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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Notable People From West Virginia

West Virginia hasn't produced many famous or historic figures. We can't claim a movie star, a U.S. president, a great inventor, a famous writer, or even a celebrated criminal. We do have from our great state two historic figures in sports: basketball's Jerry West and golf's Sam Snead. While I've often made fun of my home state, there is no other place I'd rather be from. I think the fact that West Virginia hasn't produced a movie star or a U.S. president says something good about the place. Yes, we should be proud of that.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Diana Costarakis Murder-For-Hire Case: The Mother-in-Law From Hell

     Diana Reaves Costarakis lived on Buggy Whip Drive in Middleburg, an unincorporated community in northern Florida thirty miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville. The 70-year-old grandmother, in September 2013, asked an unidentified intermediary for advice on how to find a hit man to murder her daughter-in-law, Angela Costarakis. The person the elderly murder-for-hire mastermind reached out to took the request seriously enough to report Costarakis to the Duval County Sheriff's Office in Jacksonville.

     As the standard investigative protocol in murder solicitation cases, murder mastermind Costarakis received a call from an undercover officer who offered to do the job. But first, they would have to meet in person in order for the first installment of the hit money to exchange hands. If the suspect agreed to a face-to-face meeting with the phony contract killer, a videotaped event that normally took place in a box store parking lot, the case would proceed.

     Diana Costarakis told the man on the phone that she would like to meet with him. She agreed to bring with her $500 in cash, the first downpayment for the hit. (It's amazing that almost every murder-for-hire mastermind falls for this trap. These people are so desperate to have someone killed they lose the ability to think straight.)

     Diana Costarakis, on Wednesday, October 9, 2013, met with the undercover cop in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in Jacksonville. With this meeting, she believed she was moving forward in her scheme to have Angela Costarakis murdered. She handed the phony hit man $500 in cash, and promised a second downpayment of $1,000 the next time they met. Upon completion of the job, Costarakis said she would  come up with an additional $3,500. Having someone killed, while a fairly simple, straightforward task, didn't come cheap.

     As a further incentive for the contract killer, the mastermind informed him that the murder target usually wore expensive jewelry, untraceable diamonds that could be fenced without risk. To facilitate the successful completion of the hit man's assignment, Costarakis provided the undercover cop with a photograph of her daughter-in-law, a description of her car, and her home address.

     The next day, in the same Home Depot parking lot, the homicidal grandmother handed the undercover cop the $1,000 in cash. In response to the question of why she wanted Angela Costarakis taken out, the mastermind described her daughter-in-law as a drunk who drove around intoxicated with her 6-year-old daughter in the car. Not only that, the murder-for-hire target, who was in the process of divorcing the mastermind's son, was moving to Denver with her boyfriend. According to the suspect, the couple planned to take the little girl with them. (Most real hit men don't care why the mastermind wants the target murdered.)

     When asked if she was sure she wanted to go ahead with the murder plot, Costarakis replied, "If you don't kill her, I will."

     Having acquired all the evidence he needed, the undercover cop flashed his badge and arrested the suspect on the spot. After reading Costarakis her Miranda rights, she asked to consult with an attorney before speaking to the police. As a result, there was no interrogation and forthcoming confession.

     Charged with criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy, Diana Costarakis was placed in the Duval County jail where she was incarcerated without bond. She was arraigned on October 31, 2013.

     The day following the murder-for-hire arrest, Angela Costarakis, the target of her mother-in-law's wrath, told a local television reporter that "I am beyond sad and it breaks my heart because it messes up the family. I have compassion. I don't want to see anyone spend the rest of their life in jail. However, I am still just not dealing with it. I just found out. I have not wrapped my head around it." The murder target said she did not have plans to move to Denver with her daughter.

     On August 27, 2014, Diana Costarakis pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit a capital felony. In October 2014 the judge sentenced the 71-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to seven years in prison.
     

Bank Robbery, An American Crime

Shortly after the Pilgrims planted their feet on Plymouth Rock, there was a problem with thieves. Crime crept like a plague from the boats of the Pilgrims, bringing to the new land all of the old conditions--both good and bad--that had defined Europe throughout the centuries. Robbing banks, however, had never been an established practice in the Old World. Instead, it can be chalked up as one of the great innovations in civilization brought to fruition in the new frontier nation--the United States.

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Friday, March 30, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Drying Up As A Creative Writer

Shortly after turning 68, I got an idea for a piece of short fiction. The story involved  a heated argument between two historical contemporaries, Dr. Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes. The master shrink and the master detective have a disagreement over what is less real, the photograph of a dead person or a mirror image of someone who is alive. I thought I could transform this stupid concept into an original piece of literature. But I couldn't get beyond the idea, couldn't pull it off. It was then I realized that my creative juices had evaporated. I had become a dried up writer. I was, creatively, the walking dead. My lifelong self-loathing was suddenly replaced by intense self-pity.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Tyler Hadley Murder Case

     In 2011, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley, a sullen, introverted, bizarre-acting kid who avoided eye contact with people, lived with his parents in Port St. Lucie, a sprawling suburban community 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, Florida. His parents, Blake and Mary Jo Hadley, had moved to Port St. Lucie from Fort Lauderdale in 1987 to be closer to Blake's parents who lived in the neighboring town of Stuart.

     Mr. Hadley worked for the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant as a watch engineer. Mary Jo, who suffered bouts of depression, was an elementary school teacher. Tyler's older brother Ryan attended college in North Carolina.

     As a child, Tyler, a polite well-behaved kid, was close to his parents. He tossed football with his father and enjoyed being with his family in their backyard swimming pool. But by the time he entered Port St. Lucie High School, Tyler had become an eccentric, hyper kid who seemed to be looking for trouble.

     In 2010, Tyler pleaded guilty to burglary. He also, that year, set a fire in a nearby park. In April 2011 the authorities charged Tyler with aggravated battery after he attacked one of his friends. In June of that year he got drunk and urinated on another friend's bed. When daily counseling sessions didn't work, his mother committed him to a mental health clinic.

     On July 16, 2011, Tyler made it known he was throwing a big party at his house that night. He said his parents were out of town and that he had the place to himself. By midnight, a hundred kids, most of whom didn't know the host, were in the Hadley house drinking, making out, and smoking pot.

     The partygoers put out their cigarettes on the carpets and walls and littered the place with empty beer bottles and cans. They completely vandalized the dwelling.

     As a friend of Tyler's was about to leave the party, Tyler pulled him aside and said, "Dude, I did something. I might go to prison. I might go away for life. I don't know, dude, I'm freaking out. I know you're not going to believe me, no one will believe me. I freaking killed somebody."

     The friend didn't want to hear this. "Don't be telling me that sort of thing," he said. "I don't need to know." With that the intoxicated friend stumbled out of the house and drove away.

     To another partygoer Tyler said, "I'm going to kill myself."

     "Why would you do that," the friend asked.

     "Cause I did something really bad. If I get caught, I'll be in jail for a long time."

     At one o'clock that morning, Tyler spoke to his longtime friend, Michael Mandell. "I killed my parents," he said.

     "Yeah, right," replied Mandell.

     "I'm being real. I'm not lying to you. If you look closely enough, you will see signs." Tyler and his friend walked out of the house toward the garage where, in the parking lot, Mandell saw the cars that belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hadley. When Tyler turned on the lights inside the garage, his friend noticed a bloody shoe print.

     Back in the house, with the party still raging, Tyler took Mandell to the master bedroom. The door was closed and there were streaks of dried blood on its exterior surface. Inside the room, Michael Mandell saw a leg sticking out from beneath a pile of chairs, dishes, pillowcases, books, a coffee table, and blood-soaked towels. Michael backed out of the room and Tyler closed the door.

     Tyler's best friend listened intently as Tyler described how, earlier in the day, he had murdered his parents. Just before five o'clock that afternoon, in anticipation of the murders, he hid his parents' cell phones. He swallowed three Ecstasy pills, and with a claw hammer from the garage, bashed his mother's head in as she sat at the family computer. When his father responded to his wife's screams, Tyler attacked him with the hammer. Mr. Hadley died on the spot.

     After hammering his parents to death for no reason, Tyler wrapped their heads in towels and dragged them into the master bedroom. He next spent hours trying to clean up the gore using Clorox wipes and a sponge mop.

      Michael Mandell, after hearing his friend's detailed account of how he had murdered his parents eight hours earlier, stuck around and partied for another 45 minutes during which time he posed for selfies with his murderous buddy.

     At two in the morning, some kid announced that there was another house party in town. Shortly thereafter, fifteen cars filled with drunk and stoned kids departed the Hadley house. The stampede caused such a commotion a next door neighbor called the police.

     When the two Port St. Lucie police officers knocked on the Hadley front door there were still twenty kids partying in the dwelling. Tyler answered the door and promised to keep the noise down. The officers left.

     At four in the morning the party was still going strong. Kids were starting to notice, however, that their host was acting strange. Someone partygoer notified Michael Mandell of his friend's behavior that caused him to call the Crimestoppers hotline. Mandell's description of what he had seen and heard from Tyler hours earlier brought the police back to the Hadley house.

     Just before dawn, police officers called Tyler out of the house and placed him under arrest. They discovered, in the master bedroom, the bodies of his parents. A local prosecutor charged Tyler with two counts of first-degree murder. The judge denied the murder suspect bail. At the St. Lucie County Jail, Tyler became an immediate celebrity inmate.

