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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Watery Graves: The Mystery of Foss Lake

     There's no telling how many murder victims lay on the bottom of America's lakes, rivers and ponds. Most people don't realize that these boating, swimming and fishing sites are also the unmarked graves of people who have gone missing and might never be found. It's a sobering thought.

     Whenever a lake goes dry or is drained, law enforcement officers often gather to recover guns, knives, cars, safes, cellphones, computers, wallets and other potential indicia of foul play. Occasionally, the remains of missing persons are exposed as well. When that happens, one mystery is solved and another is created.

     On September 10, 2013, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer George Hoyle, while testing a sonar detection device from a boat on Foss Lake 110 miles west of Oklahoma City, discovered a pair of vehicles sitting under twelve feet of murky water.

     A week after the vehicles were detected, Darrell Splawn, a member of the state's underwater search and rescue team, dove into the lake for a closer look. At this point officers believed they had found a pair of stolen cars.

     When officer Splawn opened the door to one of the vehicles and probed its interior, his hand came in contact with a shoe. He also discovered, near the car, a human skull. The diver surfaced to report his finds. When the diver slipped back into the muddy water to check on the other vehicle he saw skeletal remains inside the second car.

     Once the heavily corroded cars--a 1952 Chevrolet and a 1969 Chevy Camero--were pulled out of the reservoir, they revealed their gruesome secrets. Each vehicle contained the skeletal remains of three people. Officers also recovered, among other items, a muddy wallet and a purse.

     On April 8, 1969, 69-year-old John Alva Porter, the owner of a 1952 green Chevy, went missing. In the car with him that night were his brother Arlie and 58-year-old Nora Marie Duncan. These three residents of nearby Elk City, along with the Chevy, had disappeared without a trace. No one had any idea what had happened to them.

     Jimmy Williams, a 16-year-old from Sayre, Oklahoma, a town of 4,000 a few miles from the lake, owned a 1969 Chevrolet Camero. On the night of November 20, 1970, he and two friends--Thomas Michael Rios and Leah Gail Johnson--both 18, were riding in Williams' car. Instead of going to the high school football game in Elk City, the trio had gone hunting on Turkey Creek Road. The teenagers and the Camero were never seen again.

     While the six skeletal remains were presumed to match the two sets of missing persons, it would take months to scientifically confirm their identities. Forensic scientists in the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office compared DNA from the bones with DNA samples from surviving family members. Dr. Angela Berg, the state forensic anthropologist, determined the gender, general stature and approximate ages of the people pulled out of the lake. She did this by analyzing leg and pelvic bones along with the skulls. This data was compared with information contained in the missing person reports.

     What the 44-year-old remains did not reveal was the manner and cause of these deaths. While the six people presumably drowned, they could have been murdered by gun, knife or blunt instrument then dumped into the lake. To rule out foul play, the forensic pathologist and the anthropologist looked for signs of trauma such as bullet holes, knife wounds and smashed or broken bones. The forensic scientists also attempted to determine if the fates of the people inside the two cars were somehow connected.

     Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples told an Associated Press reporter that it was possible that these underwater victims had been driven accidentally into the lake where they had drowned. "We know that can happen even if you know your way around," he said. "It can happen that quick." 

     In October 2014, the forensic pathologist officially confirmed the identities of the six sets of remains. Two months later the medical examiner's office ruled out foul play. Some of the victims' family members, however, remained skeptical and suspected otherwise.

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Stepping Hill Angel of Death Murder Case

     Deaths by homicidal poisonings that commonly do not raise suspicion and are therefore often misdiagnosed as natural fatalities involve hospital patients who are elderly or already ill. The death of an old or gravely ill person, almost by definition, is a natural death. This is why physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers who intentionally kill patients--so-called "Angeles of Death"--get away with murdering so many of them.

     Normally, homicide by poison is not an impulsive crime. But in the hospital or home for the elderly, it is a crime of opportunity. The angel of death has access to a variety of toxic substances and to vulnerable victims. There is no need for extensive preparation and planning. Moreover, there is no apparent or obvious motive for the homicide because these serial killers do not receive any direct personal gain from the deaths. This type of serial killer is difficult to spot because angels of death are not manifestly insane. They possess personality disorders that compel them to murder out of generalized rage, boredom or the impulse to play God.

     As murderers, angels of death are cold-blooded, careful and vain.  Often their employment histories reveal they have been terminated from several healthcare jobs. When too many patients die on a nurse or orderly's watch, and the employee comes under suspicion, he or she is simply fired. Healthcare workers suspected of murdering patients also quit and get similar positions elsewhere.

     In angel of death cases the tendency among healthcare administrators is to deny the obvious and pass the problem on to the next employer. Over the years dozens of angels of death in the U.S. and around the world have been caught, but only after large numbers of patients have been murdered. Given the nature of the crime and the limited role forensic science plays in these cases, it is reasonable to assume that the small number of angel of death convictions represents the mere tip of a rather large homicidal iceberg.

The Stepping Hill Case

     Greater Manchester is a heavily populated metropolitan county in northwest England. Stockport, a city of 136,000, is one of the municipalities within the county. Between June 1, 2011 and July 15, 2011, three patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport died after being given saline ampoules or drips laced with insulin.

     Detectives with the Greater Manchester Police Department (GMP) determined that at least eight other patients had suffered from insulin poisoning. (Insulin is used as a treatment for diabetes, but for people without an insulin deficiency, the substance can be toxic.)

     Following the determination of how these three patients died, armed police guards were stationed at the hospital in the event the poisoner was an outsider. To protect patients from a hospital employee, members of the staff were required to work in pairs.

     On July 20, 2011, GMP detectives arrested a 27-year-old Stepping Hill nurse named Rebecca Jane Leighton. The Chief Crown prosecutor for the region charged Leighton with three counts of criminal damage with intent to endanger life. Nurse Leighton pleaded not guilty to the charges.

     The Crown Prosecution Service, on September 2, 2011, dropped the charges against Leighton. Notwithstanding the dismissal of the case against her, the hospital fired the nurse on December 2, 2011. She appealed the discharge, but following a hearing in February 2012, she lost her case.

     On January 5, 2012, detectives with the GMP arrested 46-year-old Victorino Chua, a Stepping Hill male nurse originally from the Philippines. Chua had been a registered nurse since 2003. He had two children and claimed to be a devout Roman Catholic. Police officers took him into custody at his home just outside of Stockport.

     Arrested as a suspect in the Stepping Hill Poisonings, but not charged, Chua was interrogated then released on bail. Pursuant to the terms of his release, he was barred from approaching any potential witnesses in the case. He also lost his right to work in healthcare.

     On March 29, 2014, the Chief Crown prosecutor charged Victorino Chua with poisoning to death 44-year-old Tracey Arden, 71-year-old Arnold Lancaster and Derek Weaver, 83. The murder suspect was also charged with 31 counts of causing grievous bodily harm, 22 counts of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm, and eight counts of attempting to administer poison. Chua pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     As the poison investigation progressed, GMP detectives identified eight other Stepping Hill patients killed by the insulin contaminated saline, and dozens of patients who were poisoned but survived.

     Detectives with the GMP broke the Stepping Hill murder case wide open when, in Chua's home, they found a letter in which the suspect had written: "I am an angel turned into an evil person, there's a devil in me." While not a confession, it was close enough.

     In May 2015, at the conclusion of the Chua trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Tracey Arden and Derek Weaver. The judge sentenced Victorino Chua to life in prison.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Pallavi Dhawan Double Murder-Suicide Case

     Sumeet and Pallavi Dhawan, before becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, were married by arrangement in their native home country, India. In 2014, the couple and their 10-year-old son Arnav resided in Frisco, a suburban community north of Dallas, Texas. A computer programmer, Sumeet spent a lot of his time away from home. Mrs. Dhawan had worked in the computer field as well but quit her job to care full time for their special-needs son.

     Arnav, a fifth grade student at Isbell Elementary School was born with a brain cyst and microcephaly, a condition characterized by a smaller than normal head. Pallavi often found herself alone in the house caring for the boy during her husband's extended absences. She found herself coping with mental problems and a marriage that was falling apart.

     On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, Sumeet, while on a three-week business trip, received an email from Arnav's school informing him the boy had been absent from class for several days. At 4:30 PM that afternoon, as he was about to arrive home, Sumeet called Pallavi who said she was just leaving the house to pick up Arnav at his after-school tutoring center.

     At 6:30 PM that evening, when Pallavi and the boy had yet to arrive home from the school, Sumeet, concerned about their welfare, called the police.

     While police officers were questioning Mr. Dhawan, Pallavi returned home without the boy. An officer asked her about Arnav. Where was he? Instead of answering the officer, Pallavi asked if she could speak to her husband privately. The officers backed away.

     Sumeet became visibly upset when Pallavi, referring to their son, said: "He is no more." The distraught father informed the officers that Arnav was in the locked bathroom.

     Inside the dry bathtub officers found the dead boy wrapped to his neck in a cloth. His body was surrounded by several empty plastic bags.

     The day after the discovery of the dead child, the Collin County medical examiner, without issuing a statement regarding the specific cause of death, ruled the case a homicide. The cause of death was withheld pending the results of toxicological tests. According to the forensic pathologist, the boy had been dead two days.

     On Thursday, January 30, 2014, police officers booked Pallavi Dhawan into the Frisco City Jail on the charge of capital murder. Before officers had entered the bathroom to check on the boy, one of them asked Pallavi if she had killed her son. She responded by nodding her head in the affirmative. When asked if the body was in the bathroom, she also nodded her head yes.

