01/20/2018

Mysterious death of online ‘exhibitionist’ shocks small Alabama community of Calera
‘Ooh-ee!’ says Texas Tourniquet Killer in lethal injection
10 years later, elderly woman’s murder remains unsolved
I-Team Exclusive: Investigator ‘confident’ missing couple mystery will be solved
Police still optimistic in catching Lane Bryant store killer 10 years later
Neighbors wonder about possible connection in Wichita murders

01/19/2018

Phoenix police: Double-murder suspect killed seven others over three weeks
Investigators Continue To Search For Clues In Northern Liberties Murder Mystery
Jennifer Harris’ family ‘more optimistic than ever before’ about unsolved murder case
Baby Michael: The case that haunts investigators
DPS Offers Increased Reward, Seeks Leads in 1983 Harris County Murder
Baby Bones Mystery: case still unsolved 25 years later
Killer’s Defense Was Demon Possession

01/18/2018

Missing Trenton man’s death ruled suicide, but family believes he was murdered
Vanished: David Fortin, missing since 2009
Daughter Desperate to Find Missing Dad
Revisiting 10 unsolved LGBT murders in D.C.
Two years later, family still searching for Ebonee Spears
What happened to Joey LaBute?
St. John’s missing women cases shrouded in mystery more than 3 decades later

01/17/2018

U.S. Marshals need help identifying man who stole Tulsa boy’s identity, lived under it for 24 years
Houston killer facing execution this week admitted to 2 more slayings in morbid hoax
Remains of slain girls found, but 1968 murders remain unsolved
Murder of ABC7 producer Anne Swaney in Belize still unsolved after 2 years
Persons of interest photos released in mysterious case of couple ambushed, ‘executed’ at gated community
Family’s search continues 10 years after Yasmin Acree’s disappearance
Police ‘have not forgotten’ missing Paterson woman

01/16/2018

Unsolved civil rights-era murder divides scholars, residents
COLD CASE: Adrianna & Jennifer Wix
Search for missing Moline man enters 24th year
Mother of Bianca Jones pleads for public to keep searching for child 6 years after her disappearance
A year later, Toni Anderson’s loved ones dedicate bench but still have questions
Another murdered psychic who didn’t see it coming: Who Killed The Love Guru?

01/15/2018

Open wounds: Mysterious killings of teen girls in New Jersey remain unsolved after 50 years
DNA tests on decayed clothing fail to link suspect to disappearance of Bobby Joe Fritz
Grisly Murder Scene Photos from 1910s New York
The Unsolved Murder of David Butler, Noted with a Dull Ache
‘A Place Where Something Evil Happened:’ the Search for Ira Tobolowsky’s Killer
NOTORIOUS: Beaver County Times video series about serial killer Eddie Surratt

01/14/2018

FBI: Human remains found in Kanawha Falls area not long missing woman
8-year-old girl killed in Pakistan may been victim of serial killer
Family still searching for clues 50 years after disappearance of Maureen Braddy
Special report: 75 women have been strangled or smothered in Chicago since 2001. Most of their killers got away.
Almost 35 years ago, she let a stranger hold her newborn. It has haunted her ever since.
Can 45-year-old DNA help solve the cold-case killing of Theone Davis?

01/13/2018

Living with Slenderman: inside the trials of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier
The Encyclopedia of the Missing: for Meaghan Good, the disappeared are still out here, you just have to know where to look
New Hampshire unsolved case file: Luella Blakeslee
Police release DNA-derived sketch of man wanted in 2004 slaying of TCC student Brittany Phillips
Audrey Moran & Jonathan Reynoso missing for 8 months
She claims to be a local toddler who vanished 50 years ago — that toddler’s sister says that’s nonsense
Candlelight vigil for missing Binghamton woman, Bambi Madden

01/12/2018

Lead detective in unsolved San Francisco Zodiac killer case dies
Investigation continues in death of Nanette Krentel, St. Tammany’s lone unsolved 2017 homicide
Michelle McNamara’s Letter to the Golden State Killer
The Yorkshire Ripper and the unsolved Swedish murders
Cold case: Police seek clues in 1970 slaying of Wappinger woman, 20
Mystery surrounds bizarre disappearance of 70-year-old Stark County woman
Cold Case: Investigators taking a closer look at the murder of Marise Chiverella

01/11/2018

Missing student Blaze Bernstein found dead, case investigated as homicide
Who Murdered These Jewish Snowbirds In Their Florida Condo?
State Police asking for public’s help: Suzanne Lyall has been missing since 1998
1984 murder of woman bludgeoned to death still unsolved
Police still looking for man missing since 1994
Rachel Cooke remembered on 16th anniversary of disappearance
Missing Burley woman’s skull found; authorities still looking for rest of her remains
Tammy Call’s cold case reopened in Vernon Parish

01/10/2018

Seriously Serial: longreads about serial crimes, solved or ostensibly solved at minimum

The Serial Killer Who Got Away with Murder
The 15-year Hunt For a Serial Killer After a Dozen Murders, 40 Rapes and the Sporadic Pursuit Of Prime Suspects
Route 40 Killer Remains an Enigma After Being Convicted 25 Years Ago
The Legacy of the Cincinnati Strangler
Lucious Boyd, Lady-Killer
No Safety in Suburbia: Anatomy of Seven Weeks of Terror
Who did it? Doubts outlive key figure in Stamford’s notorious killings

01/09/2018

Who Killed 14-Year-Old Claire Hough, Whose Mutilated Body Was Found on Calif. Beach in 1984?
Ocean City woman still searching for sister who disappeared 24 years ago
Alice “Anita” Oswald: Still Searching For Answers
Suspect in Person County murder has 2 missing ex-wives, sheriff says
The mysterious, unsolved death of Jody Rilee-Wilson
A Town In Terror: How Jerry McFadden’s 1986 crime spree stole the lives of Hawkins’ best, brightest

01/08/2018

The brutal unsolved murders carried out by the ‘East Lancs Ripper’ suspected of sexually mutilating two women
COLD CASE: Police believe they know who killed Barrie’s Katherine Janeiro
37 years later, Robin Brooks’ murder remains unsolved
New Podcast Asks: Did Cops Investigating Atlanta Child Murders Get the Right Guy?
Susan McMillion Roop: ‘The Missing Valentine’
Losing ‘Sunny,’ Part 1: Two decades after a young woman’s brutal slaying, those left behind still try to cope
Losing ‘Sunny,’ Part 2: Who killed Adrienne Sudweeks?
Losing ‘Sunny,’ Part 3: After nearly 20 years of grief for family and friends, a cold case gets warmer
Losing ‘Sunny,’ Part 4: Trial, and closure, in 20-year-old murder case prove elusive

01/07/2018

Where is Susan Swedell? Washington County reignites 30-year-old investigation
Aunt uses balloon launch to revive toddler’s unsolved murder 27 years ago
Lessons of the Gruesome Case Behind One of America’s Last Legal Executions by Hanging
Body parts found with undetonated explosive matched to torso found in September
Remembering Mikelle Biggs, 19 years after her disappearance
LONGREAD: What happened to Dana Ireland? (Part 1 + Part 2 + Part 3)

01/06/2018

3 recent missing person cases baffle Colorado authorities
Three friends were killed on a single day in the D.C. area. Police think the cases may be linked.
LRPD makes plea for public’s help in triple homicide case
‘Somebody please come forward:’ daughters of woman killed at mall plead for answers
Vanished! Mysterious disappearance of college student from OC park
Mother of murdered girls confronts suspected killer on his death bed
Why five Atlanta Child Murders cases are still unsolved
Cases of three women who disappeared from Vernon Parish in 1980s reopened

01/05/2018

Mother writes letter in teen daughter’s unsolved 1980 case
Upstate NY cold case files: 10 mysterious deaths, disappearances that stumped police
Search continues for couple who mysteriously disappeared after visiting family in Indy
D.B. Cooper letter, newly released by FBI, offers startling coded clue that might reveal skyjacker
City in fear: Greensboro’s only serial killer ‘just looked evil’
The Lords of Bakersfield: Powerful gay men. Vulnerable teen-age boys. Murder.

01/04/2018

New CBC podcast investigates 1997 double homicide
The Paradise Ridge Ax Murders: diving into a 121-year-old Nashville-area mystery
After fifteen years, two Eastern Iowa families are still waiting for closure
Former Brave Combo member has been missing for 15 months
Project Unsolved: Decades later, search continues for suspect in CU student Sid Wells’ 1983 murder
Families of missing persons keep searching — for their loved ones as well as for closure
One year later, the brutal death of Livia Smith remains unsolved — and friends and family demand answers
46-year-old cold case murder remains under investigation

01/03/2018

A sister is still haunted by her twin’s unsolved death
Search continues for Ashley Loring Heavyrunner
The brutal randomness of Samantha Olson’s murder
Gone 10 years, the mystery remains: What happened to Wendy Hudakoc?
Seattle’s own civil rights assassination is still a cold case
Toronto police offer $50k reward for information in 20-year-old murder case
Mother Pleads for Answers About Her Daughter’s Murder After 20 Years
Forty years ago this week, a mystery began that still haunts investigators

01/02/2018

19 years later, missing Mesa girl still haunts sister
Does the mystery of D.B. Cooper lead back to Michigan? Michigan author thinks Grayling grocery store manager may be legendary skyjacker
KILLING TIME: The Downs brothers didn’t have much in common, until they each committed very different murders and ended up together on death row.
The Deputy Who Disappeared: Jon Aujay went for a desert run in 1998 and never returned

01/01/2018

Unsolved Virginia slaying resonates, 26 years later
Vernon Sheriff asking for help solving 1989 cold case homicide
Murder of CSP Trooper still unsolved after 40 years
Family fears no one searching for surfer missing since 2016
(Part 1-ish) One missing, one murdered
(Part 2-ish) A decade of fear: Women who were killed or went missing in Santa Fe during the 1980s

Unbelievably, the so-called “Fag in a Bag” murders aren’t the only homicides with a (tenuous) Exorcist  connection: Murders on Main

12/31/2017

Tim Edwards murder still unsolved 12 years later: Beloved teacher and rancher not forgotten
New Website Puts Spotlight on Unsolved Dunlap Murder
Setagaya family murders remain unsolved 17 years later
Was Son of Sam behind Westchester ‘Dartman’ attacks?
Nikki Allan murder: Detective trawls Chronicle archives as hunt for schoolgirl’s killer continues
Investigators say they have ‘definite course’ in 18-year-old murder case involving disappearance of two girls

12/30/2017

Sheriff finds ‘extremely valuable’ long-lost investigation notes in case of missing girls from Welch
NEWS: Family wonders, where is Christine?
Jogger’s death continues to haunt family, community
The Haunting, Heartbreaking Mystery of ‘Little Jacob’
30 years since disappearance of Deisy Herrera
A popular British podcaster is set to shine a light on the unsolved murders of two women whose mutilated bodies were found in Wigan countryside
Family wonders: Who’s leaving roses on murdered woman’s grave?

