09-21-2018

TARA CALICO LONGREAD: 30 Years Later and Still No Justice
Stearns County sheriff says Wetterling case ‘went off the rails’ at the start
New Hampshire unsolved case file: Who killed Laura Kempton?
Three missing girls. A family’s hopes. And this week, a long-awaited dive into a lake.
LISTEN: First podcast episode of ‘Who Killed Tommy?’ available now
‘This could be your daughter, your wife’: How Jennifer Teague’s disappearance shook Ottawa
Convicted killer, already facing death penalty, admits slaying two girls in Illinois in 2005
Newly released autopsy reports show the 2016 unsolved massacre of Rhoden family was methodical, vicious
AS SEEN ON DISAPPEARED: Cash award for tips leading to Clinton Nelson, missing for 12 years
DNA leads to arrest in 30-year-old rape and murder of Colorado Springs resident Mary Lynn Vialpando
LONGREAD: 50 of the Strangest Unsolved Mysteries from Each State

09-20-2018

Six serial killers who left deep scars on Wisconsin
Authorities taking new approach to solving 1978 murder of Menasha’s Dawn Schnetzer
Where’s Sandy Rea? Shawnee case still unsolved 34 years later
Mad or bad? The riddle of Australian convicted child killer Keli Lane
Jury: Gypsy Hill killer guilty
AS SEEN ON SENSING MURDER: Man living in Manatee County arrested for 1999 cold case murder in Sarasota
Runningbird, Wanner disappearances remain among Red Deer’s unsolved cases
LONGREAD: Unraveling the Mystery of a 12-Day Killing Spree at the Border
Missing in Indian Country part II: Lawmakers seek answers for why Native American women vanish (Part I previously posted)

The township of Henryville is inextricably linked to two things: fried chicken and dead boys.

First, the poultry: for weak sisters uninterested in murder Henryville—a municipality of less than two thousand souls boasting only a single (perpetually blinking) stoplight—is best known as the birthplace of crispy chicken magnate Harland D. Sanders.

I had always assumed Colonel Sanders was a fictional advertising construct like Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima but the Colonel—an honorary title bestowed by the state of Kentucky,
unrelated to military rank—was not only a real person but a fascinating one.

A failed attorney with a sideline in bootlegging, the Colonel endured a string of catastrophic business ventures before establishing the Kentucky Fried empire in his mid-sixties.
In perhaps his most famous escapade he shot business rival Matt Stewart during a 1931 gun battle, forever cementing his ranking as the most badass of fast food mascots.
(Clowns may be inherently scary but Ronald McDonald has never, to my knowledge at least, busted a cap in Hamburglar’s ass.)

Matt Stewart survived his injuries and the Colonel—the Teflon Don of his day—managed to avoid prosecution thanks to an affirmative self defense claim and Stewart’s community-wide reputation for belligerence.

The Chicken King laying in state (obscure poultry pun intended)

Now the dead boys: during the three year period from 1974 to 1977 the township of Henryville—so sparsely populated it lacks a police force and relies instead on the Indiana State Police—experienced three still-unsolved homicides involving young male victims.

THE PRIMO

NAME: Richard Lee Sweeney

AGE: 8

DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: April 28th, 1974

Youngest victim Richard Lee Sweeney was the first to die,
departing his home at 16311 Pixley Knob Road shortly after midday to “play,”
a common pastime for free-range children in the 1970s.

When the Henryville Elementary student failed to return his parents contacted law enforcement and a search commenced;
at 6pm Indiana State Policeman John Booher discovered Richard’s fully-clothed body on the second floor of the nearby Blue Lick Auction barn,
buried beneath stacks of boxes,
rags and old clothing.

An autopsy would later determine Richard was killed approximately three hours after leaving home;
he’d been sexually assaulted, strangled,
and had asphyxiated on his own vomit
due to a too-tight gag.
His hands had been bound behind his back but the binding used has never been publicized.

[Live and Learn: the Blue Lick Auction Barn wasn’t a traditional farm building full of hay bales and livestock;
it was primarily used for swap meets.
One local described it as “ a giant yard sale or hillbilly pawn store.”]

THE SECONDO

NAME: Jeffrey Allen Burkett

AGE: 15

DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: June 9th, 1977

High school junior Jeffrey Allen Burkett was small
for his age,
weighing one hundred pounds and standing only a single inch over five feet tall.
There is some debate about the 11th grader’s final sighting;
some sources report Jeffrey was last spotted entering a black pickup truck on Blue Lick Road,
while others place his final sighting at a Henryville High drivers’ education class.

Jeffrey failed to return home that evening;
at 10am the following morning, June 10th,
his brother contacted the Indiana State Police and filed a missing person’s report.
At 3:45pm Jeffrey’s body was discovered—by either a motorcycle rider or trail bikers, depending on the source—approximately thirty yards inside the Clark State Forest.
Located eight miles from Henryville High
Jeffrey was found face down, fully clothed,
his hands arched above his head and his wrists bound together with wire.

The medical examiner will later conclude Jeffrey has been beaten, sexually assaulted and throttled;
his skull is fractured but strangulation is assessed as his primary cause of death.
Although these details are uncorroborated the local rumor mill alleges Jeffrey exhibited extensive self-defense wounds and his remains showed evidence of having been dragged some distance through the forest.

“Most of the people are afraid for their children; people are just scared to death. They’re scared to let their kids out alone. The’re scared to let them out in bunches.” Gas station attendant David Roby on the esprit de Henryville, Louisville Courier Journal, October 16th, 1977

THE DOLCE

NAME: Donald Michael Abell

AGE: 19

DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: September 27th, 1977

A mere four months after Jeffrey Burkett’s death fellow Henryville High student Donald Abell completed his morning classes at 10:58am;
telling friends he intended to walk downtown the fifth-year senior then exited the building and vanished.
Two weeks later—-at 1pm on October 9th—his fully-clothed remains were discovered by a group of walnut hunters splayed at the bottom of a 27-foot ravine.

An autopsy will later determine Donald had been
beaten to death,
his massive skull fracture incompatible with an
accidental fall.
Unlike the previous two victims Donald’s body bore no evidence of sexual assault or strangulation,
and although this information does not appear in the press local gossip alleges Donald’s hands were bound and his 1970’s-style platform shoes were missing.

Like Jeffrey Burkett Donald’s body was found almost 10 miles from Henryville High,
indicating he’d likely been driven, dead or alive,
to his dumpsite.
Although they attended the same school Donald Abell—a fifth year senior completing academic requirements for graduation—and 10th grader Jeffrey Burkett were reportedly not close friends.

The three dead boys were not the only victims of the killer or killers in their midst;
in the 1970s Henryville High had an open campus policy which allowed students to leave the premises during the day.
Although it managed to survive Jeffrey Burkett’s death an additional slaying was deemed a bridge too far—Henryville’s open campus policy was killed by the administration shortly after third victim Donald Abell.

“I know they’re probably investigating it and all but it’s got me very upset to think there’s evidently some nut running loose in this community.” Farmer Jerry Able, Louisville Courier Journal, June 16th, 1977

IF AN INVESTIGATION FAILS IN THE FOREST

In the whispers of townsfolk and nether-reaches of cyberspace the Sweeney-Burkett-Abell slayings—often referred to as the Henryville Forestry Murders though only one victim, Jeffrey Burkett,
died in Clark State Forest—-are believed to be the work of a single assailant or pair of assailants working in tandem.
Investigators from the Indiana State Police, however, have always maintained the murders are,
despite victimological similarities and geographical proximity, the handiwork of three separate slayers.

“The general public is going to believe we’ve got a ghoul stalking the woods snatching up kids but I feel we’re dealing with distinctly separate murders. I’ll tell you this much; if we find enough evidence to prosecute you won’t need a telephone to find out about it—you’ll hear me hollering.” Indiana Police Sergeant Guy Schroeder, Louisville Courier Journal, January 24th, 1979

There’s been speculation through the years the local gentry is purposely stonewalling law enforcement to protect one of their own—a common trope in small town cold cases—but the Indiana State Police investigation,
as chronicled in the media, appears comprehensive.
Although Detective David Markowski recently described the remaining physical evidence as “scant,”
the probe into the boys’ murders has been periodically reopened as technology has improved.
Two highly-publicized top-to-bottom reinvestigations were undertaken in 1983 and 1999, and the inquiry into the murders remains ongoing.

“[I’m] ninety-nine percent sure I know who did it. I’ve just got that little bit of doubt.” Albert Sweeney, father of first victim Richard Lee Sweeney, Louisville Courier Journal, February 25th, 1996

Interestingly, Albert and Juanita Sweeney—parents of youngest victim Richard Lee Sweeney—believe they know the identity of their son’s killer.
As Mrs. Sweeney told to the Courier Journal, in 1998 she confronted this person with her suspicions;
the suspect then “ran and hid,” confirming the Sweeneys’ belief in his guilt.
Whether the Sweeneys’ person of interest is among the many (alleged) suspects implicated on various crime boards is unknown, however;
and it’s unclear if the Sweeneys believe this man is also responsible for the subsequent slayings of Donald Abell and Jeffrey Burkett.
(The identity of the Sweeneys’ person of interest is shielded in the media as he has not been officially implicated by law enforcement.)

MEANWHILE, ON THE INTERNET

I first became interested in the Henryville murders via a true crime post on the Southern Indiana News and Tribune’s Jefferson City forum.
The thread no longer exists, unfortunately, although the first page endures on the Wayback Machine.
Like a Topix thread with folksy grammar and an extra dash of vitriol the posts were informative but undeniably libelous:
aspersions were cast, reputations besmirched and family names dragged through the mud.
It was, needless to say, riveting.

In order to avoid legal jeopardy I have opted to provide pseudonyms for the (alleged) persons of interest fingered on various message boards; for inveterate snoops the participants’ true names can be found here, a sad shadow of the once mighty thread I privately dubbed Libel-palooza.