     On Friday, January 31, 2014, just after midnight, Pallavi's attorney, David Finn, posted her $50,000 bail. Later that day, in speaking to reporters, the Dallas based defense attorney insisted that his client, when she nodded her head in the affirmative, had responded to the question regarding her son's whereabouts, not to the question about whether she had killed him. The police simply misunderstood and misinterpreted what they saw.

     Pointing out that the boy's body showed no signs of physical trauma, and that his lungs did not contain water, defense attorney Finn announced that he would ask Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the Fort Worth based chief medical examiner of Tarrant County, to conduct his own postmortem inquiry.

     Attorney Finn said that his client had doted on her son, a happy, fun-loving kid. He also claimed that Sumeet Dhawan did not believe his wife had killed their son, and that he stood by her. A reporter asked the attorney why the mother didn't notify the authorities immediately after her son's death. "That's the million-dollar question," Finn replied. Pallavi, he speculated, was probably in a state of shock after Arnav's death. She may have been waiting for her husband to come home.

     In August 2014, Pallavi and Sumeet Dhawan testified before a Collin County Grand Jury looking into the death of their son. In January 2014, the couple had petitioned the authorities to return their car, fax machine and passports, items seized pursuant to the investigation of Arnav's death. The Dhawans had been forced to rent a car and needed their passports to travel back to India.

     On September 3, 2014, police officers arrived at the Dhawan residence at three in the afternoon in response to a 911 call regarding a body floating in the home swimming pool. Inside the house, lying on a bed, searchers discovered a man's body. The dead adults were presumed to be Pallavi and Sumeet Dhawan.

     The medical examiner, on September 6, 2014, confirmed the identities of the deceased couple. Sumeet had suffered blunt force trauma to his head. One of his hands had been fractured, probably as he raised that hand in defense.

     In October 2014, a spokesperson for the Collin County Medical Examiner's Office announced that Pallavi Dhawan had killed herself. She had drowned under the influence of the common antihistamine diphenhydramine. Sumeet Dhawan, according to the medical examiner's office, had been murdered by his wife. He had died from a combination of blunt force head injures and a toxic dose of several over-the-counter medications.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Edgar Steele Murder-For-Hire Case

     Edgar J. Steele, in 2009, resided with his wife Cyndi on a horse ranch near the town of Sagle in northern Idaho. Ten years earlier, Steele, a lawyer who billed himself as the "attorney for the damned," represented Aryan Nations founder and leader Richard Butler in a civil suit the white supremacist lost.

     In January 2010, the 65-year-old Steele solicited a man (who was not identified in the media) to kill his 50-year-old wife and her mother by staging a fatal car accident. According to the murder-for-hire plan, Steele would pay the hit man $25,000. If his wife's life insurance paid off, Steele would kick in an additional $100,000 for the double-hit.

     On June 9, 2010, the man Steele had solicited for murder got cold feet and called the FBI. The next time the would-be hit man and the mastermind met, the snitch secretly recorded Steele soliciting the murders of his wife and his mother-in-law.

      Shortly after the recorded meeting with the informant, FBI agents arrested Steele at his home. While the attorney sat in the Kootenai County Jail, FBI agents questioned his wife.

     According to Cyndi Steele, between 2000 and 2010, her husband had sent 14,000 emails to hundreds of Ukrainian women. In 2000, she caught him soliciting relationships with Ukrainian women on Match.com. To lay a trap, Cyndi posted a phony profile of her own on Match.com under a fake name. Steele replied to her posting. Cyndi Steele filed for divorce, but not long after that, the couple reconciled.

     A few days following Steele's arrest, his wife decided to get an oil change before driving to Oregon to visit her mother. When an employee of the oil change service looked under her SUV, he discovered a pipe bomb. ATF agents responded to the scene and disarmed the device.

      Following the car bomb discovery, FBI agents arrested Larry Fairfax, a former Edgar Steele handyman. Fairfax confessed to planting the car bomb on May 20, 2010. According to Fairfax, Edgar Steele had given him $10,000 in silver coins as a downpayment for the murder of Cyndi and her mother. As part of the murder-for-hire plan, Fairfax was supposed to plant another pipe bomb under Edgar Steele's car, a device the murder-for-hire mastermind could detonate to make himself look like an intended victim.

     On June 15, 2010, a grand jury sitting in Coeur d' Arlene indicted Edgar Steele on two counts of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. The grand jury also indicted him for tampering with a federal witness. (From his jail cell, Steele had called his wife to tell her that the voice on the audio tape that contained the murder-for-hire conversation with the FBI snitch was not him.)

     The government provided Steele, who claimed he was broke, with a federal public defender. However, by February 2011, Steele's supporters had raised $120,000 for his defense. That allowed the accused to hire Robert T. McAllister, a prominent trial attorney from Denver.

     In January 2011, Larry Fairfax pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the placing of the pipe bomb on the intended victim's car. In return for his promise to testify against Steele at his upcoming trial, the judge sentenced Fairfax to 27 months in prison.

     The Edgar Steele murder-for-hire trial got underway on April 30, 2011 in Coeur d' Arlene, Idaho before federal judge B. Lynn Winmill. Assistant United States Attorney Traci Jo Whelan, in an effort to establish the defendant's motive in the case, introduced several love letters Steele had written from his jail cell to a Ukrainian woman named Tatyana Loginova.

     Larry Fairfax took the stand and testified that he had placed the pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele's SUV and Edgar Steele's car.

     Defense attorney Robert McAllister portrayed the government's case against his client as a conspiracy based on perjured testimony and FBI wrongdoing. According to McAllister, the federal government objected to Steele's political beliefs and wanted to silence him.

     Cyndi Steele took the stand to testify on her husband's behalf. (This was not the first time in a murder-for-hire case where the targeted wife stood by the husband who had plotted her death.)

     On May 5, 2011, the jury of eleven women and one man found Edgar Steele guilty on all counts. Seven months after this verdict Judge Winmill sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to fifty years to be served at the federal corrections facility at Victorville, California.

     Steele, with the help of a new lawyer, appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. According to the appellant, Judge Winmill had improperly instructed the jury. Steele also claimed that he had been denied adequate counsel. This assertion was based on the fact that one month after the guilty verdict, attorney McAllister was disbarred for stealing money in an unrelated case. As a result, he had been so distracted by his own legal problems that he hadn't performed well for Steele.

     In October 2013, the three-judge panel sitting on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Steel's murder-for-hire conviction. The decision, however, did not deter Steele's ardent supporters, people who claimed the FBI framed him because of his anti-government politics. They continued, without result, to fight for his freedom.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Amish-Mennonite Pastor Kenneth Miller and His Underground Railroad

     Lisa Miller, as a teenager and young woman in Virginia, struggled with an addiction to pills and alcohol. She also participated in self-mutilation. After a failed marriage and a suicide attempt, Lisa began dating women.

     In 1997, Lise met Janet Jenkins at an alcoholics anonymous meeting in Falls Church, Virginia. They became a couple, and in 2000 traveled to Vermont, the first state to offer homosexuals civil unions, to get married. The pair, after being civilly united by a judge, adopted the surname Miller-Jenkins, and in 2002 bought a two-story house in a small southern Vermont town called Fair Haven.

     On April 16, 2002, after getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization, Lisa, at age 34, gave birth to Isabella. But in September 2003, when Isabella was 17-months-old, Lisa and Janet split-up. After the break in the relationship, a family court judge in Vermont granted Janet regular child visitation rights.

     In 2008, after trying but failing to terminate her former partner's visitation rights, Lisa Miller moved to Lynchburg, Virginia where a Christian anti-gay marriage activist named Janet Stasulli befriended her. Lisa, under Stasulli's guidance and influence, became a born-again Christian, and pursuant to her new religious beliefs, denounced homosexuality as a sin. In October 2009 the family court judge in Vermont granted Janet Jenkins primary custody of Isabella.

     Kenneth Miller (no relation to Lisa), a 43-year-old Beachy Amish-Mennonite pastor from Stuarts Draft, Virginia, a town of 9,000 30 miles north of Lynchburg, conceived of a plan to get Lisa and Isabella out of the country to keep the 7-year-old out of the custody of a lesbian parent. On September 21, 2009, Philip Zodhiates, an evangelical leader, and owner of a Lynchburg Christian direct-mail company, drove Lisa and her daughter to Buffalo, New York. Shortly after midnight mother and daughter crossed the boarder into Canada in a taxi cab. They were met on the other side by a Canadian evangelical pastor named Ervin Horst who drove Lisa and Isabella, disguised in long skirts and head scarves of the type worn by the Amish-Mennonites, to the Toronto airport. Later that day the fleeing mother and daughter flew to Managua, Nicaragua. 

     Pastor Kenneth Miller, indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in Burlington, Vermont for the offense of abetting an international parental kidnapping, went on trial on August 8, 2012. If convicted, the Amish-Mennonite leader faced up to three years in prison.

     Fifty Amish-Mennonite supporters looked on as the Assistant United States Attorney, Eugenia Cowles, and defense attorney Joshua M. Autry, made their opening remarks to the jury. According to the defense version of the case, Pastor Miller did not know that by leaving the country Lisa Miller was violating a lawful child visitation order. Defense attorney Autry argued that his client, therefore, did not possess the requisite criminal intent to obstruct the court order giving Janet Jenkins primary custody of the child.

     Federal prosecutor Cowles told the jurors that Pastor Miller had selected Nicaragua as the point of destination because that country and the United States did not have an extradition treaty. Moreover, the preacher made sure to book a flight from Canada to Mexico that didn't touch down in America.

