Tag Archives: true crime

The Disappearance of Timmothy Pitzen

            On May 11, 2011, 6-year old Timmothy Pitzen was picked up early from school by his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen (Helling). Timmothy is described as having been a happy and energetic child, who loved to play. At the time of these events, his parents, Amy and Jim Pitzen, were going through a rough patch, but Jim was blindsided by what occurred. Jim dropped his son off that morning, reminding the young boy he loved him and to be good. Timmothy had been at school less than an hour when Amy showed up and signed him out under the pretense that there was a family emergency (Sparling, and Motsinger). Less than a week later, on May 14, 2011, Amy was found dead in the Rockford Inn motel by an employee. It was determined that Amy had died by suicide, her wrists and neck having reportedly self-inflicted slashing wounds on them. The note Amy left claimed that Timmothy was safe and with people who would take care of him, but that no one would ever be able to find him. In the 10 years since his disappearance, there has been little found out about Timmoty Pitzen’s whereabouts and his family still holds out hope (Helling).

            We have some information available on what Amy and Timmothy were doing during the three days before Amy’s body was found. After picking Timmothy up from school, the two enjoyed some time at the Brookfield Park Zoo, Key Lime Cove resort, and Kalahari resort. The Kalahari resort, located in Wisconsin Wells, was the last place the two were seen together. Amy, who was 43 at the time of her death and Timmothy’s disappearance, is known to have purchased a pen, paper, and envelopes at a Family Dollar in Winnebago, Illinois the day she died. At 11:15 PM, Amy checked in to the Rockford Inn she would be found in, without young Timmothy. A phone call Amy made on May 13th narrows down the last known location of Timmothy. He was with her the I-88 and I-39 corridors northwest of the Dixon/Rock Falls/Sterling area, approximately 5 miles northwest of Sterling, Illinois near Route 40 (NBC Chicago).

            Amy’s car, a 2004 Ford Expedition SUV, was found abandoned in a parking lot by investigators on the day she was found. Concerningly, the car was dirty and had what was either long grass or weeds stuck underneath it. There was also a large, alarming blood stain that matched Timmothy, but family members seem to believe this is actually from a nosebleed Timmothy had suffered before his disappearance. It is worth noting that the knife used in Amy’s death only had her blood on it. The clothing she was seen wearing in security footage, Timmothy’s Spider-Man backpack, her cellphone, and her I-Pass are all missing, not being present in the hotel room or her car. Her I-Pass records were checked and showed two trips to the area Timmothy’s disappeared, once on February 18, 2011 and again on March 20, 2011, neither of which family members could explain (NBC Chicago).

            According to Jim Pitzen, Amy had a history of suicidal tendencies; she was on medication for depression and had survived a suicide attempt in the past. Right before Amy seemingly whisked Timmothy away to an unknown location, she and Jim had a fight about Amy going on a cruise with a friend and leaving them behind. Due to her history of mental health issues and three previous divorces, some speculate that Amy’s behavior may have stemmed from a fear that she would lose custody of Timmothy if she and Jim were to divorce (Sparling, and Motsinger).

            Investigators discovered a secret email account Amy Fry-Pitzen, separate from the account she and her husband, Jim Pitzen, both had access to. The account was mostly spam emails, and unfortunately deleted emails could not be retrieved from the account as Yahoo apparently didn’t keep those kinds of records. In 2014, a woman came forward from Rocktown, Illinois claiming to have seen a young man that looked like the age-progressed image released by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The image was made to show what Timmothy would look like at 9-years old, but it is not known who the boy that was seen was (NBC Chicago).

            Shockingly, Amy’s cellphone was turned in to investigators in 2013. The woman who turned it in had apparently found it on the side of the road in 2011 and kept it on a shelf until her brother needed a new phone. A family member recognized one of the names on the list when the phone was turned on, but unfortunately nothing seems to have come from this discovery. Another tip came in in 2015, again relating to the age-progressed photos, that a boy in Florida looked like the photos. The boy reportedly didn’t attend school and the family moved into the Florida neighborhood around Timmothy’s disappearance and had license plates from the Midwest. In the end, however, the boy was not Timmothy Pitzen (Sparling, and Motsinger).

            A young man, estimated at the time to be 14-years old, briefly brought hope to those following the case after her appeared wandering the streets in Newport, Kentucky and told police he was Timmothy Pitzen. The young man claimed he had escaped his kidnappers, who were in Ohio (Sparling, and Motsinger). The young man was identified through DNA as, not Timmothy Pitzen, but instead as Brian Rini, 24, not 14. On October 31, 2019, Rini was found competent to stand trial for the deception after his mental stability was called into question. He is known to have an extensive criminal history going back to age 13 and wouldn’t let police take his fingerprints or DNA when he first appeared (Sewell).

            It has been nearly an entire decade since the Pitzen family last saw Timmothy, who would be 16-years old now. The family has gone far too long without answers and many are holding out hope that someday, Timmothy may find his way home. For now, the answer still remains: where is Timmothy Pitzen, and what happened during those days he was alone with his mother?

 Helling, Steve. “HLN Special Examines Case Of Timmothy Pitzen, Missing Boy Whose Mom Wrote Taunting Suicide Note”. PEOPLE.Com, 2020, https://people.com/crime/timmothy-pitzen-hln-special-examines-case-missing-boy/. Accessed 9 Jan 2021.

NBC Chicago. “Timmothy Pitzen Case: What We Know So Far”. NBC Chicago, 2019, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/national-international/everything-we-know-about-the-timmothy-pitzen-case/81170/. Accessed 9 Jan 2021.

Sparling, Hannah, and Carol Motsinger. Cincinnati.Com, 2019, https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2019/04/04/timmothy-pitzen-bizarre-backstory-his-disappearance/3364096002/. Accessed 9 Jan 2020.

Sewell, Dan. “Plea Agreement Reached For Ohio Man Who Claimed To Be Missing Timmothy Pitzen From Aurora”. Chicagotribune.Com, 2020, https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/ct-timmothy-pitzen-case-aurora-20200107-ruyfc3xs5vd47bgdh67bi7exd4-story.html. Accessed 7 Jan 2021.

The Death of JonBenét Ramsey

            JonBenét Ramsey was 6-years old at the time of her unexpected death on December 26, 1996. She was the daughter of John and Patsy Ramsey, and younger sister of Burke Ramsey. John ran the computer systems company Access Graphics, which was later absorbed by Lockheed Martin. Patsy was a previous beauty queen, which was why she so excitedly got JonBenét involved in the child beauty pageant world (Mack, 2020). JonBenét was well known, thanks to her mother, and her death caused a media frenzy.  

            That morning, the Ramsey’s woke up to get ready for the day and Patsy found an unusually long ransom note on the staircase. The note was nearly three pages long and full of superfluous language that is unusual for a ransom note. According to the note, the group who kidnapped JonBenét was a “small foreign faction.” The note claimed she was in their possession and safe, but that they would require the Ramsey’s to follow their instructions in order for JonBenét to live to see 1997. The kidnappers asked for $118,000, $100,000 in $100 bills and $18,000 in $20 bills. They were instructed to put the money in a brown paper bag and wait for a phone call between eight and 10 AM the next day, and to rest well as the delivery would apparently be exhausting. The letter writer claimed that, should they not follow their instructions to a T, JonBenét would be immediately executed and the family would never get her remains for a proper burial. The men reportedly watching her apparently did not like John Ramsey, as warned by the letter writer. They were instructed not to interact with the police or to tell anyone what was happening, including stray dogs and bank authorities. If anyone was contacted or the money was marked in some way, JonBenét would die. The writer signed off the letter, S.B.C.T (CNN 2006).

            Despite what the letter said, Patsy Ramsey immediately called both the police and family friends to assist in the search for her younger daughter. By six that morning the police had arrived; reportedly they found no evidence of forced entry upon their arrival. Mistakes were made, however, in preserving he crime scene. While JonBenét’s room was closed off, the rest of the house was open for friends and family to go through, resulting in the crime scene being contaminated. By one that afternoon, the family was understandably getting agitated and an officer suggested that John Ramsey search the house with a family friend to look for any possible evidence. The two immediately headed to search the basement, where they made the brutal discovery of JonBenét’s dead body. She was found with duct tape over her mouth and white cord wrapped around her neck and wrists in a makeshift garret with part of a paintbrush, and some reports say she was found with a white blanket over her torso (Crime Museum 2020).  John brought her body upstairs, where he removed the duct tape from her mouth and, according to some, covered her body with the white blanket against the officers’ orders. This contaminated her remains, compromising any evidence that may have come her. For many, this was seen as extremely suspicious and fueled rumors that JonBenét was being abused by her parents (Mack 2020).

