“Murder is like potato chips: you can’t stop with just one.” —- Stephen King

Although the doll is lovely, if I survived the massacre of my family I'd hope for a more practical present---like a Bullmastiff, perhaps, or maybe a military-grade flamethrower

Although the doll is lovely, if I survived the massacre of my family I’d hope for a more practical present—like a Bullmastiff, perhaps, or a military-grade flamethrower

The Bluebell bloodbath and the amazing tenacity of eleven-year old Terry Jo Duperrault, the original Final Girl
Enduring mysteries: the Kingfish Boat Ramp slayings and Florida’s inexplicable popularity as tourist destination
A thirty-year retrospective on the Colonial Parkway murders with more twists and turns than the road itself
The unsolved annihilation of the Rundle-Sturm family—not all Valentine’s tragedies are affairés de cœur
The novel 1984  brought us doublethink; the year 1984 brought us this yet-unsolved triple murder at Golf’n’Stuff
Last on this list but tops in weirdness: not unsolved but woefully unavenged, the Gavis family murders are full of surprises—you think it’s going to be a ho-hum teen-kills-his-family story . . . and then the grave robbing begins

David Manwarren’s first year selling Christmas trees would be his last.


November 26th, 1977; Battle Creek, Michigan.
The Battle Creek Enquirer  article was scheduled to run on December 11th—a holiday puff piece on Christmas tree sales.
Later, in hindsight, the photographer would recall only one red flag during his visit to the home of David Manwarren, novice tree salesman;
a request that the Enquirer  refrain from printing the family’s home address—455 West Van Buren Street—in the newspaper. “There are people looking for us,” David Manwarren, age twenty-two, said without elaboration.

Homicide detectives would later rue the photographer’s lack of follow-up questions.
Within a week three members of the Manwarren family—David,
wife Glenda, age twenty-two, and son David Jr., age three—would be dead; only eighteen-month old Terry was spared.
The lighthearted write-up on Christmas tree sales was scrapped;
photos taken for the piece would instead run alongside grisly accounts of the family’s murder.


When David failed to report to the tree lot for two days—December 3rd and 4th—his father paid the family a visit.
Finding the Manwarren car in the driveway and a front window smashed he contacted the police.
Officers from the Battle Creek Police Department entered the house and found the three eldest Manwarrens
slain in the bedroom—Terry, unharmed, had been toddling through blood-soaked scene for hours.

Investigators have been fairly tightlipped regarding the crime scene details, but the following facts are known:
all three Manwarrens had been killed with a single shotgun blast to the head or neck.
David, clad in his undershorts, was found sprawled on the couple’s bed.
David Junior, state of dress unknown, was found on a mattress on the bedroom floor
and Glenda, in her nightgown, was on the floor nearby.
The Battle Creek Enquirer would later report “a rape occurred in the house,” but the identity of the victim
and the type of assault inflicted has never been disclosed.


The murder weapon, a shotgun belonging to David Manwarren, was also found in the bedroom, devoid of fingerprints.
Due to the gun’s location some newspaper articles initially raised the possibility of murder-suicide,
but the coroner would later determine all three Manwarrens died as a result of homicidal violence.
Investigators suspected murder-suicide was unlikely as soon as they entered the crime scene—though this detail took almost a week to leak to the press,
the Manwarren’s killer left the murder weapon behind but he stole the family’s living room furniture.

Detectives were unable to determine the means by which the killer or killers entered the Manwarren home.
The shattered window—located on the west side of the house—had been broken from the inside,
and investigators believe it may have been damaged during the removal of the furniture.
The family’s overturned Christmas tree, the only sign of struggle in the home,
was a possible casualty of the furniture theft as well.
Oddly, the assailant(s) carried off the couch, loveseat and easy chair but left the Manwarren’s color television behind—a few days after the murders someone kicked in the front door and stole the TV as well.

Copycat crime?

Copycat crime?

Acting on a tip, investigators located the Manwarrens’ furniture less than a week after the crime,
brazenly displayed in an apartment inhabited by local ne’er-do-well Robert Lee Tanner, age sixteen.
Tanner, known on the streets as Beaver, was a one-man crime wave;
his juvenile record reportedly contained more than twenty-five felony arrests,
and he was the prime suspect in a homicide which had occurred the previous summer.

Possession of the murdered family’s furniture was incriminating, certainly, but insufficient for a murder conviction.
In the pre-forensics era detectives were far more reliant on testimonial evidence,
and Beaver Tanner wasn’t talking.
He declined to explain how he came into possession of the Manwarrens’ furniture,
and due to his fearsome reputation in the community none of his criminal associates were talking either.
Approximately one month after the murders, on January 31st, 1978,
Tanner was convicted of possession of the stolen living room set—since he was only sixteen
his prosecution was confined to juvenile court.
He was bound over into the custody of the Calhoun County juvenile authorities for an indeterminate sentence,
and the investigation into the Manwarren murders stalled.


“Is the [Manwarren] investigation closed? Not by a damn sight. We know, and a lot of people on the street know, who did the murders. We also suspect this creep to be the killer of Deborah Bradley, the young black woman found dead behind a church on Van Buren Street, not too far from the Manwarren house. We know he killed Miss Bradley. We know he killed the Manwarrens. We have the knowledge but not the evidence he murdered them. We’re going to keep this case open until somebody comes out of the woodwork and gives us some good information so we can go to the prosecutor and get a murder warrant.” Battle Creek Police Chief Russell Sholes, Battle Creek Enquirer, December 4th, 1978


August 24th, 1976, fifteen months before the Manwarren murders.
Twenty-four-year old Deborah Bradley, accompanied by her fourteen-year sister, dashed out to buy milk at 12:45am.
While crossing a vacant lot a man sprang from the bushes carrying a shotgun and demanded both women follow him.
Her sister managed to break away and flee, but Deborah wasn’t so lucky.
Law enforcement immediately launched an extensive search but to no avail;
approximately twelve hours later Deborah’s nude body was found behind the Church of God in Christ,
just around the corner from the Manwarren home.
The recent divorcée, primary caretaker of her invalid mother, had been raped and shot once in the head.

It’s unclear whether Deborah’s sister got a good look at the assailant—he may have simply been a person of interest due to his previous criminality—but Battle Creek detectives immediately zeroed in on Robert Lee Tanner, local scourge.
Authorities arrested him shortly after the crime but,
unable to develop enough evidence to obtain a murder indictment, they were forced to release him shortly thereafter.
Approximately one year later the Manwarrens would be dead.


The sentencing guidelines of the 1970s were lenient, and juvenile sentencing especially so;
six months after being incarcerated for possession of stolen goods Beaver Tanner,
now age seventeen, was back on the streets of Battle Creek.
He wouldn’t stay out long, however—two months after his release, on August 2nd, 1978,
an armed robbery would land him back behind bars.
Eligible for adult court at last,
he was sentenced to ten to fifteen years in the penitentiary for home invasion robbery.
The Manwarren murders, already cold, were getting colder.

“He was caught in connection with an armed robbery of several persons in a house. [Robert Lee Tanner] had the three of them—a woman and her two daughters—lined up sitting on the couch. He had a gun he found in the house leveled at them. We think he was about to shoot them when the uniformed guys arrived. He split, but thankfully we were able to catch him nearby both with a stolen gun and money. What made it so bad for the three people was that one of the daughters recognized him. That was a bad thing. He’s not one likely to leave any witnesses.” Unnamed Battle Creek homicide detective, Battle Creek Enquirer, December 4th, 1978


A year into his armed robbery sentence investigators,
aided by a prison snitch, finally gathered sufficient evidence to prosecute Tanner for Deborah Bradley’s murder.
According to the Battle Creek Enquirer,
detectives had been able to “tie” Tanner to the stolen gun used in the crime,
and his presence behind bars had reportedly loosened the lips of several of his criminal associates.

Media accounts of the testimonial evidence against Tanner are vague,
and the reason for the District Attorney’s next move is unclear:
Robert Tanner was allowed to plead down from capital rape and murder to a single count of voluntary manslaughter,
punishable by a maximum of ten to fifteen years in prison.
In February of 1986, just over six years later, twenty-six year old Beaver Tanner was back on the prowl.
He was not rehabilitated.


