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Four weeks after her headless torso was fished from the Pacific Ocean the Toni Goman Feminist Rape Crisis Center opened in Columbus, Ohio;
like its namesake, the crisis center’s existence would be cut short by violence two decades later.

Southern California, November 2nd, 1973. The three Palisades High School students couldn’t believe their eyes.
Gale Cruse, James Levesque and Liz Taylor—no, not that Liz Taylor—had pulled over to change a flat tire on the Pacific Coast Highway and spotted an object bobbing in the surf at Castle Rock Beach.
Closer inspection revealed a decapitated human corpse, arms, breasts, and legs amputated.
The trio had skipped school hoping for an adventure but happening upon the aftermath of a mutilation murder was not the Beach Boys-brand of fun in the sun they had anticipated.

“[Finding the body was] frightening. How evil and how ugly and how sad. Who the heck would do something like this?” James Levesque, Palisadian Post, August 10th, 2017

Upon arriving at the scene LAPD officers discovered a human leg at the water’s edge with a single blue platform shoe, size 6B, placed nearby; a blue purse, devoid of identification, had been discarded on the shore.
A search of the nearby waterway unearthed a matching shoe but no signs of the corpse’s missing appendages.
Detectives were unable to synch the decedents’ particulars with any existing missing persons report and a canvass of local stores revealed the shoes were not available for sale in California;
surmising the victim hailed from out of town,
the LAPD staged a press conference pleading for tips with the blue accessories featured front and center.
It’s unclear if this development was prompted by the publicity, but two days later a missing persons report was filed by the traveling companion of twenty-eight year old Ohio State University student Toni Goman.

“Toni was a special cousin. She always made everything more fun.” Vicki Amos Murray, Palisadian Post, August 10th, 2017

Adopted by maternal relatives at birth, Toni Elinor Goman was a divorcée, a single-mother of an 8-year old son and a campus radical.
A quintessential ’70s feminist, she loved strolling through the forest topless while reciting poetry and agitating with her fellow Ohio State University students to demolish gender norms.
A member of the Women’s Action Coalition, Toni had been instrumental in creating and fostering a faction of the group which eventually became Women Against Rape (WAR), an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence.
During Thanksgiving break she’d traveled west in anticipation of a possible relocation to Southern California after graduation.

“Regardless of age, race, social class, lifestyle or achievement all women share a single status: that of being potential targets of violence.” From Freeing Our Lives, the Women Against Rape manifesto, 1978

With no fingers for fingerprinting and no teeth for dental matching authorities relied on the torso’s scars and moles for comparison—eventually the medical examiner was able to confirm the remains found at Castle Rock Beach belonged to Toni Goman, who had been stabbed to death prior to dismemberment.
The friend she had been traveling with—an (unnamed) male Ohio State University Student with a prior assault and battery conviction—claimed he’d dropped Toni off at a low-rent Beverly Hills hotel and when he returned for her a few days later she had vanished.

Southern California in the 1970s was a dismemberment wonderland.
The handiwork of mutilation-enthusiasts Edmund Kemper, Patrick Keaney and Randy Kraft left the landscape literally littered with body parts—-here’s a part, there’s a part, everywhere a part-part.
In the six months preceding the discovery of Toni’s remains hacked limbs and torsos belonging to a total of six different victims were discovered strewn throughout the area;
LAPD cadets were scouring Santa Ynez canyon for the missing appendages of one of these victims—a male teenager—when a searcher discovered a jawbone which later proved to belong to Toni.
Despite an extensive search her upper skull, three missing limbs and amputated breasts have never been recovered.

LAPD cadets search Santa Ynez canyon

Toni Goman’s murder has never been forensically linked to any of the West Coast mutilation slaying of the era
but there was speculation in the press dismemberment devotee Richard Lawrence Marquette was responsible—at the time of Toni’s death he was out on parole for a 1961 dismemberment slaying and he would later return to prison for two Oregon mutilation murders in the mid-70s.
(Valuable lesson for parole boards everywhere: when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.)

Richard Lawrence Marquette

Personally, although the crimes have never been linked in the media I’ve always pondered a connection between Toni’s murder and that of seventeen-year old runaway Taunye Moore. Five months after Toni’s death, on April 9th, 1974
Taunye’s dismembered corpse was found packed into three trash bags dumped behind a Los Angeles motel;
in addition to the proximities in location, time frame and modus operandi Taunye and Toni were both from Ohio—Taunye’s hometown Mount Gilead was just an hour’s drive from Ohio State.
A coincidence, probably, but an intriguing one nonetheless.

[“Taunye’s killer most likely had] a pathological hatred of women.” Morrow County Prosecuting Attorney Charles Howland, Galion Inquirer, April 22, 2009

Taunye Moore

Unfortunately, in the newspapers at least, Toni’s murder got lost in the serial slayings’ maelstrom—no new investigatory developments were forthcoming and her name quickly slipped from the headlines.
Her spirit lived on at Ohio State University, however;
the Toni Goman Feminist Rape Crisis Center, named in her honor, provided a 24-hour hotline and self-defense workshops for OSU students and members of the community at large.
The center prevailed for twenty-one years,
weathering the budget cutbacks and personality conflicts endemic in outreach work but in 1995 an act of violence sparked a chain of events that would destroy the organization—a rapist broke into the WAR office and sexually assaulted the volunteer manning the hotline phones.

“There are many factors leading to this dilemma (rape), not the least of which is the apparent unwillingness of the potential victim to take the minimum precautions when interacting socially.” From the preface of a 1973 sexual assault report conducted by the Columbus Police Department’s Planning and Research Department (hereinafter the WTF Files), quoted in the Ohio State Lantern, October 22nd, 1974

Women Against Rape self-defense class, 1973

“The ‘pill,’ so available and freely used in our society, has undoubtedly developed a somewhat lackadaisical attitude in many females to being the victim of rape.” The WTF Files (Helpful hint for misogynists: calling women “females” is a tell)

Feminism can be hard to get right; navigating situations in which the choices of individual women could potentially endanger all women can be treacherous.
The victim of the rape center attack subsequently opted not to report the crime, and this decision tore Women Against Rape asunder.
One faction of WAR felt the victim had a moral responsibility to protect other potential victims in the community by alerting law enforcement,
and other members of WAR felt obligated to respect the victim’s wishes irrespective of any further harm the perpetrator might inflict on other women.
A contentious meeting (dubbed the “WAR wake” by participants) was convened but the two factions were unable to reconcile their differences; in mid-1995 the Toni Goman Feminist Rape Crisis Center was disbanded,
twenty-one years of community anti-rape outreach demolished by, of all things, a sexual assault.