            JonBenét’s cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation from strangulation and a small fracture was present on her skull. While it is believed that she was likely sexually assaulted before or after her death, no seminal evidence was found but her genitals had been wiped clean. There was, however, drops of blood found on her underwear. She had pineapple in her stomach that must have been eaten that night, and while Patsy and John didn’t remember giving her any, a bowl was found in the kitchen with pineapple and Burke’s fingerprints on it. It is worth noting here that, while fingerprints can tell us someone was there, we cannot attach a timetable to fingerprint evidence the way we can other pieces of evidence, so the time that Burke got the pineapple can’t be determined. The Ramsey’s maintain that Burke was asleep in his room the entire night (Crime Museum 2020).         

            The case gained national attention. The family quickly came under suspicion, and their behavior unfortunately fueled much of the suspicion. The initial interviews with the immediate family members of JonBenét were delayed, allowing time for a story to be developed should they have been involved in the crime.  Many believed, and some still do, that the ransom note was staged, partially due to the unusual length of the note. It was determined that the stationary used belonged to Patsy, as did the pen used to write it. Handwriting samples were taken from each family member, but the results remain murky. While some believe that Patsy Ramsey had to have been the writer, others believe the handwriting analysis was inconclusive or entirely exonerated her. The note drew more suspicion to the family when it was learned that the amount asked was the exact amount that he received in a bonus that year. The family was fairly reluctant to work with the police during the investigation, later stating that they were hesitant to work with police out of fear that they would be framed just to have the case solved (Crime Museum 2020). The paint brush used in the makeshift garret was from Patsy’s art kit. Some theorize that Patsy, either from jealousy over JonBenét’s success in beauty pageants or anger over the fact that she was a chronic bed wetter, may have lost her cool and smashed her head into a hard surface. Burke was enough older and bigger than his younger sister and would have been able to overpower her, and if he had accidentally killed his sister, it would explain the somewhat unusual behavior of his parents (Mack 2020). The Ramsey’s refused to submit to more interviews in January of 1998 unless they could view the evidence police had collected (Research 2020). In 1999, a Colorado grand jury voted to indict the Ramsey’s on child endangerment and obstruction of a murder investigation charges, but the case was never prosecuted. The prosecutor felt the evidence in the case did not sufficiently meet the reasonable doubt standard and chose not to go through with the case (Crime Museum 2020). Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006, never knowing who killed her daughter (Research 2020). CBS aired a special in 2016, The Case of JonBenét Ramsey, which led many to believe that Burke was the one that killed his sister. He brought a $750 million defamation suit against CBS that was settled out of court in 2019 (Crime Museum 2020).

            Some theorize that the killer was an intruder, who’s footsteps were disguised by the rugs in the house. A boot print that could not be linked to any of the family members was found next to her bed, leading to the belief that she was likely taken from her bed. When the basement was searched and investigated, a broke window was found that is thought to have been an entry point for an intruder. On top of that, the blood drops in her underwear belong to an unknown male, not the men in her family (Crime Museum 2020). Gary Oliva was arrested in Boulder, Colorado on drug charges in 2000.  Oliva was a known sexual predator, but DNA cleared him of the Ramsey murder. He continued to terrorize Boulder after his release until he was arrested again on two counts of exploitation of a minor, specifically child pornography. In 2006, school teacher John Karr confessed to the murder while in Thailand. While his confession was vivid and horrific, it became quickly clear that it was nothing more than fantasy concocted based on what information available to the public. Karr was not the killer, though he was a pedophile obsessed with JonBenét (Mack 2020). He claimed that her death was an accident, caused after he drugged. His claims were discarded when it was learned that there were no signs of drugs in her system at the time of her death and his DNA was found not to match the DNA from her underwear, which was added to CODIS in 2003 (Crime Museum 2020). The Santa that worked the Ramsey party the night before the murder has also been suggested by some, but was never formally accused of the murder. He claimed to have a special relationship with JonBenét, referring to her as his “special friend.” He had a tube of gold glitter that she gave him as a gift, which is presumed to have been mixed into his ashes when he passed away in 2002 (Mack 2020).

            In 2006, a new district attorney, Mary Lacy, was appointed to the case. DA Lacy made a public apology to the Ramsey’s in 2008 when she was profiling the DNA evidence. The case was officially reopened in 2010, with a focus on DNA evidence this time. The DNA evidence was sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation with hopes that newer, stronger methods would yield better results in 2016 (Crime Museum 2020). As of now, no new evidence has been made public. JonBenét’s death still remains a mystery, and the noise surrounding her murder has only made it harder for investigators to figure out what happened. The trial by media the family had to endure convinced many that they must have been at fault, while the evidence points towards the actions of an intruder in the household on the night of her murder. As it stands, only the evidence that may someday come from the DNA sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation may finally give the family and the public the answers being looked for since 1996.

Crime Museum. 2020. Jonbenét Ramsey – Crime Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/cold-cases/jonbenet-ramsey/&gt; [Accessed 24 December 2020].

Research, C., 2020. Jonbenet Ramsey Murder Fast Facts. [online] CNN. Available at: <https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/us/jonbenet-ramsey-murder-fast-facts/index.html&gt; [Accessed 26 December 2020].

Mack, E., 2020. Jonbenét Ramsey’S Death Is Still An Unsolved Mystery. [online] Rare. Available at: <https://rare.us/people/jonbenet-ramsey/&gt; [Accessed 26 December 2020].

“CNN.Com – Text Of 1996 Jonbenet Ransom Note – Aug 17, 2006”. Cnn.Com, 2006, https://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/08/16/ramsey.ransom.note/.

The Allenstown Four

In Allenstown, New Hampshire, in 1985, a group of young boys found a 55-gallon metal drum near the local mobile home park, and rolled it around while playing. About 100 yards from where they found it, the drum broke open and the boys left it where it was (Landman 2018). Sometime later on November 10, 1985, a hunter came across the drum in Bear Brook State Park. Upon opening the drum, he found a horrific scene: two bodies, wrapped in plastic and decomposing in the drum. It was a horrific discovery that seemed to get worse as the years went on (Sweeney 2019).

            The bodies recovered from the drum were of an adult woman and a young girl, both determined to have died from blunt force trauma. The woman had wavy brown hair and extensive dental work, including both fillings and dental extractions. The girl was estimated to be between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. She was found with earrings and showed signs of having had pneumonia. The girl also had a gap in her teeth. It was determined that the two died between 1977 and 1985, but the exact year could not be pin pointed. After 18 months waiting for someone to identify the two victims, they were laid to rest in May of 1987. This seemed like it might be the end of the story, as no one had come forward and there seemed to be no leads. However, that changed 15 years later in the year 2000 when another 55-gallon drum was found (Sweeney 2019).

            A detective was examining the original crime scene in 2000, as the case was officially still open, and found the second barrel (Sweeney 2019). This drum had the remains of two young girls, one between one and three years old, and the other between two and four years old. The two were too badly decomposed for a cause of death to be determined (Landman 2018). Through DNA analysis it was determined that the woman was likely the mother of the oldest girl and the youngest girl, but the middle girl was not related to them. Investigators turned to the Bear Brooke Gardens Mobile Home Park near where the bodies were recovered, hoping leads would pop up. What they found was that 476 people had been through the 115-lot park during the years they believed the murders took place, and most of the residents were ex-convicts from the nearby New Hampshire State Prison or transient (Sweeney 2019). Any case with this many people involved becomes increasingly more difficult to solve.

            The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released new facial reconstructions of the victims in hope that someone would come forward with their identities (Sweeney 2019). Tests were performed on tissue that was able to be extracted from the victims, looking for signs of the environment they had been living in at the time of their deaths. Three of the four victims, the mother and her children, showed signs of living in the area around Allenstown, NH for approximately three months before their deaths, while the fourth victim, the middle girl, showed signs of living further north (Landman 2018) (Sweeney 2019). This was further confirmed in 2015, when Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati stated that it was believed they lived in the Allenstown area sometime before their deaths. That same year new sketches were made by forensic artists that better represented what they believed the victims looked like in life (Sweeney 2019).