On December 6th, 1987, nearly ten years to the day after the Manwarren murders,
recent Calvin College graduate Joan Rudenga, age twenty-four, encountered an intruder in her Grand Rapids home—in the ensuing confrontation she was stabbed twenty-seven times.
A roommate who ran to her aid, John Pierik, age twenty-one,
was stabbed six times as he chased the assailant from the house.
Responding officers followed the killer’s bloody footprints in the snow and swiftly apprehended the attacker.
He’d been paroled less than one year earlier,
but prison hadn’t diminished Robert Lee Tanner’s unquenchable thirst for violence.

Although Jon Pierik made a full recovery, Joan Rudenga was permanently paralyzed in the attack;
she had never seen Robert Lee Tanner before their fateful encounter. [A 2015 video of Joan Wegner née Rudenga speaking about her ordeal is embedded below.]

Sentenced to life in prison for two counts of assault with intent to commit murder,
Beaver Tanner has dwelt behind bars ever since—and with the passage of years the Manwarren murders have fallen off the media, and presumably law enforcement, radar.
In light of this lack of attention my Christmas wish this year is directed at the Battle Creek Police Department:
do a little digging in the crime lab Santa sack and see if you can find the rape kit from the Manwarren crime scene.
Even if we choose to trust the parole board and assume Tanner will pass all future Christmases in prison
I’ve always wondered if he had an accomplice in the Manwarren murders—he may have been a one-man crime wave,
but I doubt even a super-predator could move a sofa and loveseat all by himself.

Robert Lee Tanner, present day

Robert Lee Tanner, present day

In the spirit of the season, a merry Christmas to you and yours, dear readers; or happy holidays, festive Kwanzaa, jolly Festivus—hell, hail Satan if you prefer.
And remember, on Christmas eve—as you nestle snug in your bed, visions of sugarplums adance in your head—if you hear a strange noise in the dark of the night
it probably isn’t Santa Claus climbing down your chimney.

In true crime the clichés are inescapable.
Female victims light up a room.
Male victims would gladly give the shirts off their backs.
All victims irrespective of sex or circumstances were happygolucky and /or loved life.
The bodies of the slain, without exception, are dumped like trash;
and every time a passerby stumbles upon a discarded corpse in the wild the tale of discovery must begin: “At first I thought it was a mannequin . . . .”
Of course, once in a great while a true crime narrative takes an unexpected turn—while rare, there have been times the sprawled human form discovered (typically by a dogwalker or free-range urinator) is in fact a mannequin.
This is one of those stories. Well, mostly.

This creepy mannequin image is completely unrelated to today's post but I wanted to share it---why should I be the only one who can't sleep at night?

This creepy mannequin image is unrelated to today’s post but I wanted to share it—why should I be the only one who can’t sleep at night?

“People are so paranoid around here they think mannequins are falling out of the sky.” Howard County Police Information Officer Randolph Roby, Washington Post, March 23rd, 1980

The first mannequin appeared on January 15th, 1980, a grim harbinger of things to come.

The affluent Lawyer’s Hill section of Elkridge, Maryland is an enclave long on elegance and short on excitement;
the appearance of a flesh-toned female torso dangling from a tree branch—red paint slathered on its neck and nipples, knife in its chest—caused a community-wide panic.
If the placement of the dummy was intended as a joke it was a sick one.

“I’ve seen it, and it was depicting somebody having been murdered. If I came home and saw a mannequin on my front porch I wouldn’t go inside. I’d hightail it to the police.” Elkridge homeowner John Powers, Louisville Courier Journal, March 24th, 1980

mannequinrebeccadavisphotothenExactly one month after the mannequin’s appearance longtime Elkridge resident Rebecca Davis—Dolly to her friends,
who were legion—departed from her tutoring position
at Carter Woodson Elementary School in Cherry Hill;
she would never be seen alive again, except by her killer.

“She was a super-nice individual; I haven’t talked to one person who ever said anything negative about her. Who would want to kill a nice person like Dolly Davis?” Howard County Police Detective Richard Witte, Palm Beach Post, May 25th, 1981

Dolly Davis was by all accounts a lovely woman—despite being born into a life of privilege the former debutante and Bryn Mawr graduate had dedicated her life to good deeds.
She performed missionary work in Haiti,
taught religion at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis,
tutored children in poverty-stricken neighborhoods
and visited the sick and infirm.
In her youth Dolly had been an accomplished artist,
but in her later years she focused solely on making the world a better place.
Her good deeds and the goodwill of her community, however, could not save her.

“A couple of times I have known her to pick up somebody on the road. When I would say she shouldn’t Dolly would just smile and say, ‘you can tell about some people.’” Friend Phyllis Fiddler, Baltimore Sun, March 9th, 1980

mannequinrebeccadavisphotoSeventy-year old Dolly never married, and she lived alone in a stately Lawyers Hill home her family had owned for generations.
On February 22nd—a week after she’d last been seen—a housekeeper arrived at the residence and sensed something awry.
Although the inside of the house was undisturbed Dolly’s car had been parked half in and half out of the garage,
and one of her shoes had been abandoned in the back yard.
The cleaning lady contacted one of Dolly’s friends,
who contacted authorities.
An intensive search of the grounds revealed Dolly’s remains buried in a shallow grave on the far reaches of the property,
still clad in the dress she’d worn to Cherry Hill.
The lifelong humanitarian’s good deeds were over.

“There’s not a phantom killer, we don’t see that. There are no maniacs running around the neighborhoods of Elkridge.” Howard County Police Sergeant Angus Park, Baltimore Sun, July 9th, 1989

The coroner determined Dolly had been murdered on February 15th, probably within hours of leaving Woodson Elementary;
she’d been stabbed nine times in the neck with a short blade—possibly a pocketknife—and scores of small defensive wounds crisscrossed her arms.
Although law enforcement kept this detail from the press,
she’d been sexually assaulted,
probably post-or perimortem.
The nicest woman in Elkridge had died a most horrible and unjust death.

“This was the case in the county that caused people to put deadbolt locks on their doors.” Howard County Police Detective Keith Fisher on the Davis murder, Baltimore Sun, August 10th, 1999

Compounding the community’s distress,
Dolly’s death wasn’t the only unsolved murder in the area;
the previous year a couple had been slain in Ellicott City, a rural hamlet just outside Elkridge.
Carvel Faulkner, age fifty-eight—a bull of a man weighing three-hundred pounds and standing well over six feet tall—was found in a pool of blood next to his bed; he’d been shot in once in the head.
His fifty-six year old wife Sarah, her throat slashed, had been trussed hand and foot and stabbed repeatedly in the back.
The crime, which occurred on April 26th, 1979,
was baffling—despite Carvel’s brawn there were no signs of disturbance in the home,
and $1000 dollars left out in plain sight was left untouched.

“People are scared to death—you know, it’s an awful way to live, scared to death.” Dolly’s neighbor Esther Bennett, Palm Beach Post, May 25th, 1980

Adding grist to the community’s rumor mill, shortly after Dolly’s body was recovered a second mannequin appeared,
once again with tell-tale markings of murder.
Howard County investigators took the dummy into evidence and dusted it for prints but none could be found.
As time marched on the investigation into Dolly Davis’s death began to sputter,
with nary a suspect or motive in sight.
Leads may have been scarce but mannequins were not—for nearly a year, usually midmonth when Dolly had been slain,
the ghoulish spectacles materialized in Elkridge and the surrounding towns.


“There’s no proven correlation between the mannequins and the homicide. You have a homicide [in a wealthy area], which is bizarre; and also the mannequins, which are bizarre. They’re apples and oranges . . . but they’re both fruit.” Howard County Police spokesman Randolph Roby, Washington Post, March 23rd, 1980

Is it me, or is this the face of a man rethinking his career decisions?

