Goodnight, Irene

We’ve heard a lot about priests and their, um, wrongdoings as of late. This particular crime occurred decades before this type of media reached the public and it went far beyond molestation, or even rape The young, bookwormish priest who committed a murder most foul certainly didn’t appear to be a cold-blooded lust killer. Then again it’s often the last person you suspect who does the damnable deed. In this case, Father John Feit , a white 27-year-old man, committed a sexually fueled murder and got away with it for an incredible fifty-five years. The now 83-year-old grandfather is in jail awaiting trial. He enjoyed 55 more years of life on earth than his pretty victim.  At his advanced age, it’s quite possible that if Feit is convicted and sent to prison he may get a suspended sentence, or only serve a few, short years before dying. Sometimes there is no justice.

Irene Garza
Irene Garza was a pretty 25-year-old second grade teacher in 1960. She was also a former irenebeauty queen. It was easy to see why she was crowned a beauty queen. Garza had pretty brown eyes, porcelain skin, thick, curly, dark hair and a winning smile. She resembled a movie star. Needless to say, she captured many hearts in her small town and she had her pick of the best suitors. However Garza was a decent, churchgoing girl with a pristine reputation who was respected by everyone in her community.

Garza was the first in her family to go to college. After graduation, she returned to do what she had set out to do: teach disadvantaged children in McAllen. She taught second grade at a school south of the railroad tracks.

An old, charming letter she wrote to a friend was discovered and it offered a glimpse into this simple girl’s life: “I’ve made quite a few friends this year and am much happier than I’ve ever been.” She reported she had been dating two men but was coy with her friend about one of them: “I won’t mention his name, but we double-dated the last time you were here.” The other, she wrote without much enthusiasm, was an “Anglo boy—not real handsome, but cute and religious (which is important).” She noted that her ex-boyfriend sent her several cards and a box of candy on Valentine’s Day. “I can’t lie—I think of him often and wonder if I’ll ever get over him (between you and me and the four walls). I pray constantly that if it be God’s will, I will get over him eventually.”

feltThe week before Easter had been unusually hot along the Texas-Mexico border. With highs already touching the 90s, residents of the valley surrounding McAllen were predicting a long, dismal summer. Throughout the week, young adults raised in the area were streaming back to McAllen from college or new jobs. The Easter vacation was a time to see old friends, maybe even to rekindle or start a love affair. The buzz among some young men was that Irene Garza was no longer seeing Sonny Martinez. This was big news. The young men became young hopefuls, vying for her attention. Irene, as one unrequited suitor wrote, “was the closest thing to an angel” he’d ever met. “So bright, so beautiful, such a sweetheart, such a good heart.”

The Disappearance
On that fateful day in April 1960 Garza ironically, attended Sacred Heart Church in the Rio Grande Valley to offer her confession to Father Felt. It was the last time anyone other than Felt saw Garza alive. At first police believed Garza had probably run off with a secret lover. Perhaps they saw that type of scenario often in other cases but their line of questioning certainly wouldn’t have logically led them to that conclusion. Garza was a pious, church-going girl who still lived with her parents.

irene undiesThe Murder
Her body was eventually found in a nearby canal, beaten and showing signs of an attempted rape. The cause of death was suffocation. The Friday following Good Friday, April 1960, in McAllen, Texas. police were obliged to visit the home of Josephina and Nick Garza’s home. They delivered the worst news the couple would ever hear, that they’d finally found their beautiful daughter – dead. Josephina collapsed to her knees and wailed a sound so mournful that it became the stuff of legend in this border town. “They said it was this long, awful moan from deep inside her body — almost like the howl of a wolf…They said it was like nothing they had ever heard or would ever hear again.”

The family’s parish priest, Joseph O’Brien, comforted Josephina by telling her that Garza died in a state of grace. After all, she was last seen alive on her way to confession. The fact was, though, O’Brien had no idea if Irene ever gave her confession to Feit. O’Brien also didn’t tell the Garzas that he was confident he knew who had killed their daughter.  Incredibly it was O’Brien who took Feit’s confession but wasn’t inclined to pursue the murder with police. A priest by the name of Father Dale Tacheny believed that the pastor worked in concert with McAllen police to cover up Feit’s involvement in the murder.

Police named Feit as the prime suspect after they discovered a slide projector he purchased a few months before located just a few feet from the spot where Garza was dragged to the canal. They suspected the murderer had used the clunky machine, which had a long cord, to sink Garza’s body.

priestPolice found a nearly new slide projector a few feet from the spot where the young woman’s body had been dragged into the canal. After a headline story in the McAllen paper about the projector, area newspapers never mentioned this clue again. Police sought the owner of the projector and reported this to the media. Eight days after Irene’s body was found, they received this note: “This viewer belongs to Fr. John Feit (Order of Mary Immaculate), of San Juan, Texas.  It was purchased in Port Isabel, Texas, in July, 1959, at Freddies Professional Pharmacy. Terms — cash. Price — I don’t remember. April 29, 1960.”

Just as condemning, Feit was indicted in the attempted sexual assault of another woman at a nearby Catholic church. He pleaded no contest and was ordered to pay a $500 fine. The priest’s supervisors, the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Order of Mary irene hatImmaculate, shipped him off for “rehabilitation” at a series of monasteries in Texas, Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico. This was commonplace in the Catholic church when errant priests were discovered. Not surprisingly Feit left the priesthood 10 years later. He married a young AT&T worker he met at a church in Albuquerque. In the late 1970s, Feit, his wife and three children moved to the Arcadia district of Phoenix, where the family attended the nearby St. Theresa church.

Felt lived his life in Arcadia as though he was a model citizen. No one would have guessed that the amicable, quiet man was a murderer. For much of the time he was in Arcadia, he led charitable programs for the Phoenix chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and he helped to organize the JustFaith, an educational program designed to help Catholics use their beliefs in social justice issues.

mugshotBut in McAllen, Texas, after all the years that had passed. However due to the continued pressure from Garza’s family and friends, the authorities weren’t completely inactive in the case. Since 2014  Feit was interviewed by the police and even faced a grand jury probe in 2004, where it was decided there was insufficient evidence to have him charged. New evidence was collected which included testimony from two of Feit’s closest associates, who both stated the ex-priest confessed to them that he killed Irene Garza. Incredibly, neither of the associates turned him in. And the district attorney in south Texas didn’t want to re-try the case.

feitBefore his arrest, Feit made a direct statement to the press: “I did not kill Irene Garza.” He also stated, “I am not the man who killed Irene Garza.” There may be some truth to the latter. The man he was 56 years ago may indeed be long gone, and somehow a more respectable, or at least safer, man emerged to take his place. When asked by a reporter if he should be considered a danger to the community, he yelled: “Look at my record for the last 45 years!” That was an interesting number. He couldn’t bring himself to say the last 83 years because that would have been a lie. Irene Garza’s body was thrown in a McAllen canal on Easter Sunday, 1960, forty-five years and two months ago.

Booked into the Hidalgo County Jail in South Texas, he appeared frail and used a walker. He underwent a medical evaluation to see if he was fit to stand trial and was housed in the infirmary. Naturally Feit fought extradition to Texas, and lost.McAllen Texas awaits the fate of John Feit and the end of its 55-year quest for justice.

Garza has a Facebook account entitled Justice for Garza.


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McStay Family didn’t Stay Safe in their own Home

The notorious case of the McStay Family is well-known. A couple and their two children hurriedly packed up and left their California home and vanished. Eighteen months later, their remains were found in a desert near their previous home. For four years, investigators asked themselves, who wanted the entire McStay family dead and why? It took years of following leads and a closer look at DNA that was discovered at the time of the disappearances for detectives to connect the dots and finally make an arrest. **Spoiler alert:  This is one of those frustrating homicides where the murder trial has been delayed several times and is still not underway.**

mcstayFallbrook – California – 2011 – Eggs were left on the countertop of the McStay home. Pets were left alone and unattended. The family, including Joseph and Summer McStay and their little boys, Gianni and Joey Jr., had packed up and disappeared, on the run it seemed from people or a situation unknown. No one acquainted with the quiet, average family-next-door ever saw them alive again. Eighteen months later their remains were found in shallow graves and a desert and identified through dental records.

Police discovered that in January 2010 someone used the family computer to search for information about travelling to Mexico. This person also looked for information about obtaining passports for the two little boys. By February 4, 2010, Joseph stopped answering his cell phone according to family members. Summer spoke with her sister for the last time around 5:00 p.m.

mcstay-headerBy March, officials released posters of the McStay family and asked Mexican authorities to search airports, bus and train stations. The search revealed no information about the McStays. The situation looked grim. Joseph’s brother Michael allowed the media to tour the McStay family home for some reason. Empty rooms without furniture were the result of re-decorating the home, not the family’s abandonment. Just as bizarre as the mysterious killings is the unanswered question: why would the entire family suddenly flee from their home and attempt to cross the Mexican border? Who was so dangerous to the family that this move was necessary and why didn’t the McStays simply go to the police?

walshBy June 2010, John Walsh, also the grieving parent of a murdered child, featured the family on America’s Most Wanted with a plea for any information that could lead to the killer and to solving the mystery of the family’s flee from their Fallbrook home. Three years later, San Diego authorities announced that the McStay family voluntarily left their home and crossed the border into Mexico. This statement was based on video surveillance of a family of four crossing the Mexican border however there were people associated with the McStays who had their doubts.

At first it was believed that the family walked into Tijuana, Mexico four days after the disappearance. Convinced that the family were in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection video, investigators stated the video didn’t show the family seeking help and there were no signs of forced entry at the McStay home in Fallbrook, about 70 miles north of the border, or in their SUV parked near the border. Investigators admitted they had no idea why the McStays chose to leave their home – a foreshadowing of things to come. They turned the case over to the FBI.

Charles Merritt
Within four years of the McStays’ disappearance, Charles Merritt, Joseph’s business partner was finally arrested on suspicion of first degree murder in the deaths of all the charleschasemerrittfamily members. Detectives analyzed the family’s vehicle and collected DNA swabs. When detectives looked at this DNA evidence again in February 2014, criminalists matched the DNA collected from the Trooper to Merritt. Merritt was interviewed by SDSO investigators during the same time that the evidence was collected and on Feb. 17, 2010, he told investigators he had last been in the Trooper with Joseph McStay six weeks before the family vanished. Merritt claimed he sat in the front seat and had never driven the Trooper.