            Laura Jenson connected the mysterious case to the disappearance of her mother in 1981, Denise Beaudin, in 2016. Her mother had been dating a man who went by Gordon Jenson. Jenson was abandoned in the mobile home park as a child but Gordon Jenson after her mother went missing (Boston 25 News 2019). Investigators reported a suspect, who went by Robert “Bob” Evans while in Allenstown, NH, and had once gone by the alias Gordon Jenson, in 2017. Evans/Jenson died in jail in 2010, after being sentenced for the murder of his wife at the time, chemist Eunsoon Jun. At the time, Evans/Jenson’s actual name was not known, but the renewed interest in the murders of the Allenstown Four eventually lead to his DNA being tested. Surprisingly, this led to the fourth victim being at least partially identified: Evans/Jenson was her biological father. Outside of the DNA, circumstantial evidence also connected him to the Allenstown area. As Robert Evans, he had worked as an electrician at the local mill at the time of the murders, for a man who owned property near where the drums were discovered. The drums could also have been sourced from that mill (Sweeney 2019).

 It was August of 2017 that investigators were able to release his real name: Terrance “Terry” Rasmussen (Sweeney 2019). Rasmussen is known to have used at least three aliases – Robert Evans, Gordon Jenson, and Curtis Mayo Kimball (Boston 25 News 2019). It is believed that Rasmussen killed at least six people – Beaudin, who is officially still missing, Jun, and the Allenstown Four.  Rasmussen is known to have had a disturbing pattern, and may have been a true serial killer. Rasmussen would pose as a single father to attract women, particularly women with children. He would start dating the women he would find, molest their children, then possibly murder them (Landman 2018).

There was a major break in the case in 2019. On June 6th, investigators announced that three of the four victims had been successfully identified. The woman and her daughters were identified as Marlyse Elizabeth Honeychurch and her daughters, Marie Elizabeth Vaughn and Sarah Lynn McWaters. The family was last seen alive at family Thanksgiving in 1978, in La Puenta, CA. At the time, Honeychurch had been reportedly dating Rasmussen and he had joined her and her children for the trip. That night Honeychurch got into an argument with her mother, and after leaving with Rasmussen and her children, none of them were seen again (Sweeney 2019).

The true identity of Rasmussen’s daughter, the fourth victim, remains unknown. Her mother has not been found, and some speculate that she may be another of Rasmussen’s victims. If you or anyone you know believes you may know who this poor child was, or perhaps know who her mother may have been, please reach out to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or email the state cold case unit, coldcaseunit@dos.nh.gov (Sweeney 2019). Any credible information could help investigators finally have a name for the poor little girl likely murdered by her own father.

Landman, Hugh. “Mysterious Facts And Theories About The Allenstown Four.” Ranker. N.p., 2018. Web. 28 Nov. 2020 . <https://www.ranker.com/list/facts-and-theories-about-the-allenstown-four/hugh-landman&gt;.

Staff, Boston. “Allenstown, NH Murder Victims Identified After Nearly 40 Years.” WFXT. N.p., 2019. Web. 27 Nov. 2020 . <https://www.boston25news.com/news/allenstown-nh-murder-victims-identified-after-nearly-40-years/955952833/&gt;.

Sweeney, Gary. “Allenstown Four: The Decades-Long Mystery Of The Bear Brook Murders.” https://the-line-up.com. N.p., 2019. Web. 27 Nov. 2020 . <https://the-line-up.com/bear-brook-murders-allenstown-four&gt;.

The Mysterious Death of Amanda Tusing

            Amanda Tusing left her fiancé of three months (News 2007), Matt Ervin’s, house at 11:30 PM on Junge 14, 2000. It was storming outside, the night darkened by the clouds and rain on the road as the 20-year old drove from Jonesbro, AR towards her home in Dell, AR. When Tusing had not called Ervin to let him know she was home by 1:30 AM, the search for Amanda Tusing began (Jones 2017).

            Ervin contacted Tusing’s mother, Susan Tusing, hoping she had heard from her daughter. Upon finding out that Tusing had never made it home, Ervin left from his home heading the same way that Tusing would have headed. From Dell, AR, Tusing’s father, Ed, and twin brother, Andy, both headed in the direction leading to Ervin’s house in hopes that one of them would find Tusing (Jones 2017). Tusing was not found, but her car, a 1992 black Pontiac Grand Am (News 2007), was found west of Monette, AR, on highway 18 AR (Jones 2017), and five miles east of St. Francis Bridge (News 2007). Her keys were still in the ignition, her wallet and cell phone were on her seat (Jones 2017), the windshield wipers were half up and her favorite radio station was playing (News 2007).

            Tusing remained missing for a couple more days, until Father’s Day, June 18, 2000. In Big Bay Ditch, just north of Lake City, AR, off of AR Highway 135, Tusing’s remains were found (Jones 2017). She was found west of her car, despite the fact that she had been heading east (News 2007).  An investigation into her death was opened, lead by Sheriff Jack McCann and veteran officer Gary Etter. The case has been a frustration since day one, with the massive rains the night of her murder washing away crucial evidence. Ervin was questioned at the time, but was cleared after passing three polygraph tests. Frustration mounted, understandably, as there was no physical evidence and no obvious motives or suspects (Jones 2017).

            The autopsy of Tusing didn’t help much. The only injury found on her was a bruise on the back of her head, otherwise there were no injuries. There were no signs of sexual assault and the cause of death was sited as drowning (Jones 2017). However, investigators believe she was dead before ending up in Big Bay Ditch, as water was found in her nasal passages, but not in her lungs. Those that believe she died before ending up in the water believe she was suffocated, not drowned (News 2007).

            Evidence has come in over the years. Names were brought to investigators in 2003, though those names have not been made public (Kait8 2003). In 2007, an anonymous individual came to the sheriff’s department and reported a conversation they heard that pertained to the murder of Amanda Tusing. Etter believes that talking with known criminals could open the case up, as he believes criminals talk to each other and that the killer could have talked to someone. Susan Tusing, however, thinks differently. Susan believes that Tusing’s car was their best clue to what happened to her. She’s said before that she thinks it could have been a member of law enforcement, who pulled Tusing over, or someone pretending to be an officer (News 2007). When investigators were asked, in 2003, if the evidence that came with the names brought to them ruled out or implicated any members of law enforcement, the answer given was that they were almost certain the murderer is not an officer. That said, the possibility had not been entirely dismissed as of 2003 (Kait8 2003).

            As of 2020, the murder of Amanda Tusing has not been solved. Suspects have not been named, little evidence has been found, and her official cause of death has been placed as drowning. Matt Ervin was cleared back in 2000, and has not been brought back in as a suspect. The Tusing family has not gotten answers in the 20 years since Amanda Tusing died. They have laid her to rest, but no answers have been found. All the evidence available, thanks in part to the storm raging the night of the murder, is the water in her nasal passages, the bruise on the back of her head, and the state her car was left in. Hopefully, someday soon, the Tusing family will have answers and finally be able to find some level of peace.

Jones, J., 2017. Why Mandy? A Case Of A Murder Without Motive Part II – AY Magazine. [online] AY Magazine. Available at: <https://www.aymag.com/why-mandy-the-case-of-a-murder-without-motive-part-2/&gt; [Accessed 13 November 2020].

News, A., 2007. New Clue In Unsolved Midwest Murder. [online] ABC News. Available at: <https://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3288735&page=1&gt; [Accessed 14 November 2020].

 https://www.kait8.com. 2003. New Details In Tusing Murder Case. [online] Available at: <https://www.kait8.com/story/1374330/new-details-in-tusing-murder-case/&gt; [Accessed 15 November 2020].

Ronald Clark O’Bryan: The Man Who Killed Halloween

            We’ve all heard the old something being in our Halloween candy growing up. Razor blades and needles were the regular fears of parents and children, but poison has had its place as well. It is perhaps this urban legend that inspired Ronald Clark O’Bryan in 1974. His actions shook the nation and the ripple effects are still being felt in 2020.