12/29/2017

Spokane man links chunk of concrete to cold case
Clearwater detectives still seeking info on 49-year-old murder case
Woman pleads for answers 23 years after her mother disappeared in Salt Lake City
Ten years later, hiker’s murder still haunts those closest to case
Quadruple murder in upstate New York took place just miles from unsolved 2014 multiple homicide
New hope in 25-year-long murder inquiry as police chase two new leads
Why hasn’t the Traci Pittman Kegley missing person investigation continued?

12/28/2017

32 years gone, missing child inspires child safety awareness
7 years pass since Colorado City teen Hailey Dunn’s disappearance
Bay Area family still holds out hope for teen abducted in 2016
Mathis murders: 30 years later some authorities remain convinced of John Mathis’ guilt
Police asking for public’s help in cold case from 1992
L.A. Woman Who Vanished Months Ago May Be a Human Trafficking Victim, Authorities Say
The mystery of the young Kent man found decapitated and his family’s never-ending search for justice

12/27/2017

Who killed Peaches? Little girl’s murderer never charged, though police had suspect
Truro father still searching for son after 19 years
Who Killed Father Ryan? A 1981 Odessa murder haunts crime researchers
Twenty-nine years later, Rebecca Pauline Gary remains missing from Louisiana
Investigator searches for killer in 25-year-old cold case: “I’m coming after them”
DARK WATERS: WOLF CREEK MURDERS SPARK RENEWED INTEREST
Murder of Vermont golf pro Sarah Hunter still drives Capital Region

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11:15am, December 25th, 1975. Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Decker strode up the walkway and swung open the door of their widowed daughter’s split-level ranch house in East Vincent Township, Pennsylvania.
The tree was trimmed, the halls were decked and “Silent Night” played softly on the radio.

Moments later Mr. Decker bolted outside, sprinting for a neighbor’s house. “They’re all dead in here,” he screamed. “They’re all dead!”

Upon arriving at the scene Pennsylvania State Police investigators discovered Judith Saneck, age 34, sprawled on the living room floor next to a pile of unopened Christmas gifts;
her boyfriend of one month, Nicholas Foresta, age 48, lay face-up at her side,
a .38 caliber revolver clutched in his right hand.
The bodies of Mrs. Saneck’s three children—Michael, age 12, Joleen, 9, and Joselyn, 7—were found in their respective beds. Every occupant of the house had been shot once in the head.

The Sanecks

“The house was neat as a pin. It appeared to be a typical Christmas eve—the kids were in bed waiting for Santa Claus.” Pennsylvania State Police Detective Henry Wells, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27th, 1975

Investigators deemed the crime a murder-suicide immediately.
The ambulance crew removed the bodies without delay; no photos were taken and no efforts expended to preserve the sanctity of the crime scene.
Even in the immediate aftermath of the bodies’ discovery, however, a murder-suicide ruling was problematic at best;
only one vehicle—a “luxury car” belonging to Nicholas Foresta—was parked outside the Saneck residence on Hoffecker Road. Judith Saneck’s white Plymouth Satellite was missing.

“That’s the way it looks (murder-suicide); now we have to prove it.” Pennsylvania State Trooper Edward Gallen (street name: Officer Confirmation Bias), Camden News, December 26th, 1975

Problems with the murder-suicide theory failed to abate: the Saneck-Foresta autopsies, performed by Dr. Halbert Fillinger of the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office,
did little to bolster law enforcement’s chosen narrative.
Dr. Fillinger determined Nicholas and the Sanecks had all died at roughly the same time,
between midnight and 2am on December 25th;
none of the bodies bore any defensive injuries and all five victims had a single cranial bullet wound.
The Saneck’s injuries were clearly homicidal in nature, but Nicholas Foresta’s cause of death was less clear-cut.
He’d been shot once in the right posterior occipital region of his skull—the back of his head, in layman’s terms—with the bullet exiting over his left eye.
An unlikely, but still theoretically possible, suicide injury—although the force of the bullet should’ve pushed him face-forward and lividity indicated he’d been positioned on his back.
Much to the dismay of Chester County authorities, Dr. Fillinger listed Nicholas Foresta’s cause of death as “undetermined.”

“Hal’s a capable guy but Dr. Fillinger’s involvement was to perform the autopsy; he’s a medical doctor not a policeman.” Chester County District Attorney William Lamb, apparently unaware forensic pathologists are trained to utilize medical evidence in criminal investigations. Philadelphia Inquirer, February 4th, 1977

The mystery of Judith’s missing Plymouth Satellite was solved within twenty-four hours; the car was found in a mall parking lot in the nearby town of Devon, approximately seven miles from the Saneck residence.
The car was determined to be in perfect working condition but one inexplicable item—a large tree branch denuded of bark—was discovered inside.
As is the case with many of the anomalies still to come, the precise role the tree limb played in the Saneck-Foresta murders remains unresolved.

Judith Saneck had only recently reentered the dating scene—eight years earlier her husband Joe succumbed to leukemia, leaving her with two small children and pregnant with a third.
Judith had last been definitively seen on the afternoon of December 23rd when she’d stopped by a neighbor’s home to borrow cinnamon for a holiday cookie recipe—during the conversation she mentioned buying electric hairdryers for her children as Christmas gifts.
Judith’s demeanor, according to her neighbor, appeared normal.

The Ziegler family

[Odd coincidence: the Saneck murders weren’t the only Christmas family slaying that year; the Ziegler family murders—still chugging along in the Florida court system four decades later—occurred on December 24th, 1975.]

Like Judith Saneck, Nicholas Foresta had three children with a deceased spouse;
he had remarried shortly after the death of his first wife, however, and was recently separated from his second.
He resided with his two youngest sons in the nearby borough of Phoenixville,
where he was a longtime employee of the town’s eponymously named steel mill.
Nicholas’s background lacked any red flags signaling an imminent murder-suicide; he had no history of domestic violence and he and Judith were dating only casually.

“Nobody believes he was responsible for this; he had no health problems, no money problems. He loved children. He never owned a gun and I don’t think he knew how to shoot one.” Nicholas’s brother David Foresta, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27th, 1975

A canvas of Devon mall employees unearthed an Open Hearth waitress who recalled serving a couple resembling the Saneck-Forestas on the evening of December 23rd.
Nicholas and Judith had probably argued over dinner, investigators speculated, and subsequently opted to abandon her car in the parking lot and drive home together.
The next day, investigators believed, still angry after twenty-four hours of holiday togetherness, Nicholas retrieved a .38 caliber revolver—purchased by Judith for home protection six months earlier—and proceeded to shoot each and every Saneck, then himself.
A classic case of murder suicide, Chester County authorities insisted; case closed.

“We made a complete neighborhood check and we are still treating it as a murder-suicide.” Chester County District Attorney William Lamb, The Mercury, December 27th, 1975

Not so fast. Over the next few months a steady drumbeat of odd facts and crime scene details leaked to the press;
initially Chester County authorities rebutted the majority of these revelations but faced with additional corroboration would ultimately attest to their veracity.
The following information would eventually be confirmed:

• The gun, empty when found, had a five bullet capacity but seven shots had been fired—five into victims, one into a living room wall and one into the house’s exterior

• Six of these bullets were linked to the crime scene weapon but the caliber and origin of the exterior wall ammunition has never been publicized

• Nicholas Foresta’s fingerprints weren’t found on the murder weapon; the only prints on the gun belonged to a responding officer

• Authorities performed a gunshot residue test on Nicholas’s hands but refused to release the results

• Money—mostly tens and ones—was found scattered in the Saneck yard

• A screen had been removed from a second floor window

• Several spent bullet cartridges were found in a downstairs wastepaper basket

Members of Nicholas Foresta’s family, adamant he lacked both the motivation and wherewithal to commit homicide, were certain these peculiar incidentals indicated he and the Sanecks had been slain by an intruder.
Interestingly, a Hoffecker road neighbor told a Mercury  reporter Judith had complained of a prowler,
and also revealed the Saneck home had once been burgled.
Unhappy with the official inquiry, the Forestas hired a private investigator—ex-police officer Joseph Shepsko—to look into the case.
Although he will later proclaim the timing coincidental,
Chester County District Attorney Lamb responded by petitioning (successfully) for the revocation of Shepsko’s private investigator’s license.

“One shot did exit the house but there was nothing unusual about that.” District Attorney William Lamb goosing the laws of physics, The Sentinel, January 12th 1976

Eventually the media outcry reached a crescendo;
hoping to assuage community concerns about a possible killer in their midst the Chester County District Attorney’s Office staged a press conference.
Debuting a new—although hardly improved—theory of the crime,
District Attorney Lamb amended the Saneck-Forestas times of death by twenty-four hours, pathologist’s findings notwithstanding.
This revision served to work out a kink in the accepted chronology of the Saneck-Forestas’ last days:
Nicholas and Judith had (presumably) visited the Devon Open Hearth restaurant on the night of the 23rd,
yet Dr. Fillinger had fixed their times of death in the wee hours of December 25th.
This left an entire day during which the Sanecks were not seen and Judith inexplicably failed to retrieve her car from the mall (if she had in fact abandoned it there).

DA Lamb block quote

The revised time of death, however, was inconsequential compared to the press conference’s bombshell reveal:
Judith Saneck, District Attorney Lamb now alleged, had engineered the murder of her children as part of a suicide pact.
The supporting evidence proffered for this potentially slanderous claim?
The word of God, specifically a passage Judith had underlined in her Bible: “For I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Timothy verse 4)
At some point the grieving widow had also written an (undated) letter to her husband Joe stating she longed to be with him. Hardly a solid foundation for a conspiracy to commit homicide charge, to say the least.

[Quandary: if you form a death pact with your current boyfriend so you can be with your deceased husband what happens to your boyfriend in the afterlife post-suicide? Is he an eternal third wheel?]

Not unexpectedly, the Chester County District Attorney’s press conference failed to quell community furor.
The Evening Phoenix, Nicholas Foresta’s hometown newspaper,
published a scathing six-part exposé on the botched investigation, taking particular umbrage at the unilaterally-revised time of death.
Seven separate witnesses, as the Evening Phoenix reported, had encountered Nicholas Foresta shopping in the company of an unidentified woman on December 24th,
a point at which authorities now deemed him to be deceased.
The newspaper’s staff, incidentally, was able to vouch for the reliability of one of these witnesses: Wayne D. Jones, Nicholas’s close friend, the Evening Phoenix’s advertising manager.

