Mental Illness and Religious Fanaticism were a Lethal Combination

Murder-suicide has an element of ownership to it. Sometimes, as in this sad case, a murderer believes she is saving her family from the “evils of the world” by killing her 1412169678368_Image_galleryImage_Relatives_of_five_Utah_fachildren and spouse. Others murder-suicides result after years of anger and domestic violence, usually by the father who, after falling victim to suicidal impulses, is determined to take his family with him. Abusive parents don’t see their children as individuals. Rather, their offspring are mere extensions of themselves. In this case, it was the mother of the household who developed both a religious fanaticism and an obsession with a murderer, and it led to a terrible end.

Springville Utah – 2014. Kristi and Benjamin Strack  were church-going Mormons who took the bible and its prophecies of an apocalyptic nature very literally.  When Kristi was 6 years old, violence entered her life for the first time. Thirty years earlier, Dan Lafferty and his brother Ronald Watson Lafferty, two men in her community, grew their hair long, called themselves prophets and claimed God told them to kill their sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty and her baby Erica, after she resisted her husband Allen‘s entry into a radical polygamous group.

Even at that age, police said Kristy developed an obsession with the case that turned into a close years-long friendship with the man, who saw himself as the prophet Elijah and the world as hell. He is serving a life sentence in prison for a double murder he believes was directed by God. Unfortunately, Kristi found the right man for her in Benjamin Strack. Benjamin was as gullible as his mentally disturbed wife. Benjamin grew increasingly bizarre, culminating with a belief that the apocalypse was near and, along with his wife, he believed a murder-suicide was necessary to save his family from the Lord’s wrath on earth.

Dan Lafferty
The man who served as Kristi’s idol was born into a large family, to parents Wayne and Claudine Lafferty. Wayne was a strict, religious man who was admired for his

FILE - In this June 30, 2003, file photo, Dan Lafferty poses for a photograph, at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. A Utah couple who overdosed on drugs along with their three children was obsessed with Lafferty, a murderer who sees himself as a prophet. Kristi and Benjamin Strack visited Lafferty for years before their visiting privileges were cut off, developing a close friendship as part of an increasingly bizarre mindset that culminated with a belief that the apocalypse was near. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

FILE – In this June 30, 2003, file photo, Dan Lafferty poses for a photograph, at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. A Utah couple who overdosed on drugs along with their three children was obsessed with Lafferty, a murderer who sees himself as a prophet. Kristi and Benjamin Strack visited Lafferty for years before their visiting privileges were cut off, developing a close friendship as part of an increasingly bizarre mindset that culminated with a belief that the apocalypse was near. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

industriousness. By the time Ronald murdered the little family, he had been excommunicated from his church. No surprise there. Allen Lafferty had nothing to do with the murder of his wife and baby girl. Ronald and Dan orchestrated and executed the entire plan against his knowledge. Ronald’s own marriage had collapsed the year before the marriage and his wife Diana took the couple’s six children with her out of the state. Probably just as well. After his arrest Ron managed to hang himself in his cell, although doctors were able to resuscitate him. For a man who believed he was a messenger of God, he certainly was weak after his arrest. Dan claimed Ron’s miraculous recovery was due to divine intervention.

After being found guilty of all charges, Dan valiantly assured jurors that if they felt it appropriate to give him the death sentence because “I didn’t want them to worry or feel guilty about giving me the death sentence, if that’s what they thought I deserved. I was willing to take a life for God so it seemed to me that I should also be willing to give my life for God.” Dan’s bizarre rationalization seemed civilized in court but the murders must have been bloody and brutal. Had the jury been able to witness Dan the night he helped kill Brenda and her baby Erica, I’m certain they wouldn’t have needed to hear his self-indulgent soliloquy.

Dan’s life was spared when a woman who refused to send him to death row appeared to be manipulated by his flirtatious glances and “psycho-sexual seduction.” So much for his pure intent. Dan however was disappointed when he wasn’t given the death sentence. The judge offered no pretense for his dislike for the Lafferty brothers. Addressing Dan he stated, “I have never presided over a trial of such a cruel, heinous, pointless and senseless a crime as the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty. Nor have I ever seen an accused who had so little remorse or feeling.”

Kristi’s Obsession
Only Kristi Strack herself could possibly have known why she developed an obsession with the psychopathological Dan. Kristi reached out to Lafferty’s daughter after she had a dream about him. Eventually Lafferty, Kristi and Benjamin became close friends. About Lafferty it was claimed, “He’s very fond of them. He wanted his remains to go to them.”

Lafferty communicated with Kristi Strack like she was one of his children. When she suffered a bout with ovarian cancer, she believed Lafferty could cure it. Lafferty said they fell in love and he cut off his waist-length hair and beard and sent them to Kristi. But we can’t trust anything Lafferty says can we? He claimed he didn’t know anything about their plans or their mind-set. By the time Kristi and Benjamin committed the murder-suicide Lafferty stated  he hadn’t talked to the couple in years, and he didn’t generally talk about the end of the world with the Stracks.

251440dClose, frequent communication with prisoners doesn’t generally raise the concerns of Utah prison officials but that changed after Kristi Strack tried to pass her brother off as her husband so he could come on a prison visit. Authorities revoked her visiting privileges, and Lafferty’s contact with the couple ended. Over time Benjamin and Kristi began homeschooling their children. Strangely, in spite of their religious devotion, the couple had a dysfunctional history with the law: they had pled guilty to misdemeanor forgery charges in 2008 and disorderly conduct in 2009, part of a minor criminal history that spanned about 12 years.

The couple also had gone through court-ordered drug treatment, but Elizabeth Sollis, a spokeswoman for Utah child welfare services, claimed this wasn’t necessarily a reason for state workers to intervene in a family. Kristi was being prescribed methadone for opiate addiction at the time of her death. It was methadone that she used to overdose her children, herself and her husband. Children’s Services weren’t involved with the Strack family.

1411964193696_wps_5_Springville_Police_investThe Murder-Suicide
The children, Benson, 14, Emery, 12, and Zion, 11, were sheltered. There was no evidence the family attended any churches, and when some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached out to them, they politely refused. In the weeks approaching the murder-suicide they often talked with family and friends about wanting to escape what they saw as a growing evil in the world. However this was interpreted to mean they might move to a remote area.

dynamic_resizeMany in the community believed that Kristi and Benjamin Strack suffered from mental illness, as evidenced in their drug addictions. Kristi had overdosed her children by having them drink a cup of red liquid laced with her methadone. The entire family was found lying side by side in Kristi and Benjamin’s King-size bed. The children entered the world as a family, and left it the same way.

Jon Krakauer penned the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty in a biography entitled Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.



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Faint-hearted Farice King Triumphed as Queen of the Lovelorn

The roaring twenties must have been a great time for people who could afford it. Women wore the “flapper” look – flat-chested, bone-rack thin wearing shapeless dresses and all flapperssorts of bling. The idea of course was to be as unbound as the Victorian Era had been a corset-cinching prison. And, gasp, of all things, women now smoked cigarettes – in public.  Moonshine, Prohibition, dance-craze, newspapers seeking sensational headlines, King Kong’s first appearance in a silent film in 1922, love nests with cocaine-snorting jazz musicians, and the new era of the Italian Mafia were incredible happenings in America, including in Denver, Colorado, a city that was on the rise in terms of socioeconomic status. In 1928 Denver also became a media circus for a famous love scam involving a duped nurse and a rotten-heeled lothario, who took a perverse delight in leading on the young lady simply for the reason that it fanned the narcissistic flames of his ego. Read on for a good tale and, incredibly, a true one.

Cupid’s Arrow
Once upon a time, way back before 21st century technology, the typical way people met was through family, friends, chaperones, dates, dance halls, ad sometimes love ads in newspapers. Many love scams were run there, often as a ploy for money or whatever weird reason the author of such ads might fancy. The same is true now except we have the internet and things like dating sites to ruin our lives in our ongoing quest for love.

In 1916 Farice King had a twin sister named Clarice. Clarice was a sensible young woman who had been lucky in love, married a good man and raised children. Farice on the other hand must have been a born loser where Cupid’s arrow was concerned. She married briefly to a doctor and after getting pregnant, was abandoned – about 12 days into the marriage. Her baby girl only lived or 5 months then she suddenly died. Depressed over her little girl’s death, Farice returned home, vulnerable and lonely, a perfect target for a lothario.

King talked about her first meeting with Bob Evans, the cad in this true tale, in 1916. He was a blind date, an unfortunate last-minute replacement for someone else. He walked into the room tall, broad-shouldered with keen, dark eyes, and  just like that, she was  in love. King described meeting Evans;  “He looked at me and I looked at him and all the rest of the world just melted away for us.” Oh. One of those types of forlorn love stories.

©_The_Burns_Archive_Deadly_Inent_1Evans was still married to Cecily Lewis at the time. King didn’t know anything about that, and by the time she found out, it didn’t seem to matter. They went out a few times, and then Evans told her he loved her and wanted to marry her. She told him about her previous marriage and the dead baby. He greatly sympathized, told her they would have a child of their own and he would put his name on the dead girl’s tombstone so that the child would have a “father” at last. First, though, there was this little matter of the war in Europe and his plans to enlist in the Navy, but as soon as the war ended, he’d be back to make an honest woman of her.

She didn’t worry. Not even when, shortly before he left for his naval training, Evans demanded sex from her.  It wasn’t something she liked to admit. She once insisted that she and Evans had shared a “chaste love.” But in reality she gave herself to Evans in the spring of 1917. Because he asked. Because they belonged to each other. In the months that followed, letters from Evans bearing a San Francisco postmark arrived frequently. King didn’t seem to notice where the letters came from.