“There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” Author and neuroscientist David Eagleman, Metamorphosis, 2009

The tale of Toni Goman and WAR’s eponymously-named crisis center is awash with irony: an anti-violence advocate slain in a crime of unimaginable violence, an anti-rape advocacy center destroyed by rape.
It’s ridiculous, I know, but I almost feel like the frequent mention of Toni’s name in conjunction with the center was keeping her alive, somehow increasing the likelihood her murder would someday be solved.
Viewed from this perspective the attack at the WAR office was an attack on Toni herself, the closure of the center effectively erasing her name from future discourse.

1977 OSU Rape is Violence rally

Despite her early death and personal hardships outreach performed in Toni’s name helped hundreds of women over two decades, almost the same number of years she spent on this earth. I am reminded of the final stanza of the poem “May Poles:*

Let’s regard her lasting spark
And tell the tyrants of the dark
Who has left the greater mark

Toni Goman was so resilient it took two separate crimes of violence separated by two decades and two thousand miles to kill her. And that is a legacy that would make any feminist proud.

1972 OSU Bridal Fair Protest

* written by died-by-suicide poet Rachel Wetzsteon about her friend, fellow died-by-suicide poet Sarah Hannah


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Snowtown ‘bodies-in-the-barrels’ serial killer Robert Wagner seeks potential release date
NEW LONGREAD: FATHER KUNZ UNSOLVED CHAPTER 8 (chapters 1-7 previously posted)
VINTAGE LONGREAD: 75-year-old unsolved family murder mystery
VINTAGE LONGREAD: Candy Montgomery’s Love and Death in Silicon Prairie (part I + part II)


Yesterday’s Crimes: The East Bay Strangler
‘I couldn’t sleep for about 2 or 3 nights straight;’ 2 years later, neighbor remembers Gentilly murders
Grisly Double Homicide Solved Thanks To DNA
Two decades after vanishing, her daughter suddenly showed up with children, a new identity — and speaking Spanish
Almost two years later, still no sign of Holly Crider
DNA testing helped police confirm missing Utah teen was killed by Ted Bundy
Indiana Grandma Seeks Answers After Toddler’s 2015 Disappearance from Relative’s Home
After Teen Son Went Missing From California Boarding School in 2004, Mom Says ‘Part of Me Is Missing’
VINTAGE LONGREAD: The ‘Beekman Hill maniac’: The story of sculptor Robert Irwin’s Easter weekend killing spree
VINTAGE LONGREAD: Who Killed Heather Broadus?


Vacaville police ID woman whose mysterious 1991 death remains unsolved
Woman searching for son who vanished in 1974
Girl, 9, Found Murdered On Hacienda Heights Trail Identified
6 years later, family seeks answers in East Bridgewater woman’s mysterious death
2 years later, mother of dead Lumberton woman has more questions than answers
World’s End serial killer Angus Sinclair dies
4 Evansville-area missing persons cases still shrouded in mystery
NEW LONGREAD: How a Young Girl’s Death in 2000 Gave Birth to an Urban Legend
VINTAGE LONGREAD: Fiendish serial killer terrorized Tulsa in ‘40s
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Girard’s Charlotte Nagi Pollis still missing 25 years later
Beckenridge mystery: Multiple ‘sightings’ of missing pair
After 29 years, Paul Hicks wants killer of his daughter brought to justice
The forgotten ones: KCK police reveal new leads in 20-year-old murder case
JUSTICE STORY: ‘Attila’ the son-in-law and his trail of death
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As Southern California investigators try to ID young girl found in duffel bag, another missing child turns up alive
NEW LONGREAD: Do Iowa police have right man in grisly killing of 9-year-old? Fourth trial will try to answer
NEWLY REPRINTED LONGREAD: A beloved Miami college student vanished 25 years ago. There was a murder, but no closure


Real Monsters | What is known about the gruesome Jacobs family murders (full at link, part 1 + 2 previously posted)
ONTARIO COLD CASE: Sleuth from Nova Scotia finds kindred spirit in missing Ontario mom
Police reopen 62-year-old missing child case
New Zealand’s vanished children – Our cold cases
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Missing Tacoma girl featured in People Magazine. Do you know where Teekah Lewis is?
Three charged in triple homicide in southern Ontario
VINTAGE LONGREAD: What really happened to Marianne Schuett?
VINTAGE LONGREAD: She vanished years ago and famously reappeared with amnesia. Inside the mystery of Jody Roberts


Cold case detectives re-open murder case of Texas teen Sonya Wallace
Sioux Falls Police: Mother Arrested In 1981 Cold Case
Jake Patterson writes to TV reporter that he will plead guilty in Jayme Closs abduction case
A closer look at the Bakersfield 3: part 1 (previously posted) + part 2 + part 3
After four years of searching, West Chester police identify woman’s remains
Woman posts three billboards inside Baltimore asking: Who killed my sister Jody LeCornu?
Man seeks ‘justice’ in cold case involving body dumped in I-95 median in Stafford
NEW LONGREAD: Mother reflects on past 20 years as Mishawaka triple murder case finally comes to a close
NEW LONGREAD: ‘One of saddest cases I’ve ever seen’: SLO police still seeking killer from 1991 cold case
NEW LONGREAD: The science of serial killers is changing


Cold Case: A Murder at Stone Mountain Park
New Hampshire unsolved case file: What happened to Eddy Segall?
Mom prays every night for Moss Point son missing for decades
EPISODE 1: The gripping first episode of a podcast investigating the death of a small-town North Dakota man
A suspect is finally charged in Charlotte’s 2008 quadruple murder mystery
‘Ripper Crew’ killer Thomas Kokoraleis to be released soon
Husband faces homicide charge in Cumberland County woman’s 2012 disappearance
NEW LONGREAD: FATHER KUNZ UNSOLVED CHAPTER 7 (chapters 1-6 previously posted)
NEW LONGREAD: Capac’s unsolved mystery (part 1 + part 2 + part 3 + part 4 + part 5 + part 6 + part 7 + part 8 + part 9 + part 10 + epilogue)


