Oral Evidence

Love, love will tear us apart again — Joy Division

 
Judith Mae Andersen‘s appendages were eventually found but her killer has evaded detection for more than five decades
Addiction shatters lives, and in Janine Johler‘s case the damage was both figurative and literal
Oddly, the want-ad Kym Morgan answered said nothing about murder
The torso found in the Willamette River has never been identified, but one theory holds water
An interesting mash-up re: Karina Holmer and Elizabeth Short, bisected victims with Massachusetts ties
And ending on a triple: I couldn’t find a single long-read about Diana Vicari so I’ve selected three articles and created a triptych (mysterysuspectexoneration)

Obligatory trigger warning for the faint and/or millennial of heart:

There’s a torso in the foreground but Barney Fife’s inappropriate grin is still the creepiest thing in this photograph.

This might sound odd, but I miss Satan.

Maybe it’s the recent developments in the Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly murders.
Maybe it’s the increased nostalgia that always accompanies times of turmoil. I’m not sure.
But my renewed interest in slayings with satanic overtones is undeniable—even though the Prince of Darkness is almost always unmasked as a cloven-hooved red herring
the flapping of his leathery wings always adds an extra dash of malevolence to the proceedings.

The glut of wrongful convictions during the satanic panic of the 1980s
forever wiped the Antichrist off the list of usual suspects, I suppose;
in the 21st century blaming Satanists
is as passé as an attempt to use multiple personality disorder as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The (anticlimactic) Pensacola Blue Moon murders aside,
the last crime I can recall which featured a cameo by Lucifer’s minions was the 2001 slaying of Portland resident Kimyala Henson and the abduction of her children Shaina Kirkpatrick and Shausha Henson.
Although the murder of twenty-one year old Kimyala was solved the fate of her daughters continues to bedevil law enforcement to this day.

In most cases a murder-suicide generates an investigation that is perfunctory at best;
the perpetrator is not only obvious,
but out of reach of all courts with earthly jurisdiction.
The bloody scene an off-duty Collier County sheriff’s deputy encountered at a picnic area outside of Naples, Florida on April 20th, 2001 was an exception the rule.

“There are a lot of perplexing things to this case—it’s puzzling, that’s for sure.” Collier County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Larry Day, master of the understatement. Naples Daily News, May 28th, 2001

While driving home after an overnight shift Deputy Douglas Fowler noticed two figures sprawled awkwardly on a blanket at a rest stop off Route 41 East near Collier Seminole State Park.
Closer inspection revealed a female corpse, shot once in the right side of the head,
and a badly wounded male with a cranial bullet wound—the positions of the bodies and a .22 caliber rifle resting on the male’s thigh indicated he had first slain the female victim and then turned the gun on himself.
Although the male still had a pulse he would die shortly after being airlifted to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Meyers.

A 1999 maroon Kia Sephia parked nearby had stolen Oregon plates
but the VIN number was linked to a warrant out of Missouri—Frank K.L. Oehring, age twenty-eight, had borrowed the Kia from his parents and then jumped bail on a conspiracy to commit murder charge;
he was believed to be in the company of his girlfriend Christine (AKA Christina) Mayer, age twenty-four.
The couple had departed Missouri exactly one month earlier on March 20th,
the day before Oehring’s preliminary hearing on charges of conspiring to murder his pregnant wife Benita.
Benita Oehring, who had since obtained a divorce,
had been attacked while sleeping and manually strangled;
hospitalized for more than a week, both Mrs. Oehring and the child she carried survived unscathed.

“He could do it (participate in a murder-suicide), but I don’t know if it was a pact. I think it was a surprise to her.” Oehring’s ex-wife Benita, Naples Daily News, April 25th, 2001

The designation “close friend” is a trifle misleading, IMHO.

Although the scenario seemed straightforward—a flight from justice culminating in a murder-suicide—several items found in the Kia hinted at the possibility of other crimes.
A wallet, credit cards and address book belonging to an Oregon resident named Kimyala Henson
was present in the vehicle,
along with a Nevada identification card in Kimyala’s name but featuring Mayer’s photo;
infants’ clothing was scattered on the car’s floorboards.
An investigation of the rest stop trash cans revealed a California birth certificate issued to Kimyala Henson,
the document torn in half.

More than three thousand miles away in Portland Kimyala Henson’s ex-boyfriend Steve Kirkpatrick was worried.
Sixteen days prior Kimyala had embarked on a two-week sightseeing trip to British Columbia with their daughters
Shausha Latine Henson, aged two months,
and Shaina Ashly Kirkpatrick, just shy of two years old.
No one had heard a word from the travelers since;
Kimyala’s mother had passed away from diabetes soon after their departure, but no one had been able to reach her with the news.

Christine Mayer, photo courtesy of Findagrave.com

The trip had been a last-minute affair.
Approximately one week before leaving town Kimyala had received a call from an old friend, Christine Mayer,
who had lived in Portland in the early ’90s.
They had once been next door neighbors but lost touch after Mayer moved to Missouri in 1993.
On or about March 30th Mayer tracked Kimyala down through a relative,
claiming she and her husband Curtis were in Portland scouting apartments in anticipation of a move westward.
In truth, Mayer’s husband Curtis was Frank Oehring,
on the run from conspiracy charges—and Oehring’s legal issues weren’t even the biggest skeleton in his closet.

According to his friends and co-workers at a Missouri nursing home Frank Oehring was a Satanist.
Although the Gaia congregation in Kansas City where he worshipped disavowed allegiance to the Dark Lord
Oehring’s ex-wife Benita told investigators he was the head of a coven,
with Mayer acting as his second in command.
When Steve Kirkpatrick learned his ex-girlfriend and two little girls
had hit the road with a Satan-worshipping fugitive from justice and his high priestess
he was horrified.

“There’s something kind of weird about going to a foreign country for two weeks with a friend you haven’t seen in years and a guy you’ve known for a week. It’s weird, isn’t it?” Steve Kirkpatrick, voice of reason. Vancouver Columbian, April 25th, 2001

Using Kimyala Henson’s credit card charges as a guide,
detectives were able to trace the initial stages of the family’s journey:
after departing Portland on April 4th the group traveled south to California.
Americans aren’t required to show a birth certificate to enter Canada,
but Kimyala had apparently been told otherwise—at noon on April 5th she picked up a copy of the document in Alameda.
That evening the three adults and two children checked into the Shasta Lodge in Redding.
Any trace of Kimyala and her daughters then ceased;
Kimyala’s credit cards, however—the receipts now signed by Christine Mayer—continued a haphazard journey across the country.

“There really is nothing that leads us to believe that she [Kimyala] was traveling with them after that. No food receipts, no baby formula or diapers. Nothing.” Collier County Sheriff’s spokesperson Tina Osceola, Naples Daily News, April 27th, 2001

The Shasta Lodge in Redding, California—the last known location of Shaina Kirkpatrick and Shausha Henson.

On April 9th Mayer obtained a Nevada state identification card using Kimyala’s birth certificate.
Kimyala’s credit cards then began traveling east,
racking up nearly fifty charges, mainly for gas and food—all of the meals ordered appeared to be for two people only.
On April 14th Mayer called her family,
informing her uncle she was tired of running and down to her last forty dollars;
although she said she’d call back in an hour they never heard from her again.

On April 29th a half-buried female corpse was discovered in the desert outside Nixon, Nevada;
Kimyala Henson had been shot six times with the same rifle used in the Oehring-Mayer murder-suicide nine days earlier.
Kimyala hadn’t been killed at the scene;
she was slain while in a sitting position at an unknown location and then dumped in the desert—the coroner estimated she’d died within 48 hours of leaving the Shasta Lodge in California.
A bloody hatchet in Oehring’s car will later be forensically linked to Kimyala;
she bore no hacking wounds, however, so investigators believe the blood was a most likely a secondary transfer.
There was no trace of Shaina or Shausha’s blood on the hatchet or anywhere in the car;
there was no trace of Shaina and Shausha at all.

“We’re not convinced the children are dead. We are going on the assumption the kids are alive.” Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputy Michelle Youngs, ABC News, May 11th, 2001

As search planes filled the skies an army of investigators on all-terrain vehicles fanned out in a hundred-mile swath around their mother’s dumpsite
but Shaina and Shausha—and their car seats—were nowhere to be found.
(Sources differ on the fate of the girls’ diaper bags; some publications say the bags were missing, others report they were present in the Kia.)
The breadth of possibilities was daunting; Shaina and Shausha could have been murdered, bartered or abandoned anywhere between Redding, California and Naples, Florida;
three thousand miles is a forbidding expanse but investigators did their best,
using the trail of credit card receipts as a guide.
The last full-scale search concentrated on the thirty-mile stretch of Interstate 80 Mayer and Oehring drove en route to their final rest stop.
Every search, in every state, found nothing.

