Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


No arrests 46 years after Sarah Lou Gammons’ brutal California killing
New clues emerge 15 years after teen’s disappearance: ‘We just want to know he’s safe,’ family says
Police make arrest in 2009 homicide of assistant federal public defender Nancy Bergeson
Cops working on the Abby Williams and Libby German case looking into man arrested on suspicion of child molestation
NEW LONGREAD: Inside the Hunt for a Murderer Who Escaped from Prison 45 Years Ago
NEW LONGREAD: Arrest of two grade schoolers for murder 20 years ago shook the city — until it became clear their admissions couldn’t be correct.


Body believed to be missing Texas woman Emily Wade found in creek bed
Police, desperate for clues, plan flyer handout in nine-year search for missing child Patrick Alford
Indiana police investigating new lead in cold case murder of Delphi teens
Recognize her? Artist reconstructs face of woman believed to be serial killer’s victim
Still no answers in Holly Cantrell case
Family still looking for answers 7 months after disapperance of Belmont County couple
Has ‘murdered’ mother-of-10 who vanished in 1976 finally been found?
Still no sign of missing Mono County teen three months after the 16-year-old disappeared
NEW LONGREAD: Genetics extends the long arm of the law
VINTAGE LONGREAD: In 1959 Bruce Campbell vanished into thin air

BOY CRAZY: Three Dead in Ohio

Posted: January 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thong underpants pig sells ham by the hour

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Nope, not too phallic

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

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

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

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


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    Gina Hall’s 1980 murder becomes the subject of new book
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    DNA evidence leads police to charge Iowa man with murder for 1979 killing of Michelle Martinko
    Medford’s Christie Farni missing for 40 years
    Margaret Sweet’s Christmas Eve homicide remains unsolved 10 years later
    Family of teen murdered in 2012 pleading for answers as they celebrate her birthday
    NBC15 Investigates: Dr. Thomas Speer Cold Case
    NEW LONGREAD: The Sydney schoolgirl who vanished without a trace
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: The disappearance of Dr. Margaret Kilcoyne, one of Nantucket’s greatest unsolved mysteries


    She swiped her co-worker’s Coke can. Police say it cracked a 28-year-old murder case.
    Sheriff: No fingerprints, no shoe prints, no DNA in Jayme Closs case
    Police reveal missing Colorado mom left freshly baked cinnamon rolls in her kitchen but her keys and purse were gone
    Deputies look for new tips in 1963 cold case double murder of two teens in Bushnell’s Basin
    Lower Valley human remains discovered in 1988 to be exhumed for DNA
    16 years later, Angie Fullmer’s family seeks answers
    NEW LONGREAD: The terrible crimes committed by women on death row
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: An Alabama child’s tragic kidnapping and murder shocked America in 1962


    Slaying in Sequoyah Hills: Who killed Rose Busch?
    Cape woman at odds with police, views son’s death as no accident
    Authorities search graves, but remains of woman who vanished 42 years ago not found
    Science provides new lead in 30-year-old Florida cold case
    Everyone has an opinion on the mysterious Jayme Closs disappearance. Even psychics.
    NEW LONGREAD: Chicago Tribune 40th Anniversary John Wayne Gacy Retrospective
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: The Disappearance of George Snow


    Las Vegas police reveal details of mysterious Irma Mkrtchyan investigation
    Mother of Ayla Reynolds, attorney to speak out about unsolved case
    Lower Valley human remains discovered in 1988 to be exhumed for DNA
    NEW LONGREAD: The Unsolved Mystery of the First People Killed During the Civil Rights Movement
    NEW LONGREAD: Roger Stringer testified against his son; now he believes a defective rifle is to blame
    VINTAGE LONGREAD CIRCA 1982: The Search for Steven Thomas


    No arrests 25 years after Texas woman Angela Ewert’s body found
    New book details evidence in unsolved 1985 murder of Donna Gentile
    Family wants answers after woman found dismembered in landfill
    The Justice Files: In search of answers in couple’s 2012 murder
    Missing in Kansas: Tabitha Brewer
    Convict linked to two unsolved Spokane cases has parole denied in Idaho
    NEW LONGREAD: Hailey Dunn disappeared in 2010, and mysteries linger
    NEW LONGREAD: After 42 years, does an answer of what happened to Geneva Adams rest in a graveyard?


    Grandson arrested in 1984 cold case murder
    Family believes Kirkwood woman & her grandson were killed by the same person
    Prosecutors, police appeal for help in slaying of Andover couple seven years ago
    Help needed in identifying cold case victim with ties to Acadiana
    AS SEEN ON DISAPPEARED: Search for Brandy Hall produces few head-scratching moments. Can grave-finding machine help?
    NEW SAMUEL LITTLE LONGREAD: How police and the FBI found one of the country’s worst serial killers
    NEW SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE LONGREAD: The Zodiac Killer case, 50 years later


    South Dakota’s unsolved mysteries: 5 to remember
    Who killed the Bricca family? Local historian explores cold case in new book
    No connections found in men’s deaths near Downtown Austin waters, police say
    Eight years after her disappearance, human remains found in search for missing woman Linda Meier
    College students try to help police with 2013 cold case of mother slain in Taylor
    NEW LONGREAD: The unbelievable tale of a fake hitman, a kill list, a darknet vigilante… and a murder
    NEWISH LONGREAD: Tri-Willow murders left children, community in grief, fear
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Two Barmaids, Five Alligators, and the Butcher of Elmendorf


    12 Most Bizarre Unsolved Mysteries of the Year
    Michelle Martinko was killed 39 years ago but investigators aren’t giving up
    New inquest ordered for 1975 ‘Little Girl Blue’ murder
    Berkeley County makes arrest in 37-year-old cold case where 2 teens shot and left for dead
    3 Days After Colorado Mom Vanished Her Employer Received Text
    Coroner’s finding in Jamie Metzger death: “Homicidal violence.”
    ‘Help us fight for her’: Sister of slain B.C. student speaks out about unsolved case
    Parabon DNA technology brings new hope to cold cases
    NEW LONGREAD: Knox woman’s death dismissed as natural until serial killer Samuel Little’s confession


    PARABON DELIVERS: 20 years later, brutal murder of 23-year-old Renee Sweeney solved
    ‘I was a coward:’ Alleged confession of Tara Grinstead’s accused killer describes what happened
    ‘Killing Fields’ Victims: Can you help identify them?
    AS SEEN ON IDIDITFORJODIE: Man found guilty of 1986 Brighton ‘babes in the wood’ murders
    Family of Jennifer Kesse, missing nearly 13 years, sues Orlando police for case file
    CBS’ ‘48 Hours’ looks at new developments in the Jodi Huisentruit case
    NEW LONGREAD: What Happened To Brisbane Man Gary Venamore?
    NEW LONGREAD: Suspicious disappearance of Edisto Island woman baffles loved ones