New leads emerge about Sioux Falls woman who vanished 45 years ago
Sheriff says Leigh Ann Sluder a suicide ruling will stand
A closer look at the Bakersfield 3: Where is Baylee Despot?
Was this Middletown woman murdered? More than 3 years later, case remains a mystery
MP wants federal review of serial killer Cody Legebokoff’s move to medium-security prison
Tulare County Sheriff’s Office hoping to solve girl’s 1994 murder with new DNA evidence
NEW LONGREAD: ‘I never, ever expected foul play’: What happened to Belinda Peisley?
NEW LONGREAD: This Evansville lawyer was shot to death. Decades later, mystery still lingers (part I + part II + part III)

03-06- 2019

Danielle Stislicki Who Vanished in 2016 Is Presumed Dead, Imprisoned Sex Criminal Is Charged
11-Year-Old Alabama Girl Was Strangled to Death Before Body Was Found in Woods, as Man Is Charged
Juan Corona, convicted in slayings of 25 farmworkers, dies at 85
Mother of 14-year-old daughter on her murderer’s early prison release: Where is the justice?
A decade wanting ‘closure’: Family seeks information on missing woman Jody Hockett
Arrest made in cold case of San Angelo woman who was murdered in 1986
10 years later: Who killed Eric Birnbaum?
‘He’s a sociopath’: How serial killer Samuel Little was linked to 1981 local homicide
‘Girl in the Closet,’ accused of sexual assault of 14-year-old girl (related vintage interactive)


I always knew Facebook was evil and I never thought twice about selective newspaper coverage until the 2016 election. These may seem to be two discrete issues—one boast, one admission—but both play a role in my obsession
with famed dog breeder and unfamous missing person Ercilia Anita Maria Elrod Shelton Le Ny.

Nothing in this story makes sense, none of the numbers add up and all of the details are either contradictory or unclear. That said, leading with the bleeding never goes out of style:
let’s start with the tale’s only documented act of violence—intergenerational fisticuffs—and we’ll follow the trail as best we can from there.


At Your Throat or at Your Feet

June 10th, 1964. To call the article tawdry would be an understatement; it begins with a joke about murdered civil rights workers and races cheerily downhill from there.
According to the New York Daily News  seventy-year old New Orleans socialite Geraldine de la Parra Elrod was visiting the home of her daughter Countess Ercilia Le Ny when she was physically assaulted by Guenter Behr,
her daughter’s twenty five-year old live-in boyfriend.
The Countess, as the Daily News  noted with glee,
owned not only the elevator-equipped duplex at 130 East 72nd Street in which the assault allegedly took place but the entire apartment building, located in the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan.

“I watched my daughter being wrapped around the fingers of this arrogant man who will not go out and work; he orders the servants and even myself around as if we were part of his possessions. I could take it no more. I told my daughter she was sinking to the lowest level with this man. He was not for her.” Geraldine de la Parra Elrod, New York Daily News, June 28th, 1964

Both Ercilia and Guenter Behr denied a physical altercation had taken place and the disposition of the assault charges, apparently deemed unworthy of Daily News  coverage, has never been publicized.

Through a Glass Sparkly

Piecing together the narrative of Ercilia’s life from the available sources is like reconstructing a mosaic—some of the tiles are missing or cracked leaving some aspects of the image indistinct.
The only child of newspaper executive Samuel Floyd Elrod and his Spanish-born second wife, Ercilia was swaddled in luxury from conception.
I can find no definitive record of her birth, oddly,
and her age varies widely in media accounts of her disappearance—but she was enrolled in Wright High School in 1941 and matriculated at Newcombe College, Tulane’s sister school, in 1942.
Assuming she graduated from high school at the age of seventeen Ercilia would’ve been forty years old in 1964, fifteen years older than Guenter Behr and sixty years old when she vanished.

A saucy Ercilia standing center in dark dress, 1938

“Miss Ercell (sic) Elrod performed a Spanish skit at a tea for the Fleur de Lis chapter of the Delphian Society.” New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 3rd, 1935

From her first mention at the (estimated) age of ten Ercilia was rarely absent from the Times-Picayune‘s society pages—performing an exhibition of Mexican dances at the 1938 Spring Fiesta,
attending charity functions and soirees,
hosting luncheons and cocktail parties at the Elrod home at 4725 Carondelet Street in NOLA.
Her first marriage, to La Vega Robert Shelton, sparked a flurry of coverage in 1943;
the couple’s divorce three years later, however, was relegated to a two-line legal notice in the McComb, Mississippi Enterprise-Journal.
Divorce in the 1940s was a societal taboo; performing the distasteful deed in a neighboring state was common haute société  publicity dodge.


Ercilia’s buoyant social life seemed unscathed by her marital misadventure; readopting her maiden name the Picayune chronicled her post-divorce travels—to San Francisco, Miami, Cuba, and the “European continent.”
In 1950 she was again ready to wed, this time to Yves Joseph Le Ny of Hennebont, France;
unable to wear a white dress as a divorcée or obtain a religious ceremony she was married at the Elrod family home in a blue taffeta gown with a local judge officiating.


For Ercilia the second time was not the charm; according to the legal notices in the Biloxi Daily Herald  she and Yves Le Ny divorced one year later, on September 15th, 1951.
I have no desire to cast aspersions but truth is an essential component of true crime: her adoption of the title “’Countess” is, as far as I can tell, puffery.
There is no record of royal lineage for Yves Joseph Le Ny and his aristocratic status is not mentioned in the couple’s marriage announcement or divorce decree, which lists Mr. Le Ny’s employer as the Berlitz School of Languages.
Ercilia apparently began calling herself Countess Le Ny in the early 1960s,
approximately ten years after the dissolution of her marriage;
the Daily News elder abuse article is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time the title is employed in print.

Who Let the Dogs in?

