That which has been will be again, that which has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. —- Ecclesiastes 1:9
I haven’t been reading much crime lately; it’s hard for me to concentrate on things that happened in the past when so many terrible things are happening right now,
with even more terrible things sure to follow.
That said, a recent arrest in the Julie Mott missing body case has me pondering thematically akin crimes—crimes that aren’t identical or connected but are uncannily similar nonetheless.
It seems that even the most bizarre slayings have corollaries;
there are only so many awful things human beings can do to one another,
I suppose, thus even the oddest circumstances are statistically destined to reoccur.
I should clarify that though the main suspect has been arrested the Mott case has not been solved.
Julie, a 25-year old San Antonian who succumbed to cystic fibrosis last year,
was body-napped from a funeral home while awaiting cremation.
Julie’s family is certain her allegedly obsessed ex-boyfriend Bill Wilburn is responsible;
although he denies these allegations and Julie’s body is still missing
Wilburn was arrested last week and charged with violating a restraining order issued in the case.
(A not-at-all-crazy collection of Wilburn’s online commentary can be found here.)
As peculiar as this bodysnatching amour fou might seem,
it wouldn’t be the first time a stalker has pilfered his victim’s remains;
in the 1930s original tomb raider Carl Von Cosel liberated the corpse of Elena Hoyos from her crypt,
keeping the young tuberculosis victim’s body for almost a decade,
sleeping beside—and if you must know, with—her mummified corpse.
Here are some other unusual crimes I find thematically akin:
The Sodder children (1945) / Chloie Leverette and her brother Gage Daniel (2012)
Mary Morris murders (2000) / Michael Green murders (2011)
Annie Laurie Hearin & Daffany Tullos (1988) / Orja Corns & John Navickas (1948)
It’s not even necessary for the crimes to be separated by any length of time;
although it happened only two years before and is still unsolved there’s an American murder which has always reminded me of the handiwork of infamous British child murderess Mary Bell.
Mary’s first victim, 4-year old Martin Brown, was slain the day after her 11th birthday;
a few months later, aided by her 13-year old friend and accomplice Norma Bell (no relation),
she would go on to murder Brian Howe, age 3.
Norma was acquitted at trial and has reportedly passed away,
but Mary Bell served twelve years for manslaughter and currently resides in the UK under various pseudonyms.
The crimes of the child-murdering child murderess are notorious in Britain and abroad,
and the question of whether Mary was a victim of her unfortunate upbringing or a pint-sized psychopath remains a matter of contention.
Despite their eternal association with sugar, spice and everything nice violent crimes committed by juvenile females are not unheard of; when Paul Benda, age 5,
was slain in New Jersey in 1966 there’s a good chance his assailants were a stateside version of Mary and Norma—or as I like to call them, Hell’s junior Bells.
Paul Benda lived with his divorced mother and two siblings in a modest home abutting swampland in Union Beach,
a blue collar town on the Jersey Shore.
There are some discrepancies in his final sighting—some publications say he was last seen at 5pm by his mother,
others by his friends at 6pm—but all agree Paul was officially reported missing at 8:19pm on June 21st.
The Memorial School kindergartener had gone out to play in the fields near Brook Avenue Creek and vanished.
An intensive search by the Union Beach Police Department was launched at 9pm and continued on ‘til the wee hours;
the fields surrounding the Benda home were covered with ten-foot high cattails,
making the search process onerous,
and no trace of the missing boy was found.
Three hundred firemen,
policemen, and civil defense employees resumed the hunt the next morning;
finally, at 7:45pm,
approximately 24 hours after he was last seen,
Paul’s remains were discovered secreted in deep underbrush in an area that had previously been searched. Paul was nude,
his clothing—a white tee-shirt and grey shorts—discovered ten feet from his body.
An autopsy would reveal Paul had been dead approximately ten hours,
and his last moments alive had been horrific.
As county physician C. Malcolm Gilman told Asbury Park Press,
“The little fellow’s chest was covered with burns”— twelve cigarette burns, to be exact.
Paul had also been beaten with a broken stick,
leaving seven jagged wounds across his back,
and he’d suffered an (unspecified) sexual injury.
Although these wounds were numerous they were not fatal—Paul had also been stabbed several times (three or five, depending on the source) in the heart and esophagus with a metal spike.
Dr. Gilman was unable to definitively identify the weapon used in the crime—the implement was longer and thicker than an icepick— but he believed the device would be most consistent with a marlin spike,
a pointed tool used by sailors to splice rope.
The crime scene was scoured with a metal detector but the murder weapon has never been found.
As ghastly as Paul’s injuries were,
his wounds weren’t the most singular aspect of the crime—a woman who lived 150 feet from the crime scene heard a child screaming at approximately the same time Paul had been slain:
“Don’t do that to me. Don’t touch me. Don’t hurt me,” pleaded a little boy’s voice before abruptly falling silent.