     On February 19, 2014, less than a month before his double murder trial was to begin, Tyler Hadley pleaded no contest to murdering his parents.

     Hadley's public defender attorney, at the sentencing hearing on March 20, 2014, asked Judge Robert R. Makemon to sentence his client to two concurrent 30-year sentences with a case review after 20 years. The judge, however, sentenced Hadley to two life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

The History of Kleptomania

     The birth of criminal anthropology codified scientists' ideas that kleptomaniacs, mostly women, were born to steal. In The Female Offender (1893) Cesare Lombroso wrote: "Shoplifting, which has become so fashionable since the establishment of huge department stores, is a form of occasional crime in which women specialize. The temptation stems from the immense number of articles on display….We saw that fine things are not articles of luxury for women but articles of necessity since they equip them for conquest." This, according to Lombroso, resulted in "women's organic inability to resist stealing."

     The idea that kleptomania arises out of female sexual repression was made popular around 1906 by Freud's disciples, who attached the Oedipal myth to the disease, attributing it to infantile revenge fantasies and the castration complex, and sometimes equated shoplifting with sex. Best known as a charismatic anarchist, free-love advocate, and cocaine addict who influenced expressionism and Franz Kafka [a novelist], Otto Gross was the first psychoanalyst to champion kleptomania as sexual release.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pocket Knives, Baseball Cards, And Marbles

When I grew up, almost every boy owned a few marbles, a pocket knife, and a small collection of baseball cards that smelled of bubble gum. With our knives we played a game called Mumbley-Peg. We carried our knives to school and carved our initials into our desk tops. No one plays with marbles anymore, baseball cards are for adults, and don't even try taking your pocket knife to school. I'm not sure life for children has changed for the better.

Thornton P. Knowles

Steven L. Nelson: Born to be Executed

     When he was 3-years-old, Steven L. Nelson set fire to his mother's bed. His father abused the boy, and by the time he was ten, Steven was being medicated for attention deficit disorder. But the child's emotional and personality problems were deeper than that, and the drugs only made him more hyperactive, and impossible to control.

     As a teen, Steven continued to be a disciplinary problem in school and got into trouble with the law. He seemed to enjoy disturbing the peace, causing trouble, and inflicting pain on others. He ended up in juvenile detention centers in Oklahoma and Texas. One didn't have to be an expert in deviant behavior to predict bad things for this young man as well as the people unfortunate enough to cross his path. Had he been accidentally run over and killed by a bus, it would have been a gift to society.

     On March 3, 2011 in North Arlington, Texas, the 25-year-old sadistic sociopath, in the course of robbing a Baptist church, murdered the pastor, 28-year-old Clint Dobson. He beat, bound, then with a plastic bag, suffocated his victim. Nelson also viciously assaulted Judy Elliott, the church secretary. Left for dead, she survived the attack.

     A week after the murder of Pastor Dobson and the attempted murder of his secretary, the police arrested Nelson. Although this cold-blooded killer was off the street, he was still an extremely dangerous man. While incarcerated in the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth, Texas, Nelson, while in the recreation area of the lockup, attacked another inmate. Nelson beat 30-year-old Jonathan Holden with a broom handle, then strangled the mentally retarded man to death with a blanket. (Why was this killing machine not confined around the clock to a cell by himself?) After murdering Holden, Nelson showed-off to inmates who had witnessed the homicide by doing the Chuck Berry hop, using the broomstick as his guitar.

     Knowing that he was going to be convicted for murdering Pastor Dobson, Nelson, with nothing to lose, killed another man just for the thrill of it.

     On October 8, 2012, after a week-long trial, a jury in Fort Worth, Texas found Steven Nelson guilty of capital murder in the brutal, sadistic killing of Pastor Dobson. Following the verdict, the penalty phase of the murder trial got underway before the same jurors. The jury would have to decide whether to sentence this man to life in prison without parole or condemn him to die by lethal injection.

     After a week of testimony from prosecution witnesses, Nelson's defense attorneys put experts on the stand in a futile attempt to make their client slightly more sympathetic than the vicious, recreational murderer that he was.

     Dr. Antoinette McGarrahan, a psychiatrist with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, labeled Nelson a violent psychopath and said he will pose a danger to people exposed to him in prison. This prosecution witness also debunked Nelson's claim that he had multiple personalities. On October 16, 2012, the jury, after deliberating Nelson's fate for 90 minutes, issued their sentence verdict: death by lethal injection.

     Nelson, true to form, was not done creating havoc. After sheriff deputies placed him into a courthouse holding pen, he flooded the cell, and the courtroom, with black, fire-retardant infused water from the sprinkler head he had broken. Courthouse personnel scrambled to save boxes of evidence from being ruined by the foul-smelling liquid. As the courthouse people rushed to save the evidence, they could hear Nelson howling like a wolf in his cell. Firefighters who responded to the scene shut off the water to the sprinkler system.

     It's not difficult to imagine how much trouble Steven Nelson will cause prison personnel and his fellow inmates until the executioner kills this killer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Hollywood And The American Hero

It's interesting that three of the Twentieth Century's most visual symbols of American patriotism, military heroism, and the fight for individual freedom were Hollywood actors who came of age during World War II but never saw combat. Charlton Heston enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1941 and was stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. He never saw combat. Ronald Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve in 1937. By the end of the war his unit had produced 400 Army training films. He never saw combat. John Wayne, the star of countless World War II movies, never served in the military. As they say, only in America.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Michelle Byrom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1999, 42-year-old Michelle Byrom lived in Luka, Mississippi, a small, rural town in the northeastern part of the state. She resided with her abusive 58-year-old husband, Edward Byrom Sr. and their 25-year-old son, Edward Byrom Jr.

     On June 4, 1999, Edward Byrom Sr. was found dead in the bedroom of his house. He had been shot in the head at close range. Sheriff David Smith of Tishomingo County brought young Edward in for questioning. According to Edward Jr., his friend Joey Gillis had committed the murder on behalf of his mother, Michelle Byrom. The dead man's son said that after the shooting, he went to the hospital where his mother was being treated for double pneumonia. When he informed her that Gillis had shot Edward Sr. as planned, Michelle instructed him to return to the house to make sure his father was dead. If in fact the shot had been fatal, young Edward was to call 911 and report the homicide.

     Edward Byrom Jr. told Sheriff Smith that his mother had promised to pay Gillis $15,000 from her husband's $150,000 life insurance policy.

     Joey Gillis, when questioned by the sheriff, denied any involvement in the murder case. A test to determine if he had recently fired a gun proved negative. (A gunshot residue test on Edward Jr., however, turned out positive. The dead man's son also led deputies to the murder weapon, a World War II 9 mm handgun that had belonged to his grandfather.)

     After interrogating Edward Byrom Jr. for several hours, the sheriff questioned Michelle Byrom at the hospital. The heavily medicated patient, after being told that her son had confessed to the murder-for-hire plot, made statements interpreted by the authorities as incriminating.

     A Tishomingo County prosecutor charged Joey Gillis with capital murder. Edward Jr. and his mother were charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder. If convicted as charged, they each faced the possibility of being sentenced to death.

     In early 2000, Edward Byrom Jr., while incarcerated in the Tishomingo County Jail, wrote his mother four letters in which he exonerated her and confessed fully to his father's murder. According to his revised account of the shooting, on the day of the killing, his father had slapped him in the face and called him a no good bastard. After brooding awhile in his bedroom, Edward Jr. found the 9 mm handgun and used it to shoot his father in the head.

     According to young Byrom, when he was interrogated by the sheriff, "I gave him one BS story after another to save my ass….I was scared, confused, and high. I just started spitting out the first thought that turned out to be this big conspiracy theory. It was all BS, that's why I had so many different stories."

     In October 2000, Michelle Byrom went on trial for conspiracy to kill her husband for his life insurance money. While Joey Gillis, the supposed triggerman, did not testify, Edward Jr., having recanted his jailhouse confessions to his mother, took the stand for the prosecution.

     Michelle Byrom's attorney decided to withhold the introduction of her son's jailhouse letters until Edward Jr.'s cross-examination. But when it came time to enter the letters into evidence, the judge ruled they could not be introduced mid-trial. While the defense attorney was allowed to grill Edward Jr. about the contents of his confessions, not having the actual letters as exhibits hurt the defense.

     On November 18, 2000, the jury found Michelle Byrom guilty as charged. On the advice of her attorney, she waived her right to a jury-determined sentence, instead putting her fate into the hands of the trial judge. This turned out to be an unwise decision. The judge handed Michelle Byrom the death sentence.

     In 2001, Joey Gillis, the alleged triggerman, in return for a lighter sentence, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact. Upon his release from prison in 2009, he denied having any involvement in Mr. Byrom's murder.

     Edward Byrom Jr. also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Rewarded for his testimony against his mother, he walked out of prison in August 2013.

     In the meantime, death row attorneys working on Michelle Byrom's behalf had appealed her conviction on the grounds she had not received adequate legal representation. In 2006, the Mississippi Supreme Court, in a five to three decision, ruled that Byrom's trial attorney's performance had not prejudiced her case. Bryom's appeal for a new trial was denied.

     In March 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court took up the Byrom appeal again. This time the justices ruled in her favor by reversing the murder-for-hire conviction and remanding the case back to the state circuit court for a new trial. The 57-year-old had been on Mississippi's death for more than thirteen years.

     Following the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling, a local prosecutor re-charged Byrom with conspiracy to murder her husband.

