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Monday, February 29, 2016

The Life and Death of Serial Killer Israel Keyes

     Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old part time carpenter and bank robber, traveled around the country randomly targeting women to abduct, rape, and murder. He owned property in upstate New York, and had lived in the states of Washington and Oregon. (As a teenager, he had kidnapped and sexually assaulted an Oregon girl, his first rape victim.) In 2012, the tall, thin killer lived in Anchorage, Alaska.

     At eight o'clock on the night of February 1, 2012, 18-year-old Samantha Koenig was closing up shop at the Common Grounds Expresso coffee stand on Tudor Road. Keyes walked up to the kiosk and ordered a cup of coffee. After Koenig prepared his drink, Keyes pulled a gun and entered the stand where he used zip ties to secure the employee's hands behind her back. A surveillance camera caught Keyes and his victim as they walked toward his white pickup truck parked in the nearby Home Depot parking lot. Using Koenig's cellphone, Keyes sent a text message to her boyfriend saying that she, after having a bad day, was leaving town for the weekend.

     At his home that night, Keyes raped his victim. The next morning, he strangled Koenig to death, put her body into a shed on his property, and flew to Houston, Texas where he embarked on a two-week cruise.

     Keyes flew back to Anchorage on February 17, 2012. He tied up Koenig's body and posed it to make it appear that she was alive. Keyes took a Polaroid photograph of the dead girl that included a newspaper dated February 13. On the back of a photocopy of this picture, Keyes typed a ransom note demanding $30,000 from Koenig's family. He followed up the ransom note with a text message instructing her father to deposit the money in a bank account Keyes could access with Koenig's debit card. The family complied with the kidnapper's demands.

     After making a withdrawal from the Koenig bank account, Keyes dismembered Koenig's body and hauled the remains to Matanuska Lake north of Anchorage. Using a chainsaw, he cut a hole in the ice and slipped the body parts into the water.

     On March 6, 2012, Keyes flew from Anchorage to Las Vegas where he withdrew more money from the ransom account. From Nevada he traveled to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Later that month, police in Lufkin, Texas arrested Keyes when he used Samantha Koenig's debit card to take out more ransom money. The police also seized the disguise props Keyes had used when making his ransom withdrawals. Keyes also possessed several rolls of cash.

     While in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Facility, Keyes admitted kidnapping, raping, and murdering Samantha Koenig. On April 2, 2012, divers recovered her remains from Matanuska Lake. Keyes also confessed to having kidnapped and murdered Bill and Lorraine Currier (he raped Lorraine) in June 2011. (Their bodies were not recovered.) In the course of discussing his life as a serial lust killer, Keyes took credit for the rape and murder of five other women whose names he either didn't recall or chose not to reveal.

     Scheduled to be tried for Samantha Koenig's murder in March 2013, Keyes said he planned to kill himself long before his trial. As a result, officials at the correctional facility placed Keyes on suicide watch. (Keyes was one of 23 inmates in the jail's segregation unit where the prisoners did not have cellmates.) In August 2012, Keyes talked the psychiatric staff at the jail into taking him off suicide watch. After that, a guard checked Keyes' cell every 30 to 45 minutes.

     During the early morning hours of Sunday, December 2, 2012, Keyes cinched one end of a sheet around his neck and tied the other end to his ankle so that when he extended his leg, the sheet tightened around his neck. He climbed into his bunk, and using a razor blade attached to a pencil, slit his left wrist. During the night, the guard checking on his cell thought the inmate was sleeping.

     The next morning at six, when the guard couldn't rouse Keyes out of bed, the prison authorities discovered that the prisoner had committed suicide. Since inmates were required to return razors after shaving, no one was sure how Keyes had come into possession of the blade.

     Israel Keyes, without the freedom to rape and murder women, had no reason to live. Instead of waiting around ten years for the state to kill him, Keyes decided to execute himself. By committing suicide, this killer also expressed the sociopath's contempt for society, the law, and his victims. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Raymond Roth: A Scam Artist Who Faked His Death

     On July 28, 2012, Jonathan Roth reported his 48-year-old father, Raymond Roth, missing. Raymond, his wife Evana, and their 22-year-old son lived on Long Island in Massapequa, New York. According to Jonathan, his father, while swimming off Nassau County's Jones Beach, had been swept out into the Atlantic Ocean.

     As officers from the U. S. Coast Guard and various law enforcement agencies searched for Raymond Roth, he was relaxing in Orlando, Florida at his timeshare condo. A couple of days into the search for Raymond's body, his 43-year-old wife Evana came across emails between her missing husband and their son that laid out their plan to defraud the life insurance company of $410,000.

     According the scheme, Evana would receive the life insurance payout, and Raymond would start a new life in Florida. Evana Roth, not a party to the fraud, called the Nassau County Police.

     On August 2, 2012, Raymond was driving back to New York. He had agreed to meet with law enforcement authorities in Massapequa. In Santee, South Carolina, a police officer pulled him over for driving 90 mph. After Roth failed to show up for his meeting with the authorities in Nassau County, a prosecutor charged him with insurance fraud, conspiracy, and filing a false report.

     Police officers, on August 6, 2012, took Raymond Roth and his son into custody. Both men made bail, and entered not guilty pleas to the criminal charges.

     On March 22, 2013, Raymond Roth and a Nassau County prosecutor agreed on a plea deal. In return for his guilty plea, the judge, on May 21, 2013, sentenced him to 90 days in jail and five years of probation. If Roth didn't pay $27,000 in restitution to the U. S. Coast Guard, and $9,000 to the Nassau Police Department, the judge would incarcerate him up to four years.

     Jonathan Roth pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

     People who fake their own deaths as a method of defrauding an insurance company rarely succeed. The most common technique in crimes like this involves staging phony drownings. Whenever a heavily insured person goes swimming or boating and doesn't come back, and the body is not recovered, alarm bells go of in the insurance company's office. In a world in which we are under constant video and computer surveillance, it's hard for insurance scam artists to remain dead very long.

     Shortly after pleading guilty to insurance fraud, Raymond Roth was in trouble again with the law. In Freeport, New York, he identified himself to a woman as a police officer and ordered her into his van. She fled into a nearby store and called the police. Instead of jail, the authorities took Roth to a psychiatric ward where he tried to commit suicide. A local prosecutor charged him with criminal impersonation and attempted kidnapping.

     In April 2014, Raymond Roth pleaded guilty to impersonation of a police officer and attempted unlawful imprisonment. The judge sentenced him to two to seven years in prison.

    

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Shirley McKie Fingerprint Misidentification Scandal

     For most of the 20th century, the testimony of a prosecution fingerprint expert was never challenged by the defense. Jurors considered fingerprint identification infallible evidence, the gold standard of forensic science. However, due to a series of high-profile fingerprint misidentifications beginning in the late 1990s, this is no longer the case. More and more defense attorneys, in trials in which their clients have been linked to crime scenes through latent fingerprints, are now seeking second opinions from independent examiners. One of the most publicized latent fingerprint misidentification cases, featuring Amercan and Scottish examiners, centered around a police officer in Scotland named Shirley McKie.

The Shirley McKie Case

     In January 1997, Scottish officers from the Strathclyde Police Department responded to the scene of a murder in nearby Kilmarnock. Marion Ross, a 51-year-old bank clerk had been stabbed to death in her bathroom. Her ribs were crushed and she had been stabbed in the eye and throat with a pair of scissors that had been left stuck in her neck. There was no sign of forced entry. Police officers theorized that Marion Ross had been killed by one of the men who recently had been doing remodeling work in her home.

     Shortly after the crime, the police arrested 23-year-old David Asbury, a construction worker from Kilbirnie in Ayshire. Although no latent fingerprints belonging to Asbury had been found at the scene, examiners with the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) identified a print on a container, a biscuit tin, found in the suspect's apartment, as being the murder victim's. The tin contained money the police believed the killer had stolen from the murder site. Asbury claimed that the money and the tin were his.

     The all-important latent on the biscuit tin had been lifted at Asbury's apartment by Shirley McKie, a 34-year-old detective constable with the Strathclyde Police Department. Her feeling of accomplishment in discovering this key piece of evidence ended when she was called on the carpet for leaving her own print at the scene of the murder. SCRO examiners had identified a bloody left thumprint on the bathroom door frame as hers. According to Office McKie, she had gone to the murder site three times but had never gotten beyond the front porch. The SCRO examiners, therefore, must have made an identification mistake. Too depressed to work, McKie went on leave for two months.

     In May 1997, just three months after his arrest, David Asbury was brought to trial in Glasgow. He still maintained his innocence. Shirley McKie took the stand at his trial and described lifting the latent off the biscuit tin in his house. On cross-examination, Asbury's attorney asked McKie if she had helped process the Marion Ross murder scene. McKie said she had not been inside the murder apartment. But, said the attorney, didn't SCRO fingerprint examiners identifiy one of the latents in the murder woman's bathroom as McKie's? Yes, they had, answered McKie. But didn't you just say you weren't in the apartment? Yes. So the SCRO examiners had made an incorrect fingerprint examination? That latent was not mine, replied McKie.