Ercilia had bad luck with men but good luck with investments; in addition to the apartment building on East 72nd street she owned a 99-acre estate at 280 Miller Park Road in Hunterdon County New Jersey, purchased in 1959.
There Ercilia—a lifelong canine enthusiast—founded Querencia Kennels, breeding and showing champion terriers.
Escorting numerous Querencia dogs to victory in the ring Guenter Behr became a well-known show handler,
most notably capturing the Best Terrier award at Westminster in 1962 with Airedale Querencia’s Suerte Brava.


“I kept breeding Airedales and I couldn’t bear to sell the pups so before I knew it I had forty-five dogs.”
Ercilia Elrod Le Ny, New York Times, May 24th, 1973

Everyone who knew her agreed: it was Ercilia’s dogs, not her romantic partners, who were the genuine love of her life.

The First Thing We Do, let’s Kill all the . . . .

Ercilia’s early life can be traced through the Picayune-Times  society pages but in the mid-1960s another avenue of investigation unfurls—civil court records.
Shortly before Samuel Elrod died in 1961 the deed of the family home and several rental properties at 4212-14 Saint Charles Avenue were placed in Ercilia’s name.
Samuel Elrod had a son from his first marriage who predeceased him, leaving two grandchildren—after the Guenter Behr assault Geraldine attempted to rescind this property transfer,
claiming it had been implemented for the sole purpose of defrauding Samuel Elrod’s grandchildren.


The legal technicalities are irrelevant but a trove of family scandals was elicited during the course of the proceedings, three separate cases litigated over a fifteen-year span.
Samuel Elrod, as it turns out, might have been a bigamist—his divorce from his first wife wasn’t granted until 1924 but Geraldine, in her sworn testimony,
asserted she and Samuel had wed in Cuba in 1922.
Conversely, it’s possible the 1922 marriage never took place, rendering Ercilia illegitimate—no record of the 1922 marriage could be located.
Although the couple did legally wed in Mississippi four years before Samuel’s death Geraldine’s evolving testimony on her marital status paints her as an unreliable narrator at best.

“We have, from the evidence before us, no way of telling whether Mrs. [Geraldine] Elrod was lying then or is lying now.” The judicial equivalent of a serious burn, Succession v. Elrod  (1971)


The disclosure of the Elrods’ peculiarly-timed marriage(s) wasn’t the litigation’s only sordid revelation;
Ercilia, questioned under oath, revealed a long-term affair with a married Columbian coffee-grower who showered her with cash, sometimes as much as 4K a month.
Ercilia refused to name her benefactor, citing his diplomatic immunity, and it’s unclear whether this dalliance, or the disclosure thereof, played a role in her subsequent disappearance.
Ercilia ultimately lost both the sole rights to the litigated properties and a related suit regarding her attorneys’ fees; Geraldine died in 1973, her rift with her daughter unmended.


No Accounting for the Countess

Time passes. Ercilia lost in court, appeared regularly in the Times-Picayune  society pages and continued to show and breed champion dogs.
At some point—the exact date is uncertain, but by 1984 he had a new, much-younger wife—her affaire d’amour with Guenter Behr went kaput.
No man, no problem: we’re not privy to her innermost thoughts on the matter but Ercilia’s dedication to living a festive and philanthropic life—as evinced by her presence at charity functions galore—apparently did not wane.
Ercilia Elrod Shelton Le Ny continued to enjoy the archetypal existence of a wealthy, well-bred woman of a certain age until Friday, August 9th, 1985.

Guenter Behr in the rearview mirror, 1977 

As was her custom, Ercilia intended to spend the weekend at her apartment in Manhattan.
She fed her dogs, checked in with her kennel staff, packed her favorite Airedale Rudy into her 1981 Lincoln Continental and vanished off the face of the earth.

Although some contradictory information has been published these are—or at least appear to be—the relevant evidentiary events in the period after Ercilia’s disappearance:

  • When she failed to return home her dog-sitter Elizabeth Mazyk contacted authorities
  • A few days after she vanished Ercilia’s Lincoln was found in Westchester County, New York, immaculately clean and devoid of fingerprints
  • Later that week a credit card receipt arrived at the New Jersey estate for gas purchased in the Bronx; Ercilia’s signature appears to have been forged
  • Investigators learn two plane tickets to Caracas, Venezuela had been purchased in Ercilia’s name; only one ticket was used and the passenger—flying sans chien—deplaned in Miami
  • Detectives entered the Manhattan duplex to search for clues and found the residence neat and orderly; when they returned months later Ercilia’s possessions had been boxed and bagged by persons unknown

    “There is no direct evidence of foul play but since she walked away leaving a considerable amount of property and money common sense tells you that something untoward happened to her.” Lieutenant Robert Davis, NYPD Missing Persons Unit, Huntingdon County Democrat, August 11th, 1987 (reprinted in 2012)


    Investigation Destination Unknown

    As is often the case with missing persons the investigation into Ercilia’s disappearance was hobbled by jurisdictional issues—her primary residence was in New Jersey,
    her intended destination in Manhattan and her car was found abandoned Downstate.
    Whether by design or default the Hunterdon County Sheriff’s Office took the lead, creating friction with the infamously territorial NYPD.
    Hunterdon County Sheriff Warren Peterson acknowledged the animosity, later lamenting to the Bridgewater Courier News, “New York Police haven’t been the most cooperative in all of this.”

    “My personal feeling is she’s disappeared permanently.” Hunterdon County Sheriff Warren Peterson, Bridgewater Courier News, July 11th, 1988


    Mickey Easterling Brings the Glamour, also the Bacon

    The leading lady had exited the stage but the daily upkeep at her New Jersey estate and Querencia Kennels did not cease with Ercilia’s disappearance.
    Since she was simply missing, not deceased, her bank accounts were frozen and none of her properties or possessions could be sold.
    American Kennel Club rescue groups stepped in to rehome Ercilia’s dogs and her childhood friend Marycathyrn “Mickey” Easterling, legendary New Orleans bon vivant,
    stepped up and paid the 85K mortgage on the New Jersey estate.

