07-16-2019

VIDEO: Documentary on Ryan Shtuka’s disappearance debuts

Founder of African American museum in Louisiana died of ‘traumatic asphyxia’

NEW LONGREAD: Remembering Princess Doe and seeking answers

NEW LONGREAD: When a man vanished 25 years ago, Ross Perot helped in the search

NEW LONGREAD: Lillie Belle Allen died saving her family 50 years ago

NEW LONGREAD: Inside Australia’s most mysterious and baffling deaths

NEW LONGEAD:  Hopes of breakthrough in ‘savage torture and murder’ of teen beauty

NEWLY-REPUBLISHED LONGREAD: Writer Never Gave Up on Justice for Daughter

NEW LONGREAD: Could serial killer’s sketch found in archives reveal a hidden victim

07-15-2019

Forever 17: Tracy Kroh vanished nearly 30 years ago, but tips keep the case alive

Vatican hunt for Emanuela Orlandi uncovers two sets of bones

25 years after Sarah Boehm’s murder, investigators hoping for break in case

Man seeks DNA testing of nunchucks in effort to clear himself of 1986 murder

LONGREAD: Cape woman eyes new measures to identify sister’s killer 

NEW LONGREAD: Minneapolis murders in 1990s targeted gays

NEW LONGREAD: Murdered woman unidentified for 25 years

NEW LONGREAD: A decade ago, Keith Butricks disappeared after leaving an Enid

NEW LONGREAD: Will DNA help solve a 4th Stanford campus killing?

FULL FIVE-PART LONGREAD: The Strange Disappearance of Harry Lane

07-14-2019

Tip renews search for missing woman in 31-year cold case

Man Admits He Killed Nancy Moyer, Then Recants

45 Years Since Bundy Abductions At Lake Sammamish

Who is serial killer Michael Wayne McGray?

Family searching for answers 12 years after woman’s disappearance

“We have her back; not the way we wanted.” Body confirmed as Rosenda Strong

Police seek closure in 2011 shooting that left 1 dead, 1 injured

Missing Zhejiang girl, 9, abducted by couple found dead in sea

Body of woman found inside hotel bed frame, went unnoticed for days

Husband charged with murder after remains of Andreen McDonald found

Family still seeking answers three years after Wenatchee woman disappears

NEW LONGREAD: ‘76 cold case of woman found in box in Benton Co. cornfield reopened

NEW LONGREAD: Twenty-two years later, Denise Johnson’s murder still unsolved

NEW LONGREAD: Who killed this Harnett County teen in 1973? 

07-13-2019

Suspected serial killer charged in death of dismembered daughter

FBI seeking your help in unsolved murders of 2 teenage girls

Police ask for help to solve Dayton radio personality cold case

Bizarre twist in missing teen case as Vatican tombs unsealed

Cortney Lake’s father puts up tombstone ‘for a grave yet to be dug’

Chinese police rush to find missing girl as case grips nation

Daughter of mother whose body was burned asking for public’s help

25 years ago, a brutal Petersburg murder led to forensic history

Supporters demand answers on five-year anniversary of woman’s disappearance, death

Our daughter’s death on train tracks wasn’t suicide, parents say

VINTAGE LONGREAD: THE HUNT FOR THE MAN WITH THE HAMMER 

VINTAGE LONGREAD: Unsolved 1978 murder of teen haunts family

07-12-2019

Man admits to killing Tenino mother Nancy Moyer in 2009

Man pleads not guilty after foul odor leads to remains of Savannah Spurlock

Sheriff investigating death of murder suspect’s teenage daughter

Man facing child porn charges sold photos of JonBenét after her 1996 death

#ColdCase: Catherine Blackburn

Family of missing Middletown woman hopes for clues

Filmmaker hopes to shed light on Robert Bee case with docu-series, podcast

U.S. scientist found dead in Greece was killed in “criminal act,” police say

NEW LONGREAD: DB Cooper suspect dies at age 75

NEW LONGREAD: Family relentless in quest to bring missing teen home

VINTAGE LONGREAD: Only Kenneth Roth knows how many he killed 

07-11-2019

Seven years ago, this week, Evansdale cousins disappeared

Canadian podcast revisits Pinkham Notch murder

SEARCH DONE IN 1995 COLD CASE

Age progression photo released of mother, son missing nearly 40 years

4 years since DeOrr Kunz Jr. disappearance: What you should know

Suspected serial killer David Parker Ray’s girlfriend to be released

Island mom determined to find missing daughter

NEW LONGREAD: ‘Sheep’s Flat Jane Doe’ gravesite gets new marker: ‘She was not lost to God’ 

NEW LONGREAD: Two years after Cynthia Martinez vanished, family still searches 

VINTAGE LONGREAD: 35 years after woman vanished, her fate remains a mystery

VINTAGE LONGREAD: Grand Forks murder still a mystery 25 years later

07-10-2019

Investigators search empty home and shed for clues into cold case

Palestine woman, 84, arrested for 1984 murder

Investigation into girl’s disappearance still open 15 years later

Decades-old case of baby bones found in trunk remains mystery

Still searching seven years after Pennsylvania woman Kortne Stouffer disappeared

‘It’s been 18 years:’ DNA links man to death of 88-year-old woman

A BIZARRE UNSOLVED MURDER FIVE YEARS LATER

Detectives utilizing social media to obtain new leads on Penny Krajeski case

A decades-old missing persons case continues to haunt Ontario’s cottage country

NEW LONGREAD: Searching for Keith

VINTAGE LONGREAD: Decades later, Bergen teens’ slayings remain unsolved 

VINTAGE LONGREAD: Who killed the couple?

07-09-2019

‘She was what gave my life hope’: 12-years later family continues search 

Six years later, search for pair continues

Police following tip about 1977 disappearance of Melanie Flynn

Fatal shooting of 2012 high school grad remains unsolved

Albert Andrew Moss said he had 13 victims, but research casts doubt on his claims

Annette Mason person of interest denies teen’s cold case murder

‘Into thin air’: One year later, still no sign of missing Fargo woman

NEW LONGREAD: Green bicycle mystery, a case ‘worthy of Sherlock Holmes’

NEW LONGREAD: New forensic advances could help solve Gilgo Beach murder, experts say

NEW LONGREAD: Seek clues to identify two Native women

NEWish LONGREAD: Probing 30 years of Madison area’s cold cases

 

Luck is relative.

Central Prison: when all the good prison names are already taken

We might as well start at the end; backwards or forwards the story adds up to zero.

On August 27th, 1992 the North Carolina Department of Corrections announced the death of inmate Roy Lee Fox in Raleigh’s Central Prison.
According to a DOC spokesperson Fox, age fifty-five,
had perished three weeks previously on August 8th of natural causes—although officials will claim privacy regulations prevent further disclosure they will privately ascribe his death to brain cancer.

No one who knew Fox, the boogeyman of Buncombe County, believed he was dead.