“Whenever I see a little baby I always think of you,” he wrote. “How I wish for your sake that your (our) little girl was alive. It would be such company for you while daddy is away…. You, dear, I love above anything on this earth, and if I can’t get you, I don’t want anybody.” He called her Darling Farice and My Dear, Dear Sweetheart. He signed himself Your Big Boy Bob. “I want you all the time, morning, noon and night, but the evenings when I am not working is when I miss my baby…. How I long for you, day after day. I don’t believe, come what may, I could ever stop loving you.”

King’s dead daughter was a favorite topic. In a morbid manner, Evans couldn’t stay away from the subject, referring to the baby as if it had been his own, binding his lover’s loss closely to him: “Listen, dear, do not forget to go to our little one’s grave before winter sets in. Will you, dear, and let me know how it looks? We will have it fixed up nice next summer, won’t we, dear? I can’t imagine how you felt the night that you left me at the depot…. I never want to leave you again that way. I will never leave you for a single day and night…. I want to make you so happy for the rest of your days. I send you my life’s love.”

The Con Begins
_45441499_thelink466Eventually, King learned that he hadn’t enlisted in the Navy at all. He came back to Denver to do that, giving her some story about having been rejected the first time around. But he pledged his undying love before heading off to the naval station at San Diego. The next day, King received an anonymous letter telling her that she was a fool, that Evans was married and that his wife had taken the train with him to California. King couldn’t believe it. She wrote to Evans, who assured her that the letter was a vicious lie. He begged her to come to San Diego. She went but he didn’t meet her at the station. She called him at the training station then he had the nerve to go to her hotel the next day and take her to the beach. Incredibly, King allowed herself to be wooed, wanting to believe that everything he told her was true even when he caught him in lie after lie. The day after that, she waited in her hotel again, but he didn’t show.

prohibitionUndaunted, King sought him out on the docks. She caught him unawares, clutching a letter he was about to mail, addressed to another woman in Denver. He took her back to her hotel and offered various excuses why she couldn’t walk him back to his ship. He said he was going to stop by the YMCA. She said farewell, then had enough sense this time to follow him at a distance. He walked past the YMCA and into another hotel. She discovered that Evans was registered at the hotel. So was a Mrs. Evans. Devastated, King went home and tried to bury herself in work. She was fortunate to have a nursing job. King was independent and sorrier, but wiser. However the cad Evans wouldn’t leave her alone. He showed up at her house one day to pick up a trunk he’d left there, acting as if nothing had happened. He told her he was getting a divorce.

“He took me in his arms and said he loved me more than ever,” she recalled, “and we began all over again. He said when we married, we’d have a real home with a little one in it to make us happy.” Evans became a frequent visitor at the King house, especially at the dinner hour. Farice’s family didn’t like him much, but she hotly defended him against even the mildest criticism. She did his laundry. She turned one of his old shirts into an apron. She kept his picture under her pillow, clipped his name out of the phone book and plastered it in a scrapbook. She even saved a toothpick he used. Ick.

The wedding was repeatedly postponed and Evans always had reasons. First it was waiting out the divorce from Cecily. Then it was the need to save money. The reasons kept coming, and the months turned into years. Still, King played the woebegone unrequited lover and kept waiting, turning down other suitors in the process. She usually stayed home instead of enjoying raucous nightclubs and glittering parties. In 1922, Evans belatedly tried to extricate himself from the situation, penning a Dear Jane letter:

There is no use for this to continue longer. Not that I think any less of you, Farice…. The fact is, I have made up my mind that I am better off as I am and will never marry again…. I would like to call just as a friend of the family, if I can be considered such. But I do not wish to cause you to have any false hopes.” For a few weeks, Evans continued to call, and King continued to hold out hope. From her diary of August 10, 1922: “Your visit was wonderful, dear, and I’m happy tonight. I think the door opened just a little. You seemed your old self again.” Really when would this no longer roaring flapper get a clue?

Page500_231_4August 1923: “It has been one long year since that wonderful night you came back to me. You held me in your arms again. Now you are away.”

One day King attempted to phone him and found out that he’d moved to north Denver. She checked the city directory and discovered that there was a woman living at that address, too: Mrs. Lillian Evans. The man who’d told her he would never marry again had changed his mind, settling on a bride he’d been courting for five years. She finally realized was worse than a fool, she was something to be used and thrown away. Frantic for an explanation, she went to see Evans at the garage where he worked. He pleaded with her not to be angry and told her that he was forced to marry Lillian, that there was a baby on the way. But after it was born, he would leave her and marry Farice after all.

Of course there was no baby. But the letters and clandestine meetings started up again, and for a little while it was possible to pretend that there might be a future for them. Evans told her how miserable he was in his marriage and that Lillian felt the same way, judging from her 1924 divorce complaint. King giddily reported the admission in her diary: “My dearest, I did today. I went to you and asked you. You told me it was true, and said you were very unhappy. I am so glad you are.” Now if that isn’t a weird entry, what is?

The Diary
Then the letters and the meetings stopped, and King had to struggle to maintain some faint hope of deliverance against an overwhelming wave of despair. She began writing in earnest in her diary.

June 1, 1924: “I will always love you. The man you used to be. But if it’s true I am your bitterest enemy — the man you are.”
June 13: “You have always been honest, fair and square with men and in business. Why haven’t you been with me?”
June 14: “Dear you, I hope some day you will be hurt just as you have hurt me…. I want you to be deeply, deeply hurt.”
July 1: “Dear, I love you anyway, tho you haven’t been fair. I will always love you. You can’t keep me from it. You belong to me and I can never give you up.”
On July 13 she sent him a birthday card and wondered if it would wind up in the wastebasket: “Every year on this day I wish the same wish, that the door will open before this day the next year.”

farice_king_150x100More months, then years passed, and it began to sink in that Evans was never, ever going to marry her. Who knew why this man led her on then let her down? Most of her youth had passed her by. Her prettiness had faded and in its place was a dour-faced, aging woman. The 1920s were roaring by without her. In spite of this, in 1927 she went to Texas with a private patient and returned engaged to a Dallas man, James Daniels. But her fiancé didn’t seem to mean anything to her. She threw Daniels’s letters in the trash and wept over the old letters from Evans. She wrote poems about death and discarded flowers: “Love to the heart is like dewdrops to violets/Left on the dust-ridden roadside to die.”

A Shooting
One night, shortly before midnight, a car pulled up outside a boardinghouse on Curtis Street, a well-known “party house” in the heart of the city’s black district. The white driver headed into the house with a gallon of moonshine whiskey. Two police officers named Ohle and Bob Evans crashed the party. They nabbed the jug of booze and the delivery man, John Morrissey, and ordered a dozen black men and women to line up against a wall. Ohle found another man sitting by himself in a dark bedroom and sent him to join the others. Something about the scene didn’t seem right. Ohle knelt down to shine a flashlight under the bed. “Think I’m a damn fool?” he snapped. “Come out!”

The man under the bed opened fire. Ohle dropped dead to the floor, shot in the head and shoulder. Louvenia Reese, the owner of the house, was hit in the chest as she stood in the doorway. The slug went through her and caught Evans in the right arm, spinning him around. He jumped out of the way of a fourth shot and retreated. Evans had trouble unlocking the front door with his left hand. Sweating like a hodman, he ran into the crisp November night, found a phone and called for backup. Carloads of cops roared into Curtis Park and Five Points, but the gunman had fled the area. Police chief R.F. Reed and Bert Clark, the captain of detectives, were prowling Lawrence Street in search of a snitch when they were flagged down by a black man named Henry Hill.

End of a Saga
Evans’s wound wasn’t that serious; he was expected to be back on the job in a few days. He’d been a patrolman for almost three years, and now he was a sure bet to make detective when his four-year stint was up. The next day’s papers hailed him as a hero. He was taken to Denver General Hospital, where he was delivered into the loving care of a special night nurse. She was a woman he knew well but hadn’t seen for more than a year. Her name was Farice King, and she was a much better shot than Eddie Ives.  He greeted her with open arms. “Farice,” he said. “Where have you been? I’ve been thinking of you.”

4323492It was all too much for the long-suffering King. The following night King returned to Evans’ ward and shot him twice at close range while he slept. Then she shot herself in the breast and collapsed on the bed next to his. Evans died instantly. Although badly wounded, King was still alive. The bullet glanced off a rib and missed her heart. DG staffers rushed her into surgery. The strange saga of the nurse and the beat cop was over.

Bob Evans
The police were mortified. Two officers gunned down within a week, first by this Ives character, and now a deranged nurse. It didn’t help that the crazy woman had left behind a note that seemed to promise further scandal to come. “Dearest Bob, you belong to me and I cannot go on any longer — living without you. And you shall not go on. I have waited over 5 years for this chance, and it came. I hope no one else will ever know the real cause for this. Only you and I. Farice.”

A second note was addressed to King’s brother Floy, a mortician. In it, she asked to be buried near Evans and apologized “for the grief and sorrow this brings to all of you.”

The notes were only the beginning. At the house on Garfield Street that King shared with her twin sister’s family, detectives found a tidy collection of newspaper clippings, mementos of every arrest by Patrolman Evans that had ever made the papers. They also found more than 200 letters from Evans to King, many of them dating back to the Great War, as well as King’s diary, which presented a record of betrayal and obsession playing out over more than a decade. The press began prowling around. One platoon of reporters descended on Evans’s distraught widow, Lillian, who’d been married to the man for five years. King was obviously insane, she said. She’d come across this madwoman on the street, mumbling strangely to herself. Once, King sat across from her on a streetcar and glared at her. Her husband had told her that the woman wasn’t right in the head. A second horde cornered King’s twin, Clarice Hanson. She told them that if her sister was crazy, then it was Bob Evans who’d made her that way. He’d used Farice abominably, she said. Promised marriage, loved her and discarded her. What woman wouldn’t go mad if she loved a man like Evans?

figure4-5The press soon found Cecily Lewis and discovered that Evans had married Lewis in 1914, which made him a bigamist, since he’d never bothered to divorce Emma. The second marriage fell apart sometime in 1917, after Evans told his wife that he “loved someone else and was going to have a good time.”  (This someone else may have been Farice). On another occasion, he told her he was going to a “house of ill repute” and she could go with him or do as she pleased, he didn’t give a damn. The divorce became final in 1920.