     Philip Zodhiates, Janet Stasulli and Ervin Horst, the evangelists the defendant had called upon to carry out his anti-homosexual underground escape, took the stand as reluctant prosecution witnesses. Isabella's custody parent, Janet Jenkins, testified that she hadn't seen the girl since January 2009, eight months before the evangelists snuck her out of the country. The government rested its case on August 12. 2012.

     Defense attorney Joshua Autry put on a pair of character witnesses, then rested his case without bringing Pastor Miller to the stand to testify on his own behalf. On August 14, 2012, the jury, after deliberating four hours, found the defendant guilty of abetting international parental kidnapping. Outside the federal building, a group of 100 Amish-Mennonite supporters stood around singing gospel hymns. Pastor Miller remained free on bail until his sentencing.

     Just hours after the verdict, Janet Jenkins filed a civil lawsuit against Philip Zodhiates, Ervin Horst and Janet Stasulli, the people who had helped Pastor Miller kidnap her custody child.

     On March 14, 2013, the federal district judge sentenced Pastor Miller to 27 months in prison. The Paster would not, however, begin his sentence until a federal appeals court reviewed and ruled on the case.

     On October 8, 2014, federal prosecutors charged Philip Zodhiates with conspiracy and international parental kidnapping for his role in the abduction. Zodhiates pleaded not guilty to the charges.

     In March 2017, after being convicted as charged, the federal judge sentenced Zodhiates to 36 months in prison.

     Pastor Kenneth Miller lost his appeal in February 2016 and a month later was sentenced to 27 months in prison. In April 2018, after serving just under two years in federal custody, Miller was released from custody.

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Glen Hochman Murder-Suicide Case

     In January 2015, 52-year-old Glen Hochman took a disability retirement from the White Plains Police Department after missing four months of work due to an ankle injury suffered while helping a motorist. Hochman had been on the suburban New York City force 22 years. He resided in an upper-middle-class home in Harrison, a small town twenty miles northeast of Manhattan with his wife Anamarie DiPietro-Hochman and their three daughters and three dogs. Following his retirement, Glen Hochman and his wife had engaged in a "family discussion" about separating.

     At nine-thirty in the morning of Friday February 20, 2015, Anamarie Hochman visited the Harrison Police Department where she reported that she and her husband had just had an argument over an $80 cellphone bill. Because he hadn't threatened her and didn't became violent, she asked the department not to act on this information. She said she was merely "documenting" the incident.

     Later on the day Anamarie went to the police department, she, her oldest daughter and a friend left Harrison by car on an overnight excursion to an area casino. That left two of her daughters--17-year-old Alissa, a Harrison High School senior and Deanna, a 13-year-old student at the Windward School in White Plains--at home with their father.

     The next day, Saturday February 21, at three-fifty in the afternoon, Alissa's boyfriend, at Anamarie's request went to the Hochman house to check on the girls. In the garage he found Mr. Hochman lying dead on the floor with a pistol in his hand. 

     The stunned boyfriend called Mrs. Hochman who was driving home from the casino. He then dialed 911. Anamarie's friend, a passenger in her car, called 911 as well.

     At the Hochman residence officers with the Harrison Police Department, in addition to Mr. Hochman, discovered the bodies of Alissa and Deanna in their rooms. The girls had been shot in the head at close range. The family pets had been shot to death as well.

     On Sunday February 22, Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccina, without saying it directly at the press conference, revealed that Glen Hochman had killed his daughters, shot the dogs then committed suicide. He had left behind a 5-page note that explained why he had "taken his daughters away."

     According to Chief Marraccini, Glen Hochman had no history of mental illness or domestic violence and was not in financial trouble. The chief, however, did not reveal the exact contents of the suicide note. Autopsies were performed by a forensic pathologist with the Westchester County Medical Examiner's Office. Friends and relatives of the family said they had not seen this coming.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Itinerate Lab Technician Who Made People Sick

     David Kwiatkowski traveled around the country working as a hospital temp in cardiac catheterization labs as a radiology technician. From January 2007 to September of that year, the 29-year-old worked at the Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan, his home state. From November 2007 to March 2010, Kwiatowski was employed by hospitals in Poughkeepsie, New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Baltimore and Clinton, Maryland.

     On April 1, 2010, the itinerate lab technician landed a job in Phoenix at the Arizona Heart Hospital. Eleven days later, a fellow employee found him out cold in the men's locker room. After testing positive for cocaine and marijuana, the hospital fired him. Less than a week later, Kwiakowski was in Philadelphia working at Temple University Hospital. That job lasted less than a month. That May the roving temp was employed at a hospital in Hays, Kansas. A month after taking the job in Kansas, Kwiatkowski's drug usage caught up with him. He was also diagnosed with hepatitis C. After working a month at the Hays Hospital, the infected temp was working in Warner Robins, Georgia at the Houston Medical Center. (There must have been a shortage of radiology technicians. Wasn't anyone keeping track of this man?)

      In April 2012, David Kwiatkowski began work in the cardiac catheterization unit at the Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire. On May 12, 2012, six weeks after the temp started work at Exeter, the hospital experienced a hepatitis C breakout involving 32 patients and former patients.

     Because the infected patients had all received cardiac catheterization procedures at Exeter, David Kwiatkowski came under suspicion. Investigators began looking into his bizarre work history and learned he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C in June 2010. Fellow hospital employees, based on the temp's erratic behavior, and the fresh needle tracks on his arms, suspected he was a drug addict. (Why didn't any of these employees speak up? What kind of people were working in our hospitals?) Kwiatkowski's roommate told investigators that he had found needles in their apartment. When confronted by his roommate, Kwiatkowski said he had cancer. The hospital fired the radiology temp on May 24, 2012.

     Following a month-long investigation FBI agents determined that Kwiatkowski had injected himself with syringes meant for patients. These syringes were filled with Fentanyl, a painkiller more potent than morphine. Patients were then infected with syringes Kwiatkowski had refilled with a saline solution. Patients had not only been denied relief from pain, the temp had given them hepatitis C.

     On July 13, 2012, police in Marlborough, Massachusetts responded to a call from a Holiday Inn regarding a guest who had overdosed on drugs. Officers found David Kwiatkowski in a stupor amid pills scattered about the hotel room. He had also written a suicide note. Medics transported him to a nearby hospital.

     A federal grand jury sitting in New Hampshire, on July 19, 2012 indicted Kwiatkowski for acquiring controlled substances by fraud and for tampering with a consumer product (the hospital syringes). If convicted of these offenses, he faced up to 24 years in prison. On the day of his indictment, FBI agents arrested Kwiatkowski at the Marlborough hospital where he was recovering from his drug and alcohol overdose.

     When interrogated by FBI agents, Kwiatkowski denied stealing the syringes and switching out their contents. Moreover, he said he didn't use drugs. When asked how the 32 patients at the Exeter Hospital had contracted hepatitis C, the suspect said, "You know, I'm more concerned about myself, my own well-being. I've learned here to just worry about myself. And that's all I care about now." Spoken like a true sociopath.

     David Kwiatkowski was held without bail in the Strafford County Jail in New Hampshire. In that state alone he had come into contact with more than 3,000 patients, people who had yet to be tested for hepatitis C.

     In August 2013, Kwiatkowski, pursuant to a plea agreement, admitted that he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people." After pleading guilty to fourteen federal drug theft and tampering charges, the judge sentenced the 35-year-old to 39 years in prison.

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Juan Rivera False Murder Confession

     Anyone, under the right conditions, can falsely confess to a crime, but those most prone to this are young people, the mentally slow and arrestees terrified of the police. False confessors often think that the investigators will eventually catch the real criminal and everything will be straightened out. These people obviously don't know much about law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

     An interrogator more interested in getting at the truth than acquiring a confession should suspect that something is wrong when the physical evidence contradicts the confessor's account of the crime. Factual inconsistency within the confession is another sign of trouble. To avoid false confessions, interrogators should be careful not to feed details of the crime to suspects. Interrogators should also ask open ended questions. Contradictions in confessions should be resolved before the written statements are signed. To reduce the risk of coercion, prolonged questioning should be avoided, and only one officer should conduct the interrogation in a calm and professional manner. Ideally, an interrogator should only try to acquire a confession when there is substantial evidence of guilt. Interrogation techniques should not be used on weak suspects.

     All interrogations should be video-taped (In some states this is required by law.) and no conviction should be based solely on the strength of a confession.

The Juan Rivera Case

     On the night of August 17, 1992, someone raped and stabbed to death an 11-year-old girl named Holly Staker who was baby-sitting two young children in Waukegan, Illinois. The Lake County police questioned 200 people that included a 19-year-old with a ninth-grade education named Juan Rivera. Rivera said he had attended a party that night not far from the murder house. At the party he had noticed a man who had behaved strangely. Weeks later, on October 27, 1992, the police brought Rivera back to the station for a second interview. Rivera told the same story, but the interrogators didn't believe him.

     Following a psychologically brutal, nonstop 24-hour interrogation, Rivera broke down and confessed to raping and murdering Holly Staker. When asked why his fingerprints were not at the scene of the crime, Rivera provided a helpful explanation. After stabbing the girl 27 times, then raping her, Rivera said he bashed in a door with a mop to simulate a break and entering. Before leaving the house he removed his fingerprints by wiping off the mop handle with a towel. He then broke the murder knife and tossed the pieces in the victim's backyard.

     In 1993 a jury found Rivera guilty and sentenced him to life. In two subsequent trials, the last being in 2009, juries found him guilty again even though DNA testing in 2005 ruled him out as the depositor of the semen inside the victim's body. (The prosecutor wished this exonerating evidence away with the preposterous theory that the 11-year-old had had sex with another man just before being murdered by Rivera.) The fact Rivera had been convicted of such a serious crime without the benefit of physical evidence linking him to the crime scene or the murder weapon revealed the power Rivera's confessions had over the jurors.