Sixteen years have passed, and the whereabouts of the girls—teenagers now, hopefully—remains a mystery.
While the odds of Shaina and Shausha’s survival are not robust
there is one factor in the case which has always offered, in my opinion, a ray of hope:
the circumstances of the attack on Benita Oehring on November 26th, 2000.
Oehring wasn’t charged with harming his wife or with hiring someone else to do so—he was charged only with conspiracy.
Several of Oehring’s cronies were willing to testify he had offered them money to murder Benita,
but all claimed to have turned down the job;
although a composite has never been publicized, it appears Benita Oehring did not recognize the man who attacked her.

“To my Dearest Love, Wife/Soulmate: you are my beautiful star I see from afar. I keep my focus on you so I don’t become blue. I only want to be with you.” Jailhouse letter from Frank Oehring to Christine Mayer, penned prior to bailing out on the conspiracy charges. Naples Daily News, May 28th, 2001. (Murder? Check. Child abduction? Check. Crimes against poetry? Check.)

Shaina in 2001, shortly before her abduction

As any adoption agent will tell you, babies are a valuable commodity;
isn’t it at least theoretically possible Oehring repaid Benita’s mystery attacker with the gift of children?
Shaina and Shausha weren’t sold—Oehring and Mayer were out of funds when they died.
And the possibility their abductors randomly happened upon someone willing to keep the girls despite a nationwide manhunt seems remote;
I’ve always felt Shaina and Shausha’s best chance at survival hinged on a prearranged plan for their relocation.
In 1985 serial killer John Robinson gave his unwitting brother an infant he’d stolen from a victim—such circumstances are rare, certainly, but not outside the realm of possibility.

Dueling age-progression photos of Shaina; Shausha’s don’t seem to be available—perhaps she disappeared too young to utilize predictive technology.

Upon reflection, maybe I’m partial to occult murders because invoking the timeless battle between good and evil lends a mythic aura to crimes that are otherwise senseless.
Kimyala Henson, and possibly her children, died because Mayer and Oehring wanted her birth certificate—the very document they’d rip up and toss in a garbage can less than two weeks later.

Mayer and Oehring could’ve asked to borrow her identity, could’ve stolen her birth certificate while she was sleeping, could’ve dropped the girls at a church or shopping mall to be rescued after their mother was dead.
But they didn’t.
Kimyala died for her birth certificate,
but in the end her birth certificate meant nothing to her attackers; so does that mean she died for nothing?

Mayer and Oehring couldn’t have killed a woman who considered them a friend and abducted and possibly murdered her children for absolutely no reason whatsoever;
that would be monstrous.
They must’ve been in the service of Satan—that’s a much easier explanation to accept.

I don’t usually have the patience for non-documentary television,
but at the urging of a friend I attempted to binge watch Mad Men  over the Memorial Day holiday.
Unfortunately I’m in the wrong headspace to enjoy a show about the past—I couldn’t make it through more than a handful of episodes.
Perhaps I’ll give it another try when the political turmoil quiets down.

Luckily my dalliance with Mad Men  wasn’t a complete waste of time—the show’s swinging ’60s setting called to mind a crime which gets far too little attention:
the unsolved murders of Revlon vice-president George Washington Beck and his wife Ina Jo.
Known around the office as the “blonde Adonis,” George was a charismatic New York businessman in the Don Draper mold—and like the Mad Men  anti-hero George Beck had more than his share of secrets.

Cozy Cove Marina, date unknown

Cozy Cove Marina, Dania, Florida; February 4th, 1971. The swarthy stranger stared at the boat with a glower that caught marine mechanic Bobby Laborde’s eye.
The Bachaven—the name a contraction of “bachelor’s haven”—was a 57-foot twin-hulled craft worth $60K, approximately $385K in today’s currency.
After a few minutes the glaring stranger moved on, and Bobby Laborde gave the incident nary a second thought.
Until the next day, that is, when the bodies were found.

“We’ve never had any trouble here.” Cozy Cove owner Zell Skinner, Montgomery Advertiser, February 6th, 1971

Bachaven owner George Beck, age 51, and his wife Ina Jo, age 31, were newlyweds;
married a mere six weeks, the couple had spent every weekend of their brief union on the yacht,
usually flying down from New York in a private plane.
The morning after the stranger sighting marina carpenter Andy Bell boarded the Bachaven at 10am to install some previously ordered cabinetry;
unable to rouse anyone on deck Bell went below and found the stateroom unlocked. He swung open the door and beheld two nude figures on the bed.

“We get some weird people down here and my first thought was that they were sleeping it off after some wild party. Then I noticed the gash on the woman’s throat and ran to get help.” Cozy Cove carpenter Andy Bell, Los Angeles Times, February 7th, 1971

It was six weeks, but who’s counting?

The stateroom was awash in blood. George’s torso was on the bed but his legs dangled to the floor;
Ina Jo—Jo Jo to her friends—was curled face-up in a fetal position beside her husband.
George had received four crushing blows to the head and a total of seven stab wounds—five to the chest, one to the stomach and one to the back.
Ina Jo’s throat had been cut and she received four blows to the head and six stab wounds to the chest;
the killer had wielded the knife so forcefully it passed through her body pinning blood and bits of her flesh deep within the mattress.
Although the couple’s wounds were grisly they had not been fatal;
George and Ina Jo were still alive when the assailant finished the job by smothering them with separate pillows.

“This was done by an animal, an incredibly powerful and angry animal, possibly an insane animal.” Bob Danner, Chief of Detectives at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Myers News-Press, January 6th, 1980

Nothing of value had been stolen; Ina Jo’s two carat diamond wedding ring and three carat engagement ring were on a nightstand, and her $5K mink coat ($30K today) hung in a closet.
George’s wallet, with $65 and credit cards intact, was present at the scene and he still wore his gold wedding band.
The only item missing from the stateroom was a small curtain snatched off a porthole—detectives will later speculate it was used to clean the murder weapons, which have never been found.
Ina Jo had not been raped—despite the couple’s nudity there were no overt indications of sexual assault whatsoever.

“I don’t see there’s any possibility of a burglary gone wrong. They [the killer or killers] were aboard the boat too long and they took the time to wipe up bloodstains and possibly to clean blood off themselves as well.” Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter, Fort Lauderdale News, February 7th, 1971

Broward County medical examiner Dr. Jack Mickley performed the Becks’ autopsies.
Noting the killer had employed a blitzkrieg-style attack, he told a writer from the Tallahassee Democrat  the couple had been “pole-axed like an ox in a slaughterhouse.”
Dr. Mickley deduced the blunt object used in the crime had been a sharp-edged metal instrument similar to a tire iron,
lug wrench or hatchet.
The doctor estimated George and Ina Jo’s times of death as four or five hours before the discovery of their bodies, placing the attack sometime between 4 and 6am.
The couple had last been seen at approximately 9pm the previous evening when Ina Jo’s aunt and uncle disembarked from the Bachaven after a short visit.

“I have no doubt they [the Becks] were attacked while they slept. It was a butcher shop murder—they were hit on the head and stabbed—and when they didn’t die quick enough they were suffocated with pillows over their faces.” Dr. Jack Mickley, Broward County Medical Examiner, Fort Lauderdale News, February 7th, 1971

With rape and theft eliminated as motives detectives began to investigate the couple’s backgrounds.
A native New Yorker and decorated Navy flyer,
George Beck had been with the Revlon Corporation for fifteen years.
Originally hired as the company pilot,
his charm vaulted him effortlessly up the corporate ladder—many sources describe him as “like a son” to company founder Charles Revson.
Making the princely sum of $50K per year ($325K today),
George’s life looked enviable from a distance but the façade masked a morass of marital and monetary issues—the Fort Myers News-Press  will later call his finances “tangled as the strings of a drunken puppeteer.”
Adding to his financial woes, George Beck was the marrying kind—Ina Jo was his fifth wife.

“George was a swinger among swingers. He was married five times. Indeed, he was married to his second and third wives contemporaneously. One lived in Long Island, the other in town, and neither knew about the other for nearly eight years. (There may even have been another wife at this time also—no one knows for sure.) Beck divorced his third wife and then his second, in that order, to marry his fourth, who thought she was only his second.” Andrew Tobias, Fire and Ice: The Story of Charles Revson— the Man Who Built the Revlon Empire, 1976

George had several children—three or five, depending on the source.
Not unsurprisingly, his alimony payments were staggering; 20K per year ($128K today), nearly half his income.
George lived in a deluxe co-op at 303 East 57th Street and drove a late-model blue Jaguar but he owned neither;
in fact, he owned virtually nothing.
His private plane belonged to Revlon and his equity in the Bachaven,
which he purchased in conjunction with a New York business associate, was less than $500.


“[Ina Jo] was one of the sweetest girls I have ever known. She was the type of person who would do anything for you. I just can’t believe anyone would do anything like this to Ina Jo and her husband.” Johnson family spokesperson, Cullman Times Democrat,
February 7th, 1971

Ina Jo Johnson came from the most humble origins imaginable.
A sharecropper’s daughter,
she toiled in the Alabama cotton fields and plucked chickens in a poultry factory before parlaying her statuesque good-looks into a modeling career.
She had so impressed Revlon executives during an ad campaign she’d been hired as the brand’s national representative,
headquartered at their production facility in Alabama.
Ina Jo and George met at a company event in Birmingham,
where they were later wed;
one local newspaper described their Christmas Eve nuptials as the “most exciting wedding” in the city’s recent social annals.