“All evidence was reviewed in the case and without a shadow of a doubt it points to murder-suicide.” District Attorney William Lamb, The Sentinel, January 12th, 1976

Some things are inevitable: snow melts in springtime, time passes and eventually questions about the family massacre on Hoffecker Road were packed away like tree ornaments and tinsel in the waning days of Yule.
Michael, Joleen and Joselyn, three children dead in their beds on Christmas eve, presents unopened, faded into memory.
I don’t know who wielded the gun in the house that night,
and without access to the forensic tests—-the Holy Grails of homicide-—the triggerman’s true identity will likely forever remain a mystery.

In some ways the Saneck-Foresta case may lack a conclusion but it does offer a moral, unpalatable though it may be:
every Christmas story needs a Grinch or Scrooge (or stonewalling district attorney) but not every holiday narrative is entitled to a happy ending.

Sometimes Santa’s sack is full of bullets, and it doesn’t matter if you were good all year.

 (Wise men take note: pulling the trigger at that angle and ending up with a left-brow exit wound would truly be a Christmas miracle.)

12/25/2017

Save the life of your mother’s murderer? He would
Years later, family revives hunt for killers of Holocaust survivor
Boulder still vexed by Ramsey mystery
Investigators still looking for answers in vet school dean’s murder
Fitzgerald: New twist in baffling murder

12/24/2017

Franklin’s only unsolved murder bedevils police 24 years later
Who Killed Agnes? Police revisit Davenport cold case on ten-year anniversary
In 1976 a serial killer broke into my house and strangled my girlfriend. I eventually found happiness again —but not peace of mind
Appalachian Unsolved: Polly Melton Missing in the Smokies
Two legacies, one dark mystery: Toronto elite reeling after violent deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman
Has body of New Orleans’ Mary Ann Perez, murdered 41 years ago, finally been identified?

12/23/2017

Police to Facebook: ‘For the second time, stop armchair sleuthing’ Delphi killings
37 years ago she was found murdered near her Christmas tree. No one has been arrested
Rachel Anthony Unsolved: Community hopes for answers in cold case killing
OSBI Offers Reward In Unsolved Cherokee County Double Murder
Family Desperate for Answers in Disappearance and Murder of Young Nashville Woman Ashley Brown
In 1974, three Fort Worth girls vanished; 43 years later, this is all we know

12/22/2017

Black Dahlia murder solved? Shocking new details about aspiring actress Elizabeth Short’s life and gruesome death
People are vanishing from Toronto’s LGBTQ safe space. Has the haven become a hunting ground?
Still no arrest 16 years after UGA law student’s murder, but police believe the case can be solved
25 years since Christy Mirack’s murder, police and family remain hopeful that her killer will be found
Appalachian Unsolved: 17 years after winery slaying, murder hire theory still a possibility
Unsolved 1978 murder of teen haunts family
Mystery plagues small Indiana town after fire that killed four children
32-year-old missing persons case shows value of child safety app

12/21/2017

Police find new leads in 40-year-old cold case
Psychic searches Davenport salvage yard for Trudy Appleby’s remains
McAlester Man Hopes For Justice In Sister’s Cold Case Murder
Appalachian Unsolved: 12-year-old boy still missing after 34 years
Candy Rogers’ 1959 rape and murder is still unsolved, but one man thinks he knew her killer
Mike Williams’ body found 17 years later; FDLE says he was murdered
Mike Williams’ Disappeared episode: Mystery on Lake Seminole

12/20/2017

Forty years later, cold case haunts Vernal
Who killed Wilkie McGuire? The Hobart grandmother received strange phone call before her murder
Mother searched for her missing daughter until the end
Joliet Police Unable To Solve Triple Murder On Great Falls Drive
No evidence related to Morgan Nick case found in search of Oklahoma property
Dirty Little Secrets: Teen’s murder after Bi-Lo shift still haunts best friend 20 years on

12/19/17

How Did a Google Engineer, 23, End Up Floating Dead in the San Francisco Bay?
Discovery of blood, hair in Foodsaver bag opens unsolved mystery of missing Dover Twp. man
For courts and police, case of missing Ayla Reynolds still simmers
#UNSOLVED: Robbery gone wrong or planned murder on Christmas Eve?
Mystery, controversy surround Toronto billionaire’s death

12/18/2017

Lambton OPP believe ‘someone knows’ what happened to Karen Ann Caughlin
Unsolved Minneapolis murder 90 years ago still haunts victim’s family
Cold Case Unit: ‘Not over till it’s over’
The search for Becky Gary
The ‘Deep Freeze’ murder: Who killed Anne Noblett?
Old Murders Never Die
One month later, SAPD and family still searching for missing 16-year-old

12/17/2017

Another Human Foot Washes Ashore in Canada. That Makes 13.
The Double-Murder Case That Still Haunts Me
Appalachian Unsolved: Derek Lueking, Missing in the Smokies
Asheville police ask for public’s help on a nearly 40-year-old case
Retired mayor, police commissioner tackle Daytona’s 79 cold cases
Police still looking for Pinellas Park woman missing 32 years
SECRET SERIAL KILLER: Jimmy Greenridge was on the prowl for young men during the Summer of Love
Cold Cases: Investigators want to know what led to murder of teen 36 years ago

12/16/2017

Children’s remains found in Missoula may have Michigan connection
Family seeks information from public on 5th anniversary of couple’s deaths
After 36 years, St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office searches to identify “Jane Doe”
Tracey Ann Patient killing: The 40-year murder mystery that has haunted NZ
Twenty years later, Auburn police re-explore mysterious death of college student
A look back: Vineland police try to solve ‘Lost Boy’ case: Where is Billy Jones?

12/15/2017

Ten years later, Marshall student’s murder remains unsolved
Officials plea for information 6 years after couple’s unsolved murder
Lambton OPP to give update on 43-year-old cold case death of Karen Caughlin Thursday
Virginia woman’s disappearance continues to puzzle police, two years later
Vernon cold-case unit seeking help with teen’s 1980 murder
Double murder remains unsolved after 20 years
Skeletal remains of 3 children found in Missoula shed still a mystery

12/14/2017

Amazing; yesterday an arrest in the Suzie Bombadier case and today an arrest for the 1989 murder of Mandy Stavik:

‘Biggest case ever:’ Sheriff’s officials make arrest in 1989 murder of Mandy Stavik

To celebrate I’ve selected some long-reads about unsolved murders and disappearances of girls and young women under the age of 21; perhaps we can keep the momentum going:

Janet Raasch’s murder mystery endures for decades
Mount Prospect teen’s 1976 disappearance still haunts family, cop, reporter
Beverly Jarosz murder, 50 years later, getting new attention
Murder mystery remains unsolved—30 years after a college student from Minnesota was murdered in Ovid

For some reason the installations of this lengthy series on the murder of 13-year-old Jan Marie Rohrer aren’t numbered so I’ve listed them by date—irksome oversight on the part of MLive or meta-commentary on the difficulty of solving cold case homicides?

Little Girl Lost: Slaying of 13-year-old Bay City girl in 1973 remains a mystery today
Little Girl Lost: Brothers of slain Bay City teen seek closure in 39-year-old cold case
Little Girl Lost: Best friend of slain Bay City teen says ‘It’s been a struggle for me’
Little Girl Lost: Neighbor of slain Bay City 13-year-old met violent end in second unsolved case
Little Girl Lost: Bay City man seeks justice for mother’s unsolved slaying and says he was questioned in 13-year-old’s disappearance
Little Girl Lost: Former Bay City police detective shares theory on 1973 Jan Rohrer slaying
Little Girl Lost: Conviction of Bay City-born John List 19 years after killing family proves cold cases can be solved
Little Girl Lost: 1973 slaying of Bay City teen is not forgotten by local police

12/13/2017

Missing in MI: Kimberly King’s best friend speaks out on 1979 missing case
Family of Augusta twins missing since 1990 announce reward into case
Cold cases: Local investigations reopened
1992 Disappearance of Arkansas Man Remains Mystery

Addendum: there’s been an arrest in the Suzie Bombadier case—Antioch police make arrest in 37-year-old kidnapping, homicide case
My favorite Bombadier long-read: My obsession with a cold case

12/12/2017

Brandie Peltz murder case still cold 31 years later, new tips welcome
Special Report: A woman’s severed head was found in the woods. Who is she?
40 years later, no one knows who killed Mary Ann Favre

Addendum: Aurora PD sprang for DNA phenotyping in the Al Kite case—DNA technique revealing face of Aurora man’s killer 13 years later

12/11/2017

Police dismiss serial killer rumors surrounding Toronto’s gay village disappearances
The Car Barn Murders: Montgomery County’s Oldest Cold Case
Cold cases: Despite modern technologies, too many crimes remain unsolved
Professor may have found break in notorious 1965 unsolved murder
Cold case homicide began with chilling phone call to a newsroom 37 years ago
“Come looking for me if I’m not back.” The story of the most perplexing unsolved cases in Arkansas history

12/10/2017

Who killed Cindy Blazek? 31 years later, her family is still trying to find out
Other cold cases: Severed legs, murdered women
After a yearlong police investigation and no arrests, two Utah parents are left to wonder: Who killed our son?
A Future Murderer Investigates a Murder – video report
Deputies reopen cold case nearly a decade after woman missing from Garfield County

12/09/2017

Who Killed Jim and Tina? A double homicide in Kyle, Texas, goes unsolved
Revisiting the 1974 cold-case murder of Dr. Donald Ripley
Unsolved murder: North Richland Hills grandma shot while answering door
Cold case reopens family wounds: siblings remember outgoing mother, loving child; relive trauma
Summer McStay may have been raped before she was killed, buried in desert, court document says

12/08/2017

How a Killer Massacred an Entire Family on a Fishing Boat in Alaska — and Was Never Caught
Remains of missing Platte Canyon student identified: the death of 17-year-old Maggie Long has been classified as a homicide
Notorious ‘Torso Murders’ blood trail revealed in AL.com Vintage photos
3 years later, still no suspect in Scottsdale woman’s murder
Who was Fred the Head? Murdered man’s identity remains a mystery

12/07/2017

Spindle, Fold, Mutilate: a collection of long-reads about unsolved mutilation murders

Convicted killer has strange ties to three unsolved murders
What Happened To Ryan? A young man’s death, a mother’s grief and her fight for answers
Getting Away With Murder: the Andersen Case
Can DNA Evidence Solve a 30-Year-Old Crime?
The Girl on Church Hill: A Murder Mystery:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Coda

12/06/2017

AMY BILLIG CASE: ‘Is Amy There?’
5 YEARS LATER: Investigators continuing to look into new leads in the Lyric and Elizabeth case
Reward extended in case of Moline girl missing since 1996
State police investigating 1973 Oneida Castle death
Investigators seek any new info on teen’s death as 34th anniversary passes
UMKC’s unexplored connection to Black Dahlia murder mystery

12/05/2017

10 years later, Jenna Nielsen’s brutal murder still unsolved
Investigators seeking clues to 18-year-old murder case
N.C. mother’s search for missing son still strong after 35 years
Decades Old Cold Case Shares Eerie Connection To Recent Murder Of Temple Student
Windsor police offer $10K rewards for information on historical homicide cases
Police face challenges in Simi Valley’s oldest unsolved murder case
COLD CASE: Family seeks answers in murder of DC teen found dead in Charles County 37 years ago
Shawn Chelf hopes new evidence can help Dallas police detectives find the person who killed his mother, Laurie Kay Bosman, in 1987

“You are going to know I’m not guilty when you get the next one.” Condemned inmate James Albert Findley’s protestation of innocence en route to death row. Cincinnati Enquirer, November 4th, 1971

James Findley, age twenty-nine, had been sentenced to death for the mutilation murder of high school junior Cheryl Segal, age sixteen.
On October 17th, 1970 Cheryl and her best friend Karen Bulvanker were socializing at Cincinnati’s Firefly Café when they accepted a ride home from Findley, a friend of a friend.
Karen, who was dropped off first, asked Cheryl to phone her when she arrived home—when the call failed to materialize she contacted Cheryl’s mother, who contacted the police.