A detective stated that, “Merritt made several statements about Joseph in the past tense, including “Joseph was,”. This prompted investigators to “believe Merritt knew Joseph and the family were deceased.” That’s quite likely. Killers often slip up and speak in the past tense about their victims, including during an interrogation when the victims haven’t been found. It seems to be an unconscious mistake. In later interviews, Merritt told detectives he did not like Summer McStay. He did not like another business partner he and Joseph had been working with and said, “If I were ever going to commit murder, it would be with him,” referring to harming the other business partner. That’s not at all incriminating.

When detectives spoke with the business partner, he told detectives Joseph loaned Merritt $30,000 to pay a gambling debt and that Joseph planned to fire Merritt.The men were partners in Joseph’s business, Earth Inspired Products (EIP), a water fountain design and distribution company. Merritt was hired as a designer and builder of the custom fountains. After problems developed between Merritt and Joseph, Merritt was determined to avoid paying Joseph the $30,000.00 loan he owed his boss and he was determined not to be let go from EIP.

The Crime
chase-merrittAlthough for years it was believed that the family had simply up and left their own home, the details a family friend reported to investigators led them to believe that there was probable cause to believe the McStay family was actually murdered inside their Fallbrook home. One of the clues that the family was killed inside their home included that the cover missing from a futon was used to wrap Joseph’s body and was found at the desert gravesite. A possible paint stain was found on Summer’s bra at the gravesite, too, that may have dripped onto her as she lay on her side at the crime scene. A sledgehammer was found nearby and the autopsy revealed that the 4-year-old McStay boy was struck seven times on the head. Joseph McStay was found with a cutoff extension cord wrapped around the neck, and the rest of the body wrapped in a white towel, all of it secured by a tie-down strap. Only a person without conscience could have committed such a cruelty.

“Based on my training and experience, criminals who commit murder will typically attempt to clean the crime scene,” the detective says in the search warrants.“Murder committed by blunt force trauma typically creates a large amount of blood stain splatter and cast off that could be on the ceiling of a room. One of the attempted ways to clean a scene is to paint over the blood stains, though a correct forensic processing of the crime scene would still show the blood stain, the blood stain would not be visible to the naked eye. The blood stain could also be detected by forensic experts years after it was painted over.”

Merritt pleaded not guilty to the crime. As of September 2015, the trial was Stayed (pun) after Merritt’s defense lawyers informed a judge that they were requesting funds for expert witnesses. A shame Merritt couldn’t have used the $30,000.00 he “borrowed” from McStay. Merritt knew how to work the legal system. To date, Merritt has changed lawyers five times. The case hasn’t gone to trial and the country awaits the outcome of the McStay family murder trial.




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Frankie found an axe to Finish her Foul Husband

Yep, it’s going to be another bloody, old-fashioned axe murder, folks. I am obsessed with these because a killer with an axe has to be filled with rage and have a strong stomach. Oh, and psychotic sometimes comes to mind although so far I’ve blogged about non-psychotic people who have wielded a bloody axe. This one isn’t any different.

Frankie Stewart Silver lived in the 1800s. She was a good-looking 18-year-old “mighty frankie-drawinglikely little woman. She had fair skin, bright eyes and was counted very pretty. She had charms, I never saw a smarter little woman. She could card and spin her three yards of cotton a day on a big wheel.” Frankie married Charlie when she was 14. He was 15.

It would seem that Charlie and Frankie were the perfect couple when they settled down in their own little cabin in 1830. They welcomed a little girl into their lives, Nancy Silver. Frankie became obsessed with her daughter and devoted more time and attention to her than to Charlie. Eventually Charlie “drifted back into his old habits. …word spread … to Frankie about all the other women in Charlie’s active life away from home….Frankie didn’t have to spell it out for people. They could see it in the haggard lines of her face that she was being abused.”  

The mountain lifestyle of the 1830s was a sexist society. Sometimes a man murdered his wife and receive no punishment. Charlie was perhaps an unfortunate product of an unfortunate environment – a young man who may have manifested the worst of his time’s mountain mores. It was possible that he was abusive with his pretty, young wife, an argument that would later be used by the defense during Frankie’s trial.

She eventually held the frankie-silvers-imageambiguous distinction of becoming the first white woman hanged in North Carolina for murder. In 1833, her husband, 19-year-old Charles Silver, was the lucky recipient of her axe blade. After hacking her hapless hubby to death, Silver dismembered his body and buried it. Ick. Strong stomach, that woman.

The investigation into the whereabouts of Charles Silver uncovered a fireplace full of excessive oily ashes, a pooling of blood that had flowed through the cabin’s floor and blood splatters on inside walls of the cabin. Pieces of bone and flesh were also discovered in ashes poured in a hole near the spring. Evidence showed that Charles had been murdered and his body burned to hide the evidence.

Shortly after the murder, suspicion fell on Frankie, her mother Barbara Stuart and her brother Blackston Stuart. All three were arrested. Barbara and Blackston Stuart pled not guilty before the magistrate on the 17th day of January, 1832, and were released. Frankie stood trial for the murder.

On March 29, 1832 the jury retired to determine Frankie’s fate. They reported that they were deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal and asked to rehear certain witnesses. But before the witnesses were recalled, they were allowed to mingle and discuss the case. After rehearing the witnesses, the jury judged Frankie guilty in a unanimous vote. A lot of testimony was changed in the interim. Frankie never gave her testimony. In the early nineteenth century, women were not allowed to do so, and she never confided in her attorney or the judge concerning what really happened.

During the time between her sentencing and hanging, Frankie was broken out of jail by her family, who gained access to the prison through a basement story windows, and opened the doors leading to the prisoner’s, apartment using false keys. She was apprehended a few days later in Henderson county, and taken back to jail. She attempted to appear to be a male, wearing male clothing, and having her hair cut short. Her father and uncle were committed to jail as accessories to her escape.

grave-site-of-daughter-nancySome reports say that Frankie was hung from the neck until dead from the limb of a huge oak tree that stood on a hill above the courthouse in Morganton. Another report stated there was a scaffold. After the hanging, Frankie’s father wanted to bring his daughter’s body home and inter her in the family burial plot, but extreme heat and humidity in North Carolina sped 90-pound Frankie’s decomposition, forcing him to bury Frankie in an unmarked grave in Mitchell County. Can’t say that I blame him.

Family Account
Charlie was the only child of Jacob and Elizabeth Wilson Silver.  He was very strong, six feet tall, dark hair with black eyes and a fair complexion. Elizabeth died giving birth to him. His father Jacob remarried and Charlie had many half brothers and sisters.

Albert Silver, one of Charlie’s half-brothers, gave an interview in 1900 to the Morganton Herald. “[Charlie] was a favourite at all the parties for he could make merry by talking, laughing and playing musical instruments. I think he was the best fifer frankie-drawing-with-axethat I ever heard. ….It was Christmas, just his time for hunting. His wife…urged him to do cut enough wood to last all week. ….Being tired and sleepy after his labour of chopping, my brother lay down on the floor with his little girl in his arms, and went to sleep….Frankie picked up the axe from the door, where she had placed it for the purpose, and whacked his head off at a single blow. She intended to cut it clean off but miscalculated and either stood too close or too far back. The first lick did not kill him instantly for he sprang to his feet and cried, “God bless the child.” {Frankie} finished the job with a second blow.”…Frankie told Mother as he was away so long she did not care whether he ever came or not.”

The motive for the murder is unclear. The prosecution claimed that Frankie was a jealous wife seeking revenge. Theories asserted that she was an abused wife. There is no definitive evidence for either theory. Frankie never confessed nor did she discuss her motives. There is a theory that Frankie wanted to move west with her parents to join other family members, but Charles Silver refused to do so. There was speculation that frustration with Charles’ refusal was the motive for the murder.

How it was that Albert knew his half-brother’s final words is a mystery. Wayne Silver was a Silver family historian. He refused to believe that Charlie’s last words, God bless the child, were accurate. The picture below is of Jacob Silver, Charlie’s father.

jacob-silverWayne stated: “Charlie had been sent to get the Christmas liquor. On the way home he takes a nip….He takes another nip. That’s even better. He arrives home to a complaining wife and a screaming baby. Suddenly, Charlie is in a foul mood. Things turn ugly. He picks up his gun and shouts. ‘So help me Frankie – if you don’t shut up, I’m going to shoot the both of you!’ He probably didn’t mean it. But by this time Frankie has picked up the ax. ‘No!‘ She screams. ‘I won’t let you hurt me or my baby!‘ She swings the ax and Charlie is dead. I will never believe it was premeditated murder and few in my family have ever believed it. In fact, it was more of an accident than anything else.”

Insofar as the manner in which Frankie disposed of Charlie’s body, Wayne offered his opinion: “You’re 18 years old. You’ve just killed your husband. You’re scared. Would it not be normal to run to Momma? And would it not be the motherly thing for Barbara Stewart to say, “Yes, we’ll help you Frankie, but if you get into trouble, you must leave us out of it.”

Pop Culture
Frankie probably never guessed her story would become legendary, even working its way into 21 Century pop culture. In September 1963, author Perry Deane Young discovered letters and petitions to the governor which cast suspicion over the traditional story of a jealous wife seeking her revenge. Young spent the rest of his life determined to prove that Frankie Silver was unjustly hanged. At the height of the Nixon Watergate hearings, Sen. Sam Ervin wrote to Young, agreeing that Frankie should never have been hanged.

Young’s book, The Untold Story of Frankie Silver, reproduced the documents which allegedly proved Frankie’s innocence. These accounts are dubious with descendants of the Silver family who claim that “there were no documents to ever officially exist as this author suggests.”

balladA 2000 Film entitled  “The Ballad of Frankie Silverand re-released 2010 “The Ballad of Frankie Silver:(Special Edition) DVD was written, directed and produced by Theresa E. Phillips of Legacy Films Ltd. This film also had a theory of what happened in the death of Charlie Silver.

In a 2013 episode of the Investigation Discovery show Deadly Women, Frankie Stewart Silver appears. The episode was titled “Brides of Blood“.

A petition to have Frankie officially pardoned for the murder was formed unsuccessfully on April 9th, 2013.





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Loneliness a Driving Force in Sadism and Serial Murder?

Adolf Hitler once commented to his housekeeper “I am loneliest man in the world.” hitler-look-rightRichard Kuklinski, aka the Iceman, an assassin for the Italian Mafia, declared, “I am probably the loneliest person in the world.” Likewise, serial killers tell of lonely childhood and teen years, without friends and little family support.