     On July 15, 2015, Michelle Byrom, while maintaining her innocence, pleaded no contest to the murder conspiracy charge. As part of the plea deal, the judge sentenced her to time served. For the first time in 16 years, she was free.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His 7th Grade Gym Teacher

Growing up in West Virginia, I didn't exactly sail through 7th grade. In fact, my little academic boat hit the rocks and sank. The one thing I learned on my first voyage through 7th grade came from our gym teacher, Mr. Blankenship. After gym class, many of us skipped taking a shower. To discourage that, Mr. B. shocked us with the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, showered every day! He said that while none of us future losers would ever become America's president, we could at least be as clean as one. That worked for me. Since then I have showered every day with the president of the United States. Thank you Mr. Blankenship.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Mary Rogers Murder Case: The Homicide That Launched Crime Journalism and Modern Policing

     In America, police didn't get around to systematically investigating crime until well into the twentieth century. There were no police, at least as we know them today, until the mid-l800s, about the time the word "detective" first appeared in the Oxford Dictionary. Charles Dickens, in his 1853 novel, Bleak House, used the word for the first time in a book.

     From Colonial America to the mid and late 1800s, most cities were "policed" by bands of politically appointed, unsalaried watchmen and constables who were compensated through a system of fees, rewards and bribes. If a thief had more money than his victim, he could avoid jail by paying off the constable or local justice of the peace. Watchmen and thieves commonly operated as teams wherein the thief would steal the property then turn it over to the watchman who would solicit a reward from the victim. The thief and the cop would split the money. At best, watchmen were nothing more than middlemen in the ransoming back of loot.

     In 1840, New York City had a population of a half million and a growing crime problem, particularly in the Five Points area, a south Manhattan slum. In addition to gangs of young thugs, the area was being overtaken by a small army of safe-crackers, lockpicks, pickpockets, and shoplifters. The neighborhood also featured gambling, prostitution, and public drunkeness. While homicide was still rare, more and more people were being raped and assaulted.

     During the day, so-called "roundsmen," a group of inept and corrupt watchmen who existed off fees and rewards patroled the city. At night, watchmen called "leatherheads," equally ineffective and corrupt, took over. The watchmen ignored crimes against persons such as assault and rape because these cases rarely involved monetary incentives from victims. Even in cases of violent crime where victims could afford rewards, few arrests were made because no one in law enforcement knew how to conduct a criminal investigation. Moreover, forensic science, and the technology to identify offenders beyond their names--bodily measurements then later fingerprints--didn't exist. As a result, there were no criminal record archives, and because photography was a relatively new technology, rogues' galleries--collections of offender mugshots--didn't exist. It would be decades before the police in the U.S. routinely photographed arrestees.

     In 1841, a notorious murder case highlighted the sorry state of law enforcement and criminal investigation in New York City and the rest of the country. As is often the case a celebrated crime would serve as a catalyst for change--and in this instance--progress.

The Mary Rogers Murder Case

     Three men, late in the afternoon of July 28, 1841, while fishing from a boat on the Hudson River just off the Hoboken, New Jersey shore, spotted the bloated body of a woman floating in the water. The partially clothed corpse was identified that evening as 20-year-old Mary Rogers, the former employee of a popular Manhattan cigar store. She had gone missing three days earlier. The once attractive woman had been badly beaten in the face and strangled by a length of muslim found wrapped around her neck that had been tied with a slip knot. Her hands and feet had been bound, and according to the coroner who ruled her cause of death as drowning, she had been raped.

     Mary Rogers had lived with her mother Phoebe who owned a boarding house on Nassau Street in Hoboken. On the day after the fishermen found the body, a lawyer named Alfred Crommelin, a boarding house resident who at one time had been the victim's suitor, asked the authorities not to make inquiries into the death. Because there had been rumors that Mary's last absence from work involved acquiring an abortion, Crommelin based his request on the need to protect the family from embarrassment. The watchmen he spoke to, a man ill equipped to conduct an investigation of any kind, readily agreed to drop the case. Had it not been for a reporter for The New York Evening Mercury writing a scathing editorial criticising this official inaction, the case would have sllipped into obscurity.

     When the other newspapers in town picked up the story of Mary Rogers' death, the authorities had no choice but to conduct a token investigation. Most of the information gathered on the case--Mary's background, associations, and activities before her most recent disappearance--would be developed by newspaper reporters rather than the constables and watchmen responsible for looking into the homicide.

     Mary Rogers began working at John Anderson's Cigar Store, on Broadway near Thomas Street, in the spring of 1840. During her ten months of employment there, more and more men dazzled by her beauty and charm flocked to the store. One day, in January 1841, Mary didn't show up for work and remained missing for six days during which time her absence was reported in several newspapers as the "mysterious disappearnce of the cigar girl." When she returned to the store her admiring customers noticed her despondency and were skeptical of her story that she had been in the country visiting a relative. The rumor spread that she had undergone an abortion, a legal procedure at the time.

     Shortly after her return to work Mary broke off her engagement to Daniel Payne, a heavy-drinking cork cutter of whom her mother strongly disapproved. She then quit her job. On July 25, the day she
disappeared for the second time, Mary told Payne she was spending the day at her aunt's house on Bleecker Street. Three days later the fishermen found her floating in the Hudson River.

     Failing to acquire confessions from their only suspects--John Anderson, Alfred Crommelin and Daniel Payne--the police published a reward for information leading to the killer's arrest. That resulted in an anonymous letter from a man who said he had seen Mary, on the day of her disappearance, with six rough looking men at a summer retreat near Hoboken. From the beach Mary and the men were seen disappearing into a wooded area. The letter, published in several newspapers, brought forward two men who were on the beach that day, men who remembered seeing an attractive young woman in the company of several men. As far as these witnesses could tell, Mary was with these men voluntarily.

     Shortly after the publication of the anonymous letter, a stage driver came forward and said he had seen Mary, on the day of her disappearance, with a young naval officer. They were at a road house near the Hoboken summer retreat. Mary's companion turned out to be a sailor named William Adam. Taken into custody, watchmen, after grilling him for two days, released him back to his ship.

     On September 25, two months after the murder, children playing in the woods near Elysian Fields in Hoboken found a white petticoat, a silk scarf, a parasol, and a linen handkerchief bearing the initials "M. R." This area was near where Mary had been seen entering the woods with the six rough looking men, the probable place of her killing. No one in authority had thought to search this site for clues related to her violent assault. Without the ability to connect a suspect to the scene of a crime through fingerprints or various forms of trace evidence, the investigation came to an abrupt end. A few weeks later, at this very spot, Daniel Payne killed himself by drinking a bottle of laudanum, a particularly painful and unhurried mode of poison-suicide. Because Payne had an air-tight alibi for July 25, the day of the murder, he was never considered as a serous suspect.

     No one was ever arrested for the murder of Mary Rogers. Edgar Allan Poe, however, used the case as the basis of his story, "The Mystery of Marie Roget," a crime he set in Paris. The short story reflected Poe's contempt for New York's law enforcement establishment, men he portrayed as bungling the murder investigation. The story first appeared in the November 1842 issue of Snowden's Ladies' Companion. Two installments followed.

     The Mary Rogers case, through Edgar Allan Poe, led to the formation of a new literary genre and sparked the beginning of crime journalism. Poe's fictionalization of the case produced early anti-abortion legislation and kick-started the formation, in 1845, of the New York City Police Department, the nation's first modern law enforcement agency.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On West Virginia's Death Penalty

Unlike most West Virginians, I'm for the death penalty. That's because I don't like the alternative--making the convicted murderer spend the rest of his life in a cage with other violent men. What is the point of that? Take Elmer Brunner, the last man executed in West Virginia. The 47-year-old Brunner robbed an elderly woman in Huntington by clubbing her to death with the claw end of a hammer. He died on the electric chair on April 3, 1959. Six years later, thanks to death house lawyers and their likeminded activists, West Virginia abolished the death penalty. As a supporter of executing criminals like Elmer Brunner, I was not happy with that. Without the death penalty, there can be no justice in the most brutal, cold-blooded murder cases. Surely there are other ways the bleeding hearts can amuse themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles

Donald Eugene Borders and the "Three Women" Murder Case

     In 2003, 85-year-old Lottie Ledford lived by herself in a low-income neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina, a town of 20,000 fifty miles west of Charlotte. As a younger woman, Lottie had worked in the region's textile mills. On August 23, 2003, a relative discovered Lottie lying dead on her bed. Because of her age, the police didn't suspect foul play. The Cleveland County Coroner ruled that Lottie Ledford had died of an heart attack.

     Bobby Fisher, Ledford's nephew, believed that his aunt had been murdered. Based upon his own observations, and what the funeral director had seen and noted, Fisher knew that Ledford's face and arms had been covered in bruises. (In January 2013, Bobby Fisher's widow, Barbara Ann, in speaking to a reporter, said, "It looked as if someone had taken two fingers and pinched her nose and held her across the mouth.") The fact that someone had cut Ledford's telephone line also suggested homicide. Bobby Fisher pleaded with the Shelby police to launch a murder investigation, but they ignored his request.

     On September 20, 2003, six weeks after Lottie Ledford's death, in the same neighborhood, Margaret Tessneer's daughter and son-in-law went by her (Margaret's) house at ten that morning. The couple had brought Tessneer a biscuit from Hardee's. The visitors found Tessneer's front door ajar, and inside the dwelling, the 79-year-old lying face-up on her rumpled bed. The dead woman had bruises on her face, arms, and legs. Someone had pulled the telephone drop-line away from her house.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy noted the bruises, and concluded that Margaret Tessneer had been raped. While he ruled the manner of death in this case homicide, the pathologist classified Tessneer's cause of death, "undetermined."