    ‘You know what happened to Danielle’: Vancouver Police appeal to killer in 16-year-old cold case
    DNA confirms remains found of Mandy Ciehanoski, Volusia County woman last seen alive in 2011
    Jessica Neilson’s parents feel abandoned by Montreal police, 10 years after her death
    Russia’s worst-ever serial killer who enjoyed murdering ‘immoral women’ has his victim total raised to 78
    Family holds out hope they will find Erin Gilbert, missing since 1995
    NEW LONGREAD: Family of Washington man seeks justice 43 years after his apparent murder
    NEW LONGREAD: Murder in the Mountains, a Roger Coleman Retrospective
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Forty years, three murders and no answers in Franklin County cold case


    Still no answers behind murder of Jackson couple three years later
    Human leg found in Salford river is missing woman’s, police say
    Murder Remains a Mystery 9 Years After Restaurateur’s Strangulation
    Search for missing Colorado mother intensifies
    Uncertainty taking toll on family of missing Brownsville resident Ramiro “Kimberly” Avila
    NEW LONGREAD: Who was the ‘Thai bride’ dumped in the hills?
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Looking Back at Enid Marriott’s 1930 Murder (part 1 + part 2 + part 3 + part 4 + part 5 + part 6)


    Man accused of killing Hania Aguilar was on parole at time of her death
    30 years later, podcast revisits disappearance of Wallingford’s Doreen Vincent
    ‘Justice for Jennifer’: Help bring closure for father who watched daughter die in unsolved hit and run
    WATCH: ‘Cookin Up Justice’ With Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey Highlights 12-Year Old Cold Case
    Escaped child killer gone 45 years makes U.S. Marshals’ most wanted list
    Family of woman found dead in Lumberton last year still holding out hope
    Three years later, no sign of missing nurse, but husband has moved on, remarried
    One year later, Jamie Metzger death investigation still open, police say
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Pain of wife’s unsolved slaying still ‘fresh as it was 40 years ago’
    NEW LONGREAD, AS SEEN ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES: The pair of orange socks that link two grisly murders


    After nearly 50 years investigation into missing Oscoda youths still active
    New Hampshire unsolved case file: Who killed Kathy Lynn Gloddy?
    Suspect in Jan Rohrer’s 1973 homicide lived near victim, was officer’s son
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    A Myrtle Beach waitress was found dead in a ditch 40 years ago. The same questions linger.
    AS SEEN ON DISAPPEARED: Uncle of missing teen Ashley Summers charged with rape
    Sheriff’s murder 50 years ago still haunts Wicomico
    New England’s Unsolved: New push for evidence on 40th anniversary of teen’s murder
    Mutilation suspect’s neighbor found tarp leaking blood
    Sheriff: Wisconsin couple’s killer took only FOUR minutes to enter house, shoot them dead and abduct Jayme Closs
    NEW LONGREAD: Five years of Dateline’s Missing in America, 109 still missing
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    Police confirm arrest in 1973 slaying of Bay City teen Jan Marie Rohrer
    AS SEEN ON DISAPPEARED: Years after Brandy Hall’s disappearance, Palm Bay woods searched
    20 Years Later: 8-year-old Oregon boy who vanished searching for Christmas trees
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    ‘Hatbox Baby’ Sharon Elliott, who spent years trying to solve old Arizona mystery, dies at 86
    30 Years Later, Sarasota Police Make Arrest in Judith Doherty’s Cold Case Killing
    #UNSOLVED: Man found dead on Thanksgiving Day in 1979
    Hostel security guard arrested after American woman vanishes in Costa Rica: Authorities
    Family of Levelland woman found murdered in Abilene seeking answers
    Transgender teen Sage Smith still missing after vanishing from Virginia in 2012
    NEW LONGREAD: Tom Niblo’s early morning murder unsolved two years later
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Fifty years have passed, but Litton brothers’ murders remain a mystery


    Authorities ID remains of Leslie Diane Marty, missing since 1983
    Notorious case haunts state after 70 years
    What happened to Ella? Family searches for answers to 1955 murder mystery
    Her car was found in Savannah but, 5 years later, still no sign of missing Bluffton woman
    Online true crime groups, discussion boards seize on Jayme Closs disappearance
    Mysterious murders of Phoenix roommates in 2010 remain unsolved
    Miami woman ‘vanished’ during a trip in Costa Rica. Her family needs your help
    Daughter of woman who disappeared frustrated, worries August case was overshadowed
    NEW LONGREAD: Decades later, a tangled murder case remains unsolved
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    The Way We Were: Aiken County couple’s 1977 slayings still a mystery
    When a pair of teenage girls decided to hitchhike home, one of them made it out. The other didn’t.
    Suzanne Jovin murder mystery continues 20 years later
    Search for Kierra Coles, pregnant postal worker missing nearly 2 months, continues
    Skeletal remains identified as LMU student missing since April 2017
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    Mary Shotwell Little & Dianne Shields PODCAST: 2 Women, 50 Years, Gone Cold
    DNA could crack open Kirsty Bentley cold case 20 years after Ashburton schoolgirl’s murder
    Every day ‘more difficult,’ but Jennifer Hillier-Penney’s family still looks for answers
    ‘They threw her out like a piece of garbage.’ Mother fighting ‘botched’ investigation of Lauren Agee’s death
    NEW 3-PART LONGREAD: Who killed Mary Hopkins in 1951?
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Unsolved Murder at the 1965 Miss Memphis Pageant


    He says he didn’t kill a girl in 1984. But his back tattoo says he did, state argues.
    Profiler: Killer likely knew Hania Aguilar or her neighborhood
    U.S. Air Force wife Kelli Cribbs Abad still missing seven years after disappearing in Japan
    Saratoga Springs police take fresh look at Sheila Shepherd’s 1980 unsolved homicide
    Sussex County serial killer Patty Cannon’s deeds are almost too gruesome to believe
    New DNA technology could help close 12 year mystery of ‘Lavender Doe’ cold case
    NEW 6-PART LONGREAD: The lingering case of Tommy Zeigler
    VINTAGE LONGREAD: Death Of Apopka Woman Still A Mystery To Family, Detective

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

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

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

    First, the poultry:

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

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

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

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

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

    Now the dead boys:

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


    NAME: Richard Lee Sweeney

    AGE: 8

    DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: April 28th, 1974

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

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

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

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


    NAME: Jeffrey Allen Burkett

    AGE: 15

    DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: June 9th, 1977

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

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

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

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


    NAME: Donald Michael Abell

    AGE: 19

    DATE OF DISAPPEARANCE: September 27th, 1977

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mysterious Arkansan Murders and Maybe-Murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Crime scene exterior present day

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

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

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

    Self portrait as elf

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

    Cover art by Cortina Bandolero

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Let me tell you something you already know: Donald Trump lies about everything.