A long, long time ago in a holler not so far away: an illiterate fifth-grade dropout was given an honest day’s work helping farmer Charles Lunsford with his annual hay sale.
The date was November 9th, 1964 and the hired hand was sixteen-year-old Arrlie Fox, brother of Roy Lee Fox, then twenty-seven.
Criminals both, the Fox brothers, along with two accomplices—cousin Donald Fox, age twenty-three and Robert Carson McMahan, nineteen—were seasoned stick-up men,
specializing in elderly and female victims.
Charles Lunsford and his wife Ovella, age fifty-five, looked like easy pickings to the Fox gang—as history will attest, this assessment is fatally flawed.

Chez Lunsford

11:30pm, November 10th, 1964. Imagine your wife is bleeding to death. Imagine your wife is bleeding to death and your phone’s been yanked out the wall so you can’t call an ambulance.
Imagine your wife is bleeding to death and you can’t call an ambulance so you get in your car to drive to a hospital and notice your tire’s been slashed.
Imagine driving twenty miles to the nearest hospital on three tires and a rim while your wife, the love of your life, bleeds out onto the seat beside you.
Charles Lunsford wouldn’t have to imagine; thanks to the Fox gang he could simply remember.

An unlikely badass

Right out of the gate the robbery went sideways; the gang had planned a blitz attack on the sleeping Lunsfords
but when Donald and Arrlie entered—clad in Halloween masks to shield their identities—Charles was in the kitchen preparing a midnight snack.
The farmer threw his bowl of applesauce at the intruders and a melee commenced;
Roy Lee Fox, also masked, heard the ruckus and ran inside to help his brother and cousin.
Ovella jumped out of bed upstairs and grabbed a rifle she’d recently won in a church sales contest.

With Charles outnumbered three to one Ovella waded into the fray but there was a catch—a literal catch.
The rifle was new and she couldn’t dislodge the safety and two of the assailants drew their own weapons and fired,
one bullet lodging in a wall and the other in her chest.
The Foxes’ home invasion plans had no contingency for murder, it seems,
so the trio fled into the darkness where lookout Robert Carson Mcmahan awaited.
Not only had they committed homicide but the robbery was a bust;
Ovella’s rifle was the sole item pilfered during the commission of the (now capital) crime.

Despite her wound Ovella was still conscious during the three-wheeled trek to the hospital; she would die upon arrival and Charles, beaten savagely during the fracas, was hospitalized.
Acting on a tip, Buncombe County detectives arrested the Fox gang four days later.
All but Roy Lee Fox confessed, although the identity of the fatal triggerman remains a topic of debate.
Irrespective of the triggerman’s identity, however, under a felony theory of murder all four gang members were eligible for Old Sparky, the (generically-named) North Carolina electric chair.

That deputy’s belt is the hardest working apparatus in Buncombe County

Even blood bonds have their limits. Arrlie Fox, to the horror of his family, testified against his three codefendants in exchange for a single life sentence on burglary charges.
“They could’ve pulled out my nails with pliers and I wouldn’t have done nothing like that [testifying against a family member],” an unnamed Fox sibling told a reporter.
All three confessions and Arrlie’s testimony portrayed Roy Lee Fox as the chief instigator of the robbery spree but the jury spared Fox and his two codefendants as well.
Double life sentences were meted out to all instead—one for first degree burglary, one for first degree homicide. The jury blinked . . .

Donald Fox was killed in a prison riot in 1968; in 1969 Robert Carson McMahan’s conviction was reversed on appeal

. . . And Roy Lee Fox lived to kill another day. Two decades later, on January 4th, 1985 Fox was back on the streets.
The machinations which spurred his release from prison are peculiar—North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, signatory of Fox’s pardon, claimed clemency had been granted at the behest of the FBI.
While imprisoned, according to FBI officials, Fox provided information regarding a high-profile Texas homicide—Fox was never called to testify at trial, however, rendering his cooperation moot.
(Incredibly, one of the men eventually convicted in the case was Charles Harrison, infamous hitman and father of Cheers actor Woody Harrelson.)

The obituary of Arrlie Fox, paroled in 1985, desctibes him as a “servant for the lord;” Ovella Jean Lunsford and irony, killed with the same murder weapon

Regardless of whatever help Fox did or did not give federal officials he was freed with a single year of parole;
this despite a prison disciplinary record including weapons possession, assault to commit a sexual act and possession of illegal funds.
Although this information is uncorroborated, according to former Ashville Citizen-Times reporter Lewis Green
Fox, clutching a suitcase stuffed with cash, was flown home from Central Prison on a private plane.
Nothing to see here, folks, so let’s move right along.

July 16th, 1986. Beware of strangers bearing fresh-grilled burgers. Eighteen months after Fox strolled out of Central Prison he encountered thirty-nine-year-old Morris Sams at the Riverside Grocery.
Although they’d never previously met
Morris agreed to accompany Fox and his three companions—Ronnie Ragan, Maggie Fox Ragan, and Raymond Lee Powell, henceforth the three amigos—to a cookout on the banks of the French Broad River.
Fox, for reasons unknown, drew a .38 caliber firearm during the festivities and shot Morris several times in the torso.
The three amigos, allegedly in fear for their lives, subsequently helped Fox submerge the body of their new friend-turned-victim in the river.

The French Broad River

After the shooting the three amigos considered themselves Fox’s hostages—or that’s their story, anyway. A few days after the crime the group returned to the cookout site and discovered Morris’s body afloat on the river’s surface.
His corpse was then retrieved, at Fox’s suggestion, and dumped in a nearby sewer system.
Five days later,
while investigating a blockage waste technicians discovered Morris’s body wedged in a pipe;
a short time later the three amigos were (allegedly) able to free themselves from Fox’s grasp and (separately) contacted authorities.

Seems like old times; Roy Lee Fox was again arrested for murder. Morris Sams was a law-abiding farmer shot in cold blood without warning;
with the three amigos’ eyewitness testimony and previous conviction by all rights Fox should’ve been en route to death row but the prosecutor’s office had other plans.
Inexplicably, Fox was given deal on a forty-year sentence for second degree murder plus a life sentence on kidnapping charges vis-à-vis the three amigos;
the terms were to be served concurrently, with parole eligibility in ten years.
Pardoner-in-chief Governor Jim Hunt will later tell the press Morris Sams’ murder left him “very, very saddened;”
this was a great comfort to Morris’s loved ones, I’m sure,
especially the three little girls left fatherless by the crime.
After a brief hiatus from politics Jim Hunt will again be reelected Governor, citing his “tough on crime” bona fides.
Voters, to the delight of politicians everywhere, have notoriously short memories.

Forever linked, in a perfect world at least

He was down but not out; the wily Fox still had one ace left to play. After a few months in Central Prison Roy Lee Fox contacted Buncombe County investigators and expressed a willingness to talk about an unsolved double murder.
There was one caveat: he would only be willing to share information, Fox told detectives,
while ensconced in the county jail.
Because voters aren’t the only ones with short memories the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office ignored the red flags and took the bait.

Do you feel lucky? Well, do you? Six weeks before Morris Sams’ final picnic Ohio resident Wesley Dale Mahaffey did;
he won a three-day trip in a raffle staged by Major Heating and Air Conditioning, his employer.
On May 17th, 1986 thirty-three-old Wesley and his twenty-nine-year-old wife Bonnie traveled to the Great Smokies Hilton in Asheville, North Carolina.
Just like Ovella Lunsford’s church-won rifle, the Mahaffey’s vacation would ultimately turn out to be a (blood-spattered) booby prize.