    “She loved those dogs too much to ever leave them like this. None of us have any idea what happened to her but we could never carry out her wishes for what they would get at a sheriff’s sale.” Mickey Easterling, Bridgewater Courier News, July 11th, 1988

    Mickey Easterling,

    Triumph of the Will

    Ercilia’s missing . . . who’s got the will? According to Mickey Easterling several variations of Ercilla’s final testament had been drafted, including at least one version bequeathing her entire estate to Guenter Behr.
    Plot twist: he may have manhandled her mother and possibly her heart but Guenter Behr made no attempt to benefit from Ercilia’s disappearance.
    In truth, Geraldine Elrod’s spirited perjury in Succession of Elrod  cast a shadow on the 1964 assault allegations—although ex-boyfriends are always statistically viable suspects in this case, at least,
    Guenter Behr appears to be a Teutonic MacGuffin.

    The side-eye from the judge on the left is everything, 1975

    Rumors of a more recent version notwithstanding, the will ultimately probated was drafted by an attorney named Irving Soloway and signed by Ercilia in 1978.
    She had no children, no siblings, and her only blood relatives were the half-niece and -nephew allied with Geraldine in Succession of Elrod—they were, not surprisingly, disinherited.
    An animal-lover to the end,
    Ercilia bequeathed the entirety of her estate to a trust for the comfort and care of her beloved terriers.

    “I am not convinced Ercilia had her last will with Mr. Soloway; they were not on the friendliest of terms.” Mickey Easterling, Bridgewater Courier News, November 17th, 1990

    Mickey Easterling attending her own funeral in style, 2014

    After(math) Not Adding Up

    “It’s a story made for the magazine rack at the grocery store checkout lane: money, romance, royalty, mystery.”
    Bridgewater Courier News  on the Le Ny case, July 11th, 1988

    Women go missing—even, on rare occasions, wealthy women. Ercilia’s disappearance was within the realm of possibility but what happened next was not.
    Not a single story was written about her disappearance in the New York papers or the Picayune-Times—not an article, not an item, not a word.
    Media attention can be capricious but there is one inviolate rule: when a rich white lady goes missing attention must be paid.

    From the Picayune-Times  exactly one month before her disappearance,

    To recap: the Daily News  featured Guenter Behr’s 1964 battery arrest, the Picayune covered her every pirouette since childhood and the New York Times  printed twelve years of Querencia Kennel victories plus a quarter-page Style Section puff piece in 1973.
    Ercilia’s conventionally charmed life had been saturated with media coverage and yet her disappearance—the most newsworthy aspect of her biography—somehow rated nary a mention.

    The investigation into Ercilia’s disappearance will receive no first-class reportage despite her fist-class life; instead the case garnered scattershot accounts from three Hunterdon County newspapers,
    a total of seven articles in all— four stories in the Bridgewater Courier News,
    two in the Hunterdon County Democrat  and a single piece in the Hunterdon County Observer.
    Adding insult to injury not only is the coverage paltry but much of the reported information is erroneous—the name of Ercilia’s second husband,
    her age, her New York address, the lengths of her marriages and the acreage of her New Jersey estate are all listed incorrectly.

    Querencia stud circa 1975

    Confession: I am not averse to conspiratorial thinking; sometimes powerful people are, in fact, working together towards nefarious ends.
    If Ercilia vanished from a backwater I could (grudgingly) believe a shady lawyer, police chief, and the town’s only newspaper owner colluded to steal her fortune—disappearing her,
    eliminating publicity, and probating a bogus or outdated will.
    Admittedly, such an occurrence would be bizarre and unlikely but it could, theoretically, happen.
    A media blackout on a wealthy woman’s abduction in Manhattan would be an impossibility—three daily newspapers, multiple law enforcement agencies,
    in New York City there are too many working parts, too many opportunities for leaks and pointed questions.
    Yet somehow, here we are.

    Can’t Buy Me Love


    For comparison purposes here are four fellow heiresses who vanished within the same general time frame:

    All of these women received copious publicity not only in their local newspapers but in national publications;
    books have been written, documentaries filmed and in the case of gender-fluidity pioneer Cam Lyman Robert Stack himself weighed in on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

    Guenter Behr, Tarnbreck Cassius and two plaid jackets from Satan’s atelier, 1977

    But Ercilia—just as wealthy, the circumstances of her disappearance equally mysterious—-garnered naught but a handful of poorly-fact checked articles in second-tier media outlets.
    In investigations, especially missing persons cases, media attention can be vital:
    an Airedale terrier running loose in the Bronx,
    a human-sized parcel carried out of Ercilia’s duplex—we’ll never know if anyone saw these things because they’re not, in and of themselves, incriminating.
    Witnesses won’t come forward with information if they’re unaware a crime has been committed.

    It’s the ultimate irony: Ercilia’s disappearance had everything—missing wills, orphaned show-dogs, high-dollar real estate, spurious claims of royalty—everything except the one thing it needed most: publicity.

    Not the Record We Want but the Record We Have

    Although I can’t explain how we ended up with such a paucity of information within the Huntingdon County articles lurk two facts and one incidence of trial testimony which almost certainly hold great import,
    and might even be the key(s) necessary to unlock mystery of Ercilia’s disappearance.

    First:    One of the tenants residing at 130 East 72nd Street, Louis Laurie, attempted to claim partial ownership of the building. It’s unclear if his claim had merit or ultimately prevailed.

    Second:    New Jersey allows a declaration of death after five years of absence. Ercilia was declared deceased on November 30th, 1990 and during the hearing NYPD Detective Constance Montonaro testified
    the Le Ny investigation would likely be closed
    as a declaration of death would make it difficult to question Louis Laurie about his ownership claim on the building.

    Everything about Detective Montonaro’s reported testimony is so ludicrous I can only assume the Bridgewater Courier  journalist misunderstood or misheard her.
    Louis Laurie would have the same legal right to be questioned—-or to refuse to be questioned, if he so chose—irrespective of whether the NYPD was investigating Ercilia’s death or disappearance.
    Criminal investigations are not closed because of “difficulty” in questioning witnesses; jabber-jaws might facilitate prosecution but they are not a prerequisite.