Eighteen hours later horseback riders discovered Cheryl’s body twenty-three miles from the Firefly Café,
buried under a blanket of leaves on the banks of Gregory Creek.
Shot once in the left temple, her left nipple had been excised and a large Z etched into the flesh of her torso.
Although Cheryl was found nude her postmortem revealed no evidence of rape;
her clothing was later discovered scattered on nearby roadways as if tossed from the window of a moving car.

Cheryl Segal

Findley was arrested the next day,
the evidence against him overwhelming:
a dried smear of Cheryl’s type blood was on his jacket,
the tires of his Plymouth convertible matched tracks near her dumpsite,
and a .25 caliber revolver tucked into the car’s visor had fired the bullet retrieved from her brain.
Findley had recently purchased the gun
from the owner of the Firefly Café—Karen Bulvanker had spotted it in his car the night of the murder.

Findley, a member of the Iron Horseman motorcycle club,
was no stranger to the justice system;
as a juvenile he’d spent four years incarcerated in Ohio’s Boys’ Industrial School and he’d served five years in an adult penitentiary for burglary.
All told, he’d been arrested five times, mostly for property
and drug crimes—the most serious charges he had ever faced, assault with a deadly weapon, had been dropped before trial.

Findley was the last person seen with Cheryl Segal; she’d been slain with his gun and his vehicle had been present at the crime scene.
Findley’s failure to dispose of the murder weapon or take measures to avoid detection may have been shortsightedness—the idiocy of criminals never fails to astound—or it might have had,
as he would later claim, a less damning explanation.
When arrested the morning after her body was found Findley told investigators he had no idea Cheryl was dead.

After dropping off Karen Bulvanker, Findley told detectives, he and Cheryl had made a quick stop at the home of his brother-in-law Dennis Smith, a fellow Iron Horseman.
Smith had asked to borrow his car, Findley claimed, and after Smith promised to drop Cheryl at home Findley agreed.
According to Findley, his gun had been in the car’s sun visor when he’d turned the vehicle over to Smith;
the blood smear on his jacket, Findley’s lawyer would later theorize,
must’ve been secondary transfer via traces of blood Smith left on the front seat.

[Caveat: one recent web source claims Findley retained possession of Cheryl’s excised flesh as a trophy; this allegation is contradicted by contemporaneous media coverage.]

At his capital murder trial Findley took the stand in his own defense and implicated his brother-in-law;
subpoenaed to appear as a witness, Dennis Smith denied he’d seen Findley or Cheryl on the night in question and proffered an alibi supported by two fellow Iron Horsemen.
Unmoved by Findley’s testimony the jury returned with a conviction after three hours and subsequently sentenced him to death.
Decrying his innocence, en route to death row Findley warned prison guards Cheryl’s killer would strike again: “You are going to know I’m not guilty when you get the next one.”

[SEGUEThis is the Zodiac Seeking: although he was an Ohio native Findley had lived in the Bay Area during the Zodiac killer’s reign and an FBI investigation into his status as a possible suspect unearthed some intriguing circumstances—not only had Cheryl Segal’s torso been carved with a letter Z but she’d been slain almost one year to the day after final confirmed Zodiac victim Paul Stine. And the parallels didn’t end there: ten months after Paul Stine’s death two murders occurred which at the time were considered possible Zodiac slayings: Brenda Vance and Janice Smith were found bludgeoned to death in San Francisco in August, 1970—like Cheryl Segal, Janice Smith’s left nipple had been excised.

Despite a thorough investigation, however, no hard evidence emerged tying Findley to the Zodiac slayings—and confirmed Zodiac correspondence continued until 1974, three years after Findley’s confinement on death row. Eventually the two bludgeonings in San Francisco were determined to have no connection to the Zodiac murders: Stanley Nelson was convicted of murdering Brenda Vance and Janice Smith in 1973, along with a third victim, Jacqueline Truss.]

October 19th, 1971; Cheryll Spegal’s tenth birthday would be her last day.
Exactly one year and one day after Cheryl Segal’s murder the Highland Heights fifth-grader left home at 6:25am to walk to the bus stop;
though located over the state border in Kentucky Cheryll’s residence at 78 Rose Avenue was only eight miles from the Firefly Café where the similarly-named Cheryl Segal embarked on her final journey home.


A thick fog blanketed the area and the sun had not yet risen when Cheryll began her journey,
hampering visibility; although her older brothers Mickey,
then age thirteen, and Mark, then eleven,
had departed just five minutes earlier they neither heard nor witnessed anything amiss.
The bus stop was less than two blocks
from the Spegal residence but Cheryll never boarded the bus,
never made it to school, never returned home on that day or any other.
For nearly two weeks her whereabouts remained a mystery—but on November 1st
a truck driver named Gayle Gaines espied Cheryll’s submerged remains in a creek in rural Pendleton County,
twenty-three miles from Highland Heights.

Nude and dumped in approximately one foot of water,
Cheryll’s body was positioned face-down in the muck of the creek bed,
seven large stones stacked neatly upon her back.
She had been stabbed and mutilated—the wounds on her back aligned in a precise circular pattern—and she had been sexually assaulted with instruments.
The plaid jumper, gold blouse and brown oxfords she wore when last seen have never been located; forty-six years later Cheryll Spegal’s murder remains unsolved.

The names Cheryl Segal and Cheryll Spegal differ by only two letters;
despite residing on opposite sides of the state line both lived in the same general area
and their mutilation murders were separated by exactly one year and one day.
At the time, journalists from the Cincinnati Enquirer  speculated Cheryll Spegal had been the “next one” James Findley had prophesied as he was transported to death row;
is it possible that despite the jury’s verdict Findley was innocent of the crime for which he’d been condemned?

Map of the Cheryll Spegal recovery site

SLAYING SIMILARITIES:

Both victims were young females
Attempts had been made to cover both bodies
Both victims were discarded in or near a creek
Both victims were mutilated and dumped nude
Both Cheryl and Cheryll had been disposed of approximately twenty-three miles from the locus they encountered their killer

Spegal creek dumpsite

A closer look, however, reveals more inconsistencies than uniformity:

SLAYING DISSIMILARITIES:

Cheryl was a teenager/Cheryll was a child
Cheryl had been shot/Cheryll was stabbed
Cheryl had not been sexually assaulted/Cheryll had been raped with implements
Cheryl had been discarded on a creek bank/Cheryll was submerged in water
Cheryl’s body had been buried in leaves/Cheryll’s body had been camouflaged with stones
Cheryl’s clothes were scattered around town/Cheryll’s clothing was never located
The mutilation of their bodies was markedly different (a letter Z vs. a circular pattern)

Certainly, serial killers don’t always commit identical slayings—the fact that the Segal/Spegal murders aren’t cookie-cutter crimes isn’t conclusive evidence of a lack of connection.
Today we have the luxury of scientific certainty via DNA evidence
but in the forensic-free 1970s juries were largely reliant on their intuition and common sense:
Findley’s alibi implicating his brother-in-law, while theoretically possible, was undeniably farfetched.
It’s unclear if the Cincinnati Enquirer’s speculation about a Segal/Spegal connection
engendered any law enforcement interest;
authorities have never revealed whether Dennis Smith was investigated as a possible suspect in Cheryll Spegal’s slaying, and the current status of the physical evidence in both the Segal and Spegal murders is unknown.

Ironically, despite the passage of four decades determining a link between the Segal and Spegal murders is now more critical than ever before.
Spoiler alert: James Findley evaded execution courtesy of Fuhrman v. Georgia  and after forty-six years in prison he’s currently eligible for supervised release.
The board rebuffed his first attempt at parole—possibly because he continues to deny his guilt—but Findley’s next hearing, scheduled for 2018, inches ever closer.

I have no special insight into James Findley’s guilt in Cheryl Segal’s slaying; the jury who heard his trial testimony believed he was lying and I respect their assessment—but with the glut of DNA exonerations the fallibility of juries, particularly those bereft of forensic evidence, is no longer in dispute.
So instead of insight I will leave you with a prediction:
if Findley did in fact murder Cheryl Segal yet still manages to obtain parole
I foresee additional mutilation murders in his future.
To paraphrase his assertion as he was led off to death row: we’ll know he was guilty when he gets the next one.

With all the political sturm und drang it’s hard to focus on writing so I’m instituting a format change. I have 3K google alerts pertaining to unsolved crimes and I’m going to post random articles as they arrive, along with other links of interest.

Those who can, blog—those who can’t cut-and-paste links and call it a day.