    Now let me tell you something you might not know: his inaugural wife, Ivana Trump née Zelnícková was neither an alternate nor a full-fledged member of the Czechoslovakian ski team at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.

    I speculate you may not know this because I did not know this and I consider myself well informed.
    As a consumer of mass media in 1980s NYC it was impossible to avoid Trump-brand™ propaganda and many publications—including the vaunted New York Times—described Ivana Trump as a former Olympian.
    I assumed someone, somewhere had fact-checked this easily-verifiable assertion. I was wrong.

    Spy Magazine Über Alles

    Backstory: I cannot remember how Ivana Trump became a topic of conversation and even if I could recall it would have no bearing on this blogpost.
    Suffice it to say I was lunching with friends and Ivana was mentioned and I cited her Olympic credentials.
    “No, no, no,” my friend interjected, “Ivana’s Olympic career has been completely debunked.”

    Embarrassed at having been hoodwinked and curious if other Trump-related lies still simmered in my subconscious
    I recently undertook an exhaustive investigation of all Ivana-era Trump coverage and happened upon a startling circumstance.

    On their first date: Stolen Valor Olympian and Portrait of the Fascist as a Young Man

    Throughout the years both Donald and Ivana Trump have maintained they first met at the 1976 Montréal Olympics but this is, as is par for the course, untrue;
    although Czech-born Ivana was a Montréal resident in the mid-70s the couple’s first encounter actually occurred in Manhattan, at then-hotspot Maxwell’s Plum.
    Now to the interesting bit: one of the people present at the table during the Trumps’ initial meeting—-Canadian model Donna Maureen Andrade—would be murdered a few months after the Trumps’ introduction,
    her slaying still unsolved. Courtesy of the November 24th, 1993 Montréal Gazette:

    [Caveat: since the crimes discussed herein occurred in Montréal the majority of newspaper articles are en Français and sometimes the translations provided by Google seem a little . . . nonsensical. I’m almost certainly missing some nuances, so please pardonnez-moi.]

    The first body was found in the parlor, just inside the front door. On February 2nd, 1977 a relative’s noontime visit to Montréal’s Manoir Haddon Hall, 2150 Sherbrooke Street, set the stage for a homicide investigation;
    29-year old Antonio Sorgente, discovered in the front room, hadn’t died alone—detectives found a second decedent, 31-year old fashion designer Robert Theodore Thompson, Teddy to intimates,
    sprawled on the bedroom floor wreathed in a halo of blood.
    On the bed reposed the final victim, mannequin célèbre Donna Andrade, age 29; all three had been shot once in the head.

    The three and a half room apartment where the murders transpired was rented by Donna Andrade but the superintendent reported Teddy Thompson, her romantic partner, was ever-present.
    Manoir Haddon Hall is a luxury building in an exclusive neighborhood—the adjective “stately” is a common descriptor—yet the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente slayings aren’t the residence’s only macabre association.
    A Satanic horror movie variously known as The Pyx, La Lannule and The Hooker Cult Murders had been filmed at the location, the building’s edifice visible in several exterior shots.

    [The Montréal Gazette reports the film was in production during the 1977 triple slaying but according to IMDB The Pyx was released in 1973—apparently the New York Times isn’t the only media organization with a laissez-faire attitude toward fact-checking.]

    The summer of 1977 was a lawless time in Montréal, the crime rate skyrocketing as the local police staged a slowdown amid a pension negotiation stalemate.
    Predictably, the law enforcement dispute hampered the investigation into the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente slayings;
    the evening before the bodies’ discovery a woman in an adjacent apartment thought she heard gunfire at approximately 11:30pm; when she peered down the hallway nothing seemed amiss, however,
    and afraid of wasting overburdened law enforcement resources she failed to notify authorities.

    Although unnamed, the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente murders are the West End triple slaying referenced

    Improbably, the triple murder’s posh location and Donna Andrade’s high-profile career weren’t the most noteworthy aspects of the Manoir Haddon Hall slayings;
    two of the victims, Donna and Teddy Thompson, had been involved in another homicide a mere two and a half years earlier.

    5:20am, July 25th, 1974; another luxury apartment, another frantic phone call to police.
    In an eerie foreshadowing of future events Montréal investigators arrived at 1250 St. Mathieu Street and found Donna Andrade and Teddy Thompson at a homicide scene.
    This time, however, only the third person present in the residence was slain—Diane Juteau, age 25, Teddy Thompson’s wife and mother of his three small children.
    Diane had been shot through the left eye with .357 Magnum, the bullet travelling at a slight upward trajectory and lodging in her skull.

    Manoir Haddon Hall, present day

    Although both Donna Andrade and Teddy Thompson were taken into police custody Donna was released after a cursory investigation; Teddy, despite his avowal the shooting had been accidental, was charged with his wife’s homicide.
    At trial Donna testified she’d been in the process of ending their two-year extramarital affair when Teddy began threatening suicide and brandishing a newly-purchased firearm;
    she had summoned his wife Diane, she claimed, to try to talk some sense into him.
    According to Donna she’d been in another room putting on a record to lighten the mood (♫ Suicide is Painless ♫) when the fatal shot rang out and she had thus failed to witness Diane’s death.

    “I told him I loved him but I had to leave him because our relationship wasn’t working out and I was very unhappy. Teddy asked me not to leave him and said if I didn’t stay with him he would blow his brains out.” Trial testimony of Donna Andrade, Montréal Gazette, January 9th, 1975

    Teddy Thompson, testifying in his own defense, alleged he’d been demonstrating the sincerity of his suicidal intentions by gesticulating with his .357—as one does—when he tripped and the revolver mysteriously fired.
    The plausibility of his story is impossible to gage because the case was never adjudicated by the finder of fact;
    Thompson cut a deal mid-trial, typically an indication the proceedings aren’t going in the defendant’s favor (in American courts, at least).

    On January 20th, 1975 Teddy Thompson accepted a manslaughter plea and was sentenced to a whopping three years in prison; the precise length of Thompson’s sojourn behind bars is unclear
    but he was fancy-free two years later when he went from shooter to shootee, his mid-flight stance at death indicating his suicidal impulses were a thing of the past.

      Marketing executive: “The cover art’s okay but do you think you could sex it up a little?

