While digging in the Houston Chronicle archives for Low-rent Zodiac information I stumbled upon several fascinating unsolved crimes which have virtually zero web presence;
I couldn’t find much information on the three cases I’ll be profiling in the coming weeks
but I think the available data is worth sharing.
To be denied both justice and media coverage is unconscionable; these victims died before their time—I can’t dole out justice but I can provide an eternal half-life in the pixilated majesty of cyberspace.
[Note: unless otherwise attributed all quotes are courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.]
Although they died decades before the term was coined, Giti Hariri and Wendy Aldrich were BFFs.
Unlikely compadres, the two met in 1981 at Cleveland State University in Ohio—dormitory suitemates, the small-town Midwesterner and Iranian immigrant bonded despite their radically different upbringings.
“They were inseparable—they went everywhere together, did everything together. You almost couldn’t talk to one without talking to the other.” Former classmate, September 18th, 1988
Wendy and Giti later transferred in tandem to the University of Southern Alabama,
and after graduation both made their way to Houston, at the time a booming mecca for young professionals.
They shared a two-bedroom apartment and after a stint working side-by-side at a department store
both moved on to more rewarding careers,
Wendy at a neuropsychiatric therapy office and Giti as a sales representative for Gemcraft, a prefab dwelling manufacturer.
In their early twenties both women had entered into citizenship marriages,
Giti with an American friend and Wendy with an Iranian classmate who later returned to his homeland.
Neither couple ever lived as man and wife; the unions were for immigration purposes only.
“They were always so close; they both had other friends, but Wendy and Giti were special. They always bought each other presents, always took time out to see each other.” Wendy’s mother Shirley Snodgrass, September 18th, 1988
While working at the department store Giti met and became romantically involved with Behrooz Juneghani, a petroleum engineer;
the relationship quickly became serious.
For a time Wendy, Giti and Juneghani lived together but the arrangement grew strained
and Wendy eventually moved into her own apartment in North Houston.
On April 11th, 1988, five days after the dissolution of her ersatz marriage Juneghani and Giti, then age 28, wed;
Wendy, a year younger, remained a close friend.
“I don’t know that [Wendy and Juneghani] ever fought, but they didn’t get along. Wendy felt he was rushing Giti into marriage, and he probably felt Wendy was interfering.” Friend who requested anonymity, September 18th, 1988
The newlyweds’ honeymoon would be brief.
Giti’s job as a sales rep entailed showing prospective buyers around unoccupied model homes—a high risk profession at the time, as Southeast Texas was in the midst of a high-profile series of realtor murders.
Giti worked alone and was very concerned about her personal safety—she would check in with friends and her husband several times a day.
On May 11th Giti had plans to meet with friends after her work shift ended at 8pm but she never arrived;
later that evening Juneghani returned home from a six-day trip to Canada at approximately 11:30pm.
His wife was nowhere to be found.
“She was the only thing I lived for, so I wanted to make sure she was protected; every day I would call her two, three, four times to make sure she was OK.” Behrooz Juneghani, May 13th, 1988
Panicking, Juneghani phoned friends who lived near the model homes Giti was scheduled to show
and asked them to check on his bride—in an upstairs bedroom one of the searchers found Giti sprawled across a bed, stabbed seven times in the abdomen and lower chest;
minor defensive wounds speckled her arms.
Giti was fully clothed and exhibited no evidence of sexual assault but her earrings—which she always removed immediately after work—were placed on a nightstand beside the bed.
Her purse was missing.
“They came here and saw her car parked outside. One of them went in and found her.” Harris County Sheriff’s Captain D.E. Doehring, May 12th, 1988
The series of realtor slayings plaguing the area were not cookie-cutter crimes, and it’s unclear if the homicides, all of which remain unsolved, are connected.
The victims include:
December 1st, 1981: Virginia ‘Ginger’ Freeman, age 40, was stabbed, strangled and bludgeoned after meeting a potential buyer at a vacant home; she alone amongst all the victims was raped.
August 18th, 1983: Elizabeth Shumate (54), Joann Brown (46) and Frances Ivey (60) were bound and shot in the head in a real estate office during Hurricane Alicia; sensing they were about to be robbed, Mrs. Ivey secreted her diamond ring in the sofa cushions.
March 8th, 1987: Betty Jo Hudson (subscription required), age 40, was shot in the head after meeting a potential client at a vacant home; authorities stated robbery did not appear to be the motive for the crime.
November 6th, 1987: Six months before Giti’s murder Ester Darlene Collins, age 35, was stabbed to death in a model home. She had been bound but not robbed; the knife used in the slaying was larger than the blade utilized in Giti’s murder.
And a wildcard:
June 24th, 1978: Karen Scarbrough (17), Debra Werner Frank (23) and Sharon Lake (25) were shot execution-style in the back of the head in a pre-fabricated home sales trailer in Dale City, Virginia; the women were not robbed. Although this crime occurred several years before the Texas murders and the location is far afield I’ve always been struck by the similarities these slayings share with the Houston-area realtor murders.