            On October 31, 1974, an emergency call was answered to the O’Bryan residence in Deer Park, TX for a young boy, Timothy, having strange symptoms. The young boy, only 8-years old, had begun complaining about stomach pains just as he was going to bed before vomiting and collapsing, beginning to convulse. Timothy passed away on the way to the hospital, and the investigation into what happened began (Ponti, 2020). What had happened to this young boy? Why had he gone from totally healthy to dying within moments? It didn’t take long for investigators to find out.

            The day had already seen something unusual: O’Bryan was uncharacteristically excited for Halloween, which he historically had little-to-no interest in. He insisted on taking his kids out trick-or-treating, despite the slight rain, with family friends Jim Bates and his two children. While the group was out, one house didn’t open their door, likely because the family was not home. O’Bryan stayed behind while the rest of the group moved on, seemingly to wait and see if the people in the house would answer. He rejoined the group not longer after with five giant Pixie Stix that he claimed the house had been giving out. After returning home, he handed four of the large candies to the kids that had joined them trick-or-treating and gave the fifth away to a trick-or-treater at their door (Ponti 2020). The first sign that something was wrong was when Bates’ son went to eat his giant Pixie Stix and O’Bryan reportedly leaped across the table to stop him from eating the tainted treat (Glenn and RENDON, 2020).

            That night, O’Bryan let his kids choose one piece of candy each to have before bed time. Timothy chose, under the urging of his father, his giant Pixie Stix (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). Timothy didn’t eat much of the Pixie Stix, complaining that it tasted strange, to which O’Bryan gave him some Kool-Aid to wash the treat down. It was within moments that Timothy began to complain about severe stomach pains, soon enough vomiting and convulsing. Timothy O’Bryan died on the way to the hospital, less than an hour after ingesting merely a portion of the Pixie Stix. Before the autopsy even began, the coroner knew that Timothy had somehow ingested a deadly poison – specifically cyanide. The coroner noted the smell of almonds from Timothy’s mouth, a scent associated with the poison. It was revealed in the actual autopsy that poor Timothy had ingested enough potassium cyanide to kill two-to-three adults (Ponti 2020).

            The police jumped into action, quickly collecting the other Pixie Stix from the other children. Horrifyingly, one of the young boys who had received the Pixie Stix was found asleep in bed, curled up with the unopened treat. Luckily for the young boy, he had not had the strength to get through the staples on the Pixie Stix (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). After the offending candy was retrieved, investigators found that the first two inches of each Pixie Stix was replaced with potassium cyanide. Had that young boy been able to get through those staples, he would have died just as quickly as Timothy O’Bryan did (Ponti 2020). It is believed that his initial plan had been to poison other children as well as his son, possibly to disguise what he had done (Blanco, n.d).

            O’Bryan was immediately under suspicion. He and Bates were asked to retrace their steps by investigators, and O’Bryan seemed to have a hard time remembering which house he claimed to get the Pixie Stix from. O’Bryan’s conflicting accounts were suspicious, and even worse, when he finally chose a house, the occupants proved they hadn’t been giving out giant Pixie Stix. It didn’t take the investigators long to find out what the possible motive for hurting the young boy was, and it wasn’t a stranger as O’Bryan wanted them to believe. While Ronald O’Bryan was described by others as a “good Christian man” and “an above-average father.” He was a deacon at the local Baptist Church and sang in the choir. Socially, O’Bryan seemed to be a good man. Looks, however, are not always as they seem. It turned out O’Bryan, who took home approximately $150 a week in pay, was over $100,000 in debt. The pay he received barely made covered his bills and food for this family as it was, but the debt undoubtedly made this worse for him (Ponti 2020).

            In the 10 years leading up to the murder of Timothy O’Bryan, Ronald O’Bryan held and was fired from 21 jobs. Each job fired him for either negligence or fraud, and the job he was working at the time was almost over as well. Texas State Optical was on the verge of firing O’Bryan on suspicion that he was stealing from the company. It seems O’Bryan may have been at the end of his rope when he chose to kill his son, after taking out several life insurance policies on his children (Ponti 2020). In the days leading up to Halloween, O’Bryan had been practically bragging to coworkers that his financial situation was going to improve soon (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). Regular customers whom he knew worked with chemicals said he had been asking them about buying cyanide and making jokes about how much it would take to kill someone (Ponti 2020).

            The O’Bryan house was soon being searched for evidence. The tape from an adding machine, which was a precursor to the calculator usually used for bookkeeping, was found in the house with all of the bills O’Bryan owed totaled on it. The total just so happened to be exactly the amount he was going to get from the life insurance policies he had taken out on Timothy. A pocket knife was found in the home that had candy residue on it, believed to be the knife O’Bryan used to open the Pixie Stix before replacing the candy with the potassium cyanide. These pieces of evidence combined with the testimony of the coworkers and customers previously mentioned, lead to the arrest of Ronald Clark O’Bryan on November 5, 1974. O’Bryan was subject to, and failed, a polygraph test, which at the time was considered more telling than it is today. Before his arrest, O’Bryan had played the grieving father as best as he could for those around him, despite knowing the true horror he had committed (Ponti 2020).

            The prosecutors for the O’Bryan trial were Victor and Hinton Discroll, who relied mostly on physical evidence as well as testimony from coworkers and others who knew O’Bryan. During their investigation they learned that O’Bryan had taken classes at the local college, Harris County Community College, and had asked one of his professors about poison on animals. There were also pieces of plastic found in the O’Bryan house that were from the Pixie Stix, likely from when he replaced some of the candy with the potassium cyanide (Blanco, n.d.). On June 5, 1975, Ronald Clark O’Bryan was found guilty of the murder of 8-year old Timothy O’Bryan and sentenced to death (Ponti 2020). It took the jury less than an hour to find him guilty, and just a little over an hour to sentence him to death (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). Ronald Clark O’Bryan may be long passed now, but the memories of what he did remain alive in the urban legends that may have inspired him decades ago.

            O’Bryan, dubbed “Candy Man,” filed appeals over the years, including one instance that made it to the Supreme Court. His appeals were all lost, and on March 31, 1984, Ronald O’Bryan’s death sentence was carried out via lethal injection (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). His time of death was called at 12:48 AM (Blanco, n.d.).

Ponti, C., 2020. A+E Networks UK. [online] A+E Networks UK. Available at: <https://www.aetv.com/real-crime/the-man-who-killed-halloween&gt; [Accessed 31 October 2020]. October 31, 1974

Glenn, M. and RENDON, R., 2020. ‘Man Who Killed Halloween’ Still Haunts Holiday. [online] Chron. Available at: <https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Man-Who-Killed-Halloween-still-haunts-holiday-1971811.php&gt; [Accessed 31 October 2020].

Blanco, J., n.d. Ronald Clark O’bryan | Murderpedia, The Encyclopedia Of Murderers. [online] Murderpedia.org. Available at: <http://murderpedia.org/male.O/o1/obryan-ronald-clark.htm&gt; [Accessed 30 October 2020].

The Snapchat Murders

            In 2017, teenagers Liberty German, 14, and Abigail Williams, 13, best of friends, met an unexpected and horrific end in Delphi, Indiana. German was able to catch their possible killer on video on her Snapchat, including possible audio of him, yet the case remains unsolved. What happened to two young girls that night in 2017?

            German and Williams did everything together – volleyball, softball, saxophone, social media. Everything, they were seemingly inseparable. On February 13, 2017, they once again were doing something together: taking a walk on the Delphi Historic Trail and posting on Snapchat. German’s older sister, Kelsi, had dropped the two off at the trail, which they were familiar with and was not far from home, around 1:30 PM and her father, Derrick, was to pick them up around 3:15 PM. Shortly before their estimated time of death, they posted pictures of a bridge on Snapchat. The same bridge, the Monon Bridge (Shapiro 2020) appears in a video found on German’s phone. The video features a man walking towards them, wearing a blue jacket, jeans, a brown hoodie, and a hat, with his head down. He speaks in the video, in a manner that reportedly sounds like an order,

            “Guys, down the hill” (Harding 2019).