    Several newspaper articles describe the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente murders as a probable “settling of accounts,”
    and I assumed the accounts being settled involved Thompson’s ludicrous sentence for the death of his wife—perhaps a friend or relative of Diane Juteau had opted to mete out a more commensurate punishment.
    Not an advisable course of action, but understandable under the circumstances.

    Further investigation into Antonio Sorgente’s past,
    however, provided evidence the accounts being settled may have belonged to him:
    at the age of 21 Sorgente was one of four men arrested for a series of violent 1968 armed robberies—the disposition of his case was never publicized, indicating he may have cut a deal in exchange for testimony.
    Sorgente’s codefendants in the crime spree ultimately received as much as twelve years in prison
    which (if paroled) would’ve put them back on the street in the same rough time frame as the Manoir Haddon Hall murder.

    Of course, it’s also possible the Andrade-Thompson-Sorgente slayings involved narcotics; a small blurb in the Canadian true crime magazine ‘Allo Police describes the crime as an “affaire de drogue,”
    although the identity of the victim or victims—Andrade, Thompson or Sorgente—with drug involvement is unspecified.
    So many possible motives yet so little evidence available for elimination purposes.

      Designer: “Say no more.”

    Four decades later, mysteries in the case persist: was Diane’s homicide the precipitating event for the Manoir Haddon Hall murders or was one of the other scenarios the true impetus for the crime?
    And why in God’s name did Donna Andrade resume her affair with Teddy Thompson after his release from prison?
    Donna’s professed desire to be free of Teddy led directly to his wife’s death—their continued relationship seems like a postmortem slap in Diane Juteau’s face, essentially heaping insult on top of her (fatal) injury.

    On a more germane note: why didn’t 1980s NYC media reveal Donna Andrade’s presence at the Donald-Ivana introduction, an inarguably colorful detail?
    I’m aware of the publishing truism when truth and legend contradict it’s advisable to print the legend
    but in this case the legend of Ivana’s Olympic feats seem less newsworthy than the first Trump marriage being only one degree away from an unsolved triple homicide.

    [Irony alert: if a witness to Hillary and Bill Clinton’s introduction was mysteriously murdered there’d be an entire cottage industry built around blaming the crime on deep-state crisis actors and Hillary Clinton’s voracious vagina dentata.]

    I need a word for the frustration I feel when I spend weeks hunting down a photo and then this; photus interruptus? Pixel blocked?

    The moral of today’s post is multifaceted, but let’s begin with the valuable life-lesson imparted via the tragic fate of Diane Juteau: if your husband’s girlfriend summons you at 5am to tango with his suicidal impulses decline the invitation.
    Solemnly state, “Sister, he’s your problem now,” and hang up the phone.
    The unfortunate end of the glamorous Donna Andrade is also a teachable moment:
    if your paramour does time for killing your predecessor end the relationship—regardless of your personal circumstances you deserve a romantic partner without blood on his or her hands.

    The most important (dare I say big-league?) lesson provided by this post, however, comes courtesy of Donald Trump—possibly the only decent and useful commodity he will ever impart to humanity.
    Always check your sources.
    Who knows? The true story might be far more fascinating than stolen Olympic glory.

    But I understand there are some allegations even the bravest fact-checkers won’t touch

    Every cripple does his dance — Irish proverb as quoted in On the Track of Murder (Barbara Gelb, 1975)


    I swear to god I’m not racist.

    I live in the city; I despise all races equally.

    Airing the fruits of my google alerts in Daily Dread, however, has shed a somewhat unflattering light on my monochromatic crime obsessions—I’m tracking more missing middleclass white women than Fox News and Nancy Grace combined.

    I don’t know the words to “Kumbaya” and I’m not interested in learning but I do think equal representation is important;
    all murders matter, to repurpose the phrase.  
    Cases that receive more attention garner more resources and are thus more likely to be solved—so this seems to be an ideal time to revisit the crimes of Charlie Chop-off, killer of urban nonwhite males,
    a demographic underrepresented in media coverage and overrepresented in victimology statistics.


    FOR PEDANTS ONLY:  a Note on Sources and Nomenclature

    One of the most exasperating aspects of reinvestigating the Charlie Chop-off murders is a dearth of reliable contemporaneous sources. 
    Although the slayings were mentioned somewhat fleetingly in the New York Times I’ve opted to use their coverage as the gold standard—the Times’ current political bureau is odious but their 1970s crime reportage is,
    in my experience at least, above reproach.

    Published in 1975, Barbara Gelb’s book On the Track of Murder is considered by many to be the seminal work in the Charlie Chop-off canon;
    I was initially skeptical about relying on a source using pseudonyms—anonymity has historically been exploited to tweak facts into a more salacious narrative. 
    That said, with one minor exception Ms. Gelb’s reportage tracks perfectly with the Times, lending credence to the details in her book which failed to make it into the newspaper’s coverage.

    The New York Daily News and the Harlem-centric Amsterdam News both published a smattering of articles about the murders but their reportage is too rife with inaccuracies and contradictions to be taken as gospel—the Daily News’s varietal spellings of the participants’ names is particularly atrocious.

    The only (somewhat) recent source I consulted is this Court-TV article written by the venerable Katherine Ramsland;
    it’s only available via the Wayback Machine, however,
    and a glut of unreliable (and often debunked) information has sprung up on the web in recent years.

    Finally, I should note the name “Charlie Chop-off” appears only in On the Track of Murder;
    Ms. Gelb claims the nickname originated with the youngsters in the targeted communities but the appellation fails to appear in any print archives—I’ve opted to retain it for the sake of convenience, however.



    Name:  Douglas Owens

    Age/Race:  8 years old, African American

    Date:  March 9th 1972 (with some variations noted below)

    Location: Douglas’s body was found on the roof of 221 East 121st Street, two blocks from his home

    Circumstances:  Douglas was waylaid after dark while running an errand for his mother. 
    He was stabbed 38 (some sources say 39) times in the neck, chest and back; he had also been sexually mutilated—his penis split in half but not severed.  
    Douglas was fully clad although his pants had been slashed open; his sneakers had been removed and placed neatly near his body. 
    According to On the Track of Murder the coroner found “inconclusive” evidence of sodomy, but the precise indicia exhibited are unspecified.

    Although I was unable to find much information about any of the Charlie Chop-off victims the media coverage of Douglas Owens’ death was particularly abysmal.  
    His murder received not a single contemporaneous article in the press, and although March 9th is the date most often cited for his slaying an early New York Times article gives the date as March 4th;
    a more recent Daily News article lists the date as March 16th.