At 12:15am on October 20th the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous call reporting a white male “in bad shape” at Buzzard Rock,
an obscure forest outcropping with a breathtaking view and reputation as a teen hangout.
Upon arrival first responders found a fully-clothed male and female located approximately seventy-five feet apart, deceased.
The male’s pockets have been turned out and the couple’s wallets are missing.
A 1978 Oldsmobile station wagon at the scene is traced to Ohio residents Wesley and Bonnie Mahaffey, killed on the last day of the last vacation they will ever share.
A subsequent autopsy determines both have been shot with a .38 caliber weapon—Bonnie in the neck, chest and stomach and Wesley in the head, neck and arm—three times.
The medical examiner will affix their times of death as occurring between 7 and 9pm.

The couple—described by a neighbor as “real friendly and real nice people”—had no acquaintances in the area and no known risk factors in their backgrounds.
According to all who knew them the Mahaffeys were middle-class Middle Americans with lives steeped in traditional values.
The couple had two children—Janis, age eleven, and Jason, age seven.
Wesley was employed as a service manager at Major Heating and Air Conditioning in Hamilton, Ohio;
Bonnie was a homemaker who sold Avon to help make ends meet.
The first two days of the Mahaffeys’ trip had proceeded uneventfully; Wesley and Bonnie were last seen alive at 9:30am by a housekeeper as they exited the Hilton for a final day of sightseeing.

The couple’s pristine backgrounds weren’t the only factor rendering the crime inexplicable; their presence at Buzzard Rock defied logic as well.
Aside from the occasional cadre of partying teens the area was little-used.
Commercial GPS systems had yet to be invented and the overlook was invisible from adjoining roads; access also entailed navigating a steep dirt road, a risky proposition in a ‘78 station wagon.
The area was so obscure even many local residents were unaware it existed;
as Buncombe Deputy Mark Ivey told the Asheville Citizen-Times, “There are people right here in this county who don’t know where Buzzard Rock is.”

A 1978 Oldsmobile station wagon, chariot of the gods

Although clues were scarce the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department did its best; yet one by one the leads which dominated the initial stages of the investigation fizzled into nothingness.
Early newspaper articles reported footprints at the scene indicated more than one assailant—this assertion will later be backtracked.
A homicide at a different rest stop in the same time frame was found to be unrelated.
A “brushy-headed” man spotted peeping into the Mahaffey’s car was eventually identified and cleared,
poor grooming an unindictable crime.
As the investigation entered its second year the case began to cool and detectives’ frustrations began to simmer.
Into this void stepped Roy Lee Fox, a bottom-feeder who never encountered a situation he wasn’t eager to exploit.
As per his request he was removed from Central Prison and installed in the Buncombe County Jail.
He had pledged to confess and confess he did.

Text excerpt from Roy Lee Fox’s confession:

“In regards to the Buzzard Rock incident this was a contract murder. I was paid $100,000 to kill these two individuals on Buzzard Rock by Buncombe County (official’s name redacted) who gave me a .38 revolver to do these murders at his suggestion at his request. He did request me to return the weapon to him . . . this incident happened on May 20th. I am only taking (official’s name redacted) that the reason of him hiring me to kill these people is that a drug transaction went sour. The Mahaffey’s did have a kilo of coke. I was told the kilo would be a bonus to me in addition to the $100,000.”

View from Buzzard Rock, present day

According to Fox’s confession, the Mahaffeys had been slain in a drug hit contracted by an unnamed Buncombe County official.
This seemed, at best, far-fetched—everyone who knew the couple agreed their coke exposure was limited to the aerated beverage sold in red cans.
In fact, nothing about Fox’s confession jibed with reality;
the Mahaffeys hadn’t traveled to Ashville for a narcotics drop—Wesley won the trip by chance, and the destination was selected by his employer.
Investigators knew Fox’s confession was bogus—a blatant attempt to frame the (name redacted) Buncombe County official—but were nonetheless certain Fox had perpetrated the crime.

Desperate for physical evidence tying Fox to the murders, detectives unearthed an informant who claimed he’d witnessed Fox dump a gun in the French Broad River.
Buncombe County Sheriff Buck Lyda devised a plan to part the waterway like the Red Sea to scour the bottom for the murder weapon.
The logistics of the plan were actualized but the search was a failure;
no gun was found despite a meticulous search of the riverbed.
Although several bullets were located forensic analysis would later prove none had been fired from the Mahaffey murder weapon.

Prepping for the river search

Despite this setback Fox was charged with the Mahaffey homicides on April 13th, 1987. For the next six weeks Buncombe County detectives waged an all-out hunt for forensics tying him to the crime.
“We have enough to try him now but every piece of evidence helps,”
Captain Lee Warren told a reporter for the Ashville Citizen-Times.
The Captain’s confidence will prove misplaced; using a handcuff key secreted under his dentures,
Fox staged a brazen escape attempt from the Buncombe County Jail on June 3rd.
His bid for freedom was quashed by quick-thinking guards but within twelve hours the homicide charges against him were dropped.
Fox’s “confession” was looking more and more like a ruse,
an excuse to leave maximum security for the less-secure county lockup to facilitate a planned escape.
Without corroborating information a conviction on murder charges was now looking extremely unlikely;
Fox was shipped back to Central Prison and the Mahaffey investigation evaporated.

Five years later a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Corrections announced Fox’s death at Central Prison.
According to local reporter Lewis Green, the circumstances surrounding Fox’s demise were riddled with anomalies, including but not limited to: a failure to notify the Fox family,
a three-week gap between the event and the announcement, and an unheard-of hand-printed death certificate (a more official-looking copy was eventually issued, however).
When the journalist asked to view the inmate’s grave the DOC claimed Fox had been cremated, and this absence of proof convinced Lewis Green and many other locals,
law enforcement and civilians both, that Fox’s demise had been a staged event.

River Search II, French Broad Boogaloo

If Fox were alive today he’d be eighty-four years old. Although I am generally skeptical of conspiracy theories
his enrollment in the Witness Protection Program wouldn’t surprise me—nothing about his 1985 commutation or plea deal in the Sams case comports with past precedents.
Someone was pulling strings behind the scenes,
although the motive and identity of Fox’s patron will likely remain a mystery.
His (possibly) staged death aside, the aspect of this Br’er Fox tale that most intrigues me is the Mahaffey murders,
and the role luck played in the crime.
Bogus confession aside, there’s no evidence tying Fox to the slayings—yet there’s also no evidence definitively exonerating him, making the prosecution of another suspect a daunting proposition.
Even if Fox didn’t kill Mahaffeys he effectively killed the investigation into their murders;
Roy Lee Fox was a lot of things, none of them good, but he did make an excellent scapegoat.

It seems almost inconceivable but Wesley and Bonnie Mahaffey are dead because they won a raffle; the phrase “good luck” will never sound the same.

Everyone agrees it was an accident.

