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Sunday, March 31, 2024

Rachel Hoffman: Drug War Collateral

     Americans love drugs and hate informants. But as a result of the endless war on drugs more and more citizens are snitching on each other. Many arrested users are turned into informants, or "flipped" by narcotics officers. Snitching to avoid long prison sentences, some of these reluctant drug informants end up dead. In the language of war, they are collateral damage.

     For good or bad, informants have always played a vital role in law enforcement. Most of them can be placed into one of three groups: paid "professionals;" jailhouse snitches; and flipped drug arrestees. The professionals snitch for money, the jailhouse types do it for lighter sentences, and many of the flipped drug informants cooperate with the police out of fear and desperation. People caught in possession of small quantities of drugs tend to be the least street-wise and ill equipped to protect themselves against the targeted professional drug merchants. A good number of flipped informants are addicts who feel they have no choice but to put themselves in harm's way.

The Rachel Hoffman Case

     In February 2007 a Tallahassee police officer pulled over 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman for a routine traffic violation. The Florida State University graduate consented to a search of her vehicle that resulted in the discovery of less than an ounce of marijuana. A few weeks later narcotics officers found, in her apartment, five ounces of grass and four ecstasy pills. The prosecutor charged her with several narcotics counts that, according to her arresting officers, would send her to prison. However, if she agreed to act as a snitch/undercover operative in a bust-buy drug sting, the prosecutor would put in a good word with the judge. After some initial resistance Rachel Hoffman agreed to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, two ounces of cocaine and a handgun from two drug dealers she had never met. The fact a gun was involved didn't seem to bother Hoffman's police handlers.

     At seven in the evening on May 7, 2008, when Rachel Hoffman arrived at the sting site, the two suspects told her the deal would go down at another location. Surveillance officers watched as she climbed into a stolen BMW with the two drug dealers. They drove off, and Hoffman's handlers, unprepared for a last minute change of plans, lost touch with their civilian undercover operative. The drug suspects had figured out that Hoffman was a snitch and shot her to death in the car with the firearm she was supposed to buy.

     In response to public outrage over Rachel Hoffman's murder while in the care of the Tallahassee police, Chief Dennis Jones publicly called her a criminal responsible for the botched undercover drug operation that led to her death. His mindless statement created such a firestorm of public criticism the chief was forced to apologize. The chief also suspended the narcotics officers with pay and admitted that his bungling drug cops had put an untrained informant in danger.

     In 2010, the two men who killed Rachel Hoffman were convicted of murder and sentenced to life. Also that year the Florida legislature passed "Rachel's Law," a statute that required law enforcement agencies in the state to take the following steps with regard to drug informants: upon arrest, advise them they cannot promise light sentences in return for their cooperation as snitches; and instruct them they have a right to consult with an attorney before agreeing to go undercover. Under this law, if the drug arrestee agrees to help catch other drug offenders he or she must receive a certain amount of training.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Tracy Ingle SWAT Raid

     A narcotics officer with the North Little Rock (Arkansas) Police Department received information on December 20, 2007 that a woman known only as Kate was selling methamphetamine out of the house at 400 East 21st Street. The confidential informant who said he'd purchased meth there didn't know who owned the dwelling, if other people lived there, how much drug activity was going on at that location or anything about Kate other than she usually carried a gun. A judge, relying entirely on this sketchy report from a confidential informant, issued a nighttime no-knock warrant to search the house.

     At 7:40 PM, 17 days after the judge issued the warrant, Tracy Ingle, a 40-year-old former stonemason with a bad back was asleep in his first floor bedroom in the back of the house at 400 East 21st Street. Mr. Ingle awoke with a start at the sound of a SWAT battering ram breaking down his front door. He instinctively reached for his pistol, the unloaded and broken handgun he kept at his bedside to scare off intruders. This would not be the first time burglars had broken into his home. Suddenly, a flashbang grenade came though the window near his bed, filling the room with blinding light. The SWAT officer who climbed into the bedroom through the broken window yelled, "He's got a gun!" That's when the shooting started. The first bullet, fired from a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle, tore into Ingle's left leg just above the knee. As he dropped to the floor, SWAT officers outside the window fired 20 more shots, hitting Ingle in the arm, calf, hip and chest. Moments later several officers were in the room. One of the officers kept referring to Ingle as Michael or Mike. Before being rushed to the Baptist Health Hospital Mr. Ingle said, "My name is not Mike."

     The police did not find methamphetamine or any other illegal drug at Tracy Ingle's house. They didn't find Kate, whoever she was, or any incriminating evidence in Ingle's car. They did seize a digital scale and a few baggies, common household items they designated as drug paraphernalia. Ingle's sister, a surgical nurse who made jewelry as a hobby, told the police the scale and baggies belonged to her.

     Because the police had broken into Ingle's house and shot him five times, then failed to find the drugs they had raided the house for, they had to charge him with something. And they did: two counts of aggravated assault for picking up the handgun in self defense, and felony possession of drug paraphernalia. The North Little Rock police, in the botched drug raid had almost killed a citizen who had never been convicted of a felony. Instead of apologizing for their shoddy, reckless work and overaggressive tactics, the authorities wanted to send Tracy Ingle to prison.

     Ten days after the shooting the hospital discharged Tracy Ingle from the intensive care unit. Police officers immediately picked him up and drove him to the police station. For the next six hours detectives grilled Ingle without an attorney present. From the interrogation room they hauled him to the Pulaski County Jail where they booked him, still in his hospital-issued clothing. When they released  Mr. Ingle four days later (he had sold his car to make bail) his wounds had become infected because he had been unable to change his bandages every six hours.

     The internal affairs investigation of the shooting cleared the two SWAT officers who had shot Mr. Ingle of wrongdoing. Seeing the gun in Ingle's hand they had responded appropriately. Responsibility for this drug enforcement fiasco rested on the shoulders of the case detective and the judge who had signed the no-knock search warrant. Ingle, who couldn't afford to hire a lawyer, finally caught a break in May when John Wesley Hall, a well-known Arkansas defense attorney, agreed to represent him.

     In an April 2008 interview conducted by a reporter with the Arkansas Times, North Little Rock Chief of Police Danny Bradley spoke about the department's SWAT team, officer safety and police militarism. Because North Little Rock was a small city of 50,000 the SWAT team was made up of 12 to 15 regular-duty patrolmen and detectives assigned to the squad part time. These officers trained for the position twice a month. The chief said he deployed the unit only in high-risk situations. "If we have any doubts about detectives and uniformed officers being able to execute the warrant safely we're going to use the SWAT team. I would rather spend the extra money that it takes to get the SWAT team together than risk someone getting injured."

     Chief Bradley, regarding nighttime no-knock home invasions such as the one that got Tracy Ingle shot and almost killed, said, "How do you weigh a situation where executing a warrant safely means exploiting the element of surprise, versus the natural reaction of a person when someone is intruding into his house? It's a dangerous business." The chief allowed that he didn't like the phrase "war on drugs" because he didn't want his officers thinking they were soldiers, and drug suspects their enemy. In that regard he had worked to eliminate some of the militaristic trappings of the force. For example, he had switched his regular patrol officers out of their "fatigue-looking" uniforms.

     Tracy Ingle's attorney, on September 8, 2008, filed a motion to suppress the evidence against his client. John Wesley Hall argued that owing to the vagueness of the informant's report the warrant authorizing the raid lacked sufficient probable cause, which rendered the evidence against Ingle inadmissible. Moreover, had there been sufficient probable cause in the first place, it had been severely attenuated by the 17-day delay in the warrant's execution. In other words, the evidence had grown stale. (Under Arkansas law, search warrants must be served within a reasonable time, but not more than 60 days after issue.)

     The judge denied attorney Hall's motion, and in March 2009 a jury found Tracy Ingle guilty of maintaining a drug house and of felony assault. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison and fined him $18,000. Tracy Ingle took his case to the Arkansas Court of Appeals which on May 12, 2010 affirmed his conviction.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Jill Hansen: The Hawaiian Road Menace

     Jill Anjuli Hansen, a 30-year-old resident of Honolulu's Maunalani Heights neighborhood aspired to become a professional surfer. Hansen also claimed to be a model and owner of a swimsuit line. But in her community, if Hansen was known for anything it was for being a violence-prone woman who drove like a maniac.

     In 2010 Hanson was convicted twice for speeding. A year later police caught her driving without a license and car insurance. Local officers arrested her three times in 2014 for speeding, including driving 72 in a 35-MPH zone. The Maunalani Heights Neighborhood Watch Group's 500 members were aware of Hansen and her reckless driving habit. A representative of the group reportedly said: "We need everybody to be on the lookout for her, it's that scary. Two people were almost run over by her. One person had a head-on collision with Hansen."

     On April 18, 2014 Honolulu police officers arrested Jill Hansen on a charge of third-degree assault. The judge in that case ordered her to undergo mental evaluation. (According to Hansen's father she had solicited someone to murder him on Facebook. As a result, he obtained a restraining order against her.)

     On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in the Diamond Head section of Waikiki, 73-year-old Elizabeth Conklin got out of her BMW 328 Wagon in the parking garage of her apartment complex. As Conklin walked away from her vehicle, Jill Hansen, who had followed her into the parking area, slammed her gray Volkswagen Passat into the woman, knocking her twenty feet.

     Following the impact, Jill Hansen climbed out of her VW and walked over to the injured woman who was writhing in pain on the garage floor. Instead of calling 911 Hansen returned to her car, climbed in and was about to take another run at the downed woman when a building employee named Chris Khory grabbed a crow bar and smashed out Hansen's back window.

     Mr. Khory's timely intervention caused Hansen to get out of her Volkswagen and flee the scene on foot. Paramedics rushed the victim to a nearby hospital where doctors treated Conklin for numerous cuts and bruises.