     On November 10, 2003, in the same part  of town, a neighbor discovered Lillian Mullinax lying dead in her own bed. The 87-year-old's body was covered in bruises, her front door had been left ajar, and someone had cut her phone line. Following the autopsy, Mullinax's cause of death went into the books as "undetermined."

     One didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that these three elderly women had been raped and murdered in their homes by the same man.

     In early 2004, Shelby detectives investigating Margaret Tessneer's September 20, 2003 death, became interested in a 53-year-old man named Donald Eugene Borders. After graduating from high school in 1977, Borders got married, worked in the region's textile mills, and fathered two children. But in the 1990s he turned to crime and was arrested dozens of times for robbery, burglary, and assault. In 2001, Borders was sent to state prison on a conviction for breaking and entering a home. After his release from custody in January 2003, Borders lived as a homeless man on the streets of Shelby.

     On March 20, 2004, detectives, after publicly asking for help in locating Borders, found him living in a homeless shelter in Charlotte. Armed with an arrest warrant pertaining to a matter unrelated to the so-called "three women" murder case, Shelby officer James Brienza took Donald Borders into custody. Before hauiling him to jail, Brienza let the prisoner have a cigarette. When Borders finished his smoke, Brienza saved the butt for DNA analysis.

     A state forensic scientist, in August 2004, found trace evidence from Margaret Tessneer's underwear that revealed she had been raped. Following the passage of more than five years (I have no idea what caused this delay) a DNA analyst matched the Tessneer murder scene evidence with the saliva on Border's cigarette butt.

     A Cleveland County Grand Jury, on December 28, 2009, more that six years after Margaret Tessneer's rape and killing, indicted Donald Eugene Borders for first-degree murder. He was taken into custody and held in the Cleveland County Jail without bond.

     Border's trial got underway in Cleveland on January 5, 2013. On January 28, the jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Donald Eugene Borders to life in prison without the chance of parole. 

The Pennsylvania Soup Nazi

     A Pennsylvania man was sent to jail Wednesday, February 19, 2014 after allegedly burning his wife's face with a hot pan of tomato soup following a drunken argument. Stuart Waterhouse, 55, heated a pan of tomato soup and placed it next to his 61-year-old wife's face as she was sleeping, then used a spoon to pour some directly onto her face--above her nose and between her eyes.

     Barbara Waterhouse had fallen asleep on the couch after a night of arguing and drinking with Stuart. Her face was significantly burned. Stuart was charged by state police in Greensburg with aggravated assault, simple assault and harassment, and was held in the Greene County Jail on $50,000 bond.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Truman Capote's Friends

Truman Capote famously said, "Most people who become suddenly famous overnight will find that they loose practically eighty percent of their friends. Your old friends just can't stand it for some reason." It's funny that Mr. Capote thought he had friends before he became famous.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Debra Milke Murder-For-Hire Case

     In December 1989, 25-year-old Debra Milke lived in Phoenix, Arizona with her 4-year-old son Christopher and James Styers. Milke rented a room in Styers' house. A few days before Christmas, Milke asked Styers to drive Christopher to the mall so he could visit Santa Claus. Instead of taking the boy to the shopping mall, Styers and a friend drove him to a secluded ravine outside of town where Styers shot the boy three times in the head. Detectives and prosecutors believed that Debra Milke had arranged the murder of her son for a $50,000 insurance payout. (The insurance policy, part of her employment package, amounted to $5,000.)

     Styers confessed to the homicide and was convicted of first degree-murder. At his trial, neither he nor his friend implicated Milke in the alleged murder-for-hire plot. No other witnesses came forward with incriminating evidence against the mother.

     Evidence that Debra Milke had plotted the murder came from a Phoenix detective named Armando Saldate. According to the detective, Milke told him that her role in the conspiracy to murder her son had been "a bad judgment call." Milke's interrogation had not been recorded and Saldate was the only officer involved in her questioning. Milke proclaimed her innocence from the beginning and denied making any kind of confession to Detective Saldate or anyone else. A local prosecutor, relying on the detective's credibility, charged Milke with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse, and kidnapping.

     Detective Saldate, at Milke's October 1990 murder trial, testified that the mother had confessed to him regarding her role in her son's homicide. The defendant took the stand, professed her innocence, and called the detective a liar. As is often the case, jurors believed the police officer over the defendant. The jury returned a guilty verdict. A few months later, the judge sentenced Debra Milke to death.

     As it turned out, Detective Armando Saldate was in fact a notorious liar. Prior to his interrogation of Milke he had been caught committing perjury in four criminal trials. His credibility was so comprised judges refused to accept into evidence confessions this detective had acquired.

     On March 14, 2013, Chief Federal Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned Milke's conviction and vacated her sentence. The 49-year-old had been on Arizona's death row for 22 years. Based on Detective Saldate's history of perjury and other incidents of police misconduct, Judge Kozinski ruled that Milke's confession should have been excluded from her trial. Without this dishonest detective's tainted testimony, the prosecution had no case. In rationalizing his decision, Judge Kozinski wrote: "No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone's life or liberty."

     On September 6, 2013, Judge Rosa Mroz of the Maricopa County Superior Court set the 49-year-old prisoner free on $250,000 bond. County prosecutors said they planned to bring Milke back to trial by the end of that month. Once again, the prosecution would seek the death penalty. The defendant's attorneys petitioned the Arizona Court of Appeals to throw out the first-degree murder charge.

     On December 12, 2014, a three-judge panel on the state appeals court ruled that a retrial in the Milke case would amount to double jeopardy. According to the court, "The failure to disclose evidence calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to this defendant." The appellate court ordered the dismissal of all charges against Debra Milke.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Politicians Who Talk To God

I don't mind a politician who communicates with God. People have a right to their religion and their beliefs. I do mind when a politician says God told him to make a certain political decision or policy that affects us all. So many of these government policies turn out bad for everyone. So, who are we supposed to blame, the politician or God? Even if I agree with the policy, I don't vote for people who claim they are acting on behalf of a higher power. Who do these mortals think they are? Well, I know who these people think they are, and that's what scares me.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Amy Senser Hit and Run Homicide Case

     Amy Senser and her husband Joe lived in Edina, Minnesota, an upscale Minneapolis suburb. Joe Senser, a NFL tight end with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 1980s, co-owned four Minneapolis-St. Paul area sports bars. A knee injury had ended his 4-year career with the Vikings. The businessman and sports commentator was a well-liked local celebrity. His attractive, 45-year-old wife Amy was also well-inown and popular. But on the night of August 23, 2011, Amy and Joe Senser's successful lives would take a sudden and tragic turn.

     On the night that changed everything for the Senser family, Amy and her daughters were attending a Katy Perry concert at the Xcell Energy Center in St. Paul. Ninety minutes into the show, Amy developed a headache and decided to drive home. She called Joe who agreed to pick up the girls after the concert.

     According to Amy's version of what happened, while driving Joe's Mercedes-Benz SUV on I-94's Riverside exit off-ramp, a poorly lit section of the highway under construction, she felt a jolt and thought she'd hit a pothole or had bumped a construction barrel. In fact, the right front of her vehicle had hit and killed a man from Laos named Anousone Phantauong. The 38-year-old chef at a Thai restaurant was pouring gasoline into his car that had rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the exit ramp.

     After the collision, Amy got lost, and called her husband. At one point, in her confusion, she came full circle and got off the interstate using the same Riverside exit. This time the area was lit up with the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. She did not associate this activity with the earlier jolt she had felt from either a pothole, or a construction barrel.

     The next morning, according to Amy Senser's account, Joe called her outside and asked how the Mercedes' right headlight and fog light had gotten knocked out. By then, they both had seen TV reports of Phantauong's death, and the search for the hit and run driver. Realizing what had happened the previous night, the Sensers called their lawyer, and later that day, surrendered the damaged Mercedes to the police.

     In speaking to the police, Amy admitted that just before the Katy Perry concert, she had gone to a nearby restaurant where she had consumed less than a full glass of wine. She insisted, however, that she had not been intoxicated when her car hit and killed Mr. Phantauong. Investigators believed she had been drunk, and because of that, had not stopped after plowing into the victim. Detectives were convinced she wanted to sober up before reporting the fatal accident.

     In November 2011, the Hennepin County prosecutor, Deborah Russell, charged Amy Senser with three vehicular related felonies: driving in a grossly negligent manner; leaving the scene of an accident; and failure to promptly report an accident. If convicted of all three charges, the defendant could face up to 30 years in prison. Because she hadn't confessed, and no witness to the accident had come forward, the case against Amy Senser was entirely circumstantial. To find her guilty, the jury would have to infer her state of mind that night. If they believed her testimony, they would have to acquit her.

     To find the defendant guilty of reckless driving, the jury would also have to infer she had been intoxicated at the time of the accident. The fact she had clipped Mr. Phantauong, a man who had placed himself in harm's way by standing just off a poorly lit exit ramp, was not, by itself, enough to establish gross negligence on her part. If the jurors did not find that she was drunk, they would probably not find that the accident was a result of reckless driving.