     Following the 13 day trial, the jury chose to believe the SCRO had correctly identified the biscuit tin latent as the defendants and convicted him of murder. By implication, the Asbury jury believed that Detective McKie had been at the murder scene as well, and had committed perjury.

     In March 1998, police came to Mckie's house and arrested her on the charge of perjury. At her trial in May 1994, two highly respected American fingerprint experts testified that the latent in the murdered woman's bathroom--Print Y7--was not McKie's. The jury, deliberating less than an hour, came back with a verdict in favor of McKie. The acquittal was an embarrassing defeat for the SCRO.

     In December 1999, despite her perjury acquittal, Shirley McKie was dismissed from the Strathclyde Police Department. On suspension since March 1998, the dismissal made McKie ineligible for a pension.

     Shirley McKie, in October 2003, sued the Scottish government for 850,000 pounds. She accepted an out of court settlement for just under that amount in February 2006. David Asbury won his appeal, and on retrial, featuring the two American fingerprint examiners testifying on his behalf, the jury acquitted him of murdering Marion Ross. Notwithstanding a good suspect in the case, no one would be tried for Marion Ross' murder.

Aftermath

     In 2011, the Scottish Special Services Authority (SPSA) held hearings on the SCRO fingerprint misidentifications in the McKie and Asbury cases. The proceedings featured 64 witnesses giving 250 hours of testimony over a period of five days. The authors of the SPSA report, published on December 14, 2011, concluded that human error (rather than a conspiracy) was to blame for the misidentifications. (A lot of people believe there was a conspiracy and cover-up, especially in the McKie case. I am one of them.) The authors of the report also concluded that fingerprint identification should be treated as opinion-based testimony rather than fact-based. This recommendation angered members of the forensic fingerprint identification community worldwide.

     After researching and writing my book, "Forensics Under Fire" which contains a chapter on the Shirley McKie case, I agree that fingerprint identification testimony should be treated as opinion. In American law, only juries can determine what is fact and what is not. (For example, if a jury believed that O..J. Simpson did not commit the double murder, in law, that was fact.) When two forensic experts take the stand, one for the prosecution and one for the defense, jurors decide which expert represents the truth. They both can't be correct. Fingerprint identification, like the identification of human bite marks, handwriting, tire tracks, and footwear impressions, is subjective, and therefore subject to human error. It's opinion evidence. If it were otherwise, forensic science wouldn't have the dueling expert problem.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pedophile Teachers in California

     On January 30, 2012, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies arrested 61-year-old elementary teacher Mark Berndt on 23 counts of lewd acts against minors. The third grade teacher at the Miramonte Elementary School in Florence Firestone, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County, stood accused of photographing 6 to 10-year olds in bondage positions, some with live bugs crawling on their faces. A few of the girls were shown holding spoons containing a white liquid up to their mouths. Children were also pictured about to eat cookies topped with the teacher's semen.

     Because of the influence of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and other education unions in the state, school administrators couldn't fire anyone, including teachers like Mark Berndt. In the Miramonte school, because parents were so outraged, and held protests, school administrators managed to get Berndt out of the classroom by paying him $40,000 to retire. That's how bad it was in the Golden State where it was truly golden for pedophiles working in the state's education system. (You can see why in California the firing of a merely incompetent teacher was unheard of. The unions simply did not allow the firing of crappy teachers. Teachers so rotten they managed to get dismissed from their jobs in other states could always find a home in the California system. The pay was outstanding, benefits were out of this world, and it didn't matter if the teacher was no good. And for pedophiles, California's classrooms were heaven on earth.)

     In 2012, in the wake of the Miramonte school scandal (Berndt wasn't the only pedophile working there), a group called Democrats for Educational Reform, introduced legislation in the state senate (S.B. 1530), that made it easier to dismiss teachers accused of sex, violence, or drug offenses against children. That bill, with vast public support, passed the Senate on a 33-4 bipartisan vote.

     In the California Assembly, when the Senate-passed legislation came before the Assembly Education Committee, committee members, by refusing to vote on the bill, killed the proposed law in committee. (These politicians didn't have the courage to vote "no.") That meant the bill did not reach the Assembly floor for a vote. If it had, it would have passed by a wide majority.)

     The committee members who killed this child protection legislation had bowed to the state's powerful teacher's unions, including the CTA. All of the state politicians who killed the bill through their abstentions, had been beneficiaries of large CTA political contributions. The fact that the CTA could stop legislation favored by a vast majority of California voters showed who was really running the show in that state. Democracy be damned. Moreover, the undermining of this needed legislation revealed what most citizens of the state already knew--that in California it was unions first, teachers second, and students, parents, and education third--and a bad third at that. It was no wonder the state had one of the worst public education systems in the country. For a sexually perverted school teacher, except perhaps for West Virginia, there was no friendlier place to work and abuse children than California.

     In California, the CTA, backed by an army of 325,000 teachers, and plenty of money to bribe and control state politicians, was in reality the fourth branch of government. As the biggest political spender in the state, its influence dwarfed other special interest groups. From 2000 through 2009, the CTA alone shelled out more than $211 million in political contributions and lobbying expenses. That was twice the amount given to politicians by the second largest bribery machine, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Since 2009, the CTA had pumped another $40 million into the state's political community. The union also played a major role in putting Governor Jerry Brown into office. So the teacher's unions owned him as well.)

     The fact that teacher's unions in California and other states were destroying the quality of public education in the country was bad enough. Even worse, they were enabling and protecting classroom child abusers. If school administrators couldn't protect students from the likes of Mark Berndt, California classrooms were not safe for children. This was as good a reason as any for home schooling or moving to a state where educating  students had a higher priority than protecting teachers from being fired for cause.

      As for Mark Berndt himself, he pleaded no contest in November 2013 to 23 counts of lewd acts on children. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison. A year later, the Los Angeles United School District agreed to pay out $170 million in court settlements related to the Berndt pedophilia case. The settlement involved more than a hundred students.

     If all the zookeepers in the state of California belonged to the CTA, the animals would be starving in their cages while their custodians sat around gorging themselves, complaining about their jobs, and threatening to strike.          

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Betty Rice's Suspicious Death

     Betty Rice was 79 when she died on November 9, 2009 in her Sevierville, Tennessee mobile home. Elizabeth A. Ogle, Rice's 48-year-old niece by marriage, had moved from Chatsworth, Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountain region to care for her sick aunt. Ogle, who moved into the double-wide, had been taught by a hospice nurse how to administer the proper dosages of morphine to the dying woman.  Rice had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread throughout her body.

     Because of her age and illness, no one questioned the Sevier County coroner's ruling that Betty Rice had died a natural death from cardiac and respiratory arrest. This determination had been made by hospital physicians without an autopsy. A few days after her passing, the body was embalmed and buried.

     Two months after Betty Rice's death, some of her relatives informed the Sevier County Sheriff's Office of their suspicion that she had been murdered by Elizabeth Ogle. Not long before she died, Betty had added the live-in caregiver to her will. The suspicious relatives believed that Ogle had given Rice an overdose of morphine in order to inherit a portion of her estate which included the mobile home and some certificates of deposit.

     In January 2010, Sevier County Sheriff Ron Seals obtained a court order that allowed the exhumation of Betty Rice's remains for autopsy. Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Chief Medical Examiner for Knox County, and professor of pathology at the University of Tennessee, performed the autopsy. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, a native of Croatia, reported that Betty Rice's body, at the time of her death, contained a "lethal amount of morphine."

     Eight months after the autopsy, Sevier County prosecutor Jeremy Ball charged Elizabeth Ogle with first-degree murder. The entirely circumstantial case was based on the changed will, a signature that looked forged, Ogle's role as the only person in charge of Rice's morphine intake, and the excess amount of the narcotic in the dead woman's system. Elizabeth Ogle, held under $1 million bond, awaited her trial in the Sevier County Jail.

     On October 30, 2012, in his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Ball said that Betty Rice had died from "a liver full of morphine" shortly after the defendant had forged the old woman's signature on the new version of her last will and testament. To establish the forgery, the prosecutor put a FBI handwriting expert on the stand. According to the forensic document examiner, the signature in question was substantially different than signatures on greeting cards known to be Rice's. But on cross-examination by defense attorney Charles Poole, the document witness acknowledged that he couldn't declare that without a doubt the questioned signature was a forgery.

     The prosecution's key witness, medical examiner Mileusnic-Polchan, took the stand and testified that in her expert opinion, Betty Rice had died of a morphine overdose. Conceding on cross-examination that cancer had destroyed one of Rice's lungs, the medical examiner testified that the old woman had not died a natural death. In the forensic pathologist's opinion, Betty Rice had died of morphine poisoning, and by implication, criminal homicide.

     Defense attorney Poole, by asking Dr. Mileusnic-Polchaln how the presence of morphine can be ascertained from remains that had been embalmed, failed to attenuate the certainty of her conclusion.

     On November 3, after the prosecution rested its case, the defense put on the first of its three expert witnesses. Steven Karch, a cardiac toxicologist from San Francisco, testified that there was no scientific basis for determining, in the human liver, what was an abnormal level of morphine. Although this witness was not a forensic pathologist, he testified that Betty Rice's cause of death was probably heart failure.