     At the hospital, the victim told police officers that the attack was not the result of an earlier road-rage incident. She believed her attacker followed her home with the intent of stealing her car. "I parked in my normal parking place," she said. "I got out and all of a sudden woke up in an ambulance. She saw my car, it was the car she wanted. She followed me and was going to kill me to get the car."

     An hour or so after running down Elizabeth Conklin in the Waikiki parking garage, Jill Hansen was on her computer updating her Facebook page with a photograph of the victim's BMW. She also informed her Facebook friends and readers that she had just been accepted into the Association of Surfing Professionals. "I am becoming a professional!" she wrote. "I have worked soooo hard to get to where I am today. I am so grateful for the support of surfers and the ASP."

     Police officers arrested Jill Hansen at her apartment seven hours after she intentionally plowed into the 73-year-old victim. Officers booked the suspect into jail on the charge of attempted murder. The judge set her bail at $1 million.

     In August 2014 the authorities charged Hansen while she awaited her attempted murder trial at the Women's Correctional Center in Kailua, with violating the protection order acquired by her father. (I'm not sure how she managed this while in custody.)

     Circuit Judge Richard Perkins, on September 25, 2014, following a series of psychiatric evaluations of Hansen found her mentally unfit to stand trial. The judge ordered her to undergo treatment at a local mental health facility.

    After regaining her connection to reality through anti-psychotic medication, Jill Hansen went on trial in Honolulu on the charge of second-degree attempted murder in the Conklin case. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a so-called bench trial where the judge determines issues of law and fact.

     The principal witnesses during Hansen's 4-day trial on August 23, 2015 involved three mental health experts brought to the stand by the defendant's attorney, Victor Bakke. The psychiatrists, pursuant to Hansen's insanity defense, testified that she had tried to kill the victim while suffering from a psychosis that had rendered her incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. She had therefore been incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent.

     On August 27, 2015 Judge Richard Perkins found Jill Hansen, due to her state of mind at the time of the assault, not criminally responsible. Instead of prison, she was sent to a state hospital where she would remain until her doctors determine she could be safely released back into society.
     Jill Hansen was released from the mental hospital sometime in 2018.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Frank Crash Murder Case

     Frank R. Crash was the proverbial big fish in a small pond. He owned and operated an auto wrecking company in his hometown of Greenville, a western Pennsylvania town of 6,000 eighty miles north of Pittsburgh. Located on the Shenago River in Mercer County, Greenville was home to Thiel College.

     In the 1960s and 70s Frank Crash, a 1956 graduate of the former Penn High School, raced dirt track sprint cars and snowmobiles. His wife Carol Lee passed away in December 2009. Frank's two daughters, Pam Higbee and Susan Brenneman, also lived in Greenville. Frank resided by himself in a house on Mercer Road in Hempfield Township just south of Greenville across the street from a restaurant and golf course.

     At 10:30 PM on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, Mr. Crash left the Hickory Grill in nearby Hermitage. At nine-thirty the next morning, when the 76-year-old didn't show up for work, his daughter Pam went to his house to check on him. She found her father lying dead in a pool of blood in the kitchen. It appeared that Mr. Crash had been stabbed to death.

     Death scene investigators found blood trails and blood spatter patterns throughout the dwelling. The telephone had been ripped from the wall. Next to the corpse lay a smashed cellphone. The intruder, who had entered the house forcefully through the back sliding glass door had stolen an undisclosed amount of cash and a 4-carat solitaire diamond ring.

     In nearby Erie, Pennsylvania forensic pathologist Eric Vey, on Friday July 27, 2013, published the results of his autopsy. Frank Crash had been stabbed 76 times by a knife or pair of scissors. The victim's heart and lungs had been punctured many times in what Dr. Vey labeled a criminal homicide.

     Mercer County District Attorney Robert C. Kochems, on July 31, 2013 issued a press release on the status of the Crash homicide investigation. According to the prosecutor the authorities did not have a suspect.

     On November 6, 2014 District Attorney Kochems announced that 33-year-old Tracey Lin Hassel from nearby Hermitage, Pennsylvania had been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, robbery and burglary in the Crash murder case. (Second-degree murder--in Pennsylvania the felony-murder doctrine--carried a sentence of life in prison.) Burglary and robbery were felonies that brought up to 20 years in prison. The penalty for third-degree murder in Pennsylvania was 20 to 40 years behind bars.

     According to the Mercer County prosecutor, Yracy Lin Hassel, who knew the victim, had broken into his home to steal money so she could bail her boyfriend out of jail. After stabbing Mr. Crash 76 times the suspect stole the diamond ring off his finger and cash from his pockets.

     Hassel, with a criminal record, was serving time at the state prison in Muncy, Pennsylvania. She had been convicted in February 2015 of several counts of burglary and robbery.

     On September 13, 2016, on the day the Crash murder trial was set to begin, Tracey Hassel pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. As part of the plea deal she would serve her murder sentence along with the 7 to 21 year sentence she was serving for her previous burglaries and robberies. Regarding the Crash murder case, the judge denied her credit for the two years she had served awaiting trial.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Anthony Taglianetti Love Triangle Murder Case

     In 2010 Anthony Taglianetti and his wife Mary resided with their four children in Woodbridge, Virginia. A former Marine, Mr. Taglianetti worked at the Marine Museum. Later that year the couple separated. Mary and the children moved out of the house in Virginia and relocated in Saratoga Springs, New York.

     Shortly after taking up residence in Saratoga Springs, Mary Taglianetti signed up with the online dating site Match.com where she met Keith Reed Jr. She did not tell the 51-year-old superintendent of the Clymer, New York school district that she was married. After Mr. Reed and the 40-year-old woman exchanged a few emails they met for dinner. Shortly after that they became romantically involved. Keith Reed still did not know that he was dating a married woman.

     Keith Reed, the father of three college age daughters, lived alone in the farming community of 1,500 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. The school superintendent had been divorced for several years.

     In 2011 Mary Taglianetti, after reconciling with her husband, moved back to Woodbridge, Virginia. But in 2012, while still living with him and their children, she began exchanging sexually explicit emails and telephone calls with Keith Reed who still wasn't aware that she was married. The online relationship came to an end when Anthony Taglianetti discovered one of the lurid email messages Mary had forgotten to erase from her computer.

     A furious Anthony Taglianetti sent several angry emails to Keith Reed who insisted he had no idea the woman he had been swapping erotic emails with was married. Mr. Reed made it clear he wanted nothing more to do with Mr. Taglianetti or his dishonest wife.

     On September 23, 2012 Edward Bailey, the principal of Clymer Central High School, reported Keith Reed missing after the superintendent didn't show up for a conference in Saratoga Springs. Mr. Bailey went to Reed's house where he found his dog locked in the garage. Mr. Reed was not in the dwelling.

     Deputies with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office questioned the missing man's neighbors who reported hearing gunshots coming from the vicinity of Reed's house around 9:30 PM two days before. On September 24, 2012 a deputy sheriff found Mr. Reed's body amid a row of thick shrubs about 150 feet from his house. He had been shot three times.

     Detectives working the case caught their first break when Mary Taglianetti, on September 26, 2012, informed them she suspected that Mr. Reed had been murdered by her angry and jealous husband.

     Investigators learned that on September 21, 2012 Anthony Taglianetti drove 350 miles to Clymer, New York where the detectives believed he shot and killed Keith Reed. According to the homicide investigators, Mr. Taglianetti after murdering the victim drove straight back to Woodbridge, Virginia. The next day he took one of his children to a local museum.

     A Chautauqua County prosecutor charged Anthony Taglianetti with second-degree murder. On September 30, 2012 U.S. Marshals and local police officers pulled the murder suspect over as he drove along a rural road in the Shenandoah Valley National Forest in Virginia. Inside Taglianetti's vehicle officers found a .367-Magnum revolver wrapped in one of his wife's offending emails.

     Through DNA analysis a forensic scientist identified Keith Reed's blood on the suspect's handgun. Ballistics tests revealed that this .357-Magnum had fired the death scene bullets.

     The Taglianetti murder trial got underway on October 31, 2013 in Chautauqua County, New York. District Attorney David W. Foley in his opening statement to the jury emphasized the physical evidence pointing to the defendant's guilt.

     Public defender Nathaniel L. Barone, in his opening remarks, said, "This is not a story of an affair gone wrong or a crazed husband seeking justice. It's not as simple as Mr. Taglianetti driving up and killing Keith Reed because of an email. That's not what happened. The defendant is innocent. Mr. Taglianetti did not murder Keith Reed Jr."

     The defense attorney, after declaring his client innocent, attacked Mary Taglianetti, one of the prosecution's star witnesses. He characterized her as a "master manipulator" and urged jurors to weigh her testimony carefully. "Mary Taglianetti is a liar," he said.

     On November 9, 2013, following the testimony of 46 witnesses over a nine day period, the jury of five women and seven men, after three hours of deliberation found the 45-year-old defendant guilty as charged. On February 24, 2014 the Chautauqua County judge sentenced Anthony Taglianetti to 25 years to life in prison. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Abortion Doctor Ulrich George Klopfer And His Dead Fetuses

     Ulrich Klopfer was born in 1940 in Dresden, Germany. He came to the United States in 1952 with his family. Klopfer attended high school in Bloomfield, Michigan and upon graduation became a naturalized U.S. citizen. 
     In 1963, Ulrich Klopfer, now going by his middle name George, graduated from Wayne State College in Detroit with a degree in organic chemistry. He graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1971.
     In 1974 Dr. Klopfer opened an abortion clinic in South Bend, Indiana. In June 2014, a prosecutor in St. Joseph County, Indiana charged him with the misdemeanor offense of failing to file a timely report with the state regarding an abortion he had performed on a 13-year-old girl in South Bend. (Indiana state law required doctors to report every abortion within six months of the procedure.) After Dr. Klopfer agreed to complete a re-education program the prosecution dropped the charge.