     The highly anticipated, media intense Amy Senser trial commenced on April 23, 2012. In an effort to prove that the defendant had been driving drunk that night, prosecutor Russell put a motorist on the stand. Shortly after the accident, the witness saw, on I-94, a Mercedes SUV being driven in an erratic manner. The witness passed this vehicle when it slowed to 40 MPH, and when she looked into her rearview mirror, noticed that the car's right front lights were out.

     Defense attorney Eric Nelson put on only one witness, Amy Senser. The defendant denied she had been intoxicated when her car hit what she thought was a pothole or a construction barrel. As for her erratic driving on I-94, she had dropped her cellphone between the seat and the center console, and was trying to fish it out.

     On May 2, 2012, the jury of 7 men and 5 women, after a grueling deliberation period of 19 hours, found Amy Senser guilty of two of the three felonies. Jurors acquitted the defendant of the gross negligent charge. Amy, who faced up to 20 years on prison, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.

     At a post-trial press conference, attorney Eric Nelson said he would appeal his client's conviction on the grounds she had met the requirements of the state accident notification law. One of the jurors who spoke to reporters said, "It was just a very challenging case for us to come to a consensus."

     On July 10, 2012, the judge sentenced Amy Senser to 41 months in prison.

     Corrections authorities, on April 24, 2014, released Amy Senser from the Shakopee Women's Prison after she had served all but six months of her prison stretch. On October 20, 2014, following the completion of a six-month work release program, Senser, having served her hit-and-run sentence, was free.
   
   

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Mother

When I was a kid my mother was always dusting, frantically. We lived on a busy dirt road and the dust that got into the house drove her crazy. One of my uncles died of black lung. My mother was killed by dust. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, she was a saint. Dust to dust, as they say.

Thornton P. Knowles

Brittany Norwood: Cold-Blooded Killer

     In some cases, when it comes to predicting who is capable of committing bloody, premeditated murder, you can't tell the book by its cover. This is particularly true in a murder committed in 2011 by a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Norwood.

     Norwood played high school soccer in Kent, her hometown outside of Seattle, Washington. She continued her career as an athelete at Stony Brook University on Long Island. At Stony Brook, her soccer teammates accused the 5 foot, 120 pound player of stealing cash from them. A member of the team reported the thefts to the coach who chose to ignore the allegations.

     In 2011, Norwood was working as a sales clerk at a downtown Bethesda, Maryland store called Lululemon Athletica where upper-middle class customers bought $98 yoga pants and $58 running shirts. Jayna Murray, a 30-year-old graduate student at John Hopkins University, worked in the store with Norwood. Although the two young women were not close friends, they worked well as a sales clerk team.

     At 9 P.M., March 11, 2011, the two Lululemon clerks closed the doors to the public, and began shutting down the shop for the night. Forty-five minutes later, pursuant to one of the chain's anti-employee theft measures, Jayna and Brittany checked each other's handbags for unpurchased store merchandise. This led to Jayna's discovery of a pair of yoga pants in Brittany's purse. As they walked out the door, Jayna told her fellow employee that she would have to report the attempted theft to the store manager.

     On her walk to the Metro station, Brittany, as a ruse to get Jayna back into the store where she could talk her out of reporting the incident, phoned Jayna to tell her that she had left her wallet in the shop. Since Jayna possessed the key to the store, the two clerks headed back to Lululemon.

     As soon as Brittany and Jayna re-entered the store at 10:05, Norwood made her pitch. But it was to no avail, Jayna had already called the store manager. There was nothing she could do. This infuriated Norwood, and led to a shouting match overheard by employees of a nearby Apple store. The screaming and shouting turned violent when Norwood picked up a heavy metal rod used to support a mannequin and bludgeoned Jayna in the back of the head, crushing her skull. As Jayna staggered toward the store's rear exit, Norwood beat her with a hammer, then picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed her.

     Norwood's assault lasted six minutes, and produced, on the dying victim, 332 wounds which included a severed spinal cord and 83 defensive injuries.

     In an effort to make the murder look like a violent store invasion, Brittany Norwood tossed mops, brooms, and chairs around the shop, used a pair size 12 Reebok sneakers to track bloody shoe prints about the crime scene, and inflicted minor injuries on herself. She then bound her own hands and feet with pieces of rope, and waited overnight on the restroom floor. The next morning, the store manager found Jayna Murray dead in the back hallway, and Brittany Norwood in the bathroom tied up and moaning.

     On the morning after the murder, from her hospital bed, Norwood told detectives that two intruders in ski-masks had attacked her, and killed Jayna. According to Norwood, one of the attackers, a white man making racial slurs (Norwood is black), threatened to cut her throat if she resisted. "It was my fault because I left my wallet," she said.

     From the beginning, detectives had problems fitting the crime scene evidence to Norwood's story. Six days after the crime, the prosecutor charged Norwood with first-degree murder. Under Maryland law, first-degree, premeditated murder carried a sentence of life without parole. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, involved a sentence of 30 years maximum with a chance of parole after 15 years. Although the defendent didn't make a full confession, she did not maintain her innocence. Her attorney's defense consisted of the argument that the killing was a spontaneous homicide, or second-degree murder.

     Norwood's trial, held in the Montgomery County court, got underway in November 2011, and lasted 6 days. The defense attorney didn't put on a single witness, relying instead on his closing statement to the jury. His client was not, he told jurors, "in a right state of mind" when she attacted the victim. The murder, he said, "was the product of an explosion."

     The jury didn't buy the defense theory of the case, and after deliberating less than an hour, returned with their verdict: they found Norwood guilty of  first-degree murder. This meant the sobbing defendant would spend the rest of her life behind bars, with no hope of parole.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Only Childhood Friends

When I was a kid I had a 26-inch Monarch bicycle and my dog Dusty. As long as I had the two of them I didn't need any friends. The bike outlived my dog, and then my dog died. From there I began my long journey into loneliness. I just couldn't replace them.

Thornton P. Knowles

Murder in Amish Country: The Edward Gingerich Case

     Twenty-four years ago, Edward Gingerich became the first old-order Amish man in history to be convicted of criminal homicide. A year earlier he had crushed his wife's skull by repeatedly stomping her. He next scooped out Katie Gingerich's brain with his hands, then opened her up with a kitchen knife and ripped out all of her internal organs. This atrocious assault took place in the kitchen of the couple's farmhouse located in a remote section of Crawford County in Rockdale Township near Mill Village, Pennsylvania. Two of Edward's children, ages three and four, witnessed the brutal March 19, 1993 killing.

     Edward Gingerich was a gifted young man. Unfortunately, the subjects that excited him were science and technology, disciplines that threatened the Amish way of life. An excellent mechanic, he built engines from scratch and could fix anything that contained a motor. A fish out of water, Edward Gingerich felt trapped in a society at odds with his talents and goals. He eventually built a modern sawmill with a machine shop near his house on property owned by his father. The business put him in touch with a lot of local English people and put him at odds with the local Amish bishop. His estrangement from his family and the Amish community led to depression, anger, and eventually madness in the form of paranoid schizophrenia.

     Prior to killing his wife, Edward spent two, ten-day stints in mental wards in Erie, Pennsylvania and Jamestown, New York. On Katie Gingerich's last day of life, she took Ed to see a chiropractor in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania who specialized in treating the Amish for physical aliments. The chiropractor, pursuant to his regular program of treatment, pulled Edward's toes and sent him home with a jar of blackstrap molasses.

     At the Edward Gingerich murder trial in March 1994, the Crawford County jury, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, refused to find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Instead, they found hims "guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill." This meant Ed would receive psychiatric care while serving a fixed term in prison. Had he been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have been treated in a mental institution until the staff psychiatrists declared him well enough to return to society.

     Prior to Edward Gingerich's sentencing, every member of the small Amish enclave put their names on a petition asking the judge to impose the maximum sentence. Since Ed had been convicted of the lesser homicide offense of involuntary manslaughter, the maximum sentence sentence was only five years. The trial judge, noting that Gingerich had already spent a year in the Crawford County Jail, sentenced him to four years.

     Edward Gingerich served his time in a minimum security prison near Mercer, Pennsylvania. He was released from custody, without any strings attached, in March 1998.

     In January 2011, following a troubled post-prison life, Edward Gingerich hanged himself in a barn near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, he was living outside the local Amish community on a small farm owned by his defense attorney. His suicide message, etched in dust in the barn, read: "Please forgive me."

     Today, the Mill Village Amish enclave is less than half the size it was at the time of the murder. The killing, besides costing the life of a young Amish woman, tore the Gingerich family apart and destroyed a once thriving community.

     A detailed narration of this tragic case can be found in my book, Crimson Stain.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Poetry Readings

No one reads poetry anymore but a handful of poets and a few English teachers and their poor students. While I'd rather sit through a political speech than attend a poetry reading, it's a decision I hope I'll never have to make. Having said that, I'm not against poetry. I'm guilty of writing a few poems myself, and have purchased books of poetry. I just don't like the pretentious mumbo-jumbo stuff. I enjoying reading Charles Bukowski. He's a bad drunk and unlikable person, but a real poet with a lot of gritty, interesting things to say. I do not, however, recommend his raucous, booze laden poetry readings. In his case, it's best to separate the poet from his work.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Vi Ripken Kidnapping Case: An Unsolved Mystery

     Cal Ripken, Jr., inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 2007, played 21 years for the Baltimore Orioles. Because he played in 2,632 consecutive games, Ripken earned the title the "Iron Man." He was a celebrity and businessman in the Baltimore area.