The third wife, Lillian Evans, had sought a divorce, too, less than a year after her 1923 wedding, claiming to be the victim of “extreme and repeated acts of cruelty.” But she’d withdrawn the complaint.

The press was also struck by how much older King looked than her twin sister or even her own photographs. She looked much older than a woman in her late thirties should look. The ordeal of her near-suicide and imprisonment, during which she’d frequently been overheard calling out for her own death, had left her gaunt and hollow-cheeked. Her physical appearance became a constant theme of some stories and King was once described as having been “battered to a mere skeleton of a woman by regret and despair…everything carnal seems to have been burned away in the fire of suffering.”

The Trial
The flappers lined up early in the morning for seats in the west-side courthouse. There was no standing room permitted, and many were turned away. But battles over evidence and the defendant’s own hysterics frequently interrupted the week-long trial, clearing the courtroom and giving latecomers a shot (pun) at the action. People expected to see the vengeful gaze of the Woman Scorned and were disappointed. King sat slumped in a heap of fur at the defense table. The heap moaned and sobbed whenever her baby or Bob Evans was mentioned, and even, on occasion, swooned.

King’s lawyer, Mowry, had a dramatic flair in the courtroom. He insisted that King was clearly not guilty by reason of insanity; she was suffering from a form of madness known as melancholia or “love mania.” Her “balance wheel was knocked out of gear by shock after shock,” he explained, starting with the collapse of her marriage and the death of her baby. Evans had seduced her and deceived her until she snapped. Mowry took days to make the case for love mania and the balance wheel. King’s brothers, her sister and her mother testified about Farice’s brooding depression, her pathetic faith that Evans would return to her, her obsession with “souvenirs” of her lover ranging from used toothpicks to dirty laundry. Dirty laundry and then some. One family friend talked of finding her in bed with the body of her recently deceased brother Ray, raging at a God that would take Ray instead of her. (The incident occurred in 1915, which suggests that King’s balance wheel was already wobbly before she met Evans.)

Called to the witness stand, King leaned on Mowry’s arm, moved sobbing and shaking toward the chair, then abruptly threw herself on a pile of bloodstained clothing on the floor. The clothes were the pajamas Evans was wearing when she shot him, forgotten after Mowry had removed them from a laundry bag in order for an earlier witness to identify them. King hugged the clothes, shrieking, “Oh, Bob, my Bob!” She refused to give them up, even as Mowry and then two patrolmen struggled to haul her to her feet.

heroThe Verdict
Mowry called for a recess and hustled her out of the courtroom. She raved incoherently. Mowry told the judge his client wouldn’t be testifying after all. Without any instructions the jury retired and took just a few hours to make up their minds. They were back in court Sunday afternoon to return a verdict of guilty, a verdict that carried a sentence of life in prison. The press asked King if she thought a jury of women would have freed her. King readily agreed. “Men juries free pretty, pathetic-looking girls, with plump cheeks and red lips. What they have given me is worse than death. Death is what I wanted.”

Farice King was the first woman in Colorado to receive a life sentence for killing her lover. Some people thought that was a sign of progress, of growing equality for women: “If they can vote, they can hang,” the reasoning went. That’s a helluva way to demonstrate equality. But popular sentiment was on King’s side. Her crime was seen as a female response to an impossible heel of a man, and women’s clubs rallied to her defense. One hundred thousand people signed a petition circulated by a nurse seeking a new trial for her, a record-breaking figure for the state. The male judges turned her down. However after some years the new District Attorney Wettengel joined the cause. he figured that King had already served enough time for what should have been a manslaughter conviction in the first place. In 1933, Johnson commuted King’s sentence to twenty years. The following year, he granted her a furlough to visit her dying, 81-year-old mother. She was still out when Johnson announced her parole. King had served five years for the murder of Bob Evans.

black_tuesday_journal28And with that, King buried her mother and disappeared. She never talked to a reporter again and she vanished like yesterday’s news, which was precisely what she became. It was the end of an era in America: the 1920s gave way to the stock market crash and Great Depression of the 1930s. Attorney Mowry became a dairy farmer, working a bucolic pasture that later became a congested strip mall; he died in 1965. Clarice Hanson, Farice’s twin sister, died in 1975. Evans’s widow, Lillian, outlived him by more than fifty years before finally expiring in Texas in 1981. Think of the changing historical American eras they lived to see. It must have been both wonderful and bewildering although it’s doubtful any societal occurrence affected most of them as much as the love affair of Farice King and Bob Evans.

No obituary for Farice King ever appeared in any Denver daily. Her closest local relative, a 76-year-old nephew living in Lakewood, said he had only the barest childhood memories of his aunt. He lost touch with her long ago and didn’t know what became of her. What little was known about her fate can be found in seven sentences in the September 4, 1969, edition of the Bates County Democrat, published in Butler, Missouri. The item dealt with the passing of Mrs. Earl C. McBurney, 79, a former nurse. It would seem Farice found a man who was able to see past her “unbalanced wheel” and marry her. Mrs. McBurney was “a former resident of the Amsterdam community” before moving to Butler. Her husband died four years later. There were no children, nobody to correct the cemetery records, which identified her as Francie, not Farice. There was no one to tell the good folks of Butler about the multiple tragedies in her life before she married Earl and returned to Missouri. Probably just as well.



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Gary Gilmore’s Ghastly Childhood led to Gruesome Murders

life-of-crimeThe remarkable thing about this case is that the author of Gary Gilmore’s biography is none other than his brother, Mikal Gilmore. Also the biography was written in hindsight, as Gilmore was dead by the time Gilmore began writing the account.”When I was a kid, I felt like we were the . . . Addams Family, I really did. I felt like we were monsters. . . . It wasn’t until later, much later, that I really began to see that this stuff happens all over and nobody talks about it.” The biography highlighted many hidden, horrible secrets in the Gilmore household. Out of four abused brothers, Gary Gilmore was the only one to turn to a life of crime.  Mikal suggests that the abuse led directly to Gary’s criminal history but he doesn’t account for himself and his two other brothers.

Frank and Bessie Gilmore
Frank and Bessie Gilmore lived like transients. They moved around randomly through Texas, even though they had a son, Frank Jr. and Bessie was pregnant. Frank brought Bessie to a small oil-town where Bessie gave birth to their second son, Faye Robert Coffman. The name was an alias Frank Gilmore used to throw people off his trail.  In fact he wore many aliases as he was a con man who faked having a magazine subscription business. Bessie refused to have a son named Faye so she changed the name to Gary. During the following three years, the family moved from town to town, Bessie giving birth to a third son named Gaylen. During early adulthood, the first girl Gaylen loved was Patty McCormack, the child actress who played the cold-blooded killer in the movie version of “The Bad Seed.” Having run off to Greenwich Village to read his poems at clubs, Gaylen drink himself into oblivion, spent time in jail and died from a stabbing as a very young man.

Child Abuse
firingWhen Gary turned eight, Bessie forced Frank to settle down in Portland, Oregon where her husband actually established a legitimate publication called Building Code Digest. He traveled frequently on business which was fortunate for his sons. Frank saved his truly monstrous side for family crime. Mikal recounted a relentless onslaught of savage beatings from both his father and mother. There were ritual beatings meted out as punishment to the three older children, and other beatings that were more spur of the moment, often for no reason that the brutalized family members could discern. Sometimes Frank hid behind doors waiting to attack them. He used razor straps and his fists, and he abused Bessie in front of the family. Mikal recalled Frank stating, “[]he battered] her face until it was a mortified, blue knot” . Bessie would threaten to kill Frank, and she meant it. Frank often slept on the couch, surrounded by chairs and bells to guard against his wife sneaking up on him. When Frank was dying with cancer, Bessie refused to tell him about the doctor’s terminal diagnosis, out of spite.

Bessie was cruel to her sons, and in particular to Gary. She became bitter over the years and often beat and slapped Gary, and like Frank, without provocation. Bessie was known to use sticks to beat her sons. She called them names and assured them they would never amount to anything. If anything, her physical abuse was worse than that of her husband. From the beginning, these boys never had a chance.

Gary bore the brunt of Frank’s abuse. Frank, the oldest, told the author that it was young Gary who was most disturbed by the family violence. His dreams about his parents wove together with a dream of being executed while he was in jail, a close foreshadowing of his actual future. “He would often wet the bed at night and wake up screaming, sitting in his own sweat and urine.”The family dog was constantly beaten by Frank Sr. for “the same reason he beat anything,” The dog went on to attack some 15 people and killed two other dogs before someone shot her. In 1947, a fourth son named Mikal was born years after the previous three. This caused a disconnect in the family. Mikal felt he wasn’t a part of the same family. His three elder brothers were a troubled clan and he was often left out. After Mikal’s birth the family moved again to Salt Lake City, Utah. Gary became part of a local gang, drinking and shoplifting.

gilOne year later the restless family moved back to Portland and 12-year-old Gary became known as a delinquent with a hatred of authority. He often sat alone by a riverbank and drank alcohol. Gary had become a volatile, angry boy He liked to impress friends with his bravado. By 14, in spite of an IQ of 133, he dropped out of ninth grade and traveled to Texas. Gary ran an illegal poker game and used his winnings to buy sex, drugs and alcohol, Eventually he tired of the lifestyle, moved back to Oregon and started a car theft ring. You might wonder why Gilmore returned to his abusive parents. Abuse becomes normal in a dysfunctional family. Since it’s all a child knows, it is familiar. It is home.