     Also in 2014 Dr. Klopfer performed an abortion on a 10-year-old girl who had been raped by her uncle. After the procedure she went home with her parents who obviously knew she had been sexually assaulted. Neither Dr. Klopfer nor the girl's parents reported the rape to the police.

     The Indiana State Department of Health, in 2015, revoked the abortion clinic's license for violating the state's regulation regarding the registry of patients, and for failing to provide documentation that the clinic provided patients with state-mandated patient counseling at least 18 hours before an abortion.

     In November 2016 the Indiana Medical Licensing Board revoked Dr. Klopfer's medical license for failing to ensure that qualified staff was present when patients received or recovered from medications given before and during abortion procedures. By then Dr. Klopfer was no longer practicing. He informed the medical licensing panel that during his 43 years of performing abortions he had terminated 30,000 pregnancies without losing a patient.

     On September 3, 2019 Dr. Ulrich Klopfer died at the age of 75. Members of his family, on September 12, called the local authorities after finding, in his Crete Township, Illinois garage, 2,246 medically preserved fetal remains. The dead fetuses were turned over to the Will County, Illinois Coroner's Office for proper handling.  There was no evidence that Dr. Klopfer had performed abortions at his home.

     In May 2016, Indiana enacted a law that required the burial or cremation of fetal remains produced by abortions. Prior to that law abortion clinics in Indiana turned the dead fetuses over to processors who disposed of human tissues and other medical byproducts.

     The Will County Sheriff's Office, on September 14, 2019, opened an investigation into Dr. Klopfer's possession of the fetal remains. 
     In December 2020 investigators reported that they had no clue as to why Dr. Klopfer's kept all those remains in his garage. The bodies were kept in moldy boxes and Styrofoam coolers and were preserved with formalin, a derivative of formaldehyde. According to the investigation, Dr. Klopfer had acted alone.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Pyle Mansion Fire

     Donald Pyle and his wife Sandra lived on Childs Point Road in Annapolis, Maryland in a 16,000 square-foot waterfront mansion. The massive house, built on an eight-acre tract of land, featured seven bedrooms and as many bathrooms. Mr. Pyle, the chief operating officer of ScienceLogic, an information technology company located in Reston, Virginia, had grown up in Baltimore County north of the city. The 55-year-old had attended Delaney High School and graduated from the University of Delaware. Prior to accepting the position at ScienceLogic Donald Pyle had been the chief executive of IT companies in Pittsburgh and Annapolis.

     At three-thirty in the morning of Monday January 19, 2015 firefighters responded to what turned out to be a four-alarm fire at the Pyle mansion, a massive house referred to by neighbors as "The Castle." By the time 85 firefighters brought the blaze under control at seven that morning, the $6 million dwelling had been reduced to rubble in what had been an extremely hot fast-moving fire.

     Although rescue personnel were unable to immediately sort through the debris due to heat and unstable structural conditions, investigators believed Mr. and Mrs. Pyle and their four visiting grandchildren, all uncounted for, had died in the fire.

     The search for bodies and evidence of the fire's cause and origin--traces of accelerants, multiple points of origin and abnormal burn patterns--was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and investigators with the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office. Bomb and arson dogs as well as cadaver canines augmented the fire scene inquiry.

     Construction of the mansion had been completed in 2005 before the state mandated home sprinkler systems. Had it been otherwise the fire damage might have been minimal.

     On Wednesday evening January 21, 2015, fire investigators accompanied by a cadaver dog located the bodies of two people. Preliminary reports indicated the remains belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Pyle. The charred bodies were sent to the Maryland State Medical Examiner's Office for identification and autopsy. Fire investigators wanted to know, among other things, if the couple had been alive at the time of the fire.

     According to media reports there had been no police activity at the residence prior to the fire. Moreover, there was no record of lawsuits, financial trouble or marital discord associated with the family.

     The four missing children, Wes 6, Charlotte 8, Katie 7, and Lexi 8, were the offspring of Mrs. Pyle's two sons from a previous marriage. On Thursday January 22, searchers found two more bodies. The next day the authorities recovered the remains of another child. Searchers located the sixth and final body on Monday, January 26, 2015.

     The exterior of the Pyle mansion was built of stone in the tradition of a castle. Stone was used in the construction of the dwelling's interior as well. The fast development of the inferno, the extreme heat and the total destruction of the structure required an answer to how, in the context of an accident, the fire had started.

     Following an extensive fire scene investigation the authorities, months after the tragedy, determined that the source of the fire involved a corroded electrical outlet near the Christmas tree. The heat from the electrical short ignited the skirt beneath the tree. Flames shot up the 15-foot Frazer fir and spread quickly along the ceiling. Investigation revealed that while Mr. Pyle tried to extinguish the blaze his wife tried in vain to save the grandchildren. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Finding Leanne Bearden

     In 1999 Leanne Hecht from Roswell, Georgia graduated from the University of Georgia. With her degree in marketing she moved to Denver, Colorado after being offered a job there. In 2008 Leanne began dating Josh Bearden, a Denver resident from Garden Ridge, Texas. Mr. Bearden had graduated from Texas A & M and possessed a degree in marketing as well. The couple were married in 2009.

     Leanne and Josh, in March 2012, left their home in Denver to embark on a trip around the world. Twenty-two months later, after visiting 56 countries and blogging about their adventures, they returned to the United States.

     In December 2013, following a short stay with Leanne's family in Roswell, Georgia, the pair traveled to Garden Ridge, Texas to visit his parents. They had scheduled a flight back to Denver for January 21, 2014.

     Early Friday afternoon on January 17, 2014, Leanne left the Garden Ridge house to hike in the rugged west Texas terrain northeast of San Antonio. The five-foot, 100 pound woman with two piercings on her left ear wore hiking shoes and a pair of jeans. She did not take her cellphone but was in possession of $60 and two credit cards.

     At 5:30 PM that Friday when Leanne Bearden didn't return home from her outing, Josh reported his wife missing. At eight the next morning officers with the Garden Ridge Police Department and the Comal County Sheriff's Office, accompanied by150 volunteer civilians, a contingent of Texas National Guard members, Texas Rangers and a search and rescue team, launched a massive search for the missing 33-year-old. A pair of helicopters for three hours flew over a 23-mile-square patch of landscape that featured boulders, cliffs and caves. The search produced no clues as to what happened to Leanne Bearden.

     Leanne had been missing a week when a group in Denver held a fundraiser to solicit money to hire a private missing persons investigator named Charles Parker.

     Assuming Leanne hadn't been abducted or murdered, she either ran off, got lost or suffered an injury. She could have twisted an ankle or fallen off a cliff. It seemed rather odd, however, that given the hostile terrain and the possibility of getting injured or lost, she had left her house without a cellphone.

     On January 29, 2014 a member of the missing woman's family posted the following message on Facebook: "The pressure of transitioning from her two-year trip back into what we consider "normal" life seems to have left Leanne very anxious and stressed. As a result there is evidence that Leanne may have voluntarily left the area…We initially believed that she was somewhere in the local area. However, after much searching…no evidence has been found of her presence. If Leanne has indeed fled this area, she is extremely vulnerable. She left with only a few assets and is traveling very light. Although she is athletic, she is small in stature. Her mental and physical status is uncertain. We fear for her greatly."

     On Thursday, February 13, 2014 a Garden Ridge police spokesperson announced that Leanne Bearden's body was found in a wooded area not far from her in-law's house. Jewelry and identification cards were with the body. An autopsy would determine her cause and manner of death.

      Leanne Bearden's body was discovered hanging from a tree. The area where she was found had been searched several times by members of her family. As a result it was not included in the search conducted by law enforcement agencies, volunteers and search and rescue crews.

     On Friday, February 14, 2014 Garden Ridge Police Chief Donna O'Conner announced that the autopsy results revealed that Leanne Bearden had committed suicide.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

The William Keitel Murder Case

     William Keitel and his wife Michele were married in 1989. The couple resided a few miles north of Pittsburgh in Ohio Township, Pennsylvania. In October 1996, following a tumultuous marriage and two children--William, 5 and Abbee, 3--William and Michele separated. Shortly after the split, Michele, 35, became engaged to Charles Dunkle, a 34-year-old from nearby Moon Township.

     In the evening of New Year's Day 1998, 45-year-old William Keitel sat in his Mercedes in the parking lot of the Stop 'N Go convenience store on Mount Nebo Road. He and his father, William Keitel senior, were waiting for Michele to arrive with the children pursuant to an a prearranged exchange. As on numerous occasions in the past Michele had either forgotten about the exchange or was late.

     At nine-thirty that night, after William Keitel called the police, Michele, accompanied by the children, her father and her fiancee pulled into the convenience store lot.

     As Mr. Keitel pulled out of the Stop 'N Go parking lot with his children in the car, Michele saw that he was armed with a handgun. (He had been issued a permit to carry the .38-caliber revolver.) Screaming that he had a gun, Michele ran after the Mercedes as it eased back onto Mount Nebo Road.

     William Keitel, realizing that his estranged wife was chasing his car, pulled into a neighboring beer distributorship parking area and climbed out of his vehicle with the gun in his hand. As Michele, her father--Mr. Charles Walker--and Charles Dunkle rushed him, William shot Mr. Dunkle in the chest at close range. With Michele on her knees next to Dunkle's body, William Keitel placed the barrel of the .38 to her forehead and pulled the trigger. When Mr. Walker tried to disarm Mr. Keitel, the father-in-law was shot in the stomach.

     Michele Keitel and Charles Dunkle died on the beer distributorship's parking lot. Charles Walker survived his bullet wound. The Keitel children witnessed the mayhem a few feet away from their father's car.