“Nine years ago Christmas Eve a Cinderella from Alabama’s cotton fields married the Prince Charming of America’s lipstick industry. The storybook romance was destined to last exactly forty days and four hours.” From a nine-year retrospective on the murders, Fort Meyers News-Press, January 6th, 1980

Although not as matrimonially ambitious as George, Ina Jo did have one previous husband—a man named Cleo Umphrey, who currently resided in Alabama.
Erroneously informed her divorce had been granted only weeks before her marriage to George Beck,
detectives raced north to question Umphrey;
subsequent investigation, however, dampened their enthusiasm.
Ina Jo’s stint as Mrs. Umphrey had been brief, detectives learned,
and her divorce had actually been finalized five years prior—rumors of a recent divorce were in error.
When Umphrey provided an alibi placing him in another state at the time of the crime he was eliminated as a person of interest, and detectives cast their attention elsewhere.

With Cleo Umphrey’s elimination as a suspect the investigation faltered. Though law enforcement received several leads all eventually fizzled:

• A month after the murders the Dania Police Department received a letter postmarked Pasadena, California: “I know who made the hit on Georgie Beck; for a price I’ll let you in on the secret.” The note was signed “Ralph Leffler,” but detectives could find no one in Pasadena by that name and the writer never again contacted authorities.
• A few months after the murders investigators received a tip Ina Jo had once been seen arguing with a bellboy at a local hotel; by the time detectives learned of the incident the bellboy had quit, however, and authorities were never able to locate him.
• Despite extensive publicity the swarthy stranger spotted the night before the murders by marine mechanic Bobby Laborde has never been identified; his connection to the crime, if any, remains unknown.

“What made this case so difficult was we never got a single break, not one.” Dania Police Sergeant Ted Grandis, Fort Lauderdale News, December 8th, 1975

Fear not—despite the lack of progress the investigation into the Beck murders had not run permanently aground.
Six months after the slayings a clairvoyant named George Hardy contacted Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter
with a vision to share.
According to Hardy, the killer—a man with a square face and huge, hunched shoulders—felt sexually rebuffed by Mrs. Beck during an earlier, random encounter.
Per Hardy’s vision, detectives should search for an older woman on a nearby boat who witnessed the crime;
the murder weapons, he claimed, would be found buried in the slayer’s back yard.
The Becks’ permanent residence may have been in New York but the investigation into their murders had just gone full Florida.

“I told the Chief the killer lived off Griffin Road. I said the guy would drive a bright yellow car. He also had a blue van. I knew he would be limping on his left leg and live in a house that was all dark. The Chief looked surprised and said, ‘I know who you are talking about.’” George Hardy, Broward Sun-Sentinel, February 10th, 1986

And the kooky image wins.

Although Chief Baxter will later dispute this version of events,
Hardy claimed the Chief then revealed the name of the local resident fitting the (alleged) killer’s description: a man named Charles B. Stackhouse, who resided three miles from Cozy Cove.
After a few days passed without an arrest Hardy decided the Dania Police Department was dragging its heels;
to get things rolling he contacted the Fort Lauderdale News  and divulged the details of his meeting with Chief Baxter and the (alleged) killer’s identity.
The newspaper, in turn, dispatched a reporter to Stackhouse’s home to inform him he’d been implicated in a gruesome double murder.
The visit went about as well as one would expect.

“Oh my dear god, if my mother hears about this it will kill her.” Charles B. Stackhouse, Fort Lauderdale News, September 22nd, 1971

Stackhouse, age 55, was a building inspector in the nearby town of Hollywood;
he had no known connection to the Becks and no criminal record.
Upon learning of Hardy’s allegations Stackhouse immediately scheduled an interview with the Dania Police:
the Becks’ killer had left behind physical evidence—a hair retrieved from one of Ina Jo’s stab wounds and three bloody fingerprints on stateroom furniture.
Neither the hair nor the prints matched Stackhouse and he was soon cleared of suspicion.
The damage, however, had been done.

As it turns out, being accused of murder wasn’t the only millstone around Stackhouse’s neck at the time.
The building department where he worked was under investigation,
and apparently the stress became too much to bear—shortly after being cleared by Chief Baxter he ran an exhaust hose into his car window and expired in a cloud of carbon monoxide.
Although the full text has never been released, his suicide note reportedly mentioned the building inspectors’ investigation and “pressure from city hall.”
After Stackhouse’s demise Captain Carl Carruthers of the Broward County Sheriff`s Office told the Fort Lauderdale News  he personally “dug up every inch of that guy’s lawn.”
He found nothing.

[Unsolved Mysteries  fans may be reminded of the Sherry Eyerly case, wherein an innocent man is driven to suicide after a psychic publically accuses him of murder; years later the actual slayer—serial killer William Scott Smith-—finally confessed to the crime.]

Short answer: no.

Four years after the Beck murders Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter was replaced by Chief Fred Willis.
Harshly critical of the original investigation, Chief Willis immediately reopened the Beck case.
His low opinion of the initial investigation was shared by employees of the Broward County Sherriff’s Office, who had assisted with evidence collection at the crime scene.
“When we got there it looked like a herd of elephants had come through,” Detective Bob Danner told a reporter from the Fort Meyers News-Press. “They [Dania PD] tromped all over the place.”
Despite Chief Willis’ best intentions no new leads were forthcoming and the Beck murders remained cold.
The current status of the investigation and forensic evidence in the case is unknown.

“We still check things periodically but nothing has been fruitful. We really have nowhere to go.” Captain Elihu Phares of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Lauderdale News, December 7th, 1975

Oddly, the piece of evidence in the Beck case I find most fascinating received almost no press coverage;
the item is mentioned in only two newspaper articles,
once in the Anniston Star  in 1971 and once in the Fort Lauderdale News  in 1982—a stethoscope was left behind by the killer.
In my opinion, an assailant who comes equipped with his own stethoscope is one who wants to be certain his victims are dead—no one brings a stethoscope to a crime of rage, even in Florida.

“In fact, the more I look at this the more I’m convinced that it looks like a contract job.” Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter before veering wildly off course, Fort Lauderdale News, February 9th 1971

I’m aware jurisdictional issues may have come into play, but the Dania Police Department’s failure to thoroughly investigate George Beck’s business and social circles in NYC is baffling.
Random crimes by maniacs certainly have a higher statistical probability in Florida,
but even in the Sunshine State homicide victims are overwhelmingly killed by someone they know.
And I can’t help but suspect George Beck’s financial and matrimonial misadventures garnered some enemies,
his famous charm notwithstanding.
The world may have changed since the testosterone-heavy era of Mad Men, but some things will always remain the same. Only marry one spouse at a time.
Stay the hell out of Florida.
And regardless of whether you’re in a sharecropper’s shack or a fancy yacht, always lock your doors.

. . . OR IS IT?

For Beautiful People Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Isn’t Enuf: Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” —- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

 
Conspiracy-tracking artist Mark Lombardi committed suicide . . . or did he?
Journalist Michael Hasting‘s car wasn’t transformed into murder weapon . . . or was it?
Aspiring alt-right filmmaker David Crowley was a stereotypical family anihilator . . . or was he?
The unsolved murder of Dr. Mary Sherman had nothing to do with JFK’s assassination . . . or did it?
Crime writer Eugene Izzy‘s bizarre death was a suicide . . . or was it?
Hollywood publicist and rumored CIA operative Mark Sands choked on a free supermarket sample . . . or did he?
And a double: glitterati couple Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake weren’t snuffed out by a Scientology hit squad . . . or were they?

Addendum: in an attempt to get in a conspiratorial groove I spent an evening watching UFO documentaries on youtube; imagine my surprise when disgraced veterinarian/perennial murder suspect Cathy Crighton appeared as an animal mutilation expert. Coincidence . . . yep, this one’s a coincidence—but a weird one nonetheless. (Her debunking tour de force begins at 18:48.)

Hate is a strong word but it pales in comparison to my visceral loathing of Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer.

Mistah Kurtz—he dead / A penny for the Old Guy

I hate his bloodshot eyes, his ill-fitting suits, and his fumbling attempts to have nonconsensual sex with one of the greatest loves of my life, the English language.
I can only think his daily habit of swallowing thirty-five pieces of chewing gum before noon is somehow to blame for his tortured syntax—perhaps the gum fled his digestive tract and lodged permanently in his brain.

My rage-fueled focus on politics is giving me flashbacks to the 1970s—and because crime is never far from my thoughts this retro vibe has called to mind the long-unsolved murders of Mary Ellen Lenihan and June Penny Eberlin,
two nineteen-year old Queens residents who disappeared en route to a peace march in Washington, D.C.
“A Catholic girl and a sweet Jewish girl found something in common—faith in people,” Mary Ellen’s grieving mother will later tell a Philadelphia Inquirer  reporter.
Sadly, then as now, faith in humanity is dangerously misplaced.