     In July 2012, Vi Ripken, the former ballplayer's 74-year-old mother, became a celebrity in her own right as a victim of an abduction that took place in July 2012. Based on what has been published in the media, and Cal Ripken's public statement on the matter, the following was the initial and sketchy account of this odd crime:

     Between seven and eight in the morning of Tuesday, July 24, 2012, an unknown man entered Vi Ripken's garage in Aberdeen, Maryland, a town 30 miles northeast of Baltimore, and forced her at gun point into her silver, 1998 Lincoln Town Car. The abductor is described as a clean-shaven white male who is five feet ten inches tall, and weighs 180 pounds. He wore glasses, an orange ball cap, and Camouflage colored clothing.

     The kidnapper tied Vi's hands and blindfolded her. (According to the victim, he originally planned to cover her eyes with tape. We don't know what he used to tie her up, or if she was bound behind her back.) With the victim in the back seat of her own car, the abductor drove her around Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties. They stopped for food, and he lit her cigarettes. At first the kidnapper said he wanted her money and the car, but changed his mind.

     At some point in the abduction, the man told Vi that he wasn't going to hurt her, and that he had decided to take her back to her house. The next day, at six in the morning, the kidnapper parked the car 100 yards from Vi's dwelling, and walked away. Still bound (I think), Vi managed to honk the horn which alerted a neighbor. In telling friends and family what happened, Vi said her abductor did not know her son was Cal Ripken, Jr. (This suggests that she told him that.) He had not physically harmed her, and did not demand a ransom.

     In a press conference held on Friday, August 3, 2012, Cal Ripken, Jr. said he first learned of his mother's disappearance at 9 PM on the day of her abduction. His sister phoned him with the news that a witness had seen a woman in Baltimore County riding in the back seat of a car bearing the license number of the Lincoln Town Car. This person had called the Baltimore County Police. The county police relayed this information to the police in Aberdeen.

     Since Vi Ripken's safe return, the authorities have distributed a police-sketch of the abductor (these cartoonish depictions are generally useless). The sketch has also been featured on five massive billboards in the Baltimore area. The authorities have also made public a surveillance video tape showing a man in a ball cap walking out of a Walmart store in Glen Burnie, Maryland, an Anne Arundel County town about an hour from Aberdeen. The police have not revealed how this man fits into the story, but one would assume he is the suspected abductor, and that at some point during the kidnapping, he entered the store to purchase something.

     At the press conference on August 3, Cal Ripken, Jr. said his mother has not returned to her home in Aberdeen, but has otherwise resumed her normal routine. He also said she has been talking about her experience "nonstop." On Friday night, August 3, 2012 the kidnapping was featured on the Lifetime Cable Network's "America's Most Wanted." The Aberdeen police offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Ripken abductor.

    The police have not released many details of the crime. For example, did the authorities know the identity of the witness who spotted the woman in the back of the Lincoln Town Car? What did Vi and her abductor do during the 24-hour abduction? Did they sleep? Did they leave the car? Where did she use the restroom? Did crime scene investigators processed the car for latent fingerprints and other forms of trace evidence? Did the abductor leave behind the material used to tie the victim up? What about the blindfold? Did the abductor use the victim's credit or ATM cards?

     The biggest mystery, of course, is the identity of the abductor, and why he chose to kidnap Vi Ripken.

     On August 2, 2017, more than five years after the Ripken abduction, the police released a new composite sketch of the man they believe had kidnapped Vi Ripken. The FBI had entered the investigation.

    No arrests have been made in the case. Moreover, investigators have not even produced a suspect.

      

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On West Virginia

If you took away signs of human life, West Virginia would be the most beautiful place on earth.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Urooj Khan Poison Case

     Urooj Khan immigrated to the U. S. from India when he was twenty-three. He worked hard, saved his money, and by 2012, the 46-year-old owned three dry cleaning shops on Chicago's North Side where he lived with his wife Shabana Ansari and his 17-year-old stepdaughter, Jasmeen. Mr. Khan also owned five condos worth $250,000.

     In June 2012, after returning from his hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia where Mr Khan promised himself he would live a better life--and quit buying lottery tickets--he paid $60 at a 7-Eleven store near his house for two instant scratch-off cards. After scratching off the second ticket, Mr. Khan yelled, "I hit a million!"

     On June 26, 2012, at the Illinois Lottery Ceremony, Mr. Khan, with is wife, stepdaughter, and a few friends looking on, accepted the oversized mock check for $425,000. (After opting for the lump sum payment, that sum was left after taxes.) Khan said he'd donate some money to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Chicago, and use the rest of his winnings to pay bills and grow his business.

     On July 20, 2012, the day after the Illinois Comptroller's Office issued Mr. Khan his $425,000 check, and before he had an opportunity to cash it, the lottery winner had dinner in his modest West Roger's Park neighborhood home with his wife Shabana Ansari and Jasmeen. After dinner, Mr. Khan said he didn't feel well and went to bed. A short time later, he screamed that he was suffocating. Ambulance personnel rushed Mr. Khan to a nearby hospital where doctors pronounced him dead.

     After a routine toxicological testing of Mr. Khan's blood for narcotics, alcohol, and carbon monoxide poisoning (his skin had turned pink), the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office determined his cause of his death to be heart disease. The manner of Mr. Khan's death went into the books as natural. Pursuant to an internal medical examiner's office rule that dead people over the age of 45 who do not show signs of trauma are not autopsied, Mr. Khan was buried without a post-mortem examination. (The age limit has been since raised to 50.)

     On August 15, 2012, Mr. Khan's widow cashed the $425,000 lottery check.

     Five months after Urooj Khan's sudden and unexpected passing, one of his relatives called the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. According to this unidentified family member, Mr. Khan had been poisoned to death.

     Acting on what must have been a credible tip, Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina ordered further toxicological testing of Mr. Khan's blood. This led to a rather shocking discovery: Mr. Khan had died from a lethal dose of cyanide. As a result of this finding, the medical examiner's office changed Mr. Khan's cause of death to cyanide poisoning. His manner of death, however, still had to be determined through a homicide investigation conducted by detectives with the Chicago Police Department. (According to reports, investigators questioned Mr. Khan's widow for four hours.)

     Cyanide is an extremely toxic white powder that has a variety of industrial applications. It can also be found in some pesticides and in rat poison. Small doses of cyanide either swallowed, inhaled (gas chambers used it), or injected, denies the body's blood cells oxygen. Death from this poison, a form of asphyxia called histoxic hypoxia, while agonizing, is quick. To disguise its bitter taste, a cyanide poisoner would be wise to mix a small amount into a plate of spicy food.

     Poisoning, as a mode of criminal homicide, was popular in the 19th Century before the dawn of pharmacology. Because there was no way to scientifically identify abnormal quantities of toxic substances in the body, no one knows how many wives, prior to 1900, poisoned their husbands to death. (In the era before forensic toxicology, homicide cops called cyanide "inheritance powder.")

    In modern times, murder and suicide cases involving cyanide and other poisons are rare. In June 2012, the month Mr. Khan won his lottery money, millionaire Michael Markin, moments after a jury found him guilty of arson, swallowed a cyanide pill. Minutes later he died while sitting at the defense table. Markin's death was so unusual it received nationwide publicity.

     On January 8, 2013, the day Medical Examiner Stephen Cina announced the planned exhumation of Urooj Khan's remains, his wife, Shaban Ansari, told an Associated Press reporter that she wasn't the relative who had requested the more sophisticated toxicological test. She said she had no idea who that person was, and that she "...didn't think anyone had a bad eye for [her husband], or that he had an enemy." The widow refused to provide details of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khan's death. She said talking about his passing was too painful.

     In late January 2013, information surfaced that after Mr. Khan won the lottery, his 32-year-old wife and his siblings, a daughter from a previous marriage and his stepdaughter Jasmeen, began fighting over the money. According to Mr. Khan's brother Imtiaz and his sister Meraj, after his death, Shabana Ansari tried to cash the lottery check to avoid giving Khan's daughter her fair share. In November 2012, homicide detectives had searched the West Roger's Park home for traces of the cyanide. The five month period between Mr. Khan's death and the criminal investigation made solving the case difficult.

     In early February 2013, the authorities exhumed Urooj Khan's 5-foot-5, 198-pound body from a Chicago cemetery and transported it to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. Forensic pathologists collected samples of his hair, fingernails, stomach contents, and tissue from his major organs for tests to determine if he had been poisoned to death. Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina told reporters that given the length of time Mr. Khan's body had been in the ground, he was not certain that toxicological tests would produce positive results. According to Dr. Cina, "cyanide over the postmortem period can evaporate from the tissues." Dr. Cina said he remained convinced, however, that Mr. Khan had been the victim of a criminal homicide.

     A few weeks after the exhumation, Dr. Cina, at a press conference, said that while earlier toxicological tests revealed a lethal dose of cyanide in Mr. Khan's blood, the poison was not detected in his tissues or digestive system. "In this case," the forensic pathologist said, "due to advanced putrefaction of the tissues, no cyanide was detected."

     The fact Mr. Khan had died without a will led to a bitter dispute between his widow and his stepdaughter Jasmeen over his estate. In December, pursuant to a court settlement, the probate judge awarded Shabana the three dry cleaning shops, the five condos, and two-thirds of the lottery winnings. Jasmeen got a third of the lottery payoff.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Twentieth Century

I was born and will probably die in the Twentieth Century. That span of just one-hundred years will be known as the century of accelerated, world-changing technological progress. It will also be remembered as the century of violent death through wars, oppressive governments, and genocide. I shudder to think what the next century will bring, but fortunately will not be around to experience it. [Dr. Knowles died in 1998.]