     Charged with first-degree murder of Michele Keitel, third-degree murder of Charles Dunkle and the aggravated assault of Charles Walker, William Keitel went on trial in Pittsburgh in October 1998. His attorney, William Diffenderfer, presented a case of self defense that included putting his client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. Allegheny County prosecutor Edward Borowski, in the murder of Michele Keitel, sought the death penalty.

     The jury following the one-month trial found William Keitel guilty as charged. The jurors, however, rejected the death sentence by an eight to four vote. In January 1999 Common Pleas Judge Jeffery A. Manning sentenced William Keitel to life in prison without parole. Three months later prison administrators assigned Keitel to the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale located in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

     In 2010 William Keitel's 18-year-son, a high school senior, died when his car collided with a telephone pole.

     At one in the afternoon of August 2, 2013, after returning to his cell following a work assignment, William Keitel's 43-year-old cellmate beat him severely. The 59-year-old convicted murderer was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Altoona, Pennsylvania where, nine days later, he died from the beating.

     The federal appeal of William Keitel's conviction and sentence that had been pending before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia was dismissed.

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Lois Riess Double Murder Case

     On March 23, 2018 in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, Dodge County sheriff deputies went to the home of 59-year-old David Riess after his business partner reported that he hadn't seen him for two weeks. Riess's wife Lois had texted friends that Mr. Riess was not well and should not be bothered at home. At the Riess house police officers discovered David Riess's body. He had been shot to death with a .22-caliber gun that was not at the murder scene. Lois Riess was not in the house and no one knew where she was.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess' body Lois Riess began forging checks drawn on his bank account. The checks were cashed in south Florida.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess's body Dodge County, Minnesota prosecutor charged Mrs. Riess with the murder of her husband. At this point the missing 56-year-old murder suspect became known in the local media as "The Grandma Fugitive."

     While hiding in Fort Myers, Florida Lois Riess met Pamela Hutchinson, a woman who looked a lot like her. The 54-year-old Hutchinson lived in Bradenton, Florida but was staying in a hotel in Fort Myers where she had traveled to visit a friend.

     On April 5, 2018 Lois Riess shot Pamela Hutchinson to death in the victim's hotel room. Her body was discovered four days after the murder. Police officers recovered from the crime scene the murder weapon, a .22-caliber handgun. This weapon was determined to be the gun used to kill David Riess in Minnesota. Lois Riess had killed Mrs. Hutchinson, her lookalike, in order to use her identification. From Florida Riess drove to Texas in the murder victim's car.

     On April 10, 2018 a Lee County, Florida prosecutor charged Lois Riess with the first-degree murder of Pamela Hutchinson.

     On April 19, 2018 U.S. Marshals took "The Fugitive Grandma" into custody in South Padre Island, Texas. Riess was having a cocktail at a waterfront restaurant.

     Lois Riess, in December 2019, pleaded guilty to murdering Pamela Hutchinson in Fort Myers, Florida. The Lee County judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Following Riess' guilty plea, the Dodge County authorities in Minnesota began the process of extraditing her back to that state to stand trial for the March 2018 murder of her husband.
     In April 2020 Lois Riess pleaded guilty to murdering David Riess. The judge sentenced her to life in prison without parole. She later pled guilty to murdering Pamela Hutchinson. She is currently serving her life sentence at the Minnesota Women's Correctional Facility in Shakopee. She has yet to be tried for the murder in Florida of Pamela Hutchinson.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Jack McCullough Murder Case

     On December 3, 1957, 7-year-old Maria Ridulph and her playmate, Kathy Chapman, were playing on a street corner in Sycamore, Illinois, a DeKalb County town west of Chicago. A teenage boy who approached the girls and introduced himself as Johnny began giving Maria piggyback rides. Kathy left her friend to go home for mittens, and when she returned, Johnny and Maria were gone.

     After friends and relatives searched the neighborhood without finding Maria the FBI, on the assumption the disappearance was a ransom kidnapping, entered the case. Over the next few weeks agents and police officers questioned more than a hundred potential suspects, including a 17-year-old boy named John Tassier who said he had seen the missing girl around the neighborhood. Tassier described little Maria as being as pretty as a Barbie Doll. When asked his whereabouts at the time of the abduction Mr. Tassier said he had been on his way to Chicago to take a medical exam before entering the Air Force. When Tassier's stepfather backed up the alibi investigators moved on to other possibilities. Not long after Maria's disappearance John Tassier entered military service.

     In the spring of 1958, in a forest 120 miles from Sycamore, hikers came upon Maria Ridulph's badly decomposed body. The autopsy disclosed that she had been stabbed in the throat and chest. Because five months had passed since her death the forensic pathologist was unable to determine if she had been sexually assaulted.

     John Tassier, sometime in the 1960s, changed his name to Jack McCullough. At the time he was employed in the state of Washington as a police officer. In the 1980s, after being accused of sexually molesting a teenage runaway girl he and his girlfriend had taken in, Mr. McCullough lost his police job. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sexual offense and in return received a probated sentence.

     Jack McCullough's half-sister, in 2008, told DeKalb County authorities that on their mother's deathbed in 1994 the dying woman had indicated that Jack had been responsible for Maria Riduph's disappearance and death. About two years later a woman who said she had dated McCullough in the 1950s told the police that Jack's stepfather had lied about the boy's 1957 alibi. In 2010 the DeKalb County prosecutor re-opened the 53-year-old murder case.

     Cold case detectives contacted Kathy Chapman, the playmate who had been with Maria Ridulph when the teenager who called himself Johnny gave the 7-year-old piggyback rides on December 3, 1957. After viewing a collection of photographs Chapman picked Jack McCullough out of the photo-lineup as Johnny. (I'm assuming the photograph Chapman selected depicted McCullough as a 17-year-old. I'm also assuming that the physical description of the suspect she gave to the police in 1957 matched the then John Tassier.)

     Detectives in Seattle where McCullough resided questioned him about the Ridulph kidnap-murder case. While raising eyebrows with the comment that he remembered Maria as a "stunningly beautiful" neighborhood girl, McCullough denied any role in her death.

     When homicide investigators questioned one of McCullough's younger sisters she claimed that in 1962 when she was fourteen he and two other men had sexually molested her. (The crime, which according to the sister took place in Sycamore, led to charges against McCullough. In April 2011 a judge in a bench trial acquitted him of that crime.)

     When the Ridulph case investigators spoke to members of the suspect's family they gave statements to the effect that McCullough's mother, on her cancer deathbed in 1994, uttered comments they interpreted as implicating the suspect in the neighborhood girl's murder.

     On July 1, 2011 detectives arrested 72-year-old Jack McCullough at his Seattle retirement home. The prosecutor in DeKalb County charged him with the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph. According to the prosecution's theory of the case, when Kathy Chapman went home to get her mittens, McCullough dragged Maria into an alley where he choked her with a wire and stabbed her in the throat and chest. According to the prosecutor the defendant had been sexually attracted to the victim.

     McCullough's trial, the oldest unsolved crime in United States history to make it into a courtroom, got underway on September 10, 2012. The defendant waived his right to a jury and requested a bench trial in which the judge determined the defendant's guilt or innocence. 

     The prosecution's star witness, Kathy Chapman, after recounting the events of that day 54 years ago when she was seven, made an in-court identification of the defendant as the man she had last seen with Maria Ridulph. Chapman was followed to the stand by three jailhouse snitches who had been in the DeKalb County lockup with McCullough during the months leading up to his trial. One of the informants, a man named Kirk Swaggerty who was facing a 33-year prison term for a home invasion robbery that had led to a person's death, said the defendant had confessed to him. According to this witness, McCullough told him..."he was giving her [Maria] a piggyback ride on his shoulders, and when she fell she wouldn't stop screaming and when she wouldn't keep quiet, he suffocated her."

     On cross-examination by McCullough's attorney, Mr. Swaggerty admitted that following his cooperation with the police his attorney had filed a motion for a reduced sentence. Because jailhouse snitches have been known to commit perjury to help their own causes, many jurors do not find them credible. To some members of a jury this point made by the defense attorney would hit home. But because this case was being tried before a judge who had allowed the jailhouse snitch to take the stand in the first place, the implication that he had lied to reduce his sentence had little impact.  

     Two more jailhouse informants followed Mr. Swaggerty to the stand. If these witnesses were to be believed, Jack McCullough, after keeping his mouth shut for 54 years had confessed to three men he didn't know during a period of a few months.

     McCullough's defense, which could have been substantial, consisted of a handful of witnesses and just two hours of court time. The defense attorney put the physician on the stand who had treated McCullough's mother for cancer. According to the doctor, when the woman died in 1994 she was so mentally confused any deathbed utterances she made would have been meaningless. Jack McCullough did not take the stand on his own behalf. Perhaps he chose to remain silent because there were no jurors to impress. Moreover, the defense attorney, based on the weakness of the prosecution's case probably expected an acquittal.

     Just how weak was the case against Jack McCullough? The prosecution, without a confession, a cooperating accomplice, a proven motive, a murder weapon, a time of death or any physical evidence linking the defendant to the victim, had no choice but to present a 54-year-old eyewitness identification by a then 7-year-old girl, vague deathbed utterances and three jailhouse snitches. By any standard this bottom-of-the-barrel evidence barely supported enough probable cause for McCullough's arrest.

     On September 14, 2012 the McCullough trial judge found the defendant guilty of kidnapping and murder. Had the defendant been tried before a jury he probably would have been acquitted. This was not how our criminal justice system was supposed to work.

     On December 10, 2012 the judge sentenced Jack McCullough to life in prison. He continued to maintain his innocence.

     On April 15, 2016 Judge William P. Brady of the Illinois Circuit Appeals Court vacated Jack McCullough's 2012 conviction and ordered a new trial. A week later, perhaps anticipating that prosecutors would try McCullough again, the judge dismissed the charges against him.