Behold the face of a man rethinking his career decisions, and weep

Although the condition of the mannequins varied all bore overt marks of violence;
yet despite the extensive mutilations none provided investigators with any meaningful evidence.
On some occasions only disembodied limbs were found—one notable discovery consisted solely of severed legs
fanned out like a perverse Radio City chorus line.
Howard County investigators were unsure if the mannequins were connected to Dolly’s murder,
but among the populace the link was self-evident.
Behind the polished oak doors of their majestic homes Elkridge residents were armed for war and jumping at shadows.

“It’s strange—they look so harmless in the store windows.” Davis neighbor Maureen O’Connell on situational disparity in mannequin aesthetics, Washington Post, March 23rd, 1980

The final mannequin appeared in Bodkin Creek approximately one year after Dolly’s murder;
a knife had been plunged deeply into its upper back.
Thereafter the mannequin discoveries—which numbered nearly a dozen in all—stopped, but the unsolved slayings resumed.
On March 29th, 1981,
a child cutting through a neighbor’s yard in the nearby town of Catonsville stumbled upon a supine form—this time the figure was not a mannequin but a human corpse.
Like Dolly, sixty-eight year old Evelyn Dieterich had been murdered in her backyard; an autopsy revealed she’d been bludgeoned, strangled and sexually assaulted, probably after death.

“She had the most beautiful outlook—she was an old, crippled-up lady, and a widow, but she loved life in spite of everything.” Unnamed Dieterich neighbor, Baltimore Sun, March 30th, 1981

mannequinevelyndietrichThe plague of mannequins may have ceased but the bodies kept on coming.
The next local resident to meet an untimely end was Ellicott City widow Iva Myrtle Watson,
her battered remains discovered in a copse of pine trees near her home on December 28th, 1984;
she’d been bludgeoned and sexually assaulted.
Iva, age eighty, lived just a few houses down from the Faulkners;
her murder was the area’s fifth unsolved slaying in five years—bodies were beginning to pile up like mannequins.

“There are a few people who say it’s time to leave. Mostly people don’t understand why it keeps happening here—people here aren’t into murders.” Postmistress Susan Bennett, Baltimore Sun, July 9th, 1989

In a change of pace, the next Elkridge resident slain was much younger: Kathleen Patricia Gouldin, age twenty-three, manager of Fat Tuesday’s, a Baltimore nightclub.
On July 4th, 1989
an assailant perched outside her home and fired through a window—as she lay dying
he climbed inside and raped her.
The field of forensics was nascent at the time,
leaving Howard County investigators with only a single piece of physical evidence—a discarded pizza box found outside the victim’s home.
Detectives traced the name on the box to a woman in nearby Anne Arundel County who claimed she’d been eating pizza shortly before the murder with Vernon Lee Clark, age thirty-four—latent prints on the box were later determined to match Clark’s fingerprints.

“He was small, but he was strong—a scrapper.” Stepfather Samuel Carter on Clark’s physical prowess, Washington Post, November 8th, 1999

Clark, an Elkridge resident, worked at a nearby rendering plant wrangling slaughtered animals;
he supplemented his income by performing odd jobs for pocket change.
Clark freely admitted he’d been near Kathleen’s home the night of the murder,
but claimed he’d stopped there randomly
while too zonked on narcotics to drive.
Despite spirited interrogation he denied entering her home
and investigators were unable to place him inside the crime scene.
For more than a year the case was at stalemate,
but over the last decade as the bodies and mannequins multiplied the field of forensics experienced a revolution—DNA evidence would be Clark’s downfall.
Arrested on January 26th, 1990, he was convicted of Kathleen’s murder and sundry other charges and sentenced to life plus twenty-eight years in prison;
his trial marked the first time DNA was utilized in a Howard County courtroom.


“If there was ever any trouble in town the police always came to me. I’ve got trouble with reading and writing and I’m black. Put that all together and I’m the solution for the cops’ frustration.” Vernon Lee Clark, Baltimore Sun, August 6th, 1999

Clark’s guilt in Kathleen’s murder wasn’t the only evidence which tended to implicate him in the other Elkridge area slayings—defying the odds of probability, he’d been Dolly’s handyman. And Evelyn’s gardener.
And he’d once worked at a chicken-feed concern owned by Sarah and Carvel Faulkner.
(Although Iva Watson had no direct ties to Clark it’s possible he spotted her vulnerability while visiting the Faulkners, her neighbors.)
For his part, Clark has continued to deny a connection to any of the murders, even Kathleen’s;
his denials have repeatedly been belied by DNA evidence, however—in 1999, nearly a decade after their deaths,
Clark was forensically linked to the murders of Dolly and Evelyn;
despite decrying his innocence he pleaded guilty and accepted two more life sentences.
Just last year the strides made in DNA testing finally provided a link between Clark and Iva Watson,
thirty years after her murder;
he racked up another life sentence via plea, bringing his total to four.

“It’s important that justice be done, but for Dolly’s sake it really doesn’t matter. Her approach would be, ‘oh that poor person, think what they’re going through now, think about the problems they have.’” Friend Phyllis Fiddler on Dolly’s penchant for forgiveness, Baltimore Sun, March 9th, 1980

Clark at his arraignment for the murders of Dolly and Evelyn

Clark at his arraignment for the murders of Dolly and Evelyn

Clark has yet to be forensically tied to the Faulkner murders, but to most local residents his guilt is a foregone conclusion.
Assuming the identity of the Faulkners’ killer is settled, there’s still one mystery left unsolved;
was Clark responsible for the rash of murdered mannequins?
It seems to me an illiterate odd-jobs man would be a tad short on whimsy—and mannequins
are neither easy to procure nor cheap.
With Clark firmly clinging to his protestations of innocence it doesn’t look like we’ll ever know for sure.

“They did the best they could with the technology [available at the time]. I am just the lucky guy who was here when science caught up with Vernon Clark.” Howard County Police Detective Keith Fisher, Baltimore Sun, August 10th, 1999

It’s pointless to Monday-morning quarterback,
but with hindsight the Howard County Police Department’s delay in solving these murders is inexplicable.
The failure didn’t stem from lack of trying:
on the first anniversary of Dolly’s death detectives staked out her gravesite overnight,
and over the years a total of thirty investigators
followed leads in the slayings as far as Texas—all while an obvious suspect idled in plain sight.
As I said earlier, true crime is full of clichés, and this one is etched in blood:
when an unmarried older woman is slain the killer is almost always someone who’s done work on her house.
Women of a certain age should take great care when vetting a gardener or handyman,
because his may be the very last face they see.

Noted scrapper Vernon Lee Clark, present day

Noted scrapper Vernon Lee Clark, present day

The morals of today’s blogpost are fourfold: ladies, dial down your wattage—lighting up a room lures predators like menstrual blood lures sharks.
Gentlemen, regardless of the situation it’s imperative to keep your own shirt on your own back at all times.
Fellow misanthropes, rejoice:
come what may, a scowl is a must-have accessory—hating life is the best way to ensure you’ll live a long one.
And finally, good news for the squeamish: every time you see an al fresco human corpse feel free to take a good long look—there’s a chance, albeit slight, it may turn out to be nothing but a mannequin.


Image courtesy of alt-right pioneer Jim Goad, a Margaret Mead among the rednecks

Image courtesy of alt-right pioneer Jim Goad, a Margaret Mead among the rednecks


AGE ONE: Donna Sue Davis was raped, sodomized and burned with cigarettes—her killer has never been caught

AGE TWO: Diane Prevost vanished into the Canadian wilderness and remains as elusive as bigfoot

AGE THREE: Laura Bradbury vanished in the Californian wilderness and questions still linger

AGE FOUR: Cindy Williams lived only four years but her unknown killer has prowled among us for four decades

AGE FIVE: Beth Barr‘s abduction remains one of Pennsylvania’s most vexing unsolved crimes

AGE SIX: The murder of twins Sandra and Sylvia Compton was so heinous even the Aryan Brotherhood disapproved

AGE SEVEN: Politicians pine for the 1950s, but Barbara Gaca‘s unsolved murder is proof the good old days weren’t good for everyone

AGE EIGHT: Jeannie Singleton and her multi-colored sandals walked out of the schoolhouse and into the clutches of a killer

AGE NINE: Debbie Ray and her cousin were murdered at the town dump by a man who was pure trash

AGE TEN: The unsolved murders of Doris Denise Milner and two other Oklahoma Girl Scouts is a mystery more addictive than Peanut Butter Patties and Thin Mints combined

AGE ELEVEN: Donna Lee Evans’ killer was confined to the same asylum as John Hinckley, but not for long

AGE TWELVE: What’s more confounding? Suzie Mages’ premonition of her own murder or the existence of health food restaurants in Texas?