            When German’s father arrived to pick the girls up, he attempted to call German’s phone. When there was no answer and no contact by 4 PM, he attempted to contact other friends and relatives that the girls could have gone to. By 5: 30 PM, the Carroll County Sheriff’s department was alerted to the missing teenagers. The initial worry was they had gotten lost or hurt, or perhaps both, and couldn’t find their way out. To family and friends, that seemed the most likely explanation for their sudden disappearance. Neither girl was known to be anything but good kids, and they wouldn’t have just taken off without notice. During the search of the area the ensued, when police began to search the river with flashlights, Williams’s mother, Anna, remembers telling them “We are not looking for bodies, we are looking for two grounded little girls” (Harding 2019). The search was officially suspended at midnight, due to the apparent lack of evidence of foul play, but the families continued searching through the night (Townsend 2019).

            Unfortunately for the German and Williams families, Valentine’s Day 2017 was not an occasion full of love. It was the day they received the worst possible news – the girls had been found, dead, by the trail (Harding 2019). A single shoe had been found, and not far from the shoe, the girls were found as well (Townsend 2019). The area their remains were recovered from was a significant distance, several hundred yards, from the Monon Bridge, where they had posted their Snapchats from the day before. The details of how the girls were found have not been released, as well as what their cause of death is. Why? One simple reason – if no one knows how they died, then only the killer knows (Shapiro 2020). Investigators can use this information to their advantage in cases of possible false-confessions.

            Soon after the girls were found, the grainy images of the main suspect, the man on the bridge, were released to the public. Along with the images, the audio clip of the man talking was released as well. Hopefully, if this man is the killer, someone recognizes him from either the photos or his voice. Since it has been three long years since the images and the audio were released, some believe that someone out there absolutely knows who the killer is and is staying quiet for some reason. It’s possible that someone knows and is too scared to come forward, or has been threatened by the killer. In 2019, a sketch of another suspect was released as well (Shapiro 2020).  That January the arrest of a sex offender, who’s social media evidently seemed to be a chronicle of his crime, caught the attention of people interested in the case. The new sketch was released a few months later along with more audio from German’s phone that could help lead to the killer. In an interview, Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter seemingly spoke directly to the killer. He believes the killer must be nearby – perhaps living or working there, or perhaps someone who regularly visits the small town. Carter believes it is likely that the killer or someone close to them has been interviewed at some point in relation to the murders – they just need to be found (Townsend 2019).

            Three years and over 40,000 tips that lead nowhere later, the girls have been laid to rest while their families still search for answers. The audio and images are available online for people to view, and hopefully someday, someone who knows something will come forward. Hopefully, someday the families can at least get the comfort of knowing whoever did this is not out there, possibly hurting other children. Until then, the case will remain unsolved, and the evidence is out there that could lead to the killer’s arrest.

Harding, N. (2019, September 29). Why have police not found man who teens filmed before their murder? Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/10008017/snapchat-murder-mystery-teens-girls/

Shapiro, E. (2020, February 13). ‘Epitome of evil’: Delphi double murder still a mystery 3 years later. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/epitome-evil-delphi-double-murder-mystery-years/story?id=68297146

Townsend, C. (2019, May 30). The Delphi Snapchat Murders: Who Killed Abby Williams & Libby German? Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/crimefeed/id-shows/still-a-mystery/still-a-mystery-delphi-snapchat-murders-abby-williams-libby-german

The Bender Family Murders

            After the Homestead Act of 1862, the Osage were forced to move from their land, now known as Labette County, Oklahoma, and settlers from Europe came to live where the displaced tribe was forced from. Years later, in 1870, the Bender family were one of five families that settled in the area. The Benders settled specifically in a 160-acre plot of land that faced the Osage Trail (Cappello 2019).

            The family were thought to be German immigrants, as the first to arrive at the homestead, John Bender Sr., and John Bender Jr., both had accents. John Sr., approximately 60, had a thicker accent and spoke broken English, while John Jr., approximately 25, spoke English fairly well and had less of an accent. The two built up a cabin and barn and the women of the family arrived in 1871. Elvira “Ma” Bender, John Sr.’s wife, was estimated to be 55-years old and, like her husband, spoke broken English and was apparently rather unpleasant. She earned herself the nickname, “she-devil.” It was the daughter of the family, Kate Bender, approximately 23, that brought people to the property. She was reportedly beautiful and a talented psychic. She spoke fluent English and worked as a healer, though she was self-proclaimed and not trained. Spiritualism was popular at the time, and she would do seminars at the home about it. Kate notably advocated for free love, which was part of the major draw to her and the family (Cappello 2019). The family even took out an ad in Kansas papers, touting “Professor Miss Kate Bender can heal disease, cure blindness, fits and deafness. Residence, 14 miles east of Independence, on the road to Osage Mission. June 18, 1872” (historicalcrimedetective). A curtain was used to split the single room of the cabin to create an area for a general store, kitchen, and dining area. They could sell dry goods to travelers as well as serve meals and offer somewhere to stay for a night. The home became known as the Bender Inn (Cappello 2019).

              The first body as found in May 1871, a man with his skull crushed and his throat slashed, in Drum Creek. The Bender home was not far, just Northwest of the location of the body. More remains were recovered in February 1872, two more men with their skulls crushed and throats slashed. It didn’t take long for the disappearances of travelers on the Osage Trail came to the attention of others and soon the trail was being avoided whenever possible by those looking to pass the area. There were even some groups looking to find who was responsible, often arresting innocent men on suspicion before releasing them later (Cappello 2019).

            The beginning of the end for the Bender family came when Dr. William Henry York was alerted to the discovery of the horses and carriage he lent to a neighbor who was moving from Kansas to Iowa, without the neighbor present. The neighbor in question was George Newton Longcor, who was moving to Iowa with his 18-month old daughter, Mary Ann, after the death of his wife. It appeared that the man and daughter had not even made it out of Kansas, as the horses and carriage were found near Fort Scott, Kansas. In spring of 1873, Dr. York began his search for the Longcor’s. At Fort Scott, he was able to positively identify the horses and the carriage as the ones he lent to the Longcor’s, as well as clothing as being items he knew to belong to them (Cappello 2019). On March 9, 1873, Dr. York left for his home in Independence, Kansas, but unfortunately, he made the fatal mistake on his way home of stopping at the Bender Inn. His friends were sure he would not have disappeared and were certain he must have fallen afoul of some bad folk (historicalcrimedetective). Unfortunately for the Benders, Dr. York was from a prominent family and his brothers, Colonel Ed York and Alexander M. York of the Kansas State Senate, quickly organized a search when they learned their brother was missing (Cappello 2019).

            The search party, which consisted of 75 men, were able to track Dr. York to the Bender Inn in March of 1873. The Benders denied having ever met Dr. York and suggested that he may have met with danger near Drum Creek, where previous victims had been found. John Jr. even claimed that he had been shot at down in the creek around the time of Dr. York’s disappearance. With no evidence to prove that the Benders were involved, the York brothers left the Inn. However, Colonel York found some evidence that lead him back to the Bender Inn, in the form of a woman who had escaped the Inn. Reportedly, Elvira had threatened the woman with pistols and knives while she was staying there and the woman had fled the Inn. When confronted with this information on April 3rd, Elvira pretended she didn’t understand English before she began to yell about the woman cursing her coffee. Elvira was quick to kick Colonel York and his men out, but she had already made a grave mistake: they now knew she spoke English and her true nature (Cappello 2019).

            The communities surrounding the Osage Trail began to grow suspicious that the area was where those responsible for the disappearances were. A public meeting was called in the Harmony Grove schoolhouse, where the community agreed to get search warrants for the properties between Drum Creek and Big Hill Creek. It didn’t take long for the Bender Inn to come under scrutiny, but not from the search warrants. Just a few days later, it came to the attention of the Bender’s neighbors that their farm animals were all dead or starving, and it became obvious after some investigation that the farm had been abandoned (Cappello 2019). It was a search party traveling nearby on April 9 that alerted others to the state of the Bender Inn (historicalcrimedetective). The investigator, Officer Leroy Dick, discovered a disturbing odor coming from a trap door in under the bed that was strangely nailed shut. He sent out a call for a search party and soon enough, hundreds of local arrived ready to search the Bender Inn with pick axes and shovels (Cappello 2019). Other reports claim that the Bender’s took off right after Colonel York and his men left (historicalcrimedetective).