    A year later judges with the DeKalb County Circuit Court issued Mr. McCullough a certificate of innocence.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The Camia Gamet Murder Case

     In 2013, 30-year-old Marcel Hill and Camia Gamet, 38, shared an apartment in Jackson, Michigan, a town of 34,000 in the south central part of the state. She had been raised in foster homes and claimed to have been raped by a foster dad. People who knew Camia Gamet were aware of her violent streak and abuse of drugs, a combination that made her unpredictable and dangerous.

     Marcel Hill, a high school graduate and fast food worker, was by contrast friendly and child-like. According to members of his family he suffered "cognitive limitations" that made it difficult for him to handle simple everyday tasks like paying his bills. Unlike Gamet he didn't have a violent bone in his body. This odd couple relationship would cost Mr. Hill his life.

     A year or so earlier Camia Gamet, in a fit of rage, stabbed Marcel Hill with a knife, then stitched up his wound herself. Neither one of them reported the assault to the authorities. On another occasion she sent Marcel to the hospital with a punctured lung. That assault did not lead to her arrest. But in March 2013 a Jackson County prosecutor charged Camia Gamet with domestic violence and felonious assault after she pounded Marcel on the head with a hammer. Because he was afraid to press the matter and refused to cooperate with law enforcement personnel, the prosecutor had no choice but to close the case.

     In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 18, 2013 a neighbor called 911 to report domestic violence at the odd couple's dwelling. Responding police officers found a blood-covered Gamet staggering around and slurring her words outside the apartment. Inside, officers found smashed furniture, a broken floor lamp, a bloody filet knife and a frying pan covered in blood.

     Amid all of the destruction and gore, officers discovered Marcel Hill. He had been repeatedly bludgeoned with hard objects--presumably the broken lamp and the frying pan--stabbed eleven times, and cut wide open in the torso with the knife.

     Police officers arrested Camia Gamet that night. On Wednesday, May 20, 2013, a Jackson County prosecutor charged her with open criminal homicide. (This meant a jury or a judge could determine the appropriate degree of murder in the event of a conviction.)

     The Gamet murder trial got underway in late February 2014. In her opening statement to the jury Chief Assistant Prosecutor Kati Rezmierski portrayed the defendant as a violent person and a proven liar. According to the prosecutor Camia Gamet had deliberately and knowingly beaten, stabbed and slashed the victim to death.

     Defense attorney Anthony Raduazo told the jury that his client woke up from a drug-induced stupor that night to the sound of shattering glass. Believing that she was being attacked by an intruder, she grabbed the lamp and the knife and used these objects to defend herself. Attorney Raduazo said the defendant had acted out of a "fear-driven rage," noting that in the encounter she had herself received cuts and bruises.

     After six days of prosecution testimony, the defense attorney put Gamet on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In telling her story of self-defense she did not come off as a credible or sympathetic witness.

     In his closing remarks to the jury, attorney Raduazo said, "She is a woman and she is asleep and she is full of drugs and she is full of liquor. Did she react in a thoughtful manner? Or did she jump up and try to defend herself?" Raduazo pointed out that Gamet had not tried to dispose of Hill's body or clean up the death scene. "If this was preplanned and premeditated," he said, "it was a heck of a bad plan."

     Prosecutor Rezmierski, when it came her turn to address the jurors for the last time, said, "The victim did not die quickly. He knew his death was coming. The victim tried to protect himself and flee, but he was no match for the defendant. He never was a match." As to Gamet's supposed injuries, the prosecutor said, "She has barely a scratch, and he's eviscerated."

     On March 5, 2014 following a short period of deliberation the jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder.

     At Camia Gamet's sentencing hearing on April 16, 2014 County Circuit Court Judge John McBain saw the convicted murderer roll her eyes and snicker during a court presentation by one of Marcel Hill's aunts. The sight infuriated the judge who, in speaking directly to Gamet said, "You gutted him like a fish in the apartment! You were relentless! You stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed, you stabbed until he was dead! I agree with the family, I hope you die in prison! You know, if this was a death penalty state, you'd be getting the chair!"

     Judge McBain sentenced Camia Gamet to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Afterward, defense attorney Raduazo told reporters he would appeal his client's verdict and the sentence.

     On February 4, 2016 justices on the Michigan Court of Appeals, in an unanimous decision, upheld Gamet's conviction. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Lyvette Crespo Manslaughter Case

      Daniel Crespo was born in a Brooklyn, New York public housing project in 1969. Lyvette, Crespo's high school girlfriend, married him in 1986 shortly after graduation. That year they moved to the Los Angeles area and in 1987 had their first child, a baby girl.

     Daniel Crespo earned an associates degree in psychology/family counseling at East Los Angeles College. Two years later he was awarded a bachelor's degree in criminal justice/public administration from Cal State University. The couple's second child, Daniel Jr, was born in 1994.

     After working eight years as a criminal justice youth counselor, Mr. Crespo joined the Los Angeles County Probation Department. In 2001 he and his family resided in the Vinos la Campana condominium complex in Bell Gardens, a suburban community of 43,000 18 miles southeast of Los Angeles. That year he was elected to the Bell Gardens city council.

     In Bell Gardens the city counsel is part time and members take turns serving as mayor. In 2014 Daniel Crespo held the office of Bell Gardens mayor. Before that he worked five years in the Los Angeles County probation department's adult supervision gang/narcotics unit. As a criminal justice practitioner and a Bell Gardens office holder, Mr. Crespo was considered friendly and well-liked. He also had the reputation of being a devoted family man.

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday September 30, 2014, paramedics were called to the Crespo residence. The emergency crew found Daniel Crespo in the second floor master bedroom with three bullets in his upper torso. He died en route to a nearby hospital. His 19-year-old son, Daniel Jr, was taken to a hospital where a doctor treated him as an outpatient for facial injuries sustained in a fight.

     Later that day Los Angeles County deputies questioned Lyvette Crespo and her son at a county sheriff's station. According to Lyvette, she and her husband had been arguing in the master bedroom. When their son tried to intervene on her behalf, he and his father got into a fight. She left the room and returned with the handgun she used to shoot her husband three times.

     Following police interrogations of the mother and son the two were allowed to go home. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office announced that investigators would present the results of their investigation of the Daniel Crespo shooting case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. Personnel within that office would determine if there was sufficient evidence to charge Lyvette Crespo and/or her son with criminal homicide.
   
     Two days after the shooting Eber Bayona, Lyvette Crespo's attorney, described his client to the media as a devoted wife and mother who had been the victim of "a difficult and intolerable home life." Attorney Bayona said, "I think the evidence will corroborate that she has been a victim of domestic violence for many years."

     William Crespo, the shooting victim's brother, told reporters that the attorney was simply trying to make his brother look bad. "My brother is not a bad man," he said. William went on to say that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office should prosecute Lyvette Crespo for second-degree murder. When asked by a reporter if it were true that Daniel Crespo was having an affair with a woman who was pregnant, William Crespo did not answer the question. He did say that his brother was considering leaving his wife.

     In December 2016, following a criminal investigation that revealed that Daniel Crespo had for years physically abused his wife and his son, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman allowed Lyvette Crespo to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

     On January 20, 2017 Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy sentenced Lyvette Crespo to 90 days in jail and five years probation. While the so-called battered wife syndrome is not recognized as an admissible homicide defense, it is relevant in terms of prosecutorial discretion and sentencing.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Frank Costal and the Kadunce Killings: The Satanic High Priest Murder Case

     At ten o'clock on the morning of July 11, 1978, Rose Butera decided to visit her friend Kathleen Kadunce. Rose, accompanied by her daughter Lori and Lori's boyfriend, pulled up to Kathy Kadunce's two-story house on Wilmington Avenue in New Castle, Pennsylvania, a mill town of 30,000 about an hour north of downtown Pittsburgh. Twenty-five-year-old Kathleen, known to her friends as Kathy, lived in the house with her husband Lawrence and their two children, a four-year-old girl named Dawn and three-month-old Robert Dean Kadunce. (While friends and family called Lawrence Lou or Louie he will be referred to here as Lawrence.)

     When she approached the Kadunce residence Rose Butera noticed that the back door stood ajar. From the doorway Rose heard a baby crying. After no one answered her knock she and the other two visitors entered the dwelling.

     Rose found the Kadunce baby crying in a portable crib on the first floor. Lori climbed the stairs to the second floor where she stumbled upon the mutilated body of the little girl, Dawn Kadunce. Rose, in response to her daughter's screams, found Mrs. Kadunce's nude and bloody body lying on the bathroom floor.

     According to the Lawrence County coroner Kathy Kadunce and her daughter had been each stabbed 17 times. The mother had also been shot in the head. The victims had been murdered earlier that morning. Dr. William G. Gillespy, a pathologist with St. Francis Hospital in New Castle, performed the autopsies. According to Dr. Gillespy Mrs. Kadunce had been shot at point blank range before she was stabbed. The pathologist believed the murders took place sometime between seven and eight-forty-five in the morning. In his report Dr. Gillespy used the words "excessive" and "overkill" in describing the murders.

     Investigators believed the killer or killers had removed Mrs. Kadunce's wedding ring as well as a blue star sapphire ring. Police officers searched the Kadunce house but did not find the murder weapons.

     New Castle detectives questioned Lawrence Kadunce, Kathy's husband of six years. He said that when he left his house that morning his wife and daughter were alive. Mr. Kadunce was a student at the New Castle Business College where he took night courses. He worked during the day at V & R Industries on Grove Street. The 30-year-old was not a suspect in the case.

     In January 1979 detectives working on the double murder caught a break when an anonymous tipster told officers about a man named Michael Atkinson. According to the caller, Mr. Atkinson, a 28-year-old drifter from Ellwood City, a town a few miles south of New Castle, had been involved in the Kadunce murders. Detectives launched an investigation of this man and the more they learned the more they were convinced the anonymous caller had been right.