     Dr. Gregory Davis, a medical examiner with the state of Kentucky, testified that he "respectfully but vehemently disagreed" with Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan's cause of death determination. After reviewing her autopsy report, Dr. Gregory came to the conclusion that Betty Rice had died due to complications from her cancer. The forensic pathologist also said that assuming the morphine had contributed to Rice's death, the patient could have self-administered the pain-killer.

     Dr. Davis was followed to the stand by a pharmacologist who opined that scientists had not established a way to determine abnormal levels of drugs in a person's body through liver analysis. Scientists had not figured out what an abnormal level of morphine was in a person's liver.

     At the close of testimony on the fourth day of the trial, circuit judge Rex Ogle (no relation to the defendant) took the case out of the hands of the jurors by issuing a directed verdict of acquittal. In the judge's opinion, the prosecution had not met its burden of proving a prima facie case.

     Elizabeth Ogle was released from custody and determined eligible to inherit pursuant to Betty Rice's will. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Streeter Brothers Murder Case

     Douglas Ivor Streeter and his brother John owned and operated the Merino sheep farm near Maryborough, Australia, a town northwest of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. The brothers, in their mid-60s, had worked on the 7,000-acre farm since they were teenagers. They lived in the hamlet of Natte Yallock, and attended the local Anglican Church.

     While John Streeter was reclusive, Douglas and his wife Helen had been quite active in the local community. The couple had two adult sons, Ross and Anthony. In December 2012, Douglas was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease. His son, 30-year-old Ross Streeter, lived in the town of Bendigo, and worked on the sprawling farm with his father and his uncle.

     At six in the evening of Thursday, March 16, 2013, Douglas Streeter's wife Helen discovered the bodies of her husband and her brother-in-law. Someone had shot both men in the head with a shotgun. The double murder shocked this rural community. Who would have reason to kill these too well-respected farmers?

     At eleven-thirty the next morning, police officers followed an ambulance en route to Ross Streeter's house in Bendigo where paramedics treated the son for unspecified self-inflicted injuries. They transported Streeter to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where the patient was treated under police guard.

     Investigators believed that sometime after eight in the morning the previous day, Ross had used a shotgun to kill his Uncle John. After the murder the suspect left the farm, then sometime before noon, returned and killed his father.

     On Saturday, March 18, 2013, upon Ross Streeter's discharge from the hospital, police officers placed him under arrest for the two murders. Later that day investigators recovered the murder weapon. Charged with two counts of murder, he was held without bail. The motive for the double murder was a mystery.

     On March 14, 2014, Ross Streeter pleaded guilty to both killings. Supreme Court Justice Lex Laspry, at the November 2014 sentencing hearing, said he was dubious of Streeter's claim that he had no memory of the shootings. A psychiatrist had testified that the defendant did not suffer from any kind of mental illness and that his memory loss assertion was probably false.

     The judge imposed a sentence of 34 years. Mr. Streeter will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years of that sentence. That meant he had no chance of freedom until he turned 55. The motive for the murders remained a mystery. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

True Detective Magazines: The Golden Era

     In 1988, on my way to Chicago to interview Fred E. Inbau, the John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law at Northwestern University, I stopped in Beloit, Wisconsin to visit with Chester Rose. Mr. Rose, a worker in a Rockport shoe factory, had sent me a long letter following the publication of my book, The Lindbergh Case. Since then we had corresponded regularly with the most informative letters coming from him. Chet was a true crime buff with an encyclopedic knowledge of murder cases he had read about in thousands of fact-crime magazines published in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. By the 1970s, Chet had amassed a huge collecton of true detective magazines he kept in his detached garage. His wife, tired of his true crime obsession, burned the garage to the ground. A few years later they were divorced. (Her mysterious disappearance would have made a better story.)

     While never a fan of true detective magazines (Chet called them "tru-dicks"), I became interested in the golden era of this form of nonfiction crime publishing. Aimed at the adult male reader, the pulp art covers--often featuring sexy women in distress--promised stories of salacious violence and mayhem. Unlike many writers for crime fiction periodicals such as Black Mask who went on to become famous authors of mystery novels, the literary contributors to the fact-crime magazines remained relatively unknown. Exceptions include writers Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, and Alan Hynd.

     True crime magazines usually featured ten murder cases per issue. (Occasionally there were accounts starring con men, counterfeiters, safe crackers, forgers, pickpockets, and extortionists.) Because true crime readers were armchair detectives, good investigative work comprised a major element of each story. Editors liked cases solved by the emerging forensic sciences of latent fingerprint identification, blood stain analysis, tire impression evidence, biological time of death estimation, handwriting identification, and forensic ballistics. It also helped if the homicides were exceptionally grusome such as one cover-story that featured a woman tied to a tree to be eaten alive by hyenas.

     True crime magazines in the golden era reflected the history of crime in America. In the 1920s and 30s the magazines featured depression era bank robbers like John Dillinger, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Baby Face" Nelson, and Ma Barker and her degenerate son Fred. Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone, Alivin Karpus and "Machine Gun" Kelly all made regular appearances between the covers of fact-crime publications. In 1931, True Detective Mysteries started a regular feature called "Line Up." Police departments across the country sent in mug shots and descriptions of fugitives on the run. Readers who recognized these criminals and turned them in received small cash rewards. By 1944 "Line Up" had been responsible for the apprehension of more than 300 fugitives. The magazine also ran an ongoing piece called "Crime Doesn't Pay" consisting of photographs of bad guys who had been recently brought to justice. (Crime did pay for True Detective Mysteries.) Many of the men shown in this feature were destined for the electric chair.

     In 1933, True Detective Mysteries started a series of articles by the famous Seattle criminalist, Luke S. May. All of these pieces involved criminals who had been outfoxed by scientific crime detection. By 1940, Luke May was also writing a regular question and answer column about forensic science. May also authored several books featuring his most interesting cases.

     True Detective Mysteries, first published by Bernard Macfadden in 1924, is considered the first fact-crime magazine. Within a few years Macfadden would be publishing several true crime periodicals including Master Detective. At his peak, Macfadden was selling two million magazines a month. In the 1930s, a true crime buff could choose between 100 magazines with titles like, Front Page Detective, Official Detective, Baffling Detective, True Gangster, Detective Yarns, Spicy Detective, Current Detective, and Detective World.

    By the end of World War II, the golden era of the true detective magazine came to an end. Mass market paperbacks and television would finish off the last of the true crime magazines. Macfadden Publications, in 1971, sold off  True Detective Mysteries to a British firm. In the summer of 1995, the company ceased publication altogether. In the 1960s, Macfadden managing editor Marc Gerald said, "Our readership of blue-hairs, shut-ins, Greyhound bus riders, cops, and axe murderers are old and dying fast."

     Today, true crime buffs (mostly women), have access to mass market paperbacks, cable television, and the internet. Patterson Smith, the antiquarian bookseller doing business in New Jersey, had a database of 30,000 articles out of 2,000 fact-crime magazines. To request a search of this repository, the crime researcher could submit the name of the crime victim, the name of the perpetrator, the location of the crime, the year it took place, or a brief account of the case. In researching my book Fall Guys, I read a couple of 1950s true detective magazine articles about the axe murder of Helen Zubryd. Both pieces were quite inaccurate.    

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Appeal And Resiliency of Conspiracy Theories

     The contrary, unorthodox, and often complicated interpretation of a newsworthy event ofter occurs after high-profile crimes and the unexpected deaths of celebrities.  Conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of famous people flourish when it's possible the well-known person could have been the victim of first-degree murder. For the conspiracy buff, it's even better if the suspected murderer is also a celebrity.

     Notwithstanding the fact that most conspiracy theories are in time debunked by more level-headed investigators, journalists, and true crime writers, they often spring back to life decades after the event. Even the most outlandish conspiracy theories have long lives.

     Examples of celebrity murder conspiracies that have lived on through tabloid journalism and hack true crime writing include the sudden deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, George Reeves, and Curt Cobain. In all of these theories, the murder suspects were also famous.

     Conspiracy theories are fun and exciting real life parlor games. They are also comporting in the belief that if something big and earth-shattering occurs such as the assassination of a president, powerful, evil forces must be behind the murder. Otherwise, we have to accept the fact that American history can be changed in a second by the actions of an insignificant person for reasons that defy understanding. This reality made the murder of John Lennon so unsettling to his fans.

     When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016 in a remote region of west Texas, theories that he had been murdered popped up immediately in the news, notwithstanding the fact he was 79-years-old and in poor health. Because Scalia's death involved enormous political and ideological significance, it's not surprising that theories of his murder surfaced so soon. Theories of his murder persisted despite the fact officials determined he had died of a heart attack. The principal suspect in the Scalia murder scenario is President Obama. In the world of conspiracy theories it doesn't get better than this.

     Before Scalia's momentous passing, Rob Brotherton of the Los Angeles Times had this to say about conspiracy theories:

     "Conspiracy theories are not inherently "delusional." Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them. If you had claimed in 1972 that the burglary at the Watergate Hotel was, in fact, a plot by White House officials to illegally spy on political rivals and insure President Nixon's reelection, you'd have sounded like a nut. If you'd claimed that the CIA had given American citizens LSD, mescaline, and other drugs in secret mind-control experiments, you'd have been laughed off as a member of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Both conspiracies, however, were quite real. Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation."