     On December 10, 2011, an Illinois appellate court reversed Rivera's murder conviction. The judge also barred Lake County prosecutors from trying Rivera for the fourth time. A week later, the 39-year-old, after 19 years served at the Statesville Correctional Center near Joilet, walked out of prison. Because Rivera's interrogators manufactured a false confession, Holly Staker's killer was not brought to justice.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Murder on the Crow Indian Reservation

     The Crow Indian Reservation, 3,500 square miles covering parts of Big Horn, Yellowstone and Treasure Counties in southern Montana, is home to 8,000 tribe members. Geographically, it is America's fifth largest Indian enclave. In these jurisdictions serious crimes are federal offenses principally investigated by the FBI. Tribal police handle everything else. In many of these nations within a nation, rates of unemployment, alcoholism and crime are significantly higher than the national average.

     Mary Agnes Leider, the mother of a three-year-old girl named Tannielle, lived with her mother in the Big Horn County town of St. Xavier on the Crow Reservation. On December 3, 2012, at four in the morning, she and her two brothers, after a night of drinking in Hardin, Montana, were on their way home in a Dodge pickup driven by her brother Wally. Leider and her brothers had consumed a quart of gin and sixty beers. Mary, with her daughter sitting on her lap, sat in the front while her brother Arland rode in the back seat.

     Wally Leider was driving 50 miles-per-hour on Highway 313 south of Hardin when Mary opened the truck door and tossed Tannielle out of the vehicle. Wally jammed on the brakes and ran back to find the child. He found her lying on the highway with blood gushing from the back of her head. Because the little girl didn't seem to be breathing, he assumed she was dead.

     When Mr. Leider returned to the vehicle with Tannielle's unresponsive body in his arms, he told his sister and brother to get out of the truck. With his niece lying on the back seat, Wally drove toward St. Xavier with Mary and Orland sitting on the side of the road crying.

     Georgina Denny, the siblings' mother, was driving north on Highway 313 in search of her children and granddaughter when she passed Wally going the other direction. After both vehicles came to a stop, Georgina saw Tannielle and learned from Wally how she had died.

     A deputy with the Big Horn Sheriff's Office found Mary and Arland still sitting along Highway 313 crying uncontrollably. Mary Leider told the officer that she and Wally had been arguing over how fast he was driving. (He was, in fact, driving under the speed limit.) According to Mary, when Wally stopped the vehicle abruptly, she banged her head on the dashboard. When she came to, Tannielle was gone. Mary said that's all she could remember. While the deputy spoke to the dead girl's mother, police officers  questioned Wally and Georgina.

     Doctors at the Hardin Memorial Hospital pronounced Tannielle dead on arrival. At the same hospital, a FBI agent arranged to have samples taken of Mary's Leider's blood. (Her blood-alcohol level measured 0.24, three times the Montana threshold for driving under the influence.)

     While being questioned at the hospital, Mary Leider alternated between her story that Tannielle had died in some kind of traffic accident and "I killed my baby."

     According to the Montana State Medical Examiner's Office, Tannielle had died from severe head injuries. The medical examiner classified her death as homicide.

     The United States Attorney for the state of Montana charged Mary Agnes Leider with second-degree murder, a crime that carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. The federal magistrate denied the suspect's bond and appointed a public defender to represent her.

     On July 24, 2013, in a Billings, Montana courtroom, Mary Leider pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder charge.

     On October 21, 3013, United States District Judge Donald Molloy, before imposing his sentence, said that in his eighteen years on the bench he had never encountered such depravity in a criminal case. The judge said the details of the offense made him nauseous. Because the judge wanted to keep the defendant from doing further harm, he sentenced her to twenty-one years in prison. (Leider's attorney had asked for a fifteen-year sentence.) Judge Molloy also said he wanted to send a message about the dangers of alcohol abuse on the Crow Reservation.

     Mary Leider, after receiving her sentence, said, "Words can't explain anything. Nothing can bring her back and I have to live with that."

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Chinese Sex Dungeon Murder Case

     In August 2009, 33-year-old Li Hoa and his wife lived in a apartment complex in Luoyang City, a municipality in central China's Henan Province. Li, a former firefighter, worked in the city's Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau. (I have no idea what he did for the city.) That August, Li Hoa finished building, beneath his apartment building's basement, a three-level living space complex that consisted of a flight of stairs that led down to a tunnel/crawl space that dropped to a pair of adjacent rooms four meters beneath the basement floor. (The tunnel dropped a few feet then made a right angle turn into the living quarters.)

     Li Hoa furnished the rooms, each the size of a small jail cell, with a bed, a chair, a toilet and a hot plate for heating food. He also wired these underground boxes for electricity, and supposedly did all of this work in a clandestine fashion. (According to Li, his wife thought he had an extra job working as a night watchman.)

     Between August 2009 and September 2011, Li Hoa kidnaped six women in their twenties from area nightclubs, karaoke bars and salons and held them captive in his underground rooms. Li raped his prisoners, forced them to perform in pornographic web videos that viewers could upload for a fee, and escorted the women into the city where they worked for him as prostitutes.

     In 2010, Li forced three of his sex slaves to help him beat one of their fellow captives to death. He did this to instill fear and discipline into them. He buried the victim's body beneath one of the cells. Less that a year later Li and three of his women murdered a second prisoner. They buried her body near the first murder victim.

     Li Hoa's sex dungeon operation came to an end in September 2011. One of his unsupervised prostitutes, instead of returning to the underground prison with his money, went to the police. When the captive didn't return to her subterranean quarters as scheduled, Li realized that she had escaped and that his days as a sex slave master were over. He borrowed 1,000 yuan from his sister to help finance his flee from the police, but got caught before leaving the city. (The sister later pleaded guilty to harboring a criminal in return for a probated sentence.)

     Li Hoa faced charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, running a prostitution enterprise and the distribution of pornography for profit. The three women he had coerced into helping him commit the two murders were convicted of criminal homicide. The judge sentenced two of these defendants to probation, and the third to three years in prison.

     On November 3, 2012, a judge in Luoyang City sentenced Li Hoa to death. Unlike in America where death row inmates often live decades beyond their convictions, Li Hoa died by firing squad on January 21, 2013.

     Although there is much that is unknown about this case, it's hard to believe that Li Hoa's wife wasn't aware of what he was doing beneath the apartment building. Moreover, it's hard to believe that Li built his underground dungeon in secret. The case reeks of official corruption. In the cases of the missing bar girls, the police were probably not working that hard to find them.      

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Cecilia Chang Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1975, a 22-year-old student from Taiwan (an island 200 miles off the coast of mainland China) named Cecilia Chang, enrolled in the Asian Studies Master's Degree program at St. John's University in Queens, New York. After Chang acquired the degree in 1977, the university hired her as an Asian Studies professor. Three years later, university administrators promoted Chang to the position of Dean of the Institute For Asian Studies. Having exhibited the ability to raise money for the program from the Taiwanese and other Asian governments, Chang's job as dean involved fund-raising. She spent the next decade traveling the world, living high on donor contributions to the school and her university expense account.

     In October 1986, Cecilia Chang's husband, Ruey Fung, filed for divorce and sought custody of the couples's toddler son. Four years later, in the midst of a contentious domestic struggle over money and child custody, Ruey Fung was shot outside a warehouse in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

     Ruey Fung died from his wounds eleven days after the shooting. But before he passed away, homicide detectives were able to question him at the hospital. Unable to speak, Mr. Fung wrote: "I know the man who shot me, but I do not know his name. Cecilia Chang was the person who paid the guy to shoot me." Ruey Fung claimed that his wife wanted him dead so she wouldn't have to split their estate which included a hosiery business. With his death she would also gain custody of the boy.

     Because NYC homicide detectives were unable to identity the man who shot and killed Mr. Fung, the investigation died on the vine. Notwithstanding her husband's deathbed murder accusation and police suspicion that Chang had engaged the services of a hit man, her fund-raising career at St. John's University continued to flourish.

     In 2001, Cecilia Chang began spending an inordinate amount of time in Connecticut at the Foxwoods Casino where she lost tens of thousands of dollars playing high-stakes baccarat. Her wagering strategy of doubling her bet each time she lost compounded her casino losses.

     A grand jury sitting in Queens, New York, in 2010, indicted Chang on 205 counts of fraud and embezzlement. She stood accused of stealing huge amounts of money from St. John's University. In addition to embezzling $1 million from the institution, Chang was accused of using her $350,000 a year expense account, and donor money, to finance skiing and surfing trips for her son, fund his law school tuition and even pay for his dog's veterinary bills.

     Dean Chang also faced charges of theft, fraud, and corruption in federal court. In 2011, after being charged federally, the judge placed her under house arrest. In the fall of 2012, the federal case against Chang went to trial in Brooklyn, New York. When the Assistant United States Attorney rested the government's case, it was clear to people following the trial that the defendant was guilty.

     On November 5, 2012, believing that she could convince the jury that she was innocent of all charges, Chang took the stand on her own behalf. It quickly became obvious that the jurors not only didn't like her, they didn't believe her testimony. At one point jurors actually laughed loudly at something she said. At this point in the trial, Cecilia Chang realized that in all probability she would be spending the next twenty years in federal prison.

     On Tuesday, the day after her devastatingly bad afternoon on the stand, Chang, in her $1.7 million home in the Jamaica section of Queens, committed suicide. The 59-year-old was found hanging from a ladder that folded down from her attic. Chang had also slit her wrists. She left behind several suicide notes, written in Mandarin, in which, in true sociopathic fashion, she blamed St. John's University for her problems and her suicide.