     On February 11, 1980 police officers armed with a warrant for Atkinson's arrest as a suspect in the Kadunce case interrogated him at the jail in neighboring Butler County. Atkinson had been arrested in connection with the January 1980 shooting death of Rose Puz, his 84-year-old landlady in Ellwood City.

     Atkinson admitted being at the Kadunce house at six o'clock that bloody morning. He said he waited in the car while his companion, Frank Costal, entered the dwelling. When the 50-year-old Costal walked out of the Kadunce house he was, according to Atkinson, covered in the victims' blood.

     Frank G. Costal, after dropping out of New Castle High School in 1950, joined the Army and ended up serving in Korea during the Korean War. After his military service, the veteran with a "confused sexual identify," traveled around the country as a carnival freak known as Frankie Francine, "half-man, half-woman."

     In 1970 Mr. Costal returned to New Castle where he worked odd jobs and lived off a monthly social security disability benefit of $240. (He claimed to have injured himself while working as a laborer in Pittsburgh. He also told people he had been sexually abused as a child.)

     In February 1980 New Castle police officers arrested Frank Costal at his apartment at Highland and Leisure Avenues on suspicion of murdering Mrs. Kadunce and her daughter. In his apartment officers discovered plastic skulls hanging from the ceiling, ceremonial candles, inverted crucifixes and a collection of books on black magic, witchcraft and devil worship. The suspect's walls were also covered with black curtains to give the place a spooky feel.

      Mr. Costal told his police interrogators that he, Michael Atkinson, a man named John Dudoice and Lawrence Kadunce had gone to the Kadunce house that morning to straighten out a drug deal Mrs. Kadunce had interfered with. According to Costal, Kathy Kadunce had found the drugs he had given to her husband and she had flushed them down the toilet. Costal said that yes, he was in the house at the time of the murders, but he was not the one who did the killing. His companions had killed the little girl because she would have been a witness to her mother's murder. Costal denied the killings had anything to do with his interest in the occult. Four months earlier John Dudoice had been shot to death in New Castle. While the case went into the books as a suicide, detectives believed that Dudoice had been murdered by Costal who was worried that if questioned by the police Mr. Dudoice would finger him and the others for the Kadunce murders.

     On March 4, 1980 a jury found Michael Atkinson guilty of raping a 17-year-old New Castle girl in 1978.

     On September 15, 1980 Michael Atkinson went on trial for the Kadunce murders. The Lawrence County prosecutor charged him with the first-degree murder of Kathy Kadunce and the third-degree murder of the victim's daughter. The prosecution theorized that Kathy's murder had been premeditated while her daughter's fatal stabbing had been a spur-of-the-moment killing. (Today the killing of a potential witness to a crime qualifies the murderer for the death penalty.)

     The trial judge allowed the prosecutor to show the jurors the gory murder scene photographs. Atkinson's attorney objected on the grounds these photos unduly inflamed and prejudiced the jury against the defendant. Following the coroner's testimony several police officers took the stand. Frank Costal, the prosecution's star witness, climbed into the witness box and placed himself, the defendant and the others at the murder scene that morning.

     After the prosecution rested its case Michael Atkinson's attorney put him on the stand to speak on his own behalf. Atkinson continued to insist that he had not left the car that morning while Frank Costal killed Kathy Kadunce for destroying the drugs her husband had been entrusted with.

     On cross-examination the prosecutor got the defendant to acknowledge several inconsistencies in his written and oral statements to the police. The defendant also admitted that he, Costal, Duodice and Lawrence Kadunce returned to the murder scene an hour after the killings to retrieve physical evidence that might have incriminated them. Atkinson said Dudoice walked out of the Kadunce house carrying a bloody 14-inch butcher knife, the weapon used to stab the victims and dismember the little girl.

     On October 16, 1980 the jury found Michael Atkinson guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life in prison for Kathy Kadunce's murder and ten to twenty years for the slaughter of Dawn Kadunce. Sometime around 2013 Atkinson died while serving time at the state penitentiary in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

     The Frank G. Costal trial got underway on January 5, 1981 in the Lawrence County Courthouse. Because of the regional pre-trial publicity about the murders that extended all the way south to Pittsburgh, the jury had been drawn from the citizens of Crawford County. The prosecutor, in his opening remarks to the jury argued that the ritualistic killings committed by the defendant had been motived by the thwarted drug deal as well as Costal's desire to kill Kathy because he was having a homosexual affair with Lawrence Kadunce. In other words the defendant wanted Mr. Kadunce all to himself.

     Several of the prosecution's witnesses informed the jury of the defendant's participation in satanic rituals held in his apartment. They also described his role as the "High Priest" of a small cult of young, drug-addled naive followers who gathered at his place three or four times a week to smoke pot, drink beer, witness animal sacrifices and other satanic rituals. At these occult events Frank Costal would often conduct marriage ceremonies involving him and a young male lover. (Police found fake marriage certificates in his apartment.)

     According to several witnesses familiar with the defendant's lifestyle, many of Costal's young followers were afraid to cooperate with the police because they believed Mr. Costal had the power to walk through the bars of the Lawrence County Jail.

     Another witness who had participated in black magic rituals at the defendant's apartment testified that many of the "High Priest's" followers, in return for access to the beer and marijuana, shoplifted for him. One of the former attendees at Costal's beer and pot-fueled occult affairs told the jury that he once saw the defendant wearing nothing but a pair of woman's red bikini underwear.

     The prosecutor put a jailhouse informant on the stand who said that while serving time with Costal in a Lawrence County Jail cell, Costal boasted about "carving up the Kadunces." The snitch said Costal had been angry at Kathy for interfering with his relationship with her husband.

     A prosecution witness testified that Lawrence Kadunce had been an active member of Costal's satanic group. She said she had seen him several times in the defendant's apartment. According to this witness, Mr. Kadunce and the defendant had been involved in a homosexual relationship. Another person took the stand and said that Costal had demanded that Lawrence Kadunce leave his wife Kathy. According to this witness, just before the murders, Costal had confided to her that "something bad was going to happen to Kathy."

     An expert on satanism took the stand for the prosecution and said that the defendant's plastic skulls, devil worship posters, robes and books on the occult were consistent with the ritualistic nature of the Kadunce murders. According to this witness (so-called satanism experts have since been discredited) the fact the victims had been stabbed 17 times had satanic relevance. (Detectives who worked on the case believed the defendant's devil worshiping trappings were nothing more than props in furtherance of his desire to seduce young gay men.)

     Michael Atkinson took the stand as the prosecution's star witness. He testified that Frank Costal, John Dudoice and Lawrence Kadunce were in the house committing the murders while he sat outside in the car. Atkinson told the jury that Frank Costal wanted to kill Kathy Kadunce in order to have Lawrence for himself. The witness further implicated the husband by claiming that Lawrence had entered the house that morning armed with a pistol.

     On January 25, 1981 the jury found Frank Costal guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The judge imposed the mandatory life sentence without parole. Costal died in 2001 at age 71 while serving his time at the State Correctional Institute at Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania.

     A jury in the summer of 1982 found Michael Atkinson guilty of murdering his Ellwood City landlord, Rose Puz. The judge handed him a second life sentence for the January 1980 murder. (There are those who believed that Michael Atkinson and a man named Raymond Tanner murdered 37-year-old Beverly Ann Withers and 4-year-old Melanie Gargacz on November 7, 1975 in New Castle. When the girl's mother, Marilyn Gargacz, came home that afternoon, the school teacher found her daughter and the girl's babysitter dead from small caliber gunshot wounds to the head. No arrests were made and that case remained unsolved.)

     Lawrence Kadunce, having been implicated in his wife's and daughter's murders went on trial in January 1982 in Lawrence County with Judge Glenn McCracken presiding. Because of the intense local publicity surrounding the case, a jury from Centre County had been impanelled. Mr. Kadunce had been assigned two defense attorneys, Norman A. Levine and Peter E. Horney.

     District Attorney Norman J. Barilla opened his prosecution by putting Sandra Lee Krosen on the stand. The 39-year-old witness from Edinburg testified that Frank Costal had been a babysitter for one of her friends. In 1977 Mr. Costal had introduced Krosen to his good friend, Lawrence Kadunce.

     New Castle police officer William Carbone testified regarding major inconsistencies in statements the defendant made to him on the day of the murder and the day after. Kathleen Kadunce's mother, brother, and sister testified that the defendant had given them different stories regarding his activities on the night before the murders. The family members also noted that Lawrence, at his dead wife's funeral, had laughed and joked with friends who came to pay their respects.

     Michael Atkinson, the prosecution's star witness took the stand on January 21,1982. According to the convicted murderer and rapist, after the defendant and his wife argued in the bathroom about the drugs---she had been about to take a bath--he shot her in the head. After killing his wife the defendant sent Frank Costal to silence his daughter, Dawn.

     Atkinson said that after the murders he burned evidence from the crime scene behind his house on South Jefferson Street. He disposed of the murder knife and gun by tossing the weapons into a pond owned by the Medusa Cement plant near Wampum, Pennsylvania.

      According to Atkinson, Frank Costal had introduced him to the defendant and his wife in 1977 at the Towne Mall in downtown New Castle. The witness described Lawrence Kadunce as a vengeful and jealous husband who had accused him (Atkinson) of having an affair with Kathy. Atkinson said he had caught the defendant and Frank Costal, a man he described as a "blood-maddened drug using homosexual," having sex in Costal's apartment.

     Defense attorney Levine, in his cross-examination of the prosecution's star witness pointed out major discrepancies in Atkinson's testimony at this trial, the Costal trial and at a March 1981 preliminary hearing before District Justice Howard B. Hanna. In Atkinson's two signed statements given to the New Castle police on February 10 and 11, 1980 Lawrence Kadunce was not mentioned as a participant in the murders.