    Third:    An unnamed employee of Querencia Kennels received a letter purporting to be from Ercilia in 1988, three years after she vanished.
    Although the handwriting was believed to be genuine Judge Bernhard proceeded to issue the 1990 finding of death since the note—the contents of which were not revealed—could have been written prior to her disappearance.
    What did the note say, and if Ercilia didn’t send the note who did and why?

    Even amidst the misreporting it’s obvious Ercilia didn’t voluntarily abandon her fortune and pets to live penniless on the streets of Miami, panhandling and performing Spanish skits and Mexican folk dances for cash.
    (“Will Breed Dogs For Food” is a cardboard sign you’ll never see brandished on skid row.)
    It’s also clear she wasn’t slain in a random act of violence since elements of staging—the plane ticket purchase most glaringly—were manifest throughout the crime.
    That a conspiracy existed is undeniable but it’s impossible to assess which anomalies—the press inattention, the law enforcement jurisdictional feud—were manufactured and which were dumb luck.
    Who was in cahoots with whom, and who stood to gain the most from Ercilia’s disappearance?

    I don’t know the answer to any of these questions and the New Jersey press didn’t seem interested in finding out.

     From a modern perspective it looks like Guenter Behr is goosing that bitch while Roger Ailes looks on approvingly, 1977

    Not with a Bang but a Whimper

    When Ercilia Elrod Le Ny departed her home on August 9th, 1985 she owned a mansion on ninety-nine acres of prime New Jersey real estate and an Upper East Side apartment building valued at 7.5 million dollars in 1990—plus whatever stocks, jewelry, and liquid assets she had inherited or accrued throughout her not-especially long but fabulous life.

    In December of 1996, nearly twelve years after her disappearance attorney Irving Soloway settled her estate with a 100K donation to the Hunterdon County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
    an organization unmentioned in the decedent’s will.

    The sole directive of Ercilia’s final will and testament was that her cherished pets—ultimately charity cases rehomed with strangers—continue to live lives of canine luxury.
    I have no idea where her assets went or why it took so long to probate an uncontested will but—coincidentally or not—by the time her estate was settled every single one of her dogs was dead.

    Anti-Social Media

    That was then, this is now.

    As I have previously noted on this very blog I’d rather have a public pap-smear than a Facebook page.
    Smarmy dopamine peddler Mark Zuckerberg hooked the unwashed masses on likes and fake news but my brain chemistry is strictly off-limits.

    During the course of my deep-dive into Ercilia’s disappearance, however, I stumbled upon this:


    If Ercilia Elrod Le Ny was still alive she’d be approximately ninety-three years old, a not impossible feat; that a woman of such advanced years would create a Facebook page is unlikely but not inconceivable.

    I hesitated for a moment; was it possible Ercilia had  sashayed away from her money,
    possessions and pets thirty-three years ago?
    I pondered—perhaps publishing this post without creating a Facebook account and reaching out to Ercilia—or the person posing as Ercilia online—would be ill-advised.

    And then I reconsidered.

    If Ercilia eloped to begin life anew she certainly wouldn’t create a Facebook page in the name she’d abandoned millions of dollars and her precious pups to jettison.
    She had no family to speak of and her disappearance received virtually no publicity—who was even aware she was missing?

    Reliably, my paranoia blossomed—and this image popped unbidden into my mind.

    You rang?

    Clear as day I pictured the person behind the Facebook page dolled up like Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, draped in the blue taffeta wedding dress from Ercilia’s second wedding,
    fingers and earlobes dripping with the Elrod family jewels.
    Propped next to not-really-Ercilia in my fevered imagination lolled the taxidermized remains of an AKC-Champion Airedale terrier, Rudy beside his mistress in death as in life.

    Ercilia’s killer is still out there. I did not create a Facebook page.

    Still not as scary as a Russian troll farm

    BOY CRAZY: Three Dead in Ohio

    Posted: January 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

    The 1970s were an ugly decade to grow up in.

    The divorce rate skyrocketed, the economy tanked and pretty much everyone, regardless of political affiliation, was pissed off about Nixon.
    The miasma of misery wasn’t limited to social issues—aesthetically the 1970s were the fatal collision between advances in synthetic fibers and a generation of designers primed on LSD.
    The color scheme looked like the Pantone color chart had been kicked in the stomach,
    the resultant vomit scooped into a dirty bucket then swirled and splattered onto AstroTurf.

    1974 Amityville crime scene photo: 12-year old Marc Defeo’s blood is on the bed but it’s the wallpaper that gives me nightmares

    Our Halloween candy bristled with razor blades, the entire decade was awash in avocado-marigold plaids and the only thing uglier than our super-flammable wardrobes were the the national crime statistics.
    My peers and I felt a sense of of aggrieved vulnerability, as if we’d been cheated out of the halcyon upbringing guaranteed to suburban youth of yore.
    Deprived of the luxury of faceless boogeymen we were the first generation raised with the mental image of Charles Manson creepy-crawling across our shag-carpeted living rooms,
    Helter Skelter in his heart.
    The cavalcade of horrors on the nightly news served as a constant reminder our privileged existence as nice kids from nice towns conferred no guarantee of safe passage to adulthood;
    if anything our coddled upbringings made us more attractive prey, human veal calves for carnivorous strangers with high-fructose candy.

    One nice kid from a nice town who never made it home was twelve-year-old Brad Lee Bellino of Boardman, Ohio.

    8am, April 4th, 1972. The carting industry is no place for the faint of heart. When Varie Brothers waste disposal employee Paul Smith peered into the dumpster behind Isaly’s Dairy at 263 Boardman-Canfield Road he was prepared for any manner of maggot-animated refuse but not for the horror his eyes beheld—two child-sized, sneaker-clad feet.

    Brushing aside the detritus revealed a small corpse positioned on its side, feet angled upward, a tan belt cinched tightly around its neck.
    Brad Bellino’s red, white and blue striped jeans were pulled down below his hips, his shirt hiked up to his armpits.
    The slain boy’s tee-shirt, imprinted with a cartoon image of Satan, featured a popular 1970s slogan grimly ironic in context: The Devil Made Me Do It.

    An autopsy will reveal Brad had been sodomized and strangled. The belt around his throat—size-small JC Penney-brand, not his own—bears teeth marks indicating possible usage as a gag or restraining device.
    Semen is recovered from the fifth-grader’s jeans.
    At a press conference Mahoning County Coroner Dr. David Belinky gives voice to the obvious: “The Bellino boy’s death is the act of a degenerate.”