On the day of her death Giti told friends she had four showings scheduled,
but she’d marked only two names down in her appointment book;
the other two prospective buyers have never been identified.
A passerby noticed a white compact car parked near the model homes on the night of the murder,
but the owner of the vehicle and the car’s connection (if any) to the crime remains unknown.
“I thought we were doing all the right things. You never think that something like this will happen to you.” Behrooz Juneghani, May 13th, 1988
Wendy was devastated by Giti’s death,
but at a candlelight ceremony three days after the crime she met someone with whom to share her grief—Jasmine Hassani, a Juneghani family friend.
The two women bonded over Giti’s untimely demise and a friendship blossomed
anchored in their mutual loss.
And Jasmine Hassani wasn’t the only newcomer in Wendy’s life;
six weeks after Giti’s murder a woman who introduced herself as “Sammy Smith” moved into Wendy’s building,
the Copper Mill Apartments. Wendy and her new neighbor hit it off like gangbusters.
“Giti was my friend—your grief is our grief. You’re part of our family now.” Jasmine Hassani upon meeting Wendy Aldrich, September 18th, 1988
Although Wendy’s social life was going great guns she was still grief-stricken about the loss of her best friend.
She spent hours idling at Giti’s grave in the Forest Lawn Cemetery,
bedecking the burial plot with flowers and balloons and reading her well-worn pocket Bible.
Despite her two new chums Wendy must’ve felt very alone as she knelt at Giti’s graveside murmuring prayers,
but she shouldn’t have—someone was listening in, and it wasn’t the Lord above:
Juneghani had secreted a microphone in the greenery at the base of his wife’s headstone.
Convinced Wendy had murdered Giti out of unrequited lesbian lust, he was hoping for a graveside murder confession.
After Wendy’s visits Juneghani would retrieve the tape recordings and throw her flowers and balloons—often emblazoned with the sentiment “I love you”—into the trash.
“[Wendy] was just devastated [by Giti’s murder]. We came down for the funeral and all she could do was cry. She wrote a little poem to Giti and put it in the casket along with a rose.” Wendy’s mother Shirley Snodgrass, September 18th, 1988
It’s unclear if Wendy knew about Juneghani’s suspicions—she may have simply been too naive to piece together his hostility—but her life was becoming more bizarre by the minute.
Her new neighbor Sammy Smith seemed desperate for attention,
showering her with flowers and trinkets and pressuring Wendy to accompany her on overnight excursions.
Although Sammy Smith’s Sapphic wooing may seem quite blatant to us today,
the 1980s were a more innocent time—when Sammy Smith dropped all pretense and revealed her interest in being a more literal kind of bosom buddy Wendy was aghast.
After her erotic overtures were rebuffed Sammy Smith, then only a few weeks into her tenancy, moved out.
“Right now, we are considering that robbery was the motive [for Giti’s murder].” Harris County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Drew Warren, May 13th, 1988
Houston was a transient town, and Wendy seemed unfazed by her new friend’s departure—yet had she known the truth she would’ve been stupefied.
Sammy Smith, as it turns out, wasn’t her friend, or even her neighbor—the unit at the Copper Mill Apartments Sammy Smith claimed to live in was reserved for security personnel.
“Sammy Smith” didn’t even exist—in reality the woman who’d been sexually pursuing Wendy was a private detective hired by Juneghani.
Since the microphone secreted near his wife’s tombstone had failed to provide a confession he’d opted for more proactive measures.
“I tried to tell [Juneghani] Wendy would never hurt Giti or anyone, but he wouldn’t listen. He was just wild.” Wendy’s mother Shirley Snodgrass, September 18th, 1988
Three months after Giti’s murder Wendy—perhaps distracted by her social whirlwind—seemed to be recovering from her friend’s tragic death.
She still faithfully visited Giti’s grave, however,
and on July 31st she made plans to meet Jasmine Hassani—the Juneghani intimate she’d met at the candlelight vigil—at Forest Lawn Cemetery for a quick graveside visit.
The rendezvous had been scheduled for 6:30pm; later that evening Wendy had dinner plans with a male friend.
She never arrived at her dinner engagement, and Wendy Aldrich was never seen alive again.
“We don’t know what’s happened to [Wendy]. We’re just about stumped until something turns up.” Harris County Sheriff’s Sergeant Ricky Williams, September 18th, 1988
At 6:40pm Wendy was seen buying a flower and balloons at a convenience store near the graveyard;
she then drove into the gates of Forest Lawn Cemetery and into oblivion.
Detectives knew she’d made it to Giti’s grave—the flower and balloons she’d purchased
were arrayed on Giti’s tombstone.
Make of it what you will, but on this occasion Wendy’s graveside offerings had not been tossed in the trash.
“It’s a real mystery.” Harris County Sheriff’s Sergeant Ronnie Philips on Wendy’s disappearance, Weekly World News, November 1st, 1988
Wendy’s failure to meet her friend for dinner didn’t raise much alarm,
but when she failed to report to work the next day her worried coworkers called her family,
who subsequently contacted law enforcement.