     Attorney Levine also got the witness to admit that in return for his testimony against Lawrence Kadunce, District Attorney Barilla had promised not to seek the death penalty in the Rose Puz murder case. Moreover, in return for his Kadunce trial testimony, Atkinson would receive major dental work paid by the state.

     Two Lawrence County jailhouse snitches took the stand for the prosecution and testified that the defendant, while incarcerated there, made statements to them that incriminated him in the murders.

     When it came time to present his side of the case, defense attorney Levine put Lawrence County Jail warden Joseph F. Gregg on the stand. The warden's testimony, based on jail records, cast serious doubt regarding the veracity of the jailhouse informants' stories.

     Lawrence Kadunce took the stand on his own behalf and denied ever knowing Frank Costal or Michael Atkinson. He told the jurors that he was at work when the murders took place. The jury, on February 10, 1982, found the defendant not guilty.

     Following his acquittal Lawrence Kadunce left the New Castle area. He later remarried and had a son with his second wife. According to that son his father refused to talk about the case. Some members of Kathy's family were not convinced that Mr. Kadunce was innocent.

     In 2004 the murder house at 702 Wilmington Avenue was torn down to make room for a video rental store.

     The Kadunce case is tragic because two innocent victims were drawn into a circle of criminal degenerates who committed a perfectly senseless and horrific crime.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Philip Righter: Art Forger, Tax Cheat

     Philip Righter was a fraud, a forger, a pretender and a thief. Nothing about this West Hollywood man was on the level. He held himself out as a successful film producer and a serious collector of art. On his Instagram account he posted a photograph of himself wearing a tuxedo and holding an Oscar statue. He also claimed to be an Emmy and Grammy winner. Mr. Righter hadn't won any of these awards and had only produced a short film in 2016 called "One Good Waiter." As for his collection of paintings, they were forgeries he had purchased cheaply on sites like eBay.

     Philip Righter was also a tax cheat. In 2015 he falsely reported on his federal tax form that he had donated valuable paintings to charity. He also claimed that thieves had broken into his home and stole $2.5 million worth of his art. Due to his phony charity deduction and the false theft claim, the government issued Righter a check for more than $100,000.

     While he was cheating on his taxes, Mr. Righter was purchasing paintings online that were painted to look like the work of painters Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Jean-Michal Basquiat. He sold $758,000 worth of Haring and Basquiat fakes to an art gallery in Miami, Florida.

     To fool the buyer of these works into thinking they were real, Righter forged accompanying documents in the form of letters of authenticity from the painters' estates.

     In 2016 detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating Philip Righter for fraud and art forgery. Special Agents with the FBI's Art Crime Team from the Miami Field Division joined in the Righter investigation.

     In July 2018 FBI agents in Los Angeles took Philip Righter into custody of federal charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.

     The 43-year-old forger and thief, on March 13, 2020, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of identity theft. At his sentencing before a federal judge scheduled for May 18, 2020, Righter faced up to 25 years in prison. 
     On July 16, 2020 the federal judge sentenced Righter to five years in prison followed by three years probation. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

Archaeological Protection Gone Wild: The Lynch Case

     In 1979 Congress passed the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which made it a federal crime to excavate, remove, damage, alter, and/or deface (without a government permit) archaeological resources from federal and Indian lands. Under ARPA, an "archaeological resource" was an item of past human existence or archaeological interest more than a hundred years old. First time ARPA offenders, in cases where the value of the artifacts and the cost of restoration and repair of the damaged archaeological site was less than $500, could be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisoned for more than one year. However, if the value or restoration costs exceeded $500 the offender faced fines up to $20,000 and imprisoned for two years on each count. Under ARPA, federal authorities could pursue violators civilly or in criminal court, imposing fines and confiscating vehicles and equipment used in the commission of the prohibited activity.

The Ian Martin Lynch Case

     Although he didn't know it at the time, 23-year-old Ian Martin Lynch made the mistake of his life when he picked up a human skull lying among hillside rocks on an uninhabited island off the shores of southeastern Alaska. In July 1997 Mr. Lynch and two of his friends were deer hunting on public land in an area called the Warm Chuck Village and Burial Site. They had no knowledge of this place, were unaware it had once been the home of Native Americans and were not looking for prehistoric artifacts. There were no indications, other than the skull the men had stumbled upon, that the site was an ancient grave site.

      While exploring the area while his friends were breaking camp, Ian Lynch scraped the dirt away from the back of the skull then picked it up for a closer look. He guessed the skull, and the bones scattered around it, had been there for some time because of the absence of clothing. He had no way, however, of knowing that the remains he had found were archaeological resources.

     Shortly after taking the skull home Mr. Lynch decided to turn it over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service Office in Anchorage. He described how he had come in possession of it to a government employee and revealed the circumstances surrounding his discovery. A short time later an agent with the Forest Service asked him to come to the federal building for an interview.

     When the Forest Service agent asked Lynch if he knew the skull was old, the interviewee said, "So, I mean, it's definitely been there for awhile. Oh, man, it's definitely old. There's not a stitch of clothing or nothing with it." (To make a federal case against Mr. Lynch the Forest Service agents had to establish he knew, or should have known, that he was taking away a skull more than a hundred years old.)

     The Forest Service archaeologist for the region examined the evidence but was unable to  determine the age of the skull. That prompted the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) to call in a physical anthropologist to determine, through visual analysis, the age of the head. This expert also declined to scientifically declare the skull an archaeological resource. The AUSA, determined to establish a crime under ARPA, sent the skull out for carbon dating. This analysis revealed that it was at least 1,400 years old. This opened the door for a federal prosecution.

     In 1998 a federal grand jury sitting in Anchorage returned an indictment charging Ian Martin Lynch with a felony ARPA offense. If convicted he faced up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. Lynch's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground the government had not met its burden of proving that Mr. Lynch, in taking the skull, had sufficient knowledge to establish the requisite criminal intent to violate this law. Specifically, the prosecution had not proven that Lynch knew the skull was an archaeological resource.

     The U.S. District Judge, reasoning that Lynch's picking up the skull was "a wrong in itself," ruled that the prosecution did not have to prove that Lynch had specifically intended to commit the crime. Based on this legal rationale the judge denied the defense's motion to dismiss the indictment. In response to this ruling, Ian Lynch pleaded guilty to the single ARPA count while retaining his right to appeal the judge's decision. In 1999 the judge sentenced Lynch to six months in prison and fined him $7,000 to cover the costs of the burial site restoration. (Lynch had picked up one bone, what restoration?) At his sentencing the defendant told the judge he had not intended to offend Native Americans. He remained free on bail pending the results of his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

     In 2000 the federal court of appeals overturned the ARPA conviction. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, one of the three jurists on the panel, wrote: "The Government must prove that a defendant knows or had reason to know he was removing an 'archaeological resource' before that defendant can be found guilty of an ARPA offense."

     The reversal of Lynch's conviction made sense, but what didn't make sense was why the U.S. Forest Service and the federal prosecutor in Alaska went after Mr. Lynch in the first place. Congress, in passing ARPA, intended to punish and deter the for-profit looting of archaeological sites. Mr. Lynch was not even an artifact collector. It's hard to believe that federal law enforcement officers would waste taxpayers' money by pursing such a questionable case. And finally, what kind of judge would sentence a harmless defendant like Mr. Lynch to six months in prison?

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Russell and Shirley Dermond Murder Case

     In 2014, 88-year-old Russell Dermond and his 87-year-old wife Shirley resided in a $1 million, 3,300-square-foot home on the shores of Lake Oconee in Reynolds Plantation, Georgia, a retirement/resort community 75 miles east of Atlanta. Before retiring Mr. Dermond owned franchises in Wendy's and Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurants. Mr. Dermond, a U.S. Navy veteran, grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey. He played golf, liked to read and enjoyed spending time with family and friends. The couple regularly attended the Lake Oconee Community Church.

     Married 68 years, the couple in 1994 purchased the house on the cul-de-sac in the neighborhood of Lakeside Great Waters. The gated community that featured a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course was considered safe from crime.

     In 2000 one of the couple's three adult children, Mark Dermond, was shot to death after a drug deal went bad in Atlanta. The Dermond's oldest son had been struggling with drug addiction for years.

     On Monday, May 6, 2014, after not hearing from Russell or Shirley Dermond for several days, neighbors went to their house to check on them. They found Mr. Dermond's body in the garage. He had been decapitated and his head was not at the scene. Mrs. Dermond was not in garage or the house. Both of their vehicles were parked in the driveway and the interior of the dwelling seemed undisturbed. There were no signs of forced entry and nothing had been stolen, including Mrs. Dermond's purse that was still in the house.

     Investigators with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), based upon the blood spatter pattern in the garage, theorized that Mr. Dermond's head had been cut off after his death. Moreover, he had not been stabbed or shot. Detectives believed he had been bludgeoned to death sometime between Friday, May 2 and Sunday, May 5, 2014.

     Following Mr. Dermond's murder there was no activity on the couple's bank accounts. Since no ransom demands had been made detectives didn't think Mrs. Dermond had been kidnapped for money.

     To help the local authorities locate Shirley Dermond the FBI put up 100 billboard posters and offered a $20,000 reward. Scuba divers searched the lake in the vicinity of the house and officers used cadaver dogs to look for the missing woman in the surrounding woods. Police officers and FBI agents also questioned dozens of residents of the gated community.

     On May 7, 2014 Bradley Dermond, the couple's son, told a local television reporter that the murder of his father and the disappearance of his mother,"makes no sense at all. We're still hoping that our mother is OK." Two days later Putnam County Coroner Gary McEhenney announced the presumed cause of Mr. Dermond's death to be "cerebral trauma."