Saturday, October 24th, 1970. As the Viet Nam war raged on peacenik Queensborough College nursing students Mary Ellen Lenihan and June Eberlin departed for a protest rally in Washington D.C.
Although they assured their respective families they’d be traveling by bus friends believe they planned to hitchhike.
There’s no evidence the girls completed their journey to the Capitol;
no witnesses could place them at the march and the friend they’d arranged to stay with in Washington
said they never arrived.
Mary Ellen and June were scheduled to return home in three days, on October 27th;
they did not.

Wednesday, November 4th, ten days after the girls’ departure. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employee Otis Shives was clearing brush on the side of a McConnellsburg highway when he made a ghastly discovery —two female bodies.
One corpse was fully clothed and located forty feet off the road,
the other—wearing only knee socks and a rope neck garrote—had tumbled down a nearby forty-foot embankment.
In the weeds surrounding the clothed body investigators found June Eberlin’s Queensborough College ID card;
two hundred miles from any direct route from NY to D.C.,
the missing student nurses had at last been found.
Otis Shives’ timely decision to trim the roadside shrubbery was a lucky break—the only one the investigation would ever receive.

“At first I thought somebody had thrown a plastic dummy over the hill. I saw a leg sticking out through the grass with a stocking on it. Then I just stood there a bit, just looking. I couldn’t believe it.” Otis Shives, Louisiana Town Talk, November 5th, 1970. (While not exactly “at first I thought it was a mannequin,” Mr. Shives’ proclamation will suffice.)

The discovery of the girls’ bodies wasn’t the only aberrant event in the normally low-crime area;
the previous evening an attempted robbery had occurred in the nearby town of Warfordsburg,
approximately a half hour’s drive from the recovery site.
Gas station attendant Bernard L. Spade had just finished changing the tire on a cream-colored Mercury Comet when the driver—a bushy-haired man in a buckskin jacket—attacked him in lieu of payment.
Attendant Spade managed to overpower the assailant by brandishing a tire-iron,
and the would-be robber motored off with his traveling companions,
two longhaired girls in hippie garb.

Although the gas station attendant was unable to identify either of the attacker’s accomplices as June or Mary Ellen the Pennsylvania State Police surmised a connection;
two violent crimes in such a sleepy area in a twelve-hour period must be linked, they believed.
Two days after Mr. Shives’ gruesome discovery a bushy-haired hitchhiker in buckskin coat was arrested in Connecticut—gas station attendant Bernard Spade failed to identify the man as his attacker,
however, and investigators were unable to place the arrestee in the state of Pennsylvania.
The hitchhiker was eventually released, and the investigation sputtered onward.

The girls’ autopsies were conducted by Franklin County pathologist W.E.B. Hall.
Theft had not been the primary motive for the crime, he revealed—June had money hidden in her shoe and Mary Ellen had money secreted in her knee socks, approximately $50 total.
The innumerable injuries inflicted instead hinted at a darker motivation, according to Dr. Hall;
in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News  he described the slayings as “a murder orgy that involved narcotics.”
“I’ve done many autopsies but I’ve never seen in excess of this,” he said.
“I’d hate to have whoever did it free on the roads in any community.”

The Eberlin Family at June’s funeral

June’s postmortem examination revealed she’d been shot twice:
one bullet had entered the back of her left hand near her little finger and exited her palm.
The second bullet traveled a circuitous route,
entering her face one inch below the left corner of her mouth,
exiting her chin then reentering her neck, ultimately nicking her aorta and lodging in her lower left lung.
Although June had been found fully dressed in a fringed leather jacket,
beaded denim overalls, a green tee-shirt and white tennis shoes she’d been raped shortly before death;
a wad of LSD-infused chewing gum—a very 1970s detail—-was found embedded in her clothing.

Mary Ellen’s autopsy yielded several unexpected findings: although she’d been found nude she had not been raped,
despite her rope garrote she had not been strangled,
and even though she’d suffered three gaping cranial lacerations her skull had not been fractured.
Her back exhibited extensive postmortem scraping,
possibly indicative of being dragged, and she’d been shot once behind the right ear,
the bullet exiting at the bridge of her nose.
Both victims had been shot with the same gun, a .32 caliber revolver, and both exhibited a surfeit of additional cuts and gashes.

I’m a sucker for any vintage news story with a maniac, fiend, phantom, or a bushy-haired man

The autopsy results led Dr. Hall to conclude the girls had been held captive for some time—both had empty stomachs,
and extensive bruising on both victims had been inflicted as many as four days before death.
Bizarrely, within thirty minutes before
or just prior to their demise the girls had been subjected to cold temperatures, possibly immersed in water.
The bodies—transported to the scene in a prone position—had been at the discovery site no more than 6 hours after being dumped.
Dr. Hall believed at least two assailants had been involved in the crime, and would later describe his reasoning thusly:

“The multiple injuries inflicted on the girls both before and after death were evidence of an unrestrained exhibition of hatred—the acts of persons gone berserk. The methods used to inflict the injuries and the angle of the blows are indicative of a straight ritualist murder. The investigation indicates the use of possibly five different instruments in the torture of the girls—a knife, scissors, a gun, a rope, and a flat object, probably a two-by-four. The injuries were inflicted at different angles from all sides of the girls indicating they were either sitting or lying down while their murderers were moving around them in a circle.” Medical Examiner W.E.B. Hall, Bridgeport Post, January 9th, 1971.

Despite the grisly nature of the girls’ wounds the real bombshell in the autopsy report
concerned the victims’ times of death:
Dr. Hall concluded Mary Ellen and June had been slain as many as six days before being dumped,
definitively ruling out a connection with the gas station attack.
The bushy-haired buckskin-clad would-be robber—though never apprehended—was off the hook.

With the loss of their sole suspect the Pennsylvania State Police were at an impasse.
Investigators had no witnesses—not a single soul had been located who recalled seeing the girls in the ten days between their departure from NY and the discovery of their bodies.
Detectives also had no crime scene, since June and Mary Ellen had been killed elsewhere and dumped.
With the only lead in the investigation revealed as a (buckskinned) red herring detectives had only one remaining option to solve the case:
linking the girls’ murders to a similar slaying with more plentiful clues.
Connecting crimes in the pre-DNA era was an inexact science at best, but it was the only avenue of investigation yet unexplored.
 

College communities were rife with hitchhiker slayings in the 1970s—the Pennsylvania State Police had plenty of comparable crimes to choose from,
and the following year investigators announced a tentative link between the Lenihan/Eberlin case and the murder of Paget Weatherly,
age twenty-three,
slain while hitchhiking in Connecticut.
There were some similarities in the crimes—all three victims had been shot with a .32 revolver—but Paget’s murder lacked the overkill of the Lenihan/Eberlin slayings,
and a media report claiming all three girls had been slain with the same gun would later prove to be erroneous.

Like every other lead in the Lenihan/Eberlin case the connection with Paget’s murder was illusory;
a relationship between the slayings was definitively ruled out in 1975 when mental patient Richard Delage confessed to Paget’s murder and sundry other crimes but denied any knowledge of the Pennsylvania slayings.
Out of investigatory options,
the case then went cold;
the law enforcement announcement ruling out a link with Paget Weatherly was the final mention of June and Mary Ellen’s murders in the media.
Forty years on, the crime remains unsolved.

Personally, I’ve always wondered if June and Mary Ellen were slain by a trucker with a refrigerated semi—-aside from morgue attendants I can’t think of anyone else
with an ability to store two prone corpses in a cold environment for six days.
In fact, investigators’ failure to make such an obvious inference makes me wonder if the theory was definitively ruled out by hold-back evidence.
Perhaps the idea of a homicidal maniac piloting a tractor-trailer on the open road while jacked on LSD was simply too terrifying to contemplate;
with the Manson murders barely a year old and Viet Nam body counts dominating the evening news
the populace already had plenty to worry about.

With the dearth of clues and the passage of four decades a resolution in the Lenihan/Eberlin murders is unlikely but not impossible.
The status of any biological crime scene evidence is unclear, but—confession aside—a CODIS cold hit is probably investigators’ best hope of cracking the case.
It’s also possible, although far less likely,
the killer(s) could one day be identified via the discovery of the girls’ possessions.
June’s pavé Star of David necklace has never been found,
and all of Mary Ellen’s belongings—an official boy scout knapsack, green plaid shirt, white sneakers, purple beret, denim bellbottoms, and light brown riding jacket—are still missing as well.

Perhaps someone cleaning out their weird uncle’s belongings before shuttling him off to hospice will discover a trove of blood-stained clothing and contact law enforcement.
It’s a longshot, certainly, but the odds have been stacked against the investigation from the moment highway worker Otis Shives thought he spotted a plastic dummy discarded by the side of the road.
Even before then, really;
solving interstate stranger murders in the pre-DNA era was like a blindfolded game
of pin-the-crime-on-the-serial-killer;
the investigation was fated to fail as soon as June and Mary Ellen stood at the roadside and stuck out their thumbs.