     Cecilia Chang had gotten accustomed to having all the money she needed to lavishly entertain herself, her son and all of her friends in high places. She felt entitled to use university and donor money to live extravagantly and to cover her gambling loses. The university had some responsibility for Chang's financial excesses. No university employee should be allowed a $350,000 a year expense account. It seemed that at St. John's University no one was watching the store while an employee lived high on other people's money.     

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Jason Young Murder Trials

     In November 2006, 29-year-old Jason Young and his 26-year-old wife Michelle lived in a suburban home outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. They had a two-year-old daughter named Cassidy and Michelle was five months pregnant with their second child. It was not a happy marriage. Jason had several girlfriends, and as a salesman for a medical software company, spent a lot of time on the road. Michelle told friends and relatives that she hated her life.

     On the morning of November 3, 2006, Jason Young was out of town. The previous night he had checked into a Hampton Inn in Huntsville, Virginia 169 miles from Raleigh. At nine that morning he left a voicemail for Michelle's younger sister, Meredith Fisher. Jason asked Meredith to stop by his house and retrieve some papers for him. (Presumably, he told Meredith he had called home and didn't get an answer.)

     Later that morning, Meredith Fisher entered the Young house on Jason's behalf. When she climbed the stairs to the second floor she was shocked by the sight of bloody footprints. In the master bedroom she discovered her sister lying facedown in a pool of blood. The victim, wearing a white sweatshirt and black sweatpants, had been bludgeoned to death beyond recognition. Meredith found Cassidy hiding under the covers of her parents' bed. She had not been harmed, but her socks were saturated in her mother's blood. Meredith Fisher called 911.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, the assailant had struck Michelle Young at least thirty times in the head. The attacker had tried to kill the victim by manual strangulation before beating her to death. The extent of the head wounds suggested an attack by an enraged, out-of-control killer who hated the victim.

     The authorities, from the beginning, suspected that Jason Young had snuck back to North Carolina from Virginia, murdered his wife, then returned to the Hampton Inn. The killer had entered the house without force, nothing had been taken and the little girl's life had been spared. At the time of the murder, Jason was having an affair with one of his wife's friends. The couple had been fighting and Jason had made no secret of the fact he wanted out of the marriage.

     From a prosecutor's point of view there were serious holes in the Jason Young case. The suspect had an alibi 169 miles from the murder scene and there was no physical evidence linking him to the carnage. Moreover, no one had seen him at the house on the night of the murder. Even worse, investigators had not identified the murder weapon. As a result of these prosecutorial weaknesses, the Wake County District Attorney's Office did not charge Jason with the murder of his wife.

     Michelle Young's parents were convinced that Jason Young had murdered their daughter. When it became apparent that the authorities were not taking action they filed a wrongful death suit against him. In March 2009, two years and four months after the homicide, the civil court jury, applying a standard of proof that is less demanding than a criminal trial's proof beyond a reasonable doubt, found the defendant responsible for Michelle's brutal killing. The jurors awarded the plaintiffs $15.5 million in damages.

     Eight months after the civil court verdict, a Wake County prosecutor, based on a three-year homicide investigation conducted by the City-County Bureau of Investigation, charged Jason Young with first-degree murder. Police officers, on the afternoon of December 15, 2009 arrested Young after pulling over his car in Brevard, a town in southwest North Carolina. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     The Jason Young murder case went to trial in Raleigh in June 2011. The prosecutor, following his opening statement in which he alleged that the defendant had drugged his daughter that night with adult-strength Tylenol and a prescription sedative, put on an entirely circumstantial case that relied heavily on motive.

     The defense attorney hammered home the fact the prosecution could not place the defendant at the scene of the murder. The state did not have a confession, an eyewitness or even the murder weapon. Jason took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when his wife was murdered he was sleeping in a hotel 169 miles away. He said he had loved his wife and their unborn child.

     On Monday morning, June 27, 2011, the foreman of the jury of seven men and five women told the judge that the jurors were "immovably hung" on the verdict. "We currently sit," he said, "at a six to six ration and do not appear to be able to make any further movement. Where do we go from here?"

     The trial judge instructed the jurors to return to the jury room and try to reach a verdict. But later in the day, after deliberating a total of twelve hours, the foreman announced that they were deadlocked in an eight to four vote in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial.

     The Wake County District Attorney, determined to bring Jason Young to justice, announced that he would try him again. Jason, who had been incarcerated in the Wake County Jail since his arrest in December 2009, went on trial for the second time on February 10, 2012.

     The prosecutor, in his opening statement, alleged that the defendant had checked into the Hillsville Hampton Inn just before eleven on the night of November 2, 2006. An hour later, he left the building through an emergency exit he had propped open with a rock to avoid using his computer card key to re-enter the hotel. According to the prosecutor, the defendant arrived at his Birchleaf Drive home at around three in the morning. Shortly after his arrival, he drugged his daughter and murdered his wife. After cleaning up and disposing of his bloody shirt, shoes and trousers, and ditching or cleaning off the murder weapon, he returned to the hotel, arriving there around seven in the morning.

     Following the testimony of the victim's sister, Meredith Fisher, and the testimony of several other prosecution witnesses, a Hampton Inn hotel clerk took the stand. According to this witness, he had found the emergency door on the first-floor stairwell propped open with a rock. He also noticed that in the same stairwell someone had unplugged the security camera and turned its lens toward the ceiling.

     One of the City-County Bureau of Investigation crime scene officers testified that it appeared that someone had moved the victim's body to get into the defendant's closet. The detective said that despite all of the blood on the upstairs floor, certain items such as the sink drain had been sanitized by the killer. The investigator said he did find traces of blood on the knob to the door leading from the house to the garage. The detective said he had been present when, on the day after the murder, the suspect's body was checked for signs of trauma related to the killing. No injuries were found.

      A second detective testified that the dark shirt the defendant was seen wearing on hotel surveillance video footage was not in the suitcase he had used on that trip. The implication was that the defendant had disposed of the bloody garment.

     Included among the prosecution witnesses who took the stand over the next two weeks were two daycare employees who said they had seen Cassidy Young acting out her mother's beating. The girl was using a doll to demonstrate the attack. A therapist took the stand and testified that a week before her death, the victim had come to her seeking counseling to cope with her unhappy marriage. In the therapist's opinion Michelle Young had been verbally abused by her husband.

     Jason Young's mother and father took the stand for the defense. On November 3, 2006 Jason had driven from the Hampton Inn in Virginia to his parents's home in Brevard, North Carolina. His mother testified that when they broke the news to him that Michelle had been murdered, "you saw the color just drain from his face."

     On February 29, 2012, the defense rested its case without calling Jason Young to the stand. (The defense attorney was probably worried that the prosecutor, having studied Jason's direct testimony from the first trial, would rip him apart on cross-examination.)

     The prosecutor, in his closing argument to the jury, said, "This woman wasn't just murdered, she suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see. This woman was punished. The assailant struck her over thirty times with a weapon of some sort, and she was undoubtedly unconscious after the second or third blow." In speaking to jurors, the prosecutor mentioned the 2009 wrongful death verdict against the defendant.

     The defense attorney during his final jury presentation pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case, talked about reasonable doubt, and reminded the jury that being a bad husband did not make his client a murderer.

     On March 5, 2012, after the jury of eight women and four men deliberated eight hours, the judge, before a packed courtroom, read the verdict: guilty of first-degree murder. The 38-year-old defendant, after the judge announced the verdict, showed no emotion. Facing a mandatory life sentence without the chance of parole, Jason Young was escorted out of the room in handcuffs.

     Following the trial, several of the jurors spoke to reporters. Two members of the jury said that the lack of physical evidence in the case pointed more to the defendant's guilt than his innocence. For example, what happened to the shirt and shoes he was seen wearing on the hotel surveillance footage? A third juror found it incriminating that Cassidy had not been murdered and possibly cleaned-up after the attack.

     The prosecutor in the Jason Young murder trial, the second time around, turned a weakness--a lack of physical evidence--into a strength. In the era of the "CSI" television shows, advanced DNA technology, and high forensic expectations on the part of juries, this was an unusual case.

     Shortly after the murder conviction, Jason Young's attorney filed an appeal raising, among other procedural issues, the fact the jury had been improperly prejudiced by the prosecutor's mention of the 2009 verdict in the wrongful death case.

     On April 1, 2014, a North Carolina panel of three appellate judges unanimously set aside the Jason Young murder conviction and ordered a new trial. In the 58-page opinion, the justices ruled that the prosecutor's reference to the wrongful death verdict had seriously diminished the defendant's presumption of innocence. He had thus been denied a fair trial.

     On August 21, 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the state appeals court's new trial ruling. The Jason Young murder conviction would stand. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Kyle Dube Murder Case

     On the night of May 12, 2013, in Glenburn, Maine, 15-year-old Nichole Cable left her parents' home to meet a friend down the road from her house. She was under the false belief that the message she had received on her Facebook page was from Bryan Butterfield. The high school sophomore did not return home. The morning following her disappearance Nichole's mother reported her missing to the police.

     At the request of investigators, officials at Facebook traced the message ostensibly from Bryan Butterfield to a 20-year-old man named Kyle Dube who lived in his parents house in Orono, Maine. Detectives questioned Dube's girlfriend Sarah Mersinger who revealed that Dube had used the fake Facebook account to lure Nichole out of the house that night so that he could kidnap her.