In May 1955 he was caught stealing a car and Frank came to his aid, hiring a lawyer and Gary got off with a mere warning from the judge. Several times Frank kept Gary out of jail. Mikal stated “part of me wondered if my father felt sorry for his children, what he had done to them.” No matter what Gary was arrested for, Frank insisted “my boy didn’t do it.”

garygilmoreFinally Gary stole a 1948 Chevy and this time Frank couldn’t help him. Gary was committed for 15 months to MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, most of it in maximum security. Gary was sadistically beaten and raped in reform school and then was beaten and abused by the guards he taunted during his many years in prison. He was the kind of man who attacked others with hammers-from behind (a la Frank)-and who eventually was able to make the fathers of young children lie down so he could fire a bullet into the backs of their heads.

“My father was the first person I ever wanted to murder
,” Gary told an uncle. And because he didn’t kill Frank Sr., he had spent his whole terrible life looking for the bad father in others to kill. Gary spent the next two years in and out of jail. In later years Gary decided he wasn’t determined enough to be a successful thief and that he simply cared about nothing. In 1958  Gary was charged with statutory rape. Frank helped to get the charges dropped. In mid-1960 the girl he had raped gave birth to his child. Frank and Bessie lied to Gary, telling him the child had died. Gary never learned the truth.

While in prison, officials discovered Gary’s name had originally been Faye Robert Coffman. Bessie had kept the original copy of his birth certificate. His parents didn’t bother explaining the matter to him and Gary began to doubt that Frank was his real father. It was tortuous to not know where his life began. The theme of illegitimacy, real or imagined, was common in the Gilmore family. As with so many troubled families that breed destruction, the Gilmore clan was riddled with myths, overt lies and dark secrets. There is conjecture that Frank Sr.’s particular violence towards Gary derived from his belief that Gary was the illegitimate son of his wife and one of his own abandoned sons. That certainly would do well as a reality show.

Fay Gilmore, Frank’s mother, once told Bessie that Frank’s father was a famous magician who had passed through Sacramento, where she was living at the time. Bessie researched this at the library and concluded that Frank was the illegitimate son of Harry Houdini. Houdini was only sixteen years old in 1890, the year of Frank Gilmore’s birth, and did not begin his career as a magician until the following year. Mikal believes the story to be false, but has stated that both his father and mother believed it. Eventually Bessie found out that Frank has had five or six other wives and innumerable children abandoned along the way.  If Bessie was distraught, she didn’t leave him.

Frank’s Death
gary-gilmoreIn 1961 Gary was released from prison and went to live with his parents again but within months he was back in prison, this time for driving without a licence and having an open bottle of liquor in his car. While serving his time in jail, Frank died of cancer. Gary was devastated. He tore his cell apart and slashed his wrist with a broken light bulb. For this behaviour, Gary was sent to solitary confinement and wasn’t released to go to his father’s funeral. The suicide attempt was one of many that would occur when Gary was behind bars. I doubt Gilmore grieved over his father. My guess is that he wanted the opportunity to kill his father himself and now it had been taken away from him.

Nicole Barrett
When Nicole Barrett met Gilmore she was not yet 20 and already the survivor of three failed marriages, the first when she was only 14. She also was the mother of two children, Sunny Marie, 4, and Jeremy, 2. Gilmore soon moved into Nicole’s $115-a-month apartment in Spanish Fork, Utah. “He needed someone,” recalled Nicole’s mother, Kathryne Baker, “and she believed in him.”

nicNicole Barrett was strong, independent and a loner. “She hated being on welfare,” said an aunt. “Once she held two jobs and was going to high school to get her diploma.” Nicole was interested in nursing. She picked up stray dogs and cats and crippled birds and she doted on children. “Nicole didn’t hide from trouble,” added the aunt. “She always handled everything herself.” Yet she couldn’t handle Gilmore. Their affair lasted only eight weeks. Terrorized by his booze-and-drug rages, Barrett finally fled. Naturally Gilmore blamed Barrett for his violent reaction to her abandonment. Her desertion, Gilmore claimed, sent him into a murderous fury. On a seeming whim, he gunned down two unresisting victims.

Next Gilmore took Barrett’s sister April to see the movie One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but they left after a few minutes. He rented a room at a motel, and what happened there was unclear. April claimed he slapped her around a bit. Shaken and withdrawn, April was driven home by Gilmore the next morning. Four days later she was committed to the Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center, three blocks from the hospital where Barrett is now confined. “It was a bad, bad day for this family,” stated the girls’ grandmother, “when Nicole met Gilmore.”

gary-gilmore-and-bessie-gilmoreIn his panic to hide the gun, Gilmore shot himself in the hand. In search of Barrett and painkilling drugs, Gilmore headed his pickup toward Baker’s home in Pleasant Grove, north of Provo. He was unaware of a police stakeout there. After Gilmore’s capture, a sobbing Barrett had to be restrained from rushing to him. “I just want to look into his eyes. That crazy man, that crazy man.”

While in prison Bessie visited her doomed son. For the first time in her life, Bessie made an effort on Gilmore’s behalf but her efforts came far too late. She sued for a stay of execution on her son’s behalf. In a five-to-four decision, the US Supreme Court refused to hear his mother’s claim.

The Execution
gary-gilmoreIt was Gilmore himself who wanted to die and begged the court to sentence him to death. I suspect he couldn’t handle his suffering anymore. He’d been raised in a secretive house of abuse and hatred, he’d killed two innocent people and he’d brutalized others. Had he gotten life in prison he would have had decades to think about these things. Although I don’t sympathize with Gilmore the Killer I sympathize with Gilmore the child, who was brutalized for most of his life by the people who should have loved him.

Mikal talked to Gary just before he died. Gary had been arrested for the last time on his way to the airport, and Mikal asked him where he would have gone if he had been able to catch a flight. Gary turned the question on his brother, though. “`And what would you have done if I had come to you?’ he asked.” Mikal couldn’t answer. Then Gary said: “I think I was coming to kill you. I think that’s what would have happened. There simply may have been no choice for you, and no choice for me…. Do you understand why?”

Of course I understood why. I had escaped the family, or at least thought I had. Gary had not.”  In spite of this, Mikal recalled an instant when “I went up to my mother. I hugged her, kissed her cheek–things we were all forbidden to do, and had always been forbidden to do. Next thing I knew, I was shoved across the room. ‘Keep away from me, you little bastard,’ she yelled.” In fact after the execution several years of Mikal’s life would be devoted to uncovering his family’s secrets and abuses.

Twice while he was incarcerated, Gilmore attempted suicide. Two methods of execution were hanging and firing squad. Concerned that the hanging might be botched, Gilmore chose execution by firing squad. Gilmore got his wish on Jan. 17, 1977, at the age of 36. A hood was placed over his head, a target attached to his t-shirt, and the five-man firing squad took aim and shot from behind a screen. So that none of his executioners could be sure they had fired a mortal round, one of the rifles was loaded with a blank. Laverne Damico, Gilmore’s uncle and witness at the scene, said his nephew “died like he wanted to die, with dignity. He got his wish.”  Gilmore’s body was taken to the University of Utah Medical Center where his organs will be used for medical research. His final words were “let’s do it.”  Watch the execution

Illegitimacy, incest, physical and emotional abuse, alcoholism, drug use, gangs, delinquency, incarceration and domestic violence all comprised the life of Gary Gilmore. It’s hardly a surprise that he did become a killer. It was only a matter of when.

Frank Jr. became a quiet and gently soul, kind to everyone. He condemned no one in the family for his unhappiness. However eventually Frank Jr. simply wandered away with his hands jammed into his pockets, a pained look on his face, not contacting the family again. By that time his father and two of his three brothers were dead. While conducting research, Mikal found Frank, who had effectively erased himself from the terrain. He found him living in a rooming house in Portland, Ore., “doing day labor to get by.

Gilmore’s execution was the inspiration for Norman Mailer’s novel The Executioner’s Song. Actor Tommy Lee  Jones starred in the film by the same name.

FILE - In this Dev. 1, 1976 file photo, convicted murderer Gary Mark Gilmore arrives heavily guarded to 4th District Court in Provo, Utah. Gilmore was executed by firing squad Jan. 17, 1977. The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 gave final approval to a proposal to bring back firing squad executions if the state cannot track down drugs used in lethal injections. (AP Photo/Ron Barker, File)

FILE – In this Dev. 1, 1976 file photo, convicted murderer Gary Mark Gilmore arrives heavily guarded to 4th District Court in Provo, Utah. Gilmore was executed by firing squad Jan. 17, 1977. The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 gave final approval to a proposal to bring back firing squad executions if the state cannot track down drugs used in lethal injections. (AP Photo/Ron Barker, File)

Nike’s slogan Just Do It was inspired by Gilmore’s last words, let’s do it.  A PR executive working for Nike said that in 1988 just before he had a crunch marketing campaign meeting with Nike bosses, and decided to suggest a slightly altered version as a slogan. He described how he was worried that an upcoming series of five TV advertisements lacked cohesion, because they all had a different feel to them and that they needed a tagline to tie them all together.

A punk rock band named the Adverts wrote a song entitled Gary Gilmore’s Eyes, about an organ recipient who receives Gilmore’s donated eyes and discovers it only after the surgery.

I wonder what Gilmore would have made of these developments. I can picture him shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “whatever.”




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Twenty Years Later – The Brandon Teena Story

I’ve blogged about the tragic death of handsome transgender man Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old trans who moved to Falls City, Nebraska after being “outed” in his home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. At that time I had a narrow focus, that of the suffering of a transgender man, and the crimes against him. This blog has a much larger scope. I refer to Brandon as Teena in this blog as I am referencing his surname, not using his birth name.