June and Mary Ellen’s Queensborough College memorial service

I should be clear, of course: hitchhiking is a terrible decision but it’s not a capital crime.
No one deserves to die for having faith in their fellow man.
So next time I’m out raising political Cain I’ll think of June and Mary Ellen, my fellow New Yorkers, and wish they’d chosen to take the bus or opted to demonstrate in the city instead.
Being murdered en route to a peace march is decidedly ironic,
and this folly of idealism brings us to the moral of today’s blog post:
although peace is a laudable goal it’s imperative to prepare for war—good intentions, no matter how deeply-held, provide no magical talisman against violence.

Of course, in order to effectively prepare for war it’s essential to retain a nodding acquaintanceship with sanity;
so from now on whenever I hear Trump (mis)spokesperson Sean Spicer butchering verb syntax
I’ll tell myself he’s chewing a big ole’ wad of crime scene LSD gum—that’s the only rational explanation I can conjure for his unfamiliarity with English, his mother tongue.

A time-traveling Rebel Wilson at the Eberlin/Lenihan memorial service

Growing up, Rhoda Penmark was my spirit animal.

Rhoda Penmark, The Bad Seed  with the best accessories

In an attempt to achieve the proper mindset to write about Mary Bell I re-watched The Bad Seed,
Mervyn LeRoy’s 1956 camp classic about a fictional juvenile serial killer;
today the dialogue is dated and the acting is hammy as hell but as a child it was one of my favorite films.

As an adult my girl-crush on Rhoda makes perfect sense; she was everything my younger self longed to be.
I was fearful; she was fierce.
I felt awkward and unattractive—Rhoda was nattily attired and perfectly poised in every situation.
Her ability to dispatch her enemies was handy, certainly,
but looking back what I really I coveted was her confidence.

Pondering Rhoda’s hubris brought to mind the Mary Bell of the Pacific Northwest,
little-known juvenile murderess Michele Gates.
At an age at which I couldn’t successfully lie to my mother about completing my homework Michele was lying to homicide detectives and getting away with murder—for a while, anyway.

Michele, age thirteen, with a court counselor shortly after her arrest

[A not-so brief note on sources, spelling, and segues:

“Some sources say.” Get used to that phrase—“some sources say”—-because you’re going to see it in every paragraph. Since the juvenile proceedings in the Matter of Gates  have been expunged there is no official case record, and the available media reports differ in myriad details. I’ve reconciled the facts as best I can, but when the stories are too disparate all iterations will be noted.

Minor details aren’t the only discrepancies in the Michele Gates media coverage; the spelling of the participants’ names varies widely. Is her legal name Michele Gates? Or Michelle? Are her neighbors the O’Neils, or the O’Neills? There’s one doomed little boy— Naytah Ottino, Natyah Ottino, Nahtyah Ottinio, Nahtyah Ottino—gifted with more varietal spellings than years of life on earth. Despite the expungement two Gates-related pretrial reports are still extant, and I’ve opted for the iterations used therein; as for the ill-fated Nahtyah Ottino, I utilized the (presumably correct) spelling etched on his grave.

Finally, as is appropriate for a story about bad seeds this tale has innumerable tendrils: there will be segues and asides, and the occasional peripheral factoid—all non-essential minutia will be added in bold and brackets throughout. The progress of Michele Gate’s criminal career reminds of me of the germination of a poisonous jungle vine—inching along, curving and curling and so beguilingly pretty you’re completely unaware as it loops itself into a hangman’s noose.]

Where does the story begin?

Some might say it begins with the fatal excursion to Washington Park Zoo,
where three-year old Nahtyah Ottino—Michele Gates’ cousin and babysitting charge—met his maker in the wildfowl pond on November 8th, 1978.
Almost exactly one year before this unfortunate occurrence, however, there was another unnatural death in eleven-year old Michele’s purview: at 2am on August 21st, 1977
a Portland resident named Norman Reese shot a twenty-eight year old woman named Diane Gilchrist Gates in the face with a shotgun.
An unnamed lothario who had been in flagrante delicto with the victim managed to flee out a bedroom window unscathed.

Norman Reese was Michele Gates beloved step-grandfather;
he and his wife Deletta, her maternal grandmother, had raised her since birth.
The woman he shot, Diane Gilchrist Gates, was his stepdaughter—Michele’s mother.
At trial Norman would claim he killed Diane because he feared she’d been drawn into a life of prostitution—a fate worse than death, apparently.
He evaded a murder charge but was convicted of menacing and first degree manslaughter and sentenced to five years behind bars.

Michele Gates’ childhood home, present day

[Although some recent accounts claim Michele witnessed her mother’s murder this does not appear to be the case: the crime happened at Diane’s home at 216 S.E. 32nd Avenue, not at the Reese residence at 1535 S.E. 35th Avenue; and it happened in the wee hours of the morning, a time an eleven-year old child is unlikely to be stirring. More importantly, no contemporaneous media accounts mention the presence of a child at the scene, and witnessing this traumatic event is never proffered as mitigating evidence in any of Michele’s subsequent legal proceedings.]

The fateful trip to the Washington Park Zoo capped an eventful period in Michele’s life—her grandfather’s imprisonment and the loss of her mother and cousin transpired in just over a year.
Concerned about the impact of these traumatic events on her granddaughter’s psyche
Deletta Reese sought counseling for Michele:
“The psychiatrist said he had never heard of anybody with as many tragedies as our family,” Mrs. Reese will later tell a reporter from the Oregonian.
The psychological help didn’t seem to take; on December 13th, 1979,
a year after Nahtyah’s death Michele was expelled from Catlin Gabel, a tony private school where she shone on the synchronized swim team.
She had been accused of theft after stealing another student’s purse.

[Catlin Gabel alumnus of note: hipster auteur and Pacific Northwest gateway drug Gus Van Sant.]

Purse theft wasn’t the only crime in Michele’s milieu that December;
just before Christmas a burglary occurred at 1543 S.E. 35th Avenue, located a few houses down from the Reese residence.
The home was occupied by Gail O’Neil and her daughters Bethany, age six, and Ruth Anne, age four;
Michele was a frequent babysitter.
In fact, the youngest O’Neil—familiarly known as Ruthie—was the child Michele was allegedly chasing after while Nahtyah drowned.
Gail O’Neil will later tell an Oregonian  reporter her initial impression of Michele was “the sweetest, best-mannered, (most) well-dressed, best-behaved girl I have ever known.”

Ruth Anne O’Neil

Oddly, the only items stolen during the break-in were Christmas presents intended for Ruthie—Michele had helped Gail select some of the gifts.
The theft marred what was scheduled to be the O’Neils last holiday in Portland;
their home had been sold and the family was set to move out of state in two weeks—a short span of time, but not short enough.

[Overlapping crime: the O’Neil family will suffer its share of tribulations—in 2006 Ruthie’s first cousin Joseph Raymond O’Neil will murder his mother (Ruthie’s aunt) Timmie O’Neil and stepfather Craig Stumpf. Joseph O’Neil is currently serving life without parole in the Oregon State Penitentiary.]

There are three different versions of the precipitating events of January 4th, 1980:

1) According to the Associated Press Ruthie had gone alone to Herfy’s, an ice-cream parlor located three doors down from the O’Neil home.
2) According to the Portland Mercury  Michele stopped by the O’Neil residence and took Ruthie out for a treat.
3) According to the Oregonian  Michele surreptitiously lured Ruthie out of the home while her mother Gail was distracted on the telephone.

Ruthie (at left)

The precipitating events may be in dispute but the ensuing chaos is not:
when her daughter failed to return home Gail went to Herfy’s and discovered Ruthie’s boots in the dumpster—she immediately notified the police.
As the child’s babysitter Michele was superficially questioned by detectives;
then the sweetest, best-mannered girl Gail O’Neil had ever known joined in the hunt for the missing child.

Later that evening a volunteer searching the backyard of a residence at 1534 S.E. 34th Avenue found Ruthie’s body discarded on a rubbish heap.
Although she was fully clothed her underpants and socks were missing—in some accounts her stolen Christmas gifts were scattered nearby.
According to Portland historian JD Chandler Ruthie’s scanties were later discovered in a nearby shed, possibly in an attempt to frame the homeowner for murder.
The coroner will later determine Ruthie—who exhibited no overt indicia of sexual assault—had drowned shortly after leaving home.

Crime scene technician at 1534 S.E. 34th Avenue

Curiously, the rear of the property at 1534 S.E. 34th Avenue abutted the backyard of 1535 S.E.35th Avenue,
the home Michele shared with her grandmother Deletta.
When detectives compared notes about Michele’s statements during the search some discrepancies were noted,
and two days after Ruthie’s murder investigators called then-thirteen year old Michele to the station for clarification.

When asked to theorize about the motive for Ruthie’s murder Michele suggested the child been slain in a sex crime,
or perhaps Gail O’Neil had accidentally killed her daughter with a drug overdose.
When pressed about the inconsistencies in her earlier statements Michele’s story began to morph—she eventually admitted she had been with Ruthie on the day of her death.

Michele initially claimed she’d happened upon Ruthie’s corpse in the midst of a spirited game of hide-and-seek,
but kept mum as she feared she’d be blamed.
Sensing detectives’ skepticism her story again changed.
Michele’s home had an aboveground pool which despite being drained retained ten inches of water;
she told detectives she and Ruthie had been splashing around when the child slipped,
hit her head and drowned.