The voices of the child’s attackers were too faint to discern specific verbiage,
but according to the witness the voices seemed to belong to a most unexpected source: two little girls.
Although investigators and the press seemed skeptical young girls could commit such a brutal murder
two years after Paul’s death Mary Bell would prove female juveniles quite capable of atrocities against small children.
The similarities between the Benda murder and Mary’s crimes are numerous:
the ages of the victims,
the localized crime scene which negated the use of a car,
and the sexual mutilation inflicted upon Paul and second Bell victim Brian Howe.
And the similarities don’t end there.
The death of Mary Bell’s first victim,
Martin Brown, was originally written off as a natural death;
it was only after the murder of second victim Brian Howe that detectives recognized a pattern and reopened Martin’s case.
And Paul Benda wasn’t the first little boy found dead in the fields near Brook Avenue Creek—three years previously the body of 10-year old James Konish had been discovered only feet from the Benda crime scene
(some sources say as little as five feet away, others as many as twenty).
Jimmy had been missing for nearly three weeks and county physician Dr. Julius Toren was unable to determine his cause of death due to severe decomposition.
At 4pm on October 24th, 1963,
Jimmy, a 5th grade student at Cottage Park School,
grabbed his fishing pole and headed out for an afternoon on the banks of Brook Avenue Creek—he was never seen alive again.
A three-day search was launched and the creek and area lakes dragged but no sign of the missing boy or his fishing gear could be located.
Union Beach Police Chief Walter Hutton, however,
didn’t seem especially keen on investigating Jimmy’s disappearance: “We feel the boy is alive but unless sheltered by someone is not in this borough,” he told the Asbury Park Press after calling off the search,
essentially washing his hands of the matter.
A single three-day search seems to be the only law enforcement effort expended on Jimmy’s behalf;
if a criminal investigation was initiated it was never mentioned in the press.
Distraught, the Konish family distributed thousands of missing person posters and offered a $500 reward but no clues were forthcoming.
Twenty-seven days later Jimmy’s body—still clad in his sneakers,
tan pants and white sweater—was found near the creek by a boy walking his dog,
hidden in underbrush in an area that had been searched several times.
From the very outset authorities seemed determined to declare Jimmy’s death natural despite several anomalies which appear to indicate foul play.
Although the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death Chief Walter Hutton assured newspaper reporters Jimmy had fallen into the creek and drowned—despite the fact the creek had been dragged and the boy’s body was found sixty feet above the high tide line.
Moreover, Jimmy’s fishing gear was found beside him,
an unlikely occurrence if both had been deposited by the tide.
Not surprisingly, Chief Hutton was also adamant the Benda and Konish deaths were unrelated:
hours after Paul’s body was found the Chief pooh-poohed media speculation of a link—Paul’s autopsy had not yet been completed, nor had any meaningful
investigation into the possibility of a connection been undertaken at the time.
In fact, Chief Hutton went so far as to tell reporters covering the Benda case the coroner determined Jimmy Konish drowned,
which was blatantly untrue—in media interviews Dr. Toren deemed Jimmy’s cause of death undetermined.
The proximity of their final resting places wasn’t the only similarity Paul and Jimmy shared;
although they’d never met the boys had numerically identical addresses:
Jimmy lived at 727 Front Street and Paul at 727 Prospect Avenue. Lillian Yengle, Paul’s grandmother,
was certain Jimmy Konish had been murdered in a case of mistaken identity—Jimmy was, she told a reporter from the Asbury Park Press, a dead ringer for one of her older grandsons; she was sure both boys had been murdered by someone with “an ax to grind” against the Benda family.
“[My grandson Paul] didn’t just walk into this. It was no sex killing—it was a hate murder,” she told the reporter.
Justice was only obtained for Mary Bell’s first victim because authorities were willing to admit they’d misjudged his manner of death; Jimmy Konish wouldn’t be so lucky.
Chief Hutton was unmoved by the suspicions of the Konish and Benda families;
and the impossibility of a drowned corpse migrating sixty feet up a creek bank didn’t appear to faze him.
On a perhaps related note,
Chief Hutton also apparently discounted the witness
who heard two little girls tormenting a male child the night Paul was slain;
he instead became fixated on a local mentally challenged youth, although the teen was never charged.
Although it has been periodically reopened the Benda case has never been solved, and Jimmy Konish’s death has never been criminally investigated.
Fifty years on, barring a confession or a technological breakthrough the chances of an arrest in either boys’ murder—and it’s highly likely Jimmy was murdered—is slim, but it’s imperative to examine the crimes of the past to predict and understand the crimes of the future.
History is on an endless loop, and we ignore the merry-go-round of repetition at our peril.
So next time a wee child is slaughtered amidst the demonic cackling of little girls it’s time to start interviewing juvenile females; ask not for whom the bell tolls, because as long as the victims are weak and defenseless
the Mary Bell tolls for thee.