Some are physically abused, others are neglected by their caregivers. Loneliness and rejection by peers is a major trait of all serial killers. Their early years deprive them of social skills that lead to forming friendships and healthy relationships. Many are rejected by their playmates or siblings, who already as children, detect something menacing or repelling in them. Isolated and lonely, these children develop and dwell on fantasies of power and revenge. Could this be a major factor behind sadism and the lust for murder?

Case Study # 1 – Jeffrey Dahmer
Dahmer was a strange young man. Quiet, a loner who didn’t instigate confrontations with his peers, and a decidedly ordinary-looking boy who attracted little attention, he seemed jeffrey-dahmeran unlikely candidate for committing serial murder. His yearbook picture probably nominated him as Least Likely to Kill Someone. No one seems to know what prompted Dahmer to sadistically murder, then commit necrophilic rape on his murder victims.

A significant act he committed was his attempt at creating human zombies. He lacked human companionship and was allegedly seeking the latter when he drilled holes and poured battery acid into victims’ heads. Forensic psychiatrists believe this was Dahmer’s attempt to create human companionship without social skills and emotional attachment. Had he been successful, he would also have had ultimate control over his victims, preventing them from abandoning him.

“The only motive I had was to control a person I found physically attractive and keep them with me as long as possible,” he admitted. Cannibalism was the ultimate attempt at possessing and keeping a human companion.

Case #2 – Theodore Bundy
Notorious poster boy for serial rape and murder, Bundy was known to re-visit murder sites where he’d dumped women’s corpses. Sometimes he lay down beside dead victims. Bundy also severed women’s heads and brought them home, applying makeup and talking to the lifeless heads. Bundy’s last interview, where he described his upbringing as coming from “a wonderful home, with two dedicated and loving parents, ….we regularly attended church…there was no physical abuse…” was a delusional lie.

tedBundy’s home life was a nightmare. The result of incest between his mother and his grandfather, Bundy was falsely told that his mother was his sister.  His grandfather was a tyrannical bully who swung cats around by the tail, and once threw his daughter over the stairs for “sleeping late.”

His need to hail from a perfect family was partly due to his narcissism and his loneliness. His own home couldn’t provide him with a haven he craved and the ultimate betrayal by his family was when he discovered his sister was actually his mother.

Case#3 – Charles Manson and The Family
I never had a childhood,” Manson declared in an interview. “I never said it was terrible. A child don’t know what terrible is. I never had a childhood.” In spite of that, Manson was lost and he spent a number of years wandering around Southern California, making himself known as a guru and gathering his own family. He was the head of his family and he led the cult to believe he was God, bringing about the Second Coming. He pronounced his name Man-Son – the Son of Man.

Charles-mansonbookingphotoUntil he created his family, Manson was often in jail, in trouble with the law and a loner. Needing companionship yet lacking the social skills to treat people as equals, and being a supreme narcissist, Manson created and controlled his own small community. Those that became a threat in his eyes were killed somewhere on the property and buried. Newborn infants were often left to fend for themselves within hours of their births in order to “toughen them up.” Naturally, the children died.

Unable to parent children, unable to love anyone, Manson abused, dominated and ultimately destroyed the family. Even when he was surrounded by followers, Manson remained alone. Rejection of any kind was a fatal mistake and led directly to the murders of Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas.

nilDennis Nilson
Nilson was a homosexual serial killer who dated then murdered and had necrophilic sex with 15 men. He kept their corpses in his apartment, arranging them in different poses and treating them as roommates. Occasionally he had sex with the decomposing cadavers. After his arrest, Nilson admitted he killed out of loneliness and a need for companionship. Like Dahmer, he ate parts of his victims.

Childhood Rejection
The problem with children who are outcasts and who spend a lot of time alone is that they have time to dwell on their hatred towards their peers and develop revenge fantasies, often involving violence. Eventually these fantasies become detailed and deadly. The child no longer distinguishes reality from fantasy and this results in psychopathic behaviour in the teen years or more often, during adulthood. Being abused or neglected, along with spending a great deal of time alone, is a dangerous cocktail for eventual murder.


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Making a Murderer – Guilty or Not?

Netflix has been streaming Steven Avery’s story since 2015. It is entitled Making a Murderer and is 10 episodes long. In case you aren’t familiar, Avery was convicted of a Steven_Avery_1985sexual assault in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and served 18 years, only to be freed after DNA proved he was innocent. That’s lousy.  The interesting codicil however is that in 2005, Avery did worse – he allegedly murdered photographer Teresa Halbach. He was again convicted, this time in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The case is under appeal as of January 2016. The public is torn between Avery’s possible innocence and possible guilt. I suspect this reaction stems from a number of reasons: that Avery has already been incarcerated for another crime he didn’t commit.; his low IQ could make him susceptible to agreeing with police officers that he committed a crime he didn’t commit; he already has a criminal record. Is it really possible that a person could be wrongly convicted twice? That would take quite a roll of the dice. But then again, nothing is entirely impossible within the justice system.

Criminal History
Avery was born in Manitowoc County. He has an IQ of 70, officially making him mentally handicapped. People who knew him stated he “barely functioned in school“. In 1982, Avery met single mother Lori Mathiesen, and they married in July 24 of that year. They had four children: Rachel, Jenny, and twins Steven and Will. In March 1981, at age 18, Avery was convicted of burglarizing a bar with a friend and sentenced to two years in prison. Avery served ten months in the Manitowoc County Jail, was placed on probation for five years, and was ordered to pay restitution. In 1982, at age 20, Avery and another man were convicted of animal cruelty for pouring gasoline and oil on Avery’s cat and throwing it into a fire. For this sick act, he was sentenced to prison for nine months.  Avery said  “I was young and stupid, and hanging out with the wrong people.” Well, sure hanging out with the wrong people does tend to lead to extreme animal cruelty in most people.

In 1985, Avery was charged with assaulting his cousin after he ran her off the road at gunpoint. The cousin had complained that Avery exposed himself when she drove past his house. Avery was sentenced to six years for endangering the safety of another person. According to Avery, the gun was not loaded, and he was trying to stop her from spreading false rumors about him. At every step Avery’s crimes were worsening.

 The Sexual Assault
On July 29, 1985, at approximately 3:50 p.m., Penny Ann Beernsten was out running along the Lake Michigan shoreline and was apprehended by an unknown man who forced her into a wooded area and sexually assaulted her. Based on a physical description of Beernsten’s attacker, police provided a photo array of nine men. Beernsten selected the photograph of Steven Avery, who was arrested the following day. At trial, Beernsten identified Avery as her attacker. A state forensic examiner testified that a hair recovered from a shirt of Avery’s was consistent with Beernsten’s hair.

30-making-a-murderer-netflix-steven-avery_w529_h529Avery presented 16 alibi witnesses, including the clerk of a store in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who recalled Avery, accompanied by his wife and five children, buying paint from the store.  In April of 2002, attorneys for the Wisconsin Innocence Project obtained a court order for DNA testing and using the FBI DNA database, it linked a hair to Gregory Allen, a convicted felon who bore a striking resemblance to Avery.  Allen was then serving a 60-year prison term for a sexual assault in Green Bay that occurred after the attack on Beernsten.  On September 11, 2003, a request brought by the Manitowoc District Attorney’s Office and the Wisconsin Innocence Project to dismiss the charges was granted and Avery was released.

The Murder
On October 31, 2005, Teresa Halbach met with Steven Avery at his home on the grounds of Avery’s Auto Salvage to photograph his sister’s minivan for a sales ad in Auto Trader Magazine. She went missing the same day. In the weeks leading up to the murder, Avery had contacted Halbach and repeatedly asked her to attend his garage to take the pictures. Halbach had complained to her boss that she didn’t want to go out to Avery’s trailer anymore, because once when she came out, Avery was waiting for her wearing only a towel.

Dassey informed investigators that Avery brought him into the bedroom of his trailer where a nude Halbach was tied to his bed. She begged Dassey to save her life. Avery detailed how he planned on murdering Halbach. Dassey participated in her rape as Halbach begged for her life. Halbach was stabbed and strangled to death. Avery also mutilated the woman’s corpse.

halOn November 11, Avery was charged with the murder of Halbach after her car and charred bone fragments were found at the salvage yard. That’s about as damning as any evidence as prosecutors will get in a murder trial. On March 2, 2006, Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, was charged with being an accomplice to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and first-degree sexual assault after confessing to investigators. He was convicted in a separate trial. The Making of a Murder series seems to have proven that there was a tremendous amount of police misconduct in the case. At least one piece of evidence pointed to the police planting evidence against Avery.  However, Dassey, in a phone call from prison with his mother, stated Avery had indeed murdered Halbach and that Avery had forced him to participate.

Fearl-avery-zoom-432222cd-3a59-43b3-a57f-2e21a1f77e6damily Reaction
Avery’s son, Bill, gave an interview to People Magazine where he protested, “I don’t think he did it.” However his twin brother Steve Jr., stated “Only one person can answer that and that is Teresa. But she can’t answer it no more.”

Bill stated, “I just see him as a complete stranger. I know that he’s my father, but I grew up without a father for so long that it just kind of feels like I don’t have (one).” Making of a Murderer casts doubt on Avery’s conviction, suggesting that Avery was framed by authorities in retaliation for filing a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County after the wrongful conviction for rape.

brenAvery’s former fiancée, firmly believed that Avery killed Halbach, stating “he threatened to kill me, my family and a friend of mine….he’s sick….he’d beat me all the time, punch me, throw me against the wall….I couldn’t leave. I had nowhere to go.” She described Avery’s abusive behaviour and admitted she’d been involved with him for two years. She also claimed that Avery began hitting her one week after they began a relationship. Why this woman chose to become intimate with Avery is anyone’s guess. She also described an incident where she called police as he choked her and dragged her into his car. He was arrested and ordered to stay away from her for three days. She refused to see the Netflix “documentary” about Avery because “don’t want to….I don’t want any part of it and I don’t want to be in it.”

steven-avery-2-800The Petitions
Currently there are two websites that offer petitions visitors can sign in order to pressure the federal government into ordering Avery’s release. One site is Part of the petition reads:

Avery’s unconstitutional mistreatment at the hands of corrupt local law enforcement is completely unacceptable and is an abomination of due process. Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon, and the Manitowoc County officials complicit in his two false imprisonments should be held accountable to the highest extent of the U.S. criminal and civil justice systems.