12/03/2017

Long Beach family is ‘waiting on God’s timing’ in unsolved murder case of Kimberly Watts
Investigators are closer to identifying suspects in unsolved Pendleton quadruple homicide
Family gathers to remember woman 7 years after her unsolved disappearance
Desperate for Answers: Families of unsolved cases using psychics in hopes for clues
Appalachian Unsolved: Trenny Gibson, Lost in the Smokies
Coconino County Cold Case Files: Part 1
Coconino County Cold Case Files: Part 2
Coconino County Cold Case Files: Part 3
Coconino County Cold Case Files: Part 4

12/02/2017

More than 22 years after murder of 6-year-old Rosie Tapia, family asks public for help
Iowa cold case break has some hopeful Martikno murder is next
Zodiac Killer: Detectives hope DNA will unlock murderer’s ID at last
Families search for answers in unsolved murders and disappearances
Family holds on to hope that tip will help find Tabitha Tuders
Body exhumed in 1978 Bellingham murder case
Most notorious cold cases in Pennsylvania: these unsolved killings continue to haunt
Accused: the unsolved murder of Retha Welch

12/01/2017

Montana Cold Case: murder of Butte woman unsolved decades later
She was killed 31 years ago, her body found on a Virginia Beach baseball field: there’s new hope to find her killer
South Salt Lake police say DNA ‘snapshot’ could help solve 2010 fatal stabbing of Sherry Black
Axtell girl’s brutal murder still unsolved after 35 years
CBS 7 Special Report: 32 year old Cold Case
Region Cold Case Files: Who killed Linda Weldy? The LaPorte 10-year-old was kidnapped and killed after the school bus dropped her off.
Woman seeks answers decade after her sister’s death

11/30/2017

Virginia Olson murder never forgotten by UNCA and close friends
BCSO looking for leads in 1986 disappearance of HHI girl
Scranton woman’s 43-year-old killing explored
Getting away with murder: Probing 30 years of Madison area’s cold cases
Who killed Kimberly Mabry? Sheriff’s lieutenant re-examining clues in 22-year-old dismemberment
Thanksgiving Day Cold Case murder
Babysitter’s death prompts answers nearly 40 years later

11/29/2017

Half-nude with fanny pack of gold, Canadian’s killing a Knox County mystery decades later
Death Stalks The Bourbon Capital: A spate of unsolved homicides has a small Southern town on edge
OUTSIDE THE MANSON PINKBERRY: MANSON BLOGGERS AND THE WORLD OF MURDER FANDOM
Project Unsolved: Investigators seek new tips in 2000 murders of two young Columbine students
A TOWN THAT DIDN’T FORGET: FORTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, MEXIA RESIDENTS STILL RALLY TO KEEP CARLOS DON STULTZ BEHIND BARS

11/28/2017

Abduction, murder of 17-year-old unsolved after 37 years
Murders of Aloha teens remain unsolved for 40 years
10 years later, Jenna Nielsen’s brutal murder still unsolved
Unsolved: What happened to Sabrina Aisenberg?
1989 deaths of two young women thought to be linked
Unsolved: A toddler’s death, a tangled trail
A Class Ring, Fine China and Silverware: Police Release New Clues in Hunt for Golden State Killer
Woman’s murder remains one of Hawaii’s biggest unsolved mysteries

11/27/17

Who Killed Debbie Sue? Family Searches for Answers 42 Years Later
Special Report: Investigation sheds light on 1966 disappearance of Louise Pietrewicz
‘Tammy lives on in us’
Murder of young boy still haunts retired SLO police lieutenant
Judge to look at files in 1987 deaths of 2 boys found on central Arkansas railroad tracks
1979 Roger Warren case still haunts police

11/25/17

Himebaugh Case Still Active After 26 Years
Dad of 15-year-old killed in LI Yeshiva dorm haunted by mysterious events leading up to 1986 murder
The Bizarre Unsolved Murder of Harry Dean Stanton’s Niece
Burger Chef murder victim’s mom had surprising thing to say after 1978 killings
Murder of Portland public defender still unsolved 8 years after her death
Missing but not forgotten: family, friends share memories of Karen Mitchell 20 years after her disappearance
Missing Pieces: Police using new technology to help solve ‘Lovers Lane murders’
A tragic suicide from 1989 may have been something even more sinister
Mother Continues to Seek Justice 31 Years after Daughter’s Disappearance
Hope For Answers, 23 Years After Double Murder
Project Unsolved: Friends and detectives continue search for Jakeob McKnight’s killer 26 years on

The murder of Lora Morris has everything: a note secreted in a coffin, a mysterious map, a Soldier of Fortune  hitman and four vanished individuals now presumed dead.
The only thing missing is a solution—and a narrative that makes sense.

Coherence is for lightweights; let’s live dangerously and start at the end.

On August 5th, 1994 the body of twenty-two year old murder victim Lora Lynn Morris was disinterred from her eternal resting place in a Chillicothe cemetery.
From her coffin a taskforce comprised of Ohio and Indiana officials plucked a small black jewelry box,
its jaunty pink ribbon discolored from thirteen years in the grave.
Inside the box was a handwritten note and several waterlogged photographs.

“We can say at this time that the letter was written by Lora Morris’s mother Trudy Snedegar. It is in her handwriting and discusses more than one subject. The box also contained three photographs.” Hancock County Detective Donnie Munden, Greenfield Daily Reporter, October 18th, 1994

Law enforcement officer Donnie Munden and murder victim Lora Snedegar Morris; you’ll see their names again, but this isn’t really their story.
The main characters of this story—notice I fail to use the word “protagonists”—-are the pair’s respective fathers, John W. Munden and Stephen Cabe Snedegar.


Captain John W. Munden (retired)—Sergeant Munden in 1981, the year the Snedegar and Munden stories intertwine—was an employee of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department in Greenfield, Indiana.

Steve Snedegar’s background is harder to pin down.
His past is murky—there are rumors of drug running and work as an FBI informant but in 1981 he is a wealthy businessman in the waste-oil industry.
Steve and his wife Trudy are preparing to relocate to Florida and looking to unload the family business,
J&S Oil Service Company.
A tentative deal is struck with two prospective buyers named Tony—Tony Lambert and Tony McCullough—but at the last moment the financing falls through and hard feelings abound.

Captain John Munden, right, at the Snedegar gravesite

Despite the failure of the sale Steve and Trudy depart for Florida midsummer leaving their daughter Lora at their Greenfield home.
Lora is recently divorced from high school classmate Bryce Morris—the couple has a daughter Brandy, age three, who is spending the summer with her father.
On August 10th Trudy Snedegar arrived in Indiana unannounced; Lora and another daughter—the Snedegars have a total of four children—fetch their mother from the airport and take her out for dinner.
At 11pm Trudy and Lora return home and shortly thereafter Trudy retires to the master bedroom of the family residence at 73 Shadeland Drive.
Trudy will later tell detectives the last time she sees her daughter Lora is wearing a long white tee-shirt and lounging on the sofa watching television.
Lora Lynn Morris will never be seen alive again.

Trudy will later tell detectives she awakened at approximately 6am the following morning; Lora’s car is outside, her purse and belongings are present in the home and the patio door is ajar.
Alarmed, Trudy contacts the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and Sergeant John W. Munden is dispatched to the scene. The stage is now set.

Sergeant Munden will later claim he was certain Lora was off on a lark until he learned she left her purse behind:
”I made the remark to Trudy, ‘I believe a woman’s pocketbook is like a minister’s Bible—they don’t go anyplace without it,’” Munden later tells an Orlando Sentinel  reporter.
A check of the family phone records reveals Lora spoke with her ex-husband Bryce Morris twice after Trudy had allegedly gone to bed—once just after 11pm and once shortly before midnight.
Bryce’s account of the content of these conversations has never been publicized.

A Short Compendium of Leads that Went Nowhere:

• On August 12th, two days after Lora’s disappearance Trudy Snedegar received a phone call from an unknown man (possibly a Keenen Ivory Wayans fan) who vowed, “I’m going to get you, sucker.”

• The next day, August 13th Trudy received a phone call from a woman sobbing and making “sexual innuendos;” the call was taped—Trudy, Steve, and Bryce Morris all agree the sobbing woman is Lora

• Psychics? Oh, there were several, although you don’t need to think about them again because their information failed to impact the investigation

• Requisite wild card: a former classmate of Lora and Bryce Morris was a rapist on the run from the FBI; Ricky Dean Akers would ultimately be eliminated from suspicion in Lora’s murder but his Kiss Army photo merits inclusion

I want to rock and roll all night/and die in an FBI gun-fight on my last day


Three Investigative Anomalies that Don’t Mean Anything Unless They Do:

In a criminal investigation the line between unconventional and untoward can be difficult to discern, especially with evolving law-enforcement ethical standards and the passage of three decades.
The Greenfield Daily Reporter  and Orlando Sentinel  provide the information; you decide.

• The Snedegar family paid for their own lie detector tests instead of using a police polygrapher

• Steve Snedegar gave the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department 10K cash to protect his family; according to Sergeant Munden’s Orlando Sentinel  interview, “We used a lot of that money to watch Steve.” (A lot? But not all?)

• A long-haul truck driver was certain he’d given a ride to a hitchhiking Lora Morris, a sighting discounted by her family. Sergeant Munden traveled to Lake Charles, Louisiana on the Snedegar family’s dime to convince the trucker to withdraw the sighting (and threatened to charge the trucker with bigamy on an unrelated matter)

Back to the Action Whether You Like it or Not (AKA Hey, Where’d Everybody Go?)

As the search for his daughter’s body dragged on Steve Snedegar,
then forty-one,
became convinced Lora’s disappearance was related to the failed sale of the family oil-recycling business;
prospective buyers Tony McCullough and Tony Lambert became the focus of his suspicion and wrath.

As delineated in this epic Orlando Sentinel  interview,
Hancock County lawman John Munden claimed Steve—a private pilot—devised a plan to lure Tony Lambert to New Orleans to persuade him to reveal the truth about Lora’s fate.
Approximately one month after Lora’s disappearance Tony Lambert traveled to Louisiana to discuss a possible joint Snedegar waste-oil venture and has never been seen alive again.
Steve claims Lambert left their meeting unscathed;
law enforcement will later hear rumors the two men took a sightseeing flight over the Gulf of Mexico and Steve deplaned alone.
.
The next Snedegar family associate to meet a mysterious end is (was?) Charles Darwin Smith,
described as being in his early 20s at the time of his 1982 disappearance.
Chuck Smith had once worked as a truck driver for J&S Oil, the Snedegar family business, but his employment had been terminated for reasons unknown.

Chuck—then employed at a Kocolene Service Station in Greenfield—told Trudy Snedegar he’d had an odd encounter with Lora the day before she vanished.
On the afternoon of August 9th, Chuck said,
Lora, a frequent customer, stopped by to purchase gas in the company of a scraggly-haired, heavily-tattooed man—according to Chuck, she appeared terrified.
For reasons that remain unclear,
Trudy allegedly suggested Smith keep this information hush-hush—word of the Kocolene encounter eventually leaked to law enforcement, however.