According to the Portland Mercury  Michele’s interrogators then appealed to her ego by claiming Ruthie’s killer had been “brilliant”—and finally Michele revealed the true course of events that culminated in murder.
She had lured Ruthie to the backyard pool with a new swimsuit and the offer of a swimming lesson,
Michele told detectives—she then purposely held the child’s face underwater until she drowned.
Michele subsequently re-dressed Ruthie—socks and underpants excepted—and tossed (some sources say carefully laid) the child’s body over the backyard fence into her neighbor’s yard.

Michele’s recitation of her criminal brilliance didn’t dead-end at Ruthie’s demise;
she also admitted Nahtyah Ottino’s fall into the wildfowl pond at the Washington Park Zoo hadn’t been a tragic accident—she’d intentionally pushed her cousin into the water and watched (some sources say held him down) while he drowned.

Michele’s interrogation—lasting ninety-minutes and conducted without a Miranda  waiver or guardian present—was over;
but the criminal case against her would stagger on for the better part of a decade.
The Matter of Gates—-the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce  of the Oregon courts—was reportedly the single longest juvenile proceeding in state history.

After her arrest Michele was moved to the Donald E. Long Detention Center;
upon her arrival she reportedly confessed to several residents.
Eventually diagnosed as a narcissistic sociopath,
the Oregon Youth Authority ultimately decided it lacked a proper venue in which to confine her—the homicidal tween was then dispatched to the Élan School in Maine,
where she tarried for three (some sources say two) years on the taxpayer’s dime.

[Élan alumnus of note: Michael Skakel, the Kennedy-adjacent murderer of Martha Moxley.]

Screen-grab of Michele leaving court, date unknown

Michele’s stay at Élan was not fruitful;
citing her “consistent pattern of manipulation,” school authorities shipped her back to Portland circa 1984.
As Élan psychiatrist Dr. Gerald E. Davidson would later testify: “Michele, in our experience with her, demonstrated that she is still more interested in getting even than in getting ahead.”

Five years and counting after Ruthie’s death Michele was still in pre-trial limbo;
her initial confession was tossed out of court for Miranda  violations—then it was tossed back in.
At one point she was found incompetent to assist her attorneys due to her psychiatric diagnosis,
but was eventually deemed compos mentis.
The Oregonian  sued to open up the Matter of Gates  (and all subsequent juvenile proceedings) to the public and won,
a rare victory in a case which seemed to slog on with no end in sight.

Michele in flight, date unknown

Strangely, for a case so minutely examined a definitive motive for Ruthie’s murder has never been established.
It’s unclear if motivation is referenced in Michele’s initial police statement,
but according to the Oregonian  Ruthie’s mother Gail O’Neil believed Michele—who frequently bragged about her superior only-child status—murdered Ruthie to free the elder O’Neil daughter Bethany from the indignity of sisterhood.

[Oregonian  quote of note: “(Michele said) wouldn’t it be really weird if somebody grabbed Ruthie and killed her? Bethany would then have all these toys and everything she wants would be hers and she wouldn’t have to have a little sister anymore.” Gail O’Neil, February 10th, 1985]

I have no idea what’s going on in this 1985 photo, but once you notice one of the participants has his hand on Michele’s lawyer’s ass it’s impossible to look at anything else

Although the motive for Ruthie’s murder remains nebulous subsequent legal proceedings revealed Michele’s murder of Nahtyah Ottino was prompted by jealousy: in court her attorney D. Lawrence Olstad described his client as “programmed to kill” to avoid competition for her grandparents’ affections.

[Oregonian  quote of note: “She doted on her grandfather so he could do no wrong; and that was the lesson. Her grandfather had killed her mother, and that was just fine…..after she had been taught by her grandfather that the way to improve your condition is to kill somebody, when the next generation of little ones came along and started to attract the grandparents’ attention (committing murder) was obviously the logical thing to do.” Michele’s lawyer D. Lawrence Olstad, February 10th, 1985. Attorney Olstad was eventually disbarred for narcotics violations; the role the glacial pace of Matter of Gates  played in his descent into addiction is unknown.]

For masochists and the minutia-obsessed here is a timeline of Michele Gates’ byzantine journey through the juvenile justice system:

While back in Portland awaiting trial Michele became romantically involved with a man named Eric Meiier;
unaware of her past,
he helped her obtain a job as a swimming instructor for handicapped children at the local YMCA.
When word leaked of Michele’s complicated history with water the community outcry was deafening.
As it happens, fellow volunteer Dorothy Graber had long suspected things weren’t quite right with the Y’s new swim instructor;
Michele once ignored repeated directives to rescue a flailing five-year old swimmer adrift in the pool’s deep end—she would later claim she let the child struggle in order to gain confidence.

Michele and her grandmother Jean Gates in 1984

Now nineteen-years old and living with her paternal grandmother Jean Gates,
Michele’s dance-marathon with justice finally ended with a whimper—the case had outlived poor Ruthie O’Neil by more than a year.
On January 15th, 1985 Michele was convicted of the juvenile equivalent of murder after stipulating to the facts in the police reports implicating her in Ruthie’s death;
she was then released into her grandmother’s custody.
The convicted murderess never spent a single day in the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility, Oregon’s juvenile version of Alcatraz.
Despite her confession Michele was never tried for drowning her cousin Nahtyah Ottino—her extreme youth at the time of the crime precluded the possibility of prosecution.

[Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility alumnus of note: Nirvana-adjacent rock star and provocateur Courtney Love.]

And then the record falls silent.
For approximately five years after her 1985 conviction Michele is absent from the media, but in 1990 she came roaring back into the news—exploiting a loophole in Oregon law,
she filed a court petition seeking to expunge her juvenile record.
Ruthie’s mother Gail O’Neil was understandably outraged.
Although the law would eventually be amended to prohibit the erasure of juvenile homicide convictions
Michele prevailed;
in 1991 her criminal record was expunged,
the interminable Matter of Gates  funded by taxpayers for naught.

[Salem Statesman Journal  quote of note: “I feel that to close the record is to say that it didn’t happen. It completely invalidates that my daughter ever existed.” Gail O’Neil, November 9th, 1990]

1991 was an eventful year for Michele;
now twenty-five years old, she legally assumed her boyfriend’s surname and became Michele Dee Shorthouse.
Joe Shorthouse—previously married to a woman named Lisa Mackie—was the father of a five-year old son.
Michele, according to some sources, is infertile—and she was allegedly very interested in obtaining custody of her boyfriend’s child,
who just happened to be the same approximate age as Ruthie O’Neil when she breathed her last.
On April 21st, 1991, Lisa Mackie’s home in Vancouver, Washington burned to the ground.
Officials determined the fire had been deliberately set.

Approximately one year later, on February 6th, 1992,
a reporter at the Bellingham Herald  received a telephone call from an anonymous source.
The caller claimed he’d participated in the arson of Lisa Mackie’s home and received 3K of a promised 10K advance payment for her murder.
The Herald  reporter contacted authorities;
a phone trace ultimately revealed the tipster to be one Anthony J. Johnson, ex-boyfriend (some sources say longtime friend) of Michele Gates Shorthouse.
The no-longer convicted (but confessed) murderess was arrested on February 20th, 1992, eligible for adult court at last.

Michele at her 1992 arrest

Unlike the serpentine progress of Matter of Gates  Michele’s adult proceedings hustled along at a rapid clip;
on June 10th, 1992 she pleaded guilty to procuring the use of fire to commit arson
and travelling in interstate commerce with the intent to commit murder.
No longer a cute little girl, there would be no avoiding justice this time—she was sentenced to ten years for solicitation and five for arson, the terms to be served consecutively.

[For legal reasons I should note Joe Shorthouse was never implicated in the plot to murder his ex-wife. Shacking up with a child killer while parenting a young child is criminally unwise, certainly, but such behavior is not currently prohibited by state or federal statutes.]

Michele Gates Shorthouse’s release from custody received no fanfare;
I can find no mention of the date online, but as there is no parole in the federal system I assume her cell bars swung open sometime in 2007.
Ruthie O’Neil and Nahtyah Ottino are almost forty years gone,
fashions have changed and circled back, but still Michele is with us.
Over the last decade there has been nary a peep or a snicker from Portland’s most infamous babysitter-gone-bad,
although sightings of her are frequently logged on various message boards.
It’s possible the bad seed has finally matured into a benign oak—she’s currently managed to stay out of the news for ten years, twice as long as her flirtation with anonymity in the late 1980s.

For the record, Rhoda Penmark wouldn’t have been caught dead in that frumpy sweatshirt

Of course, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) narcissistic sociopaths are notoriously resistant to treatment;
the afflicted can learn to conform their behavior to societally accepted norms
but even the priciest psychiatrist can’t confer empathy or a conscience.
Diagnostically speaking, even with the passage of almost half a century there’s a good chance Michele Gates Shorthouse is still more interested in getting even than in getting ahead.
Only time will tell if her storied criminal career has reached its final chapter,
but if I lived in the Pacific Northwest I’d take a good long look at my child’s swimming instructor—and if even the sweetest, best-mannered stranger offered my children free swimming lessons
I’d immediately contact the police.