No doubt the Netflix series is responsible for casting significant doubt on Avery’s guilt, police misconduct or not. However the evidence taken from Avery’s garage, including her camera and palm pilot that was found in a garbage can on his property, speak loudly to his guilt. I’m inclined to believe that this time the man has been rightly convicted.







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Johnny Depp and the West Memphis Three

This isn’t the only case I’m familiar with where a famous movie star has taken up the cause of a convicted murderer. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the names and in that case, after a year of being released, the killer murdered another human being.  Oops. In this case, the headlines blazed with the case of the West Memphis Three for a number of reasons: it involved a  supposedly Satanic ritual that ended in the murder of three young children; three youths were accused of the murder; and, for several years, Johnny Depp became involved in the convicted youths’ defence against the state. Eventually the case was resolved but in a perplexing legal move that added to the intrigue of the strange crime and that left plenty of room for doubt about the youths’ innocence.

The Murder
West Memphis – Arkansas – May 6, 1993 – 1:45 p.m. A search party was dispatched looking for three young boys named Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, threethree second-grade children at Weaver Elementary School, who’d been reported missing by their families the day before. The three boys were best friends. A police officer found a boy’s black shoe floating in a muddy creek leading to a drainage canal in Robin Hood Hills. The murder site was Devil’s Den, a glen near the creek. Nearby, police found the boys’ bodies: naked and hogtied with their own shoelaces. The children had died horribly. They were in full rigor mortis when their bodies were discovered. Their bodies were “frozen” in what appeared to be a sitting down position. This was caused by the hog-ties between their wrists and ankles; their arms were pulled behind the bodies, and the wrists were tied behind the bodies to the ankles. It would have been an agonizing position while the boys were alive.

Someone, or several somebodies, beat the hapless victims with fists, sticks, hogtied them, tortured Branch and Byers with a knife, cut off Byers’ genitals, then dumped their bodies in a ditch. Among other injuries, the boys had been mutilated with a knife around the face and neck, and a bite mark imprint was found in Branch’s skin although whether this was caused by animal predation was never determined. Byers’ genitals had been mutilated. Prosecution experts claimed Byers’ wounds were the results of a knife attack and that he had been purposely castrated by the murderer. Defense experts claimed the injuries were more probably the result of post-mortem animal predation.

West-Memphis-Three-Crime-Scene-Photos-005Dr. Werner Spitz, a well-known forensic pathologist and forensic scientist, provided asserted that the pathologist who examined the victim’s bodies was not Board Certified, and therefore was incapable of seeing evidence that would have been instantly obvious to a more experienced medical examiner. Spitz noted injuries on the bodies that could only have been caused by animal predation. These wounds had been previously attributed to a stabbing weapon.

This pathologist proclaimed that the boys hadn’t been sexually assaulted in spite of semen that had been found in a pair of the boy’s underwear.  Byers died of multiple injuries. Moore and Branch died of multiple injuries and drowning. The deaths would have been prolonged and agonizing. The three 8-year-old boys had met with a horrendous fate, simply because they’d been lured to their deaths by a psychopath.

The Arrest
deadThree teenagers who became known as the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr and Jason Baldwin were arrested for the murders on May 17, 1993, after two of the teens had abruptly left down four days after the murders.  The teenagers stood out in the banal township: they wore black clothes, strange haircuts and listened to Metallica. Although these are common rebellious teenaged behaviours, now that three children had been murdered, the boys’ antics placed them under suspicion. The picture above is Steve Branch.

VLC-Snap-CB03Police officers felt that the crime had “cult” overtones, and that Damien Echols might be a suspect because he had an interest in occultism. It’s possible that the Satanic theory was also the result of the murders having taken place in Devil’s Den. The police interviewed Echols on May 7, two days after the bodies were discovered. During a polygraph examination, he denied any involvement but the polygraph examiner claimed that Echols’ chart indicated deception. On May 9, during a formal interview Echols mentioned that one of the victims had wounds to the genitals; law enforcement viewed this knowledge as incriminating since this evidence hadn’t been released to the public.

The Interrogation
On June 3, the police interrogated Misskelley. Despite his reported IQ of 72 (categorizing West-Memphis-Three-Crime-Scene-Photos-003him as borderline intellectual functioning) and his status as a minor, Misskelley was questioned alone. His parents were not present during the interrogation. Misskelley’s father gave permission for Misskelley to go with police but did not give permission for his son to be questioned or interrogated. His father may not have known that he had the right to refuse to allow his son to be brought to the police station.

Misskelley was questioned for roughly 12 hours. Only two segments, totaling 46 minutes, were recorded. Misskelley recanted his confession, citing intimidation, coercion, fatigue, and veiled threats from police. Misskelley specifically said he was “scared of the police” during this confession. Portions of Misskelley’s statements were leaked to the press and reported on the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal before any of the trials began. This made securing a jury that was without prior knowledge of the event and West-Memphis-Three-Crime-Scene-Photos-009therefore without prejudice nearly impossible. After Misskelley’s first confession, police arrested Echols and his close friend Baldwin. Eight months after his original confession, on February 17, 1994, Misskelley made another statement to police. Misskelley detailed how the boys were abused and murdered. He stated he didn’t partake in the murders but he prevented a child who tried to escape. This statement was the basis for the arrest of the three boys. The picture on the left shows Michael Moore’s left side neck, face and ear.

In the days after her son’s murder, Branch’s mother, Pam Cobbs, rail-thin and dressed in a striking, red dress, shrieked with delight as she was interviewed by a reporter. “I’m on TV!” She placed her dead son’s Boy Scout scarf around her head like a crown.  “I’ve been wearin’ it around town, like this,” she smiled, as her key chain made clanging noises. The reporter ever so graciously asked her if she “contemplated joining Stevie before her natural time.” She agreed that the killers worshipped Satan by stating the perspective most of the community held about the teens. “Just look at the freaks. Look at em’,” she chomped her gum loudly as she gave her statement to the camera. “They look like punks.”

West-Memphis-Three-Crime-Scene-Photos-011The Convictions
Damien Echols was given the death sentence for the murders of all three boys. He lived in isolation on death row for 18 year until his release in 2009. Jesse Misskelley was given life plus 20 years for the murders and Jason Baldwin received life with no possibility of parole.
18 years later, in 2009, the men, now in their 30’s who had spent half their lives in prison, were freed under the Alford plea. The plea allows the men to contest their innocence while accepting the state’s conviction of guilty. They were given time served plus a suspended sentence of 10 years, meaning if they violate their parole in any way, they will return to prison.

Cause Celebre
Johnny Depp became involved in a massive campaign know as Free the West Memphis Three believing stoically in the innocence of the accuseds. He discussed the case on a number of television shows including Larry King Live, 48 Hours and 20/20.

“Before I saw anything else or read anything else, I was instantly struck by how heinous a crime [it was], but also the wave of injustice that followed it…As a person I couldn’t stand by and allow that to happen….I truly, firmly, 1000% believe that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jason Misskelley are truly innocent….There was a need for swift justice at the time to placate an understandably frightened and angry community.”

johnI believe Depp was swayed by a script he was offered about the murders. This was how the case was brought to his attention. Naturally the script touted the teens’ supposed innocence. Had Depp read a script about their guilt, he might have believed they were guilty and not become involved in the campaign to release the men, who have served 18 year in prison for the crimes. Perhaps supporting a colleague and seeking an additional 5 minutes of fame, other celebrities hopped on board the Depp campaign, including the Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam. Of course the DC’s are known for their controversial stance in a variety of political issues, including their controversial statements against George W. Bush after the 9-1-1 tragedy.

Seeds of Doubt
Many people believe in Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley’s innocence. They list the myths that have led millions to believe in the boys’ guilt:

  • west-memphis--crime-scene-vidcaps-dead-kids-picture-04Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were targeted because they looked different, listened to heavy metal music and read Stephen King novels.
  • The cops bullied a mentally handicapped kid into making a false confession.
  • There was no solid evidence tying Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to the crime.
  • The Bible Belt community was swept up in “Satanic panic”, and the investigation and trial were a modern-day witch hunt.
  •  DNA tests involving dozens of items related to the crime have failed to link any of the three defendants to the crime scene.
  •  A hair found at the site has been shown to be a positive DNA to a man who was with Moore’s stepfather on the day of the crimes.
  • Questionable “cult expert” Dale Griffis contended the murders had been a part of a satanic cult ritual human sacrifice however this claim has been proven false.

Traits of Teenage Killers
These traits may or may not exonerate the teens.

  • they are inept at hiding or destroying evidence including bodies
  • they have no plan of action after the murder (eg. establish an alibi)
  • they admit guilt in a relatively short period of time during an interrogation
  • these youth often have prior criminal records or have displayed criminal behavior
  • they tend to be loners with few friends
  • they are often high school drop-outs and involved with drugs and alcohol – Echols was indeed a drug user with a criminal history.

Echols Criminal History
west-memphis--crime-scene-vidcaps-dead-kids-picture01During the 1991-92 school year, Echols was repeatedly suspended for a range of offenses. A case file dated 6/1/92 reports that Echols “admits to having been suspended 7x this past semester for inciting fights at school, starting small fires, cussing. States in one fight he almost gouged out the victim’s eyes.”  A handwritten note on a hospital form described one fire starting incident: “Wet toilet paper roll threw it against a light bulb it exploded started a fire rolled himself in a blanket and set [cut] der a chair watching bec [cut] was bored.” Echols was sent to the East Arkansas Regional Mental Health Center, then to the Charter Hospital of Little Rock. Charter admission papers noted, “There were also major concerns that this young man was exhibiting disturbed thinking. He has a history of extreme physical aggression toward others.”  Decades later Echols dismissed his behaviour by stating he was “young and going through a phase.”

Possible Innocence There will always be the nagging question as to the mens’ guilt.

  • VLC-Snap-MM02teenagers tend to brag about their acts to friends – the boys told no one about their part in the murders. However, it was reported that in the days following the crime, several of Damien Echols’ peers came forward to police claiming that Echols had been wearing an “I Killed Those Kids (And I’m a Satanist)” t-shirt to a softball game. This information was not introduced during the trial, as the shirt was never recovered, and some disagreement remains as to what the exact wording was; some contend that it actually read “I Killed Those Kids (And I’m a Homo).”
  • initially the boys had no access to legal advocacy
  • their families were unaware of their children’s rights
  • their alibis, albeit weak, checked out on the day of the murders

Possible Vindication
terryh3In 2011, four new suspects were named as the possible killers of the three little boys, one being Steve Branch’s stepfather, Terry Cobbs. DNA evidence was, found that matches a pair of individuals who had been together on the day the children disappeared. One of these individuals was Cobbs. Cobbs’ alibi on the day of the murder has been called into question. He claimed he spent the evening visiting a friend, David Jacoby for several hours.