     According to Kyle Dube's brother, the idea behind the abduction involved the kidnapper's plan to abduct the girl wearing a ski mask, then later play the hero by rescuing her. But something went wrong and the victim ended up dead. Dube's brother told detectives that Kyle had dumped the body in the woods near the community of Old Town, Maine. The brother said that Kyle's sexual advances toward the 15-year-old had been rejected. Dube's harebrained kidnapping plot and phony rescue scheme was motivated by his desire to have sex with the girl.

     Police officers from a dozen police agencies, with the aid of cadaver dogs and hundreds of civilian volunteers, searched the woods near Old Town for Nichole's body. In the evening of May 20, 2013, one of the searchers came across the corpse.

     The next day, police officers arrested Kyle Dube on the charge of murder. In confessing to his interrogators, Dube said he had used the phony Facebook account to lure Nichole out of her parents' house. As she walked down the road to meet her friend Byran Butterfield, Dube hid in the woods wearing a ski mask. After ambushing the victim, Dube covered her mouth with tape and put her in the back of his father's pickup truck. When he checked on Nichole after driving to a remote spot near Old Town, Kyle discovered that she had died from suffocation. He left her body in the forest covered in branches.

     On May 22, 2013, a Penobscot County grand jury indicted Kyle Dube on the charge of murder. He was held in the county lock-up without bail.

     A trial jury, in March 2015, found Kyle Dube guilty of murder. Two months later the judge sentenced him to sixty years in prison.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Travis M. Scott: The Swindler

     In 2006, Travis Magdalena Scott owned a computer company in Crystal, Minnesota that provided software to the U.S. Military and the private sector. That year, the 29-year-old filed a false insurance claim with Lloyd's of London based on a phony lightening strike he said had wiped out his computers and ruined his business. The insurance company paid him $3 million.

     Two years later,  Mr. Scott was living in a 15-room, 5,300-square foot $1 million mansion in the Twin Cities area town of Eden Prairie. He owned a new computer company and had filed another false insurance claim. This time, to indemnify him for another computer destroying lightening strike, the insurer paid him $9.5 million.

     The FBI opened an investigation of Scott in 2010, and in early 2011, a federal grand jury sitting in Minneapolis indicted him for wire fraud, money laundering and insurance fraud. If convicted of all charges the suspect faced up to thirty years in prison. FBI agents seized three of Scott's airplanes, a boat, three vehicles and $5 million from various bank accounts in his name. Scott's mansion, taken over by the bank and put on the market, was now worth $600,000.

     In May 2011, pursuant to a plea deal involving a sentence of between five to ten years in prison, Travis Scott pleaded guilty to all charges. His sentencing hearing before a U.S. District Court judge was scheduled for mid-September 2011.

     A week before his sentencing, Scott staged a suicide by leaving his Kayak on the west shore of Lake Mille Lacs. Inside the overturned Kayak he left a suicide note in which he wrote that he had drowned himself by jumping into the middle of the lake wearing heavy weights. (Had this been true it would have been an odd suicide.)

     Following the staged suicide Mr. Scott flew his Piper airplane from the Flying Cloud Airport near Eden Prairie to the St. Andrew's Airport in Winnipeg, Canada. The aircraft bore fake Canadian registration decals. Three days later Mille Lacs County Sheriff's deputies found the Kayak and the phony suicide note. The local authorities listed Scott as a missing person and various law enforcement agencies in the region searched for his body.

     In Winnipeg, under the name Paul Decker, Scott set up residence in a downtown apartment. He purchased a Jeep and lived with a cat. Things were going smoothly for the missing businessman until December 22, 2011. The Canadian authorities caught up to him 82 days after his staged suicide when, at a Winnipeg pharmacy, he used a forged prescription slip to acquire pills for his anxiety disorder.

     Police officers searching Scott's apartment seized $35,000 in U.S. and Canadian currency. The Winnipeg officers also recovered $85,000 in gold and silver coins. In Scott's Jeep searchers found a loaded .45-caliber handgun. The officers seized Scott's Jeep and Piper aircraft.

     On February 11, 2013, Mr. Scott, now 37, pleaded guilty in a Winnipeg court to possession of a firearm and a customs act charge for failing to report to border officials. Lest Scott stage a second suicide along the shore of a Canadian lake, the judge sentenced him on the spot to three years and three months in a Canadian prison.

     In Minnesota, on November 19, 2013, a federal judge presided over Scott's sentencing hearing pertaining to his May 2011 guilty plea. At that proceeding Scott argued that if the judge gave him probation he'd be able to work and pay back the money he had stolen. The federal prosecutor countered that argument by labeling Scott a "manipulative person" who showed no remorse for his crime.

     The U.S. District judge sentenced Travis Scott to 12 years 8 months in prison and held him responsible for more than $11 million in restitution. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

The "Black Madam" Butt Injection Murder Case

     Born in 1970, Padge Victoria Windslowe didn't become a woman until she had a sex change operation in 2006. The aspiring hip-hop singer who billed herself as the "Black Madam" had also gone under the names Victoria Forrest Gordon and Genevieve D'Gordoni. The multi-named Windslowe also had a pair of social security numbers and lived in two places--one with her mother and stepfather in west Philadelphia and the other in an apartment in Narberth Pennsylvania.

     Although Windslowe had no medical training, the Black Madam injected silicone into the hips and buttocks of young women who attended her "pumping parties" to acquire larger butts. Windslowe's clients paid between $700 and $2,000 for these cosmetic enhancement procedures carried out in Philadelphia area homes and hotel rooms.

     Melissa Lisath, a 27-year-old account manager for a construction company in the Bronx, New York attended a September 2008 pumping party hosted by the Black Madam at a Red Roof Inn in Mount Laurel New Jersey. Lisath, one of several women in the motel room, paid $1,800 for the procedure. Windslowe identified herself as a plastic surgeon's assistant named Lillia.

     Six hours after receiving the painful silicone injections Milissa Lisath, back in the Bronx, started having trouble breathing. She began to sweat profusely then threw up blood. She was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into a coma. The chemicals Windslowe had injected into Lisath's body had migrated into her bloodstream then into her lungs. Three months after the pumping party Milissa Lisath came out of her coma. She weighed 80 pounds, couldn't walk and had a bone condition. Two years would pass before she was well enough to take care of herself.

     No criminal charges were filed against Windslowe in connection with Melissa Lisath's nearly fatal reaction to the Mount Laurel pumping party injections. The Black Madam continued to inject silicone into women who gathered in area homes and motels for the toxic cosmetic procedures.

     In December 2011 Claudia Seye Aderotimi, a 20-year-old college student from London England, flew to Philadelphia where in a nearby hotel room Windslowe administered the butt enlargement shots. Within hours of the injections Aderotimi complained of chest pains, had a heart attack then died suddenly of liver failure. (As reported in the U.K., Seye Aderotimi had been an exotic dancer.)

     On February 19, 2012, Padge Victoria Windslowe injected a 23-year-old exotic dancer at a pumping party held in Germantown Pennsylvania. The needle hit a blood vessel which carried the toxic chemicals to the unidentified woman's lungs. Treated for a blocked lung artery, the victim, after seven days in the hospital went home requiring extra oxygen to breathe. As a result of this woman's medical reaction to the Black Madam's injections the local prosecutor charged Windslowe with aggravated assault, simple assault and deceptive practices. Instead of taking Windslowe into custody the Philadelphia police placed her under surveillance.

     Ten days after the Black Madam had injected the 23-year-old exotic dancer, the police raided a pumping party attended by five women in another Germantown home. They took Windslowe into custody and seized her equipment which included syringes, needles, chemicals and other butt enlarging paraphernalia such as cotton balls and Super Glue. A magistrate set Windslowe's bail at $10 million but a judge lowered it to $750,000. The Black Madam was confined under house arrest at the west Philadelphia home occupied by her mother and stepfather.

     Investigators linked the Black Madam to 14 pumping parties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

     On July 23, 2012 the District Attorney's office in Philadelphia charged Padge Windslowe with third- degree murder in connection with the death of London tourist Claudia Aderotimi. The Delaware County Medical Examiner, Dr. Frederic Hellman, following a toxicological analysis of the injected substance found a direct link between the Black Madam's injection and the victim's death. According to the forensic pathologist, the industrial grade silicone had traveled through Aderontimi's blood to her liver, lungs and brain. Dr. Hellman listed the victim's cause of death as pulmonary embolism.

     Padge Windslowe's attorney Christopher Mannix told reporters in October 2012 that he would challenge the state's toxicological conclusions at his client's upcoming trial.

      In 2014 Padge Windslowe rejected a plea bargain deal involving a sentence of 15 to 30 years. If convicted as charged she faced up to 40 years in prison.

     On February 17, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Padge Windslowe went on trial for third-degree murder involving the death of Claudia Aderotimi of London, England. The day before at a pre-trial motion hearing Windslowe informed the judge that her "body sculpting work" was so popular she was dubbed the Michelangelo of buttock injections. "God's blessed my hands with everything I touch," she said. "I make lots of money in lots of ways."

     Assistant District Attorney Carlos Nega in his opening statement to the jury said that the defendant's clients were not millionaires like Kim Kardashian. As a result these women had sought procedures that were cheap and risky.

     Defense attorney David Rudenstein in his opening remarks to the jurors, in referring to the prosecutor's jury presentation, said, "It's a nutso situation. It almost blows your mind listening to it." The lawyer added that his client would not have injected herself over the years if she didn't consider the butt-injection procedure safe.

     On February 19, 2015 two of the defendant's clients took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Windslowe charged $l,000 to $2,000 per injection session. The Black Madam had falsely held herself out as either an experienced nurse or a physician's assistant for a plastic surgeon. Both witnesses said they had endured frequent discomfort and worried they might develop serious health problems.