Alcohol. High heels. A fifth-floor walk-up. The receptionist at my favorite hair salon met her demise a few weeks ago due to alcohol, high-heels, and a fifth-floor walk-up.
After a bar crawl fellow salon employees dropped her at her door and her neighbors heard her tumble down the stairs a few minutes later.
Fatal falls are far more common than most people realize, authorities told her family;
the autopsy results haven’t been released but it is believed she teetered as she reached the top floor and snapped her neck while hurtling down the stairs backwards.

It is terrifying to remember so we strive to forget: safety is illusory.
Every day, all day, each and every one of us is a single misstep from endless night—and it’s not only our choice of accommodations or footwear which might be plotting to kill us.
In one notable NYC murder a bride-to-be showed up early for an electrolysis appointment and wound up dead.
Sometimes the early bird gets a bullet instead of a worm.

Beauty is tyranny. Scheduled to wed fireman Frederick Weigold on January 14th, 1956,
twenty-five-year old Queens resident Kathleen Egan was determined to look perfect on her honeymoon.
Plagued by rogue hairs on her chin and bosom, the AT&T clerk scheduled a series of electrolysis treatments designed to obliterate the unsightly fuzz forever.
In the ultimate irony, so mortified was Kathleen by her whiskers and chest pelt she booked the appointments under a fictitious surname (“Ferris”) to shield her identity.
Little did she know her secret shame would soon be printed on the front page of every major newspaper in New York.

35-57 82nd Street

On November 15th, 1955—exactly two months before her wedding—Kathleen skipped work to bid bon voyage to a friend leaving for Europe;
she then spent a few hours running errands related to her impending nuptials.
At 3:30pm Kathleen was due at 35-57 82nd Street in Jackson Heights for an appointment—her fourth—-with electrologist Marie “Mae” Gazzo.
The precise time of Kathleen’s arrival is unclear but she apparently arrived early—-by 3:30pm there were already intimations of calamity at Mae’s electrolysis office.
Suitemate Dr. Herbert Schwartz, a chiropodist, had become alarmed by the incessant ringing of the telephone.
He and Mae shared a line and she always picked up the receiver by the second ring.
At 5pm Dr. Schwartz took advantage of a lull between patients and walked down the hall to investigate.

When his repeated knocking drew no response Dr. Schwartz attempted to enter Mae’s office—the knob turned but the door was jammed.
The rooms on the second floor of 35-57 82nd Street are interconnected and thus he continued down the hall to enter Mae’s office via a bridge club located in the building’s rear.
As he traversed the club—-which was closed during daylight hours—Dr. Schwartz discovered the still-warm corpse of thirty-two-year old Mae Gazzo splayed beneath a window.
Mae hadn’t died alone; shortly after their arrival responding NYPD officers found the body of Kathleen Egan crumpled in the bridge club’s tiny kitchen, her battle with unwanted hair ended forevermore.

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GORY

The tabloid press was granted an absurd amount of access to the crime scene; though there are some variations in detail these are the pertinent facts upon which all newspapers agree:

  • Kathleen was found facedown, nude except for her stockings
  • A set of rosary beads were entwined in her fingers
  • Her one-carat engagement ring—valued at $550—was missing
  • Mae was found fully clothed in her white beauticians’ uniform
  • As she fell she pulled the window curtains down on top of her
  • Kathleen’s girdle and panties lay on the floor beside Mae
  • Inside the office the electrolysis machine was still running
  • Jazz was playing loudly on the radio, the volume possibly turned up by the killer
  • A stopper had been wedged inside the office door to prevent entry via the hallway
  • Kathleen’s orange dress and bra were found neatly folded on a hanger in the closet
  • A two-carat diamond ring Mae always removed for work was found secreted in a drawer
  • The contents of both women’s purses had been dumped onto a table
  • Approximately ten dollars was missing from Kathleen’s wallet and thirty-five from Mae’s

 “At least sixty ex-convicts, gun-toters, sex perverts and assorted criminals have been taken to Elmhurst station house for a ‘sweating.’” Long Island Star Journal, November 18th, 1955

Subsequent autopsies will determine neither victim exhibited evidence of sexual assault and both had sustained a single bullet wound—Kathleen behind the left ear and Mae in the left side of her upper back.
Mae’s wound showed evidence of stippling indicating close contact with the gun barrel—the tip of the bullet protruded just above her right breast.
The medical examiner will estimate the victims’ times of death as sometime between 2:40 and 3:05pm;
Mae had been killed first, the doctor declared, dying approximately ten minutes before Kathleen.
Both women were shot with the same weapon, a .38 caliber Colt Special revolver;
the copper-coated bullets utilized in the crime were rare in America but popular overseas.

Upon examining the crime scene details detectives theorized the event had unfolded thusly:
between 2:30 and 3pm Kathleen arrived at Mae’s office and removed her dress and bra for treatment.
Her skin bore only faint electrolysis markings indicating the process had been interrupted shortly after commencement.
When the killer knocked on the door Mae shrouded Kathleen with a sheet before answering;
both women were then immediately confronted at gunpoint.
As their purses were dumped and cash extracted Mae fled through the adjoining door into the bridge club.
Dragging Kathleen along with him, the killer gave chase and caught up with Mae as she struggled to open the window, presumably to summon help.
Enraged, the assailant shot Mae in the back and then proceeded to tear off Kathleen’s panties and girdle, possibly as a prelude to rape.
Kathleen managed to break away but was ultimately cornered in the bridge club’s kitchen—she was then forced to her knees and executed.

“This is one of the toughest cases we’ve ever been called on to solve but we believe robbery was the motive for this double killing.” NYPD Chief Inspector Daniel McGovern, Democrat and Chronicle, November 17th, 1955

FRUSTRATION, DESPERATION, STAGNATION—OH MY!

“A wonderful girl, just the grandest, grandest girl”—that’s how Dr. Schwartz’s wife described Mae Gazzo to journalists after the murders.
The electrologist, the sole support of her widowed mother, was a homebody with no romantic entanglements and no known enemies.
Just six weeks before her death Mae had achieved a lifelong dream of purchasing a house “in the country” for herself and her mother.
To Bronx natives like Mae the New Jersey suburbs were the promised land.

Mae began operating the electrolysis parlor at 35-57 82nd Street three years before her death;
detectives questioned the hundreds of women listed in Mae’s business ledger—she had no male clients—but were unable to develop a single lead.
Then as now, predatory behavior was an occupational hazard for women;
the previous occupant of Mae’s office, Anne Hoey Warren, had been raped in the building a few years before Mae’s tenancy.
Investigators determined Ms. Warren’s rapist Mark Sullivan had an airtight alibi for the day of the murders;
detectives dismissed the freshly-paroled felon from the suspect list and the investigation soldiered on.

Despite a BOLO order issued to area pawn shops Kathleen’s diamond ring could not be—and has never been—located.
No unidentified fingerprints were detected at the crime scene and no hair or fiber evidence collected.
Bereft of forensics, the sole weapon in the NYPD arsenal was interrogation,
a high-stakes free-for-all in the era before Miranda.
Sex offenders, stick-up artists and assorted ne’er-do-wells were rounded up and grilled like beefsteak.
A confession from dishwasher Foster Baker initially seemed promising but detectives’ ardor quickly cooled—evidence ultimately proved Baker had been present at work at the time of the murders.
With another potential suspect crossed off the list the investigation chugged onward.