    Name:  On the Track of Murder uses the pseudonym Jimmy Wallace but we shall call him The Boy Who Lived

    Age/Race:  10 years old, African American

    Date: April 20th, 1972

    Location: the attack occurred on the roof of the victim’s dwelling at 174 West 107th Street

    Circumstances:  The Boy Who Lived was on his way to a nearby shop when he encountered a mid-30ish, white but olive-skinned (possibly Italian) stranger;
    introducing himself as Michael, the man had a slender build, bad skin and a prominent mole on his left cheek. 
    The victim, preternaturally observant for his age, also noted his soon-to-be attacker was right-handed, walked with a limp, had foul breath and stood approximately 5’7” tall. 
    After a few pleasantries the man offered the Boy Who Lived fifty cents for assistance with a task on the roof;
    the pair proceeded upstairs.

    Upon reaching their destination the assailant forced the Boy Who Lived to disrobe;
    the victim was then sodomized, castrated, and stabbed in the neck and back (the precise number of wounds has never been publicized).  
    After the assault was completed the perpetrator moved the child to a downstairs hallway where he was subsequently discovered by a neighbor; although some sources note the victim’s sneakers were placed nearby it’s unclear if the shoes were located at the roof attack site or hallway dumpsite.

    Although the significance of these anomalies remains unknown, the Boy Who Lived is the only victim moved to a secondary location post-assault;
    he’s also the only castrated victim whose missing genitals surfaced—his penis was found the following day by a trio of frolicking children in a playground several blocks away.

    “On April 21st, 1972 one Eugene Q. G— approached Patrolman Lavendero, 24th Precinct, and said he discovered some youths playing with a black penis on Amsterdam Ave. He turned it over to the Officer, who in turn brought it to the attention of the (major crimes) squad.”  Police report as quoted in On the Track of Murder (Barbara Gelb, 1975)


    Name:  Wendell Hubbard

    Date: October 23rd, 1972

    Age/Race:  9 years old, African American

    Address:  The attack occurred on the roof of the victim’s residence, 2013 Fifth Avenue near the corner of 125th Street

    Circumstances:  At approximately 5:45pm Wendell asked his father for a quarter to buy candy at a local shop;
    as Brooks Hubbard later tells the Daily News, “I never seen the boy no more.”  
    At around 9:45pm a gaggle of neighborhood children playing on the roof discovered Wendell’s body,
    sneakers removed and placed at his side.

    The medical examiner will later determine Wendell had been sodomized, castrated and stabbed 17— some sources say 19—times in the neck, chest and abdomen;
    his pants had been pulled down but not removed.  
    The assailant absconded with the victim’s penis which to date has never been located.

    A week after Wendell’s death the Amsterdam News had a small blurb about the crime,
    the first Charlie Chop-off attack mentioned in the press. 
    Two child homicides and one castration in a fifteen-block radius and the New York Times won’t mention the murders for another ten months.

    “I have the death certificate. I have a little Boy Scout flag and a little cap he had from Troop 157. I keep them in a drawer. Sometimes I go into that drawer and look at them.” Wendell’s father Brooks Hubbard on his mementos of his murdered son, New York Daily News, February 4th, 1993


    Name:  Luis Ortiz

    Date:  March 6th, 1973

    Age/Race:  10 years old, Hispanic (Puerto Rican)

    Location:  Luis’s body was found in a basement stairwell at 200 West 106th Street, one and a half blocks from his home

    Circumstances:  At 8:15pm Luis’s mother sent him to a nearby store to buy bread and milk;
    he arrived at the shop, successfully completed his purchase—despite being 13 cents short—and then promptly disappeared.  
    When he failed to return home in a timely manner his mother notified law enforcement;
    the NYPD launched an overnight search but no trace of Luis could be found.

    [Short at the Register, Shortly to Die:  Luis’s cash shortage at the market calls to mind 5-year old Eric Shunk of Philadelphia, 15 cents short while buying a notebook in 1983; and 7-year old Holly Ann Hughes of Staten Island, 5 cents short when buying a bar of soap in 1981. Both children departed the store with their purchase but neither returned home alive.]

    At approximately 1pm the following day Luis’s body was found in a basement stairwell by a woman taking out her trash;
    the location is only one block from the site of the attack on the Boy Who Lived. 
    Luis had been sodomized, castrated and viciously stabbed (37, 38, or 40 times, depending on the source).  
    The victim’s sneakers were placed at his side but his groceries and genitalia were missing.

    A canvass of local inhabitants revealed several neighbors had seen Luis in the company of a stranger shortly before he vanished. 
    The description of Luis’s mystery companion— a slender, olive-skinned man with bad skin,
    between the ages of 35-50, standing between 5’7” and 5’10” inches tall—closely mirrored the description of the Boy Who Lived’s attacker with one minor difference: 
    Luis’s companion had black marks on his chin while the living victim’s assailant sported a prominent mole on his left cheek.

    Eventually investigators located a woman in the neighborhood who may have previously interacted with the killer;
    On the Track of Murder uses the pseudonym Mrs. Hernandez but we shall call her Mama Bear.  
    Two days before Luis’s murder a man approached her 9-year old son Juan
    offering a free bicycle in exchange for help with an errand. 
    Juan agreed to accompany the man, who introduced himself as Tony, but not until the next day because Mama Bear was strict and he knew he had to ask permission first.

    Ortiz crime scene

    The next day at the appointed time Juan failed to appear—instead Mama Bear arrived at the meeting place and told the stranger to stay the hell away from her son or she’d call the police.  
    Even though at this point the neighborhood attacks had barely made the news Mama Bear implicitly understood the price of a “free” bike would be far higher than 9-year old Juan could imagine.

    The day after Mama Bear’s confrontation with the gift-bearing stranger Luis disappeared. 
    Although Mama Bear’s description closely matched that of the surviving victim there was one notable discrepancy;
    the Boy Who Lived said his attacker was an olive-skinned white man but Mama Bear said the man she encountered was Hispanic and spoke with a slight but noticeable Dominican accent. 
    Mama Bear later worked with an NYPD artist to produce the first composite sketch of the slayer.

    Luis was the first Charlie Chop-off victim seen with his attacker and his death marked another milestone as well—his slaying was the first murder to get significant media traction. 
    On March 10th, four days after his death protestors staged a demonstration at the 24th Precinct on West 100th Street, angry the NYPD had failed to devote more resources to finding the predator in their midst.
    The event was given saturation coverage in the newspapers;
    the precise number of dead nonwhite children necessary for media attention has now been definitively determined: 
    three (Douglas Owens, Wendell Hubbard, Luis Ortiz) and a half (the Boy Who Lived).