The Oklahoma Girl Scout murder tent:  abandon hope, all ye who enter here

The Oklahoma Girl Scout murder tent: abandon hope, all ye who enter here

POSTSCRIPT: The format of this edition of Linkage Blindness is an homage to the rape issue of the infamous Jim Goad ‘zine Answer Me. (Warning: link is not safe for work, not safe for home, not safe for planet earth, the Milky Way galaxy or the star system Zeta Reticuli—oh, who am I kidding? You’re going to click anyway; consider yourself warned.)

Confession: I have no idea what happened in the Ramsey home in the late-night hours of December 25th, 1996.

I’ve read every major book about the case and watched every available documentary.
I’ve spent far more hours online trying to reconcile obscure clues—shit-covered candy box and incestuous dictionary included—than I did ever did studying for the bar exam.
I’ve had people I respect tell me I’m an idiot for not accepting the intruder theory,
and I’ve had people I respect tell me only an idiot
could fail to recognize the blatant guilt of one or more Ramsey family members.
And still I equivocate;
certainly some authors and bloggers have proffered scenarios that are theoretically possible,
but none of these hypotheses feel exactly right to me.

There are very few crimes that leave me feeling as ambivalent as the Ramsey case.
Even if the perpetrator is unknown
it’s usually possible to use the totality of the clues to form an opinion about what happened;
anomalous crimes—where the facts refuse to coalesce into a satisfying narrative—are exceedingly rare.
Most of these outlier cases are high-profile mysteries like Jonbenet’s murder,
but one little-known series of events I’ve never been able to pigeonhole
is the peculiar disappearance of Amarillo attorney David Glenn Lewis.

Arbeit macht frei  on the range

Arbeit macht frei on the range

The mystery began on Super Bowl Sunday, January 31st, 1993.
David Lewis’s wife Karen and nine-year old daughter Lauren returned from a weekend shopping trip to Dallas and discovered David, age thirty-nine, had vanished.

By all appearances David had been preparing to watch the football game—the VCR’s record function had been turned on at kickoff but the tape had not been stopped at the game’s completion.
Two freshly-made turkey sandwiches were left behind in the fridge,
and David’s watch and wedding ring were resting on a kitchen counter.

Since nothing in the home appeared disturbed and none of David’s belongings were missing Mrs. Lewis assumed her husband had simply gone out to watch the game.
When he failed to return home by morning, however, she filed a missing persons report;
the following day David’s red Ford Explorer was found in front of the Potter County Courts Building in downtown Amarillo.
His house and car keys were under the floor mat, and his checkbook,
credit cards and driver’s license were in the car where he usually kept them.

David Glenn Lewis

David Glenn Lewis

David was a religious and reliable family man,
and despite the absence of overt evidence of foul play Mrs. Lewis was certain someone had harmed her husband.
David was close to his parents and brother and absolutely adored his daughter Lauren;
there was no way,
his friends and family insisted,
he would ever leave voluntarily.
David’s stable and harmonious home life wasn’t the only factor which suggested foul play:
David had recently told his wife his life had been threatened,
although he refused to divulge the details or identify the source of these threats.

Practicing law can be a divisive profession,
and David’s loved ones believe his undoing likely had roots his legal career.
David had previously spent four years as a judge in nearby Moore County,
and his family theorized a disgruntled defendant may have been nursing a long-simmering grudge.
He was also due to testify in a high-stakes lawsuit involving his former law firm, Ham, Irwin, Graham and Cox.
A wealthy client was suing the firm for an alleged conflict of interest;
although David no longer worked at Ham & Irwin he was scheduled to fly to Dallas for a deposition the week after he disappeared.
According to the Amarillo Globe News, David had stated he had no intention of minimizing the firm’s wrongdoings:
“I’m going to tell the truth whoever it hurts,” he told his father shortly before he vanished.

The Amarillo Special Crimes Unit initially opened a criminal investigation into David’s disappearance
but the probe was canceled eleven months later.
Although the reason for the delay in obtaining the information is unknown,
detectives learned two plane tickets had been purchased in David’s name shortly after he disappeared.
On January 31st a ticket was purchased on a flight from Dallas to Amarillo,
and February 1st a ticket was purchased from Los Angeles to Dallas, with a stopover in Amarillo.
Law enforcement has never released the payment method or departure time of the booked flights,
and it’s unclear if the tickets were ultimately utilized.

Although the Lewis family was devastated by the decision to close the case
the Amarillo Police Department declared David voluntarily missing and suspended their investigation.
The Lewises vowed to keep searching on their own,
but for more than a decade David’s loved ones were left with nothing but questions and memories—and here this story would end if not for a series of newspaper articles published ten years later in Seattle, nearly 2,000 miles away.

Also known as Yakima, Land of Delusion

Also known as Yakima, Land of Delusion

“People Go Missing and Killers Go Free” was the tagline of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s 2003 exposé on the shortcomings of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
A law enforcement database designed to link missing persons with unidentified human remains,
the NCIC was antiquated and dependent upon cooperation from individual police departments which often failed to materialize.
As the Post-Intelligencer articles demonstrated, an appalling number of cases slipped through the cracks.

Galvanized by the series,
Washington State Police Detective Patrick Ditter embarked on a crusade to identify a John Doe found on the outskirts of Yakima ten years earlier, on February 1st, 1993—the man had been killed in a hit and run.
Although the NCIC again failed to provide a match,
Detective Ditter began googling the unidentified man’s statistics and eventually landed on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s webpage.
One of the missing men featured on the site sported a distinctive pair of eyeglasses,
and an identical pair had been found in John Doe’s pocket.
Fingerprint and DNA tests followed,
and eleven years after his death Yakima John Doe’s identity was definitively established—the hit and run victim was missing attorney David Glenn Lewis.

Aspiring suicides occasionally travel to distant states in an attempt to spare their loved ones,
but the circumstances of David’s death were far murkier.
The hit and run occurred at 10:24pm on a lonely two-lane highway in Moxee,
approximately ten miles outside the Yakima airport.
After spotting David walking down the center line
a concerned motorist turned around to warn other drivers—but it was too late.
David was found crumpled in the road, a Chevrolet Camaro seen motoring away from the scene.
Although there was no criminal investigation,
Detective Ditter is adamant David’s death was an accident, not suicide.
(The investigator’s explanation for David’s late-night sashay down the middle of a highway 2,000 miles from home
remains a tale untold.)

David, clad in well-worn military fatigues, had no identification and no known ties to Washington State.
The manner in which he traveled to the West Coast has never been established,
but the two tickets purchased in his name appear unrelated to his journey from Amarillo.
Below, for the sake of clarity, is the timeline:

January 28th, 1993:
— David’s wife and daughter travel to Dallas for a shopping trip

January 30th, 1993:
— David is last seen, although the circumstances of the encounter have never been publicized

January 31st, 1993:
— Super Bowl XXVII begins at 5:30pm Central Standard Time; the Lewis’s VCR apparently lacked preset capability since investigators presume David was home to activate the record function
— Mrs. Lewis and daughter Lauren return home to an empty house in the late-evening hours
— At some point a ticket is purchased in David’s name from Dallas to Amarillo

Dallas is a six hour drive or a one hour flight from the Lewis home. If David purchased a ticket departing from Dallas how did he get there? He didn’t drive himself— his vehicle was left behind in downtown Amarillo. If he traveled via plane why did he purchase his ticket to Dallas with an alias but purchase a ticket back to Amarillo under his real name?