     On Monday March 2, 2015, after the defendant spent most of the day testifying on her own behalf under her attorney's direct examination, she complained of chest pains. Later that day she checked herself into a Philadelphia hospital where she remained for two days.

     When Padge Windslowe returned to the witness strand she testified that her patient Claudia Aderotimi had consumed alcohol shortly after her procedure in violation of the defendant's post-injection instructions.

     Throughout her testimony the defendant went out of her way to drop the names of famous people she claimed to have treated. She mentioned Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, model Amber Rose and Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania. On cross-examination, prosecutor Vega asked the defendant why rich and famous people would choose an unlicensed practitioner over a Los Angeles surgeon. "Because I was the best," she said, "and I don't mean that to be cocky." (The prosecutor might have asked why Mr. Rendell would need a butt injection.)

      Padge Windslowe did not come across as a sympathetic witness, and her testimony did more harm than good. She didn't have a clue why she was on trial for third-degree murder and seemed to enjoy the attention.

     On March 9, 2015 the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, on June 11, 2015, sentenced Windslowe to ten to twenty years in prison. Upon her release Windslowe would serve six years on probation. At the sentencing hearing the judge called the "Black Madam" a narcissist. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Deadly Bay Area Limousine Fire

     On Saturday, May 4, 2013, Nerizo Fojas, a recently married 31-year-old registered nurse from Fresno, California entertained eight of her friends and fellow nurses at a bachelorette party in Oakland. At nine that night the newlywed and her guests climbed into a white, 1999 Lincoln stretch limousine en route to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City, the site of her bridal shower. Orville Brown, the 46-year-old who had been driving as a chauffeur for two months, picked up the nine women for the 40-mile trip from Oakland to Foster City.

     At ten o'clock, as the limousine crossed the San Mateo Bridge on Highway 92 about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco, one of the passengers tapped on the partition that separated the driver from the passengers. At first Orville Brown couldn't hear what this passenger was saying over the car music. When he heard others in the back yelling, "smoke, smoke!" he pulled out of the westbound lane and brought the Town Car to a stop at the side of the bridge.

     In a matter of seconds after Mr. Brown exited the limo the rear passenger and trunk areas of the vehicle burst into flames, engulfing the passengers. Four of the women managed to escape the sudden inferno by crawling through the 3 foot by18 inch driver's partition opening. Five of the nurses, including Nerizo Fojas, were burned to death as they waited to squeeze through the partition opening.

     The dead women were so badly burned they had to be officially identified through dental records. Two of the women who survived the fire were in critical condition.

     Nerizo Fojas had been working at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno for two years. Prior to living in Fresno she had resided in Oakland. She and her husband had planned to travel to her native Philippines in June for a second wedding ceremony.

     San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told reporters that "it was almost impossible for [the victims] to get out as the fire was moving so fast." Cause and origin experts investigated the fire scene while forensic pathologists performed the autopsies and ordered toxicology tests.

     It is rare for a motor vehicle not involved in an accident to burst into flames. The fact the fire spread so fast suggested that something highly flammable had been near its origin. (A good many car fires that are not incendiary are electrical in nature.) According to the chauffeur, he had informed his passengers that smoking in the vehicle was prohibited. Orville Brown and other witnesses reported that the fire was not accompanied by an explosion.

     On May 7, 2013, Nelia Arelllano, one of the passengers, told a television reporter from San Francisco that the driver of the limo ignored her when she first yelled at him to stop. By the time Mr. Brown pulled over, the fire had engulfed the rear area of the vehicle. (Stretch limousines have doors at the front and back but not along the elongated section of the car.) The San Jose company that operated the limousine, Limo Stop, was licensed and insured.

    In 2014, fire scene investigators from San Mateo and Alameda Counties determined that the fire was started by a "catastrophic failure" of the 1999 converted Lincoln Town Car's suspension system that caused the drive shaft to rub on the vehicle's undercarriage, producing friction and sparks that started the fire in the rear passenger section.

     The California Public Utilities Commission fined Limo Stop $20,000 for having nine passengers in the vehicle, one over the limit. On appeal, the fine was reduced to $5,000.

     In 2014 and 2015, families of four of the five women who died in the limo settled lawsuits with numerous companies associated with the vehicle fire. In May 2016, the husband of the fifth victim, Aldrin Geronga, filed a wrongful death suit against the Ford Motor company. According to this plaintiff's attorney, "Ford knew there were problems fifteen years ago."

     The jury considering the Geronga $37 million wrongful death suit against the Ford Motor Company deliberated four days before finding for the defendant. Jurors determined that the Ford Motor Company had not been responsible for the vehicle defect that had caused the deadly fire.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Emily Creno's Self-Serving Hoax

     On the surface there was nothing exceptional about Emily J. Creno. In 2012, the mother of an 8-year-old girl and a boy who was four, lived in Utica, a central Ohio town not far from Columbus. After the 31-year-old's marriage had gone sour her husband John moved out of the house.

     In December 2012 Emily Creno took her son J. J. to a hospital emergency room in Columbus. She told medical personnel that he had suffered a series of seizures. Following blood tests, X-rays and EEG monitoring the physician informed the mother that her son was in good health.

     Notwithstanding her son's clean bill of health, confirmed by subsequent hospital visits and various screening tests, Emily Creno told friends and family that J. J. had been diagnosed with cancer. She said J. J.  didn't have long to live. The child, thinking that he was terminally ill, basically shut down. When John Creno visited his son the boy couldn't speak or get off the couch. (Emily regularly shaved J. J.'s head to give him the appearance of someone being treated with chemotherapy.) Her estranged husband had no idea his son's illness was a hoax orchestrated by his wife. (The couple later divorced.)

     One of Emily's sympathetic friends created a Facebook page for the purpose of soliciting donations for the distraught mother and her dying son. About twenty people sent the family clothes, toys and money. One Facebook reader drove 500 miles to console Emily and the stricken boy.

     In May 2013, a Columbus woman with a daughter suffering from leukemia visited the Creno Facebook page where she read postings about J. J.'s illness and symptoms that didn't make sense. Thinking that Emily Creno was possibly soliciting money and goods on a false pretense, this woman reported her suspicion to an officer with the Utica Police Department.

     Utica detective Damian Smith, in response to the tipster's call, got in touch with the Columbus oncologist who was supposedly treating the Creno boy. The physician said he did not know Emily or her son. Further investigation, which presumably included Creno's interrogation and perhaps a polygraph test, established the fact that her son's terminal illness was nothing more that a product of her imagination and deception.

     Licking County prosecutor Tracy Van Winkle, in September 2013, charged Emily Creno with one count of third-degree child endangerment. Shortly thereafter police officers took the suspect into custody on the felony charge. A local magistrate set her bail at $50,000. The prosecutor told reporters that she would present the case to a grand jury which could result in additional charges related to fraud and theft by deception.

     As the criminal case moved forward, Mr. Creno and his sister were residing with a distant relative. It was not clear if the boy's physical incapacity was entirely psychological or the result of being poisoned by his mother. In either case the effects of his ordeal would probably be long-lasting.

     On May 7, 2014, Emily Creno, after pleading no contest to charges of theft and endangering a child, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Judge Thomas Marcelain. The judge also ordered Creno to pay back the money donated to her phony cause. At the sentence hearing Judge Marcelain said that Creno's ploy had been intended to get her husband back, a scheme that got out of hand.

     In terms of motive, this could have been a Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) case. Mothers with this disorder make their children ill to gain sympathy and attention from friends, family and hospital personnel. Quite often the MSBP subject is trying to attract the attention of an indifferent or estranged spouse. Even if Emily Creno didn't poison her son to make him ill, her cancer hoax could be explained in the context of this disorder. In other words, the motive behind this dreadful case may have been pathological rather than theft by deception. It should be noted, however, that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy does not constitute a recognized legal defense. It is not the same as legal insanity because MSBP mothers are fully aware of what they are doing, and that what they are doing is wrong. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

What Happened To David Bird?

     David Bird, a 55-year-old journalist with the Wall Street Journal who covered the world's energy markets--OPEC and such--lived with his wife Nancy and their two children in central New Jersey's Long Hill Township. Although he underwent a liver transplant operation in 2005, Mr. Bird was an avid hiker, biker and camper. The Boy Scout troop leader, in 2013, ran in the New York City Marathon. His children were ages 12 and 15.

     On Saturday, January 11, 2014, after he and his wife had put away their Christmas decorations, David said he wanted to take a walk and get some fresh air before it started to rain. At 4:30 in the afternoon, dressed in a red rain jacket, sneakers and a pair of jeans, the six-foot-one, 200 pound, gray-haired reporter walked out of his house. Shortly thereafter it began to rain, and rain hard.

     Two hours after David Bird left the house his wife became worried. He hadn't returned and it was still raining. To make matters worse, he had been suffering from a gastrointestinal virus. Nancy Bird called the Long Hill Township Police Department to report her husband missing.

     Over the next three days police officers and hundreds of volunteers searched the neighborhood and nearby wooded areas for the missing journalist. The searchers were assisted by dogs, a helicopter and people riding all-terrain vehicles and horses. Volunteers also distributed hundreds of missing persons flyers.

     Notwithstanding the effort to locate Mr. Bird he was nowhere to be found. It seemed he had disappeared without a trace.

     The fact the missing man left his house without the anti-rejection medication he took twice a day in connection with his liver transplant made finding him all the more urgent. Without that medicine he would surely become ill.