    “Are you crazy?” Get back here, right by the door where I can see you!”  Worried mother on 108th Street screaming at her children out a fifth‐floor window, New York Times, March 12th, 1973

    According to On the Track of Murder the NYPD, galvanized by the community’s wrath, now created a taskforce with the sole objective of finding the Harlem castration killer. 
    The unit was soon besieged with leads, including a phone call from a Bronx woman who identified a man she felt closely resembled the composite: chronic mental patient Erno Soto, currently institutionalized. 
    Detectives paid a visit to Soto’s wife at her 125th Street apartment; at 6’1” her husband was much taller than the suspect’s estimated height of 5’7,” she informed investigators.  
    A subsequent consultation with the Ward Island’s Manhattan Psychiatric Center confirmed Soto had been in custody at the time of The Boy Who Lived’s attack, dismissing him from contention.  
    Investigators then moved on but spoiler alert:  the hospital staff had failed to give a full accounting of their 33-year old patient’s proclivities. 
    Erno Soto’s involvement in the Charlie Chop-off case had not yet reached its final chapter.

    [Errata Interlude AKA Three Wrongs Don’t Make a Right:  in The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers Michael Newton states the phone call implicating Erno Soto was received in 1972, soon after the murder of first victim Douglas Owens; the correct date is March 23rd, 1973, shortly after the Ortiz slaying.   In Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters  author Peter Vronsky incorrectly lists Erno Soto’s name as Miguel Rivera, the pseudonym used in On the Track of Murder.  Also, the Charlie Chop-off illustration proliferating on the web isn’t an approved NYPD composite.  I tracked down the attributed artist, Nathan MacDicken, who was kind enough to take a few minutes to correspond with me.  Mr. MacDicken said he’d been contracted to draw the illustrations for Court TV articles; he was given only a description of the suspect and his victims.]

    The Serial Killer Who Wasn’t and the Victims Who Weren’t


    Name: Steven Cropper
    Date: August 17th, 1973
    Age/Race: 7 years old, African American
    Location: Steven’s body was found approximately two blocks from his home on the roof of 325 (or 323, according to On the Track of Murder) East Houston Street on the Lower East Side

    Circumstances: Steven and a friend were idling in front of a community pool imploring passersby for spare change when a slender, limping Hispanic man approached.
    Steven exchanged a few words with the man and then he and his new acquaintance departed the scene;
    several bystanders saw the duo walking together in the area at approximately 3:30pm.
    Steven would never be seen alive again.

    At 5:30pm a woman walking her dog discovered Steven’s bloodied body on the roof of her building,
    his sneakers placed nearby.
    His shirt had been pulled up above his shoulders and a deep 9-inch “X”—administered postmortem, according to Medical Examiner Michael Baden—had been etched into his chest.
    A third gash traveled the length of the victim’s arm, severing the artery in his left elbow; the gore-encrusted razor used in the crime was discovered beneath the boy’s corpse.
    Steven’s pants—two pairs of tightfitting jeans, an unlikely choice on day the temperature reached 91 degrees—were unbuttoned but not removed; no overt evidence of sexual molestation or mutilation could be detected.

    “It effected everyone. It split the whole family up. The tragedy of Stevie’s death is not only did we have to deal with him dying, we had to deal with the rest of us dying.” Victim’s brother Christopher Cropper, New York Daily News, February 2nd, 1993

    Cropper crime scene

    Initially NYPD detectives were uncertain if Steven’s death was related to the Charlie Chop-off series; aside from his age and race his murder shared few commonalities with the Harlem child slayings.
    Unlike the previous victims Steven had been assaulted during daylight hours, slashed three times with a razor
    instead of stabbed repeatedly with a knife;
    more significantly, he hadn’t been raped or castrated and his attack occurred a hundred blocks distant from the previous crimes, which had all been perpetrated within a fifteen block radius.

    “I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seldom seen anything like it [Steven’s murder].” NYPD Lieutenant Louis Karcher, New York Times, August 18th, 1973

    Steven’s sneakers were found next to his body, but—as chronicled in On the Track of Murder—some investigators downplayed the significance of the footwear placement.
    If an assailant intended to sexually assault a child, one detective reasoned, he’d tell his prospective victim to disrobe—which in almost all cases necessitates a prior removal of shoes.
    Perhaps Steven’s attacker had aspired to rape but pivoted to homicide when the boy attempted to flee,
    or perhaps he’d been slain by a copycat killer.
    The similar description of the suspect in the Harlem and Cropper slayings, however, convinced other investigators both the uptown and downtown crimes had been committed by a single assailant.

    “The probability that the same man did all four crimes is fantastic.” Enigmatic proclamation of unnamed NYPD detective, New York Daily News, June 27th, 1974


    “Every lead is investigated no matter how whacky (sic) it seems.” Lieutenant John Yuknes, New York Times, August 23rd, 1973

    During the 16 months of Charlie Chop-off’s reign the NYPD utilized every then-existing investigative technique including:

    • Obtaining the mailing list of a chicken-hawk magazine and interviewing local subscribers
    • Casing the area methadone clinics perchance the killer was a loose-lipped opiate addict
    • Sorting through 9,000 police records of known child molesters
    • Knocking on thousands of apartment doors searching for witnesses and clues
    • Distributing more than 1,500 fliers featuring the suspect’s composite to police departments throughout the country
    • Bringing 150 persons of interest down to the station for questioning
    • Contacting Interpol in a fruitless search for similar murders abroad
    • Canvassing the local bike shops since Mama Bear’s son was enticed with a free bicycle

    NYPD detectives also created a revised image of the suspect using an Identikit, a then-cutting age technology which promised to revolutionize the field of forensic composites.
    The Boy Who Lived spent an entire afternoon choosing facial features from a catalog to recreate the face of his attacker—the result was a new, more accurate depiction of the suspect.

    “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, but needles have been found in haystacks before.” Sergeant Edmund Klan, NYPD optimist, New York Times, April 17th, 1973

    Although the field of profiling had not yet been established investigators asked an NYPD psychologist to devise a blueprint of the castration killer’s psyche.
    Dr. Harvey Schlossberg theorized the perpetrator was a self-hating homosexual who endeavored to emasculate his victims as an antidote to his same-sex yearnings; by turning the little boys into little girls, the doctor opined,
    the slayer believed he could negate his own homosexuality and absolve his acts of sodomy.
    Dr. Schlossberg also detected erotic undertones in the assailant’s penetration-heavy modus operandi.

    “Symbolically, it’s an orgasm—it’s really quite sexual.” Dr. Harvey Schlossberg on the assailant’s frenzied stabbing technique, New York Times, April 17th, 1973

    A week after Steven’s murder the New York Times announced the first named suspect in the case; Daniel Olivo, age 30, arrested for the rape of a 5-year old boy in a Bronx park on August 20th, three days after the Cropper murder.
    After luring the child to a secluded area on the pretext of playing ball
    Olivo pounced on the victim and committed an act of sodomy.
    The child managed to escape after the attack and alerted his father, a hot dog vendor stationed nearby.