Teena’s death was one of the worst hate crimes I have ever heard about in American history. The two men who raped and murdered Teena, John Lotter is on death row and Thomas Nissen is serving a life sentence for the rape-murder. Lotter is now unrecognizable – overweight and bald, he has made continual appeals to get off of death row. He insists he is innocent of the murders and clearly afraid of being put to death. I believe that’s called karma. One criminal in this sordid story was allowed to walk free. His name is Charles B. Laux, the town sheriff, who emotionally raped Teena as brutally as Lotter and Nissen had physically raped her. He is still walking free and has received no consequences for the manner in which he treated Teena.

enhanced-buzz-22416-1389297483-19The Interview
On December 25, mere hours after being sexually assaulted, Brandon faced a demeaning and dehumanizing line of questioning from the Richardson County Sheriff, Charles Laux, when reporting his attackers. In a recent interview from her L.A. office, director of the Emmy-nominated film about Teena’s life, Boys Don’t Cry, Peirce, who spent five years investigating the tragedy before making the film, called it a third rape.”

L: [A]fter he pulled your pants down and seen you was a girl, what did he do? Did he fondle you any?
: No.
: He didn’t fondle you any, huh. Didn’t that kind of amaze you?…Doesn’t that kind of, ah, get your attention somehow that he would’ve put his hands in your pants and play with you a little bit? [Y]ou were all half-ass drunk….I can’t believe that if he pulled your pants down and you are a female that he didn’t stick his hand in you or his finger in you. I can’t believe he didn’t.
Did he have a hard on when he got back there or what?
: I don’t know. I didn’t look.
: You didn’t look. Did he take a little time working it up, or what? Did you work it up for him?
: No, I didn’t.
: You didn’t work it up for him?
: No.
: Then you think he had it worked up on his own, or what?
: I guess so, I don’t know.
: You don’t know…Did, when he got in the back seat you were already spread out back there ready for him, waiting on him.
: No, I was sitting up when he got back there.

enhanced-buzz-29819-1389295622-4There’s something particularly perverse about a man entrusted with the duty to protect choosing instead to hurt and humiliate. In fact, Laux demonstrated “a level of provocation and pleasure out of making Brandon relive his own torture.”

Brandon Teena Childhood
The most significant event in Brandon’s youth was that he was a victim of incest by an uncle when she was in grade school, a fact which came to light only years later. The records show that she was abused on a regular basis from 1977, when she was five years old through 1981, when she was nine. This was never reported to her mother or to authorities. Her sister, Tammy, verified that she herself had been sexually abused by the same uncle.

Sometime after Teena obtained puberty, she began to reject her own sex. She began dressing like a boy, cut her hair short, bound her breasts, and even put a sock in her pants to simulate male genitalia. She began posing as a boy and started dating girls. She was repelled at the thought of being touched by a male. Is it possible that her sexual identity transformation was a reaction to the incestuous molestation by her uncle?

Brandon Teena_Hate crimeIn 1991, Teena attempted suicide and was very unhappy and depressed. In January, 1992, after having been charged and convicted of second-degree forgery, Brandon ended up at the Lincoln Crisis Center and was diagnosed with a gender disorder, possibly transsexualism, as well as an adjustment disorder. Records dated February 1992, indicated molestation when she was about nine years old. This was the first her mother knew of this. In April, 1992, Teena was placed on probation by the district court, and was required to go to a mental health clinic as part of her probation. In August, 1992, Teena again talked to her counselor about the abuse by the uncle, which resulted in her leaving the session physically shaken.

In October, 1992, Teena was terminated from the clinic, indicating there was no change, and in December, 1992, she was terminated from the program for failing to follow treatment. Part of the treatment involved Teena being forced to wear a dress and put on make-up in an attempt to accept her biological sex. It proved to be a traumatic experience. In November, 1993, Teena was diagnosed by another counselor with transsexualism and a personality disorder.

The Media
Laux’s opinion was echoed by media coverage of Brandon Teena’s murder. Coverage portrayed it as the inevitable consequence of sexual deviance and deceit. Newspaper headlines routinely address Brandon Teena’s ambiguous gender identity as the true ’cause’ of his murder. Such headlines include: “Death of a deceiver”; “Deadly Deception: Teena Brandon’s Double Life May Have Led to a Triple Murder”; “Man Who Killed Cross-Dressing Rape Accuser Gets Death Penalty”; “Cross-Dresser Killed Two Weeks After Town Learned Her True Identity.” Many journalists evoked Brandon in terms of monstrosity and deviance, most notably as a “cross-dressing rape accuser.” When asked why he didn’t arrest the two suspects after Brandon’s rape accusation, Laux stated that he did not trust Brandon because she had lied about her gender.

1012_4_Journalist Eric Konigsberg asserted journalistic authority over Brandon Teena by evoking the ‘truth’ of her dead body in the opening sentence of his article. In his assessment, “Teena Renee Brandon’s mystery was over the moment her body was discovered, facedown on a bed in a farmhouse in Humboldt, Nebraska.” Konigsberg’s account persistently blamed Teena for deceit and, implicitly, for his own death. He used judgment-laden terms to evoke the “double life of Teena Brandon: uneasy tomboy by day, cool lady-killer by night. Teena didn’t seem to have trouble finding new people to con, new women to woo.”

When another journalist requested an interview with Laux, she called Laux’s home in Dawson. “You know, you people are a pain in the ass!” he yelled and hung up. Laux rationalized his role in Teena’s murder to the point where he believed he was blameless.  Just a few years after the tragedy, he was voted commissioner of Richardson County. When his term ended, he took a job as a corrections officer at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where Lotter sits on death row. As recently as 2010, he even served on his community’s Village Board. Now retired, he drives a school bus. Apparently not many Falls City residents had a problem with his role in Teena’s murder.

Randy Houser
The current sheriff, 61-year-old Randy Houser, stated he and his compatriots “are a lot more evolved than you might expect.” Many law enforcement officials at the time thought Laux’s behavior was “appalling,” he said. “A series of bad decisions were made by the guy at the top and that won’t be me if something like this happens again. Things are not the same.” Not to justify his wrongdoing, but to partially explain Laux’s ignorance, Houser stated that Laux’s training was far inferior to what officers receive today: “Charlie was in his third 4-year term as sheriff in 1993. He was a cop for years prior to that. His basic training experience was probably in the late 70’s or early 80’s, when it lasted all of six weeks.”

enhanced-buzz-5302-1389293239-23Today, Brandon Teena’s experience would be different. Richardson County now has access to services from Project Response, a support advocacy group based out of Omaha and Lincoln that assists with domestic violence and sexual assault cases. “If there was strong evidence of witness intimidation or reprisal as there was in this case,” Houser explained, “we would link up with Project Response and that person would be put in a safe house, given a cell phone that can only dial 911 and their personal phone would be taken away from them so their perpetrators can’t track them down.”

A rape, especially one involving kidnapping, physical assault and death threats was as rare then as it is today. The majority of our caseload is protection order violations, DUIs, driving under suspension and domestic violence. [A case like Brandon’s] would be an emergency, a drop-everything situation—and it would probably be handed over to state patrol investigators, who have more resources.”

However Houser could use  LGBT-awareness training. He referred to Teena as “she,” called being transgender a “lifestyle,” and suggested discrimination towards gay people was non-existent in Falls City. When asked if he’d be willing to do a LGBT-sensitivity training session with PFLAG, a queer advocacy group founded in 1972 that has done significant law enforcement outreach in the past, as a way to acknowledge the mishandling of Teena’s case and firmly close that chapter on Falls City’s history, he responded, “Oh absolutely! That goes without saying.”

Two weeks later, Houser declared “We have a training session scheduled on Jan 18th.I also invited our local police department and neighboring Sheriff to attend. [The Brandon Teena case] was the wrong two guys, the wrong person, the wrong cops, you know, just a confluence of events.” 

grid-cell-26551-1389296878-10Academic Perspective
Meredith Bacon
, a political science professor at University of Nebraska, Omaha, argued, “The murder of Brandon Teena did to the transgender community a lot what the murder of Matthew Shepard did to the gay community. It created anger.” She credits Teena’s death with the formation of The Transsexual Menace, an activist group that demonstrated in Falls City during the murder trials and continues today as an advocacy group for the transgender community.

Lynne Mytty, a transgender woman from Omaha, thinks of Teena’s situation differently than Elworth does. “When you first realize that you’re different,” she said, “you can’t just change overnight, and sometimes you have to go out and try something.” Mytty tried to transition more than once before finally committing to it 20 years ago this month, immediately after Brandon’s murder. “Show’s you how crazy I am.” Mytty tried to transition in the ’70s, but found it too difficult. “Most people confused being transgender with being gay or just assumed you were gay, which wasn’t a good place to be in Nebraska, and I couldn’t move out of Nebraska because of family.” She gave up living as a woman and instead married and fathered children. In 1994, she transitioned for the second time. She pointed out that 20 years ago, when Brandon Teena was transitioning, community support was limited. “There was only one [gay] organization in Nebraska.”

is a soft-spoken, intelligent, thirtysomething individual who identifies as “genderqueer.” “I don’t really like the binary gender system,” she said, sitting in the Omaha-area apartment she shares with two transgender women. Tessa prefers female pronouns and says that she identifies as female in terms of her body image. She looks a little like a punk rocker, and many people mistake her for a butch lesbian, which is fine with her because it elicits fewer questions. She has mainly worked lower-wage jobs and often finds that co-workers and supervisors are disrespectful. At a call-center job, a supervisor outed her to her co-workers, most of whom did not know she was transgender. Tessa said, “They’ll say that they’re doing it for our protection, but they’ll also say it like they’re exposing a fake.”