By the time the scraggly-haired stranger story reached the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Chuck Smith was no longer employed at the Greenfield service station.
According to Sergeant Munden, at this juncture Trudy Snedegar became frantic to obtain Chuck’s unlisted phone number,
claiming she had a job opportunity for him.
The second time Trudy stopped by the station to badger Munden the sergeant acquiesced to her demands,
sealing Chuck’s fate and providing us with the true-crime quote of the day:

“Dumb-ass me gives the number out.” John Munden, Hancock Sheriff’s Department; Orlando Sentinel, March 27th, 1994

A few days later Chuck Smith received a phone call from a man who identified himself as John Rogers, proprietor of the John Rogers Trucking Company in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Rogers said he’d received Chuck’s contact information from Steve Snedegar—he was calling to offer Chuck steady employment and a complimentary bus ticket to Tennessee, he claimed.
On March 28th Chuck’s father-in-law dropped him at the bus depot
en route to his new job at a company investigators would soon learn does not exist;
Charles Darwin Smith has never been seen again.

When detectives visited the bus station they learned the ticket seller’s name was John Rogers; the purchaser had likely noted the employee’s ID tag, investigators theorized,
and repurposed the name for the nonexistent trucking company.
When questioned, Steve Snedegar denied he’d given Chuck Smith’s information to anyone,
and apparently law enforcement attempts to tie the Snedegars to Chuck’s disappearance ended there.
Make of it what you will,
but detectives have never revealed the physical description of the person who purchased Chuck Smith’s ticket to nowhere, and Tony Lambert and Charles Darwin Smith have never been entered into NamUs,
the federal missing persons database.

I should further mention, while on the subject of missing persons, the existence of an additional vanished Snedegar associate: James A. Wilkes, Steve’s right-hand man at J&S Oil.
Wilkes hasn’t been seen since the mid-1980s,
but no missing persons report has ever been filed and he too is absent from NamUs.
The only publically-available information regarding James A. Wilkes —aside from the fact that he is missing—is his approximate birth year, 1952, and his last place of residence: Charlottesville, Indiana.
As is the case with Charles Darwin Smith, photos of James A. Wilkes are not available in the Greenfield Daily Reporter’s archives.

Many are Lost but One is Found

Beware the ides of April: on April 15th, 1982 a farmhand tilling a cornfield approximately twelve miles from the Snedegar residence spotted something odd amid the stalks.
At first glance he thought it was a deer carcass; it was not.
Badly decomposed, Lora Morris had been shot three times in the head with a .25 caliber revolver; her body— clad in a white tee-shirt and denim cutoff shorts—was found face up with her legs apart and her arms crossed.
Scattered shell casings were present at the scene leading Sergeant John Munden to tell the Greenfield Daily Reporter, “It’s my belief she was killed in the field.”

Although the medical examiner will determine Lora had been killed shortly after her disappearance it’s not entirely certain her body was present in the cornfield the entire eight months she was missing.
The landowner was adamant her body hadn’t been visible when the field was harvested in late October/early November,
and there is also the matter of the sobbing “sexual innuendo” phone call placed—allegedly by Lora—three days after her disappearance.
It’s possible her parents and ex-husband misidentified her voice and the farmer and his thresher somehow managed to miss her body;
these are only minor mysteries in the scheme of things, and there will be more to come.

Water Finds its Level, or Steve and Trudy Snedegar in Florida

Don’t fret; not everyone in this story manages to evade a happy ending.
Three years after Lora’s death Indiana businessman Tony McCullough—partner of missing person Tony Lambert and onetime prospective buyer of J&S Oil—received a phone call from a man named Gary Stafford.
Stafford, a self-described hitman who plied his trade in Soldier of Fortune  magazine, told McCullough he’d been hired by a Florida man seeking to avenge his daughter’s death.
Stafford had accepted a 5K payment for McCullough’s murder, he claimed,
with 20K due upon completion of the contract.
Magnanimous (or possibly just lazy), he offered to allow McCullough to live for a onetime payment of 10K.

In what is perhaps the sole instance of rational decision-making exhibited in this story McCullough immediately contacted law enforcement;
Stafford was ultimately arrested for extortion and sentenced to two years in prison.
Stafford refused to identify the Florida man with the murdered daughter who hired him, however,
and everyone moved on;
well, everyone except Lora’s mother Trudy—she was the next Snedegar intimate to drop from sight.

Although the impetus for both decisions is unclear, Trudy and Steve had divorced in 1983 but continued to live together in Astor, Florida.
Sometime during the summer of 1986—the specific date is uncertain—Trudy told her daughter Brenda
Steve had awoken her the last five consecutive nights by jamming a gun against her head and threatening to pull the trigger.
Brenda, visiting her parents in Florida, was apparently unfazed by this information;
and so was Trudy, apparently, since after five nights of terror she and Steve hit the town for an evening of country-western dancing.

Investigators believe the night of boot-scootin’ was Trudy’s last; although the genesis of this information is unclear,
investigators will subsequently hear rumors Steve and an associate took a plastic-wrapped body for a one-way boat ride on the Ocklawaha River a few days later.
The earthly remains of Trudy Snedegar, age forty-nine at the time of her disappearance, have never been located.

The day after Trudy’s disappearance Steve—after spending the morning sobbing in his office—led his visiting daughter Brenda to his Mercedes parked in his driveway.
Inside the trunk were stacks upon stacks of cash—one million dollars’ worth, he claimed.
Steve told his daughter Brenda to retrieve the cash if he is arrested but he is not arrested—and the cash, like Trudy, Tony Lambert, Chuck Smith and John A. Wilkes, is never seen again.

The investigation into Trudy’s disappearance is stunted from the onset;
when asked about his wife’s whereabouts Steve alleges Trudy left him,
and for reasons I cannot fathom none of the couple’s three children—Brenda included—bothered to report their mother missing for nearly a year.
When now-Captain John Munden learns Trudy left behind her purse, however,
he is certain she is sending him a message—no woman voluntarily goes missing without taking her purse,
he told Trudy when her daughter Lora vanished.
Trudy’s rationale for sending smoke signals with her accessories
instead of fleeing the second, third, fourth or fifth consecutive night Steve woke her at gunpoint is,
as are so many aspects of this story, incomprehensible.

1988: The Hancock County Sherriff’s Department’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Year

In the interest of brevity I will spare you the details of the five-way officer sex tape and the deputy murder-suicide that many residents felt was a (cleverly-staged) deputy murder-murder;
let us simply say a plague of scandals descended upon the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and an investigation by the local prosecutor’s office followed.
At this time we will trouble ourselves only with the specific travails of Captain John Munden,
longtime lead detective on the Lora Morris murder investigation.

Captain John Munden, as it happens, had entered into the bounds of matrimony with the wife of a murder victim whose slaying was being investigated by . . . Captain John Munden.
Optics aside, marrying the wife of a murder victim is not a crime,
and failing to solve the murder of your wife’s first husband is not a crime.
Peddling drugs, however, is a crime, and when Captain Munden’s wife Nieves Lindner Munden was busted selling cocaine he opted to retire from the force.
(For legal reasons I should note the investigation found no evidence Captain Munden was aware of or participated in his wife’s criminal activity, for which she served a brief prison sentence.)

The mantle of the Lora Morris murder investigation now passes to Captain Munden’s son Donnie Munden,
also a Hancock County detective, although John Munden remains an active participant despite his retirement.

Cancer Comes for the King, Does Not Miss

In 1989 a law enforcement official in the Snedegars’ adopted hometown of Astor, Florida learned Steve was dying of cancer.
Lake County Sheriff’s Detective Lynn Wagner—tasked with the investigation into Trudy’s disappearance—arranged to meet with him for coffee.
During their conversation Steve—citing a disinclination to die in prison—promised to leave a post-mortem confession tying up the loose ends in the assorted crimes after his death.
Malignant melanoma felled the Snedegar patriarch the following year—no written confession was ever located,
but a large bonfire was spotted behind his home in the days after Steve’s death.
Many investigators believe the timing was not coincidental.

Not every scrap of paper in the Snedegar home was incinerated in the post-funeral pyre;
while Steve’s children were packing up his belongings they discovered a map in Lora’s funeral guestbook—a large X marked a spot near the family’s Astor home.
Certain they’d discovered the gravesite of Trudy Snedegar—or John A. Wilkes, or Tony Lambert, or hell, maybe even Chuck Smith—Lake County officials launched an intensive dig of the Snedegar property.

They found nothing.

Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig (AKA Ain’t No Fit Like a Retrofit)

The last gasp of the Lora Morris murder investigation transpired in August, 1994;
although the explanation for his tardy notification is unknown, William “Buck” Estes, a Snedegar family friend, informed investigators he’d concealed a note in Lora’s coffin at Trudy Snedegar’s behest.
Hancock County detectives disinterred Lora’s remains but have never revealed the contents of Trudy’s last note to her daughter.

Into this information void steps retired lawman John Munden;
the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office has been stingy with the facts but the case’s first and forever detective has been generous with his opinions—he provided both his theory of the crime
and his confidence therein to an Orlando Sentinel  reporter.

“If Trudy were alive I could get a warrant for her arrest today.” John Munden, Orlando Sentinel, March 27th, 1994

Are you ready? Strap in tight, ‘cause there will be reaching aplenty.

According to the elder Munden’s theory of the crime(s), Trudy accidentally shot Lora three-times in the head during an argument,
possibly because Lora was considering reuniting with her ex-husband Bryce.
Trudy then dumped her daughter’s body (despite the scattered shell casings at the scene and the detective’s earlier avowal Lora had been shot in the cornfield).

Trudy then engineered the disappearance of Chuck Smith,
likely to impede investigators’ ability to identify the scraggly-haired man from the Kocolene sighting
the day before Lora’s murder.
(Trudy’s reason for sending a man to threaten her daughter twenty-four hours before an accidental shooting is not addressed.)

For his part, Steve Snedegar killed Tony Lambert and hired the Soldier of Fortune  hitman to kill Tony McCullough because he mistakenly believed one or both Tonys killed Lora;
he later murdered Trudy when he realized she was the one who had actually murdered their daughter.
(The disappearance of John A. Wilkes is also attributed to Steve, although the details and motive remain hazy.)

Do you feel let down? Did you want a more fact-based conclusion, possibly garnished with an indictment or two?
Perhaps you’re unable to reconcile Trudy as the villain of the story?
Steve Snedegar had to have known he was being set up to take the fall in the Chuck Smith disappearance;
why would it take him five years to decide Trudy was (allegedly) responsible for Lora’s murder?
And more importantly, where are the remains of the four missing players?
If you feel disappointed by the end of this story imagine how the families of Chuck Smith, John A. Wilkes,
and Tony Lambert feel.

Although the unfairness of the situation struck me only in hindsight, the four victims who were never found aren’t the only missing persons in this story—Lora Morris’s remains were located but she’s still essentially absent.
I don’t know if it’s a failure on the part of the Greenfield Daily Reporter or a result of the Snedegar code of omertà but we know not a single thing about her.
Not one sibling or friend or relative has recalled her love of life or uncanny ability to light up a room.
When she was missing none of her nearest and dearest noted her happy-go-lucky nature
or proclivity for lending the very shirt off her back.
Stories about unidentified human remains aside,
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a victim in a high-profile murder case portrayed with such a dearth of human detail.