New Suspects
In 2011, new suspects were named in the murders of the three children. Among them were the aforementioned Terry Cobbs, David Jacoby, LG Hollingsworth and Buddy Lucas. Their names emerged after a witness stepped forward to claim that Lucas told him he had been part of the murders, years after they had taken place. The witness said he learned that Cobbs and Jacoby invited the two teenagers to meet with them to buy drugs. When the men were smoking pot, they saw the three boys spying on them. Jacoby grabbed one of the boys and beat him while Cobbs ordered Lucas and Hollingsworth to grab and hold the other two boys, according to the affidavit.

I find it very difficult to believe that the three children were tortured, hogtied and murdered because they happened upon four men smoking marijuana. That seems just a bit excessive, wouldn’t you agree? Whether the aforementioned suspects are the killers still remains to be seen. At this point, it could be just about anyone in Texas.

Todd Moore, Michael Moore’s father, rejected the possibility that Cobbs killed the boys. “Terry Cobbs did not murder my son.” He explained that the presence of Cobbs’ hair at the scene could have been caused during one of Moore’s visits to his friend, Steve, at the Cobbs’ residence. Branch’s mother had changed her mind about the “punks” she vehemently stated years earlier had murdered the children. ‘I am content in my heart that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley did not murder my son,” Pam Hobbs said as she pleaded for investigators to look at new evidence.

A number of films, including 2 documentaries entitled Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills I and II.
A film entitled West of Memphis strongly implicated Terry Cobbs as the killer, and David Jacoby. The film claimed that Cobbs often abused Branch and his mother, and forced the child to watch him masturbate. Further, the stated Cobbs sexually molested Branch’s sister Amanda although Amanda herself doesn’t recall any sexual abuse.
Devil’s Knot, named for the hog-ties found on the corpses, starring Reese Witherspoon, was released in 2014. The film implied that the teens were innocent.

The case, although officially declared solved, continues to be investigated by police. The sad reality is that it may never be solved and the little boys’ killers will live out their pathetic lives unpunished. Then again some murders have been solved decades after the killings. There is always hope this will happen with the Memphis murders.








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Incest and Illness Instigates Ire for an Ill-fated Beauty

Do you remember the first line Mr. McGuire utters to Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin) in “The Graduate?” “I just want to say one word to you, one word….Plastics.” If there was ever a family that knew a thing or two about the lucrative living to be made by plastics it had to be the Baekeland family. Their entire financial empire was built on the world’s first commercially made plastic called Bakelite. However, all of this family’s money couldn’t tempt me to join this clan. Plagued by incest, drug use, homosexuality and murder/suicide, this elite group were a spectacular recipe for disaster.

The Bizarre Baekelands|
Antony Baekeland was a sinewy, indulged young man who hid a murderous rage for his 220px-Barbara_Daly_Baekelandmother, a gorgeous ex-film starlet and model, with flaming red hair and porcelain skin, Barbara Daly Baekeland, for several years until November 17, 1972, when he stabbed her to death with a knife. She was the wife of Brooks Baekeland. Baekeland was the wealthy grandson of the man who invented Bakelite, the world’s first plastic. The first time Baekeland set eyes on the beautiful Barbara, he was smitten and within months they were married. However during their marriage, Barbara’s mental instability became obvious. She was known for her unstable personality, rude outbursts and bouts of severe depression. She drank heavily and, like her husband, engaged in many casual sexual encounters. Brooks finally left her for a younger woman, Sylvie, Antony’s first girlfriend. A very sharing family, I should think. When Antony was 21, his parents divorced, leading Barbara into a  severe depression and a suicide attempt. It was her friend Gloria Jones who saved her. In all, Barbara had made four suicide attempts to keep Brooks from leaving her. Finally, she failed.

This wasn’t a happy family for young Baekland to grow up in but he lived the hand he was dealt. He himself displayed signs of schizophrenia with paranoid tendencies. It was painfully clear that the young man needed psychiatric help. His erratic behavior caused concern among family friends, and over the years, Baekeland and his mother had several threatening arguments involving knives. However Brooks refused to allow his son to be treated by psychiatrists, stating they were “professionally amoral” (unlike Brooks, who was personally amoral).

barbBarbara insisted that Baekeland live with her in their penthouse in London, England. His father didn’t care. After all, he was shacked up with his son’s former girlfriend. Awkward. There was a problem with that living arrangement. Barbara and her son shared a co-dependent relationship. She burdened her son with her marital and mental woes. He tried to help his mother, but at his young age, was unable. Further, Barbara suspected her young son had a problem of his own; she believed correctly that he was a homosexual. That isn’t a big deal today but in 1972 homosexuality was listed in the DSM III as a Mental Disorder. The following year, in 1973, that classification would shift to one of Sexual Orientation Disturbance. The latter suggested that the “choice” of homosexuality was either a mental disorder, or merely a sexual variant. Either way, to Barbara Baekeland, homosexuality was socially unacceptable and she was having none of it in her family.

Murder Attempt
barbHer idea of resolving the issue of her son’s homosexuality was equally alarming to everyone but her: she insisted her son have sex with a variance of prostitutes. When this didn’t have an effect on Baekeland, she began an incestuous relationship with her son to “cure” him of his homosexuality. What? Naturally Baekeland wasn’t happy with this arrangement but seeing as his mother held the purse strings and he was determined to acquire his inheritance, he acquiesced to her demands. Baekeland however, was filled with fury. He first tried to kill his mother by dragging her into the street and trying to throw her under a moving car. A psychiatrist told Barbara that her son would eventually kill her, but she refused to believe him. That was a decision she would come to regret.

The Murder
At 3 p.m.,. Barbara who was now 50 yet looked 20 years younger, left for lunch with Russian Princess Missie Harnden, who lived nearby in the exclusive neighbourhood of Chelsea. They gossiped about the cocktail party Barbara held the previous night, and sat down to filet mignon wrapped in bacon, green beans and a tossed salad, accompanied baekeland000by a Spanish red wine. You know, your ordinary weekday luncheon. The night before Barbara’s death, at that last cocktail party, Harnden noticed the 26-year-old Baekeland staring into space in a “strange, bright-eyed way“. She intended to mention this during lunch, but as usual Barbara talked endlessly about “Tony” and how wonderful he was, how much he loved London, how everything in their lives was happy. It was well known that Barbara and Baekeland argued almost daily and that Baekeland regularly threatened to stab her to death. Still, Harnden couldn’t bring herself to say anything. It was clear to Harnden that Barbara’s frenetic conversation about her son was more to convince herself than Harnden. The two parted half an hour later and Barbara returned home.

When she entered the house, Barbara and Baekeland argued yet again. She ran into the kitchen after he hit her. He followed with that glazed look in his eyes then without a word, he rushed at his shocked mother and stabbed her once in the chest. With a choking gasp, she fell to the floor dead. He called an ambulance and insisted it took them hours to attend the scene. “I think my mind was slightly wacky and I was very much under my mother’s powerful influence,” he later told police. “I felt as though she were controlling my mind. It was horrible – I held her hand and she would not look at me or speak to me. Then she died.” 

The knife had severed a main artery in Barbara’s heart. As for Baekeland, when paramedics and police arrived, he was on the phone in his bedroom, ordering a Chinese takeaway. He appeared completely unconcerned. Mr Wuss, the cat, was hiding under the bed. As Baekeland was taken to Chelsea police station, he maintained that Barbara had been stabbed by her mother Nini Daly, who was in her 80s and thousands of miles away at her home in New York. He also remarked to the detective who arrested him that  “it all started when I was three or five and I fell off my pogo stick”.

antonybaekeland_1It was a crime that made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. A member of one of the U.S.’s richest and most powerful dynasties had been murdered in the heart of one of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods. Somehow it made it into print that when friends visited him in Brixton prison, he asked: “How is my mother? Is she well?” Later, feeling “clearer in the nog” and accepting that his mother was dead, Baekeland spoke of feeling that “a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders”.

Baekeland was found guilty of manslaughter with diminished responsibility and sent to Broadmoor for an indefinite period. He seemed happy there, working in the handicrafts shop, having clandestine relationships with other male inmates and welcoming visitors including the actress Patricia Neal, taken along by one of the Baekelands’ friends who was painting her portrait at the time. Another of those who came to see him was his grandmother, Nini Daly.

She still seems less disturbed by her daughter’s death than by the fact that her dear little Tony is in trouble,” said a note in his file. “She seems just as mad as the rest of the family.” I agree with that summary. Nini’s refusal to believe that Baekeland could do anything wrong would eventually rebound on her terribly, quite like her daughter, but she was not alone in her belief that her grandson was being unfairly detained. Baekland might have remained in Broadmoor had it not been for a misguided group of supporters who believed that he would never again become violent after he killed his mother.

Baekeland’s father opposed the move to secure his son’s release. He had a new son, born shortly after Baekeland was sent to Broadmoor, and, on learning of the arrival of his half brother, Baekeland made a series of toys for him so grotesque and macabre that Brooks had to throw them away as soon as they arrived. Brooks also received abusive letters from Baekeland, some threatening to murder his new wife Sylvie. Brooks dismissed the idea that his son had been suffering diminished responsibility, maintaining that he was inherently evil.

Attempt Rape-Murder
Baekland was released from Broadmoor and allowed to travel from England to the U.S. where he resided in New York in a tiny apartment with his grandmother. At the time, New York was experiencing an extreme heatwave, but Baekeland spent most of the days in his grandmother’s sweltering flat, playing morbid music and mumbling satanic masses in front of a shrine to his dead mother. He’d created the shrined by placing candles and photos of her on top of a chest of drawers with her ashes as a centre piece. Apparently this didn’t disturb Grandma.