February 1st, 1993:
— Mrs. Lewis reports David as a missing person
— At some point a plane ticket is purchased from Los Angeles to Dallas, with a stopover in Amarillo
— John Doe is killed in Yakima at 10:24pm

Did David purchase an (ultimately unused) ticket from Los Angeles because he was at LAX on a stopover en route to Yakima? If so, why would he buy that ticket in his real name after using an alias for his initial ticket west? I suppose the LA ticket purchase could have been an attempt to obfuscate his ultimate destination, but California seems a poor choice to misdirect the investigation away from Washington State.

David Lewis’s loved ones continue to believe he was the victim of foul play.
Although an autopsy detected no drugs or alcohol in his system,
family members believe David was drugged with a substance undetectable in a conventional toxicology screen—perhaps LSD or another hallucinogenic—and pushed into traffic.
“They would have had to fly him over (to Yakima). They would have had to drug him, chain him,” David’s father Hershel Lewis told the Amarillo Globe News. “I think it was force.”

The odd aspects of the case don’t end with the inexplicable ticket purchases: David Lewis wasn’t the only Amarillo-area man who vanished in the 1990s.
On June 20th, 1994—eighteen months after David’s disappearance—forty-seven year old Johnny Lee Baker went missing from the city of Borger, an Amarillo suburb.
At approximately 9:30pm—after returning home from jogging—Johnny spoke on the phone with his son;
nothing appeared to be amiss.
The wealthy, locally-prominent pharmacist has never been seen or heard from again;
his money, possessions and vehicle were left behind but one item was missing from his home: the garage door opener.

Johnny Lee Baker

Johnny Lee Baker

Johnny owned his own pharmacy,
and like David was reported to be a devoted family man;
the two men had grown up together in the town of Phillips,
an Amarillo suburb.
In what is almost certainly nothing but an eerie coincidence,
the town of Phillips no longer exists;
the land
upon which the houses sat
was owned by the Phillips Petroleum Company,
and in the 1980s the entire town was evicted—a 1980 explosion at the plant caused significant damage,
but posters on various message boards claim the explosion was a cover-up for something more sinister.
(Government land grab, ecological disaster, and/or Jade Helm staging-ground—it’s a choose-your-own conspiracy adventure!)

(Odd unrelated factoid: when the townsfolk of Phillips attempted to block their eviction they hired F. Lee Bailey, legal counsel of choice for Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler—it’s a small world after all.)

Although it’s unclear how closely the men stayed in touch as adults,
they apparently retained some connection:
after Johnny’s disappearance local gossips suggested the childhood friends had run off together to Vegas.
(Johnny’s rationale for bringing his garage door opener to Vegas is unknown; maybe it was lucky.)

All of these peculiar circumstances aside,
I’m familiar with Occam’s razor: the simplest explanation is the most likely explanation.
David left his watch and wedding ring behind,
traditional hallmarks of suicide;
his ticket purchases make no sense because depressed people aren’t thinking clearly.
As a pharmacy owner Johnny had a vast knowledge of prescription drug use in Borger,
so he was probably murdered or whisked off to the witness protection program.
In the Ramsey case, statistics indicate one or both of her parents murdered Jonbenet, probably after she peed the bed.

I can’t explain why these perfectly rational explanations are so unsatisfying to me, but they are.
I’d rather believe Johnny and David—two vanished men from a vanished town—were initiated into the CIA as teenagers,
the town of Phillips nothing more than an elaborate MKUltra experiment.
David died in Yakima on a black-ops mission gone awry,
and Johnny was transferred overseas to shield him from the assassins with the lethal Chevy Camaro.
(The Baker garage door remote doubled as a covert CIA communications device, obviously.)
I’d also prefer to believe Jonbenet’s murder was perpetrated by a stranger;
maybe Mr. Cruel flew in from Australia and burrowed his way into the Ramsey basement—his vocabulary was posh enough to place an accent mark on “attaché” and parents in the home didn’t faze him.

The Phillips plant flambé; industrial accident or Illuminati apocalypse?

The Phillips plant flambé; industrial accident or Illuminati apocalypse?

These fanciful scenarios are probably the true crime version of rose-colored glasses, I know:
David wasn’t an itchy-footed suicide victim who caused his loved ones untold anguish—he and Johnny were American heroes keeping the world safe for democracy.
Jonbenet wasn’t killed by a family member—a monstrous pedophile must have entered her home, because children are never killed by someone they love.
These are all fictions, perhaps, but they make me feel better.
Just like I feel better pretending that as long as we all lock our doors we’ll be safe.

After weeks of reflection I’ve come to the realization my temporary disinterest in crime wasn’t entirely sparked by a desire to shield victims’ families.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, and I can no longer deny the source of my suffering:
this presidential election has made me certifiably insane.
It’s difficult for me to think about anything besides politics—every pore of my body exudes rage,
and if I’ve said something unkind to you or yours in the comments I humbly apologize.

As a personal anger exorcism I’ve written my very first hot take.
I hope I’m understanding the concept of a “hot take” correctly, but if I’m not rest assured—some kind soul will undoubtedly point out my shortcomings (with alacrity and great detail) in the comment section.

Danielle Van Dam, murdered in 2002

Danielle Van Dam, murdered in 2002

Do you wanna die?
Possum Kingdom, Toadies (1996)

Everything old is new again, especially in fashion—and the most recent corpse exhumed from the prêt-à-porter grave is Grunge.
The recycling of ‘90s attire is a welcome trend (for those of us who kept our Doc Martens, anyway),
but the resurgence of one popular Grunge-era accessory needs to be nipped in the bud:
cheap, plastic faux-tattoo chokers.
In days of yore my friends and I called them murder necklaces.

Hannah Williams, murdered in 2001

Hannah Williams, murdered in 2001

[Sample usage:

“I’m not going out with you tonight unless you take off that murder necklace—I don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.”

“That street vendor is selling murder necklaces—he should throw in a body bag for free.”

“Wow, check out that girl in the murder necklace—do you think she knows she’ll never make it home alive?”]

Ashley Pond, murdered in 2002

Ashley Pond, murdered in 2002

There was a ten-year stretch from 1995-2005 when it seemed like every young (and some not-so-young) female victim sported a ubiquitous choker of death;
has society learned nothing from that decade of carnage?
When I saw Adriana Coronado’s missing poster earlier this year I knew the search would end in tears long before her body was found.

Adriana Coronado, murdered in 2016

Adriana Coronado, murdered in 2016

Take heed, potential fashion victims—ignore the moral of this blog post at your peril.
Rock the clodhopper shoes, don the overalls, sport the acid denim if you dare—but stay away from murder necklaces.
And not just because they’re ugly—although they are—but because wearing a faux noose around your neck is a homicidal trigger for maniacs.
You’d have a better survival rate sewing yourself into a plaid flannel shroud and hitchiking to Lollapalooza in a stranger’s panel van.

Haley Brooke Hallman, reported missing in 2016 (she later turned up alive---even Ted Bundy had one victim who got away)

Haley Brooke Hallman, reported missing in 2016 (she later turned up alive—even Ted Bundy had one victim who got away)



A recent New Yorker  article lambasting crime bloggers as glory-seeking ghouls has given me a crisis of conscience. I need a sabbatical, but I’ve decided to share my research on the Woodley murders before I unplug; there’s virtually nothing about the crime online, and perhaps a little publicity will spark a memory or goose a guilty conscience.


DATE: September 26th, 1991


• Barry Carlton Woodley, age 45, project engineer at Bechtel Corporation

• his sons Gregory John Woodley, age 23, stockbroker and recent Texas A&M graduate

• Jeremy Joel Woodley, age 15, sophomore at Cy-Fair High School and competitive swimmer

LOCATION: Cypress Texas, an upper-middle class Houston suburb

A NOTE ON SOURCES: In addition to newspaper articles in the Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News  and Victoria Advocate  there is a single chapter about the crime in A Door in the Ocean, a memoir authored by Jeremy Woodley’s swim teammate David McGlynn. The chapter also appeared in two other publications, an issue of Creative Nonfiction and True Crime: Real-Life Stories of Abduction, Addiction, Obsession, Murder, Grave-Robbing and More
BACKGROUND: Barry Woodley and his wife Lynne had been happily married for 27 years. In addition to sons Greg and Jeremy the Woodley family included two daughters, Annmarie, age 25 and Rebekka, age 14. They were a religious, law-abiding family with no known criminal involvement or discernible risk factors.