Contributing Factor
, who is African-American and represents a majority African-American district with high poverty, said, “The majority of people who were opposed to my bill were leaders of church organizations in my district.” Gray, who worked as a television reporter and producer for more than 30 years before pursuing public office, covered the Brandon Teena story for the Omaha ABC affiliate. He calls Brandon’s death a “contributing factor” in the progress we’ve made as a country toward LGBTQ people.

hqdefaultSexual Identity Crisis Debunked
Jim Elworth
, the former prosecutor for the Teena case, believed  national media focused attention on the wrong aspects of Brandon’s story. He didn’t think that Brandon was genuinely transgender. He knows this flies in the face of every common assumption over the last two decades. “It wasn’t a ‘sexual identity crisis. That angle is so overblown. It’s just not accurate if you look at the facts. She went to Falls City and pretended to be a male because it made her popular.” Elworth clarifies that LGBTQ issues are important, and said, “It’s a legitimate issue, but it wasn’t her issue.”

Teena alternately described himself as either a hermaphrodite, an individual with a sexual identity crisis, or simply a male. He professed to several friends and family members that he had received counseling and was required to live as a man before obtaining sex reassignment surgery, which he expressed as his ultimate goal. David Bolkovac, director of the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center at the University of Nebraska who counseled Teena in 1992, acknowledged that “[Brandon] believed she was a man trapped in a woman’s body. She did not identify herself as a lesbian. She believed she was a man.” 

At the most basic level, Teena was a female cross-dresser: a woman who dressed like a man. Teena Brandon, a teen-aged girl, was a tomboy from an early age: she refused to wear dresses, played pranks in school, and longed to join the army. Feminists might contend that Teena, like other female-to-male (FTM) transgendered people, resisted the conventional scripts of femininity by employing the mask of masculinity. Because she felt lotterlottertrapped by her female body, Teena dressed like a man and adopted various disciplinary practices to coax her body into virtual maleness. She strapped an Ace bandage around her chest, shaved her face, and stuffed a sock into her jeans. She cross-dressed in order to accede to the privileges of masculinity, and possibly to express her sexual preference for women in a homophobic society. Some feminists have understood Teena as a transgressive woman who performed gender and sexuality as a continuum of practices and behaviors rather than a fixed identity. From this perspective, Brandon Teena radically questioned gender norms, heteronormative society, and the family.

John Lotter
Lotter stated in an interview that one of the regrettable things about prison is that he “misses [my] family.” He concedes that he may very well be executed if he cannot prove his innocence. He insists it was Nissen who pulled the trigger on Teena and two other young people at the house where she lived after the rape. Nissen admitted to the crime but he said it after the 3-year statute of limitations. Frankly I think both of them should be executed. Lotter stated that “the eighth Amendment….prevents cruel and unusual punishment.” Clearly Lotter has forgotten the cruel and unusual punishment he used against Teena the week she died. His self-pity is loathsome. Regardless of whether he pulled the trigger he brutalized a young man who was defenseless against him and Nissen. That alone should place him on death row, no matter what the law states.

enhanced-buzz-15255-1389294466-19Family Rejection
In January 1992, Brandon’s mother tricked him into visiting a psychiatrist at Lincoln General Hospital, who diagnosed Teena with a sexual identity crisis. The psychiatrist admitted Teena to a county crisis center, from which he was released three days later on the premise that he did not exhibit suicidal tendencies. The medical community’s handling of Teena’s identity as a form of pathology conforms to its broader objectives to manage or cure that which it deems abnormal. In spite of these prejudiced accusations, JoAnn Brandon, Teena’s mother, was awarded $5000 for wrongful death, $7000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, $80,000 for “mental suffering” and $6,223.20 for funeral expenses. She seems to have overlooked the fact that Teena had called her after the rape, begging for her help, and JoAnn had refused it. In a biography about Teena’s life, JoAnn’s explanation was that there “had been too many lies,” for her to believe her child and she left Teena at the mercy of her killers.

Twenty years ago, in Humboldt, Nebraska, Brandon Teena had nowhere to run.





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Thanksgiving a Thankless Tragedy

While we’re on a roll about Thanksgiving crimes, I might as well blog about another one (seems to be an ironic time of year for brutal murders). This family had a bizarre member described as an estranged recluse, who attended the meal. Mentally unstable, the family had been aware of his eccentricities for years but certainly hadn’t expected a spree killing in their own home on one of the most family-centered holidays of the year. 

This is an undated driver license photo of Paul Michael Merhige of Miami who is being sought by police and the US Marshalls in connection with the shooting deaths of 4 memebers of his family on Thanksgiving evening taken Friday Nov. 27, 2009 in Jupiter, Fla. According to police Merhige entered the home around 10 PM and began shooting. One of the victims was his 6 year old cousin. (AP Photo/Rick Silva)

This is an undated driver license photo of Paul Michael Merhige of Miami who is being sought by police and the US Marshalls in connection with the shooting deaths of 4 memebers of his family on Thanksgiving evening taken Friday Nov. 27, 2009 in Jupiter, Fla. According to police Merhige entered the home around 10 PM and began shooting. One of the victims was his 6 year old cousin. (AP Photo/Rick Silva)


35-year-old Paul Merhige was definitely weird. He mostly kept to himself, was a recluse and seemed content to live his life that way. Once a talented athlete and standout prep school student in Miami, had shown no signs of violence or anger at the family gathering that evening, despite his long history of violence and threats to his sisters. One sister had once been granted a restraining order against him years earlier, and he had once shot himself in a suicide attempt. Possibly Merhige suffered from a mental illness.

Merhige hadn’t actually committed to attending the family’s meal. He called his extended family’s house to say he would be attending the meal. Oddly his mother, Carol Merhige,  told her pregnant daughter Lisa Knight,  “I hope he doesn’t come and kill us all tonight.” Knight’s response was “Mom, it came to my mind. But don’t say that to Dad because Dad would get upset that we had such ideas.”

Spree Killing
A relative who survived the attack described seeing an “evil haunting look” on Merhige’s face. I’ve been waiting 20 years to do this,” Merhige muttered to no one in particular after the meal ended. Then he stood up and methodically began shooting everyone at the table at close range with a gun. First he shot his 33-year-old twin sisters, Carla Merhige, a real estate agent, and Knight.  Merhige shot his 76-year-old aunt, Raymonde Joseph. Merhige shot his brother-in-law Patrick Knight who endeded up was in critical but stable condition at a hospital. Another man, Clifford Gebara, 52, was grazed by a bullet. The family didn’t think Merhige planned to kill 6-year-old Makayla, Sitton, Merhige’s first cousin once removed, but he may have become jealous when he saw the family delight in her singing. After shooting the child, Merhige wanted to assure himself that she was dead. He returned to her bedroom and shot the little girl again.

americaCourt records show in the weeks before the meal he had painstaking and discreetly spent $2,000 on at least four guns and ammunition in two Broward County gun shops. He even asked for a scope to be attached to a bolt-action Remington 700 rifle. He said he wanted to use it for hunting. I’m inclined to agree.

Capture and Arrest
After the murders, Merhige went on the lam and was captured by police in a Florida hotel when a tip was called in after an episode of America’s Most Wanted highlighted the murders. After his capture on Jan. 2, Merhige paulseemed dazed by his own deeds and worried about his future. Records show he rambled on in a police interrogation, implicating himself in the murders without discussing them directly.

It’s impossible, you know, to reconcile what happened with me,” he said. “It’s just, it’s not even real. I’m not violent. I’ve never been violent. I’m not a criminal or a drug addict. It’s just unbelievable what I’ve done to everybody.” Seemingly unaware of the workings of the court system and scale of the criminal charges that would face him, he asked a police officer if he would be facing “a long process.”

paulA year? Two years?” he asked.  Months later, sitting in the Palm Beach County Jail, Merhige, 35, seemed shaken by the horrors of his alleged deeds. He called his father collect at his Miami-area home, begging forgiveness.

I think about them,” he told his father. “I think about heaven, you know? I think about them constantly. I don’t even know what to do….I don’t know how I could have done what I’ve done to everybody, everybody I’ve hurt. Hopefully after the case, hopefully I get sent to a hospital.”

His father, sounding dry and defeated in a static-filled recording of the jail phone call, had by then given Merhige an accounting of the wreckage: “We have nothing,” he told his son. “You have nothing. It’s a total nightmare. Our lives have changed forever.”

Plea Bargain
If he went before a jury, Merhige could face the death penalty.Instead his lawyer advised him to plead guilty. He was sentenced to seven life sentences without the possibility of parole. Merhige eventually went before a judge to answer to his horrendous crimes. A memorial for Merhige’s victims was attended by hundreds of people.

One Year Later
One year later
 the Sittons discussed the time they’d lived without little Makayla.”I can see her so vividly still in my mind,” her mother said. Sitton added, “First you could almost fool yourself, pretend she’s just gone for an extended vacation….but it’s almost been a year.” Merhige was a madman with a twisted sense of justice only he could understand. All of Merhige’s life sentences cannot take away the family’s grief over their precious little girl.







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Helle had a Hellish Husband

If the notorious expression Woodchipper Murder is familiar to you, don’t be surprised. Helle Crafts was a fine woman who was murdered by her psychopathological husband, who then disposed of her body via a woodchipper. Fortunately Richard Crafts wasn’t able to get away with such a vile crime and ironically it would be the woodchipper that led to his arrest and conviction. The movie Fargo featured a scene where an assassin tried to dispose of his partner’s body in the same manner. This channeled the Woodchipper Murder of Helle Crafts.

Helle_CraftsHelle Lorck Nielsen was a Danish airline stewardess, who was married to Richard Crafts, an airline pilot and  special constable (I’ll say he was special). The Crafts had a tumultuous marriage  Helle discovered that Crafts was having a 20-year relationship with another woman. Crafts usually had relationships with other women over the long term. Accordingly she began divorce proceedings against him. Helle was frequently depressed about her husband’s infidelity and the impending divorce.  Her lawyer, Diane Anderson, advised Helle to hire a private investigator to document Craft’s affairs. Anderson contracted an investigator named Keith Mayo. Mayo agreed and followed Crafts. He produced photographic evidence of Crafts’ activities and gave them to Helle, who was devastated to have her fears confirmed.