Regardless of who killed her, Lora didn’t get to see her daughter grow up, her slayer was never punished and her voice was eliminated from the media accounts of her murder. Lora Lynn Morris was cheated.

The murder of Lora Morris has everything: a note secreted in a coffin, a mysterious map, a Soldier of Fortune  hitman and four vanished individuals now presumed dead. The only thing missing is a solution—and a narrative that gives any sense of Lora Morris.

Unsolved Maybe-Murders and Definite-Murders in Triplicate

 
The unexpected twists in the Becker family slayings didn’t end when the main suspect was acquitted
Although they’re generally referred to as the Friendly murders I suspect the victims found them decidedly less so
An intrepid amateur sleuth tackles the long-unsolved slayings of three Indiana businessmen
In 1966 three young women went to the beach and disappeared in a cloud of speculation
A beautifully-photographed thirty-year retrospective on the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders, Johnny Cash‘s personal true crime obsession
The missing Klein brothers are the American version of the Beaumont children minus publicity
Confession: at the first mention of these missing boy spelunkers the British horror movie The Descent  begins playing on a loop in my subconscious

And last but couldn’t be further from least: even though this blogpost has been brought to us by the number three we’re ending on a double. North Carolina’s Shipman-Glass-Shumate murders have been far too exhaustively examined to be contained in a single link (for dilettantes + for obsessives—you know who you are)

The Klein brothers: and then there was one

Clinton Hill Brooklyn; January 17th, 1947.

New York is a tough town, as the autopsy results of eighteen-year old Anthony Trabasso attest.
His skull and right hip are fractured and internal injuries abound,
but the Pratt University freshman’s least-grave injuries are his showiest: the letters N-A-Z-I, five inches high, have been sliced into his chest above a four-inch swastika;
the letter “A,” significance unknown, has been etched into the flesh of his abdomen.
The wounds are not deep but they are fresh,
still weeping blood when he was discovered—barefoot and clad in underpants and blue striped pajamas—crumpled on a sidewalk half a block from his Ryerson Street rooming house.

A search of Anthony’s ransacked living quarters revealed National Socialist graffiti in a more conventional medium:
NAZIS AT PRATT had been painted on a wall above his bed,
his mattress pushed off its box spring into the middle of the room.
The slogans NAZIS AT PRATT HELP ME and HITLER SUPRESSES MASSES had been scrawled onto a notebook and large piece of tissue paper, respectively.
Anthony’s landlord would later tell investigators she’d passed by his apartment in the wee hours; his radio was playing softly and she noted no sign of disturbance or Wehrmacht operatives.


The child of Poughkeepsie tavern owners,
Anthony told his family he was enjoying his studies at Pratt though he mentioned some friction with his classmates,
most of whom were returning veterans on the GI Bill.
NYPD detectives could find only one associate with information which might explain the Nazi trappings of Anthony’s demise:
longtime friend Norma Elwell informed investigators she and Anthony had attended a YMCA dance
six weeks before his death
and during intermission he’d shared a strange tale about a recent squabble with a Third Reich sympathizer.

According to Anthony
his National Socialist encounter
had begun in Grand Central Station.
While walking through the concourse he witnessed an elderly gentleman who appeared to be blind stumble and fall.
Rushing to the man’s aid,
Anthony ushered him into a taxi and accepted his offer to share the fare to Brooklyn.
The two made idle chitchat until Anthony noticed his new acquaintance was wearing a swastika ring;
World War II had ended less than two years before
and at the time Nazi jewelry was not simply a fashion faux pas—it was treasonous.

When asked about the ring the elderly gentleman deflected Anthony’s questions and instead began to mock him for his good intentions, implying only weaklings and fools offer to help others without remuneration.
Eventually the man smiled and revealed he’d been conning Anthony all along:
“I’m not even blind, sucker,” he reportedly said.
Although it’s unclear exactly why the codger was trolling—for the 1940s version of lulz,
I suppose—Anthony was incensed by the ruse and the oldster’s unpatriotic accessories.
After directing the driver to pull to the side of the road Anthony ejected the aging trickster from the vehicle.
As the cab motored off the old man swore he would one day make Anthony pay for his rudeness.

Is it just me or is headline-writing a lost art?

Although I only recently learned his name I first heard the rough details of Anthony’s death from a former Pratt student in the 1980s; informed of my interest in true crime
a friend of a friend mentioned rumors of an unsolved Nazi mutilation murder near the school’s Brooklyn campus.
In the pre-internet era it was nearly impossible to verify this sort of urban legend—the former Pratt student remembered neither Anthony’s name nor the year of his death
and sifting through microfiche without a timeframe is a pointless endeavor.

Despite the passage of decades and scarcity of specifics the Pratt Nazi murder lodged in my brain;
and a few weeks ago while compiling You Must Dismember This I encountered a crime so similar I was taken aback:
on May 3rd, 1940—six and a half years before Anthony’s death—an employee of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad noticed a foul stench emanating from the rail yard in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.
Subsequent investigation revealed three corpses rotting in three separate rail cars.
The trio of remains had been beheaded and two had been dismembered.
The victims’ severed heads had been taken from the scene but the hewn limbs were scattered nearby.

Corpse placement at McKees Rock Railyard

In addition to appendage excision one of the bodies had undergone further mutilation; the letters N-A-Z-I—the “Z” inverted—was carved in five inch-tall letters across the chest of one of the torsos,
and it was this flourish that called to mind the murdered Pratt student of urban legend lore.
The railway victim with the chest mutilation would eventually be identified as James David Nicholson, age twenty-nine,
a convicted burglar and sometime male hustler.
The remains of his two unfortunate fellow-travelers have never been identified.

Though discovered in Pennsylvania the McKees Rock railyard victims are usually attributed to the Cleveland Torso Killer,
an unapprehended serial killer who murdered and mutilated a dozen victims in the late 1930s.
Also called The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run,
the Torso Killer preyed upon alcoholics and down-and-outers of both sexes;
his whereabouts after 1940 are unknown although some crime writers believe him to be responsible for several subsequent high-profile mutilation murders including the slaying of the Black Dahlia.


Certain the murders of the Pratt student
and James Nicholson must be linked,
I began scouring the internet for more information
about the student’s slaying.
The alumnus I’d spoken with said the Pratt victim’s ghost was rumored to haunt the school’s campus
and thus I assumed his identity would be easily ascertained;
I was wrong.
After googling infinite versions of “Pratt-student-Nazi-murder” I finally found the information I sought
tucked away in a subscription-only archive;
I also learned why I’d had such difficulty unearthing Anthony’s identity—the former Pratt alumnus had omitted one important detail.

Broken hips are far more common in impact injuries than assaults,
the pathologist who performed Anthony’s autopsy
informed the detectives on his case;
investigators therefore began to theorize Anthony had not been beaten but instead pushed from a roof or window.
Further investigation unearthed a single set of rooftop footprints leading from Anthony’s residence
to the building abutting the sidewalk where his unconscious body was found. Anthony had died barefoot and the soles of his feet were covered with the same black soot blanketing local rooftops.
Detectives also discovered a bloody etching implement in Anthony’s back yard, located directly beneath his window.

Anthony, investigators determined, had staged his own murder.
Feeling marginalized by his World War II veteran classmates, detectives theorized,
the depressed commercial arts major had fashioned a suicide scenario making it appear he’d been slain by Nazi sympathizers in a bid to gain the GIs respect.
He’d planted the (probably bogus) background story of the angry Grand Central Nazi with his friend Norma Elwell,
and the night of his death he ransacked his room, carved the National Socialist messages into his own flesh
and then clambered across several rooftops before jumping to his death.
Although his parents and some detectives remained skeptical Anthony’s death was ruled a suicide,
and the physical evidence seems to support the official verdict.

Although it’s possible Anthony had read about the mutilation of James David Nicholson—both N-A-Z-I torso carvings measured five inches tall,
an unlikely yet still theoretically possible coincidence—their deaths were not linked.
I don’t know where the Cleveland Torso Killer went after 1940 but he wasn’t filleting art students on Pratt’s Brooklyn campus.

Today’s blog post doesn’t have a moral but it does have a theme: disappointment. I’m disappointed I failed to discover a heretofore unknown crime of the Cleveland Torso Killer.
I’m disappointed Anthony Trabasso felt compelled to take his own life—he possessed an epic flair for the dramatic, and the world always needs more fearless creative types.
Furthermore, on a related note,
Nazis are having a resurgence in America at the moment and this also disappoints me.
A few weeks ago we were reliving the civil unrest of the 1970s and now we’re rehashing the merits of World War II.
2017 is destined to be a time-lapse montage of all the unpleasant events of US history, apparently.
Not only does this disappoint me but it frightens me as well.
I suppose I should start looking for blog topics relating to the Civil War as that’s clearly the next cataclysm on the agenda.

“What kind of man is the sock strangler? What dark secret lies deeply embedded in the twisted web of his psyche and compels him to murder again and again? What turns him on?” Fort Lauderdale News, August 30th, 1973 

7am, July 14th, 1973. A man walking his dog past a heavily-wooded yard in Fort Lauderdale noticed a scattered trail of women’s clothing:
following the garments into the underbrush he came upon the body of Jonina Kelpien, age forty-two.
Clad only in her bra, Jonina, an Iceland native, had been garroted from behind with a gold men’s knee sock;
she had also been raped.
Her white Cadillac, the interior flecked with blood, was parked nearby;
in the car’s back seat her cocker spaniel Sponge waited unharmed.

When detectives arrived at the Kelpien residence at 34 Pelican Isle—approximately one mile from the crime scene—they discovered Jonina’s key in the door but the inside chain lock fastened;
she’d been locked out of the house.
Rousing her husband Theodore from sleep, investigators learned he’d last spoken to his wife on the phone at 10pm the previous evening;
during the conversation they’d argued about her drinking.
Detectives later determined Jonina visited with friends in the Icelandic expat community into the wee hours,
and was last spotted at 3am at a nearby convenience store.

Eleven days later, ten blocks from the Kelpien crime scene:
shortly after 9pm a twenty-five year old secretary reentered her apartment after doing a load of laundry.
While groping for a lamp in the dark she encountered an intruder—fighting like a wildcat and screaming like a banshee, she managed to drive the man out her front door.
The assailant—who had entered via a jimmied-open back window—left his would-be murder weapon behind:
a men’s gold knee-length stretch sock.
Although it appeared identical to the sock used in the Kelpien murder the crime lab determined the items weren’t a matched set—slight compositional differences existed in the fabric.