POSSIBLE PRECIPITATING EVENT: Lynne Woodley had placed a Houston Chronicle classified ad earlier that week offering a piano for sale for $2,250. The day before the crime a potential buyer—identifying himself as Shelby from Pasadena, age 16—visited the home. It’s unclear which members of the Woodley family met the potential buyer during this visit, and no physical description of Shelby or composite drawing has ever appeared in the media.


6:45pm Shelby telephones; he says he has decided to purchase the piano and will stop by later that evening to complete the transaction

7:45pm Lynne Woodley leaves home to fetch her daughter Rebekka from swim practice

8:00pm A neighbor spots Barry Woodley outside working on his lawn sprinkler

8:20pm Jeremy and his swim teammate David McGlynn conclude a banal phone conversation; nothing at chez Woodley seems amiss

8:25-8:30pm The window of opportunity for the assailant(s)’s arrival; detectives believe the crime took approximately 10 minutes to complete

8:40pm Lynne Woodley drops off a carpooler on her way home from swim practice

8:45 Lynne Woodley arrives home to find her husband and sons murdered; she runs screaming into the street


• All three victims have been lined up on cushions on the living room floor and shot repeatedly in the head; articles imply (but do not definitively state) the cushions were stripped from the Woodley sofa

• Jeremy and Greg Woodley have been tethered together at the ankles by a nylon strap; the origin of the strap has never been disclosed

• Nothing is missing from the home—not even the piano—and the residence has not been ransacked

• A note is found at the scene with the date written in Barry Woodley’s handwriting; detectives believe he was preparing a bill of sale for the piano when the assailant(s) attacked

• No one in the neighborhood heard gunshots, but two men in a white sedan were spotted in the area around the time of the crime; these men have never been identified and their connection, if any, to the crime is unknown

• The existence of forensic evidence—including fingerprints, fibers and DNA—has never been publicized

• Since no spent shells were ejected investigators believe the weapon utilized was likely a revolver

• Shelby has never been identified

“It looks like they were killed one, two, three, just like that. It looks like a professional hit. There was no forced entry into the home. There was no sign at all of any ransacking and there are no indications that anything is missing.” Harris County Sheriff’s Sergeant Skip Oliver, Victoria Advocate, September 28th, 1991


• None of the victims exhibited defensive wounds

• All three Woodleys were shot with .22 caliber bullets, but law enforcement has not revealed whether they were slain with a single gun or multiple weapons

• All three were shot in the back of the head execution-style

• The victims were overkilled: Barry was shot six times, Greg three times, and Jeremy four times

• According to David McGlynn’s book blood spatter analysis revealed Greg had been shot first, then Jeremy, then Barry


“None of them had any enemies. Everybody loved them.” Gregory Woodley’s fiancée Nathalie Monceau, Houston Chronicle, September 29th, 1991

The Woodley home today

The Woodley home today


Cypress is virtually crime-free, but the Woodley slayings aren’t the community’s only unsolved family murder: four members of the Sun family were found similarly slain—shot in the head execution-style—on January 30th, 2014. It’s extremely unlikely the crimes are linked—recent immigrants tend to be targeted by fellow members of the immigrant community—but I found the coincidence unusual.

In 1981 the population of Richland, Georgia was 2,000 souls . . . and at least one maniac.

WIREHANGERSTANYANIXTanya Noelle Nix was the first to go missing.

On June 18th she scooted off for a quick moped ride after leaving church.
Approximately an hour later, perturbed by her failure to return,
Tanya’s family set off in search of her;
they located her motorbike a mile away,
abandoned on a country road—the gas tank was empty. Tanya, age 14, was nowhere to be found.

Although Tanya’s family immediately contacted authorities
the Richland Police Department declined to investigate—as was standard at the time,
officers assured Tanya’s loved ones she’d run away.
The Nix family knew something dire had transpired—Tanya was happy at home and hadn’t taken any belongings—but authorities were adamant no crime had been committed
and the Nixes had no choice but to search for Tanya on their own.

“The law enforcement officials said she ran away. I knew she didn’t run away, but they wouldn’t believe it. It was like she had vanished in thin air. This is something you see on television in Atlanta, Chicago or New York. We don’t have but about 2,000 people here. You think it couldn’t happen here, but I think [the abductor] is someone right here in the county—someone very sick.” Tanya’s father Grady Nix, UPI, December 28th, 1981

Four months after Tanya’s disappearance
firemen were called to extinguish a blaze in a rural shack three miles south of town;
amid the rubble lay a charred corpse bound with wire hangers.
Although the state of the remains precluded a determination of cause of death a wire ligature was wrapped around the corpse’s neck, indicating probable strangulation.
The body was that of a teenaged girl but the remains weren’t Tanya’s—with the aid of a spinal surgical pin and a melted class ring detectives were able to identify the decedent as Valerie Marie Sellers, age 17.

Although Valerie lived in the nearby town of Blakely she’d last been seen near her boyfriend’s house in Richland.
He was out hunting at the time, so Valerie left a note indicating she’d stopped by;
she was last spotted walking down a country road in the rain, presumably heading home.

The Nix family’s relief when Tanya was ruled out as match for the charred remains would prove short-lived:
two months later, on December 26th, a deer hunter in deep woods three miles north of town discovered another body.
Almost completely skeletonized, the corpse had been trussed to several small trees with thin metal wire,
the hands positioned and bound together as if resting in a coffin.
One of the bony fingers sported a small gold ring with a diamond chip.
It had been a Christmas gift—six months after taking off for a quick moped ride Tanya Nix had at last been found.


The similarities in Tanya and Valerie’s autopsy findings were extensive.
The state of both girls’ remains prevented the medical examiner from detecting evidence of sexual assault or a fixed cause of death,
but like Valerie, a wire garrote around Tanya’s neck indicated she’d likely been strangled.
Although local law enforcement was loath to proclaim the crimes linked the similitude between the girls’ murders was undeniable,
and the townsfolk of Richland quaked in terror.
Hospitality is a hallmark of small-town life, but locals began to look askance at strangers and longtime friends alike.

“Everybody in this town lives with fear day in and day out. I can’t leave my house without calling my mother. I’ve got a 15 month-old child and when I take her out of the car I’ve got her on one hip and a gun in my other hand.” Local resident Debra Perryman, Rome News Tribune, June 11th, 1982


Richland residents took measures to keep their children safe—curtailing outside activities and traveling in pairs—but vigilance failed to prevent another attack.
On March 28th, 1982—three months after the discovery of Tanya’s remains—7 year-old Laticia (sometimes spelled Latacia) Reddick was awakened at 3am.
Someone was crawling over her, and it wasn’t her sister Wanda Faye with whom she shared a bed.
A stranger sporting a large afro had broken into the Reddick home intent on abducting Wanda, age 16;
in the darkness Laticia couldn’t make out the intruder’s face—only his size, which was formidable.

Wanda Faye Reddick

Wanda Faye Reddick

When he reached Wanda the faceless stranger grabbed her by the throat and swung her off the bed;
her neck compressed, her screams were reduced to gurgles.
The assailant then walked out of the bedroom and out the Reddick front door,
still clutching his prey by the throat.
Laticia ran to wake her mother but the family’s search was momentarily delayed—the lights in the house didn’t work.
All the sockets were empty;
after gaining entry via an unlocked window the abductor had entered every room in the home and removed every single lightbulb.

The law enforcement response was swift;
more than 200 searchers scoured the local woodlands but no clues or evidence could be located and no trace of Wanda Faye could be found.
Due to jurisdictional issues a task force comprised of detectives from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Sheriffs’ Offices of Stewart and Webster counties was established,
but days passed and Wanda Faye remained missing.
“I just want her back—I just hope ain’t nobody killed her,” Wanda’s mother Rushie Reddick told a reporter from the UPI.