1) In the 1970s Clark State Forest was home to a boys’ correctional facility known as the Henryville Youth Camp.
In 1979 Dr. Kenneth Heinz, tasked with providing medical care for the incarcerated youngsters,
pleaded guilty to a single count of child molestation and surrendered his medical license.
Although Dr. Heinz did not murder his victim(s)—believed to be numerous despite his single plea of guilt—many crime board posters believe his pedophilia makes him an obvious suspect in the Sweeney-Burkett-Abell slayings.

2) The Burkett family reportedly believes the slayer to be Mr. Starmousse, a then-resident of nearby Russell Springs, Kentucky.
Mr. Starmousse—whose father sported hooks-for-hands, an irresistible detail—is mentioned on virtually every message board as person of interest in all three murders.
As the story is told by a purported Burkett family relation, shortly after the final slaying the entire Starmousse clan decamped for Florida, presumably to hinder the Indiana State Police investigation.
Mr. Starmousse’s motive for the murders is never revealed, however, and it’s unclear if he possesses the predilection for child rape exhibited in the Sweeney-Burkett slayings.

3) Two then-teenaged sons of a local doctor—Dr. Bus, not handsy Dr. Heinz of the boys’ reformatory—came under considerable scrutiny on the deleted News and Tribune  thread.
The Bus boys appear to have been something of a local scourge, protected by their father’s social status;
but as is the case with Mr. Starmousse their specific motivation for the murders is never established and a history of paraphilia, if one exists, is never mentioned.
At least as chronicled on the deleted thread the Bus boys were local bullies and mischief-makers;
in many ways they seem to be simply default suspects, implicated by their prior bad acts in the community.

[The Doctor Who Couldn’t Prescribe Straight: I make no claim of a connection but a Dr. Kenneth Heinz (misspelling intentional) was indicted for trafficking morphine last year and his biographical details correspond with those of the disgraced youth camp physician.
I can’t help but wonder if the (no)good doctor managed to finagle the resuscitation of his medical license—stranger things have happened, especially in the freewheelin’ 1970s.]

Personally, I’m far from certain all three Sweeney-Burkett-Abell slayings are connected.
While the murders of Richard Sweeney and Jeffrey Burkett exhibit a certain similitude—both were rape-strangulations perpetrated against bound male victims—Donald Abell’s slaying bears little resemblance to the first two homicides.
(Although it is certainly possible Donald’s slaying was an ancillary crime, committed because he knew too much about the Sweeney-Burkett murders.)
Without further information or a forensic link, however, the Indiana State Police supposition of three separate killers is probably the safest tack for investigation;
even bucolic burgs like Henryville have no shortage of perverts and bad actors
and I’ve always suspected the separate killers theory might be supported by hold-back evidence to which the public (and internet commentariat) isn’t privy.

“Somebody knows and may die knowing but we won’t let them forget.” Indiana State Police Detective Dallas Meyer, Louisville Courier Journal, July 21st, 1983

He May Be Heavy But He Ain’t My Brother: Never trust the internet. Arguably the most infamous series of solved crimes in Henryville history were perpetrated by a multifarious criminal named Charles Sweeney,
currently serving 60 years in prison for the 1991 murder of business associate Danny Guthrie.
Sweeney’s lawbreaking extravaganza involved a twice-buried corpse,
marijuana plants, a bogus bingo game at the Sellersburg Moose Lodge
and a bomb planted under the car of a Clark County police detective.
As Judge Cale Bradford noted during one of Sweeney’s appeals, “This case has more parts than a Rocky movie.”

Numerous crime-board posters have alleged Chuck Sweeney is the brother of unsolved homicide victim Richard Lee Sweeney but this is not the case.
Richard Sweeney’s father is named Albert and Chuck Sweeney’s full name is Charles Sweeney Jr.,
indicating his father’s name is Charles.
Sweeney is a fairly common name in Henryville, however, so a more attenuated relationship between Charles Sweeney and Richard Lee Sweeney is certainly possible.

SEND IN THE CLOWN

He had no known ties to Henryville but I am utterly incapable of ending a blog post about fried chicken and dead boys without mentioning the most notorious connoisseur of both commodities:
serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

In the late 1960s Gacy—a Kentucky Fried Chicken University alumnus—began managing a trio of KFC franchises owned by his father-in-law in Waterloo, Iowa.
Gacy reportedly delighted in delivering takeout dressed as Harland Sanders, shouting “Colonel John Gacy’s here!” as he made a grand entrance in a white suit and string tie, his meaty arms laden with buckets of KFC.

[Birds of a Feather: I doubt John Wayne Gacy and I would’ve agree on much but we—and all sentient beings with one or more operational taste buds—agree on one thing: Original Recipe is not only the best recipe but the only  recipe.]

A Kentucky Fried loyalist to the end, Gacy enjoyed a bucket of the Colonel’s finest—Original Recipe, of course—as the final meal before his May 9th, 1994 date with the executioner’s needle.

I hope that bastard didn’t even have time to lick his fingers.

John Wayne Gacy in Colonel Cosplay; you don’t want to know what he had for dessert

09-18-2018

KRBC reporter Jennifer Servo killed 16 years ago, case remains cold
Unsolved double murder at candy business remains a mystery in Sterling Heights
$6,000 reward offered for info related to 1980 disappearance of Kristy Lynn Booth
Sheila St. Clair’s family marks three years since she went missing
WilCo Cold Case Investigation: Sonya Wallace
Mill Creek skull identified through rare, ‘cold’ dental match
‘Somebody knows’: Murdered girl’s family haunted by 40-year wait for answers
NEW LONGREAD: The Cold Case of a University of Chicago Professor’s Murder
VINTAGE LONGREAD: 40 years later, siblings of South Greensburg girl who disappeared still seek closure

09-17-2018

Pride Festival Host Calls Attention to the Unsolved Case of Sage Smith
Where is Danniella Vian? Still no leads, but the search continues
‘This is real’: First steps taken to count missing, murdered Yakama women and girls
Sheriff: Carol Evans disappearance an ‘absolute mystery’
Conway man suspected in ’88 unsolved homicide case
Surprise phone call from RCMP has answers about Roxanne Fleming’s disappearance
NEW LONGREAD He was a first-round draft pick in the NBA. Who killed Lorenzen Wright?
NEW LONGREAD A Death at Twilight: Chapter one
VINTAGE LONGREAD Phyllis Powell’s 1963 disappearance remains etched deep in mystery

09-16-2018

Man indicted in killing of Tucson girls: Isabel Celis and Maribel Gonzalez
Family of Maureen Brubaker Farley looking answers on 47th anniversary of her murder
Ex-High School Swimmers Found Dead in Torched Car — and Police Believe They Were Targeted
#NotInvisible: Why are Native American women vanishing?
Man arrested after Alaska girl, 10, found dead after weeklong search
Border Patrol agent suspected in Texas serial murder case
LONGREAD: The unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz (part 1 + part 2 + part 3)
LONGREAD: Thirty-five years later, Guthrie family disappearance still a mystery

09-15-2018

AS SEEN ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES: Susan Taraskiewicz remembered on 26th anniversary of her homicide
10-Year-Old Alaska Girl Missing for More Than a Week as Police Investigate Possible Crime
Remains found in burned-down John Day cabin where missing couple lived
MCSO solves 30-year-old murder
Family marks 500 days since Liberty teen disappeared
AS SEEN ON COLD JUSTICE: Authorities still investigating photographer missing since ’15
Missing persons case remains a mystery: Family still looking for answers 43 years after woman vanished
LONGREAD: Hunter’s disappearance decades ago haunts family

09-14-2018

IN DEPTH: Historians recall area’s most gruesome crimes
After 55 years, new hope in mysterious disappearance of 13-year-old girl
Five Crime Writers Who Turned Out to Be Actual Murderers
9’s Unsolved: Kathleen Randall
Janice Weston murder: Police re-open file after 35 years
Sheriff, FBI search Book Cliffs area for Jennifer Marcum’s remains
Documentary focusing on decades-old unsolved death to screen at Atlantic Film Festival

09-13-2018

BC Woman Missing For 18 Years Possibly Located
Authorities searching for clues in disappearance of Hiram couple
Police spotlight Kim Rouland’s 2015 homicide
Man charged with 2017 killing of Burnaby teen Marrisa Shen
33 Murders in 8 Years: Kingpin of Truck Driver Killing Gang Held
5 years later, no arrests in murder of Kenner couple found floating in Lake Pontchartrain
LONGREAD Kalispell’s Only Unsolved Murder: Darlene Wilcock’s 2003 Homicide
LONGREAD Vineland police try to solve ‘Lost Boy’ case: Where is Billy Jones?

09-12-2018

“To Love and to Perish,” Season 2 of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette True Crime podcast
‘The Cold Case’: After 25 years, new leads and deja vu in woman’s demise
20 Baffling Forensic Cases That Stumped Everyone
New England families, communities haunted by unsolved murders
Mother of man whose dismembered remains were found in a duffel bag makes plea to catch killer
MOTHER OF TWO STILL MISSING 11 YEARS AFTER SHE DISAPPEARED FROM HER HOME OUTSIDE WOLFE CITY TEXAS
1994 cold-case homicide ends in guilty plea and immediate release on parole
LONGREAD: Bullock murder case remains unsolved after 55 years
SKIP HOLLANDSWORTH LONGREAD: The Doting Boyfriend Who Robbed Armored Cars

09-11-2018

The Dark Dream: Spokane couple’s brutal murder remains unsolved
Mystery Solved: Family-of-Four Not Seen for Months Is ‘Perfectly Fine’
Police continue to look for tips two decades after Margaret Hartrick’s murder
AS SEEN ON DISAPPEARED: Divorce, despair and a family’s need to ‘move on’ leads to final search for Macin Smith
Japan’s ‘Twitter killer’ charged with nine counts of murder
Ireland’s missing persons in the “Vanishing Triangle”
OSBI Asks For Help In Sherry Eileen Lakins’ 1982 Homicide
LONGREAD: ARIEL, 26, MISSING
LONGREAD: Inside One Police Chief’s Hunt for Justice in a Pair of Unsolved Mississippi Murders