     

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Jean Soriano Vehicular Homicide Case

     In the early morning hours of March 30, 2013, on Interstate 15 eighty miles northeast of Las Vegas, a violent traffic accident took the lives of five people. All of the dead, and two others who were injured, had been in a Chevrolet van smashed from behind by a Dodge Durango SUV occupied by 18-year-old Jean Erwin Soriano and Alfred Gomez, 23. The dead and injured were members of a single family who were returning to the Los Angeles area from Denver, Colorado where they had been visiting a sick relative.

     Because there were several empty beer bottles in the SUV, police officers immediately suspected that the driver of the Dodge SUV had been under the influence of alcohol. Soriano, the 18-year-old, told police officers at the scene that he had been the one behind the wheel. Three weeks earlier, Soriano had fled from a juvenile guidance center in Santa Ana, California where teenagers with serious drug and alcohol problems were treated. An analysis of Soriano's blood revealed a blood-alcohol content of 0.12, a percentage well about the Nevada legal limit of 0.08 percent.

     On April 10, 2013, a Clark County prosecutor charged Soriano with seven felony counts of driving under the influence causing death or substantial injury. The magistrate set Soriano's bail at $3.5 million.

     Not long after the filing of the criminal charges, Jean Soriano's attorney, Frank Cofer, announced to the media that his client had not been driving the Dodge that night. On July 10, 2013, following an evidentiary hearing pertaining to the fatal accident, the judge dropped all of the charges against Soriano. To a Los Angeles Times reporter covering the case, attorney Cofer said, "Blood evidence on the passenger window and console matched Mr. Soriano." This meant that Soriano had been a passenger, not the driver of the SUV. According to the attorney, a shoe-print on the driver's side of the vehicle did not match his client's footwear. According to the defense attorney, Alfred Gomez had "manipulated" and "intimidated" Soriano into identifying himself as the driver of the Dodge. (Because Mr. Gomez had not been a suspect that night, the officers had not tested him for drugs or alcohol.)

     At the time the charges against Jean Soriano were dropped, Alfred Gomez's whereabouts were unknown. To the Los Angeles Times reporter, attorney Cofer said, "Police should never rely solely on a confession that's not corroborated by the physical evidence. Physical evidence can't be intimidated, it can't be coerced." (That's true, but unfortunately forensic scientists can be intimidated and coerced into presenting false science.) This case illustrates the power of forensic science to exonerate as well as incriminate.

     As of February 2016, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the traffic accident that killed five people.

     The Sorpriano case called to mind the death of New York Yankees manager Billy Martin. On December 25, 1989, Martin was killed in a low speed, single vehicle collision during an ice storm not far from his home in upstate New York. Questions arose regarding who had been driving Martin's Ford pickup, Martin or his friend William Reedy. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden, after performing the autopsy and analyzing the physical evidence in the truck, concluded that Billy Martin, not Reedy, had been behind the wheel of the vehicle at the time of the crash. Billy Martin had been drinking and was intoxicated when the accident occurred. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Bethany Deaton Sex Cult Suicide Case

     Bethany Ann Leidlein, a bright, ambitious, and spiritual person, grew up in Arlington, Texas. In 2005, the 20-year-old graduated magna cum laude in English and Spanish from Southwestern University. While enrolled at the university in Georgetown, Texas, she met Tyler Deaton and his friend Micah Moore. Deaton, a domineering and charismatic young man from Corpus Christi, had been a member of the National Honor Society at Calallen High School. At Southwestern, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Methodist Church, he played jazz piano and led prayer groups in the college chapel. A campus spiritual leader, he became known for his belief that "God glorifies in your having fun."

     After Bethany and Tyler graduated from Southwestern University, the two of them, joined by Micah Moore and a handful of other young men, moved to the Kansas City, Missouri suburb of Grandview where they became members of a fundamentalist Christian church called the International House of Prayer (IHOP). In May 2009, Bethany and Tyler completed a six-month religious program at IHOP University.

     In the summer of 2012,  after Tyler and Bethany were married, they moved, along with his his male religious friends and followers, into a large, old house in Grandview. Having gone back to school and earned a degree in nursing, Bethany worked as a registered nurse at a local hospital. She and her male roommates had evolved into a cult-like religious group led by her husband. The Grandview house they all lived in became sort of a church.

     At ten o'clock on the night on October 30, 2012, Jackson County (Missouri) sheriff's deputies were called to investigate the body of a woman found in the back of a van parked near Longview Lake. The dead woman turned out to be Bethany Ann Deaton.

     Bethany's head had been covered by a white, plastic bag. In the Ford Windstar van, deputies recovered a notepad upon which someone had written what appeared to be a suicide note. It read: "My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn't be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that. I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will save me."

     In the van's cup-holder sat an empty 100-count bottle that had once held Acetaminophen pills. While most experienced homicide investigators would have considered Bethany Deaton's death scene suspicious, the Jackson County Coroner's Office classified it as a suicide. The plastic bag over her head, the empty pill bottle, and the suicide note had the look of a staged suicide.

     Bethany Deaton's parents claimed her body and had her buried in Arlington, Texas without an autopsy. According to Bethany's online obituary, she had been "a lover of books, writing, nature, deep conversations, dance, worship, and, most of all, Jesus."

     On November 9, 2012, one of Bethany Deaton's male roommates, 23-year-old Micah Moore, showed up at the Grandview Police Department with something to confess. He informed the detective who spoke to him that Bethany Deaton had not committed suicide because he had murdered her. He had pulled the plastic bag over her head and had held it there "until her body shook."

     According to Micah Moore, he, Tyler Deaton, and the other male members of the spiritual clan had been sexually assaulting Bethany for months. They all had sex with her after drugging her with an antipsychotic drug called Seroquel. (This medication had been prescribed to a member of the sect.) Micah Moore said he had video-taped the group rapes on his tablet computer. He told the detective that he had also confessed his role in the rapes and murder to his pastor. Moore said he had written poems about Bethany Deaton's sexual assaults.

     Micah Moore informed the Grandview detective that the victim's husband, Tyler Deaton, had talked him into killing Bethany and making it look like a suicide. In the weeks prior to her death, Bethany had been seeing a counselor. Tyler Deaton, according to Moore, had been worried that she might report the group rapes to the therapist. Moore also confessed that after the men raped the drugged-up woman, they had consensual sex with each other.

     Following Micah Moore's stunning murder confession, the authorities in Jackson County, Missouri re-classified Bethany Deaton's manner of death as a criminal homicide. Her cause of death:  asphyxiation by suffocation. On November 10, prosecutor Jean Peters charged Micah Moore with first degree-murder. Tyler Deaton was not charged with a crime.

     Allen Hood, the president of IHOP University, distanced the school and the church from Tyler Deaton and his followers. He described Deaton as the leader of an independent, close-knit religious group that had operated separately "under a veil of secrecy."

     On November 28, 2012, Micah Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, announced that her client had recanted his confession. The lawyer described the confession as "bizarre, nonsensical and most importantly, untrue." Attorney Morgan went on to say that Moore was a "distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressure as a result of his friend Bethany's untimely suicide and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton from their extremely close-knit religious community."

     On October 31, 2014, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker dropped the charges against Micah Moore. Moore's DNA was not on the bag over Deaton's head and forensic document examination revealed that the suicide note had been written by her. Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, said her client's confession had been a "reactive psychotic episode triggered by the suicide of his friend."  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Edward and Marilyn Bagley Sex Slave Torture Case

     Let's face it, there are people on this earth who shouldn't have been born. They include serial killers, pedophiles, child pornographers, and a small group of perverts who physically torture unwilling victims for sexual pleasure. Whether or not these sexual deviants are born or made is irrelevant. They are among us, and by the time one of them is caught and brought to justice, the harm has been done. When you read about the crimes of moral degenerates like Edward Bagley and his despicable wife Marilyn, you become a bit of a sadist yourself. It's hard not to imagine these people smoldering on electric chairs, or clawing at their necks as they swing from ropes. (Lethal injection is far less satisfying.) In the end, we are frustrated because our criminal justice system is more civilized than the criminals it punishes. We have to live with the fact that these monsters of cruelty never get what's coming to them. In the world of sadistic sex crimes, there is no such thing as justice.

     Edward and Marilyn Bagley, a pair of practicing sexual sadists, lived in a trailer home surrounded by woods near Lebanon, Missouri in the western part of the state. In December 2002, when Ed was 35 and his wife 37, the Bagleys took in a mentally deficient 16-year-old foster home runaway. (The girl was identified by the FBI as FV or Female Victim.) Proudly calling himself "Master Ed," Bagley and his wife promised the girl a better life that featured a career in modeling and dancing. While FV was still a minor, Ed made her model "slave clothes," provided her with marijuana and ecstasy, and repeatedly raped her. Master Ed informed the girl that she was being trained and groomed to be a sex slave. In that regard, he forced her to sign a life-time sex slave contract that she believed was legally binding.