At 9am on Sunday, July 27, only six days after Baekeland’s release from Broadmoor, Nini Daly’s nurse Lena Richards arrived at the apartment to begin her day’s shift. Baekeland answered the door wearing only a pair of shorts. “Lena, quick, get the ambulance,’ he shouted. ‘I’ve just stabbed my grandmother.”

antonybaekeland_2Richards ran to a nearby phone box and called the police. As they entered the apartment, they heard Nini Daly shrieking with terror and saw Baekeland rushing out of her bedroom towards them. “She won’t die, the knife won’t go in! And she keeps screaming! I can’t understand it,” he shouted as they grabbed him. “I hate it when this happens.” Doesn’t everyone?Miraculously, every blow had struck bone and his grandmother survived.

The police found his grandmother lying against the wall in a corner of her bedroom with blood soaking through her satin nightgown. She had been stabbed eight times and had multiple other injuries including a fractured collar bone and ribs. While they waited for an ambulance to arrive, Baekeland was taken to the local police station. He later explained that he wanted to have sex with his grandmother-just as he had with his mother.

This time the courts didn’t fool around and Baekeland was imprisoned on Riker’s Island. I doubt Nini visited him. By then he had come into his trust fund and the other prisoners quickly began preying on him for money. Within a few months he had given away almost £20,000-some of it as protection money and some as gifts to those with whom he began having relationships, including, it was said, one of the male guards and an inmate who had raped and decapitated a young boy. Just as he had in Broadmoor, Baekeland appeared to find a perverted kind of peace on Rikers Island, but his time there was about to come to an abrupt end.

Baekeland’s Murder/Suicide
On March 20, 1981, he was taken to court for a preliminary hearing and learned that his trial would not take place for another month because his medical records had still not arrived from Britain. He hoped to be granted bail until then, but his application was refused. Little more than half an hour after returning to his cell at 3.30pm that day, he was found dead in his bed, suffocated by a carrier bag placed over his head. Brooks Baekeland believed his son had been murdered, perhaps because he had threatened to reveal his relationship with the guard or refused to hand over money to one of the more dangerous and violent inmates.

Others were convinced it was suicide, but whether Tony was killed or brought about his death himself, one thing was certain. What ended his life was a bag made of plastic-the material behind the fortune which had made the Baekelands’ one of the U.S.’s most envied families, but also one of its most tragic.

sam_greenA 2007 movie was made about the Baekeland murder starring Julianne Moore as Barbara Baekeland, entitled Savage Grace, A scene in the movie depicted Moore in bed with Baekeland’s lover Sam Green and her son, Baekeland. Green, a cause celebre in his own right, and the curator for Andy Warhol’s famous ICA 1965 exhibit insisted this never happened.

Sam Green:
“She [Barbara Baekeland] later took me to her castle in Majorca where I met [her son] Tony, then 23. She had spoken of him as a sort of messiah, the greatest child there ever was, but I found him very disappointing. He was a poor little rich kid who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a poet or a musician or simply sit on the beach smoking pot all day… One night at dinner, Tony suddenly got up, walked around the table and yanked Barbara backwards off her chair by her hair, dragging her towards the door. She remained entirely passive… Later in the evening, both behaved as if nothing had happened.

I arranged to send myself a telegram saying I was urgently needed elsewhere and made my escape. My sexual relationship with Barbara had lasted for no more than four weeks. As far as I was concerned it was a fling, a holiday romance. But Barbara placed more significance on our relationship… She bombarded me with letters and calls… These days I think you would call her a stalker. Then she started telling people she had had an incestuous relationship with her son as a way of ‘curing’ him of homosexuality. One of her friends said: ‘Sons and lovers – nobody knows the difference anymore.'”

Certainly not in the Baekeland family.






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Hell’s Kitchen

Bet you thought Gordon Ramsay was in trouble for a minute (no surprise there). Nope, this isn’t the Hell’s Kitchen from the popular television reality show. Instead, this crime was named HK by the producers of Forensic Files (season 14 episode 3). The crime took place in the kitchen and it wasn’t bad cooking. After her supposed fall down a staircase, investigators took a close look at the kitchen  near the top of the stairs and decided things weren’t as they seemed. Speaking of television some pretty bad acting occurred during this investigation. That alone makes it worth viewing on youtube.

Special to the Mercury News. 5/16/2000 The Fitzhugh family picture given to the Mercury News by the husband of the murdered woman. L-R: Kristine Fitzhugh, Justin and John Fitzhugh (sons) and husband Kenneth Fitzhugh. The date of when this picture was taken is unknown.

Special to the Mercury News. 5/16/2000 The Fitzhugh family picture given to the Mercury News by the husband of the murdered woman. L-R: Kristine Fitzhugh, Justin and John Fitzhugh (sons) and husband Kenneth Fitzhugh. The date of when this picture was taken is unknown.

Palo Alto – California – May 5, 2000. A 9-1-1 operator received a phone call from Kenneth Fitzhugh pleading for help when he found his dead wife, Katherine Fitzhugh, at the bottom of a stairwell in their luxurious South Gate home. He claimed his wife was dead when he arrived at the house. 9-1-1 dispatched Sergeant Sandra Brown who arrived at the scene and was stunned by her find: Christine Fitzhugh was unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell leading to the basement, lying on her back with “blood all around her”…”Kenneth was covered in blood as well.”

This was no ordinary fall down a flight of stairs. The woman’s body was sprawled at the bottom of the stairwell, almost as if she’d been pushed or thrown. Two low-heeled, sensible shoes she’d supposedly been wearing were found at odd angles to her body, including one that seemed to be carefully placed on a step. Fitzhugh insisted that his wife fell over the stairs because of the low-heeled, sensible shoes she’d been wearing. Brown smelled a rat but she touched nothing and said nothing to Fitzhugh.

katWithin minutes city workers, such as the coroner, and investigators swarmed the scene. They too found Mrs. Fitzhugh’s body position and the amount of blood around her and on her head to be unusual, to say the least. They also noticed Fitzhugh’s strange affect. He wasn’t at all upset. He held conversations with them without any emotion, as if this sort of thing happened to him every day of the week.

The Fitzhughs were generally well-liked. Katherine was a bubbly, lovely lady and a music teacher at a local elementary school who loved her job. However (there’s always a however) all was not what it seemed with the Fitzhugh’s. For six years Katherine had been having an affair with a man named Robert Brown, early in her marriage to Fitzhugh. Both men knew that Katherine became pregnant with her firstborn son, Justin, probably by Brown. Remarkably, Fitzhugh had agreed to raise the child as his own. You have to give him credit for that.

mp_s1On May 5, 2000, Katherine informed both Fitzhugh and Brown that she was going to tell Justin the truth about his father upon his graduation from college. Why she would reveal that information after so many years to her well-adjusted boy is a mystery. Personally I think it was a bad move and not just because of the murder. According to police and prosecutors, Fitzhugh became infuriated and murdered Kristine. This may have been due to his own pride, or for appearances sake within the community. Who knows? A DNA blood test conducted by police after the murder indeed confirmed Brown as Justin’s biological father. Oopsie. In fact during his interrogation, Fitzhugh made the comment, “Her older son,” rather than “our son.” Clearly there was animosity in the marriage concerning Justin, even though Fitzhugh had adopted the boy.

For his part, Justin had never suspected that Fitzhugh wasn’t his biological father. He did notice that he had a closer relationship with Brown than his younger brother John (who is Kenneth’s biological son), but never made the connection. Neither his mother nor his father gave him “special treatment.”

During police interrogation, Fitzhugh attempted to convince police that it was his wife’s shoes that were the culprits. Watch   Fitzhugh’s over-acting (13:50 – 14:40) about Christine’s black shoes during the interview. It was rather comical and Fitzhugh didn’t convince anyone. He pounded the table furiously and shouted “the goddamned black shoes!” He might have been nominated for a Razz Award.

Luminol_molecule_ballA forensic investigation determined that Kristine had actually been killed in the kitchen and then repositioned at the bottom of the stairs in a staged accident. Investigators used luminol to discover a water-diluted substance on the floor in the kitchen, as if Fitzhugh had cleaned the floor. It was very likely blood although luminol can reveal such materials as semen, metals and proteins. It wasn’t very likely that in this case the police were looking at the latter. The stairs, wall, and floor were spattered with it.

The slight problem with collaring Fitzhugh as a suspect was that he established an alibi by being out with friends running errands during the time of the murder.  However he made an excuse to stop by the house after getting a call on his mobile phone from Palo Alto Unified School District that Kristine had not come in to teach. He went inside and supposedly “discovered” that his wife was dead. He placed a frantic 9-1-1 phone call.

Fitzhugh told the court that he hadn’t known Justin was Brown’s biological son. Fitzhugh said he first found out that Brown was Justin’s biological father after he had been in jail eight months on charges of murdering his wife. He told the jury that he was “devastated” by the news. One reason Fitzhugh stated he never suspected Justin’s paternity was that Brown led a “gay lifestyle.” According to Fitzhugh, Brown disrespected women, and on one occasion, made it clear to Fitzhugh that he was interested in Fitzhugh. Despite the refusal, Fitzhugh said that the two men were extremely close until the family decided to end contact with Brown when he could not handle a drug problem. This much was true since Katherine had been to the rehabilitation clinic to visit Brown and agreed to discontinue the relationship. Fitzhugh, an only child, described Brown as “the brother I never had.” A very close brother, it would seem.

However there was more information that could have added to Fitzhugh’s rage and murderous intent; the family had been in a financial crisis before Fitzhugh killed his wife. At the time of Kristine Fitzhugh’s death, the Fitzhugh family’s finances were dwindling to near-poverty levels despite a Palo Alto-lifestyle facade, leaving them with liquid assets valuing no more than $20,000 despite spending near that much monthly. The money wasn’t there but the spending habits remained. Fitzhugh admitted to a significant fraud; he wrote in his tax forms that he earned $30,000 for the entire year when he actually earned $16,500 monthly. Fitzhugh explained if he reported his true income he would have to return to work and as it turned out, employment was no longer a priority. Naturally, he had other obligations. This man’s reasoning was about as sound as Ted Bundy’s relationships with women.

Fitzhugh was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Fitzhugh was paroled in February 2012 after serving only two years on compassionate grounds due to Parkinsons Disease. He died in Palo Alto on October 27, 2012, at the age of 69. The wonderful irony of his evil was that even if he’d been found not guilty, Fitzhugh’s life was cut drastically short with the disease. A just punishment for a senseless crime.