Thornton P. Knowles

Two Stalkers, Different Sentences

The Mercedes Driving Tire Slasher

     In January 2010, Jessica (not the victim's real name) broke up with Dieter Heinz Werner, her 68-year-old boyfriend. Shortly after that, someone slashed her tires in the parking lot of a Houston, Texas movie complex. A month later, Jessica found a GPS tracking device attached to the undercarriage of her car. She suspected Werner, who had been bothering her with text messages and phone calls, of slashing her tires and using the GPS device to keep track of her whereabouts.

     That spring, the ex-boyfriend continued his harassment by sending Jessica hundreds of text messages. On April 3, 2010, he sent her a text which read: "Should have answered the phone and not ignored me again. Pissed me off. Now I show you." That day, after following her to a grocery store, Werner texted: "Pissed me off when I saw you at Krogers and you turned your head. I would never treat you like that."

     On April 15, 2010, a witness at the same movie complex parking lot saw an elderly white man slashing someone's car tires with a pocketknife. The witness jotted down the license number to the vandal's Mercedes convertible. The vehicle was registered to Dieter Heinz Werner. A couple of weeks later, a Harris County prosecutor charged Werner with stalking, a third degree felony. Werner was held without bond for a few days until a judge issued a protection order against the accused stalker. After being served with the restraining order, Werner paid his $75,000 bond and was released.

     In late 2011, Dieter Werner was found guilty of the stalking offense. A few months later the judge sentenced him to ten years in prison, the maximum penalty for a third degree felony. But in 2012, before Werner was transferred out of the Harris County Jail into the state prison system, he was paroled. After serving about a year behind bars, the convicted stalker walked free.

     According to Texas corrections authorities, Werner had benefited from a so-called "parole in absentia." (Texas parole boards in the 1980s had issued these get-out-of prison passes when the state prison system couldn't handle all of the convicted felons.)

     Victims' rights activists, as well as Werner's stalking victim, were outraged. The parole authorities had not even bothered to notify Jessica of her stalker's parole hearing. In Texas and other places it was a fact that parole boards often did not inform victims when criminals were released on parole.


The Taco Bell Handcuff Case

     In 2011, in the northern Georgia town of Ringgold, 25-year-old Jason Earl Dean and the 18-year-old girl he had become obsessed with, worked at the local Taco Bell. After Joan (not her real name) told Dean she did not want to go out with him, he continued asking her out for a date. This had gone on for a month. The harassment became so intense she changed shifts at work to get away from him. Undeterred, Dean continued to bother her.

     On the night of August 8, 2011, Dean waited outside Taco Bell until Joan's shift ended. As she walked to her car he came up to her with a pair of handcuffs which he slapped around her wrist, binding them arm to arm. She screamed for help which brought other employees out of the Taco Bell. Her fellow employees talked Dean into turning Joan free. The police rolled up to the scene shortly thereafter, but Dean had left. A few days later, police officers arrested him on a college campus in nearby Dalton, Georgia. A local prosecutor charged him with stalking and felonious restraint.

     In January 2013, Jason Earl Dean entered a so-called "blind guilty plea" before Judge Ralph Van Pelt. (A blind plea means that no sentencing agreement had been reached between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. The defendant was essentially throwing himself on the mercy of the court.) Judge Van Pelt, showing no mercy for this stalker, sentenced him to four years in prison followed by six years of probation.

    On its face, Judge Van Pelt's sentence seemed excessive. Whether or not it was excessive depended upon what kind of person Jason Dean was. Without knowing this stalker's background there was no way to evaluate his sentence. But in any case, it appeared that this judge considered stalking a serious crime. I wish more judges did.
     

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On One True Thing About Journalists

In speaking to her fellow journalists, Janet Malcolm famously said the ugly truth about their profession: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." This pronouncement is so devastatingly true, I'm sure it's not taught in journalism school. No one wants to get a degree in confidence game artistry. But that's what they get.

Thornton P. Knowles

Susan Cole: Prospective Juror to Perjury Defendant

     More than 90 percent of the criminal cases in American are not tried before a jury. Bargained guilty pleas have essentially replaced the cumbersome and costly trial process. Still, tens of millions of Americans receive jury duty summonses every year. (Our criminal justice system would collapse if just 20 percent of defendants demanded a jury trial. The entire system is set up for guilty pleas based on negotiated sentencing deals. Legislators make maximum sentences for even minor crimes extremely high to give prosecutors more bargaining power.)

     In high-profile criminal trials, the outcome of the case is pretty much determined by which side does the best job of jury selection. O. J. Simpson got off because his attorneys won the jury selection battle. To a certain degree, these trials are over before the first witness takes the stand. Wealthy defendants often hire juror picking consultants who help design a defense-friendly jury. These psychological profilers match jurors to defendants by analyzing such factors as body language, hair styles, clothing, gender, marital status, age, race, education, and occupation. In high-profile cases, the jury selection process, called voir dire, can go on for months.

     Juries, in general, do not represent a cross-section of American society. Entire categories of people never see the jury box. For various reasons, juries rarely include professors, cops, physicians, nurses, small business owners, employees of small companies, college students, young mothers, and lawyers. Most juries are made up of retirees, government workers, employees of large corporations, and people who are unemployed. As a law graduate, criminal justice professor, small business owner, and former FBI agent, I couldn't buy my way onto a jury. I've never made it from the big room full of prospective jurors to the courtroom where lawyers from each side choose the final twelve.

     There are all kinds of reasons and ways for a prospective juror to get out of jury duty. People can be excused for poor health, a criminal record, an upcoming wedding, family demands, mental illness, various economic hardships, and the stated inability to render an unbiased decision. In Michigan, lawmakers recently approved a bill that exempts breast-feeding mothers from jury duty. While prospective jurors are not above telling lies to get out of sitting on a jury, prosecutions for this form of lying under oath are extremely rare. That makes the following case so unusual.

Susan Cole

     In June 2011, Susan Cole, a 57-year-old beautician and Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswoman, received a summons for jury duty. She arrived at the court house in Denver with her hair in curlers and dressed according to her idea of how mentally ill people present themselves. She wore too much lipstick, reindeer socks (I have no idea what they are), and mismatched sneakers. She had put on a tee-shirt that read: "Ask Me About My Bestseller." (In 2007 Cole, under the pen name Char Cole, had self-published a relationship, self-help book/memoir  called "Seven Institutions With El-Way Secrets." My advice to this author: next time you publish a book, select a title that makes sense.)

     When Judge Anne Mansfield asked Cole if she had a history of mental illness, the prospective juror said, "Yeah, I have some mental issues....I broke out of domestic violence in the military [after her divorce she joined the Army] and have a lot of repercussions. I get very confused in the morning when I try to get ready." (Like forgetting to take out her curlers.) The prospective juror said that as a result of the domestic violence, she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cole also told the judge she was homeless and living on the street. Judge Mansfield asked if anyone objected to the dismissal of this woman. No one did, and Cole went home.

     On October 17, 2011, on Denver's "Dave Logan Show," a radio call-in program, callers were telling stories about how they had avoided jury duty. Susan Cole joined in the fun by calling the show and telling how she had recently gotten out of jury duty by impersonating a mentally ill person. Obviously aware that she was admitting to a crime, Cole called in under her pen name, Char.

     In justifying her jury avoiding ploy, Cole told the radio audience that she was simply too busy for jury duty. Rather than being ashamed of having lied under oath to avoid a basic civic responsibility, Cole seemed quite proud of herself: "I put black eyebrows on. I put red lipstick on. I left my hair in my curlers, and I put on a tee-shirt that said, 'Ask Me About My Bestseller.' [When did mentally ill homeless women start putting up their hair?] For about two weeks after, when my roommate and I would think about it, or I would tell my clients about it, we would cry we would laugh so hard."

     One of the "Dave Logan Show" listeners, Anne Mansfield, the judge Susan Cole had lied to, didn't find her story so funny. The judge knew exactly who this caller was and notified the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor initiated a criminal investigation.

     Detectives looking into the case found no mention of spousal abuse or PTSD in Cole's divorce records. Moreover, her military file contained no documentation supporting such a diagnosis. On March 22, 2012, police arrested Cole on charges of first-degree perjury and attempt to influence a public servant (the judge). If convicted, she faced a maximum sentence of 6 years in prison, on each count.

     Before being hauled off to jail, Cole told detectives that the military had lost her medical records. And the only person who had diagnosed her with PTSD, a Jefferson County court counselor, had since died. Cole said that in her book she writes of being imprisoned five days in a military mental institution. She also claimed that on the night before her jury duty appearance, she had been traumatized by news that her cousin had been killed in a motorcycle accident. As it turned out, her cousin hadn't been involved in a crash.

     In November 2012, Cole pleaded guilty to the felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. According to the plea deal, the judge deferred her punishment. (A deferred judgment is a no-contest type of plea. Once the guilty party meets court-ordered requirements, there is no formal conviction on record.) Cole also pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury. For this misdemeanor the judge sentenced her to two years probation and forty hours of community service.