Five days after her abduction a rural mail carrier spotted Wanda Faye’s body face down in a secluded creek,
an area which had previously been searched.
The state of her remains indicated she’d been submerged shortly after being kidnapped,
leading investigators to surmise her corpse,
clad only in a tee-shirt, had only recently surfaced due to decomposition.

Wanda’s post mortem findings differed significantly from those of Tanya and Valerie.
Wanda had been wearing a tee-shirt and grey sweatpants when kidnapped, and her sweatpants had been repurposed as bindings—no wire had been utilized in her murder.
Her cause of death was dissimilar as well:
facial bruising indicated she’d been beaten,
and the back of her skull bore a gaping wound from a hatchet or axe.
Authorities have never announced whether Wanda was sexually assaulted,
and the current existence of physical evidence in all three murders is unknown.


Although there were some similarities in the crimes—all three victims were teenaged girls abducted, bound and murdered—a connection between Wanda’s death and the two previous slayings was far from clear-cut.
In the days before DNA linking crimes was a more difficult proposition—it was months before authorities admitted the first two murders were almost certainly related—and investigators tended to err on the side of caution.
Citing the differing causes of death and racial disparity—Wanda was black and Valerie and Tanya white—officials deemed Wanda Faye’s murder unconnected to the preceding crimes.

On the streets of Richland, however, most residents disagreed with this assessment.
Noting Wanda Faye’s relatively light complexion and Valerie and Tanya’s olive skin and dark hair
local Methodist minister Harold Brunson opined the disparities were inconsequential—common sense and the law of averages dictated the crimes were linked.
“I just don’t believe there are that many pathological killers walking the streets of a small community like this,” he told a journalist from the Sarasota Herald Tribune.


Within a span of twelve months three teenage girls had been murdered;
the community was in an uproar, with guns and home security devices flying from hardware store shelves.
As was de rigueur for the 1980s, many Richland residents were certain the crimes must be the work of Satanists—no god-fearing human could possibly be so depraved, townsfolk reasoned.
Investigators dutifully scrutinized all aspects of the crime for ritual trappings but no connection to lunar cycles or fingerprints of the dark lord could be found—this failed to assuage the populace, however, and the town rumor mill kicked into overdrive.

“In the last three cases one girl was found three miles north of Richland, another was found three miles to the west, and another three miles to the south. Folks think that if this is all connected another person may be found three miles to the east. I have a 16 year-old sister who was friends with Tanya Nix—she’s petrified. My mother just went to Columbus and bought a German Shepard.” Local teen Jack Keller, Rome News Tribune, April 5th, 1982


Richland was a town in turmoil;
residents were heavily armed and jumping at shadows—an accidental or mistaken-identity shooting seemed inevitable.
Hoping to hasten the investigation Richland mayor Adolph McClendon offered a reward of $650 to spur informants;
Georgia governor George Busbee later added $1000 to the fund.
(Those numbers aren’t typos, by the way—a buck went a lot further in days of yore, particularly in the Deep South.)

Weeks passed and the investigation remained at an impasse; local officials were feeling the heat.
Funeral director T.V. Williams gave voice to the community’s frustration:
“[The unsolved crimes] got everybody afraid and in a town this small I don’t see why we can’t find the fellow,” he told a reporter from the Greenwood Index-Journal.
“It’s got to be somebody from around here; how else would he know about the location of the creek?”


In a bid to squelch media attention local authorities sought and received a gag order covering all aspects of the murders—the aptly named Judge Blanks of the Southwestern Judicial Circuit issued a blanket decree applicable to all public officials,
even those not involved in the investigation.
When an Associated Press journalist asked when the ban would be lifted District Attorney John Parks replied, “Whenever [the judge] feels like lifting it.”
(In the 1980s a dollar went a lot further but the First Amendment, not so much.)

Marcellus McCluster today

Marcellus McCluster today

In the nearly four decades since the murders
there has been only one named suspect:
local pulpwood worker Marcellus McCluster,
in his early 20s
at the time of the crimes—despite law enforcement’s public avowal Wanda was slain by a different assailant he is a person of interest in all three murders.
Although details of his conviction are scanty,
ten months after Wanda’s abduction
McCluster was arrested for
and subsequently pleaded guilty to
the murder of Major White,
a 56-year old man described in some news accounts as a “cripple.”
(In the 1980s a single dollar would get you to the moon and back and political correctness was for communists.)

A resident of the nearby town of Lumpkin,
Major White was last seen on January 4th, 1983
en route to the bus station;
the following day an off-duty police officer discovered his body on an old logging road—he’d been blasted three times in the back and once in the face with a shotgun.
Despite the obvious differences—the motive was robbery—Major White’s murder shared a few similarities with the Richland slayings:
like Tanya Nix, Major White had been tied to a tree,
though he was bound with rope, not wire—and like Valerie Sellers he’d been set on fire.
And McCluster was also the prime suspect in another crime which in many respects bridges the gap between the slaying of Major White and the Richland murders.

On April 29th, 1982—a mere three weeks after Wanda Faye’s abduction—20-year old Private Rene Dawn Blackmore borrowed a friend’s motorcycle for a quick jaunt and disappeared.
Stationed at Fort Benning in Cusseta,
30 miles outside of Richland,
Rene was known to be a dedicated soldier with no history of misbehavior.
Yet despite her history of good conduct the Army brass failed to notify the Blackmore family of her disappearance; Rene was listed as a deserter and no search or investigation undertaken—even when her purse and sweater were found discarded on a country road several weeks later.


On June 28th, two months after her disappearance, Rene’s skeletal remains were discovered by a hiker;
she’d been killed with a single shotgun blast—due to decomposition a determination of sexual assault was impossible.
It’s unclear how McCluster became a suspect in Rene’s murder—he may simply have been a convenient scapegoat—but I can see how in some ways her slaying seems to provide a nexus between the Richland slayings and Major White.
Like the male victim Rene was killed with a shotgun, and as a young woman she shared a victimology profile with the murdered girls—and like Tanya Nix she’d disappeared while riding a motorbike.
McCluster certainly fits Laticia Reddick’s description of Wanda’s abductor—he’s 6’4” and currently weighs in at a whopping 380lbs.

As of 2016 McCluster remains in Georgia State Prison serving a life sentence for Major White’s murder;
he’s never spoken to the media about his status as a named suspect,
and the current status of the investigation into the deaths of all four female victims—Tanya, Valerie, Wanda and Rene—remains unknown.

Although I have no idea what type of evidence the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is holding back,
I’m underwhelmed by the facts and circumstances
tying McCluster to Rene’s murder and the Richland (semi) serial slayings.
While it’s certainly possible he’s guilty of all four murders
without a confession or a DNA link publically branding him a suspect seems a bit premature.
I can’t help but wonder if authorities named him simply to mollify the hoi polloi;
I’m sure the townsfolk of Richland sleep easier believing their local maniac is behind bars.

You think this image is scary?  Imagine if Joan Crawford had an afro.

You think this image is scary? Imagine if Joan Crawford had an afro.

The good folk of Richland may be sleeping easier, but I certainly am not.
The creepy little details of these murders—the gurgles and the posed, skeletonized hands—have haunted me for weeks.
At least I don’t have to worry about someone breaking into my home in the middle of the night
and unscrewing my lightbulbs—I always sleep with the lights on, so every bulb in my apartment is scorching hot.
As long as the bushy-haired stranger doesn’t bring along a pair of oven mitts I’ll be safe.

Royal Russell Long: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Royal Russell Long: Something Wicked This Way Comes

What scares you most: the idea that there’s been one man been moving among these communities stalking young girls for the last 40 years? Or that there’s multiple serial killers who’ve come and gone in this area, and they might come again?
—-Skip Hollandsworth on the Texas Killing Fields

The Virginia Beach serial killer needs a nom de guerre; may I humbly suggest the Virginia Wo(o)lf? (one + two + three)
Edward Harold Bell has confessed to the Texas Killing Fields slayings, but to me he’ll always be the lily-waver who shot Matthew Mcconaughey on Unsolved Mysteries
Luck was always on the Freeway Phantom‘s side
Skip Hollandsworth on the Servant Girl Annihilator (one + two)
Royal Russell Long always denied being a serial killer, but if over-accessorizing was a crime he would’ve been riding the lightning courtesy of old sparky (one + two + three + video)

While Sam McClain hunted deer in the forest a different kind of hunter targeted his home.