09-10-2018

9/11: Did Sneha Anne Philip use World Trade Center attack to flee?
A Family-of-Four’s Home Is Found Vacant as Authorities Realize No One Has Seen Them in Months
Who am I? The shifting faces of a man found in Lake Stickney
Daughter still desperate for answers 28 years after Judy Foster’s disappearance
Fate of Elizabeth “Betty” Brown remains unknown
Couple’s ’80 North Toledo murders still unsolved
LONGREAD Delayed Justice: The Dale Johnston case
LONGREAD MISSING IN CONNECTICUT: Girl, 12, vanished from father’s Wallingford home in 1988

09-09-2018

Reno family wants justice for Michelle Mitchell
9 years later: Who killed Jeanine Toth?
Chloroform killer of Prairie Village girl now eligible for parole
Milford PD still hopes to ID torso found in 1994
Cold case solved: Woman who disappeared on Christmas Eve 25 years ago killed, cut into pieces
Father Will Never Give Up Search for Missing Hoggle Children
Investigation mounts as another dead body is discovered in the area
Possible human remains found in Fayette County renews interest in Denise Pflum’s 1986 disappearance
LONGREAD: Twenty-six-years later, Rhianna Barreau remains missing
LONGREAD: Mystery Surrounds Death of a Cheerleader

09-08-2018

Podcast created to help solve 30-year-old Tara Calico cold case
Six years, no arrests. UNC student Faith Hedgepeth’s family still has few answers
‘Cold Justice’ will feature Flint mom’s brutal, unsolved stabbing death
Triple Murder On Great Falls Drive Unsolved, 1 Year Later
Investigation ongoing for Asha Degree, Cleveland County girl who vanished 18 years ago
Reward offered in 2009 homicide of mother and daughter in Douglas County
Death and Disappearance: Lawmakers seek answers for why Native American women vanish
LONGREAD: Mom of Murdered Teen Ebby Steppach Says “I Know That There’ll be an Arrest”
WATCH: ‘Cookin’ Up Justice’ with Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey Highlights 11-Year Old Cold Case
DOCU-SERIES: Rosemary Diaz, the 15-year-old girl who mysteriously vanished from Danevang in 1990 (FULL YOUTUBE PLAYLIST)

09-07-2018

‘Redhead Murder’ victim in Campbell County identified after 33 years
New Hampshire unsolved case file: Who killed 11-year-old Melissa Tremblay?
Ohio farm searched in separate, cold-case disappearances of man’s parents
Investigators seek public’s help in nearly 40 year old murder case
Dismembered body found dumped in a Georgia landfill identified as missing 20-year-old woman from West Virginia
Good work helps to keep memory of unsolved triple murder of mother and sons alive
Sheriff not giving up on Lisa Uzzle’s unsolved homicide case
Missing Family Mystery Puzzles Police In Naugatuck
LONGREAD: Wyoming’s oldest and coldest missing persons case
LONGREAD: DNA testing might be key to solving Shannon Varley’s 1975 murder

09-06-2018

18 cold cases in Upstate NY that stumped police: Murders, disappearances, mysteries
Haunting stories behind missing posters of Native women
‘DNA Don’t Lie’: Cousin Charged With Killing West Brookfield Family
Today marks 36 years since Johnny Gosch disappeared
Investigators hope for new leads in 1958 disappearance of Flint girl
‘We will never give up’: Searching for answers to missing Native American women
One year later: What happened to missing Lumberton woman Abby Patterson?
AS SEEN ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES: Mother of man who went missing in Kelowna 29 years ago still looking
Quebec police hope to find new leads in search for young women missing 10 years
VICE LONGREAD: The Mystery of ‘Bible John’
VINTAGE LONGREAD: Twenty years later, Barbara Holik’s disappearance remains a mystery

09-05-2018

Mysterious Arlington murder began with a broken-down car, teen’s jog home for help
Speedway bombing victim’s son: ‘I don’t even know that I want to find complete peace about it’
Parents remember Jones County 7-year-old 30 years after her murder, crime remains unsolved
WHODUNIT TRIES TO UNCOVER THE KILLER AT A LONG-AGO BAYLOR-A&M FOOTBALL GAME
South Carolina officials aiding in search for AL woman who went missing in 1984
AS SEEN ON DISAPPEARED: Ex-deputy sued over the disappearance of 2 men 15 years ago
LONGREAD: Pinnacle Lake murder case is cold, but memory still burns
LONGREAD: Double Slaying Probe Revisited

09-04-2018

Story Time with Aunt Phil: Edward Krause, Alaska’s first serial killer
Sister: In 1980, Richard ‘Ricky’ Martinez was killed because he was gay
‘Out in the cold’: Living with a sister’s unsolved murder for ten years
Cold Case: Family pleads for answers in Lillie Miller’s 1981 disappearance
Sister vanishes while looking for missing brother
Missing woman’s family hopes social media, freeway billboard leads to answers
Where’s Ben? 12 years later, few answers to Ashland man’s disappearance (part 1 + part 2)
LONGREAD: The US town where women are vanishing

Mysterious Arkansan Murders and Maybe-Murders

From the December 12th, 1996 Madison County Record (which somebody fogot to proofread)


 
Famed West Memphis Three chroncicler Mara Levitt advocates digging deep for the solution to Linda Edward’s disappearance: So Open the Grave
What Happened to Paty? Seven years later law student Patricia Guardado’s inexplicable death continues to confound
If anything good ever happens at a cabin in the woods I’ve yet to hear about it: The Mysterious Death of Janie Ward
The murder of Highland Valley Methodist’s choir director was ungodly out-of-tune: Who killed Jim Sjodin?
The second part of this Michael Whitely exposé on the epic life and death of Billie Jean Phillips features one of the most iconic opening lines in true crime: Billie Jean Phillips rode life like a sexual Jet Ski
Part I: Meth and murder in Madison County
Part II: Who killed Billie Jean?

“I know a girl from a lonely street / Cold as ice cream but still as sweet” —- Blondie (1979)

[Note: all quotes courtesy of the Arizona Republic.]
 
She contained multitudes.

At home she was Laurie Jeanie Wardein, a record store clerk too timid to drive a car and still living with her mother at the age of twenty-six.
At science fiction conventions she was Tempest, an elf who frolicked with fellow fantasy nerds in an Elfquest fan club called Silverwood Holt.
After dark she was Cortina Bandolero, an artist who wrote punk band reviews for the Phoenix New Times and never missed a midnight Rocky Horror screening.
All were snuffed out in the early hours of June 10th, 1985.

“She spent a lot of time alone. She just didn’t know how special she was.” Laurie’s mother Elsie Wardein, September 15th, 1985

At 9:15am the Phoenix Police Department received a phone call summoning investigators to 815 East Bethany Home Road. The Wardeins lived in unit A-119 of the Place Three Apartments,
a first floor rental located across from the pool next to the laundry room.
Elsie Wardein had returned from an overnight nursing shift and discovered her daughter crumpled on the floor of her blood-spattered bedroom, stabbed repeatedly in the neck, chest and stomach.
The precise number of stab wounds, indicia of sexual assault and Laurie’s state of dress when slain have never been publicized.

“When Laurie died I died with her. Cortina died. Tempest died. Everyone died.” Elsie Wardein, September 15th, 1985

Laurie had spent her final evening enjoying dinner and a movie with a male friend who dropped her home at 1am;
according to a newspaper article published shortly after the crime investigators do not consider this person,
who they declined to name, a suspect in her slaying.
The night of the murder tenants socialized poolside into the wee hours and the Wardeins’ next-door neighbor returned home at 11pm—no one noted any strangers in the complex or signs of disturbance.
Nothing had been stolen during the commission of the crime and although a window was ajar the scene lacked overt evidence of forced entry.

Crime scene exterior present day

“You have a young lady who was a very gifted artist and very active in the Greek Orthodox Church and we can’t give her family any closure on why this happened.” Phoenix Detective Bob Brunansky on the aspect of the case he finds most troubling, June 3rd, 2005

Investigators reportedly have a person of interest in Laurie’s slaying but have refused to share any identifying details;
a recent Arizona Republic  article speculates she may have been killed by someone she “went on a date with
but it’s unclear if this refers to a previous romantic partner
or if her final companion—the male friend who last saw her alive—has come under renewed scrutiny.
Thirty-three years after her death Laurie Wardein’s murder remains unsolved; her mother Elsie passed away in 2015 never knowing the identity of her daughter’s killer.

“We don’t want to jeopardize our investigation. We let anything out and this guy—or girl—could make up some kind of fantasy story we would have to disprove.” Phoenix Police Department spokesman on his rationale for declining to identify the person of interest, September 15th, 1985

Self portrait as elf

Ever since I first read about her murder in a 2005 cold case retrospective I’ve felt a kinship with Laurie Wardein.
Although she was a decade older and dwelt on the opposite side of the country she and I were living a parallel existence:
in 1985 I too worked in a record store and frequented hardcore shows and fantasy conventions.
Every year when Comic-Con rolls around I think of Laurie and all the things she’s missed in the last thirty plus years;
our nerdy subculture grew into a financial and cultural juggernaut and she didn’t live to see it.
Punk rock became mainstreamed and monetized and she didn’t live to see it.
She didn’t even live to see the defining moment in geek culture, the birth of the almighty world wide web in 1990.

Cover art by Cortina Bandolero

“Woman’s Alter Ego Unmasked by Murder.” Arizona Republic headline, January 16th, 1989

While reading the 1980’s-era coverage of her death I was struck by the salacious spin the media cast on Laurie’s affinity for science fiction—as if a running around a hotel convention center in a leotard and elf ears
was comparable to performing live sex shows or working as a dominatrix.
We live in a world where someone can repeatedly stab a 26-year old woman in the throat forever ending her life and her art and spend not a single day in jail.
Laurie missed all the technological marvels of the last three decades but there’s a good chance her killer didn’t.

No wonder so many people are eager to retreat into fantasy.

beefcakestack

Unsolved mystery: why didn’t the show feature a pool-related episode? Robert Stack certainly had the gams for it.



The crime news was underwhelming today so please enjoy these vintage longreads about murders and maybe-murders from the annals of Unsolved Mysteries.