     Between February 2004 and February 2009, Master Ed and his accomplice spouse used a crank telephone to electrocute the girl's private parts, flogged her, sewed-up and pierced parts of her body, choked her to the point of unconsciousness, made her watch as they shot her beloved pets, and threatened to bury her alive in the woods behind the trailer. The pathologically cruel couple even waterboarded FV, and nailed parts of her body to slabs of wood. To mark her as their property, Ed tattooed a barcode on his captive's neck, and tattooed the Chinese symbol of a slave on one of her ankles.

     The Bagleys published FV's torture sessions on live Internet webcasts for the enjoyment of other sexual monsters willing to pay a fee for the thrill of watching a young woman suffer. A sadist in his later twenties from St. Louis named Bradley Cook watched these pornographic obscenities on his computer, downloaded photographs of FV, and forwarded to the Bagleys images of his own sex slave activity. Sixty-year-old Michael Stokes, a California connoisseur of the sadistic arts, traveled to the Bagley torture chamber where he paid for the opportunity to inflict his own brand of pain on the hapless victim. Stokes, at a cost of $1,000, transported the Bagley sex slave to his home on the west coast where he subjected her to a pornographic photo-shoot, and various sado-sexual assaults. The torture session cost Stokes an extra $300.

     Beginning in June 2007, the Bagleys forced their 21-year-old slave to work as a stripper and exotic dancer in several of the region's adult entertainment clubs. Whenever FV failed to be a club's top monthly earner, the Bagleys punished her with extra beatings and acts of sexual depravity.

     FV's seven-year ordeal came to an end in February 2009 when the young woman required emergency medical treatment and hospitalization after the Bagleys' excessive electrical shocking led to cardiac arrest. Shortly after FV's near-death experience, the FBI entered the case.

     In September 2010, a federal grand jury sitting in Kansas City, Missouri indicted the Bagleys for commercial sex trafficking and forced labor trafficking involving aggravated sexual abuse. The first charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison without parole. The second, life without the chance of parole. Several months later, the feds indicted Michael Stokes and Bradley Cook for their roles in the Bagley sex slave conspiracy. The grand jury also returned indictments against 52-year-old Dennis Henry, and James Noel, 47. Both of these degenerates had participated in FV torture sessions.

     Early in 2012, Stokes, Cook, Henry, and Noel pleaded guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. On December 6, 2012, Marilyn Bagley, now 47, pleaded guilty in a Kansas City federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit commercial sex trafficking. In return for her plea, the judge sentenced Marilyn Bagley to a probated sentence.

     On January 15, 2013, Edward Bagley, faced with the realization that Michael Stokely and the other perverts had agreed to testify against him, pleaded guilty to one count of using an interstate facility to entice a minor into illegal sexual conduct.

     A federal judge, on September 10, 2013, sentenced Edward Bagley to twenty years in prison with no chance of parole. The next day, Bradley Cook was sentenced to twenty years behind bars. The judge gave Dennis Henry and James Noel fifteen years each. Michael Stokes got five years in prison.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Phil Spector Murder Case: Conflicting Ballistics and Blood Spatter Testimony

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she had accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson had committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from the sheriff's office concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose." (If the defendant had been standing six feet from the victim when the gun went off, he couldn't have placed the gun into her mouth.) Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In the witness' 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

     

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The John Mayes-Dr. Jim Nordstrom Murder Case

     Police officers in the northwest New Mexico town of Farmington, on the morning of June 10, 2011, discovered the body of Dr. Jim Nordstrom. The victim was buried in a woodpile behind his upscale house. The previous night, someone had bludgeoned the 55-year-old physician to death. One of the victim's fingers had been nearly severed in what the forensic pathologist identified as a defensive wound. The killer had stolen the doctor's pickup truck as well as his credit cards.

     Not long after finding the doctor's body behind his Foothills neighborhood home, police officers arrested 17-year-old John Mayes. Rob Mayes, Farmington's city manager, had adopted John, a boy who had grown up in Ukraine where he had been abused.

     Detectives, over a two day period, conducted five interrogation sessions during which time John Mayes confessed to killing the doctor. The interrogations were recorded and preceded by Miranda warnings. Mayes also signed forms in which he waived his constitutional right to remain silent. The young murder suspect did not, however, have an attorney present during the police interrogations.

     John Mayes told his questioners that on June 9, 2011 he had run away from home. When he came upon the house in the Foothills neighborhood, he snuck inside and hid in a bedroom. (I believe he entered the dwelling through an unlocked window.) At the time of the intrusion, Dr. Nordstrom was in his living room watching television. About an hour after Mayes entered the house, the doctor walked into the bedroom. That's when Mayes struck him in the head eight times with the handle of a pool cue.

     With the doctor dead in his home, Mayes stole his credit cards and his pickup truck. After taking a four hour nap in the stolen vehicle, Mayes ate a meal at a Burger King. When he finished his hamburger he used the victim's credit cards to go on a $3,000 shopping spree.

     Later that night, Mayes returned to the murder scene to clean up the blood and to bury the body in the victim's backyard. After tiring of digging a grave, Mayes dragged the corpse to the woodpile.

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw charged John Mayes with first-degree murder and the lesser offenses of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, vehicle theft, and fraudulent use of credit cards. After being booked into the San Juan County Jail, the magistrate denied the suspect bond.

     John Mayes, represented by attorney Stephen Taylor, pleaded not guilty at a preliminary heard held in August 2011. Attorney Taylor advised the court he was challenging the constitutionality of his client's initial five statements to the police on the grounds he had not knowingly waived his Miranda rights. (The judge later ruled that the confessions had been constitutionally acquired and could therefore be introduced into evidence at Mayes' trial.)

     Speaking from the stand at his preliminary hearing, John Mayes offered a version of the events of June 9, 2011 that were far less incriminating than the substance of his statements to the police. Rather than sneaking into the doctor's home that night, he came upon Dr. Nordstrom outside of his Foothills neighborhood house just when the doctor was washing his pickup truck. Mayes told the doctor he had run away from home and asked if he could spend the night at his place. Dr. Nordstrom said that he could.

     That night, Mayes and the doctor watched a James Bond film on television. After the movie, the doctor gave Mayes a tour of the house after which they played a couple games of pool. Dr. Nordstrom asked Mayes if he would like to "try something new." When the physician made a sexual advance, Mayes beat him to death with a pool cue.

     Mayes admitted that after killing Dr. Nordstrom he stole his truck and used his credit cards before returning to the house to hide the body.

     Pursuant to a change of venue, the John Mayes murder trial got underway on November 13, 2013 in a McKinley County court in Gallup, New Mexico. Neither side disputed the fact Mayes had killed the doctor in his home. What the jury had to determine was whether or not the defendant had committed the act in self defense.

     After the prosecution rested its case, a presentation based heavily on the five statements Mayes had made to the police following his arrest, the defense brought psychologist Gary White and forensic psychologist Maxann Schwartz to the stand. Both witnesses testified that Mayes' behavior that night had been influenced by a personality disorder that affects people who as children had been neglected or abused. The psychologists said the defendant suffered from "reactive attachment disorder," or RAD. People with his disorder often seek attention from strangers but become aggressive when these individuals try to be nice to them.

     On November 20, 2013, a psychologist from Boise State University named Dr. Charles Honts took the stand for the defense to testify that he had given Mayes a polygraph test early in 2013. Prosecutor Brent Capshaw objected to this witness on grounds he was not a qualified polygraph examiner. (In 2005 a U. S. magistrate judge in Atlanta had prohibited Dr. Honts from giving polygraph testimony in a murder trial. The judge had said, "The court attributes little weight to Dr. Honts' opinions.)

     After Judge William Birdsall overruled the prosecutor's objections to this witness, Dr. Honts took the stand and said he had asked Mayes four polygraph questions: Did Nordstrom invite you into his home? Did you play pool with Nordstrom? Did he slap you on the butt? Did you hide in the bedroom waiting to hit Nordstrom? The witness testified that the defendant answered yes to the first three questions and no to the fourth. According to Dr. Honts, his polygraph examination revealed that Mayes was truthful in his responses.

     On rebuttal, Peter Pierangeli, a polygraph examiner from Albuquerque took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Dr. Honts did not ask the defendant appropriate questions. His polygraph results were therefore unreliable. According to Pierangeli, if Dr. Honts wanted to get to the truth, he would have asked Mayes if Dr. Nordstrom had sexually assaulted him.

     John Mayes did not take the witness stand on his own behalf.

     The defense attorney, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the police, by not seizing Dr. Nordstrom's computer and a prescription bottle found in his bedroom, had botched the investigation. The defense attorney told the jurors that Dr. Honts' polygraph test, by itself, created reasonable doubt that his client was guilty of murder.

     On Monday, November 25, 2013, after deliberating ten hours over a period of two days, the jury found John Mayes guilty of second-degree murder. The jurors found the defendant guilty of the lesser charges as well. The conviction carried a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison. The jurors had accepted enough of the defendant's story to believe Dr. Nordstrom had not been the victim of a cold-blooded murder. The jury had also rejected the notion of self-defense in the case.

     Had John Mayes been convicted of first-degree murder, his sentence would have been live without parole.