The next miscreant in investigators’ crosshairs was a Bronx resident named Louis Polite.
Beginning one month before the murders, detectives learned,
electrologists throughout the city had been bombarded with a rash of lewd phone calls;
Mae herself had been the recipient of at least one of these unwelcome advances.
After the slayings the harassment intensified, victims reported, with the caller now posing as an NYPD detective before veering off into depravity.
A sting operation eventually identified the obscene orator as Airman First Class Louis Polite.
No forensic or ballistic evidence could be developed which tied Polite to the homicides, however,
and he denied any knowledge of the murders.
Detectives eventually shelved the ironically-named Polite as a suspect and resumed their quest;
leads dried up, optimism withered, and the slayings of Kathleen Egan and Mae Gazzo began to fade into memory.

AN OVERLAPPING MURDER, ALL IN THE FAMILY

Four years and three months after the electrolysis shop slayings Mae Gazzo’s family suffered another blow—her thirty-five-year-old cousin Eleanor Saia was murdered in a real estate office in Oradell, New Jersey.
Eleanor, a happily married mother of two,
was a receptionist at Demarest Reality and Insurance, located at 275 Kinderkamack Road.
At 1pm on March 14th, 1960 she arrived at the office just as her boss Frank O’Shea was departing for lunch.
A half hour later a potential client entered, noticed Eleanor prone on the couch, assumed she was napping and left.
Due to the drawn drapes in the office he failed to notice her upper body was drenched in blood.

At 2pm Frank O’Shea returned to the office and found Eleanor mortally wounded—she mumbled incoherently, only three words decipherable: “Englewood, Edgewater, Lyndhurst,” names of New Jersey towns.
The victim was transported to Bergen Pines Hospital where she died without regaining consciousness;
an autopsy will determine she was beaten to death with an unidentified object—her face bruised, her left eye blackened, her skull fractured in two places.
Although Eleanor exhibited no evidence of sexual assault investigators were unable to rule out an attempt—her blouse and slip were ripped and a button had been torn from her white sweater.

The office’s safe hadn’t been touched; the only item determined to be missing from the scene was Eleanor’s red leather wallet containing less than five dollars.
Although her murder shared many similarities with her cousin Mae’s—both women were murdered at work,
in ostensible robberies which netted only a negligible amount of money—authorities were unable to find any concrete links and ultimately deemed the situation a “weird coincidence.”
The cousins’ slayings will share one final similarity—as is the case with the murders of Mae and Kathleen, Eleanor’s homicide remains unsolved.

Leading with the bleeding, literally

Return home after having a couple of cocktails and you might die. Go to work and you might die. Have your rogue hairs zapped and you might die.
Show up early for an appointment and you might die—hell, show up late or fail to show up at all and you might die.
Locking your doors, advisable though it may be, can’t lock out mortality;
like it or not, each and every one of us will, without exception, die.
The only sensible option is to enjoy your time on earth, however brief, and don’t sweat the small stuff—because as Kathleen Eagan learned in the most public way possible: hair today, gone tomorrow.

Seeing Jimmy Hendrick’s photo yesterday reminded me—murder necklaces aren’t the only random object linked to homicide.  Owning a rattan death chair has killed more people than than Ted Bundy and BTK combined.  If I ever get tired of living I’ll just slap on a murder necklace and buy one of these babies—-I won’t even have to unlock my doors. Death will find a way in.

 

Cindy Zarzycki went missing in 1986

Angela Freeman, missing since 1993

Dantrell Davis, murdered in 1992

Johnny Babino, last seen in 1995

Ruth Leamon, last seen in 1982

Tracy Pickett, last seen in 1992

Donna Gail Harris, last seen in 1991

Phree Morrow, murdered in 1992

Paulette Webster, last seen in 1998

Sherry Eyerly, last seen in 1982

Tamara Lohr, murdered in 1992

Samantha Lang, murdered in 2007

Wanda Jean Mays, died under mysterious circumstances in 1986

Dena Raley-McCluskey, murdered in 1999

Jessica Arredondo, murdered in 1988

Gina Tenney, murdered in 1985

Ty Taing, died under mysterious circumstances in 1995

 

 

My rage is radioactive. It infuses every atom of my being. It will linger in the atmosphere a millennium after my bones have crumbled into dust.

My pain is different. As time passes grievous losses—romantic betrayals, the deaths of cherished pets and friends—begin to shrink into scabbed-over wounds so deeply embedded in my core
I can inveigle myself into believing these sorrows no longer trouble me at all.
My true crime obsession, I believe,
is a way to reexperience and exorcise my personal anguish at a safe distance—and the murders presently twirling through my mind are the unsolved homicides of Donald Ray Young and Rebecca Lou Hastings.

“It’s the most frustrating thing I’ve ever worked on; I don’t have a weapon, a suspect or a motive. I don’t know why it happened. We’ve ruled out all the usual reasons. I’ve interviewed about 50 people and I can’t come up with even two people who didn’t like them, much less hated them enough to murder them. It was almost like they were two perfect people.” Phoenix Police Department Detective Jim Thomas, Arizona Republic, May 19th, 1985

Rebecca Hastings and Donald Young—Becky and Donnie to intimates—may have been two perfect people but they were not, as it turns out, a perfect couple.
Twenty-three-year old Becky was eager for marriage and Donnie, thirty-four and thrice divorced, preferred to saunter to the altar at a more leisurely pace.
Deeming their differences insurmountable, the couple decided to end their romantic relationship and remain friends.
On the weekend of January 7th, 1984 the duo were in the final stages of dismantling their conjoined existence at 3514 West McKinley Street in Phoenix, Arizona;
Becky spent Saturday afternoon looking at new apartments with a male friend.

On Saturday evening Becky spoke on the phone with her mother and a friend, telling both she planned to spend the night at home—she intended to take a bath and go to bed early, she said.
Donnie spent the evening drinking with a female friend at a bar located in the West Valley Mall.
He dropped off his companion at 1am and, assuming he drove home directly, would have arrived back at West McKinley Street at 1:45am.

At noon on Sunday Donnie’s longtime best friend Kim Siegfried stopped by West McKinley Street to help with some home repairs. The door was unlocked—the door was always unlocked—and he entered the single-story residence.
His shouted greetings unanswered, he peeked into the darkened bedroom and spotted Donnie prone on the bed,
upper body hidden beneath a blanket.
“So I went and did some work,” Kim Siegfried will later tell an Arizona Republic reporter.
“I walked past his room a little later and he hadn’t moved and I thought he must’ve really tied one on the night before.”

Site of Donnie Ray Young’s last tipple; photo courtesy of the North Phoenix Blog

Kim Siegfried completed the repairs and returned home but something about Donnie’s position—facedown, swaddled in blankets, only his bare feet and ankles poking through—nagged at him.
He chain-called throughout the afternoon, hoping Donnie would answer and becoming increasingly anxious when Donnie did not. At 7:30pm Kim Siegfried returned to the small house on West McKinley Street.
The door was still unlocked and Donnie was still in the same position.
“I didn’t know Becky was in there until I turned on the light,” Kim Siegfried will later tell the Arizona Republic.
“I saw [Becky’s] leg and then I knew without a doubt they were dead. I didn’t even uncover them. I’m a coward,
I guess.”