Never mind the strychnine—the existence of wax museums in modern times is a mystery in and of itself (D Magazine, 1986)
I’ve never seen the episode with Kristie Lee’s slaying but wikipedia says it exists and I want to believe (Sun Sentinel, 1996)
Some things need to be seen to be believed: the 1980s skater fashions exhibited in his segment are more confounding than Chad Maurer’s death (Los Angeles Times, 1992)
The very definition of mystery: I’ve reread this 4-part article about Matthew Flores’ murder twice and still have no idea who killed him (Providence Journal, 1994)
Ending on double: the newer Amy Wroe Bechtel article has more recent information but the older article has better prose styling so I suggest you read both (Runners World Magazine, 1998 + 2016)

Let me tell you something you already know: Donald Trump lies about everything.

Now let me tell you something you might not know: his inaugural wife, Ivana Trump née Zelnícková was neither an alternate nor a full-fledged member of the Czechoslovakian ski team at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.

I speculate you may not know this because I did not know this and I consider myself well informed.
As a consumer of mass media in 1980s NYC it was impossible to avoid Trump-brand™ propaganda and many publications—including the vaunted New York Times—described Ivana Trump as a former Olympian.
I assumed someone, somewhere had fact-checked this easily-verifiable assertion. I was wrong.

Spy Magazine über alles

Backstory: I cannot remember how Ivana Trump became a topic of conversation and even if I could recall it would have no bearing on this blogpost.
Suffice it to say I was lunching with friends and Ivana was mentioned and I cited her Olympic credentials.
“No, no, no,” my friend interjected, “Ivana’s Olympic career has been completely debunked.”

Embarrassed at having been hoodwinked and curious if other Trump-related lies still simmered in my subconscious
I recently undertook an exhaustive investigation of all Ivana-era Trump coverage and happened upon a startling circumstance.

On their first date: Stolen Valor Olympian and Portrait of the Fascist as a Young Man

Throughout the years both Donald and Ivana Trump have maintained they first met at the 1976 Montréal Olympics but this is, as is par for the course, untrue;
although Czech-born Ivana was a Montréal resident in the mid-70s the couple’s first encounter actually occurred in Manhattan, at then-hotspot Maxwell’s Plum.
Now to the interesting bit: one of the people present at the table during the Trumps’ initial meeting—-Canadian model Donna Maureen Andrade—would be murdered a few months after the Trumps’ introduction,
her slaying still unsolved. Courtesy of the November 24th, 1993 Montréal Gazette:

[Caveat: since the crimes discussed herein occurred in Montréal the majority of newspaper articles are en Français and sometimes the translations provided by Google seem a little . . . nonsensical. I’m almost certainly missing some nuances, so please pardonnez-moi.]

The first body was found in the parlor, just inside the front door. On February 2nd, 1977 a relative’s noontime visit to Montréal’s Manoir Haddon Hall, 2150 Sherbrooke Street, set the stage for a homicide investigation;
29-year old Antonio Sorgente, discovered in the front room, hadn’t died alone—detectives found a second decedent, 31-year old fashion designer Robert Theodore Thompson, Teddy to intimates,
sprawled on the bedroom floor wreathed in a halo of blood.
On the bed reposed the final victim, mannequin célèbre Donna Andrade, age 29; all three had been shot once in the head.

The three and a half room apartment where the murders transpired was rented by Donna Andrade but the superintendent reported Teddy Thompson, her romantic partner, was ever-present.
Manoir Haddon Hall is a luxury building in an exclusive neighborhood—the adjective “stately” is a common descriptor—yet the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente slayings aren’t the residence’s only macabre association.
A Satanic horror movie variously known as The Pyx, La Lannule and The Hooker Cult Murders had been filmed at the location, the building’s edifice visible in several exterior shots.

[The Montréal Gazette reports the film was in production during the 1977 triple slaying but according to IMDB The Pyx was released in 1973—apparently the New York Times isn’t the only media organization with a laissez-faire attitude toward fact-checking.]

The summer of 1977 was a lawless time in Montréal, the crime rate skyrocketing as the local police staged a slowdown amid a pension negotiation stalemate.
Predictably, the law enforcement dispute hampered the investigation into the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente slayings;
the evening before the bodies’ discovery a woman in an adjacent apartment thought she heard gunfire at approximately 11:30pm; when she peered down the hallway nothing seemed amiss, however,
and afraid of wasting overburdened law enforcement resources she failed to notify authorities.

Although unnamed, the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente murders are the West End triple slaying referenced


 
Improbably, the triple murder’s posh location and Donna Andrade’s high-profile career weren’t the most noteworthy aspects of the Manoir Haddon Hall slayings;
two of the victims, Donna and Teddy Thompson, had been involved in another homicide a mere two and a half years earlier.

5:20am, July 25th 1974; another luxury apartment, another frantic phone call to police.
In an eerie foreshadowing of future events Montréal investigators arrived at 1250 St. Mathieu Street and found Donna Andrade and Teddy Thompson at a homicide scene.
This time, however, only the third person present in the residence was slain—Diane Juteau, age 25, Teddy Thompson’s wife and mother of his three small children.
Diane had been shot through the left eye with .357 Magnum, the bullet travelling at a slight upward trajectory and lodging in her skull.

Manoir Haddon Hall, present day

Although both Donna Andrade and Teddy Thompson were taken into police custody Donna was released after a cursory investigation; Teddy, despite his avowal the shooting had been accidental, was charged with his wife’s homicide.
At trial Donna testified she’d been in the process of ending their two-year extramarital affair when Teddy began threatening suicide and brandishing a newly-purchased firearm;
she had summoned his wife Diane, she claimed, to try to talk some sense into him.
According to Donna she’d been in another room putting on a record to lighten the mood (♫ Suicide is Painless ♫) when the fatal shot rang out and she had thus failed to witness Diane’s death.

“I told him I loved him but I had to leave him because our relationship wasn’t working out and I was very unhappy. Teddy asked me not to leave him and said if I didn’t stay with him he would blow his brains out.” Trial testimony of Donna Andrade, Montréal Gazette, January 9th, 1975

Teddy Thompson, testifying in his own defense, alleged he’d been demonstrating the sincerity of his suicidal intentions by gesticulating with his .357—as one does—when he tripped and the revolver mysteriously fired.
The plausibility of his story is impossible to gage because the case was never adjudicated by the finder of fact;
Thompson cut a deal mid-trial, typically an indication the proceedings aren’t going in the defendant’s favor (in American courts, at least).

On January 20th, 1975 Teddy Thompson accepted a manslaughter plea and was sentenced to a whopping three years in prison; the precise length of Thompson’s sojourn behind bars is unclear
but he was fancy-free two years later when he went from shooter to shootee, his mid-flight stance at death indicating his suicidal impulses were a thing of the past.

  Marketing executive: “The cover art’s okay but do you think you could sex it up a little?


 
Several newspaper articles describe the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente murders as a probable “settling of accounts,”
and I assumed the accounts being settled involved Thompson’s ludicrous sentence for the death of his wife—perhaps a friend or relative of Diane Juteau had opted to mete out a more commensurate punishment.
Not an advisable course of action, but understandable under the circumstances.

Further investigation into Antonio Sorgente’s past,
however, provided evidence the accounts being settled may have belonged to him:
at the age of 21 Sorgente was one of four men arrested for a series of violent 1968 armed robberies—the disposition of his case was never publicized, indicating he may have cut a deal in exchange for testimony.
Sorgente’s codefendants in the crime spree ultimately received as much as twelve years in prison
which (if paroled) would’ve put them back on the street in the same rough time frame as the Manoir Haddon Hall murder.

Of course, it’s also possible the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente slayings involved narcotics; a small blurb in the Canadian true crime magazine ‘Allo Police describes the crime as an “affaire de drogue,”
although the identity of the victim or victims—Andrade, Thompson or Sorgente—with drug involvement is unspecified.
So many possible motives, yet so little evidence available for elimination purposes.

  Designer: “Say no more.”


 
Four decades later, mysteries in the case persist: was Diane’s homicide the precipitating event for the Manoir Haddon Hall murders or was one of the other scenarios the true impetus for the crime?
And why in God’s name did Donna Andrade resume her affair with Teddy Thompson after his release from prison?
Donna’s professed desire to be free of Teddy led directly to his wife’s death—their continued relationship seems like a postmortem slap in Diane Juteau’s face, essentially heaping insult on top of her (fatal) injury.

On a more germane note: why didn’t 1980s NYC media reveal Donna Andrade’s presence at the Donald-Ivana introduction, an inarguably colorful detail?
I’m aware of the publishing truism when truth and legend contradict it’s advisable to print the legend
but in this case the legend of Ivana’s Olympic feats seem less newsworthy than the first Trump marriage being only one degree away from an unsolved triple homicide.

[Irony alert: if a witness to Hillary and Bill Clinton’s introduction was mysteriously murdered there’d be an entire cottage industry built around blaming the crime on deep-state crisis actors and Hillary Clinton’s voracious vagina dentata.]

I need a word for the frustration I feel when I spend weeks hunting down a photo and then this; photus interruptus? Pixel blocked?

 
The moral of today’s post is multifaceted, but let’s begin with the valuable life-lesson imparted via the tragic fate of Diane Juteau: if your husband’s girlfriend summons you at 5am to tango with his suicidal impulses decline the invitation.
Solemnly state, “Sister, he’s your problem now,” and hang up the phone.
The unfortunate end of the glamorous Donna Andrade is also a teachable moment:
if your paramour does time for killing your predecessor end the relationship—regardless of your personal circumstances you deserve a romantic partner without blood on his or her hands.

The most important (dare I say big-league?) lesson provided by this post, however, comes courtesy of Donald Trump—possibly the only decent and useful commodity he will ever impart to humanity.
Always check your sources.
Who knows? The true story might be far more fascinating than stolen Olympic glory.

But I understand there are some allegations even the bravest fact-checkers won’t touch

Every cripple does his dance — Irish proverb as quoted in On the Track of Murder (Barbara Gelb, 1975)

 

I swear to god I’m not racist.