Missing Person
hellesOn the night of November 19, 1986, a friend of Helle’s dropped her off at home in Newtown Connecticut. It was Thanksgiving and she was excited about celebrating the holiday with her family. An uncharacteristic snowstorm for that season suddenly began. There was a power outage. This was the last day anyone would see Helle alive.

On November 22, flight attendant Trudy Horvath contacted Crafts to ask about his wife’s whereabouts. He said that Helle had gone to visit her mother in Denmark because the latter was sick. He told her Helle’s car was parked in the usual spot at the airport. But when the car remained in the spot for 3 days, friends panicked. Helle’s friend Lina Johanssen followed up on Crafts’ story and contacted Helle’s mother who had no idea of her daughter’s whereabouts. Other friends contacted Crafts. He told others that she had left him, and he did not know of her whereabouts. Richard also stated that she was in the Canary Islands with a friend.

PG3Helle-Crafts-victimFriends grew more suspicious. They had never liked Crafts and they knew Helle would never leave her children. They were very concerned about Helle’s safety because they already knew about Richard’s aggression and fiery temper. Helle once said, “If something happens to me, don’t think it was an accident.” Friends filed a missing persons report and recounted what Helle  told the to police. Police questioned Crafts about Helle and demanded to know where Helle could be found. Crafts insisted that Helle had simply left. Crafts agreed to take a polygraph test which he passed with no deception. Crafts was cleared as a suspect.

Police Investigation
A forensic investigation was led by renowned forensic scientist Dr. Henry hellesLee. Investigators conducted extensive interviews with friends, family and neighbours. They reviewed Helle’s credit cards and telephone calling cards. There was no activity for Helle’s cards. As time passed, police became more concerned about Helle’s whereabouts. Finally the family’s nanny, Dawn Marie Thomas, came forward and told police of a dark, grapefruit-sized stain she had seen on the carpet of the bedroom, but that patch of carpet had apparently been removed. Investigators searched a local dump site and found the carpet from the Crafts’ bedroom. However Lee informed police there was nothing on the carpet to suggest foul play.

By December 25, the police had obtained a search warrant for the Crafts’ premises. They uncovered a few clues: several pieces of carpet from the Crafts’ bedroom were removed from the floor. A blood smear was also uncovered on the side of the Crafts’ bed. Police found among Craft’s credit card records evidence that he had made several unusual purchases around the time his wife had vanished, including a new freezer that was not found in the house, new bed sheets, a comforter and $900 for the rental of a woodchipper. Later, Mayo found in papers provided to him by Helle a receipt for a chainsaw. In an eerie irony, while still alive Helle had given Mayo proof of a piece of equipment her husband would use to help dispose of her body.

Woodchipper Rental
A snowplough driver who knew Crafts eventually came forward and said hairhe had seen Richard using a woodchipper late at night near the shore of Lake Zoar, during a severe snowstorm. This was late on the night of November 19, the night Helle was last seen. With this new information, police and Lee focused their search around that area for many days in the frigid cold, and even scanned the icy cold lake for clues. They found many pieces of metal, less than 3 ounces (85 g) of human remains including a tooth with unique dental work, half a toenail covered in pink nail polish,56  bone chips, 2,660 bleached, 2,260 damaged blonde human hairs, fingernails, and O bloodblood. Lee determined the remains were the same type as Helle Crafts’.

Lee and investigators began sifting through the bone chips and realized that an ordinary instrument couldn’t produce chips this size and shape. Analysis led the police to conclude the remains had gone through a woodchipper. Moreover, police divers found a chainsaw at the bottom of Lake Zoar.

Prosecutors believed that Crafts first struck Helle in the head with something blunt (like a police flashlight) at least twice, which explained blood stains found on the Crafts’ mattress, then carried her body to the freezer where Crafts left it for some time. Police further postulated that Richard had taken Helle’s body out of the freezer on the night he was seen at the river by the snowplow driver, chopped it into several large portions with the chainsaw, and then put them through the woodchipper. The police believed the dismembered pieces of Helle’s body were then scattered into the river and the area around it.

richard-craftsHowever, Crafts could not be tried for causing his wife’s death until state agencies officially recorded her as deceased, and the absence of an identifiable body posed obstacles to that conclusion. After a forensic dentist confirmed that the found tooth was a match to Helle’s dental records, the Connecticut State Medical Examiner’s Office accepted this as admissible evidence and issued a death certificate for her. When investigators arrived at Crafts’ residence he wouldn’t leave the house. His three young children were in the residence with him. It was critical to avoid a confrontation. Eventually he left the house and was taken into custody in January 1987.

Media descended on Connecticut from around the world – something that was unusual in this day when there were no television programs covering major crime, such as CNN. The trial then began in May 1988, in which forensic evidence was key. The atmosphere was that of a circus. However, on July 15, 1988, a mistrial was declared when the jury became deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction when one juror walked out of 17 days of deliberations, the longest in the state, after refusing to vote to convict. He commented to the media, “I’m done. I’m not going back in there. They’ll have to carry me in.”

Crafts was retried but the trial was moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, again due to the massive publicity surrounding the case and subsequent mistrial in New London. He was found guilty of First Degree Murder, on November 21, 1989, three years and two days after Helle was last seen alive. This was the first case in the history of Connecticut where a conviction for murder was made without a body. In January 1990, Richard Crafts was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.  He will be eligible for parole in 2021.

Pop Culture References to Woodchipper Murder
bookA parody of the Woodchipper Murder called the Woodchipper Massacre was released in 1988. Forensic Files documented Helle’s murder in its pilot episode, during season one. Howard Stern did a thoughtless parody of the murder on his radio show. A biographical account of the marriage and murder of the Crafts entitled The Woodchipper Murder was published in 2015. Another account by the same name was published in 1989 as a first edition then again in 2001.



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Wherefore Art Thou Goode

0201romeo Romeo and Juliet is probably the most famous classic love story in English literature. As in all of Shakespeare’s plays it is also one of the most misquoted. When Juliet lamented wherefore art thou Romeo? she wasn’t looking for Romeo. She was asking herself why he was the man she fell in love with in light of the rift between their families. This story, although nowhere near as sentimental and far more brutal, has shades of two lovers denied their relationship due to family disapproval. The ending was also very similar to that of Romeo and Juliet. In fact six years before this case one family had emigrated to the United Sates from England, the land of Shakespeare, who wrote that there was never such a tale of woe as Juliet and her Romeo. The modern American tale of Hollinghurst and her Goode went from tragedy to unredeeming horror when it culminated in the murder of a police officer who had his own hopes of marrying and starting a family.

Modern Romeo and Juliet
hollFlorida teens Brandon Goode and Alex Hollinghurst were madly in love, and wanted to run away together. But then their wild dreams turned to tragedy. Hope and reality have seldom diverged more violently than these two runaway teen lovers in Florida who took their own lives with a gun one of them had just used to murder a police officer. Oops. That certainly didn’t figure in any of Shakespeare’s works.
Twelve days before she was found sprawled in some brush with a fatal gunshot wound, 17-year-old Hollinghurst had written her hopes for the future on the back of a love letter to 18-year-old Goode. The happy life she envisioned was to commence when she herself turned 18 and became free of parental authority. Not surprisingly, they are the stuff of children with a crush and no logical plan to achieve her goals:Things we’re gonna do on 10/29/14 and after: kiss a lot—cuddle—be close—get McDonald’s go on dates—get chinese—sleep in late together—be rich $$$—grow herbs—get married—have a baby—finish prison break—live somewhere nice far away from here—rub each other’s tummies when we don’t feel well—sleep together —shower together—cook for each other—get our real estate licenses—get fancy cars—have a chill room—love each other—woohoo—play with each other’s hair—get tatted—buy a hookah—tell each other how much we love one another—….move states – preferably where herbs are legal…Goode didn’t deserve Hollinghurst’s utter devotion.
The Polk County Sheriff’s office had arrested Goode on assault charges in 2012. His mother, Connie Goode, reported that she had returned from work to find a scene out of a horror film: the windows of the house were covered with blankets and her son with his face painted black. He had an axe slung over his shoulder.“(Brandon) pinned her between a table and a wall located in the dining area and demanded she accept his father’s offer in reference to a divorce settlement,” the arrest report stated. The demand was odd because the divorce had long since been settled and formalized. Goode was charged with felony assault, but the outcome is unclear as the case was heard in juvenile court, hollwhere records are sealed. He and Hollinghurst had been seeing each other for at least several months at the time of that arrest.
A letter that seems to have been written by her to him when she was 15 is described by police as “sexual in nature.”The house where the mother and Brandon lived belonged to her widower father and she had moved there with her son after the marriage ended. Her father ran a lawn service, and Brandon would tag along with him as he mowed, clearly very attached to him until his death in 2012. However bad an influence Goode may or may not have been, Hollinghurst maintained a solid lifestyle. She graduated high school a year early, took online courses at a local community college, and held two jobs, one reportedly at Disney World, the other in a shoe store.But then she derailed. He relationship with her mother became  tempestuous. She was accused of petty theft. For a time, Hollinghurst lived with Goode in his mother’s house. She was with him in his silver 2003 Isuzu Rodeo on February 24, when he was stopped for a broken taillight. The deputy saw a glass pipe in the car and a search produced several more, along with some baggies of pot. The two teens were arrested for drug possession.
Imprisoned in Her Parent’s HomeletterSo worried were Hollinghurst’s parents about her, they confined her to her home at night, placing locks on the doors and windows, not to keep intruders out but to keep her in. Letters that the police subsequently recovered showed that she clung all the more passionately to the hope that she and Goode could still live happily ever after. One of Goode’s letters showed that he shared this hope and spoke of them sailing off together to live in a beachfront cottage. But in a farewell letter to his parents, he seems to have despaired at least for the moment, seeming to say that he would at least find happiness by dying with the woman he loved.That dark reference, along with a reference that Hollinghurst made in a note to past talk of suicide, led police to classify them as “missing/endangered” when they ran off together. But their behavior suggested they were still imagining themselves starting a new life right out of their shared dreams. The hopes expressed in the letter then met reality as documented by police reports.Hollinghurst Missing
On March 20, Hollinghurst’s mother, Debra Hollinghurst, called the Polk County Sheriff’s office to say her daughter was missing.  A deputy responded at 10:30 a.m. The mother told him that she has last seen her daughter at 11 p.m. the night before.“Debra stated (that) some time during the night Alex ran away, leaving through her younger sister’s bedroom window,” the deputy’s report reads. “Debra stated she has been having obedience problems with Alex. Alex is an habitual runaway. Debra stated she cannot control Alex. She recently got in trouble for shoplifting.”The mother said that her daughter had left behind a letter that, among other things, contained a reference to past talk of suicide.