Gail O’Neil (right) and Nahtyah Ottino’s mother Susan Gilchrist (left) at a 1980 court hearing. Their majestic 1980s glasses-frames are trendy again; Gail O’Neil reminds me of Barb from Stranger Things.
.

                and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

        —-e.e. cummings

Crow victim Gregory Villemin pulled from l’eau

 
Billy Bodenheimer: Houston had several high-profile icebox murders in the 1960s, but the fad eventually cooled

Towheaded moppet Kurt Newton wandered into the woods and never wandered out

Charles Christopher Francis: his fate is unknown but a serial killer prowled his ambit

As the family of Gregory Villemin knows, Crows were ruining lives long before Brandon Lee’s death

Terry Bowers: sometimes getting pantsed isn’t the worst thing to happen at Boy Scout camp

Richard Streicher‘s murder was never solved, and we never found out if he named his sled Rosebud

All right, you know the rules—all posts about boys require at least one unsolved crime with a prime suspect sporting a clerical collar; altar boy/victim Danny Croteau, step on up!

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
 And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

——-Emily Dickinson (1861)

 
On May 6th, 2013 the parameters of possibility shattered.

As I’ve previously mentioned, no matter how dire the surrounding circumstances I find it comforting to concoct imaginary survival scenarios for missing persons.
Even I don’t believe my ridiculous tales of amnesia and human trafficking; they’re just my personal way of keeping the darkness at bay.
But as unlikely as my survival yarns may be, none has ever been as farfetched as a tall tale about two women,
separately abducted, being held in captivity together for more than a decade.
In the very neighborhood from which they disappeared.
Along with a third woman no one ever bothered to report missing.
The rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus bestowed an entire aviary of hope, not just upon the families of the missing, but on all of us.

And since we’ve got it we might as well spread it around.

Wanda Faye Walker

Climatologists know the adage “lightening never strikes twice” is a myth, and so does the family of Wanda Faye Walker.

When the matriarch of the Walker clan disappeared five months ago her family’s sense of dread had a tinge of déjà vu.
Mrs. Walker, age sixty, a beloved mother and grandmother,
was last seen on October 5th at the home she shared with a cousin on 11th Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee.
Later that day she failed to report to her job at the Dollar Tree store on Franklin Pike,
and a week and a half later her Nissan Maxima was found behind a home on Wade Avenue—a ten minute drive from her home—with doors locked and no signs of disturbance.
Mrs. Walker’s loved ones are certain she would not decamp voluntarily,
as she intimately understood the anguish her disappearance would engender—seventeen years earlier her daughter Deana had mysteriously vanished, leaving a hole in the Walker family time has been unable to fill.

“I know she wouldn’t do us like this because my mother is already missing. She wouldn’t want us to go through that again.” Mrs. Walker’s grandson Rayvon Walker, WSMV Nashville, October 20th, 2016

Deana Walker and her son Rayvon

In 1999 Laresha Deana Walker—familiarly known by her middle name—was a twenty three-year old mother of a two-year old son and an employee of the Peterbilt Motors Company.
On November 19th she dropped her son Rayvon with her sister Lakesha Chambers, citing early-morning plans to drive to Murfreesboro for a car appraisal;
later that evening she spoke with her father Sidney Walker at approximately 9:45pm and nothing appeared to be amiss.
When she failed to retrieve her son the next day
her sister visited Deana’s townhome at 3858 Edwards Avenue in East Nashville—the door was locked, the lights were on, the music was blaring—but nothing seemed out of place.
The only thing missing was Deana—even the medication she took for a heart ailment and the clothing she’d worn earlier that day was present in the home, which she had lived in for less than a month.

“Anyone who knew [Deana] knew she did not play—she would not go down without a fight.” Sister Lakesha Chambers, WKRN Nashville, November 17th, 2016

Automotive doppelgänger of Deana Walker’s missing vehicle

The sole clue in the young mother’s disappearance was provided by a neighbor—at some point during the night Deana had been heard arguing with someone outside her home.
As far as her family knew Deana had no known enemies and was not dating anyone at the time of her disappearance.
Her car, a 1995 maroon Oldsmobile Achieva, vanished as well and has has never been recovered.
According to retired detective Pat Postiglione
the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department believes Deana was the victim of an abduction:
“All indications are she was a good mother and would not have left her son,” he told a reporter from WKRN.
The Walker family was devastated by Deana’s disappearance,
and despite the passage of time investigators have failed to unearth even a scintilla of evidence indicating her ultimate fate.

“[My family] says she was very caring—they said when she had me I was all she really cared about. I was her everything.” Deana’s son Rayvon Walker, WAVY Hampton Roads, November 17th, 2016

There’s no denying the odds look bleak for both missing Walkers—Deana has been missing for the better part of two decades, leaving her adored child and heart medication behind.
And though she has been missing for a far shorter period of time Mrs. Walker’s predicament may be just as dire;
according to a family member’s Facebook post Wanda was last seen with her boyfriend Harold Henderson—-it’s a fairly common name and I make no claim of a connection,
but if Mrs. Walker’s boyfriend Harold Henderson is this Harold Henderson the possibility of a happy ending could be tiptoeing towards the exit in the elder Walker’s case as well.

“Closure is it. Whether the outcome is good or bad, we just need to know.” Lakesha Chambers, WBTV Charlotte, October 20th, 2016

And so even while I acknowledge the odds do not favor a safe return for either missing Walker the feathered creature inside me is pecking away at a tiny keyboard,
working on a story about a mother forced to fake her own death in order to liberate her daughter from a human trafficking ring.
I’m calling it A Mother’s Vengeance: the Rescue of Deana Walker.
And all it needs is a happy ending.

That which has been will be again, that which has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. —- Ecclesiastes 1:9
 
I haven’t been reading much crime lately; it’s hard for me to concentrate on things that happened in the past when so many terrible things are happening right now,
with even more terrible things sure to follow.

That said, a recent arrest in the Julie Mott missing body case has me pondering thematically akin crimes—crimes that aren’t identical or connected but are uncannily similar nonetheless.
It seems that even the most bizarre slayings have corollaries;
there are only so many awful things human beings can do to one another,
I suppose, thus even the oddest circumstances are statistically destined to reoccur.

Julie Mott: the fear of being abducted by a maniac no longer ends at death

I should clarify that though the main suspect has been arrested the Mott case has not been solved.
Julie, a 25-year old San Antonian who succumbed to cystic fibrosis last year,
was body-napped from a funeral home while awaiting cremation.
Julie’s family is certain her allegedly obsessed ex-boyfriend Bill Wilburn is responsible;
although he denies these allegations and Julie’s body is still missing
Wilburn was arrested last week and charged with violating a restraining order issued in the case.
(A not-at-all-crazy collection of Wilburn’s online commentary can be found here.)

As peculiar as this bodysnatching amour fou might seem,
it wouldn’t be the first time a stalker has pilfered his victim’s remains;
in the 1930s original tomb raider Carl Von Cosel liberated the corpse of Elena Hoyos from her crypt,
keeping the young tuberculosis victim’s body for almost a decade,
sleeping beside—and if you must know, with—her mummified corpse.

The mummified remains of Elena Hoyos—because sleep is overrated anyway

Here are some other unusual crimes I find thematically akin:

The Sodder children (1945) / Chloie Leverette and her brother Gage Daniel (2012)
Mary Morris murders (2000) / Michael Green murders (2011)
Annie Laurie Hearin & Daffany Tullos (1988) / Orja Corns & John Navickas (1948)

It’s not even necessary for the crimes to be separated by any length of time;
although it happened only two years before and is still unsolved there’s an American murder which has always reminded me of the handiwork of infamous British child murderess Mary Bell.
Mary’s first victim, 4-year old Martin Brown, was slain the day after her 11th birthday;
a few months later, aided by her 13-year old friend and accomplice Norma Bell (no relation),
she would go on to murder Brian Howe, age 3.
Norma was acquitted at trial and has reportedly passed away,
but Mary Bell served twelve years for manslaughter and currently resides in the UK under various pseudonyms.

The crimes of the child-murdering child murderess are notorious in Britain and abroad,
and the question of whether Mary was a victim of her unfortunate upbringing or a pint-sized psychopath remains a matter of contention.

 

Mary Bell, Manson-lamps present and accounted for

 

Despite their eternal association with sugar, spice and everything nice violent crimes committed by juvenile females are not unheard of; when Paul Benda, age 5,
was slain in New Jersey in 1966 there’s a good chance his assailants were a stateside version of Mary and Norma—or as I like to call them, Hell’s junior Bells.

 

Paul Benda lived with his divorced mother and two siblings in a modest home abutting swampland in Union Beach,
a blue collar town on the Jersey Shore.
There are some discrepancies in his final sighting—some publications say he was last seen at 5pm by his mother,
others by his friends at 6pm—but all agree Paul was officially reported missing at 8:19pm on June 21st.
The Memorial School kindergartener had gone out to play in the fields near Brook Avenue Creek and vanished.