     In November 2014, at Mayes' sentence hearing, delayed months to allow for the appeal on the procedural issues, the two defense psychologists testified that the now 21-year-old could be rehabilitated through "intensive therapy." Dr. Gary White, the psychologist who had treated Mayes for three years, testified that he had seen an improvement in the young man's behavior. Dr. White said he would be willing to continue counseling Mayes if the authorities placed him in a correctional facility in the Albuquerque area.

     Defense attorney Stephen Taylor asked Judge William Birdsall to sentence his client to 15 years in prison.

     John Mayes, in speaking to the court, apologized for killing Dr. Nordstrom. He said, "My actions do not reflect what I would like to become. I now know how to better handle myself so that what happened will not occur."

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw told Judge Birdsall that in his fourteen years as a prosecutor, the Nordstrom murder was the worst case he had ever worked on. Capshaw said, "Mayes continually bludgeoned Dr. Nordstrom in the back of the head as the victim tried to crawl away. I can't imagine a more violent death." After the murder, according to the prosecutor, Mayes "set up shop" at Nordstrom's home where he downloaded pornography and masturbated. "I can't find a case that calls more for the maximum sentence."

     Judge Birdsall, for the crimes of second-degree murder, aggravated burglary, car theft and several of the lesser offenses, sentenced John Mayes to 33 years in prison.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Kareem Andre Williams Murder Case

     On January 11, 2013, Lauren Kanoff from New York City was in Boynton Beach, a Palm Beach County town north of Hallandale Beach, visiting her 80-year-old father, Albert Honigman. Mr. Honigman lived in the Aberdeen Development, a gated retirement community considered safe from crime. Mr. Honigman had grown up on Long Island, New York, and after retirement, had moved to Florida's southeast coast with his wife Phyllis. In 2011 Phyllis passed away.

     At ten o'clock Friday night, January 11, 2013, Lauren and her father were unloading packages from their car in their open garage after an evening of shopping. A man walked up behind Lauren, and when she turned around, he punched her in the eye and side of the face. The blow knocked her down, and for a few seconds rendered her unconscious. When Lauren came to, she saw the assailant over her downed father punching him in the face. "You stay down old man," he said, "I have a friend in the car with a gun."

     Lauren did not see the car, but she got a good look at the attacker, describing him to the police as a 6-foot, athletically built black man in his 20s and 30s. Before the assailant left the scene, he stole several pieces of jewelry and Mr. Honigman's $26,000 Rolex watch.

     Paramedics rushed Albert Honigman to the Bethesda West Hospital where he was given a brain CAT scan. The next morning, the patient went home, but later in the day, was called back to the hospital after the CAT scan revealed blood on his brain. The following day, January 13, Mr. Honigman returned to his retirement condo. He went to bed where, a few hours later, his daughter found him dead.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy determined that Mr. Honigman had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's office classified the manner of this 80-year-old's death as criminal homicide.

     In speaking to a reporter after her father's murder, his daughter said, "I don't know if he [the assailant/robber] followed us in, I have no idea. All we know is we turned around...and suddenly I'm down, my father's down."

     In the wake of the robbery and homicide, residents of the Aberdeen Development in Boynton Beach were apprehensive. Mr. Honigman's murder destroyed the sense of security in this retirement community. One of the Boynton Beach retirees said this to a reporter: "It's a very frustrating experience to have someone who lives in [your] gated community get murdered. It's terrifying."

     Homicide detectives, by reviewing surveillance camera tapes,  determined that Lauren Kanoff and her father had been followed home from the Boca Raton Town Center Mall by two young men in a silver Camaro. On February 6, 2013, officers in West Palm Beach arrested 25-year-old Kareem Andre Williams. The murder suspect, a personal trainer with L. A. Fitness, resided in Loxachatche, Florida. In Palm Beach County, Williams had been arrested for grand theft, and carrying a concealed weapon. In 2011, Williams was released from a Florida prison after serving time for armed burglary and several firearms offenses.

     Kareem Williams, the owner of a car that matched the Camero seen following the victims home from their shopping trip, was placed, through cellphone records, at the mall at the same time the victims were there. A mall surveillance camera tape also showed Williams and Albert Honigman in the same proximity near one of the shopping mall's exits.

     On February 15, 2013, a Palm Beach County prosecutor charged Kareem Williams with first-degree murder and other offenses. The magistrate denied bail for the suspect of this brutal home invasion homicide.

     On February 9, 2016, a jury found Williams guilty of first-degree murder, burglary with assault, and robbery. Two days after the verdict, the judge sentenced Williams to two consecutive life sentences.

     

Friday, February 12, 2016

Reverend Creflo Dollar: Megaproblems at the Megachurch

     In 1986, prosperity minister Creflo Dollar started World Changers International Church in suburban Atlanta's College Park, Georgia. Housed in the World Dome, a golden-domed structure that houses a 8,500-seat sanctuary, the megachurch boasts a membership of 30,000. Through his Creflo Dollar Ministries, the silver-tongued pastor had become a wealthy man with his real estate holdings, a stable of breeding horses, and thirty books to his name. Reverent Dollar charged up to $100,000 for one of his rousing, motivational talks.

     In 2007, United States Senator Charles Grassley launched a congressional investigation of Creflo Dollar and five other wealthy televangelists to determine if these preachers were using church-owned airplanes, luxury homes, and credit cards for personal use. While no tax evasion charges were filed in connection with the inquiry, senators decried the lack of governmental oversight of these religious goldmines.

     Pastor Dollar's problems became more personal, and hit closer to home on June 8, 2012. His 15-year-old daughter called 911, and reported that the reverend had assaulted her. Deputies with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office who responded to the mansion spoke to the daughter and her 19-year-old sister who said she had witnessed the incident.

     According to the older Dollar sibling, her father and the alleged victim had been arguing over whether the girl should go to a party. The witness told deputies that Pastor Dollar grabbed his daughter by the shoulders, slapped her in the face, choked her for five seconds, then threw her to the floor. The officers noticed fresh scratch marks on the complainant's neck. The police handcuffed Reverend Dollar and hauled him off to the Fayette County Jail. ( On January 25, 2013, after Pastor Dollar completed an anger management program, the Fayette County prosecutor dropped the assault charges.)

     Just before ten in the morning of October 24, 2012, 51-year-old Floyd Palmer, a former janitor at the  World Changers International Church, walked into a chapel where 25 members of the congregation were being led in prayer by Greg McDowell. Palmer calmly walked up to the stage where the 39-year-old volunteer staff member stood, and shot him dead. After murdering this husband and father, Palmer walked casually out of the World Dome, climbed into his black Subaru station wagon, and drove off. Reverend Dollar was not in the church at the time, and no one else was shot.

     A few hours after the church killing, local police and U.S. Marshals arrested Floyd Palmer outside a Macy's store in a shopping mall in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. The police had spotted Palmer's vehicle in the parking lot. Taken into custody without incident, the suspect was placed into the Fulton County jail where he was held without bond.

     Floyd Palmer was a psychotic and violent person in what seems to be a growing population of dangerous nut cases. In June 2001, when Palmer was part of a security detail at a Baltimore mosque, he shot a fellow employee named Reuben Jerry Ash. After shooting Ash in the back, Palmer tried to fire again, but his handgun jammed. Bystanders ran toward Palmer to disarm him. He fired at them but the gun still didn't work. Fortunately no one was killed, but the shooting left Reuben Ash paralyzed.

     At his pretrial psychiatric examination, Palmer said that members of his family, and Ray Lewis, a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, were out to get him. Palmer pleaded guilty to attempted murder, and was committed to a mental hospital. Three years later, Palmer shot and wounded another Baltimore man. For that attempted murder, Mr. Palmer spent 18 months in a psychiatric hospital.

     In September 2015, a Fulton County judge ruled Floyd Palmer mentally competent to stand trial for murder. As of February 2016, the case had not come to trial.

     When violent mental cases like Floyd Palmer are allowed to live among us, no one is safe, not even a man inside a church leading a prayer service. I can't imagine that Mr. Palmer would have been hired to clean the church if the people who employed him knew of his violent background. If they did, and hired him anyway, they are fools who will have to answer for their bad judgment.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Caleb Gordley Justified Homicide Case

     Caleb A. Gordley, a 16-year-old junior at Parkview High School, lived with his father and his 13-year-old sister in Sterling, Virginia, a suburban community on the Maryland state line in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Caleb played on the varsity basketball team and aspired to be a rapper. His mother, Jennea, divorced from his father Shawn, resided in nearby Clayton.

     Just before midnight on Saturday, March 16, 2013, after being grounded for several days, Caleb sneaked out of his bedroom and walked down the street to a party at a friend's house. For the next two hours he joined the others in drinking shots of vodka.

     Caleb left the party at two in the morning and headed home. The boy was so intoxicated he climbed through an unlocked window at the rear of a house two doors from his house. When Caleb entered his neighbor's dwelling he triggered a motion detection intrusion sensor that awoke the homeowner, Donald Wilder. The 43-year-old lived in the suburban house, one that looked like the Gordley home, with his girlfriend.