     On Friday afternoon May 16, 2014 after two fishermen spotted a body, an emergency crew pulled Shirley Dermond's corpse out of Lake Oconee five miles from her house. According to the Putnam County coroner, she had been murdered by blunt force trauma to the head then dumped into the water.

     Investigators believed the intruder or intruders who murdered the couple may have used a boat in the commission of the crime. No suspects, however, were developed in the case. Moreover, the motive behind the double murder remained a mystery. The authorities had not located Mr. Dermond's head and the reason behind his decapitation remained unknown. Some believed the murders could have been a mob hit, but who would want these elderly people rubbed out?

     Residents of this community, following the gruesome double-murder, had their illusion of security shattered.

     In November 2014, six months after the still unsolved murders, Putnam County sheriff Howard Sills, in an interview with a local television news reporter, said, "I go to sleep every night thinking about this case and wake up every morning thinking about it. And I'm not exaggerating." According to the sheriff every potential suspect questioned in the investigation had been cleared. The sheriff said he believed the murders had been pre-meditated and planned. "You can't make me believe there was any kind of randomness to this crime. It bothers me a great deal that someone has committed such a heinous crime and they're still out there."

     On December 9, 2014 Sheriff Sills told another television reporter that his office had received thousands of pages of phone records going back six months prior to the Dermond murders. The Gwinnett County district attorney's office used special software to help investigators analyze the phone data in search for suspects.

     The reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers, raised to $55,000, did not produce any leads in the case.

     In February 2015 Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills revealed to a local TV reporter that Shirley Dermond's body had been held to the bottom of Lake Oconee by two cement blocks. The killer or killers had not accounted for decomposing gases that causes a weighted down body in water to become buoyant. While there was no effort to hide Mr. Dermond's body, the killer or killers did not want his wife's corpse to be found.

     In April 2016, in speaking to a local newspaper reporter, the murder victims' 57-year-old son Keith said, "It's bad enough to lose both of your parents at the same time, but in the way it happened. We would have been devastated if they'd just had a car accident. But to have it all happen this way, and then just compounding with the details and then the fact they haven't caught anybody. They don't even have a clue. We don't even know why."

     On May 6, 2017 Sheriff Sills, on the third anniversary of the Russell and Shirley Dermond's murders, discussed the still unsolved case with a local reporter. The sheriff said that he believed the Dermonds had been targeted victims and that, "Somebody knows who did this." The sheriff admitted that not solving such an important murder case was "somewhat embarrassing" and that his investigators did not have any promising leads.
     As of March 2024 the 10-year-old Russel and Dermond Murder case remained unsolved.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The Elliot Turner Rich Kid Murder Case

     Emily Longley at age 9 moved with her family from England to Auckland, New Zealand. By the time she turned 15, Emily, a tall, blonde her friends called "Barbie," had a history of underage drinking and drug use which included Ecstasy. In 2009 Emily's parents sent her back to England where she took up residence with her grandmother in Southbourne.

     In the fall of 2010 Emily Longley started taking business classes at Brockenhurst College in Hampshire. She lived in the southwestern town of Bournemouth where she worked part time at a fashion outlet called Top Shop. She had also signed on with a modeling agency.

     Emily began dating 19-year-old Elliot Vince Turner, a rich kid who worked in his father's jewelry store in Bournemouth. Turner lived in his family's home in Queen's Park, an affluent Bournemouth neighborhood. In April 2011 Elliot Turner became jealous when he came across Facebook photographs of Emily flirting with another man at a bar. The couple started having heated arguments. The fights became so intense Emily Longley began fearing for her life.

     On May 6, 2011 Elliot Turner talked Emily into spending the night with him at his parent's house. That evening they got into an argument. In the heat of the moment he called her a whore. At 9:45 the next morning, Anita, Elliot's mother called 999. (England's 911)

     Upon arriving at the Bournemouth house paramedics found Emily Longley's lifeless body in Elliot Turner's bed. Questioned by the police he said he had gotten up for work around 9:15, and when he touched Emily's arm it was cold. He then notified his parents that something was wrong.

     The police initially thought Emily had overdosed on drugs but the autopsy revealed otherwise. The forensic pathologist found physical evidence that Emily Longley had been strangled. She had scratches on her arms and traces of Elliot's blood and tissue were under her fingernails. Investigators learned that thirty minutes had passed between the time Elliot said he had gotten up for work and the 999 call. Detectives believed that during this period Elliot's parents, Anita and Leigh Turner, had destroyed and removed physical evidence of the murder.

     During the period May 18 to June 14, 2011, through a court sanctioned electronic surveillance of the Turner home, the police listened in on conversations between Elliot and his parents. At one point Elliot said, "I just flipped. I went absolutely nuts...I just lost it. I grabbed her as hard as I could. I pushed her like that." Detectives also seized a computer from the Turner home that revealed Elliot had Googled "death by strangulation," and "how to get out of being charged for murder." (One way to avoid being charged with murder is not Googling the question.)

     In July 2011 the authorities arrested Elliot Turner and his parents. He faced a charge of murder and his parents were charged with perverting the course of justice (obstruction of justice). When taken into custody Elliot said, "I never meant to harm her, I just defended myself." He and his parents pleaded not guilty to the charges.

     The three defendants went on trial at the Winchester Crown Court in Bournemouth on April 10, 2012. Crown Prosecutor Tim Mousley told the jury of eleven men and one woman that Elliot Turner had strangled Emily Longley in a fit of jealous rage, and that his parents had destroyed evidence to cover up the murder. Friends of the defendant testified that Elliot had joked about killing Emily with a hammer, at one point telling one of the witnesses, "I will go to prison for it, and still be a millionaire when I get out." According to one of these witnesses the defendant had also practiced his strangulation technique on a friend.

     On April 18, 2012 Jasmin Snook, one of Emily's 19-year-old friends, testified that in May 2011 Emily had tried to end the relationship with the defendant. He became "obsessive" and couldn't understand why she was making him look like an idiot. According to the victim's friend, the defendant said he was going to smash Emily's face and didn't care if he had to serve ten years in prison for the assault.

     The following day an ambulance technician testified that Elliot's mother Amita, when she called 999, said that a young female was "going blue" and had suffered "cardiac arrest." However, based on signs of post-mortem lividity (a redness of the skin caused by pooled blood in the body), it appeared that the girl had been dead several hours. (There were also initial signs of rigor mortis.)

     On May 2, 2012 Dr. Huw White, a Home Office forensic pathologist, testified that he had found petechiae hemorrhages in Emily's right eye and in both of her eyelids. These tiny beads of blood suggested strangulation. The doctor also said the alcohol level in the victim's system was well over the drunk driving limit. According to this witness, Emily had a history of brittle bone disease, asthma, bulimia and episodes of self-harm. However, none of these maladies had contributed to her death.

     A police officer who had spoken to the defendant on the morning of the 999 call testified that Elliot Turner told him that Emily had gotten upset when he asked her about her self-harming. According to the defendant, when she started kicking and hitting him he "pushed her on the neck to get her off," and said, "I never meant to harm her. I just defended myself."

     The next day the Crown prosecutor presented Darryl Manners, a forensic scientist who said he found mascara marks, make-up and a pink lipstick stain on a pillowcase taken from Elliot Turner's bedroom. Manners testified that this "face mark" in the pillowcase matched the victim's face and make-up. The expert witness said he had examined the defendant's shirt and found, on its right sleeve, smears similar to samples of foundation taken from the right side of Emily's face.

     Nicholas Oliver, a Crown DNA analyst, found the victim's mucus on the sleeve of the shirt the defendant had been wearing on the night he spent with the victim.

     Prosecutor Mousley played conversations picked up by the electronic surveillance of the Turner family home. In one of the conversations, Leigh Turner, the defendants's 54-year-old father, said, "He strangled her to shut her up, to stop her screaming, making so much noise and then he realized he'd done something terribly wrong, and he should have phoned the ambulance to save her, but he didn't because he was scared...That's what's going on in his mind. He knows he's killed her, not deliberately."

     On May 9, 2012, the defense put on its case which mostly consisted of Elliot Turner taking the stand on his own behalf. He was asked by his barrister, Anthony Donne, how many times he had told Emily Longley he would kill her. The defendant said 10 to 15 times, but he never really meant it.

     After three days of the defendant's direct testimony, the witness was turned over to prosecutor Mousley for cross-examination. When Mousley asked Turner if he was in any way responsible for Emily Longley's death, he replied, "No, I do not believe so."

     "So the girl you adored died mysteriously?"

     "I don't know. I'm not a psychic."

     "Have you shown any remorse at all for her death? I'm talking about a basic human instinct. What remorse have you shown?"

     "I feel sad," answered the defendant.

     On May 15, 2012 the defense put the defendant's father Leigh Turner on the stand. In defending his son, Mr. Turner said, "He does not get angry. He's a gentle clown, a stupid clown." According to the witness, as the ambulance was en route to the house, Elliot told him he had packed a suitcase for Spain. Mr. Turner had said, "Don't be silly, you haven't done anything."

     Following the testimony phase of the Turner trial, Timothy Mousely, in summing up the prosecution's case, said, "We submit the defendant is remorseless, controlling, possessive, and vicious, and that he murdered her."

     In his summation to the jury Anthony Donne described his client as a "loudmouth" and "hot air merchant" who was "all talk, no action." The defense attorney also reminded jurors that the Home Office forensic pathologist, Dr. Huw White, had admitted on cross-examination that it was possible that Emily Longley had died a natural death.

     On May 21,  2012 the jury found Elliot Turner guilty of murder and his parents guilty of trying to cover it up. A month later the judge sentenced Turner to sixteen years to life. Turner's parents were each sentenced to 27 months behind bars.

     In May 2013 three appellate judges ruled that Elliott Turner had been convicted on overwhelming evidence in a "fair and proper trial."