An intensive search by the Union Beach Police Department was launched at 9pm and continued on ‘til the wee hours;
the fields surrounding the Benda home were covered with ten-foot high cattails,
making the search process onerous,
and no trace of the missing boy was found.
Three hundred firemen,
policemen, and civil defense employees resumed the hunt the next morning;
finally, at 7:45pm,
approximately 24 hours after he was last seen,
Paul’s remains were discovered secreted in deep underbrush in an area that had previously been searched. Paul was nude,
his clothing—a white tee-shirt and grey shorts—discovered ten feet from his body.

An autopsy would reveal Paul had been dead approximately ten hours,
and his last moments alive had been horrific.
As county physician C. Malcolm Gilman told Asbury Park Press,
“The little fellow’s chest was covered with burns”— twelve cigarette burns, to be exact.
Paul had also been beaten with a broken stick,
leaving seven jagged wounds across his back,
and he’d suffered an (unspecified) sexual injury.
Although these wounds were numerous they were not fatal—Paul had also been stabbed several times (three or five, depending on the source) in the heart and esophagus with a metal spike.

Dr. Gilman was unable to definitively identify the weapon used in the crime—the implement was longer and thicker than an icepick— but he believed the device would be most consistent with a marlin spike,
a pointed tool used by sailors to splice rope.
The crime scene was scoured with a metal detector but the murder weapon has never been found.

A vintage marlin spike for those in need of visual aids or nightmare fuel

As ghastly as Paul’s injuries were,
his wounds weren’t the most singular aspect of the crime—a woman who lived 150 feet from the crime scene heard a child screaming at approximately the same time Paul had been slain:
“Don’t do that to me. Don’t touch me. Don’t hurt me,” pleaded a little boy’s voice before abruptly falling silent.
The voices of the child’s attackers were too faint to discern specific verbiage,
but according to the witness the voices seemed to belong to a most unexpected source: two little girls.

Although investigators and the press seemed skeptical young girls could commit such a brutal murder
two years after Paul’s death Mary Bell would prove female juveniles quite capable of atrocities against small children.
The similarities between the Benda murder and Mary’s crimes are numerous:
the ages of the victims,
the localized crime scene which negated the use of a car,
and the sexual mutilation inflicted upon Paul and second Bell victim Brian Howe.
And the similarities don’t end there.

The death of Mary Bell’s first victim,
Martin Brown, was originally written off as a natural death;
it was only after the murder of second victim Brian Howe that detectives recognized a pattern and reopened Martin’s case.
And Paul Benda wasn’t the first little boy found dead in the fields near Brook Avenue Creek—three years previously the body of 10-year old James Konish had been discovered only feet from the Benda crime scene
(some sources say as little as five feet away, others as many as twenty).
Jimmy had been missing for nearly three weeks and county physician Dr. Julius Toren was unable to determine his cause of death due to severe decomposition.

At 4pm on October 24th, 1963,
Jimmy, a 5th grade student at Cottage Park School,
grabbed his fishing pole and headed out for an afternoon on the banks of Brook Avenue Creek—he was never seen alive again.
A three-day search was launched and the creek and area lakes dragged but no sign of the missing boy or his fishing gear could be located.
Union Beach Police Chief Walter Hutton, however,
didn’t seem especially keen on investigating Jimmy’s disappearance: “We feel the boy is alive but unless sheltered by someone is not in this borough,” he told the Asbury Park Press after calling off the search,
essentially washing his hands of the matter.

A single three-day search seems to be the only law enforcement effort expended on Jimmy’s behalf;
if a criminal investigation was initiated it was never mentioned in the press.
Distraught, the Konish family distributed thousands of missing person posters and offered a $500 reward but no clues were forthcoming.
Twenty-seven days later Jimmy’s body—still clad in his sneakers,
tan pants and white sweater—was found near the creek by a boy walking his dog,
hidden in underbrush in an area that had been searched several times.

From the very outset authorities seemed determined to declare Jimmy’s death natural despite several anomalies which appear to indicate foul play.
Although the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death Chief Walter Hutton assured newspaper reporters Jimmy had fallen into the creek and drowned—despite the fact the creek had been dragged and the boy’s body was found sixty feet above the high tide line.
Moreover, Jimmy’s fishing gear was found beside him,
an unlikely occurrence if both had been deposited by the tide.

Not surprisingly, Chief Hutton was also adamant the Benda and Konish deaths were unrelated:
hours after Paul’s body was found the Chief pooh-poohed media speculation of a link—Paul’s autopsy had not yet been completed, nor had any meaningful
investigation into the possibility of a connection been undertaken at the time.
In fact, Chief Hutton went so far as to tell reporters covering the Benda case the coroner determined Jimmy Konish drowned,
which was blatantly untrue—in media interviews Dr. Toren deemed Jimmy’s cause of death undetermined.

The proximity of their final resting places wasn’t the only similarity Paul and Jimmy shared;
although they’d never met the boys had numerically identical addresses:
Jimmy lived at 727 Front Street and Paul at 727 Prospect Avenue. Lillian Yengle, Paul’s grandmother,
was certain Jimmy Konish had been murdered in a case of mistaken identity—Jimmy was, she told a reporter from the Asbury Park Press, a dead ringer for one of her older grandsons;  she was sure both boys had been murdered by someone with “an ax to grind” against the Benda family.
“[My grandson Paul] didn’t just walk into this. It was no sex killing—it was a hate murder,” she told the reporter.

The Konish recovery site; the ink smudges are too-too Ringu

Justice was only obtained for Mary Bell’s first victim because authorities were willing to admit they’d misjudged his manner of death; Jimmy Konish wouldn’t be so lucky.
Chief Hutton was unmoved by the suspicions of the Konish and Benda families;
and the impossibility of a drowned corpse migrating sixty feet up a creek bank didn’t appear to faze him.
On a perhaps related note,
Chief Hutton also apparently discounted the witness
who heard two little girls tormenting a male child the night Paul was slain;
he instead became fixated on a local mentally challenged youth, although the teen was never charged.
Although it has been periodically reopened the Benda case has never been solved, and Jimmy Konish’s death has never been criminally investigated.

Fifty years on, barring a confession or a technological breakthrough the chances of an arrest in either boys’ murder—and it’s highly likely Jimmy was murdered—is slim, but it’s imperative to examine the crimes of the past to predict and understand the crimes of the future.
History is on an endless loop, and we ignore the merry-go-round of repetition at our peril.

So next time a wee child is slaughtered amidst the demonic cackling of little girls it’s time to start interviewing juvenile females; ask not for whom the bell tolls, because as long as the victims are weak and defenseless
the Mary Bell tolls for thee.

The “Mother Bitter” tagline slays me. Her son was hideously murdered and no one has ever been arrested; did they expect to find her dancing the Watusi?

Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle. She died young. ——- The Duchess of Malfi


 
Cathy Moulton‘s shopping excursion ended in the abyss where the price of toothpaste and pantyhose is much too high
Amber Lundgren’s last night out was her last night alive
Michelle Von Emster was attacked by a coldblooded predator, but did he have gills?
Sometimes stinging jellyfish aren’t the scariest creatures on the beach, as Rachel Hurley discovered
And a triptych: Carla Walker’s killer had a taste for torture and pharmaceutical access (part 1 + part 2 + coda)
 
Addenda I:
I’d intended to include Sunny Sudweeks in this post but her murder is no longer unsolved. Note the sleight of hand in the Costa Mesa Police Department’s spin: yes, DNA facial-simulation technology is cool, but sentient readers will still notice CMPD apparently waited at least a decade before entering the crime scene prints into AFIS. Jessica Fletcher would weep.
 
Addenda Part II, Postscript’s Revenge:
Sunny Sudweeks isn’t the only damsel missing from today’s blogroll. When I tried to post a Guardian  interactive feature about Kari Leander the story was gone, wiped from the internet—as is any mention of Kari Leander herself. This troubles me.

The Guardian  deletion isn’t the first time a longread destined for Linkage Blindness has disappeared. An insane multi-part article about the Bailey fire was earmarked for the previous edition, and a full-page article about the Bobby Tipp icebox murder was intended for next month’s compendium of murdered little boys—both have vanished, unavailable even in the way-back-machine.

Professional writers should be paid for their work, obviously—I wouldn’t be upset if the articles disappeared behind a paywall, as long as the information was still available. But I don’t think society benefits when information about unsolved crimes is permanently excised. I’ve considered making copies of Linkage Blindness stories before I put them in the queue, but I can’t think of a way to distribute the material that isn’t disrespectful. Even if I email the stories individually they’ll end up posted somewhere—that’s the nature of the internet.

If anyone has a karmically-sound, copyright-friendly solution to this issue I’d love to hear it. And for posterity’s sake, here is Kari Leander’s photo:

Kari Leander

A predator took her life, but he didn’t erase her existence. A little corner of cyberspace isn’t much but it’s something.

Addenda Part III, the Final Chapter:
The Guardian’s Kari Leander article is now restored. I love a happy ending:)