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Runaway Ran to a Rotten Death

Heather Marie Catterton was pretty, 17-years-old and unfortunately, a very troubled young woman. She had a tumultuous relationship with her father Nick and often ran away for days at a time to escape household tension. This time, however, Catterton would run into a fateful end, one that, in spite of having street smarts, the unhappy young girl could never have predicted or prevented.

York County-  South Carolina – October 29, 2009.. Police attended a “country, gravel and dirt road” to investigate the finding of a young woman’s corpse. She had been dumped on an obscure lonely road where few people would notice her. There was a striped sock on her toe and Heather-Cattertonher naked calf protruded from a brush. The body was white with blue veins visible beneath the skin.  She had a long, deep gash in her side from a claw, perhaps. There were more scratches along her body. Perhaps the body had been dragged. She was naked from the waist down, and except for a hoodie that was pulled up to expose her breasts, and the socks, that was all she wore. Several metres down the road from the body was her diamond-studded blue jeans. Stuffed inside the jeans was a red bra and a pair of black underwear.

After fingerprinting the body, police determined her identity.Catterton had been charged with possess of cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute. The charges were pending and Catterton didn’t have a criminal record.  Catterton had lived in Gastonia, North Carolina. Catterton wasn’t enrolled in school. frequently stayed with friends for weeks at a time. She had been in and out of the foster system for five years.

Family Response
It’s interesting that most families of murdered people claim that their family member was untroubled and led a wonderful life. Nick Catterton said he was encouraging Catterton to study for a GED. Catterton had several drug arrests in Gaston County to which Nick Catterton attributed heaththe company his daughter kept.  “She’s always been a good girl. She just got those teenage genes in her. Teenagers nowadays think they can do anything and they’re all grown up.” I’ve never heard of teenage genes in my life but apparently that explanation made sense to Nick. Catterton often lived on the run, staying at home sometimes, with friends sometimes and at other times no one knew where she was.
She wouldn’t even tell me who she was with because she knew I would come right then and get her,” Nick Catterton said. “A father and mother can tell about their kids more than anyone in the world. Parents know the signs. A lot of time they don’t believe the signs, but the signs are there.”He insisted that his daughter was self-aware and strong, and she would have tried to fight off her attacker and escape. “She was a very smart girl — she was street smart. That’s what made me think that couldn’t be her, because at the first sign of trouble, as soon as the opportunity hit, she would have run like a rabbit. She would have done something.” Nick may have been right about seeing the signs in his daughter’s behaviour but this didn’t help him to get his child under control. He was an inadequate parent in need of counselling to establish realistic guidelines for Catterton.

hemNick Catterton stated he would have sacrificed his own life to protect her, something I highly doubt. “I would definitely trade places with her. Anybody would for their kid that they love. It just breaks our hearts….“Whoever (did) this couldn’t have been in their right state of mind. They had to be some kind of monster, maniac.” He made a strange appeal to the public: Please come forward and give peace of mind who everyone who loves her. Whoever it is, they’re going to catch you anyway.”

The Department of Social Services took over custody of Catterton when she was fifteen. “They would say activity has gone on,” Nick Catterton explained. One night at their previous home in Grover a shot was fired and Catterton was placed in DSS care over child endangerment concerns. Social services finally released her from its custody when she was sixteen because, “They couldn’t control her from running away from these homes,” Nick Catterton said. He called his daughter a “daddy’s girl. She got into trouble because of her “free-spirited” nature.” Apparently Nick’s definition of free=spirited included drug possession and sales and being in the custody of Social Services.

Her brother, Barry Holland, stated “she was a joyful person, high-spirited… got along with everyone, and everyone liked her. She always had a smile on her face.” If Catterton’s father and brother were speaking truthfully about her then her history of running away and dealing drugs was extremely contradictory. Clearly the family was unaware of the significant contradiction in what they told the media and what actually happened in Catterton’s life.

National Runaway Switchboard
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, between 1.6 million and 2.8 million youths run away from home each year. Maureen Blaha, a national children’s expert of the Switchboard, stated, “It’s alarming. It’s a silent crisis in this country. The public needs to realize we have a serious problem in this country that needs their attention.” The hotline received more than 100,000 calls each year with fifty percent of the calls from youth who had left their homes, and the other half from parents looking for support. Not surprisingly, family dynamic issues were the No. 1 reason youth called the switchboard. Those problems ranged from:

  1. inability to cope with current family struggles
  2. wanting to flee the situation making them feel upset
  3. inability to fit into a new family structure

hem“They don’t know how to cope and may flee,” Blaha said. Catterton was reported missing at least five times in one year. Oftentimes, officials found her in Gaston County not too far from her biological family’s home. She wanted to be accepted and to adjust to her family’s circumstances but Catterton was unable and she paid with her life.

Blaha is correct in stating that runaways lead difficult lives and are ill-equipped to cope with their personal problems. However her statement that “the public needs to realize we have a serious problem in this country that needs their attention” doesn’t carry any merit. What will the public do with this information? What does the public do when it discovers that yet another child who has been placed in Child Protective Services and died at the hands of perverse foster parents? Nothing. We’re outraged and talk about the headlines for a while and then the stories slip to the back page of a newspaper until they disappear and we forget about them. It isn’t right but it’s a fact.

The Killer
Police didn’t take long to determine the killer’s identity – In a bizarre twist of fate, a man named Danny Robbie Hembree Jr., 47,  who was dating Catterton’s sister, Nicole Catterton at the time of the murder. There was no explanation offered as to why Hembree killed Heather Catterton. They had a mutual sexual encounter, possibly fueled by drugs. Perhaps Catterton threatened to tell her sister for some reason, so Hembree killed her. However Hembree also raped and brutally killed Catterton so this motive isn’t entirely rational.

Danny Hembree,is seen in an undated photo provided by the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Hembree, a death row inmate accused of killing three North Carolina women, has written a taunting letter to his hometown newspaper, saying he’ll spend many years as a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV and enjoying frequent naps. “Kill me if you can, suckers,” Danny Robbie Hembree Jr. wrote in a letter to The Gaston Gazette. A story about the letter and its contents was published on the front page of the Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 edition. Hembree is on North Carolina’s death row for suffocating Heather Catterton, 17, in 2009. He's also accused of killing two other women. (AP Photo/N.C. Department of Public Safety)

Danny Hembree,is seen in an undated photo provided by the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Hembree, a death row inmate accused of killing three North Carolina women, has written a taunting letter to his hometown newspaper, saying he’ll spend many years as a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV and enjoying frequent naps. “Kill me if you can, suckers,” Danny Robbie Hembree Jr. wrote in a letter to The Gaston Gazette. A story about the letter and its contents was published on the front page of the Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 edition. Hembree is on North Carolina’s death row for suffocating Heather Catterton, 17, in 2009. He’s also accused of killing two other women. (AP Photo/N.C. Department of Public Safety)

At any rate, Hembree was eventually charged with three counts of  first-degree murder around the time that he murdered Catterton. After the Catterton murder, Hembree was also charged in the 1992 murder of Deborah Ratchford, 30, whose body was found in the woods near Oakland Street Cemetery, according to police. He was also accused in the Nov. 11 death of Randi Dean Saldana, 29, one of Heather’s friends. Police linked him to Saldana’s rape and murder since she and Catterton had been good friends. Why he killed Saldana, only Hembree knows.

Krystal Wylie, a decade-long friend of Catterton’s said she first met the man accused of killing Heather at the teen’s funeral. “I went to the funeral. He was there.”  Wylie said she was in shock when she found out Hembree was arrested and couldn’t believe someone now accused of killing her could attend Catterton’s funeral. “Nicole left the gravesite with Danny. It’s shocking. Everybody walked up [to the closed casket]. I don’t recall him walking up there.” He should have been locked up and held without bail.

The Trial
According to an affidavit in Hembree’s court file, police said that on Dec. 5, 2009, Hembree confessed to killing Catterton and Saldana in his mother’s house at 2304 Oakstone Drive, Gastonia. The affidavit says the two bodies were stored in a closet in the house’s basement and later dumped in York County. Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell took less than 10 minutes to tell the jury about the day Catterton was killed. Hembree admitted to smoking crack and having sex with Catterton before she died but denied that he killed her.

The state argued that Hembree came up from behind the teen, placed his hand over her nose and mouth, and suffocated her. Suffocation can take up to 90 seconds to kill someone. It’s a torturous death. Hembree on the other hand, stated he used a cord to strangle the teen. “and then I released the cord because I didn’t want to bruise her up or hurt her, I just wanted he to go quick.” Such a humanitarian. He also showed detectives Saldana’s boots that he’d kept in his mother’s basement. “I left her in here. Randi stayed 2 or 3 days here.”

Much of this information was stated in front of the jury in court. Hembree stated he hadn’t meant to kill Saldana but had choked her in a moment of passion. He told the jury, “I was pissed off at Randi for dying.” Intelligent comment to make during a murder trial. Of course, he also hadn’t meant to kill Catterton. He insisted he found her dead in his bed the morning after they had consensual sex and smoked crack together. The jury didn’t buy it. Hembree was found guilty of first degree murder in Catterton’s death and sentenced to death row. He pled guilty to Saldana’s murder.

lettLest you think that’s the end of the story, Hembree, who clearly had little self-control, wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, stating “kill me if you can, suckers.” By the age of 53, North Carolina’s highest court ordered Hembree a new trial. The court agreed that he was denied a fair trial because of several errors, including the presentation of evidence from Saldana’s killing. He received the death sentence for this killing but if he is lucky enough, he may be able to extend his life on death row with continued appeals and trials, a la Rodney Alacala, The Dating Game Killer, who has been convicted of several rape-murders but 29 years later, is still alive due to appeals and new trials.

Hembree further taunted the public in his letter by stating, Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of lesiure, watching color TV in the A.C., reading, takeing naps at will, eating three well balanced hot meals a day. I’m housed in a building that connects to the new 55 million dollar hospital with round the clock free medical care 24/7.

I’m sure he is also corresponding with women who, for their own twisted reasons, become infatuated with prison inmates. It wouldn’t surprise me if he received a marriage proposal soon. A true crime account about Catterton’s killing, written by M. William Phelphs, entitled The Killing Kind, details the life and death of Catterton.


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Mayhem and Morals from Morbid Movies

Why do urban legends and horror stories intrigue us? Probably because they have warnings for us that speak to morality and stupidity. They are timeless. Each new generation wonders if the story has any potential truth in it. Many of these legends are told in different variations, however, so aside from the stories being ridiculous, they can’t possibly be true.