Jasmine Hassani, the woman slated to meet Wendy at Giti’s grave, claimed she’d stood Wendy up—she told investigators she’d instead spent the day helping Juneghani move.
Police were unable to confirm this alibi, as Juneghani refused to speak to authorities or assist in the search for Wendy
in any way whatsoever.
“I believe she was abducted from the cemetery after she placed the flowers on her friend’s grave.” Sergeant Ronnie Phillips demonstrating that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Weekly World News, November 1st, 1988
Four days after Wendy’s disappearance her car, a white 1986 Chevy Cavalier, was discovered at Livingston State Park, an hour’s drive from the cemetery;
Wendy had never been known to frequent the area.
The vehicle’s doors were locked and all of her money and belongings were present inside,
as were the receipts from the balloons and rose left on Giti’s grave.
Wendy was only five feet tall, and the driver’s seat of her car was in its customary position
pulled close to the steering wheel—the vehicle had seemingly been driven to the location by a person of short stature.
(Note: although the color of Wendy’s car did not escape my notice—white, as was the vehicle spotted near Giti’s murder scene—the car parked near the Gemcraft homes was reported to be a compact. A Chevy Cavalier, in my opinion, would be more accurately described as a midsize sedan.)
“I feared for her (Wendy’s) safety after what happened to Giti; I had a feeling she knew more than what she was saying.” Wendy’s mother Shirley Snodgrass, Weekly World News, November 1st, 1988
Wendy’s parents Robert and Shirley Snodgrass were gobsmacked by her disappearance—they left Ohio and moved into Wendy’s North Houston apartment to be closer to the investigation.
Although the Snodgrasses never again heard from their daughter their sojourn in her home was anything but quiet—the apartment’s phone rang off the hook.
Mrs. Snodgrass later described the nature of these communications to the Houston Chronicle:
“At first, they’d just call and hang up. Then they’d call and jabber at us in some foreign language.”
Eventually the Snodgrasses received a call from a voice they recognized—-he’d refused to assist in the search for their daughter, but Behrooz Juneghani had some information to share.
“[Juneghani] told me he wanted to put my mind at ease. He said, `Your daughter’s a psychopath and she killed my wife. She took criminology in college, so she knows how to commit crimes. I hope she does come back so she can face justice.’ We [she and her husband Robert] finally got so scared we propped furniture against the door at night.” Shirley Snodgrass, September 18th, 1988
Three months later, on the shores of Lake Somerville—a two-hour drive from Livingston Park, locus of Wendy’s abandoned vehicle—a passerby made a horrific discovery:
a single human foot.
A few weeks later, on October 8th, the other end of the lake expelled an oblation from the depths:
the lower half of a female torso bobbed to the surface, the remains still clad in a pair of waterlogged blue jeans.
“Without the head and teeth we don’t have much to go on.” Burleson County Chief Deputy Tom Randall, October 8th, 1988
At first law enforcement seemed dismissive of media speculation the torso belonged to Wendy.
The remains were found hundreds of miles distant from both her vehicle and abduction site;
and the Lone Star State, then as now,
suffered no shortage of missing women last seen attired in denim apparel.
In the days before DNA testing identifying partial remains was less than an exact science;
but when the keys in the torso’s blue jeans opened the doors of Wendy’s car and jobsite
the identity of the decedent was undeniable.
Wendy Aldrich—well, some of her, anyway—had at last been found.
“We are going to have the body cremated and sent here, then take it north to Ohio where she was born. We just want to lay her to rest.” Shirley Snodgrass, October 8th, 1988
And here the tale of Wendy Aldrich’s murder abruptly dead-ends.
It’s almost as if the Harris County detectives considered their duty complete once they’d given the Snodgrasses a goodly portion of their daughter’s remains—were they supposed to locate Wendy’s body and find her killer?
On a civil servant’s salary?
The short shrift given to the case can’t be laid off to the passage of time;
authorities still seem quite dedicated to solving the 1980s realtor murders—the crimes are regularly trotted out in the media as active cold cases.
The last two Houston Chronicle articles about Giti’s murder, however, don’t mention Wendy and her curious, possibly-related-slaying at all.
Wendy and Giti were inseparable in life—to separate them in death is a grave injustice.
(Pun unintended, but I’ll allow it.)
“At this point we have no suspects and no motive.” Detective Ronnie Phillips on the status of the Wendy Aldrich investigation, Weekly World News, November 1st, 1988
The only free information about Giti and Wendy’s murders available online is courtesy of the Weekly World News,
famous chronicler of cryptozoology and extraterrestrial visitation.
In a way I find the location fitting—personally, I found Detective Phillips’ attitude far more astonishing than pyramids on Mars or Hillary Clinton’s alien baby.
The stories in the Weekly World News may be unbelievable but you can believe this:
if a single-minded dedication to blindness is still representative of Houston law enforcement
we’ll have video footage of Batboy skinny-dipping in Loch Ness with the risen ghost of Bigfoot long before the murders of Wendy and Giti are solved.
Still more believable than: “At this point we have no suspects and no motive.”