I live in the city; I despise all races equally.

Airing the fruits of my google alerts in Daily Dread, however, has shed a somewhat unflattering light on my monochromatic crime obsessions—I’m tracking more missing middleclass white women than Fox News and Nancy Grace combined.

I don’t know the words to “Kumbaya” and I’m not interested in learning but I do think equal representation is important;
all murders matter, to repurpose the phrase.  
Cases that receive more attention garner more resources and are thus more likely to be solved—so this seems to be an ideal time to revisit the crimes of Charlie Chop-off, killer of urban nonwhite males,
a demographic underrepresented in media coverage and overrepresented in victimology statistics.

charliechop2

FOR PEDANTS ONLY:  a Note on Sources and Nomenclature

One of the most exasperating aspects of reinvestigating the Charlie Chop-off murders is a dearth of reliable contemporaneous sources. 
Although the slayings were mentioned somewhat fleetingly in the New York Times I’ve opted to use their coverage as the gold standard—the Times’ current political bureau is odious but their 1970s crime reportage is,
in my experience at least, above reproach.

Published in 1975, Barbara Gelb’s book On the Track of Murder is considered by many to be the seminal work in the Charlie Chop-off canon;
I was initially skeptical about relying on a source using pseudonyms—anonymity has historically been exploited to tweak facts into a more salacious narrative. 
That said, with one minor exception Ms. Gelb’s reportage tracks perfectly with the Times, lending credence to the details in her book which failed to make it into the newspaper’s coverage.

The New York Daily News and the Harlem-centric Amsterdam News both published a smattering of articles about the murders but their reportage is too rife with inaccuracies and contradictions to be taken as gospel—the Daily News’s varietal spellings of the participants’ names is particularly atrocious.

The only (somewhat) recent source I consulted is this Court-TV article written by the venerable Katherine Ramsland;
it’s only available via the Wayback Machine, however,
and a glut of unreliable (and often debunked) information has sprung up on the web in recent years.

Finally, I should note the name “Charlie Chop-off” appears only in On the Track of Murder;
Ms. Gelb claims the nickname originated with the youngsters in the targeted communities but the appellation fails to appear in any print archives—I’ve opted to retain it for the sake of convenience, however.

 

THE LOST BOYS

Name:  Douglas Owens

Age/Race:  8 years old, African American

Date:  March 9th 1972 (with some variations noted below)

Location: Douglas’s body was found on the roof of 221 East 121st Street, two blocks from his home

Circumstances:  Douglas was waylaid after dark while running an errand for his mother. 
He was stabbed 38 (some sources say 39) times in the neck, chest and back; he had also been sexually mutilated—his penis split in half but not severed.  
Douglas was fully clad although his pants had been slashed open; his sneakers had been removed and placed neatly near his body. 
According to On the Track of Murder the coroner found “inconclusive” evidence of sodomy, but the precise indicia exhibited are unspecified.

Although I was unable to find much information about any of the Charlie Chop-off victims the media coverage of Douglas Owens’ death was particularly abysmal.  
His murder received not a single contemporaneous article in the press, and although March 9th is the date most often cited for his slaying an early New York Times article gives the date as March 4th;
a more recent Daily News article lists the date as March 16th.

 

Name:  On the Track of Murder uses the pseudonym Jimmy Wallace but we shall call him The Boy Who Lived

Age/Race:  10 years old, African American

Date: April 20th, 1972

Location: the attack occurred on the roof of the victim’s dwelling at 174 West 107th Street

Circumstances:  The Boy Who Lived was on his way to a nearby shop when he encountered a mid-30ish, white but olive-skinned (possibly Italian) stranger;
introducing himself as Michael, the man had a slender build, bad skin and a prominent mole on his left cheek. 
The victim, preternaturally observant for his age, also noted his soon-to-be attacker was right-handed, walked with a limp, had foul breath and stood approximately 5’7” tall. 
After a few pleasantries the man offered the Boy Who Lived fifty cents for assistance with a task on the roof;
the pair proceeded upstairs.

Upon reaching their destination the assailant forced the Boy Who Lived to disrobe;
the victim was then sodomized, castrated, and stabbed in the neck and back (the precise number of wounds has never been publicized).  
After the assault was completed the perpetrator moved the child to a downstairs hallway where he was subsequently discovered by a neighbor; although some sources note the victim’s sneakers were placed nearby it’s unclear if the shoes were located at the roof attack site or hallway dumpsite.

Although the significance of these anomalies remains unknown, the Boy Who Lived is the only victim moved to a secondary location post-assault;
he’s also the only castrated victim whose missing genitals surfaced—his penis was found the following day by a trio of frolicking children in a playground several blocks away.

“On April 21st, 1972 one Eugene Q. G— approached Patrolman Lavendero, 24th Precinct, and said he discovered some youths playing with a black penis on Amsterdam Ave. He turned it over to the Officer, who in turn brought it to the attention of the (major crimes) squad.”  Police report as quoted in On the Track of Murder (Barbara Gelb, 1975)

 

Name:  Wendell Hubbard

Date: October 23rd, 1972

Age/Race:  9 years old, African American

Address:  The attack occurred on the roof of the victim’s residence, 2013 Fifth Avenue near the corner of 125th Street

Circumstances:  At approximately 5:45pm Wendell asked his father for a quarter to buy candy at a local shop;
as Brooks Hubbard later tells the Daily News, “I never seen the boy no more.”  
At around 9:45pm a gaggle of neighborhood children playing on the roof discovered Wendell’s body,
sneakers removed and placed at his side.

The medical examiner will later determine Wendell had been sodomized, castrated and stabbed 17— some sources say 19—times in the neck, chest and abdomen;
his pants had been pulled down but not removed.  
The assailant absconded with the victim’s penis which to date has never been located.

A week after Wendell’s death the Amsterdam News had a small blurb about the crime,
the first Charlie Chop-off attack mentioned in the press. 
Two child homicides and one castration in a fifteen-block radius and the New York Times won’t mention the murders for another ten months.

“I have the death certificate. I have a little Boy Scout flag and a little cap he had from Troop 157. I keep them in a drawer. Sometimes I go into that drawer and look at them.” Wendell’s father Brooks Hubbard on his mementos of his murdered son, New York Daily News, February 4th, 1993

 

Name:  Luis Ortiz

Date:  March 6th, 1973

Age/Race:  10 years old, Hispanic (Puerto Rican)

Location:  Luis’s body was found in a basement stairwell at 200 West 106th Street, one and a half blocks from his home

Circumstances:  At 8:15pm Luis’s mother sent him to a nearby store to buy bread and milk;
he arrived at the shop, successfully completed his purchase—despite being 13 cents short—and then promptly disappeared.  
When he failed to return home in a timely manner his mother notified law enforcement;
the NYPD launched an overnight search but no trace of Luis could be found.

[Short at the Register, Shortly to Die:  Luis’s cash shortage at the market calls to mind 5-year old Eric Shunk of Philadelphia, 15 cents short while buying a notebook in 1983; and 7-year old Holly Ann Hughes of Staten Island, 5 cents short when buying a bar of soap in 1981. Both children departed the store with their purchase but neither returned home alive.]

At approximately 1pm the following day Luis’s body was found in a basement stairwell by a woman taking out her trash;
the location is only one block from the site of the attack on the Boy Who Lived. 
Luis had been sodomized, castrated and viciously stabbed (37, 38, or 40 times, depending on the source).  
The victim’s sneakers were placed at his side but his groceries and genitalia were missing.

A canvass of local inhabitants revealed several neighbors had seen Luis in the company of a stranger shortly before he vanished. 
The description of Luis’s mystery companion— a slender, olive-skinned man with bad skin,
between the ages of 35-50, standing between 5’7” and 5’10” inches tall—closely mirrored the description of the Boy Who Lived’s attacker with one minor difference: 
Luis’s companion had black marks on his chin while the living victim’s assailant sported a prominent mole on his left cheek.

Eventually investigators located a woman in the neighborhood who may have previously interacted with the killer;
On the Track of Murder uses the pseudonym Mrs. Hernandez but we shall call her Mama Bear.  
Two days before Luis’s murder a man approached her 9-year old son Juan
offering a free bicycle in exchange for help with an errand. 
Juan agreed to accompany the man, who introduced himself as Tony, but not until the next day because Mama Bear was strict and he knew he had to ask permission first.

Ortiz crime scene

The next day at the appointed time Juan failed to appear—instead Mama Bear arrived at the meeting place and told the stranger to stay the hell away from her son or she’d call the police.  
Even though at this point the neighborhood attacks had barely made the news Mama Bear implicitly understood the price of a “free” bike would be far higher than 9-year old Juan could imagine.

The day after Mama Bear’s confrontation with the gift-bearing stranger Luis disappeared. 
Although Mama Bear’s description closely matched that of the surviving victim there was one notable discrepancy;
the Boy Who Lived said his attacker was an olive-skinned white man but Mama Bear said the man she encountered was Hispanic and spoke with a slight but noticeable Dominican accent. 
Mama Bear later worked with an NYPD artist to produce the first composite sketch of the slayer.

Luis was the first Charlie Chop-off victim seen with his attacker and his death marked another milestone as well—his slaying was the first murder to get significant media traction. 
On March 10th, four days after his death protestors staged a demonstration at the 24th Precinct on West 100th Street, angry the NYPD had failed to devote more resources to finding the predator in their midst.
The event was given saturation coverage in the newspapers;
the precise number of dead nonwhite children necessary for media attention has now been definitively determined: 
three (Douglas Owens, Wendell Hubbard, Luis Ortiz) and a half (the Boy Who Lived).