     On January 16, 2014, police officers learned that someone in Mexico, the night before, had used one of David Bird's credit cards. The card was supposedly used four days after Mr. Bird's disappearance. Investigators, without a clue as to where David Bird was, or why he went missing, considered the possibility that his disappearance had something to do with his reporting on recent middle east crude oil price changes.

     On March 18, 2015, at five o'clock in the evening, two men canoeing on the Passaic River in New Jersey about a mile from David Bird's home spotted a red jacket amid a tangle of branches. From that spot emergency responders retrieved a male corpse.

     Dr. Carlos A. Fonesca with the Morris County Medical Examiner's office and forensic dentist Dr. Mitchell M. Kirshbaum identified the remains as David Bird. The day after the discovery, Morris County prosecutor Frederic M. Knapp said an autopsy would be conducted to determine Mr. Bird's cause and manner of death.

     A few days later, a Morris County spokesperson revealed that Mr. Bird had drowned. Investigators found no reason to suspect foul play. Since Mr. Bird's death wasn't homicide or natural, it was either the result of suicide or an accident.

     In June 2015, a spokesperson for the Morris County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the manner of Mr. Bird's death as accidental. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Dino Gugglielmelli Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2001, Dino Gugglielmelli, the owner of Creations Garden, a $48 million natural cream and nutritional supplement business, met Monica Olsen, a Romanian born model twenty years younger than him. The 39-year-old tycoon had been married twice. Both of those marriages had been brief.

     Not long after the two met, Monica Olsen moved into Gugglielmelli's six-bedroom, 7,000-square foot mansion on three acres north of Los Angeles. The couple married in April 2003 and by 2008 had two daughters. They also possessed a Maserati, a Porsche and a BMW.

     The Food and Drug Administration, in 2009, tightened the federal regulations regarding the manufacture and marketing of nutritional supplements. This, along with an economic recession, took its toll on Gugglielmelli's business. By 2011 his company, along with his marriage, had collapsed.

     Dino Gugglielmelli, in October 2012, in filing for divorce, described Monica as a bad mother who "never made dinner for the children." According to court documents Mr. Gugglielmelli complained that nannies had raised the children and domestic employees cleaned the house.

     In January 2013, after Mr. Gugglielmelli accused Monica of attacking him with a kitchen knife, she lost custody of the children and moved out of the mansion. Shortly after her departure Mr. Gugglielmelli acquired a young girlfriend. Although he was facing bankruptcy, he lavished this woman with $200,000 in gifts. He used other people's money to impress his young lover.

     In the spring of 2013 investigators exonerated Monica in the domestic knife assault case. A family court judge, in August of that year, was about to award her $300,000 in back alimony payments. The federal government, the economy and his pending divorce put an end to Dino Gugglielmelli's lavish life style, and he did not like what the future held.

     On October 1, 2013, Gugglielmelli and 47-year-old Richard Euhrmann met in a Los Angeles restaurant. Euhrmann, a short time before this meeting had gone to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office with information that Gugglielmelli had asked him to murder his estranged wife. For that reason Mr. Euhrmann showed up at the restaurant wired for sound.

     During that meeting Gugglielmelli allegedly offered his friend $80,000 to pull off the hit. "I'll be happy when it's over," he reportedly said. As the two men walked out of the restaurant deputies took Dino Gugglielmelli into custody.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged the former millionaire with attempted murder and solicitation of murder. After being booked into the county's Men's Central Jail the judge set Gugglielmelli's bond at $10 million.

     At a pre-trial hearing in late 2013, Mr. Gugglielmelli's attorney Anthony Brooklier described Richard Euhrmann, the man Guggliemelli had allegedly asked to kill his estranged wife, as an opportunist and liar who had set up his client. 

     With her estranged husband behind bars for plotting to kill her, Monica moved back into the Gugglielmelli mansion.

     In May 2014, county jail officials moved the high-profile inmate into solitary confinement at the notorious Twin Towers correctional facility. The 9,500-prisoner complex, in 2011, was named one of the ten worst jails in the world.  

     After receiving word that several of Gugglielmell's fellow inmates had approached him with offers to kill Richard Euhrmann, the principal witness against Gugglielmelli, corrections officials isolated him from the jail population. Gugglielmelli was also denied the privilege of seeing visitors. Richard Euhrmann, fearing for his life, went into hiding.

     Monica, the alleged target of the murder-for-hire plot, said she also worried about being killed by a hit man. Traumatized by the case, she put the mansion up for sale asking for $3.5 million. Monica was also trying to breathe new life back into her beauty cream and baby skin care business.

    On June 13, 2014 in San Fernando Superior Court, Gugglielmelli pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to nine years in prison.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Mystery of Criminal Motive: The Streeter Brothers Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     The judge imposed a sentence of 34 years. Mr. Streeter, under the terms of his sentence, would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. That meant he had no chance of freedom until he turned 55.

     Human behavior can be unpredictable, and in some cases, inexplicable. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Rafael Robb Murder Case

     In 1972, Rafael Robb graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel with a bachelor's degree in economics. A few years later he immigrated to the United States where, in 1981, he earned a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA. In 1984, now a U.S. citizen, Dr. Robb joined the teaching staff at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1990, he married Ellen Gregory, a woman seven years younger than him. Four years later the couple had a daughter, Olivia.

     As Rafael Robb's marriage fell apart, Professor Robb's career at the University of Pennsylvania flourished. In 2004, after having published dozens of important papers on game theory, a mathematical discipline used to analyze political, economic and military strategies, the professor was granted tenure. He also became a Fellow of the Economics Society, one of the highest honors in the discipline.

     In the afternoon of December 22, 2006, Professor Robb, using the non-emergency phone number rather than 911, reported that he had just discovered, upon returning home from work, that an intruder had beaten his wife to death in the kitchen of their Upper Merion, Pennsylvania home. Because Ellen Robb had been beaten beyond recognition, the responding police officers thought she had been murdered by a close-range shotgun blast to the face.

     From Ellen Robb's relatives and friends, homicide detectives learned that the victim, after years of marital abuse, had recently hired a divorce attorney who planned to demand $4,000 a month in spousal support. Ellen, after living with the professor for the sake of their 12-year-old daughter, had finally decided to move out of the house.

     Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor, Jr., on January 9, 2007, charged Rafael Robb with first-degree murder. Homicide detectives considered Robb's attempt to cover his tracks by staging a home invasion quite amateurish. They believed Robb had murdered his wife to avoid the financial consequences of the upcoming divorce. Robb's attorney announced that he would produce, at the upcoming trial, security-camera footage what would prove that his client had not been home when his wife was murdered. Homicide investigators, however, found numerous holes in Robb's so-called alibi.

     On November 27, 2007, on the day Rafael Robb's trial was scheduled to begin, the defendant, pursuant to a plea bargain arrangement, took the opportunity to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, a lesser homicide offense. Standing before Common Pleas Court Judge Paul W. Tressler, the defendant said that he and Ellen, on the morning of her death, had been arguing over a trip she planned to take with their daughter Olivia. "The discussion," Robb said, "was very tense. We were both anxious." According to the defendant's version of the killing, when Ellen pushed him, he "just lost it." By losing it, Robb meant that he walked into the living room, grabbed an exercise bar used to do chin-ups and used the blunt object to beat his wife's head into pulp. "I just kept flailing it," he said.

     Judge Tressler, after calling the Robb homicide "the worst physical bludgeoning" he had ever seen, sentenced Rafael Robb to a five-to-ten-year prison term. The light sentence for such a brutal killing committed by an abusive husband who had tried to stage a fake burglary shocked the victim's family. 

     In March 2012, after serving less than five years of his lenient sentence at a minimum security prison near Mercer, Pennsylvania 70 miles north of Pittsburgh, Rafael Robb filed a request to serve the remainder of his sentence in a Philadelphia halfway house. The goal behind the rehabilitation program involved allowing model prisoners to work at jobs during the day. The Montgomery County prosecutor strenuously opposed Robb's attempt to get into a halfway house.

     Notwithstanding objections from the prosecutor and members of Ellen Robb's family still upset about the light sentence, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, in October 2012, shocked everyone by granting Rafael Robb early parole. (If the Robb murder case were a game theory exercise the ex-professor won.) The 62-year-old convicted wife killer was scheduled for release on January 28, 2013.

     On January 29, 2013, the Pennsylvania Parole Board, after meeting with Ellen Robb's family, reversed its decision to grant the ex-professor's release.

     In 2013, Rafael Robb's daughter Olivia Robb brought a personal injury suit against her father in state court. At the time of the civil action the defendant had assets worth more than three million dollars. Following the three-day trial in a Montgomery County court, the jury, on November 6, 2014, awarded the 20-year-old plaintiff $124 million in compensatory and punitive damages. This was the largest contested personal injury verdict in Pennsylvania history. During the course of the trial Rafael Robb took the stand and admitted killing his wife then lying to the police by claiming she had been murdered by an intruder.

     In May 2016, the Pennsylvania Parole Board denied Rafael Robb's second petition for early release. That meant he would serve his full sentence and remain behind bars until December 2016.

     Rafael Robb should have been found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Just because this brutal killer was a prominent scholar did not justify the authorities letting him get away with murdering his estranged wife in order to save the cost of a divorce. The prosecutor, in negotiating Robb's guilty plea, gave away the store. This case, on so many levels, was an outrage.

     On January 10, 2017, a paroled Rafael Robb walked out of prison. Members of Ellen Robb's family protested outside the Upper Merion home where the former professor had murdered his wife. To reporters the victim's brother said, "He can't simply go back into society unfettered while the memory of my sister fades into the distance."  

     In August 2019, to settle the civil suit judgement against him, Rafael Robb agreed to relinquish 75 percent of his $3 million in investments and pension assets.