            The smell was coming from clotted blood that had seeped through the floor and trap door and into the soil under the house. No bodies were discovered under the house, so the search expanded to the land. Elvira and Kate had a vegetable garden, and there was where Dr. York’s remains were found. Ten bodies were found in the garden and the well, all killed in the same manner – their heads were all crushed, likely with a hammer, and their throats had been slashed. Unfortunately, 18-month old Mary Ann was also found, and had been buried alive. Several victims had been mutilated, apparently in an indecent manner that suggests possible genital mutilation (Cappello 2019).

            Thanks to survivors of the Bender Inn, we believe we know how they committed their murders. When guests were at the Inn, they would be given the seat of honor at the table. The seat of honor set them with their back right against the curtain that separated the front room from the living area, and right over the trapdoor. While the guest was distracted one of the men would hit them over the head and the women would then slash their throats. After the victim died, they would be dropped through the trapdoor before they were stripped and buried or dismembered. Bullet holes found in the cabin suggested that some victims tried to fight back. The way the Bender’s chose their victims, which seemed indiscriminate, also suggests that they were not after valuables, but simply the thrill they got from killing (Cappello 2019).

            A Bible was found in the cabin with notes in German that named John Jr as one John Gebhardt. The combination of reports from the Bender’s neighbors and the notes in the Bible lead to the theory that John Jr and Kate were not siblings, but actually a couple. Now it is believed that only Elvira and Kate were actually related and that Elvira was from the Adirondack Mountains, born Almira Mark. Almira Mark had multiple children and husbands, who some say died of head injuries. John Sr was probably actually John Flickinger, who immigrated from either Germany or the Netherlands, and Kate was probably actually Eliza Griffith, Elvira’s fifth child (Cappello 2019).

            The Bender’s disappeared, it seems. Senator York and Kansas Governor Thomas A. Osborn offered a reward for the apprehension of the Bender family. While they were able to track wagon tracks from the house to where the horses were abandoned 12 miles from the Bender Inn. Officially, no one from the family was ever seen again. However, rumors and speculation flowed forth. One detective claimed he had followed John Jr. down to the border of Mexico and found that he had died. Another rumor spread that John Jr. and Kate had gone to an outlaw colony near the Texas/New Mexico border, traveling by railroad. Women traveling in pairs were frequently accused of being Elvira and Kate and there were several vigilante groups that claimed, without proof, they had managed to capture and kill the Bender family. In the 1880s an elderly man was arrested for a murder that was committed with a hammer. He reportedly fit the description of John Sr, but died after attempting to escape by cutting his foot off while they waited for information to arrive from Kansas. He was too decomposed by the time the information arrived for an identification to be made. A mother named Elvira was arrested with her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, in 1889 for larceny and accused of being Elvira and Kate, but the committee from Labette was not able to confidently identify them and they were released (Cappello 2019).

            In the aftermath of the Bender family running, people who knew them were put in danger by those who wanted vengeance for the many deaths that occurred at the Inn. A local grocer who had worked with John Sr and was also a German immigrant. The man was taken by a group of locals from his grocery store and brought into the woods. There, the group tried to force him to tell them what he knew, but he actually knew nothing. Still, they hanged him nearly to death before reviving him to question him again. This continued until they were satisfied that he really didn’t know anything and they left him nearly unconscious in the woods. He did manage to recover (historicalcrimedetective).

            The Bender Family was never found again. To this day, no one knows where they went after they disappeared. No evidence has ever been found. It is unlikely that we will ever have an answer as to where they went. For now, the tale of the Bloody Benders remains one without a true ending.

Cappello, N. (2019, August 22). The Bloody Benders: America’s First Family of Serial Killers. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://crimereads.com/the-bloody-benders-americas-first-family-of-serial-killers/

The Family That Murders Together. (n.d.). Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.historicalcrimedetective.com/the-family-that-murders-together/

The Murder of Jeannette DePalma

            On August 7, 1972, Jeanette DePalma, who had turned 16 just days prior, was reported missing by her parents (Muscavage 2019). DePalma reportedly told her mother she was going to a friend’s house, but she never arrived (Lamare 2019). Six weeks later a dog brought a decomposing arm to an apartment complex on Wilson Road in Springfield, NJ. The arm would be linked to DePalma, and her remains were recovered on top of a rock formation in the Houdaille Quarry (Muscavage 2019). The rock formation she was found on was notably known as Devil’s Teeth (Lamare 2019).

            In the 1970s, the Jesus Movement was spreading across the country. Known also as Jesus Freaks, those in the Jesus Movement were evangelists urging people to follow Jesus and forsake what was essentially the elements of the Summer of Love (Eskridge 2019). DePalma was known to have been a devout Christian. With the lack of answer for her murder, theories began to quickly emerge that she was sacrificed in an occult ritual (Muscavage 2019). There have been reports that DePalma was found on what looked like a makeshift altar, surrounded by various occult symbols. Theories abound that there was a Satanic cult worshipping in the area at the time (Lamare 2019), which shouldn’t surprise as the Satanic Panic came about just a decade later. Another rumor that began to spread was that a cult known as The Witches was responsible. Kids were hearing stories just a couple years before DePalma was found that the cult was planning on killing a child on and by Halloween that year. The rumors differed on how the cult planned on killing a child – usually either ritual sacrifice or by poisoning (Lamare 2019).

            No official cause of death was ever determined for DePalma. By the time her remains were found, she had already decomposed a significant amount (Njspotlight 2015). Her clothes were examined by the FBI in 1973 and found that there were no foreign hairs in her clothing. It was noted that there were stains blouse, underwear, bra, and pants that could not be positively identified, though some think they could be blood or semen (Deak 2019).

 The case is filled with contradictions as well, even down to the officers who were at the scene not agreeing on what they saw there. While the rumors persist that there were signs of occult activity at the scene, only one of the responding officers said he saw those things. The other officer says the opposite – there was nothing occult at the scene at all. Another conflicting account was on the evidence. While the writers of the Weird United States series were initially told that they couldn’t see the case files of an active case. Another clerk told them that the files had gone missing after a flood from Hurricane Floyd in 1995. An investigator with the homicide unit, however, says the files were missing already when he was assigned to the unit in 1984. This has lead to some people believing that there is some kind of cover up occurring on this case (Njspotlight 2015).

            In 2019, the Union County Prosecutor’s office was sued by Ed Salzano in an effort to have the clothing DePalma was wearing at the time of her death tested for DNA. The lawsuit was lost however, as Salzano has no connection to the DePalma’s or the case outside of his own interest in the case. Salzano claims to have filed the lawsuit to open the case back up, not necessarily to actually get the investigation to test for DNA. According to him, there are people who were around when the death occurred that knew what had actually happened to DePalma, but are too scared to come forward (Deak 2019).

            It’s possible that we may never get answers as to what really happened to Jeannette DePalma. Could it have been a ritual sacrifice by Satanist? Anyone who knows the first thing about actual Satanism will tell you that’s not the case. Actual Satanists don’t actually have the crazy rituals mainstream media likes to act like they do. The same can be said for witchcraft practitioners. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone would want people to belief these things, or that someone thought they were practicing these things at the time of DePalma’s death. What matters is that a young girl died unexpectedly and with no explanation nearly fifty years later.