“Are you crazy?” Get back here, right by the door where I can see you!”  Worried mother on 108th Street screaming at her children out a fifth‐floor window, New York Times, March 12th, 1973

According to On the Track of Murder the NYPD, galvanized by the community’s wrath, now created a taskforce with the sole objective of finding the Harlem castration killer. 
The unit was soon besieged with leads, including a phone call from a Bronx woman who identified a man she felt closely resembled the composite: chronic mental patient Erno Soto, currently institutionalized. 
Detectives paid a visit to Soto’s wife at her 125th Street apartment; at 6’1” her husband was much taller than the suspect’s estimated height of 5’7,” she informed investigators.  
A subsequent consultation with the Ward Island’s Manhattan Psychiatric Center confirmed Soto had been in custody at the time of The Boy Who Lived’s attack, dismissing him from contention.  
Investigators then moved on but spoiler alert:  the hospital staff had failed to give a full accounting of their 33-year old patient’s proclivities. 
Erno Soto’s involvement in the Charlie Chop-off case had not yet reached its final chapter.

[Errata Interlude AKA Three Wrongs Don’t Make a Right:  in The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers Michael Newton states the phone call implicating Erno Soto was received in 1972, soon after the murder of first victim Douglas Owens; the correct date is March 23rd, 1973, shortly after the Ortiz slaying.   In Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters  author Peter Vronsky incorrectly lists Erno Soto’s name as Miguel Rivera, the pseudonym used in On the Track of Murder.  Also, the Charlie Chop-off illustration proliferating on the web isn’t an approved NYPD composite.  I tracked down the attributed artist, Nathan MacDicken, who was kind enough to take a few minutes to correspond with me.  Mr. MacDicken said he’d been contracted to draw the illustrations for Court TV articles; he was given only a description of the suspect and his victims.]

The Serial Killer Who Wasn’t and the Victims Who Weren’t


 

Name: Steven Cropper
Date: August 17th, 1973
Age/Race: 7 years old, African American
Location: Steven’s body was found approximately two blocks from his home on the roof of 325 (or 323, according to On the Track of Murder) East Houston Street on the Lower East Side

Circumstances: Steven and a friend were idling in front of a community pool imploring passersby for spare change when a slender, limping Hispanic man approached.
Steven exchanged a few words with the man and then he and his new acquaintance departed the scene;
several bystanders saw the duo walking together in the area at approximately 3:30pm.
Steven would never be seen alive again.

At 5:30pm a woman walking her dog discovered Steven’s bloodied body on the roof of her building,
his sneakers placed nearby.
His shirt had been pulled up above his shoulders and a deep 9-inch “X”—administered postmortem, according to Medical Examiner Michael Baden—had been etched into his chest.
A third gash traveled the length of the victim’s arm, severing the artery in his left elbow; the gore-encrusted razor used in the crime was discovered beneath the boy’s corpse.
Steven’s pants—two pairs of tightfitting jeans, an unlikely choice on day the temperature reached 91 degrees—were unbuttoned but not removed; no overt evidence of sexual molestation or mutilation could be detected.

“It effected everyone. It split the whole family up. The tragedy of Stevie’s death is not only did we have to deal with him dying, we had to deal with the rest of us dying.” Victim’s brother Christopher Cropper, New York Daily News, February 2nd, 1993

Cropper crime scene

Initially NYPD detectives were uncertain if Steven’s death was related to the Charlie Chop-off series; aside from his age and race his murder shared few commonalities with the Harlem child slayings.
Unlike the previous victims Steven had been assaulted during daylight hours, slashed three times with a razor
instead of stabbed repeatedly with a knife;
more significantly, he hadn’t been raped or castrated and his attack occurred a hundred blocks distant from the previous crimes, which had all been perpetrated within a fifteen block radius.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seldom seen anything like it [Steven’s murder].” NYPD Lieutenant Louis Karcher, New York Times, August 18th, 1973

Steven’s sneakers were found next to his body, but—as chronicled in On the Track of Murder—some investigators downplayed the significance of the footwear placement.
If an assailant intended to sexually assault a child, one detective reasoned, he’d tell his prospective victim to disrobe—which in almost all cases necessitates a prior removal of shoes.
Perhaps Steven’s attacker had aspired to rape but pivoted to homicide when the boy attempted to flee,
or perhaps he’d been slain by a copycat killer.
The similar description of the suspect in the Harlem and Cropper slayings, however, convinced other investigators both the uptown and downtown crimes had been committed by a single assailant.

“The probability that the same man did all four crimes is fantastic.” Enigmatic proclamation of unnamed NYPD detective, New York Daily News, June 27th, 1974

INVESTIGATION FRUSTRATION

“Every lead is investigated no matter how whacky (sic) it seems.” Lieutenant John Yuknes, New York Times, August 23rd, 1973

During the 16 months of Charlie Chop-off’s reign the NYPD utilized every then-existing investigative technique including:

• Obtaining the mailing list of a chicken-hawk magazine and interviewing local subscribers
• Casing the area methadone clinics perchance the killer was a loose-lipped opiate addict
• Sorting through 9,000 police records of known child molesters
• Knocking on thousands of apartment doors searching for witnesses and clues
• Distributing more than 1,500 fliers featuring the suspect’s composite to police departments throughout the country
• Bringing 150 persons of interest down to the station for questioning
• Contacting Interpol in a fruitless search for similar murders abroad
• Canvassing the local bike shops since Mama Bear’s son was enticed with a free bicycle

NYPD detectives also created a revised image of the suspect using an Identikit, a then-cutting age technology which promised to revolutionize the field of forensic composites.
The Boy Who Lived spent an entire afternoon choosing facial features from a catalog to recreate the face of his attacker—the result was a new, more accurate depiction of the suspect.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, but needles have been found in haystacks before.” Sergeant Edmund Klan, NYPD optimist, New York Times, April 17th, 1973

Although the field of profiling had not yet been established investigators asked an NYPD psychologist to devise a blueprint of the castration killer’s psyche.
Dr. Harvey Schlossberg theorized the perpetrator was a self-hating homosexual who endeavored to emasculate his victims as an antidote to his same-sex yearnings; by turning the little boys into little girls, the doctor opined,
the slayer believed he could negate his own homosexuality and absolve his acts of sodomy.
Dr. Schlossberg also detected erotic undertones in the assailant’s penetration-heavy modus operandi.

“Symbolically, it’s an orgasm—it’s really quite sexual.” Dr. Harvey Schlossberg on the assailant’s frenzied stabbing technique, New York Times, April 17th, 1973

A week after Steven’s murder the New York Times announced the first named suspect in the case; Daniel Olivo, age 30, arrested for the rape of a 5-year old boy in a Bronx park on August 20th, three days after the Cropper murder.
After luring the child to a secluded area on the pretext of playing ball
Olivo pounced on the victim and committed an act of sodomy.
The child managed to escape after the attack and alerted his father, a hot dog vendor stationed nearby.

According to the Times, Olivo—standing 5’7” and weighing 140 pounds—was “Hispanic in appearance” with a pockmarked complexion and noticeable limp.
Investigators were unable to develop any information linking Olivo to the Charlie Chop-off crimes, however, and he was eventually dropped as a suspect.

UNQUIET RIOT

August 22nd, 1973; “Let’s kill him,” screamed the mob. Luis Alberto Gonzalez’s ordeal showcased the ugly side of community activism—all he wanted was a job and he ended up cowering from a lynch mob in a downtown precinct house.

I hope you like riot photos because we have riot photos

While applying for a technician’s position in a Lower East Side health clinic an employee noticed Gonzalez bore a striking resemblance to the Charlie Chop-off composite, prominently featured in area storefronts.
The suspicious employee alerted law enforcement who transported Gonzalez to the station and summoned the witnesses in the Steven Cropper case; Gonzalez was then interrogated and showcased in an identity parade.

After a thorough grilling failed to elicit any incriminating information and witnesses confirmed Gonzalez was not the man who led Steven Cropper to his doom detectives were confident he had no involvement in any of the slayings.
Gonzalez was now dismissed from suspicion but dismissing him from the police station would not be so simple; erroneous reports of the killer’s arrest had spread throughout the neighborhood like wildfire.
As Gonzalez was questioned 500 irate citizens, many brandishing nooses and makeshift weapons, encircled the police station demanding he be handed over for a swift administration of NYC street justice.

“We might have been out catching the real murderer instead of protecting this guy.” NYPD Sergeant Richard Bowes on the resources wasted quelling the riot, New York Times, August 26th, 1973

The horde was unmoved when an NYPD spokesperson grabbed a bullhorn:
“This is not the man! Go home!” officers announced in English and Spanish—but law enforcement’s entreaties were met only with jeers and projectiles from the crowd.
Howling for vengeance, the rabble-rousers refused to budge for hours, pelting the precinct house with bricks and garbage.
Worried the increasingly lawless assemblage would breach the station’s defenses detectives smuggled Gonzalez out of the building clad in a police officer’s uniform.
The outcome of his employment interview at the health center has never been publicized but I’m fairly certain Luis Alberto Gonzalez didn’t take the job.

Nine months passed, community furor lessened and detectives continued to chase worthless leads; eventually the taskforce was quietly disbanded, the NYPD unwilling to further fund an investigation stalled on the fast track to nowhere.
Then, finally, on May 25th, 1974 a major break in the case:
Erno Soto, the too-tall suspect fingered shortly after Luis Ortiz’s murder was arrested while trying to abduct a dark-skinned 9-year old boy on East 8th Street in the Village.

“He was walking along holding the kid up over his head, holding him up to the sky, and the kid was screaming.” Retired NYPD homicide detective Ed Gomez, New York Daily News, February 4th, 1993

ERNO SOTO RIDES AGAIN

Back in the NYPD crosshairs, detectives launched a reinvestigation of Soto—and this time investigators unearthed information which indicated his dismissal as a suspect may have been premature.
Soto, who had an eleven year rap-sheet for burglary and narcotics but no known history of pedophilia, had ties to both the Harlem area—his wife lived on 125th Street—and the Lower East Side where Steven Cropper was slain:
Soto’s father Felix lived on Ridge Street, directly around the corner from the crime scene.

A check with the Ward Island’s Manhattan Psychiatric Center revealed Soto had been free on a weekend pass when
Steven was slain, and during the interview asylum employees revealed a pertinent fact they’d previously omitted:
Soto had a history of creeping out of the psychiatric center undetected.
Although he was listed as confined during the Boy Who Lived’s attack that didn’t necessarily mean he was present—-it was possible he’d been absent without leave.