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Postmortems reveal Becky and Donnie had each been shot ten times,
primarily in the head.
The term “overkilled” seems insufficient for a murder featuring twenty bullet wounds—“overkilled10” seems a more apt descriptor.
The caliber and type of weapon utilized and the precise location of Becky and Donnie’s wounds have never been revealed by law enforcement.
No bullet casings were found at the scene indicating either a fastidious perpetrator or a weapon capable of retaining spent shells.
No one on West McKinley heard any gunfire the night of the murders,
including one neighbor who lived only six feet from the crime scene.

The extravagant number of gunshots wasn’t the only peculiar aspect of the Hastings-Young homicides:
although she was found nude Becky exhibited no indicia of sexual assault.
The interplay of victims’ bodies was odd as well—Becky lay on the bed faceup and Donnie,
fully clothed, lay facedown directly on top of her.
Beside them on the bed lay a butter knife and Donnie’s house keys.
The only item determined to be missing from the home was Becky’s purse containing approximately twenty dollars.

Although it is only a theory Phoenix Detective Jim Thomas assesses the scene thusly: Becky was slain first, he believes, and the killer was still in the house when Donnie arrived home.
Hearing a strange noise, Donnie grabbed a butter knife from the kitchen and,
house keys still in hand, proceeded into the bedroom.
From the positioning of their bodies it appeared Donnie had been leaning over Becky, possibly to check on her,
when the killer opened fire.
Although Detective Thomas can conceptualize the mechanics of the murder the killer’s motive and principal target remain a mystery. Did Donnie interrupt an assailant targeting Becky? Or was the assailant lying in wait for him?
Nobody knows—or nobody who knows is talking.

Although Detective Thomas is unsure why Becky and Donnie were slain he managed to eliminate several classic motives from the roster of possibilities:
as revealed in the Arizona Republic, neither Donnie nor Becky had any known enemies.
Neither had any known drug involvement.
A burglary gone wrong has also been ruled out since nothing was missing from the home aside from Becky’s pocketbook.
Unable to find any potential red flags in their present lives investigators began to examine Becky and Donnie’s respective pasts.

Both Becky and Donnie were Phoenix transplants—in the Arizona Republic  Detective Thomas describes the pair as “trusting people from the Midwest.”
Donnie was a Cape Girardeau, Missouri native and a Vietnam veteran.
He worked as a communications supervisor at the Tanner Construction Company alongside his best friend Kim Siegfried.
Although he had three failed marriages Donnie was said to be on good terms with all of his ex-wives.
He and his third wife, an Arizona Republic employee, had amicably divorced in October, 1983,
eighteen months before the murders.
It’s unclear how long Donnie and Becky had dated but they had apparently cohabitated only a relatively short time.

Becky had grown up in the wryly-named hamlet of Normal, Illinois.
At the time of her death she worked as a file clerk in Dr. Jerold Mangas’s medical practice with a promotion to office manager in the offing.
Although not as matrimonially ambitious as Donnie Becky had been married once, briefly, while still in her teens—the union had been dissolved in 1979, long before she moved to Arizona.
Interestingly, although it’s almost certainly unrelated to her murder, the Bloomington Pantagraph contains a relevant item in the March 6th, 1978 edition:

The tire slashing incident, never again mentioned in the archives, occurred four months before Becky’s August 6th, 1978 marriage—her divorce was finalized fourteen months later, on October 27th, 1979.
Sixteen hundred miles away and six years before her murder the vandalism is most likely a red herring—but it does demonstrate that perfect person though Becky may have been,
at one point there was someone who not only hated her but was willing to break the law to harass her.

Becky and Donnie have long since faded from the media spotlight; their murders haven’t been mentioned in the Arizona Republic since 1985, nearly thirty-five years ago.
The press may have forgotten but ever since I first read about the case years ago Donnie and Becky have remained close to my heart,
the trusting uncoupled-couple from the Midwest blasted with an armory’s worth of ammunition for a reason fathomable only to their killer.

Becky and Donnie’s homicides have been haunting me of late, ever since a nightmare I endured a few weeks ago called them to mind.
I dreamt was back in my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, and just like Becky on her final weekend I was packing up my possessions and getting ready to move out.
The demise of this particular relationship was devastating but it occurred years in the past;
if strapped to a lie detector I would claim to be over the heartache and I would pass the polygraph.
Nevertheless, I woke up crying.

I will admit I had this dream. I will admit I woke up crying.
I will admit that Becky and Donnie have been heavy on my mind.
But here is what I will not admit, even if someone holds a gun of unspecified caliber to my head and threatens to pull the trigger ten or even twenty times:
if given the option, as I boxed up my possessions lo those many years ago, to move out and carry on with my life or stay even one more night—even though I knew a maniac was going to break in and kill us?
I know which option I would’ve chosen.
And it wouldn’t have required a moving van.

Consider This Your Trigger Warning

This story begins at the midpoint of disgust and despair.

I had just finished watching Leaving Neverland, the Michael Jackson exposé-cum-negligent parenting how-to manual.
If you haven’t watched it, don’t—let me summarize it for you.
Terrible women pimp out their underage sons for fame, reap no legal or financial consequences. The end.

In lieu of brain bleach I then decided to finish off the evening with a viewing of Disney’s Peter Pan (in full at link)—still in keeping with a Neverland theme
but oh-so-anodyne even my carnage-obsessed brain couldn’t finagle any sinister implications from it.
Or so I thought.

And then I saw this image:

Something about a Saint Bernard tied in the yard sparked a memory—a memory of murder.

The Saint Bernard’s name was Kelly.

The date was June 11th, 1973 and she belonged to the Smith family of Wilton Manors, Florida—mother Linda, age thirty-one, and children Billy, fourteen, Christopher, eleven, Robin, nine, and Susan, seven.

It was 12:30am when Billy Smith arrived home from his girlfriend’s house and walked past Kelly tied in the yard of the modest pink bungalow at 1 NE 26th Court.
Seconds later he came barreling out of the residence, sprinting, he will later say, with no particular destination in mind.
Two blocks away, as if by fate, he spotted a police car.

“I’m glad to find a policeman when I really need one.” Billy Smith to the Wilton Manors patrolman, Fort Lauderdale News, June 11th, 1974

Inside the Smith residence Billy’s mother and three siblings had been slaughtered.
Linda lay crumpled in a pool of blood at the foot of a black leather sofa, Christopher sprawled a few feet away on the living room carpet.
Robin was found in his bedroom, lower body on the bed, upper torso off, dangling near the floor.
Karen, struck down mid-flight, reposed in a crimson puddle in her bedroom doorway.

Photos of Christopher and Kelly are unavailable in the archives

Only one gun, a .38 caliber revolver, had been used in the murder. Autopsies will later reveal the deceased family members, with one exception, had been shot in the head once;
Christopher had been shot in the head twice.
All four victims had been repeatedly stabbed with four separate steak knives, the family’s own, left behind at the scene.
All four victims’ throats had been slashed and all were fully clothed,
with no indication of sexual assault. Linda had sustained the most brutal attack—the medical examiner detected nineteen separate stab wounds—and she alone had been beaten,
her upper lip split, contusions abounding.