Muscavage, N. (2019, August 26). What happened to Springfield teen found dead near Watchung Reservation in 1972? Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/crime/jersey-mayhem/cold-cases/2019/08/23/nj-cold-case-jeannette-depalma-springfield-1972-watchung-reservation/1889140001/

Eskridge, L. (2019, October 31). ‘Jesus People’ – a movement born from the ‘Summer of Love’. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/jesus-people-a-movement-born-from-the-summer-of-love-82421

Lamare, A. (2019, May 06). Who Killed Jeannette DePalma? New Details On The 1972 Unsolved Murder And The Satanic Rituals Surrounding Her Death. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.yourtango.com/2019324197/who-killed-jeanette-depalma-1972-unsolved-murder-satanic-rituals-surrounding-her-death

‘Death on the Devil’s Teeth’: Unsolved 1972 Murder of Teenage Girl: Video. (2015, July 20). Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.njspotlight.com/news/video/death-on-the-devils-teeth-unsolved-1972-murder-of-teenage-girl/

Deak, M. (2019, September 11). NJ unsolved murder: Judge denies DNA test on Jeannette DePalma’s clothes. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/courts/2019/09/09/nj-unsolved-murder-judge-denies-dna-test-jeannette-depalmas-clothes/2265134001/

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders

            Lori Farmer, 8, Michelle Guse, 9, and Doris Milner, 10, were attending what was supposed to be a two week long camp when their young lives were so suddenly and brutally ended (D’Souza, 2018). In June 1977, Locus Grove, OK woke up to the horrific news of a murder at the Camp Scott Girl Scout Camp not far from them. Camp counselor Carla Wilhite was on her way to the showers at the camp at approximately 6 AM on June 13th when she came across the bodies of three of the campers, taken roughly 150 yards from their tents and into the path (girlscoutmurders.com). Milner was found on the path directly, while Guse and Farmer were found in their sleeping bags, zipped up, nearby. Reportedly, others at the camp had heard strange noises during the night but had likely written the sounds off as those made by the local wildlife (D’Souza 2018). By 7:30 that morning the investigation into the deaths of the young campers was started. The remaining campers were evacuated by 10 AM with no knowledge of what had occurred, only knowing that they were being sent home after only one night of camping. That was the last night Camp Scott was open. After the horrific events of June 13, 1977, the camp that had been open for approximately 50 years, Camp Scott permanently closed its doors (girlscoutmurders.com).

            When it all began, things seemed to be going fast. Within the first few days, the wooden floor from the tent the girls had been in, tent 7, was airlifted from the camp to be examined. It was reported that a tennis shoe print was found outside the tent as well as another inside the tent, and Mayes Country DA, Sid Wise, announced outrage that the information had been made available to the public. Specially trained dogs were flown in from Pennsylvania, known as the Wonder Dogs, after an arrest was made of a man who lived near the camp in his van. He was later released. A ranch not far from Camp Scott became a subject of investigation for a while after it was discovered that the ranch had been robbed around the time; the owner later passed a lie detector test. A name is even suggested, Gene Leroy Hart, who was on the loose after escaping the Mayes County jail four years before the murders (girlscoutmurders.com). Hart continued to be on the top of the suspect list, partially due to a single hair not belonging to the victims that was found. The hair was reportedly likely from someone of Native American descent, like Hart, who was Cherokee. Local Native American groups felt that Hart was being unfairly targeted due to his Cherokee ancestry and race became a factor in the case. Some believe that locals involved with the Native American groups may have actually helped Hart while he was on the run (D’Souza 2018). It is also worth noting that Hart wore a size 11 to 11.5 in shoes, and the shoe prints found by the crime scene were significantly smaller, at a size 9.5. While squeezing into a smaller shoe isn’t impossible, a shoe that much smaller is unlikely (Rebel 2020). More information is released to the public, fingerprints on the bodies, duct tape and cord, as well as a flashlight found at the scene. The Wonder Dogs, after finally arriving from Pennsylvania, traced the scent of the killer(s) passed the counselor’s tent (girlscoutmurders.com).

            On June 18th, it’s announced that a murder weapon was found by Sheriff Pete Weaver, however DA Wise and other agents claimed to have no idea what Weaver was referring to. The murder weapon is reported as a crow bar with fingerprints found on it, and the Wonder Dogs lead investigators to ponds on the same property of the robbed ranch, but lose the trail there. The next day it is announced by the trainer of the Wonder Dogs that they have found evidence in the case and expect a break any day. That same day, the public gets three different answers to possible suspects in the case. The FBI claims there are three suspects, DA Wise claims there are no suspects, and Sheriff Weaver claims there is one suspect in the case. DA Wise also publicly corrects Sheriff Weaver’s earlier statement and claims no murder weapon was found (girlscoutmurders.com).

            By the 20th, however, DA Wise turns around the claims that there are actually several suspects in the case and that they have a lot of evidence collected, including the earlier reported fingerprints on one of the bodies. The governor of Oklahoma, David Boren, offers the national guard’s help on the hunt for the killers on the 21st, and another suspect who was camping nearby when the murders happened is added to the suspects list. A media blackout is ordered by DA Wise on the 22nd, but not before word gets out that photos with three women in them have been found, some say at the camo ground while others claim in a cave approximately two miles from the camp ground. On the same day, the medical examiner declares that only one of the fingerprints found on the bodies is actually usable, as the other prints are too smudged (girlscoutmurders.com).

            On the 23rd the photos are announced as having been processed by suspect Gene Leroy Hart while he was at a reformatory. A full-scale hunt is launched after a man matching Hart’s description is seen nearby. The group that comes together the next day, made up of 200 law enforcement officers and 400 volunteers, are not supposed to have guns. Many do, and many arrests are made for drunken behavior and marijuana possession. Most of the officers involved leave the manhunt on the 26th. They try using heat seeking equipment, but the equipment fails, possibly due to weather conditions. After a $14,000 reward is put up, Hart’s mother comes forward claiming that the photographs were planted by Sheriff Weaver due to the stress to find a suspect, and that she was being continually harassed. Despite these claims, the FBI says there is evidence that Hart was in the area at the time of the murders (girlscoutmurders.com).

            July 6, 1977, the medical examiner’s report is released on the girls. The report indicates that, despite earlier reports, there are no fingerprints found on the bodies (girlscoutmurders.com). While Milner had been strangled to death, Guse and Farmer had been brutally beaten (D’Souza, 2018). OSBI Director Jeff Laird declares that there is a lot of evidence against Hart and that he would declare him guilty if he could. On the 29th, a security team hired to look after the camp claims to have seen someone in the woods and apparently found the shoes of the one of the victims, along with her socks, in a bag on the steps of the counselors’ cabin. The items were wet. October 10th, it is declared that they are still looking for Hart and that the hunt will remain on until he is found (girlscoutmurders.com).

            In late January of 1978, composite sketches of Hart are made available to the public along with a list of possible aliases he may have been using. Among the sketches are some showing what he may look like with long hair or glasses. Hart is apprehended on April 6th after eight OSBI agents storm a house 45 miles from Camp Scott. Hart is on trial from March 19, 1979 until March 30, 1979, and acquitted of the charges (girlscoutmurders.com). Ann Reed, investigative forensic chemist, examined the hair that supposedly connected Hart to the case and declared that, while they appeared identical, she couldn’t actually say definitively if the hair belonged to Hart. While the jury acquitted him of the murders, he was sentenced to 300 years in prison for other crimes, but died later in 1979 from a heart attack (D’Souza 2018). Why was Hart the only suspect so doggedly sought after? Was it underlying racism, due to him being Cherokee? It’s no secret that the United States has a major problem of system racism, and a man who isn’t white being framed for a crime he did not commit is hardly unheard of. Hart had a history of sex crimes, having raped women previously. Who would be an easier target to frame, in order to have someone pay for a crime, than someone that is known to the public to already be a convicted criminal? At the same time, the crimes that Hart committed were not just similar. He kidnapped two women and raped them before leaving them dead not far from where Camp Scott was. Knowing that, the suspicion of the OSBI seems slightly more founded. This knowledge does not change the noticeable tunnel vision investigators seemed to have on Hart (Rebel 2020).

            Chillingly, only a few months before the murders took place a counselor at the camp was left a message in a donut box after her belongings had been ransacked. The message, which at the time was thought to be a bad prank, made the promise to kill three campers (D’Souza, 2018). In 2008 and in 2018, DNA tests were conducted. The 2008 test was inconclusive and the tests from 2018 have had no public updates. Hopefully this lack of updates to the public means that something has happened with these tests (Rebel 2020). Hopefully someday soon, we will have answers to this horrific crime.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2020, from http://www.girlscoutmurders.com/index.html

D’Souza, B. (2018, February 19). 12 Facts to Know about the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders That Remain Unsolved. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://crimeola.com/oklahoma-girl-scout-murders-12-facts/

Rebel, A. (2020, June 08). The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders – did the OSBI get the right man? Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://darkideas.net/the-oklahoma-girl-scout-murders-did-the-osbi-get-the-right-man/

The Dating Game Killer: Rodney Alcala

            The 1970s is often said to have been a Golden Age of Serial Killers, and among those that are thought of is a man known as the Dating Game Killer. Rodney Alcala, who appeared on the Dating Game television show in 1978, was an active serial killer during the 1970s with a possible victim count of more than 100 people. Alcala is serving time for the murder and abduction of a 12-year old girl, for which he was arrested in July of 1979. While he was given a death sentence, he is serving in California where all executions have been stalled (Kettler 2020).