     The burglar alarm activation caused Mr. Wilder to grab the 40-caliber pistol he kept near his bed. From the top of the stairs, Mr. Wilder saw, in the light produced by the intrusion alarm, the figure of a six-foot person standing in his kitchen. The homeowner yelled at the intruder to get out of his house. Caleb, thinking that he was being yelled at by his father, ignored the command and headed up the stairway.

     With an intruder walking up the steps toward him, Mr. Wilder fired a warning shot to turn the invader back. The shot, however, did not cause the home intruder to retreat. When Caleb brushed past the homeowner at the top of the stairs, Mr. Wilder fired a second shot. The bullet hit Caleb in the back. The boy turned around and said, "You just shot me." He turned back around, took a few steps, collapsed and died.

     The next morning, Shawn Gordley awoke to find that Caleb was not in the house. A little later he heard the news about a fatal shooting that had occurred in the neighborhood. The father did not connect the incident to his missing son. Later that day the bad news reached him.

     In speaking to a local television reporter on the Monday following his son's death, Mr. Gordley said, "I definitely don't blame him [Donald Wilder]. I know he was trying to protect his family. I forgive him." Jennea Gordley, about a week after her son's homicide, said, "It was not absolutely necessary for my son to lose his life." Rather than suggesting measures to keep alcohol out of the hands of teenagers, she called for better training for gun owners.

     On September 10, 2013, following an investigation by the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, Commonwealth Attorney Jim Plowman announced his decision not to file criminal charges against Mr. Wilder. The prosecutor believed Mr Wilder had a reasonable fear for his life and the life of his girlfriend. Based on the doctrine of self defense, the case was deemed a justifiable homicide.

     Shortly before the Loundoun County prosecutor's announcement, Shawn and Jennea Gordley received copies of the sheriff's office investigative report. Caleb's parents, after reading the police report, questioned Mr. Wilder's judgment. Jennea Gordley, in speaking to a reporter with ABC News, said, "If you're really in fear of danger of your life and your family's life, why would you allow a person that appeared to be dazed walk right past you and then you shoot him in the back?"

     Shawn Gordley, having once forgiven Mr. Wilder, said, "He could have shot Caleb in the leg. Instead he lined himself up at the perfect angle to shoot a hollow point bullet through my son's lung and explode his chest and then a fourth shot at his head for good measure." [The two shots after the fatal bullet both missed.]

     Donald Wilder, in a written statement wrote: "As you can imagine, the incident was an unfortunate tragedy on every level."

     While Shawn and Jennea Gordley questioned the necessity for the fatal shooting, they did not call for the criminal prosecution of Mr. Wilder. On that issue, Jennea Gordley said, "Do I hate him [Mr. Wilder]? No. Do I want him put away? No. I don't think that's going to solve anything."  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Heath Kellogg and His Counterfeiting Ring

     In the old days, counterfeiters made funny money the hard way: they laboriously, and with great skill and craftsmanship, engraved metal, facsimile plates. The quality of their fake twenties and hundred-dollar bills depended upon the engraving detail, the color of the ink, and the softness, strength, and feel of the paper used to approximate the government's secret blend. In those days only a handful of forgers possessed the skill and equipment needed to counterfeit money. This made them easy to identify, and to catch. But with ink in their blood, these men, the minute they got out of prison, returned to their illicit trades. The most skillful counterfeiters were driven by the challenge to produce fake money indistinguishable from the real thing.

     In the late Twentieth Century, with advances in computer, photocopy, and graphic arts technology, counterfeiters could produce half-decent fake bills by simply copying real money. At that time, American paper currency was the easiest money in the world to counterfeit. In an effort to render bills more difficult to replicate, the U. S. Treasury Department redesigned the larger denominations. (At one time the government printed $500 and $1,000-dollar bills. The largest denomination today is $100.)

     The U.S. government's anti-counterfeiting measures included adding holograms, embedded inks whose colors change depending on the angle of light, more color, and larger presidential portraits. The first bills to be redesigned were the tens, twenties, and fifties. The government didn't issue the new 100s until February 2011.

     The redesigned currency drove the amateurs out of the funny money business, but it didn't discourage counterfeiters like Heath J. Kellogg. In 2011, the 36-year-old counterfeiter owned and operated a graphic and web design shop in Marietta, Georgia. In February of that year, Kellogg, who has a history of forged check convictions, began producing fake $50-dollar bills. (Fifties are rarely counterfeited.)

     Kellogg approximated the security threads in government bills by using pens with colored ink that showed up under ultraviolet lamps. He printed out the facsimile fronts and backs separately, then glued the sheets together.

     In May 2011, a bank in Atlanta sent the Secret Service seven fake 50-dollar bills. Three months later, agents arrested a man in Conyers, Georgia who passed $50-dollar bills that matched the seven fakes that passed through the bank in Atlanta.

     The counterfeit bill passer had purchased his fake bills with a face value of $2,000 for $900 in genuine money. The arrestee identified Mr. Kellogg as the manufacturer of the fake fifties, and agreed to cooperate with the Secret Service.

     Agents arrested a second member of the counterfeit distribution ring who also became an undercover Secret Service operative. On November 15, 2012, following the execution of two search warrants and two controlled undercover buys of counterfeit currency from the suspect, agents arrested Heath Kellogg.

     The Assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of Georgia charged Kellogg with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute counterfeit U.S. currency. Five other men were charged in connection with the passing of Mr. Kellogg's contraband product. The federal prosecutor believed that Kellogg and his accomplices injected $1.1 million worth of fake $50-dollar bills into the local economy.

     In November 2013, a jury found Mr. Kellogg guilty as charged. On March 24, 2014, the federal judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

     Two days after the counterfeiter's sentencing, the judge sent accomplice Stacy P. Smith to prison for three years. Following his prison stretch, Smith faced three years of supervised release. The judge sentenced four other members of the Kellogg counterfeiting ring in March 2014. Those sentences ranged from 18-months behind bars to five years probation.

 

      

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Karl Karlsen Murder Case

     On January 1, 1999, when firefighters in the north central California town of Murphys arrived at Karl Karlsen's one-story house, the dwelling was already engulfed in flames. The fire had gotten so intense it had blown out the windows. While Karlsen's three young children were safe, his 31-year-old wife Christina did not make it out of the inferno.

     Questioned about the fast-developing house fire, Karl Karlsen told fire officials and the police that when it started he had been in the garage. He managed, he said, to pull his children out of the burning structure though their bedroom windows, but he had not been able to save his wife.

     An arson investigator looking into the cause and origin of the blaze, after finding what he interpreted as separate areas of deep charring on the floor ( burn patterns suggesting multiple points of origin), suspected that the Karlsen fire had been set. (I don't know if the cause and origin investigator found traces of accelerants to back up his incendiary fire suspicions, or if Christina Karlsen had been autopsied to determine if she had been alive at the time of the fire.) The fire investigator, based on the fact there was no physical evidence consistent with the children having been exposed to smoke and soot, didn't believe the youngsters had been in the house when the fire started. (I don't know if the fire investigator interviewed the children.)

     The speed and intensity of the fire, the multiple points of origin, the condition of the children, and the fact a vehicle Karl Karlsen owned had gone up in flames a year earlier, pointed to a possible arson-murder case. (Almost all serious car fires are incendiary, burned for the insurance money.) Notwithstanding suspicions of arson, the cause of the fatal house fire went into the books as undetermined. While Christina Karlsen's father, Art Alexander, suspected foul play, no charges were filed in connection with his daughter's death.

     Shortly after the blaze that took his wife's life, Karl and his children moved to Seneca County, New York where he used his $200,000 fire insurance payout to buy a farm near Varick, a small town 55 miles southwest of Syracuse in the Finger Lakes region of the state.

     After moving to New York State, Karl married his second wife Cindy who helped him run the farm. On November 20, 2008, Karl Karlsen's 23-year-old son Levi was in his father's garage working on a pickup truck. A graduate of the Romulus Area High School, Levi, the father of two girls, was employed as a machine operator at a glass manufacturing company in nearby Geneva. At eight o'clock that evening, Cindy Karlsen called 911 to report an accident involving Karl's son Levi. In the Karlsen garage, on the floor near the truck, emergency technicians found Levi. He was dead.

     Karl Karlsen told deputies from the Seneca County Sheriff's Office that when he and Cindy left the farm to attend a family event that afternoon at four, Levi had been working beneath the jacked-up truck. When Karl returned to the garage about four hours later, he found that the vehicle had toppled off the jack. The father lifted the pickup off his son with the jack and pulled his body out from under the truck. Levi Karlsen was pronounced dead on arrival at the Geneva General Hospital.

     The Seneca County Coroner's Office classified the manner of Levi Karlsen's death as accidental. As a result, there was no criminal investigation into his sudden death. (I presume Levi's body was not autopsied, and do not know if officers took photographs of the death scene. Since the body had been moved before the arrival of the deputies, I'm not sure how useful these photographs would have been anyway.)

     In March 2012, more than three years after Levi Karlsen's sudden and violent death, homicide investigators with the Seneca County Sheriff's Office and the New York State Police Violent Crime Investigation Unit, became interested in the case. The piece of information that opened the criminal inquiry involved Karl Karlsen's purchase of a life insurance police on his son just days before the young man's demise. According to that policy, Karl Karlsen was the sole beneficiary. (The amount of the insurance payout has not been made public.)