    According to the Times, Olivo—standing 5’7” and weighing 140 pounds—was “Hispanic in appearance” with a pockmarked complexion and noticeable limp.
    Investigators were unable to develop any information linking Olivo to the Charlie Chop-off crimes, however, and he was eventually dropped as a suspect.


    August 22nd, 1973; “Let’s kill him,” screamed the mob. Luis Alberto Gonzalez’s ordeal showcased the ugly side of community activism—all he wanted was a job and he ended up cowering from a lynch mob in a downtown precinct house.

    I hope you like riot photos because we have riot photos

    While applying for a technician’s position in a Lower East Side health clinic an employee noticed Gonzalez bore a striking resemblance to the Charlie Chop-off composite, prominently featured in area storefronts.
    The suspicious employee alerted law enforcement who transported Gonzalez to the station and summoned the witnesses in the Steven Cropper case; Gonzalez was then interrogated and showcased in an identity parade.

    After a thorough grilling failed to elicit any incriminating information and witnesses confirmed Gonzalez was not the man who led Steven Cropper to his doom detectives were confident he had no involvement in any of the slayings.
    Gonzalez was now dismissed from suspicion but dismissing him from the police station would not be so simple; erroneous reports of the killer’s arrest had spread throughout the neighborhood like wildfire.
    As Gonzalez was questioned 500 irate citizens, many brandishing nooses and makeshift weapons, encircled the police station demanding he be handed over for a swift administration of NYC street justice.

    “We might have been out catching the real murderer instead of protecting this guy.” NYPD Sergeant Richard Bowes on the resources wasted quelling the riot, New York Times, August 26th, 1973

    The horde was unmoved when an NYPD spokesperson grabbed a bullhorn:
    “This is not the man! Go home!” officers announced in English and Spanish—but law enforcement’s entreaties were met only with jeers and projectiles from the crowd.
    Howling for vengeance, the rabble-rousers refused to budge for hours, pelting the precinct house with bricks and garbage.
    Worried the increasingly lawless assemblage would breach the station’s defenses detectives smuggled Gonzalez out of the building clad in a police officer’s uniform.
    The outcome of his employment interview at the health center has never been publicized but I’m fairly certain Luis Alberto Gonzalez didn’t take the job.

    Nine months passed, community furor lessened and detectives continued to chase worthless leads; eventually the taskforce was quietly disbanded, the NYPD unwilling to further fund an investigation stalled on the fast track to nowhere.
    Then, finally, on May 25th, 1974 a major break in the case:
    Erno Soto, the too-tall suspect fingered shortly after Luis Ortiz’s murder was arrested while trying to abduct a dark-skinned 9-year old boy on East 8th Street in the Village.

    “He was walking along holding the kid up over his head, holding him up to the sky, and the kid was screaming.” Retired NYPD homicide detective Ed Gomez, New York Daily News, February 4th, 1993


    Back in the NYPD crosshairs, detectives launched a reinvestigation of Soto—and this time investigators unearthed information which indicated his dismissal as a suspect may have been premature.
    Soto, who had an eleven year rap-sheet for burglary and narcotics but no known history of pedophilia, had ties to both the Harlem area—his wife lived on 125th Street—and the Lower East Side where Steven Cropper was slain:
    Soto’s father Felix lived on Ridge Street, directly around the corner from the crime scene.

    A check with the Ward Island’s Manhattan Psychiatric Center revealed Soto had been free on a weekend pass when
    Steven was slain, and during the interview asylum employees revealed a pertinent fact they’d previously omitted:
    Soto had a history of creeping out of the psychiatric center undetected.
    Although he was listed as confined during the Boy Who Lived’s attack that didn’t necessarily mean he was present—-it was possible he’d been absent without leave.

    “He was crazy. There was no doubt about that. He was nuttier than a fruit cake.” Retired homicide detective Ed Gomez on Soto’s mental state, New York Daily News, February 4th, 1993

    Periodically committed since 1965, Soto wasn’t covertly mentally ill; he was psychotic, a raving maniac, babbling incessantly about religion and careening with a shambolic gait as he crooned along to the voices in his head.
    Disheveled with subpar hygiene—“slovenly” was the tactful descriptor favored by the New York Times—Soto was described in hospital records as being “so out of it he can’t give useful information.”
    Nonetheless when interrogated Erno Soto confessed to Steven Cropper’s murder, though he declined to take credit for the Harlem slayings.
    Soto was unable to provide any details about Steven’s murder but in the 1970s a confession was sufficient for the NYPD to close the case.

    According to On the Track of Murder, the homicide taskforce was divided in their opinions about Soto’s guilt, the team breaking into a three-way split.
    One third of the detectives believed Soto had committed all of the attacks,
    one third believed he’d killed Steven Cropper but not the uptown boys, and the final third believed him to be a false confessor, innocent of all crimes.
    One of the most interesting things I stumbled upon in my research was a July 11th, 1974 article in the New York Times absolving Soto of the Harlem murders;
    two-thirds of the NYPD may have decided Soto wasn’t Charlie Chop-off but the crimes would stick to him forevermore.

    I know what you’re thinking; you want to see a photo of Erno Soto to determine whether he resembles the composite sketches in the case.
    Brace yourself for bad news; below I’ve posted the only image of Erno Soto available in the newspaper archives:

    Not very helpful, is it? I have no idea why the New York Times would print the mugshot of a minor suspect like Bronx rapist Daniel Olivo and fail to provide a photo of a man actually arrested for child murder but here we are.
    Amplifying their unhelpfulness, none of the contemporaneous newspapers conclusively state whether Soto resembled either the Identikit or composite sketch—but here’s what we do know about his attributes vis-à-vis the witnesses’ descriptions:

    • The phone tipster who initially fingered Soto believed he looked like the sketch composite
    • 33-years old when arrested, Soto fell into the witnesses’ estimated age range of 30-45
    • As all witnesses reported and both composites reflected, Soto had bad skin
    • I’m going out on a limb here, but if Soto had poor hygiene he probably also possessed the swamp breath noted by the Boy Who Lived

    • At 6’1” Soto was significantly taller than the 5’7”-5’10” reported by witnesses
    • Soto was left-handed while the Boy Who Lived believed his attacker to be right-handed
    • Soto had a Puerto Rican accent, not the Dominican accent detected by Mama Bear or the absence of an accent reported by the living victim
    • Soto had neither black marks on his chin nor a prominent mole on his left cheek
    • Soto did not limp, although he did favor the Thorazine shuffle

    Hewing to the case’s three-way split theme the results of Erno Soto’s identity parades were mixed.
    Witnesses to Steven Cropper’s final amble through the Lower East Side identified Soto as the victim’s companion,
    but the Boy Who Lived was adamant Soto was not his attacker—according to On the Track of Murder he deemed Soto far too tall.
    Tragically, Mama Bear was unable to give her opinion on the matter;
    she’d moved without leaving a forwarding address, a common witness hazard in the pre-computer era.