The Kelpien home

August 3rd, just outside Fort Lauderdale:
one week after the secretary’s attack seventeen-year old Teresa Ann Williams crept into North Miami General Hospital after visiting hours to meet her newborn nephew;
she then dropped her boyfriend at his home around 11:30pm and vanished.
Four days later men hunting land crabs in a marshy area in Hollywood discovered her body,
nude from the waist down.
Her advanced state of decomposition precluded a definitive determination of rape
but her cause of death was readily apparent: she’d been strangled with a men’s maroon knee-length stretch sock.

The medical examiner determined Teresa had been slain shortly after she was last seen.
Her car, a white two-door Comet, was eventually located parked at an apartment complex near her dumpsite;
none of the building residents recognized Teresa’s photo,
and she had no known connection to anyone who lived in the area.
In her car authorities found a dozen eggs, indicating she had likely stopped at a store after dropping off her boyfriend.

Next to die was Hollywood-resident Marisue Curtis, age sixteen.
A recent transplant from Upstate New York, August 28th was her first day of South Broward High school—that evening her stepfather Stanley took her out for a soda to celebrate the occasion.
As they returned home around 9pm
Marisue chanced upon some friends outside the Curtis residence at 901 South Surf Road;
assuring her stepfather she’d be upstairs directly
she accompanied her friends to a nearby convenience store and then disappeared.

The following morning Marisue’s nude corpse was found by a fisherman at a construction site six miles from her home.
Attached to two concrete blocks,
her body had been placed underwater just off the shore of the Intercostal Waterway;
her clothing and bathing suit were found nearby.
She had been raped and strangled; a black men’s knee sock was knotted around her neck.
The building site’s security guard heard screams in the area at approximately 10pm but failed to contact authorities.

[Unimportant but interesting detail: security at the construction site was provided by Wackenhut, the CIA-affiliated company that played a prominent role in the Octopus conspiracy theory. Digging into the crime archives is like playing Six Degrees of Separation with murder victims instead of Kevin Bacon costars.]

Marisue’s stepfather Stanley Curtis, an attorney, wrote an open letter to the strangler

The Curtis family was devastated by Marisue’s death:
“How does something like this happen,” her sister Debbie Cantwell asked a reporter from the Fort Lauderdale News.
“She wasn’t a tramp. I can’t understand it—something like this doesn’t happen to good kids.”
Florida was experiencing a homicide spike at the time,
but even amidst the daily carnage the upper-middle class backgrounds of the sock victims focused substantial media attention on the slayings.
Dubbing the perpetrator the “Gold Sock Strangler”—“Gold-Maroon-Black Sock Strangler” would’ve been more precise—newspapers abounded with speculation about the killer’s identity and the significance of his chosen murder weapon.

“Perhaps his mother wore gold panties or some other gold-colored undergarment . . . . All right, let’s consider the material of those socks. Men’s stretch socks, weren’t they? Smooth, nylon, silky? Perhaps the smooth softness of the socks reminds the murderer of an undergarment; there is a connection there—the socks mean something to him.” Psychiatrist Dr. Raymond R. Killinger, Fort Lauderdale News, August 30th, 1973

A connection between the sock slayings seemed obvious to the press and area residents,
but in a Fort Lauderdale News  interview
a spokesperson for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department denied the murders were linked.
Homicide Bureau Chief Sergeant Jerry Meltzer acknowledged superficial similarities between the Hollywood victims—Teresa Ann Williams and Marisue Curtis—but he was adamant
the two crimes in his jurisdiction [the Kelpien murder and the secretary attack] were unrelated:

“The victims didn’t come from the same social strata. And I’m not convinced Mrs. Kelpien was raped; in the attack on the secretary I’m convinced the woman walked back into her apartment and surprised a burglar.” Sergeant Jerry Meltzer, Fort Lauderdale News, August 31st, 1973

Apparently law enforcement was so obsessed with quelling community panic investigators were willing to undermine a medical examiner’s findings
and pretend run-of-the-mill burglars arrived equipped with one extra knee sock.
The Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s message was clear: there is nothing to worry about, average citizen.
These attacks are personal cause crimes, and as long as you don’t pal around with homicidal maniacs you’ll be fine.

Although Marisue Curtis was the final victim strangled with a men’s sock the ligature homicides in the area continued.
Six weeks after Marisue’s death Vermont nurse Susan Mickelsen, age twenty-three,
arrived in Fort Lauderdale for a week’s vacation.
On November 20th her body was found in her room at the Fair Winds Motel—she’d been garroted with an item variously described as a woman’s sock, pantyhose, or nylon stocking.
Her assailant had placed an open Bible and a pillow over her face;
clad in a housecoat pushed above her waist, it’s unclear if Susan had been raped—the media reports regarding her autopsy are inconsistent.

Ten weeks later, February 6th, 1974.
When Ann Raub Newman failed to appear at her desk at 9:30am her coworkers immediately presumed disaster;
the thirty-two year old office manager was unfailingly prompt and responsible.
At 10am they went to her Hollywood apartment and found her dead in bed, nude from the waist down—a pillow had been placed over her face and a brightly-colored silk scarf knotted tightly around her neck.
Ann’s killer left two fingerprints behind:
one on the window screen he’d removed to gain entry and one on her bedroom doorjamb.
An autopsy revealed Ann had been sexually assaulted;
the crime lab subsequently determined her assailant was a B-blood type secretor.

Acting on a tip, detectives were able to match the fingerprints at the Raub Newman crime scene to nineteen-year old construction worker Gary Jay Matus.
Matus—like Marisue Curtis a recent transplant from Upstate New York—had been arrested the previous summer for prowling.
Like Ann’s assailant Matus was a B-type secretor,
a fairly rare attribute shared by only ten percent of the population.
Matus was arrested on February 8th while driving down State Road A1A—his car, interestingly enough, was a gold-colored Cadillac.

When questioned by police Matus did the classic dance of guilt, inching himself ever closer and closer to the crime scene.
First he claimed he’d never been in Ann’s neighborhood;
when detectives noted his stepbrother lived nearby Matus conceded he may have been in the neighborhood but had certainly never been to the Raub Newman residence.
When confronted with his fingerprint on the removed window screen Matus pivoted,
now claiming he actually had been outside Ann’s apartment but only at the behest of a friend
(named either Steve or Roy, his companion’s identity as changeable as the details of Matus’s story).

According to Matus he’d been enjoying a beverage at a local bar when he met Steve/Roy,
a friendly stranger who suggested they cap off the evening with a burglary.
Matus had accompanied Steve/Roy to Ann Raub Newman’s apartment, he admitted,
and had then helped remove the window screen—but he had never been inside the crime scene, he insisted.
When detectives cited his fingerprint on the bedroom doorjamb Matus adopted his final stance, a tale he would cling to through two trials:
he had entered Ann’s apartment with Steve/Roy the evening before the murder,
he now admitted, but no one was home at the time.
In a twist you almost certainly saw coming, investigators were never able to locate the elusive bar-hopping burglar who answered to the name of Steve/Roy.

At his first trial Matus was the sole witness and the jury split nine for conviction, three for acquittal—his imaginary-codefendant-ate-my-homework alibi was surprisingly effective.
At his second trial, however, luck failed him;
after five hours’ deliberation Matus was convicted of rape and second degree murder.
Sentenced to one-hundred and sixty five years in prison,
Matus’s projected release date is in 2034 at the ripe old age of seventy-nine.

Gary Jay Matus (left) and a court bailiff


Predictably, although the Fort Lauderdale Police Department initially denied the sock crimes were linked
investigators changed their tune after Matus’s arrest—although he was never tried for the sock slayings or the murder of Susan Mickelsen he was identified as the Gold Sock Killer in the press,
and investigation into the other strangulations seems to have ceased after his conviction.
Jonina Kelpien’s husband and Marisue Curtis’s stepfather attended every day of both Matus trials,
so certain were they of his guilt in the sock slayings.

Assessing guilt in the pre-forensic science era lacks the certitude of DNA evidence,
but Gary Jay Matus is almost certainly guilty of Ann Raub Newman’s murder—the imaginary coconspirator is a common guilt-deflection trope and the likelihood Ann had experienced multiple break-ins—-first by a burglar and then by a rapist/murderer—within the span of a few hours is infinitesimal.
Ann had been slain at approximately 7:30am and Matus had arrived at his job—scheduled to start at 7:45am—thirty minutes late that morning; the evidence against him is circumstantial but substantial.

However I’m far less certain is Matus the Gold Sock Strangler—the secretary who survived her attack was unable to identify him in a lineup,
and authorities have never revealed the blood grouping of the semen recovered at the sock crime scenes,
an omission I find suspicious at best.
Law enforcement obviously wanted the public to believe the local serial killer was behind bars, but the case against Matus for the sock attacks is less than overwhelming.

Ironically, the crime I find most similar to the Raub Newman slaying is the Susan Mickelsen murder—both victims were attacked in bed,
nightclothes pushed up, naked from the waist down, a post-mortem pillow covering their faces—but it’s unclear if the Mickelsen murder is related to the sock crimes.
Approximately ten percent of homicides are committed via strangulation;
while not the most commonplace murder method there’s no statistical imperative indicating every contemporaneous ligature strangulation was committed by the same offender.
The male knee socks transported to the scene are atypical enough to qualify as a signature, but Susan’s killer murdered her with an item of her own hosiery.


There is only a single factor which indicates Matus’s guilt in the sock murders but it’s persuasive:
Matus was a construction worker by trade,
and he was employed at the building site where Marisue Curtis’s body was found.
And Marisue, coincidentally, was the only sock victim whose corpse was concealed; the remains of both Jonina and Teresa were openly discarded.
Attaching the cement blocks and dragging Marisue into the water must’ve been a time-consuming task;
an assailant without ties to the crime scene had no incentive to hide her body.
And the odds of two murderers with a penchant for ligature strangulation frequenting the same jobsite seem astronomical, even in the homicidal wonderland of 1970s Florida.

Of course, astronomical odds don’t equate with impossibility; for example, what are the chances two high-profile murderers would patronize the same drinking establishment?
Matus was a regular at the Button, an infamous Fort Lauderdale dive bar;
and when Son of Sam David Berkowitz visited his stepfather in Boynton Beach he was a frequent customer as well.
When a Fort Lauderdale News  reporter mentioned the unlikeliness of this coincidence to longtime Button employee Bill Penna the barkeep seemed unimpressed:
“I think half the people who come around here are insane,” he replied.
I never knew the Son of Sam had Florida ties, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

Spring Break at the Button in the 1970s; I spent an hour playing Where’s Waldo?  looking for serial killers in the crowd.

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.