“He was crazy. There was no doubt about that. He was nuttier than a fruit cake.” Retired homicide detective Ed Gomez on Soto’s mental state, New York Daily News, February 4th, 1993

Periodically committed since 1965, Soto wasn’t covertly mentally ill; he was psychotic, a raving maniac, babbling incessantly about religion and careening with a shambolic gait as he crooned along to the voices in his head.
Disheveled with subpar hygiene—“slovenly” was the tactful descriptor favored by the New York Times—Soto was described in hospital records as being “so out of it he can’t give useful information.”
Nonetheless when interrogated Erno Soto confessed to Steven Cropper’s murder, though he declined to take credit for the Harlem slayings.
Soto was unable to provide any details about Steven’s murder but in the 1970s a confession was sufficient for the NYPD to close the case.

According to On the Track of Murder, the homicide taskforce was divided in their opinions about Soto’s guilt, the team breaking into a three-way split.
One third of the detectives believed Soto had committed all of the attacks,
one third believed he’d killed Steven Cropper but not the uptown boys, and the final third believed him to be a false confessor, innocent of all crimes.
One of the most interesting things I stumbled upon in my research was a July 11th, 1974 article in the New York Times absolving Soto of the Harlem murders;
two-thirds of the NYPD may have decided Soto wasn’t Charlie Chop-off but the crimes would stick to him forevermore.

I know what you’re thinking; you want to see a photo of Erno Soto to determine whether he resembles the composite sketches in the case.
Brace yourself for bad news; below I’ve posted the only image of Erno Soto available in the newspaper archives:

Not very helpful, is it? I have no idea why the New York Times would print the mugshot of a minor suspect like Bronx rapist Daniel Olivo and fail to provide a photo of a man actually arrested for child murder but here we are.
Amplifying their unhelpfulness, none of the contemporaneous newspapers conclusively state whether Soto resembled either the Identikit or composite sketch—but here’s what we do know about his attributes vis-à-vis the witnesses’ descriptions:

Pros:
• The phone tipster who initially fingered Soto believed he looked like the sketch composite
• 33-years old when arrested, Soto fell into the witnesses estimated age range of 30-45
• As all witnesses reported and both composites reflected, Soto had bad skin
• I’m going out on a limb here, but if Soto had poor hygiene he probably also possessed the swamp breath noted by the Boy Who Lived

Cons:
• At 6’1” Soto was significantly taller than the 5’7”-5’10” reported by witnesses
• Soto was left-handed while the Boy Who Lived believed his attacker to be right-handed
• Soto had a Puerto Rican accent, not the Dominican accent detected by Mama Bear or the absence of an accent reported by the living victim
• Soto had neither black marks on his chin nor a prominent mole on his left cheek
• Soto did not limp, although he did favor the Thorazine shuffle

Hewing to the case’s three-way split theme the results of Erno Soto’s identity parades were mixed.
Witnesses to Steven Cropper’s final amble through the Lower East Side identified Soto as the victim’s companion,
but the Boy Who Lived was adamant Soto was not his attacker—according to On the Track of Murder he deemed Soto far too tall.
Tragically, Mama Bear was unable to give her opinion on the matter;
she’d moved without leaving a forwarding address, a common witness hazard in the pre-computer era.

[Overlapping Murder: on June 10th, 1974, two weeks after Erno Soto’s arrest for the attempted 8th Street abduction, his younger brother joined him in police custody. Eugenio Soto, age 31, was engaged in an airing of grievances with family paterfamilias Felix when things took an ugly turn. Eugenio blamed Felix’s poor parenting for brother Erno’s legal and mental travails, according to police reports; decisively seizing the last word, he stabbed his 60-year old father to death with a kitchen knife. Eugenio was later convicted of first degree manslaughter and sentenced to a ten-year term in the penitentiary; he was released on February 10th, 1982.]

Personally, I’m of the opinion Soto most likely did kill Steven Cropper—I find the eyewitnesses and geographic proximity compelling—but I’m not convinced he committed the Harlem crimes.
On the Track of Murder‘s author theorized Soto was driven to homicide by his wife’s promiscuity—-during a period of marital separation she birthed a mixed-race son—and in retaliation he eliminated black boys
in a campaign of psychological revenge.
I find this explanation too pat—especially since the uptown victims were sodomized, an act unnecessary for racial cleansing and incompatible with Soto’s lack of history as a sex offender.
Viewed with modern sensibilities the racial motivation theory fails to impress.

“When the police find [the killer] they’ll just say he’s a sick man and send him to a hospital for two years.” Max King, prescient Delancey Street shopkeeper interviewed during the Lower East Side riot, New York Times, August 26th 1973

Did someone say riot? Here’s some police station riot footage, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Theories are plentiful but for practical purposes debating Soto’s guilt in the Steven Cropper case, at least, is moot;
although he was found competent to stand trial Soto was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity on December 1st, 1976—not a surprising outcome for a man with a documented 20-year history of psychosis.
After trial Soto was remanded back to Ward’s Island, this time to the maximum-security Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center,
an institution impervious to his Houdini act—as far as we know, anyway.

“The history and nature of his psychosis renders him to be a dangerous person; he is in need of constant surveillance. When he is out in society on his own he is literally a walking time bomb.” Trial testimony of Soto’s psychiatrist Dr. John Baer Train, New York Times, December 1st, 1976

As the years passed Erno Soto faded into obscurity, remembered only in the nightmares of his victims’ kin and schoolmates—as they grew into adulthood they would always hold their children a little closer than most.
As all horror connoisseurs know, however, the boogeyman is never truly vanquished:
in 1993, seventeen years after his acquittal in Steven Cropper’s murder Soto emerged like Nosferatu from a coffin and swooped back into the public’s consciousness.

According to his lawyers the now-55 year old Soto was terminally ill, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on daily dialysis, a souvenir of his youthful drug abuse.
Seeking to be released on compassionate grounds, Soto’s application for emancipation set off a bombshell in the media and occasioned a three-day series in the Daily News rehashing his storied history as the number-one suspect in the Charlie Chop-off crimes.

“My parents were never notified. We didn’t know anything until we read the [Daily News series] on Friday. I know my mother was shocked. And my father—I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I thought he was going to die right in my arms because he was crying and he was very upset.” Steven Cropper’s brother Christopher on the possibility of Soto’s release, New York Daily News, February 2nd, 1993

Dubbing Soto “the Monster of Ward’s Island” and painting him as unquestionably guilty in both the Cropper and Harlem attacks, Daily News journalists interviewed the families of Steven Cropper and Wendell Hubbard
and revealed Soto’s extensive history of misbehavior while confined.
Soto, reporters learned, had faded from the news cycle but his stay at the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center had not been uneventful: Soto had been disciplined for cold-cocking a staff member, possessing marijuana,
attempting to slit his psychiatrist’s throat and threatening to “jab the eyes” out of a fellow patient.

In court, citing Soto’s still-active psychosis Manhattan Supreme Justice Bruce Wright declined to release him from maximum-security confinement,
but as a mental patient—as opposed to a convict, sentenced to a finite term—-Soto is eligible to apply for emancipation every two years.
Soto is not a registered sex offender and he’s never been convicted of homicide;
he was committed not as punishment for Steven Cropper’s murder but as a societal panacea—as soon as Soto is adjudicated sane, as unlikely as that seems, the Monster of Ward’s Island will be back on the prowl.

Erno Soto’s name never again appears in the newspaper archives but he’s still with us;
if he had a terminal illness in 1993 it’s a slow-acting one.
Now 79 years old, his address is listed in online databases as 1 Wards Island, New York, NY—not the Kirby maximum security ward but a combination psychiatric hospital/homeless shelter.
It’s unclear how much freedom Soto has gained over the years—and due to stringent medical privacy laws the public has no right to know if he’s eligible for day passes, just another maniac on New York City streets.

L’Hôpital Erno-Soto, an abandoned mental asylum in France—tell me again how there are no coincidences

The assumption of Soto’s guilt in the uptown Chop-off attacks—as propagated in the Daily News’s 1993 series—has carried over online, unfortunately;
I’d like to do what I can to combat that misapprehension—considering the Harlem crimes closed is an affront to the victims and their families.
It’s too late to help Douglas Owens, Wendell Hubbard and Luis Ortiz but the Boy Who Lived may still be alive and to discount his fervent disavowal of Soto as his attacker is reckless and disrespectful.
The Boy Who Lived was maligned in the Daily News series, incidentally—portrayed as beset by “mental problems” and too unstable to recognize his assailant.
More recently, the baseless allegation the living victim “refused” —as opposed to “failed”—to identify Soto as his attacker has metastasized online like free downloads and porn.

I’m aware of the vagaries of eyewitness identification, of course;
but the Boy Who Lived’s disavowal isn’t the only evidence which tends to exonerate Soto in the uptown crimes—and there’s absolutely no meaningful evidence implicating him, even by 1970s standards.
To paint the Boy Who Lived as incapable of recognizing his attacker is heartless; “Believe the Victim” is our current mantra and it’s not solely applicable to heterosexual sex crimes.

Let’s give the Boy Who Lived the benefit of the doubt—-even the Marquis de Sade would agree he’s suffered enough.

I can’t find much about this missing family online but I’ve been searching for years; maybe someone else will have better luck. The article is available in google archives but the print is smeared so I’ve provided a clearer copy.

Since the article’s publication David Dennison’s mother and father have passed away—he’s listed in both obituaries as a surviving son residing in Zaragoza. Oddly, Sylvia Dennison’s obit lists his wife as “Marylin” which is slightly different than the Pittsburg Post Gazette’s “Marialin,” but the discrepancy may simply be a typo.

I rarely don my tinfoil hat but I’m pretty sure the answer to this mystery can be summed up in three little letters: C(entral) I(ntelligence) A(gency). I’d love to know more, however—Mary Dolores, if you’re out there, ayúdame por favor!

Andrew and Pamela Harrison first laid eyes on the site of their demise on their honeymoon; they were charmed.