Mum, I could write to you for days but I know nothing would actually make a difference to you. You are much too ignorant and self concerned to even attempt to listen or alexandria-hollinghurst-wrote-telling-her-mother-it-made-her-vomit-be-compared-her-beforeunderstand, everyone knows that. Thank you, for trying to talk and understand me after me being honest, after trying to fix things. Thank you for turning a conversation about depression and suicide into something about you. Please understand that when people compare us, I vomit on the inside. And thank you for accusing me of being anorexic, FOR YEARS. I’m so fucking sorry for being skinny. If I were, your BITCHY comments that I’m assuming were your attempt to help, wouldn’t have.
If I had stayed another minute, I would have painted the walls and stained the carpets with my blood, so you could clean it up. You are a waste of space, ignorant, and a rotten CUNT. I wish I were never born.

Suddenly Hollinghurst returned home. She said she had slept in a nearby park. “When asked about the letter she left, Alex stated she does not get along with her mother and she was just upset at the time she was writing the letter,” the deputy reported. “Alex stated she never advised her mother she wanted to commit suicide. She was just upset with her mother. Alex stated she is not suicidal nor does she want to hurt herself. Alex stated she has never been suicidal.”

The Break-Up
Hollinghurst’s fury at her mother and her overnight disappearance were triggered by a letter that Brandon had written to her the previous day.

FLORIDA_SHOOTING_1943356aHey Alex, I hope everything is well with you and things over there are not as bad as I think they are. I am so sorry for all the things that I’ve caused and the relationships I’ve probably ruined between you and your family. I’ve gotten myself a job, it is full-time and I get paid hourly plus commission so I will be making more than my mom lol!….I hope I didn’t get you into too much trouble and you don’t have to do time, which you shouldn’t since you’re a minor. Before I go I have to tell you something you will not want to hear but I think it is the best thing to do, not only for us, but for our parents too.
I know neither of our parents want us together and we should make them happy and fulfill their wish. It would be healthier for us to talk to new people and try to be happy again than to sit around in misery. I’m sorry it had to come to this and I wish things could be different but we can’t change what happened and we can’t change the way things are now. I’m sorry, I really am, Goodbye Alex.

The two must have seen each other or at least spoken and decided they could not just walk away from each other. Hollinghurst had then written Goode the letter on the back of which she had listed her hopes for their shared future. When I think about being 18 and living with you again, I keep getting butterflies. I am SO happy to hear you’re getting a job, I hope it works out! I am so excited for us both. We’ve had our obstacles and there’d probably many more to come, but it’s so worth it. I’m also very nervous for both of our court dates. I hope you get the chance for probation; I hope I get time. It’ll be a mini vacation from my parents and when I come back I might be more grateful. Ha or not, I just need a break from the bitch.

Farewell Letters
WPTV-Robert-German_1395514595010_3592489_ver1_0_320_240As far as the deputy knew, the immediate had passed. The Polk County Sherriff’s office then got a call from Goode’s mother at 8:13 a.m. the next day, Match 21. She reported that her son and his car were missing. “She stated she found a suicide note from him,” the sheriff’s office noted. Two minutes later, at 8:15 a.m., deputies arrived at the Goode home. “Connie advised she returned home from work this morning and found her son, Brandon Goode, missing from the residence. She advised she discovered a handwritten note left by Brandon.” The letter had been left on the dining room table.

To my loving parents,

I am sorry for all the pain and misery I have brought you both, not just now, from these past few years as well. I don’t want to go through life knowing because of my mistakes hollinghurst25n-2-webthat I amounted to nothing and was therefore a disappointment. Don’t take that as me putting the blame on you because that’s is the furthest thing from the truth. Mom, I am sorry for everything I’ve ever said to you and done to you. All you were trying to do to do was be the good mother that you are. I don’t want to cause you any more pain or have you worried about me any more. I am truly sorry for this and everything else.

I love you both so much. I love you with all my heart. Please don’t be sad, this is what I want now. I get to die peacefully with the woman I love, the woman of my dreams, my fiancé (Yes, we are engaged!) I miss you both so much already. I love you mom. I love you dad.

In the way of teen passion, Goode went from telling Hollinghurst they should separate for the sake of their families, to telling his parents that he could not bear perpetually disappointing them and was seeking happiness by dying with her. The deputy took the note “as evidence.” At 8:38 a.m., a deputy arrived at the Hollinghurst home. “Debra checked Alex’s bedroom and discovered Alex was not in the residence,” the deputy reported. “Debra stated that Alex was at the residence when she (Debra) went to bed on 03/21/2014 at approximately 0100 hours and she did not discover that Alex was missing until my arrival on 03/21/2014 at approximately 0838 hours.”

Debra gave the deputy what she described as a letter of apology that Hollinghurst had written the night before.


hollI’m so sorry I continue to disappoint you. I’m so sorry I’ve changed. I wish we could rewind. I love you to death, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Every day became harder and harder. I now you can’t understand and I don’t except you to. And I don’t know what to tell you other than I really am sorry, but I know you won’t believe me. I’m sorry. On the same sheet of lined notebook paper, Hollinghurst had written a note to her younger sister, Hannah.

in Kissimmee. Det. Jason Platt of the Polk County Sheriff’s office asked the Kissimmee Police to check the location. “ Det. Martinez drove through a Walgreen’s parking lot while he was on a phone talking with Platt. He spotted the car. “I could see that the vehicle was occupied by two persons in the front seat,” he wrote. “Due to the glare of the sun I was unable to tell if the persons were male or female.” He got off the phone.

“I approached from the driver side with my service weapon drawn at low ready since I did not know if any of the occupants were armed. When I reached the driver side window I could see that the vehicle was occupied by a white male … and a white female. Goode reached for the ignition, started the vehicle. I was just to the rear of the driver side door and began to reach for Goode before he could place the vehicle in drive but realized that I had my department issued firearm in my hand and jumped back as the vehicle lurched forward nearly striking me.

letterAfter the car made a successful getaway, Polk County emailed Martinez a photo of Hollinghurst. He confirmed that she was the other occupant. Platt wrote in a report, “I quested that units go back to the father’s residence at a later time and if the vehicle is there, several units make contact with Brandon due to the suicidal statements made in the note he left with Mrs. Goode. I knocked on the front door several times, but received no answer. I then rang the doorbell several times, but received no answer. I then called Mrs. Goode several times, but received voicemail. Due to not receiving an answer at the front of the residence, I walked to the rear of the residence and after knocking on several windows and to the sliding glass doors located within the screened in porch of the residence, Mrs. Goode came to one of the sliding glass doors. “

Mrs. Goode advised she does not believe her son is suicidal due to all his clothes having been taken from the residence. She also advised that in the past, while Alex was living in her residence Mrs. Goode located a large box in her son’s bedroom. The box contained several types of non-perishable food items and she believed that Brandon and Alex were stealing food she purchased and placing it in the box. Mrs. Goode believes her son and Alex were doing this because they planned on living on their own.

article-hollinghurtst5-0324At 3:30 a.m. on March 22, Windermere Police Officer Robert German spotted a teenage boy and girl walking along a road. The 31-year-old German was on his first full duty tour since being out with a shoulder injury. He may have been aware of the alert for two teens of this description. Or he may simply have sensed something that required caution. He radioed that he was making a “subject stop” and asked for back-up. When back-up officers arrived five minutes later, they found German lying in the street with a fatal gunshot wound to the head. The officers then heard two gunshots and took cover. Officers placed German in a radio car and met up with paramedics out of harm’s way. Other officers advanced in the direction of the shots. In some brush, they found two teens, each dead from a single gunshot wound.

“On 03/22/204 I received information that a Brandon Goode and Alex had been located in Windermere, Florida and were deceased,” Platt reported. In the aftermath, Connie and Rick Goode issued a statement in which they began by saying, “We are heartbroken and overwhelmed with grief. We cannot comprehend the senseless loss of Officer German’s life, the death of Alexandria Hollinghurst and for our family, the loss of our 18-year-old son, Brandon.

Words do not exist to express the measure of our sorrow and sadness. Our deepest sympathy and our heartfelt prayers go out to the friends and family of Officer German. alex-hollinghurst-facebook-6We are so, so sorry to them for what happened and they will be forever in our prayers. We know a community grieves and like everyone else in our community, we ourselves are struggling to understand this most horrific tragedy. We have no answers, only questions.”

As all of German’s own hopes bled out onto the pavement, the two hid in the bushes and heard other officers arrive, an inescapable actuality that offered them no life together at all. The medical examiner says the tale of Hollinghurst and Goode ended with him taking his life and she taking hers, though the order was not immediately clear. Whoever went first the other surely would have been too grief-struck not to follow.

Information about Alexandria Hollinghurst can be found on Facebook.



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