This blog is different in that there aren’t any actual murders. What I focused on for this one were the messages that are meant to warn people about something…anything. Many ghost stories, urban legends and horror films that were  produced from the 1950s onward fixated on the consequences of premarital sex, and especially about “easy” girls with a (gasp) reputation. Others just seemed to victimize young people because they are gullible and scream a lot at movies. Of course these stories are all real. I swear they happened to a friend of a friend of mine.

The Man with the Hook (and possibly a bad leg)
Did you grow up hearing this story at sleepovers? This one has been around for decades. Like all urban legends, there are different variations on the story, but the theme is always the same. Two young lovers are parked in a car on (of course) Lover’s Lane, passionately the-hook-01engaged in a sweaty embrace. Inevitably they hear a creepy thump-drag, thump-drag and when the young man investigates by stepping outside of the car, he is killed by an old man with a hook who must also have had a wooden leg or a clubbed foot to walk along like that.

Sometimes the man leaves his hook dangling off one of the car’s handles as a calling card. I wonder what he did for a hand after that. I guess he went back to WalMart and found a spare body parts section. Anyhoo. The implication of this story was that teenage sex wasn’t just a bad idea in case of accidental pregnancy but look at that – you might get butchered by a man with a hook for a hand. The story was meant to dissuade young lovers from parking in daddy’s car. Something tells me it didn’t.

Moral: Don’t go parking to have sex. Instead rent a hotel room.

The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs
At the beginning of Scream, a pretty blonde is on the phone with an anonymous man who is calling her from God-knows-where. It gets a little flirty, lightly sexy if you will, when the psycho on the other end of the line suddenly flicks on the lights and we see her terrified boyfriend held captive outside of the house as the man is talking to her on his cell. Of course this scene has a vaguely sexual message. It’s always about the pretty teenager and the creepy man. This movie scene is based on the 1974 film Black Christmas, about a man living undetected inside a sorority.

scream-drew-barrymoreIn 1979 a movie entitled “When a Stranger Calls?” about a pretty teenager (Jill) who is (naturally) babysitting two children in a neighbour’s house when a man calls and asks if she has checked the children, more than once. Man, is he annoying. At first, Jill dismisses the telephone calls as a practical joke, however, as the calls become more threatening, Jill calls the police, who promise to trace the caller if Jill keeps him on the telephone line long enough. Those were the days of archaic technology. Of course Jill finally learns the calls are coming from inside the house and checking the children was pointless; they’d been dead for several hours. Nasty. The opening scene of the film has been deemed as one of the “scariest openings in horror movie history.”

A silly 1993 television sequel entitled When a Stranger Calls Back and, in 2006, a totally pointless remake of the latter. The film Urban Legend also refers to a young woman and the caller upstairs. The defunct television series, Urban Legends, also features the babysitter story as an episode.

Moral: Don’t answer the phone when you’re babysitting, idiot.

Urban Legend – Roommate Having Sex
This film channeled several urban legends, many of them quite amusing, which you’d think would do quite well but actually wasn’t well-received at the box office.  This is one of the legends involving communication but not on the phone. In reality a murderer kills her roomie while she ignores her muffled cries. Being a 21st century production, the killer and victim communicate via computer instead of on the phone. You know, modern gore today’s youngsters can appreciate.

Moral: Don’t have sex if you have a roommate. Unless you are having sex with your roommate, then have all the sex you want.

The Hitchhiker
ghost-girl-hitchhikerFinally, an urban legend that doesn’t target sex. This one is meant to scare stupid people who pick up hitchhikers. The legend is as follows: A man is driving home on a dark, usually rainy night when he sees a young woman hitchhiking. He picks her up, she tells him her address and as he drives her home he lectures her on the dangers of hitchhiking. When he gets to her house, he discovers she isn’t in the car anymore. Still, he proceeds to knock on the door and the girl’s father opens it. He informs the man that his daughter is dead (usually she was killed in an accident while hitchhiking) and has been trying to hike her way home for years. The irony of course is in the friendly, well-meant driver lecturing the girl about the dangers of hitchhiking. Didn’t he have egg on his face.

A variation of that story was presented on The Ghost Hitchhiker – Mostly (not) True Stories. Of course the dangers of hitchhiking for a young woman has been common knowledge since the invention of cars. There’s a double entendre in this one, especially since the video clip I included stars Dominique Dunne, one of the female actresses in the movie Poltergeist, about a family plagued by evil spirits. Dunne was killed by her boyfriend some years after appearing in the movie.

Moral: Don’t pick up hitchhikers unless they’re alive. In which case, you’re the one who will probably end up dead.

Kentucky Fried Rat
Ever heard this one when you were eating KFC? There used to be a silly little story about how a rat fell into a bin of grease at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and the cook, not noticing, went ahead and cooked it. Odd she didn’t notice it didn’t have any batter on it. The unfortunate animal was then sold to an unsuspecting customer who bit into it and must have found a tail or teeth or something unpleasant. I think that one is hilarious. It speaks to finding something nasty in your food that just has no business being there such as a hair or a hairpin or a human hand (don’t you hate it when that happens)? Okay, the last one was a joke. KFC didn’t suffer from low sales after that one went around. Dog_MeatInterestingly, in some parts of Asia rat meat is available for human consumption. Several years ago, the Chinese government declared that rats should be eaten due to a rat infestation. No one died. Except the rats, of course. I guess there was also a shortage of cats.

A variation on that story is that of a couple who travels to Japan bringing their dog into a restaurant with them. Of course they ask the waiter if he will take care of it for them while they dine. Instead, due to the language barrier the waiter misunderstands and has the cook make a meal for the couple using the dog. The cultural bias in this one is threefold: the language barrier is one; it is illegal in Japan to eat dog (it’s okay in Korea, so keep an eye on your terrier); and no one in their right mind is going to cook someone’s pet. Even in Korea that’s not okay. The dogs are bred for human consumption and are different from breeds raised as domestic pets. Koreans have been eating dog meat for thousands of years. PETA can just butt out and mind its business. You can’t argue with ancient history.

Moral: Eat healthy and stay out of KFC.

Hair Turning White Overnight
Is that possible? That myth has been going around for about 100 years. The idea that we can scare our hair has been ongoing longer than Clairol. The short answer is don’t be stupid. Stories suggest that when a person has been terribly frightened she or he wakes up to a full head of grey or white hair. Of course that’s nonsense. We don’t lose colour in our hair. Once it leaves the scalp it is dead and can’t change in colour.  However a person with alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles can go grey in just days. That’s bizarre but still not as fast as overnight.

Moral: Invest in good hair colour and stop your whining. At least you have hair.

Rod Stewart and the Stomach Pump
This rumour started in the 1970s and was still making the rounds in the 1980s. Many rock stars have been victimized by this one. For whatever reason, Stewart was the singer of choice when the rumour circulated that he had to visit the ER to get his stomach pumped. Why? Supposedly it was full of semen and apparently enough to fill a whole glass. Ick. Other celebs who have been targeted with this story include David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Elton John and Lil Kim. Okay maybe it was true in Kim’s case. The origin of the story dates back to the early ’70s, when many high school and college campuses could claim a “Promiscuous Cheerleader” (wow – does such a person exist?) was rushed to the emergency room to have her stomach pumped after servicing the entire football team at a party. That’s one busy cheerleader. I can imagine her cheer on the field the next day would be something like “give me a d…”

Moral: I’m sure you can figure that one out yourself.

Richard Gere and the Gerbil
This one coincides nicely with Kentucky Fried Rat. It was rumoured in the 1980s that Gere was admitted to the ER of a hospital with a gerbil stuck in his lower orifice (the one at the back). The reality is that there isn’t a shred of evidence (or anything else probably) to verify the story. In fact National Inquirer reporter Mike Walker stated “I’ve never worked harder on a story in my life,” meaning there is no merit to it at all. Nothing to back it up. The animal’s moniker of course is Tibet, giving Free Tibet a whole new meaning.

Moral: If you sex, don’t gerbil.

This legend is a variation on the true-life story of Typhoid Mary. Typhoid fever is a serious, very contagious disease that originates from salmonella poisoning, contracted through Mary_Mallon_in_hospitalfood. A typhoid vaccine can reduce anywhere from 30 to 70% of cases (weird odds). Mary Mallon, who became known as Typhoid Mary, showed signs of the infection beginning around 1900 when she worked as a cook in different people’s homes. This was during an era when sewage sanitation was a relatively new concept in the States. Within two weeks of Mary’s employment, people in these households became very sick. One servant and one family’s daughter died. It was difficult to locate Mary because she left her employment every time family members became ill. Mary was outraged by the suggestion she might be carrying the typhoid bacteria and she refused to give urine and stool samples when requested by a physician, even though he insisted her gallbladder was infected. The idea that a person could “carry” a disease yet not have it was revolutionary. She herself finally became infected with typhoid fever.  In 1908 the Journal of the American Medical Association dubbed her Typhoid Mary.

Mary admitted she didn’t wash her hands when she cooked (or used the washroom) because she didn’t understand the importance of good personal hygiene. That was quite normal for that era. Mary was held in isolation for three years at a clinic on North Brother Island. She was freed when she promised not to cook to make a living. Naturally Mary went right back to cooking. It was her only sustenance. For five years she continued to infect people. She started a major outbreak 1915 at Sicane Hospital for Women in New York City. Two people died. As a result, Mary spent the rest of her life quarantined on North Bay Island. Had she allowed the state to remove her gallbladder as requested, she might never have become Typhoid Mary.

AIDS Mary is a take on this weird story. In this legend a woman (not necessarily named Mary) becomes infected with HIV and in revenge, she has sex with as many men as she can without protection.  Naturally the story has a sexual warning about not having unprotected sex with strangers. Unlike Typhoid Mary, there is no truth to this story although there is such a story that really occurred in Toronto, Canada. An African man was charged with infecting several women with HIV in the early 1980s, when HIV was newly discovered in North America. By the time he was due in court, he was dead of AIDS as was one of his victims. You hear about this type of behaviour quite often now, (hello Charlie Sheen – perhaps that’s what he meant by Tiger Blood), but in the 1980s, the terrible scare brought on by HIV and AIDS made this account particularly heinous.

Moral: Don’t be gross. Wash your hands. I don’t care what you’ve been doing.

Now that you’re completely paranoid about everything, do come back for another visit and read my next blog. I’ll be sure the next blog is much more decent, involving true-life gore and guts.













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