     Three and a half years after Karl Karlsen received the life insurance money from his son's death, he was in financial trouble. Police arrested him in June 2012 on the charge of passing a pair of bad checks in Seneca Falls, New York. The bogus checks totaled $685.30.  

     On November 24, 2012, four years after Levi Karlsen died in his father's garage, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porch charged Karl Karlsen with second-degree murder. Based on an eight-month homicide investigation conducted by state and county officers, the prosecutor believed the father had intentionally caused the truck to fall on his son. With Livi pinned beneath the vehicle, Karl took Cindy to the family event. Upon his return to the farm four hours later, the suspect "discovered" his son lying under the fallen vehicle. Karl asked his second wife to call 911. Investigators and the district attorney believed that the suspect, when he took out the life insurance on his son, planned to murder him.

     In September 2013, at a pretrial hearing on the second-degree murder charge related to Levi Karlsen's death, the defendant's second wife Cindy (she was in the process of divorcing him) shed new light on the homicide investigation. In early November 2012, after learning that Karl had invested part of his son's $700,000 insurance payout to purchase a $1.2 million policy on her life, she began cooperating with Seneca County investigators.

     Cindy Karlsen agreed to wear a wire and meet her estranged husband in a crowded restaurant in hopes of getting him to admit that he had killed his son. She took the stand at the hearing and testified that "I led him to believe our marriage had a chance if he came clean. I told him he could trust me."

     At the restaurant, Karl told Cindy that he had removed the truck's front tires and raised the vehicle on a single jack before asking his son to repair the brake and transmission lines. "It was so wobbly," he said.

     "Tell the truth," Cindy replied.

     "It was never meant to be. It was never planned from day one to ever go that way," Karl said.

     A week following the audio-recorded conversation, investigators with the Seneca County Sheriff's Office interrogated the suspect for almost ten hours during which time Karlsen denied killing Levi 75 times. Eventually, however, Karlsen signed a statement in which he acknowledged that he had knocked the truck off its jack and walked away. But in the videotaped interrogation, Karlsen insisted that he had not intentionally caused the truck to fall on his son. He told detectives that because he had been taking pain pills for various ailments, his memory of the incident was fuzzy. "In some ways," he said, "it's a blank."

     Immediately following the marathon interrogation, detectives took Karlsen into custody.

     On November 7, 2013, the day before his trial, Karlsen confessed to crushing his son to death for the insurance money. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Six weeks later, Seneca Court Judge Dennis Bender, before sentencing Karlsen to 15 years to life, told him he wasn't "fully human."

       

Monday, February 8, 2016

Charles Manson and the Charles "Tex" Watson Tapes

     In Los Angeles, the murders committed by members of Charles Manson's "family" on August 9 and 10, 1969, marked the beginning of a homicidal crime wave that lasted until the early 1990's. Charles Manson, who is still alive and in prison, became the personification of cold-blooded, ritualistic serial killing. The image of this little man's face has come to symbolize demonic evil. While he was not the first insignificant loser to achieve infamy through sociopathic deviancy, his name and his persona have been etched into the annals of murder. Manson's pot-smoking, LSD-taking, hippie followers are the prototypes of today's bath salt, PCP zombies.

     Manson and his murderous crew, inspired by the Beatle's song "Helter Skelter," slaughtered eight people in a plot to start a race war. The man who successfully prosecuted these degenerate misfits, Vincent Bugliosi, wrote a book (with Curt Gentry) about the case called Helter Skelter. The nonfiction book, published in 1974, became a bestseller, and won several literary awards. Mr. Bugliosi died in June of 2015 at the age of 80.

     In 2011, cold-case investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department were looking into 12 unsolved murders committed in the LA area during the Manson family killing spree. Pursuant to that investigation, the LAPD petitioned a federal judge in Texas for the right to review eight cassette audio-tapes containing hours of conversations between Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson and his attorney. Investigators believed these tapes contained evidence linking Manson and his people to some or all of the unsolved murders.

     In the spring of 2012, the judge granted the LAPD's request for the audio tapes. Watson's attorney appealed the ruling which delayed the LAPD's access to this information.

     In an effort to get around the legal roadblock, Los Angeles detectives acquired a warrant to search the attorney's office for the cassettes. On October 16, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Schell issued an order prohibiting the LA detectives from serving their search warrant. In justifying his ruling, Judge Schell wrote: "This court understands and respects the desire of the LAPD to seek access to the 42-year-old tapes. However, the LAPD has provided no explanation as to why this court should shortcut the usual [appeals] procedure...." In other words, what was the emergency?

     Cold-case detectives, relatives of the victims of the unsolved murders, and people interested in Charles Manson and the history of murder, were frustrated by the delay caused by this judge's ruling. But in May 2013, Judge Richard A. Schell released the Watson tapes to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. After the recordings were converted into electronic files, the historic legal conversations were given to the cold case investigators looking into the unsolved Los Angeles murders.

     As it turned out, the Watson tapes did not produce evidence that led to the resolution of the unsolved Los Angeles murders. But in September 2014, an attorney for imprisoned Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, announced that the Watson tapes might benefit his client's bid for parole. In May 2015, the state parole board denied her request.

     Charles "Tex" Watson, serving his time at the Mule Creek State Prison in Lone, California, is up for parole in November 2016. Having been denied parole 14 times, it is highly unlikely that parole board will grant his request at his upcoming hearing. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Michael David Elliot: Breaking Out of Prison Was the Easy Part

     In August 1993, a 19-year-old armed robber and arsonist named Michael David Elliot and a criminal associate entered a house near Midland, Michigan with their guns drawn. They had come to the Bentley Township home 140 miles northwest of Detroit to rob Michael and Bruce Tufnell and their friends Vickie Currie and Kathy Lane. Elliot and his accomplice needed the money for drugs. When the home invaders didn't find any cash in the house, they opened fired on the victims, killing all four of them. Before leaving the murder scene, Elliot set fire to the house.

     Four days after the mass murder, police officers arrested Elliot in Saginaw, Michigan. He still possessed the .38-caliber revolver that had fired ten of the fifteen bullets removed from the bodies of the four murder victims.

     At his August 1994 trial, Elliot claimed that he had purchased the murder weapon the day after the massacre from the real killer. He also asserted that at the time of the murders he was at his aunt's house. The jury found the defendant guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing, Elliot told the judge that despite his conviction, he was innocent. The judge sentenced him to four life terms to be served at the Ionia Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Ionia, Michigan.

     During the first 14 years of his incarceration, Elliot was a problem inmate with 20 acts of misconduct. But after December 2008, he began serving his time as a model prisoner. Perhaps he decided that a low profile would enhance his chances to escape.

     On February 2, 2014--Super Bowl Sunday--while the other inmates were headed for dinner, the five-foot-eight, 165 pound Elliot made his move. Dressed in a white kitchen uniform to blend in with the snow, Elliot pulled back the bottoms of two fences and crawled to freedom. (Is this what passed for maximum security in Michigan? Where was the fence electricity, the motion detectors, and the prison guards? Were all the guards watching the Super Bowl?)

     After trudging through fields and woods, the escapee walked into the town of Ionia where he used a box cutter to abduct a woman. Elliot and his hostage, in her 2004 red Jeep Liberty, crossed the Michigan border into Indiana. At 9:15 that night, correction officers performing a routine head-count discovered that inmate Elliot was missing.

     Just before midnight, Elliot and his captive stopped for gas at a Marathon station in the town of Middlebury. While he paid for the gas, she entered the gas station restroom and locked the door. Using the cellphone she had kept hidden, the kidnapped woman called 911. After calmly reporting the carjacking and describing her captor, Elliot came to the restroom door and told her to hurry-up. "Yeah, in a little bit," she said. "Sorry, it's taking me longer than what I thought." At that point Elliot decided to drive off without her.

     At 5 PM on February 3, 2014, Elliot pulled into Shipshewan, a town twenty miles east of Elkhart, Indiana. There he abandoned the Jeep Liberty and stole a Chevy Monte Carlo.

     Not long after the prison escapee stole the Monte Carlo, a La Porte County sheriff's deputy spotted the stolen vehicle and tried to pull it over. The high-speed chase that followed ended abruptly when Elliot drove over stop sticks that flattened the Chevy's tires. Officers took him into custody. He had been free less than 48 hours.

     In speaking to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press after his capture, Elliott said, "I just seen an opportunity. It was really simple." Of the five main strategies inmates use to escape low-security facilities--the cut-and-run, the ruse, the tunnel, the outside accomplice, and the walk-away, Elliott's methodology combined the ruse and the cut-and-run. The problem was, he was not incarcerated in a minimum security facility.

     On February 6, 2014, a spokesperson for the prison announced that two corrections employees had been suspended in connection with the escape. One was a corrections officer and the other a shift commander.

     Michael Elliot had found a way to escape from a maximum security penitentiary, but he wasn't equipped to elude capture once he got outside prison fences. While prison escapes are rare, it's even more unusual for escapees to remain at large for more than a few days.