Pamela Harrison

The couple, raised in the middleclass suburbs of Philadelphia, spotted their dream home while sightseeing in the Blue Ridge Mountains—a six-room log cabin on eighty acres of woodland in the rustic town of Surgoinsville, Tennessee.
It would be, they later told their loved ones, the perfect place to raise a family.

Andy Harrison’s face is illegible in every available photograph

The cabin, lacking a phone and electricity, needed extensive repair work but the couple was undeterred;
in April, 1979 Andy and Pam purchased the property and moved south.
Andy, age twenty-eight, a former high school sports hero, got a job delivering Pepsi products to local convenience stores; Pam, age twenty-seven, a former cheerleader and model,
manned the front desk at a nearby Holliday Inn.
It appeared their life together was just beginning, but Pam and Andy Harrison had less than two years to live.

Although the Rogersville Review never specifies I believe these photos are from Pam’s modeling portfolio

Their last day, June 24th, 1981, dawned as a typical workday; the couple had only one car, a 1968 Camaro, and at approximately 6:30am Pam drove Andy to his job at the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in Johnson City.
She then returned home for a few hours before her scheduled shift at the Kingsport Holiday Inn;
that afternoon Pam, known as a conscientious employee, failed to report to work.

“She’s the nicest person I ever met—so bubbly and friendly. Everybody here loved her.” Unnamed coworker of Pamela Harrison, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3rd, 1981

At 4 pm that evening a fellow Pepsi employee drove Andy to the Holiday Inn to retrieve the couple’s vehicle
as was his routine, but the Camaro wasn’t in the parking lot.
A quick check with her coworkers revealed Pam had never arrived at the hotel;
Andy, stranded, helped his coworker with some deliveries for a few hours in exchange for a ride back to Surgoinsville.
He subsequently arrived home at approximately 8pm where he discovered Pam’s keys, purse and the family car—everything in its proper place except Pam herself.

That evening Harry and Janie Rimer—a salt-of-the-earth couple who lived across from the Harrison cabin on Longs Bend Road—heard Andy walking in the area calling for his wife.
He later stopped by the Rimers’ home in the company of a bespectacled stranger;
according to the Rogersville Review, when the Rimers said they hadn’t seen Pam that day Andy replied, “Oh, well, I guess she’s among the missing.”

Andy and his companion soon drove away in a two-tone blue automobile; approximately a half hour later,
at 10pm, the Rimers witnessed the same car, a 1980 Plymouth Horizon, return to the Harrison home.
A few minutes later a shot rang out;
the sound of gunfire was apparently commonplace in the area, however, and the Rimers were unperturbed.
The vehicle then departed and for the next forty-eight hours the Harrisons’ cabin was silent.

When the Harrisons failed to report to work for the next two days the couple’s coworkers became anxious.
The Holiday Inn staff asked Bobby Baird, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent staying at the hotel,
to visit the Harrison home for a wellness check.
Just before midnight on June 26th Agent Baird arrived on Longs Bend Road;
although the Harrisons’ door was padlocked and nothing appeared amiss he immediately noted the odor of human decomposition.
Forcing his way inside, Agent Baird discovered the body of Andy Harrison in the front hallway,
his remains covered with an assortment of women’s clothing.

Andy had been shot once in the back of the head with a .25; his billfold was absent but everything else in the cabin appeared undisturbed.
Although the residence was thoroughly searched Pam, almost three days she’d last been seen,
remained among the missing.

The next morning a search of the Harrisons’ property revealed several items of Pam’s clothing scattered on a creek bed forty yards from the cabin;
as Hawkins County Deputy Charlie Godsey searched nearby he noticed a cistern for an unused septic tank—peering into the chasm he discovered the decomposing remains of Pamela Harrison.
Wrapped in a maggot-infested blanket and clad only in a bra and hiked-up shirt,
Pam had endured a sexual assault and a massive skull fracture;
she’d also been shot once in the back of the head with the same weapon that killed her husband.

“Andy and Pam went down there looking for their dream, and then this.” Andrew Harrison’s stepfather Alfred Gilbert, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3rd, 1981

Andy had been slain shortly after 10pm on the 24th, the coroner estimated, and Pam a few hours earlier,
sometime in the early afternoon.
Luckily for law enforcement neighbors Janie and Harry Rimer had exceptional recall of the events on Longs Bend Road on the Harrisons’ final day.
When interviewed the Rimers provided a detailed description of Andy’s companion and his vehicle
including a partial license plate number.
Mrs. Rimer further revealed she’d seen the same car at the cabin midday, after Pam returned from driving Andy to work.
The TBI had to search through more than ten thousand vehicle registration records but agents were eventually able to identify the automobile and its driver.

Kingsport resident David Jordan, age twenty-five, was employed in the collections department of the First National Bank of Sullivan County.

Jordan, married with two children, told investigators he’d met the Harrisons approximately one year earlier when Andy delivered Pepsi products to a Jiffy Market Jordan was then managing.
At first Jordan denied he’d been at the cabin the day the Harrisons were slain but when confronted with the Rimers’ recollections his story mutated.
Eventually he verified the Rimers’ account—he’d been at the cabin midday, he admitted,
and had later returned to help Andy look for Pam—but Jordan was adamant he hadn’t harmed either of the Harrisons.

Although her family and friends scoffed at this allegation, Jordan claimed he’d been having an affair with Pam. He had visited the cabin around noon on the 24th to drop off some personal use marijuana he regularly sold Andy, Jordan said,
and then had sex with Pam. The crime lab found pubic hair and semen consistent with Jordan’s in the blanket wrapped around Pam’s remains,
but even a consensual affair couldn’t explain the serological evidence in the Plymouth:
when doused with Luminol the interior of the car—specifically the steering wheel, accelerator, radio, air conditioner, floor, glove box, and light switch—lit up like a kid on Christmas.

During their yearlong acquaintanceship personal use marijuana wasn’t the only item the Harrisons purchased from Jordan;
he also admitted he’d sold the couple a .25 caliber gun, the same type of weapon used in the slayings—the .25, like Andy’s billfold, has never been located.
Jordan was arrested on July 6th, ten days after the murders, and held without bail at the Hawkins County Jail.
While in custody Jordan reportedly confessed his guilt to fellow prisoner Dennis Evans Taylor; rape of Pam had been the primary motive, he allegedly stated, and then Andy had to be eliminated to prevent retaliation.
Andy was “a fool,” Jordan purportedly said, but even he would eventually figure out who murdered his wife.

“[Jordan said] Pam was one of the most beautiful women he had ever met; he said he burned inside every time he got close to her.” Inmate Dennis Evans Taylor, Rogersville Review, October 21st, 1982

The murders of Pam and Andy Harrison—while certainly tragic—seemed to be destined for a tidy conclusion;
Jordan, charged with two counts of capital murder, faced death in Old Smokey,
the Tennessee State Prison electric chair.
The sense closure lurked right around the corner was illusory.
This was Appalachia; the Harrisons were strangers and Jordan was from a prominent local family who provided him with the best legal counsel money could buy. Three trials ensued.

The first jury declared themselves hopelessly deadlocked after only 24 hours of deliberation; the second jury, which reportedly split eleven-to-one for guilt, suffered a similar fate.
(According to a Newsweek article penned by Andy’s mother the second trial’s hold-out juror claimed an auditory issue had prevented him from hearing testimony—an affliction he neglected to mention before the alternates were dismissed.)
Finally on September 1st, 1983 the third jury returned with a verdict after a single hour of deliberation:
Jordan was found not guilty on all counts.

[Three degrees of Sid Vicious: after the Harrison murders Andy’s mother Louise Gilbert attended a Philadelphia-area Parents of Murdered Children support group with the mother of infamous punk muse Nancy Spungen.]

And thus the legal saga of the Harrison murders ends and the crime slipped into the realm of legend;
whispers of strange happenings at the couple’s murder scene fueled rumors the risen spirits of Pam and Andy could not rest in peace.
Subsequent residents of the cabin reported phantom footsteps, doors slamming,
and spontaneous woodstove fires—one tenant even claimed she saw Pam’s face reflected in her bathwater.
More gruesomely, the blood stains in the foyer where Andy was slain reportedly returned several times despite being masked over with plywood, tar paper and oak flooring.

The most spectacular otherworldly event at the Harrison home, ten months after the David Jordan’s acquittal,
actually garnered front page coverage in the Rogersville Review.
Star prosecution witnesses Harry and Janie Rimer remained on Longs Bend Road after the murders despite several incidents of intimidation—their house was vandalized,
and midway through the first trial Mrs. Rimer had almost been killed by an unidentified sniper while hanging out her wash. The couple didn’t scare easily, however,
and despite the harassment the Rimers persevered and testified at all three trials.

On July 14th, 1984 several Rimer family intimates—Janie Rimer, her two daughters, a granddaughter and a friend—happened to stroll past the Harrison residence at approximately 10pm.
The cabin, still lacking electricity, was unoccupied at the time but Mrs. Rimer and her companions noticed a small light flickering inside.
As the onlookers stood transfixed the light swelled to brilliance, an unearthly glow illuminating the entire structure—and it was then Mrs. Rimer noticed a spectral figure standing on the porch.

There, three years after his murder stood Andy Harrison,
still clad in the Pepsi uniform he wore when he breathed his last.
Suddenly one of Mrs. Rimer’s daughters screamed—and as if a switch had been thrown the cabin was again plunged into darkness.

Mrs. Rimer later said she felt no fear when she saw the shadowy figure on the Harrisons’ porch; she wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, she told a Rogersville Review reporter, but she had the feeling Andy was trying to send her a message.

Click through for an October 27th, 2000 Rogersville Review article about the hauntings

Speaking for the dead, obviously, is a tricky proposition but I believe I know what Andy was trying to convey;
and he chose Mrs. Rimer as a conduit, I’m sure,
because considering her fearless trial testimony he knew she’s be the perfect person to tell the tale.
Andy Harrison, in my opinion, was sending a message to the person who killed him—and regardless of the jury’s verdict Andy knows exactly who that person is.
I think Andy wants his killer to know he’ll be waiting patiently on the other side
to avenge the rape and murder of his beautiful wife Pam—and this time a cowardly gunshot from behind isn’t going to stop him.