    Brad was last verifiably seen at 7pm on Friday, March 31st, four days before the discovery of his body.
    The opportunity for his disappearance arose only due to a confluence of events:
    Boardman Middle School was closed for the Easter holiday and Brad spent Thursday night at the home of his friend Donald Templeman.
    His mother Elissa Bellino, a buyer for Lane Bryant, had given him permission to stay Friday night as well.

    Unaware his wife had sanctioned an extension of the sleepover,
    Brad’s father Joseph, a steel mill employee, spoke with him by phone and instructed his son to return home.
    Donald’s parents usually provided transportation between the two residences—the Templemans lived at 733 Teakwood Drive, two miles from the Bellinos at 61 McClurg Road—but Mrs. Templeman was shopping and Mr. Templeman was sick in bed with the flu.
    Brad therefore departed on foot;
    although he did have a prior of history of hitchhiking—a not uncommon practice in the 1970s—it’s unclear if he did so on this occasion.

    And just like that the patrolman on the left changed his name to Officer PTSD

    Back at the Bellino residence Brad’s father had gone out for the evening and his mother, unaware he had been ordered home, assumed her son was spending the night with the Templemans.
    It was only the following day the Bellinos realized the youngest of their four children was missing—Brad’s disappearance was reported to the Boardman Police Department on Saturday, April 1st, at 3:20pm.

    Dr. Belinky will later estimate Brad’s time of death at 9pm Saturday, twenty-six hours after he began his journey homeward.
    Although unverified—the identity of the witnesses and reliability of these encounters has never been made public—the Youngstown Vindicator  reported several alleged sightings of Brad the day after  his departure from the Templeman residence. He was reportedly seen:

  • At 11am at a Dairy Queen in the neighboring town of North Lima
  • Playing ball at the Southern Park Mall at 2:30pm (he and Donald were there the previous day so this sighting is likely erroneous)
  • Thumbing a ride at an undisclosed location at 4:20pm, one hour after the filing of his missing person’s report
  • It’s possible all these witnesses were mistaken—false sightings of missing children are not infrequent,
    and a twelve-year-old gadding around town twenty-four hours after being ordered home seems an unlikely sequence of events.
    That said, anything is possible; the precise path Brad Bellino traveled to his trash-strewn tomb remains a mystery.

    For most locals, irrespective of the horrific details—the photo of his dumpstered legs is seared forever on the town’s collective consciousness—the most alarming aspect of Brad’s death was not its abnormality but its familiarity:
    his was not the first sexually-tinged child murder in Boardman in the 1970s.
    Eighteen months earlier, on December 3rd, 1970, fifteeen-year old Thomas Baird was found in an industrial plant parking lot at 4040 Lake Park Road, his skull crushed and his clothing torn from his body.

    Thomas had last been seen at 8pm exiting his home at 825 Afton Avenue; at 10pm his friends happened upon his crumpled form a mile and half away,
    beaten so badly he was unrecognizable.
    Described in the Youngstown Vindicator  as a “good guy” with “no known enemies,”
    the Boardman High freshman lingered in the hospital ten days before succumbing to his multiple skull fractures—he briefly regained consciousness but trauma had erased all memory of his assailant.

    Although the modus operandi in the Baird and Bellino homicides differed in many details the rarity of juvenile murders prompted Boardman detectives to investigate a possible connection between the cases;
    no firm link could be established, and it appeared the two murders were aberrant occurrences . . . until two and a half years later when the next boy disappeared.

    Not only were the 1970s ugly but the ads were weird as hell: looking at you, Isaly’s!

    From birth, David Evans had to fight. Born with a birth defect resulting in a malformed left hand minus two fingers,
    he endured major eye surgery at the age of six and a daily regimen of insulin injections after being diagnosed as diabetic at the age of ten.
    Nothing slowed him down.

    A straight-A student at Boardman Middle School, David was an avid athlete despite his tiny stature: 4’10” and 80 lbs. at the age of fourteen.
    At 6pm on January 17th, 1975 his father Peter saw him one block from the family residence at 208 Ridgewood Drive.
    Stopping briefly to chat, David informed his father he was returning home after visiting Boardman Lake.
    Although he was only moments from his front door David never arrived.

    Thong underpants pig sells ham by the hour

    An intensive search of the area produced only a single clue, unearthed by his mother Gracia at 11:30pm:
    David’s red knit cap, discarded in a roadside ditch one hundred feet from the spot where his father last saw him.
    To the Boardman Police Department’s credit,
    despite the laissez-faire missing child protocol of the era an abduction investigation was launched without delay—David had left behind his medication, wallet and glasses.
    He clearly hadn’t anticipated being gone for long.

    As the hours passed the Boardman Police Department’s probe took on a special urgency: as David himself was fully aware, he was due for his next insulin injection at 7:30am.
    Without it he would lapse into a coma—likely by 5pm, according to his pediatrician—and then die.
    As the critical time period slipped away his loved ones clung to hope and battled despair.


    Six days later, January 23rd, 5:15pm.
    Realtor Hugh Parks was retrieving his car in a Market Street parking lot when a flash of color in nearby shrubbery caught his eye—closer inspection revealed a denim-clad knee protruding from a snow bank.
    Fifteen blocks from home, David Evans’ remains had surfaced less than half a mile from Brad Bellino’s dumpsite.

    Fully clad in the blue plaid jacket, maroon sweatshirt, tan boots and jeans in which he’d last been seen,
    David was positioned on his back, hands laid flat on his chest.
    With one leg straight and the other bent,
    his clothing pooled at his neck as if he’d been dragged into the bushes by his feet.

    This was a devastating time for the Evans family, soon made worse by Mahoning County Coroner Dr. Nathan Belinky.
    Dr. Nathan Belinky—not be confused with his brother Dr. David Belinky, of Bellino autopsy and “degenerate” quote fame—insisted, to the consternation of the grieving family and the Boardman Police,
    no crime had been committed: David Evans, he declared, had died a natural death from diabetes.
    The post-mortem report—later criticized as a “comedy of errors” by David’s parents—seemed to indicate otherwise.