     Had Cole gone to trial for lying under oath, her fate would have been in the hands of people who had not lied to get off the jury. Now, with a criminal record involving dishonesty, she was not fit for jury duty.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Climbing Trees

As a kid I climbed a lot of trees. I climbed in the winter, you know, for the view. I hoped that if I got high enough, my world would look different. It didn't. I kept climbing though, and never blamed the trees.

Thornton P. Knowles

Fredrick Brennan: A Theft Victim's Ordeal

     Fredrick Brennan, a 19-year-old with a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta commonly known as brittle bone disease, while confined to a motorized wheelchair that operates by a joystick, lives on his own in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He makes his living working at home creating code for new websites.

     Late in 2013, an acquaintance withdrew money from Brennan's account by using, without authorization, his debit card.

      Brennan, before traveling to Atlantic City, New Jersey to visit his mother on December 1, 2013, pulled $4,850 out of his account before the possibility of a second unauthorized withdrawal. When he boarded the bus for Atlantic City, the cash was in his wallet packed inside his luggage.

     On January 1, 2014, at the conclusion of his New Jersey visit, Brennan headed home to Brooklyn. Upon arrival at the Port Authority transportation complex in mid-town Manhattan, Mr. Brennan wheeled himself toward a MetroCard machine. It was there he encountered a homeless man who offered to help him find his way through the massive Port Authority building. The man immediately followed-up the offer by asking Brennan for a dollar. When Brennan removed a dollar bill from his wallet, the man said, "Come on, I can't even buy a hotdog with this." Brennan handed the panhandler another buck. The man took the money and walked off.

     With his cash-filled wallet sitting on his lap, Brennan started the process of buying a MetroCard. The homeless guy, having returned to the scene, grabbed Brennan's wallet and fled. "He took my wallet," the victim screamed.

     A bystander who heard Brennan, ran after the thief who bolted up the stairs that led to Eighth Avenue. A short time later the good samaritan, accompanied by a police officer, returned to the victim. The thief had escaped into the hubbub of Eighth Avenue. The police officer, however, had retrieved Brennan's wallet. The cash was gone.

     Although Brennan's description of the thief was vague, the crime had been caught on a Port Authority surveillance camera. The next day, January 2, a New York City detective called Mr. Brennan with the news that officers had made an arrest in the case. Could the victim come back to Manhattan and pick the suspect out of a line-up at the police station?

     On January 2 Brennan traveled by bus and subway to the police station in Greenwich Village. The fact the city was expecting a massive show storm that day caused Brennan to worry about how he would get back to his home in Brooklyn.

     At the police station, Brennan had no trouble identifying the man who had stolen his wallet. The man he picked out of the line-up was Chris Sanchez. The 49-year-old suspect had been arrested near the Port Authority earlier that morning with $4,073 in his pocket. Police also found, on his person, small quantities of crack and marijuana.

    A Manhattan assistant prosecutor charged Chris Sanchez with grand larceny. Until the matter was resolved in the slow-moving criminal justice system, the authorities would have to hold onto the victim's stolen cash.

     Following the line-up identification, Brennan was asked to spend some time at the station filling out police forms and writing up a statement of the crime. By the time he left the police building it was late in the evening and snowing heavily. Worried that his wheelchair--he had been saving up for a new one--would short out in the snow, the cooperating crime victim asked a police officer if he could arrange for a ride back to Brooklyn. The officer said the station didn't have access to a van with a wheelchair lift. The theft victim would have to find his own way home.

      A detective pushed Brennan through the snow to the Union Square subway station, then left. It was eleven o'clock at night and snowing hard.

      Frederick Brennan boarded a subway train en route to the Atlantic Avenue Station where he got on another train that took him to 86th Street and Bay Parkway in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There he waited for the bus that would take him on the final leg of his trip home. Problem was, the bus didn't come and the snow kept falling.

     After waiting at the bus stop for more than an hour, Brennan's hands and feet were starting to numb. Since his wheelchair couldn't plow through the snow, he used his cellphone to call 911 for help. A short time later an ambulance pulled up and carried him to a nearby medical center. The next day the hospital discharged him.

     A few days after Mr. Brennan's ordeal, he returned to Manhattan to testified before the grand jury considering the case. Based on the surveillance video and the victim's testimony, Mr. Sanchez was indicted on the charge of grand larceny. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. Mr. Brennan was told he would not have his money returned until the case was resolved.

     Following public outrage over the way the criminal justice system treated this victim, things got better for Mr. Brennan. The authorities returned his stolen money, and detectives went to his home several times with take-out food and N.Y.P.D. sweatshirts. Detectives also built him a home entertainment center for his new, donated flat screen TV. The public also donated to Mr. Brennan more than $20,000, and the Ocean Home Health Company gave him an expensive, new motorized wheelchair.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Secrets Of The Catholic Confession Chamber

In one of my novels I have several scenes featuring the back-and-forth between a priest and a sinner inside the confessional. I'm not Catholic, but have long been fascinated in what is said inside that dark little chamber. My interest traces back to a Catholic kid I knew in high school who said he dated girls who spent the most time in that secret-inducing box. He'd actually sit outside the confessional with a stopwatch. That kid, interestingly enough, grew up to become a priest. I sent him a signed copy of my novel, thanking him for sparking my interest in church-secured confessions. He didn't get back to me. If I were ever priest-grilled inside that box, I'd confess this was not my best novel.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Steve Nunn Murder Case

     If you think all, or even most, politicians are above average spouses and parents, think again. Although they pretend to be better than the rest of us, some of these hypocrites and thieves turn out to be dangerous criminals. Take Steve Nunn, a state legislator from Kentucky who was a lousy husband, a raging hypocrite, and dangerous.

     Steven Nunn was 15 when his father, Louie B. Nunn, became Kentucky's 52nd governor in 1967. A Republican, Nunn was re-elected to a second term, but in 1973, lost his bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate. Six years later, he ran for governor again, but lost. His career in elected politics was over.

     In 1974, Steve, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, enrolled in law school, but dropped out. He got married, and over the next five years, had three children. In 1990, at age 38, Nunn ran for the Kentucky state house of representatives, and won.

     Steve's father, a hard-driven narcissist and BS artist who enjoyed subjecting his kid to ridicule, refused to be impressed with his son's election to state office. Like his father, Steve was a lousy husband who regularly cheated on his wife. In 1994, she divorced him. (In state politics, being a rotten husband is not usually a liability because most people have no idea who represents them locally.) Two years later, Steve's mother Beula, after 42 years of marriage to Louie B., sought a restraining order against the abusive ex-governor. Steve confronted his father over this, and the two men came to blows. After that, they stopped speaking to each other. Shortly after the father and son stopped talking to each other, Beula divorced Louie B. Nunn.

     Steve Nunn, in his third term as a state legislator, married Tracey Damron, a former flight attendant and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate. A social butterfly who sparkled at fundraisers and social events, Tracey became the perfect politician's wife. Two years later, in 1998, Steve co-sponsored a bill that imposed the death sentence on convicted killers who murdered women who had taken out restraining orders against them. The bill became Kentucky law.  

       In 2002, after Tracey Nunn engineered a father-son reconciliation, she and Steve moved into the ex-governor's Pin Oak Farms mansion near Versailles, Kentucky. But a year later, the 51-year-old's political career took a bad turn. In a bid for the governorship, Steve lost badly in the Republican primary. And on January 29, 2004, his father, at age 81, died of a heart attack. Although Steve didn't have a healthy relationship with his father, the old man's death devastated him. The wheels of Steve's political career came off in 2006 when he lost his legislative seat to an unknown challenger.

     Following the death of his father, Steve started drinking heavily, patronizing prostitutes, and behaving irrationally. He also became, like his father, an abusive husband. Tracey divorced him in 2006. The following year, the 55-year-old political has-been met 20-year-old Amanda Ross, the daughter of a recently deceased public financier. After two months of dating, Steve moved into her Lexington, Kentucky apartment. In 2008, they were engaged to be married.

     Through his engagement to Amanda Ross, Steve landed the cabinet-level job of heading up a state agency that oversaw a variety of welfare programs, include those dealing with spousal abuse.

     Although Steve was back on his feet career-wise, he was still emotionally unstable, and drinking too much. His paranoia led him to suspect that Amanda was cheating on him. On February 17, 2009, in the midst of an argument in Ross' apartment, Nunn hit her. The next day, she petitioned the court for an emergency protection order, which a judge quickly granted. Under the restraining order, Nunn could have no contact with Ross for a period of a year. Within 48 hours of the judge's ruling, Nunn had no choice but to resign his cushy, high-paid government job.

     Convinced that Amanda Ross had intentionally sabotaged his career, Nunn became obsessed with revenge. To embarrass and humiliate his former fiancee, he showed his friends nude photographs he had taken of her. He began to stalk her.

     On September 11, 2009, as Amanda Ross left her apartment on her way to work, Nunn shot her to death. While no one witnessed the murder, homicide investigators immediately suspected Steve Nunn. Later that day, police found him hiding in a cemetery. He had scratched his wrists in a phony suicide attempt.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Nunn, to avoid the death penalty mandated by his own legislation, pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

     Members of Amanda Ross' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steven Nunn in 2012. Two years later, the civil case jury found him responsible for Ross' death and awarded the plaintiffs $24 million.

     In February 2014, Steve Nunn petitioned Fayette County Judge Pamula Goodwine to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Nunn said his defense attorney, Warren Scoville, had given him bad advice. Following the October 2014 hearing on the motion, Judge Goodwine denied Nunn's plea withdrawal request.