“In the case of the mother and Robin it’s impossible to determine which caused death—the throats being cut or the gunshot wounds. But Christopher and Karen were definitely killed by the gunshot wounds.” Dr. G K. Mann, Broward County Medical Examiner, Fort Lauderdale News, June 13th, 1973

Detectives attempted to reconstruct the crime using the blood spatter as a blueprint. Linda had been attacked while sitting on the sofa, investigators surmised,
with Christopher seated nearby snacking on two food containers—coleslaw and chocolate ice cream—which remained open on the coffee table.
Investigators believed Karen had emerged from her room during the initial assault and was spinning around to flee when the assailant gunned her down mid-pivot.
The position of Robin’s body indicated he had been attacked while sleeping and never regained consciousness.

“The facts in this case are strange, very strange.” Wilton Manors Police Chief Ray Saxon, Fort Lauderdale News, June 14th, 1973

Nothing had been stolen during the crime and none of the doors or windows exhibited evidence of forced entry.
Upon arriving at the scene Wilton Manor detectives noted a circumstance which greatly narrowed the suspect list:
Kelly the Saint Bernard, a gift from Linda’s ex-boyfriend Larry Bland, was protective of the family.
To gain access to the residence the killer or killers had almost certainly been escorted by a family member past the 130lb Cujo-doppelgänger.
The Smith family had been murdered by someone they knew.

“I can’t understand it; that dog would attack a stranger if he tried to get in the house.” Ex-boyfriend Larry Bland, Fort Lauderdale News, June 12th, 1973

Attractive, free-wheeling, friendly, outgoing; these are the adjectives her friends will use when describing Linda Smith in the Florida press.
Wilton Manors law enforcement had a more pejorative take: they called the recent murder victim, a single mother supporting four children, a party girl.
Admittedly, the forty-eight hours before Linda’s death had been somewhat of a whirlwind.
The festivities began, inauspiciously enough, when she offered a ride to a pair of hitchhiking British soldiers.

“Linda trusted everyone. She would pick up a hitchhiker and give him a ride and not think anything of it.” Rita Crippen, former Smith family neighbor, Orlando Sentinel, June 13th, 1974

Servicemen on leave are always a festive bunch and the Brits and Linda apparently hit it off;
she brought the pair directly home to meet her three youngest children and then bundled everyone into the car for a day of sun and fun at the beach.
A full-service hostess, that evening she served everyone frozen dinners and then took the soldiers out partying ‘til dawn.
On the following day—the family’s last—she blew off her part-time job at Johnson’s florist,
telling her boss she was “too tired” to work.
Linda subsequently spent the afternoon with ex-boyfriend Larry Bland, whose new wife—married on the rebound after Linda dumped him—had recently filed for divorce.
Wilton Manors detectives will later report they’d located two men who’d had sex with Linda within twenty-four hours of her death but the identity of these paramours has never been publicized.

“It had to be somebody who wanted to kill the whole family—if somebody wanted to kill her all they had to do was take her out on a date.” Larry Bland, Fort Lauderdale News, June 12th 1973

Neighbors on NE 26th Court will later report the Smith residence, usually a cacophony of merrymaking and basso-profundo dog barking, was unusually quiet the night of June 11th.
Larry Bland told detectives he’d dropped Linda home by 4pm and the coroner will later determine the Smiths died between 6 and 8pm.
Marie Seneca, living directly across the street, saw only two unfamiliar vehicles in the hours before the Smith family was slain; a brown sedan in the late afternoon, presumably driven by Larry Bland,
and a green Mustang a few hours later.
Although the Smith home was eerily silent she did recall one out-of-the-usual disturbance that night:
a series of irregularly timed explosions which began shortly after 8pm.

“We were barbecuing our dinner when we heard the noise; we didn’t hear any screams but I remarked to my husband that it was a terrible thing to shoot firecrackers off in the house.” Neighbor Marie Seneca, Pensacola New Journal, June 13th, 1973

Christopher’s Scoutmaster looks like modern day child-catcher / shanda for the goyim Stephen Miller

The investigation into the Smith family murders was flawed from the start. Crime scene protocol was laissez-faire in the 1970s and the Wilton Manors Police Department lacked experience in homicide investigations.
Detectives allowed a local ambulance crew to remove the Smiths’ bodies before photos were taken or the scene properly processed.
Twelve hours passed before the Wilton Manors brass, realizing they were out of their depth,
called in the Broward County Sherriff’s Office—only then were evidence technicians dispatched to the (now badly-compromised) crime scene.

[Fun fact: The Wilton Manors Police Department is famous not for its investigatory prowess but for its hiring practices—serial killer Gerard Schaeffer had been a patrolman, his high-profile arrest occurring just months before the Smith family was slain.]

The process of elimination began. Billy Smith, Larry Bland and the British soldiers all had reliable witnesses placing them elsewhere at the time of the crime.
Swiftly dismissed from suspicion was Linda’s ex-husband William Smith,
a seaman stationed in San Diego; biological father of the three younger children and adoptive father of Billy,
Smith traveled to Florida to assume custody of his surviving son—no word on whether he also assumed custody of Kelly the Saint Bernard but I like to believe.
One by one the men in Linda Smith’s life were crossed off the suspect list until only one name remained: Robert Kerwin Nash.

Linda’s ex-Husband at left, Robert Kerwin Nash at right

The very first mention of Robert Nash in the newspaper archives appears on March 8th, 1950: thirty-four-year-old Robert Kerwin Nash, transient,
was arrested for shooting Mary Ann Nelson in the arm during a Chicago robbery.
During interrogation Nash further confessed to knocking over a candy store, telegraph office, and several doctors’ and dentists’ offices in Los Angeles.
Armed robbery, felonious assault, aggravated grand theft:
throughout his life Nash racked up over forty arrests and spent more than fifteen years in such infamous correctional institutions as Joliet, Folsom and Sing Sing.
Crime was the driving force in Nash’s existence; he’d been married five times but his wives were just bit players—crime was and ever would be the name in lights on the marquee.

At the time of the Smith murders Robert Nash was fifty-eight years old; he sported a thick toupée which made him look younger but also ridiculous.
After his latest release from prison he’d reinvented himself as a sea captain, chartering pleasure cruises for down-at-the-heels tourists. Linda occasionally worked on Nash’s boat, described by investigators as a “floating bordello.”
The Smith children knew Nash tangentially as Captain Bob, their mother’s boss,
but the length and familiarity of the relationship between Robert Nash and Linda Smith has never been specified by law enforcement.