     The still-missing Boardman residents referenced are presumably Joanne Coughlin and John Robek 

    Admittedly, David’s remains bore no overt indicia of sexual assault and his blood sugar at death was, as the autopsy report noted, “extraordinarily high.”
    But his body also exhibited injuries which seemed to indicate foul play:
    a broken left wrist was detected, as were abrasions under his chin, right eye and left ear.
    David also had an inexplicable wound in his back, three inches above his belt line: the puncture, measuring one-inch in diameter, was perfectly round and no corresponding hole existed in his clothing.
    A lack of bleeding at the wound site and dearth of swelling around the fractured bone seemed to indicate David’s most severe injuries had been suffered post-mortem—a finding hard to reconcile with a natural death resulting from diabetes.

    David’s remains, when discovered, were frozen solid, precluding an accurate determination of time of death.
    He had not, however, expired immediately after his final sighting on Ridgewood Drive—although the comestibles ingested have never been publicized,
    David died with a full stomach.
    He’d eaten a small sandwich at home at 4pm, and the human digestive tract empties within four hours:
    at some point after his disappearance he had apparently consumed a large meal.

    Dr. Belinky was resolute: despite these anomalous circumstances no crime had been committed.
    The boy had simply dropped his hat, obtained a mystery meal, walked fifteen blocks, crawled into shrubbery in a random parking lot and perished.
    Then his corpse subsequently reanimated, sustaining a perfectly round puncture wound and snapping a wrist bone.
    Understandably, the Evanses were outraged at the assertion their son’s death was undeserving of investigation;
    unwilling to accept the Coroner’s findings David’s parents were not shy about airing their frustration in the media.

    In a stunningly classless move even by 1970s standards—and this, remember, was the decade of pet rocks,
    tube tops, and high heels for men—Dr. Belinky penned an angry screed published in the Youngstown Vindicator suggesting the Evans family was too blinded by grief to accept his perfectly reasonable autopsy findings.
    At this juncture David’s parents attempted to call in the FBI but, citing a lack of jurisdiction, the Bureau demurred.

    Not only does the Boardman boy killer own one of these models but inside there be trophies

    [Beep Beep: Sometimes it takes decades to arrive but the karma bus always pulls into the station—in 1993 Dr. Nathan Belinky was sentenced to six months in jail pursuant to a drugs-for-sex scheme. Crooked public officials abusing their power in Mahoning County is a timeless issue: in 2014 Dr. Belinky’s son Mark Belinky, a Probate Court judge, pleaded guilty to 4th-degree felony corruption charges. One can only hope David Evans’ parents lived long enough to savor that double-shot of piping-hot schadenfreude.]

    Dr. Belinky’s certification of natural death would impede criminal prosecution but the Boardman Police Department nevertheless persisted.
    Chief of Police Grant Hess, according to the Vindicator, disagreed with the Coroner’s determination of no foul play; David had been abducted by a predator, the Chief believed,
    who then panicked when the boy lapsed into a diabetic coma—and in his haste to dump the body the assailant inflicted post-mortem injuries on the remains.
    Prior to David’s disappearance the Evans family had been inundated with hang-up phone calls—Boardman PD had been investigating this harassment even before David’s missing person’s report was filed.
    Citing the inconsistencies in David’s autopsy and several additional factors law enforcement opened a homicide investigation which continues to this day.

    Nope, not too phallic

    Thomas Baird in 1970, Brad Bellino in 1972 and David Evans in 1975—three dead boys in a five year span,
    all their murders (or one-maybe murder, allegedly) yet unavenged.

    More than four decades have passed, both global aesthetics and the national crime statistics have improved dramatically,
    and forensic science has surpassed the wildest imaginations of 1970s crime buffs.
    The DNA sample from Brad Bellino’s Bicentennial red-white-and-blue-jeans has long been entered into CODIS,
    and with the capabilities of familial DNA it’s almost certain his assailant will one day be identified—and maybe,
    if the perpetrator is still alive, he’ll have a tale to tell about David Evans and Thomas Baird as well.

    Butch Defeo’s Amityville bedroom: if he blamed his decorator instead of Satan he’d be out on parole today

    On a personal note, my true crime research has made me realize my childhood fears of stranger danger were overblown.
    Though rare, there have been sexually-motivated child murders since time immemorial—the increased awareness of the 1970s was simply an after-effect of more nationalized media and a corresponding uptick in all categories of violence.
    We’re a homicidal species: children have been found butchered in dumpsters since the dawn of trash collection,
    and sad to say their broken bodies will continue to turn up in the waste disposal systems of the future.
    Child murders will always be with us, but there’s been one major improvement since the 1970s: at least the slaughtered innocents of today are bleeding out into non-clashing plaids and natural fabrics.

    Lori Heimer’s Goldendoodle sits with an ear cocked for his mistresses’s screams

    Thirty years later the identity of wealthy housewife Judy Nesbitt‘s false rape accuser remains a mystery
    If only Tammy Zywicki had known the highway good Samaritan was planning to falsely accuse her of rape
    Donna O’Steen‘s attacker cut her phone lines and crept into her home with one goal: falsely accusing her of rape
    Lori Heimer‘s remote location and low-risk lifestyle couldn’t save her from false accusations of rape
    No one knows what happened to missing club owner Marsha Ferber after her 1988 disappearance but her loved ones fear she’s been falsely accused of rape
    And let’s wrap this up with one for the kiddies: Shannon Sherrill was only six years old but you’re never too young to worry about the life-altering effects of false accusations of rape

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

    First, the poultry:

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

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

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

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

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

    Now the dead boys:

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


    NAME: Richard Lee Sweeney

    AGE: 8

    DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: April 28th, 1974

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

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

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

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


    NAME: Jeffrey Allen Burkett

    AGE: 15

    DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: June 9th, 1977

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

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

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

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


    NAME: Donald Michael Abell

    AGE: 19

    DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: September 27th, 1977

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mysterious Arkansan Murders and Maybe-Murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Crime scene exterior present day

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

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

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

    Self portrait as elf

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

    Cover art by Cortina Bandolero

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

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

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


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

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

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