    [Overlapping Murder: on June 10th, 1974, two weeks after Erno Soto’s arrest for the attempted 8th Street abduction, his younger brother joined him in police custody. Eugenio Soto, age 31, was engaged in an airing of grievances with family paterfamilias Felix when things took an ugly turn. Eugenio blamed Felix’s poor parenting for brother Erno’s legal and mental travails, according to police reports; decisively seizing the last word, he stabbed his 60-year old father to death with a kitchen knife. Eugenio was later convicted of first degree manslaughter and sentenced to a ten-year term in the penitentiary; he was released on February 10th, 1982.]

    Personally, I’m of the opinion Soto most likely did kill Steven Cropper—I find the eyewitnesses and geographic proximity compelling—but I’m not convinced he committed the Harlem crimes.
    On the Track of Murder‘s author theorized Soto was driven to homicide by his wife’s promiscuity—-during a period of marital separation she birthed a mixed-race son—and in retaliation he eliminated black boys
    in a campaign of psychological revenge.
    I find this explanation too pat—especially since the uptown victims were sodomized, an act unnecessary for racial cleansing and incompatible with Soto’s lack of history as a sex offender.
    Viewed with modern sensibilities the racial motivation theory fails to impress.

    “When the police find [the killer] they’ll just say he’s a sick man and send him to a hospital for two years.” Max King, prescient Delancey Street shopkeeper interviewed during the Lower East Side riot, New York Times, August 26th 1973

    Did someone say riot? Here’s some police station riot footage, courtesy of the Associated Press:

    Theories are plentiful but for practical purposes debating Soto’s guilt in the Steven Cropper case, at least, is moot;
    although he was found competent to stand trial Soto was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity on December 1st, 1976—not a surprising outcome for a man with a documented 20-year history of psychosis.
    After trial Soto was remanded back to Ward’s Island, this time to the maximum-security Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center,
    an institution impervious to his Houdini act—as far as we know, anyway.

    “The history and nature of his psychosis renders him to be a dangerous person; he is in need of constant surveillance. When he is out in society on his own he is literally a walking time bomb.” Trial testimony of Soto’s psychiatrist Dr. John Baer Train, New York Times, December 1st, 1976

    As the years passed Erno Soto faded into obscurity, remembered only in the nightmares of his victims’ kin and schoolmates—as they grew into adulthood they would always hold their children a little closer than most.
    As all horror connoisseurs know, however, the boogeyman is never truly vanquished:
    in 1993, seventeen years after his acquittal in Steven Cropper’s murder Soto emerged like Nosferatu from a coffin and swooped back into the public’s consciousness.

    According to his lawyers the now-55 year old Soto was terminally ill, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on daily dialysis, a souvenir of his youthful drug abuse.
    Seeking to be released on compassionate grounds, Soto’s application for emancipation set off a bombshell in the media and occasioned a three-day series in the Daily News rehashing his storied history as the number-one suspect in the Charlie Chop-off crimes.

    “My parents were never notified. We didn’t know anything until we read the [Daily News series] on Friday. I know my mother was shocked. And my father—I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I thought he was going to die right in my arms because he was crying and he was very upset.” Steven Cropper’s brother Christopher on the possibility of Soto’s release, New York Daily News, February 2nd, 1993

    Dubbing Soto “the Monster of Ward’s Island” and painting him as unquestionably guilty in both the Cropper and Harlem attacks, Daily News journalists interviewed the families of Steven Cropper and Wendell Hubbard
    and revealed Soto’s extensive history of misbehavior while confined.
    Soto, reporters learned, had faded from the news cycle but his stay at the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center had not been uneventful: Soto had been disciplined for cold-cocking a staff member, possessing marijuana,
    attempting to slit his psychiatrist’s throat and threatening to “jab the eyes” out of a fellow patient.

    In court, citing Soto’s still-active psychosis Manhattan Supreme Justice Bruce Wright declined to release him from maximum-security confinement,
    but as a mental patient—as opposed to a convict, sentenced to a finite term—-Soto is eligible to apply for emancipation every two years.
    Soto is not a registered sex offender and he’s never been convicted of homicide;
    he was committed not as punishment for Steven Cropper’s murder but as a societal panacea—as soon as Soto is adjudicated sane, as unlikely as that seems, the Monster of Ward’s Island will be back on the prowl.

    Erno Soto’s name never again appears in the newspaper archives but he’s still with us;
    if he had a terminal illness in 1993 it’s a slow-acting one.
    Now 79 years old, his address is listed in online databases as 1 Wards Island, New York, NY—not the Kirby maximum security ward but a combination psychiatric hospital/homeless shelter.
    It’s unclear how much freedom Soto has gained over the years—and due to stringent medical privacy laws the public has no right to know if he’s eligible for day passes, just another maniac on New York City streets.

    L’Hôpital Erno-Soto, an abandoned mental asylum in France—tell me again how there are no coincidences

    The assumption of Soto’s guilt in the uptown Chop-off attacks—as propagated in the Daily News’s 1993 series—has carried over online, unfortunately;
    I’d like to do what I can to combat that misapprehension—considering the Harlem crimes closed is an affront to the victims and their families.
    It’s too late to help Douglas Owens, Wendell Hubbard and Luis Ortiz but the Boy Who Lived may still be alive and to discount his fervent disavowal of Soto as his attacker is reckless and disrespectful.
    The Boy Who Lived was maligned in the Daily News series, incidentally—portrayed as beset by “mental problems” and too unstable to recognize his assailant.
    More recently, the baseless allegation the living victim “refused” —as opposed to “failed”—to identify Soto as his attacker has metastasized online like free downloads and porn.

    I’m aware of the vagaries of eyewitness identification, of course;
    but the Boy Who Lived’s disavowal isn’t the only evidence which tends to exonerate Soto in the uptown crimes—and there’s absolutely no meaningful evidence implicating him, even by 1970s standards.
    To paint the Boy Who Lived as incapable of recognizing his attacker is heartless; “Believe the Victim” is our current mantra and it’s not solely applicable to heterosexual sex crimes.

    Let’s give the Boy Who Lived the benefit of the doubt—-even the Marquis de Sade would agree he’s suffered enough.