“We are missing one vital element in the case. Without it (the murder weapon) we have no case even though we have narrowed it down to this one suspect. We are convinced based on the proof we have, but the state attorney can’t effect the arrest as long as one element is missing.” Broward County Sherriff Edward Stack, Fort Lauderdale News, June 11th, 1974

Investigators could find no direct evidence tying Nash to the Smith murders but circumstantial evidence was plentiful:

  • He drove a green Mustang, a vehicle of the same color and model witnessed by neighbor Marie Seneca at the Smith home the night of the crime
  • He claimed he’d spent the evening of the murders drinking at Big Daddy’s Lounge—located within walking distance of the Smith residence—but no witnesses recalled seeing him there
  • He told detectives he hadn’t seen Linda for months but technicians found his fingerprint on the Smiths’ bathroom sink
  • According to his wife, Captain Bob arrived home the night of the murders with a large bloody gash across his hand
  • A convicted felon, Nash was barred from owning firearms but investigators were able to confirm he took possession of a .38 revolver—the caliber of weapon used in the slayings—in the late 1960s
  •  
    “This man is no amateur. He’s got a long record and he’s smart—he’s got that weapon stashed in a place we’ll never find it. And even though we have his fingerprint in the house we have no witness putting him there at the time of the murders.” Broward County Sherriff Edward Stack, Fort Lauderdale News, June 11th, 1974

    Captain Bob could read the writing on the interrogation room wall—after a single police interview he hotfooted out of Florida leaving no forwarding address.
    His wife Eileen, witness to the bloody gash, could read the writing as well (it spelled out G-U-I-L-T-Y)—and she immediately filed for divorce.
    Eventually investigators were able to track Nash to Washington DC where he was working as a barber near the Pentagon.
    With no new evidence forthcoming the Smith murder investigation stalled, four years passed, and Nash kept his head down but the lull couldn’t last.
    There was one constant in Captain Bob’s life, as reliable as the tide: his criminality always outweighed his good judgment.

    Queens, New York, 1977. Thirty-three-year-old Patricia Nash Danahy couldn’t believe her eyes; there on her doorstep stood Robert Kerwin Nash, the deadbeat dad who’d abandoned her at the age of four.
    Although they had shared only a handful of interactions over the decades Patricia, a waitress with a ten-year old daughter, invited Nash into her home;
    it was a decision she would live—just barely—to regret.
    Once inside Captain Bob spun a well-practiced tale of woe, citing an urgent need of capital to purchase a Fort Lauderdale condominium; he requested a small favor—could he insure her life for 100K and use the policy as mortgage collateral?
    Patricia Nash Danahy was not a financial adviser;
    she was a restaurant server and single mother hungry for paternal love and attention—the plan seemed reasonable to her and she agreed.

    Like human decency, an affinity for delayed gratification was entirely absent from Captain Bob’s wheelhouse.
    Just a few months later, on May 22nd, 1978 Patricia Danahy was found slumped in her car in a parking lot in Glen Oaks NY, two .38 caliber bullets in her skull.
    Miraculously, Patricia survived; after waking up from a week-long coma, permanently paralyzed on her left side, Patricia told investigators Captain Bob was the triggerman—he’d shown up in NY unexpectedly,
    she said, and asked for a loan.
    When she could muster only a few hundred dollars Nash pulled out a gun and attempted to cash in the 100K policy on an expedited schedule.

    A nationwide manhunt, ironically, found Captain Bob already behind bars—after shooting his daughter Nash hopped a flight to Miami where poorly-made luggage led to his undoing.
    As airline employees loaded Nash’s bags into the cargo hold his suitcase popped open and out tumbled two firearms: a shotgun and a .38 caliber handgun.
    Upon deplaning Captain Bob was arrested and held on weapons possession charges;
    the revolver in Nash’s suitcase was quickly linked to Patricia Danahy’s shooting and Florida detectives soon managed to link the weapon to an additional crime—but it wasn’t the Smith family murders.

    “It’s a damn shame to live that long and be that nice and die like that. He should’ve been able to die in peace.” Captain Gypsy Rhule on his friend Ray Hitchcock, Fort Lauderdale News, March 14th, 1978

    Seven months earlier, March 7th, 1978. Ray Hitchcock, age seventy-two, was found hogtied with jumper cables and viciously stabbed in his Fort Lauderdale apartment.
    A sea captain and onetime Robert Nash business partner, Captain Ray’s knife wounds followed a familiar pattern;
    like Linda Smith, murdered four years before,
    his throat had been slashed and he’d been stabbed nineteen times.
    Ray Hitchcock had been a man of modest means; his assailant ransacked his small apartment but only one item appeared to be missing—a .38 caliber revolver, later identified as the gun used in Patricia Danahy’s shooting.

    OVERLAPPING MURDER: Back in Wilton Manors the Smith murder house had become an infamous local landmark, dubbed 666 Andrews Avenue by local teens, AKA Satan’s winter residence.
    Although aware of the murders the Summerhill-Childers family moved into 1 NE 26th Court, convinced the home’s extensive interior remodeling had banished any miasma.
    Pray their rental deposit was refundable; five years after the Smith murders Joyce Summerhill, age twenty-seven, vanished while walking to Big Daddy’s Lounge,
    the same establishment Captain Bob—now safely behind bars—had claimed to be visiting while Linda and her children were murdered.
    One week later, on July 6th, 1978 Joyce’s body was found in underbrush behind an abandoned house approximately six blocks from Satan’s winter residence. Her slaying remains unsolved.

    “I wouldn’t have lived there if you paid me.” Joyce Summerhill’s ex-boyfriend Darrell Lapointe on the murder house, Fort Lauderdale News, July 8th, 1978

    Joyce Summerhill isn’t the only 666 Andrews Avenue resident denied justice; despite compelling evidence of his guilt Robert Kerwin Nash was never tried for murdering Ray Hitchcock or the Smith family.
    The gun used in the Smith murders has never been located and although investigators could place Nash in Florida at the time of the Hitchcock slaying
    they were confident his sentence in the Patricia Danahy shooting would be a de facto life sentence.
    They were right: on December 6th, 1979 Robert Nash was convicted of attempted murder and weapons possession in a New York courtroom; citing his “forty-year life of crime,”
    Judge George Balbach doled out eight and twenty-five year sentences, the terms to be served concurrently.
    Seven years later, on November 22nd, 1986 Captain Bob Nash died in a New York prison, forever evading punishment for his worst misdeeds.

    The address of 1 NE 26th Court has been changed but Satan’s winter residence abides.

    Joyce Summerhill’s brother looks like Angry Patton Oswalt


     
    Leaving Neverland, Peter Pan and a forty-year-old family murder—it was a circuitous journey but the theme of parental responsibility resonates.
    Wilton Manors detectives blamed Linda Smith for the choices which led to the deaths of her children and I was enraged—nay, apoplectic—at the Leaving Neverland  mothers for failing to protect their sons.
    Four decades after the Smith murders the appropriate amount of assigned maternal blame for victimized offspring is still a topic of debate, regardless of whether it should be.
    I’m not here to judge Linda Smith’s parenting choices, regardless of whether I agree with them.
    I’m just grateful for the chance to memorialize a murdered family, especially Christopher Jay, Robin Timothy and Karen Smith. Just like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, they never got a chance to grow up.

    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

    1973

    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.

    1964

    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.

    1943

    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.

    1950

    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.

    1977



    “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.

    1941

    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)

    1961

    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.

    1984

    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 on the sales slip appears to have been forged
  • Investigators learn two plane tickets to Caracas, Venezuela had been purchased in Ercilia’s name shortly after her disappearance; 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)

    1963

    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

    1982

    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,
    timeless

    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,
    1985

    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:

    2019

    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.

    3dead10

    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