged him with disorderly conduct and destruction of property. That day, Zina acquired a temporary restraining order against him. The 42-year-old embattled wife also petitioned the court for a permanent protection decree. In her request for a permanent injunction, Zina said that Radcliffe was convinced she was cheating on him. In a jealous rage he had threatened to kill her by setting her on fire. He had also promised to kill her if she reported his threats to the police. She said she feared for her life. On October 18, 2012, the judge issued an order requiring Radcliffe Haughton to avoid contact with his wife for a period of four years. 

     On Sunday morning, October 21, 2012, Radcliffe Haughton pulled up to the two-story, 9,000-square-foot building that housed the Azana Salon and Spa. He alighted from the taxi cab at 11:09 and walked into the salon armed with a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Once inside, he opened fire on the helpless occupants. Mr. Haughton shot seven women inside the salon, killing his wife and two other women identified as Cary L. Robuck, 35 of Racine, and 38-year-old Maelyn M. Lind from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

     Amid the chaos of women fleeing for their lives as Haughton walked around the salon firing and reloading his pistol, he set a small fire in the building.

     When police officers and SWAT units rolled up to the scene women were running out of the smoking salon. Haughton escaped out a back door but when he came around a corner of the building he saw the police and re-entered the salon.

     The four women Haughton had shot but didn't kill, made it out of the building and were rushed to the Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. (All of these victims survived their wounds.)

     At four in the afternoon of the deadly rampage, the police, during the course of a search of the building found the shooter. Radcliffe Haughton had locked himself in a room, and with the pistol he had used on his victims, shot himself in the head.

     As is often the case in murder-suicides, some of the people who knew Radcliffe Haughton told reporters that he was a nice and friendly guy. They were shocked that he could do such a thing. These people were probably mere acquaintances who really didn't know him.