The murder house today

The murder house today

[Note: unless otherwise attributed all quotes are courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.]

2:10pm, August 7th, 1988. At the conclusion of his overnight hunting trip twenty-four year old Sam McClain returned to the East Houston rambler he shared with his common-law wife and toddler son.
Upon his arrival he found the front door closed but unlocked;
the stereo was on, the air-conditioner hummed but otherwise the home was silent.
Sam McClain stepped across the threshold believing himself to be a husband and father—he would soon learn he was neither.
On the living room floor lay the body of his twenty-four year old wife Linda Flora;
clad in a bloodied white sundress, she’d been repeatedly stabbed before collapsing atop a pile of baby toys.
The couple’s thirteen month old child, Sammy McClain Jr., was missing.

“As soon as I saw what happened I called the police and got out of there. It just don’t seem real.” Sam McClain, August 8th, 1988

Linda Flora and Baby Sam

Linda Flora and Baby Sam

Investigators from the Houston Police Department converged upon the couple’s Coulson Street residence;
aside from Baby Sam nothing was missing from the home.
Fearing the child had been abducted
the Houston Police Department contacted the FBI,
an agency better equipped to launch a comprehensive search for the missing toddler.
After the crime scene was processed a handful of investigators stayed behind to wait for federal agents to arrive.

“There was no forced entry into the house. There’s no indication of drugs being involved. The house was full of TV sets and guns. Nothing was taken, no signs of ransacking. Her purse was there and it had cash in it and they left it.” Houston Police Sergeant Waymon Allen, October 21st, 1988

While in the kitchen awaiting the FBI an errant detail caught the eye of Patrolman Frank Costa—a loaf of bread had been placed on top of the refrigerator.
At his own home the officer’s wife stored bread in the freezer,
and it occurred to him
that perhaps the loaf had once been in the freezer but was later removed to make room for something else.
Six hours after the discovery of Linda Flora’s body Patrolman Costa swung open the freezer door:
inside lay the body of Sammy McClain Jr.
Curled into a fetal position, Baby Sam had frozen solid—his nude corpse had to be pried from his icy tomb.
Four days after taking his first steps Sammy McClain Jr. was dead.
Even seasoned lawmen were aghast.

“I was standing about six feet away when he found the baby. What he (Patrolman Costa) said after finding the baby can’t be printed.” Houston Police Department Sergeant Jerry Welch, August 9th, 1988

Autopsies revealed an excess of violence had been inflicted upon mother and child.
Linda’s throat had been slashed and she’d been stabbed eleven times in the neck, chest, and abdomen.
Murdering her once was insufficient;
approximately an hour after her death—as her blood began to settle—the assailant returned and stabbed her an additional three times.
Linda’s body exhibited no signs of sexual assault and there was no indication the young mother had struggled with her attacker.

“All we know is that this was a crime of great rage. The fact that [the victim] was stabbed after death would indicate a tremendous amount of anger.” Sergeant Waymon Allen, October 21st, 1988

Baby Sam had died from blunt force head trauma and his nonfatal wounds were legion.
The toddler had been stabbed in the buttocks—six times in the right and three times in the left.
The killer also inflicted twelve stab wounds each
to the soles of his tiny feet—unexpectedly symmetrical behavior from an assailant blinded by rage.
The wounds—thirty-three in number—were shallow,
measuring from 1/16- to 1/4-inch deep and from 3/8- to 1/2-inch long.
Baby Sam also exhibited “numerous faint contusions of the penis.”
The conclusion was inescapable: the toddler had been tortured.

“It’s the kind of case you think about when you go home and go to bed at night.” Houston Police Sergeant Doug Bacon, October 21st, 1988

Sam McClain Sr. and Linda Annette Flora met in a 10th grade biology class at Houston’s North Shore High School.
The early years of their courtship featured an occasional rough patch but the birth of Baby Sam and the responsibilities of parenthood seemed to stabilize their relationship.
Money was tight—Sam Sr. was a machinist and Linda stocked shelves at a nearby Walmart—rendering theft or home invasion unlikely precipitating factors for murder.
The couple had close family ties and both were well-liked by friends and neighbors;
investigators were never able to identify any known enemies or viable motives for the crime.

“They were quiet. I never heard them fight and don’t think they had any serious problems.” Neighbor who asked to remain unnamed, August 9th, 1988

The crime scene provided detectives with few clues.
On the day of the murders Sam Sr. had departed for his hunting trip at 3pm,
and at approximately 8pm Linda had been spotted on the front porch by a neighbor.
The coroner determined the slayings had occurred sometime between 10pm and midnight—no one in the area had noticed anything unusual,
and the series of events that transpired in the home after the 8pm sighting remain unknown.

“They [the FBI] have given us some ideas but there is so little information available to go on, it’s difficult.” Sergeant Jerry Welch, August 11th, 1988

The means by which the assailant(s) entered the house is unclear—the killer(s) may have been invited inside
or surreptitiously crept in through an unlocked door.
Mother and son had been stabbed with different knives, neither of which was found at the scene;
and the object used to bludgeon Baby Sam has never been identified.
Blood spatter analysis revealed Baby Sam had been tortured on his parents’ bed;
since Linda was not bound investigators believe she was likely slain first.

“There was a revolver lying on top of a dresser about six or eight feet from where Linda’s body was; she’s not going to stand by while somebody tortures her baby and not do anything. She would have used that gun.” Sergeant Waymon Allen, October 21st, 1988

At the time of the crime Sam Sr. had been hunting with his fifteen-year old brother Erich on a deer lease in Trinity County, a ninety-minute drive from Houston.
The spouses of murder victims are suspects by default,
but his brother provided an alibi and Sam passed a six-hour polygraph exam.
Visibly stricken, the grieving widower called investigators on a weekly basis to inquire about the case’s progress.
He was soon cleared from suspicion.

“If the police were suspicious of me I didn’t care. [Linda and Baby Sam’s] deaths were such a giant idea. It was so big you couldn’t conceive of it all at once in your mind. I’d go home and pick a little piece of it to think about.” Sam McClain Sr., Vanity Fair, August 1991


I first read about the McClain-Flora slayings years ago in Vanity Fair,
and despite the passage of time the details of the crime remain etched in my brain.
I just can’t conjure a rational motive for Baby Sam’s torture—killing victims for financial or sexual reasons is evil, but at least I can understand the covetousness that spurs the crime;
that someone would invest time and effort to make dozens of teeny stab wounds on a thirteen-month old’s feet is simply inconceivable. How is it possible a killer so clearly deranged has never been apprehended?

“[Baby Sam] would smile at anything. You see him there, and then what happened… You wonder how anybody could…” Sam McClain Sr., Vanity Fair, August 1991

Baby Sam wasn’t gagged, and his howls of pain must’ve been ear-shattering.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes listening to crying children—babies are usually killed because they won’t stop  crying.
So what kind of maniac could possibly enjoy the nerve-jangling screams of a toddler in pain?
Helpful hint: if you’re a deviant who delights in the shrieks of children there are ways to get auditory thrills
without resorting to murder—attendance at a Pixar movie matinee should suffice.

“You wouldn’t think somebody would do this, but they did it here, and they can do it to you.” Sam McClain Sr., August 9th, 1988

It’s been almost thirty years since Linda and Baby Sam were slain, and for three decades a fiend for whom the screams of babies are like music has walked among us.
There’s a good chance the killer is still out there, so if you have young children please remain vigilant—any strangers who attempt the “this little piggy” pantomime are suspect.
And if you take your toddler to Chuck E. Cheese
and notice anyone who seems to be enjoying the shrieks of children just a little too much
I suggest you choose a table on the other side of the room.