            While Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas, in August 1943, he spent some of his childhood living in Mexico as well when he was eight (Kettler 2020). He returned to the United States later, with his mother and siblings after his father abandoned them, when he was only 12-years old (Bizarrepedia). There, at the age of 17, Alcala joined the army for a short time. In 1964, he was discharged with a diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder following a break down (Kettler 2020). Antisocial personality disorder is generally characterized by disregard for the rights of others, and sometimes even the blatant disregard for the rights of others (Bizarrepedia). Alcala attended three separate universities: California State, followed by UCLA (from which he graduated with a degree in fine arts in 1968) and, under the alias John Berger, New York University (Kettler 2020).

            In 1968, Alcala fled to the east coast after attacking 8-year old Tali Shapiro (Kettler 2020). Shapiro was raped and beaten with a 10-pound steel pipe (Montaldo 2019). She was on her way home from school when he came across her. Using a promise of a cute picture, Alcala managed to get the girl into his car. He took her to his apartment where he committed his awful crimes against her, not knowing that someone had seen him abduct her. The person who saw the abduction had the presence of mind to follow Alcala’s car and call the police with the location. Alcala managed to flea through the back door by the time police arrived, but Shapiro was able to survive despite lasting mental scarring caused by the assault. The Shapiro family moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after the attack, frightened by the brutality of it (Bizarrepedia). He worked at an art camp, under the alias John Burger (Bizarrepedia), but was recognized by some campers after he was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. The campers alerted the dean of the camp and Alcala was arrested in 1971 and served 34 months in prison for the charge of child molestation (Kettler 2020). Due to the Shapiro family moving away, the police couldn’t rely on Tali Shapiro’s testimony and couldn’t convict him on the rape and attempted murder. It didn’t take long after he was released for Alcala to violate his parole. He was found giving a ride to a 13-year old known only as Julie J. and giving her marijuana. For this, he served a further two years in prison. He managed to get a job as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times in 1978 (Bizarrepedia), despite being a registered sex offender, and was a suspect in the Hill Side Strangler murders. Police let him go when they found no connection, but were unaware that they had just let another serial killer out into the world (Kettler 2020). While working at the Los Angeles Times, Alcala was able to convince hundreds of people that he really was a fashion photographer and that he was building a portfolio of some kind. After his arrest, this portfolio would become infamous (Bizarrepedia).

Like many others killers, Alcala had this ruse – he was a fashion photographer. Usually, he claimed to be taking photos for some kind of contest, and with the intelligence (a reported IQ of 135, according to Bizarrepedia) and charm that Alcala exuded his victims found him to be an easy man to trust. A woman he was supposed to go on a date with before his arrest had even said such. He was good at drawing people in (Kettler 2020).

            Cornelia Crilley was found in June 1977, raped and strangled in her own studio in Manhattan. Despite Alcala’s arrest in the next few years, Crilley’s murder was unsolved for 40 years. In July of that same year, the body was Ellen Hover was found in her New York apartment as well as18-year old Jill Barcomb that November. Barcomb brutalized, raped and sodomized by her attacker, strangled with a belt and some trousers, bitten repeatedly on her right breast, and finally killed with a rock (Bizarrepedia). Barcomb had moved to California, but was from New York state. Alcala left her body, posed on her knees with her face in the dirt, at the foothills near Hollywood (Montaldo 2019). A majority of Alcala’s victims ran the age range of eight years old to 31-years old, a wide range of ages for his victims. Most were raped or molested, sodomized, strangled with items like nylons, and beaten to death with blunt objects (Bizarrepedia). Many of his victims showed signs of having been strangled, revived, and strangled again (Kettler 2020). Sometimes he would repeat this horrific game over and over again, deriving some kind of pleasure from his horrific game. The victims were often found in careful poses, arranged specifically by Alcala, and he often took earrings from his victims as trophies. The official body count for Alcala is eight victims, but it is believed he could have killed as many as 130 people during his spree (Bizarrepedia).

            There were three trials for Alcala. He was charged in the first two trials with the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe; 12 days after her disappearance her earrings were found in a locker Alcala rented in Seattle (Bizarrepedia). Alcala had met Samsoe and one of her friends, Bridget Wilvert, at Huntington Beach earlier on the day she went missing. He apparently approached them asking to take some photos, and after several were taken before a neighbor came to ask if everything was okay (Montaldo 2019). Samsoe left for her ballet class and she was taken by Alcala (Bizarrepedia). Alcala disposed of her remains at the foothills near Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel Mountains. Her remains were recovered on July 2, 1979, scavenged by animals and skeletal. It looked as if Alcala had knocked out her front teeth (Montaldo 2019). Alcala received the death sentence for this murder, but the verdict was overturned after it was learned that the jury had been informed of Alcala’s previous crimes before trial. DNA evidence was used in the third trial that linked Alcala to the murders of two women in Los Angeles and their earrings, just like Samsoe’s, were found in a locker of Alcala’s. The DNA matches resulted in more murder charges being brought against Alcala. He was charged with not only Robin Samsoe’s murder, but also the murders of Jill Barcomb, 27-year old Georgia Wixted, 31-year old Charlotte Lamb, and 21-year old Jill Parenteau (Bizarrepedia).

            Georgie Wixted, a nurse, was raped and sodomized by Alcala in December of 1977. He used a hammer to abuse her sexually, then killed her by beating her to death with the claw end of the hammer’s head and strangled her with a nylon stocking. She was found in her Malibu apartment, posed by Alcala, on December 16, 1977. June 1979, Alcala murdered Charlotte Lamb by strangling her with a shoelace from one of her own shoes. Her body was left posed in the laundry room of an El Segundo apartment complex to be discovered on June 24, 1979.  That same June, Jill Parenteau was raped and murdered by Alcala in her apartment in Burbank. She was strangled with a nylon cord. Alcala left through her window, where he cut himself and left blood and DNA evidence behind. Due to a semi-rare blood match, he was linked to her murder, but the charges were dismissed in her case (Montaldo 2019).

            Like other narcissistic psychopaths, such as Ted Bundy, Alcala chose to act as his own lawyer at this final trial. During the trial, Alcala played both the witness and the lawyer while he was on the stand. He would refer to himself as Mr. Alcala when acting as the lawyer and would use a deeper voice when acting as his lawyer. This went on for five hours, during which time the star witness was also brought out. Tali Shapiro, his first victim, was there to testify against the man who had brutalized her years prior. Unfortunately for Alcala, but fortunately for any future victims he had planned, his attempts as being charming during the trial didn’t work for him the way it had in the past. He was found guilty of five charges of first-degree murder. At closing arguments, he chose to play a song, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” He was sentenced to death for a third time in 2010 (Bizarrepedia). During the trial, Alcala attempted to defend himself by claiming that he was on Knotts Berry Farm the day that Samsoe disappeared, despite witnesses recognizing him as the man seen earlier taking photos of Samsoe and Wilvert (Montaldo 2019).

            So, how did Alcala earn the name the Dating Game Killer? He was a registered sex offender, but the company that produced the Dating Game didn’t run background checks. When the game, which featured a single woman, in this case Cheryl Bradshaw, would ask questions to bachelors she could not see, accepted Alcala onto the show, no one knew who he truly was. The bigger surprise looking back is that Alcala was charming and managed to win the date with Bradshaw. The date never happened however, because once she met Alcala in person, Bradshaw found him to be creepy. It’s possible that the decision not to go on that date saved Bradshaw from an awful fate (Kettler 2020).

            In the time since his arrest, trials, and sentencing, photos from him infamous portfolio have been released in hopes of victims being identified. It is possible that there are as many as 120 more victims out there, somewhere in the world, waiting to be identified (Montaldo 2019). If you or someone you know, knows of people, particularly women, who went missing during the time that Alcala was active, the photos of believed victims are available to be viewed on Bizarrepedia.

Kettler, S. (2020, May 28). Rodney Alcala. Retrieved August 30, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/rodney-alcala

Rodney Alcala: The Mother of All Serial Killers. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.bizarrepedia.com/rodney-alcala/

Montaldo, C. (2019, July 01). How the Dating Game Killer Evaded Justice for 40 Years. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-serial-killer-rodney-alcala-973104