Twitter Technology helps Toronto Cop thaw Cold Cases


Cold case detectives routinely use modern technology to solve old crimes. But Det. Sgt. Brian Borg of the Toronto Police is taking that notion one step further by using Twitter to ask the public for help on his cold case files. “Social media is a way for police – it’s a way for me – to make that direct connection to people, without using traditional media,” Borg stated.Hhe is working on 553 unsolved criminal cases that stretch all the way back to 1921. Seriously. 1921. How many clues and tips can anyone dig up that far back? Meh. Never hurts to try.

borgToronto police have nearly an 80 per cent solve rate on crimes in that time, Borg said. But there’s always room to do better. “The cases that I remember are not the ones I solve. The ones I remember are the ones I didn’t,” he said. “Whether or not you have information in a case or you’re simply just retweeting a message, in my opinion, you’re helping.”

Borg, a 33-year veteran with Toronto Police, started the @torontocoldcase Twitter account in a social media workshop a few weeks ago. His first tweet got nearly 400 retweets so he embraced the idea and started tweeting regularly  This was Borg’s first tweet:

Starting to using social media in the investigation of cold case homicides. I would appreciate this being re-tweeted to get my message out.

B4xYd2wIAAA4GNGThis tweet is about one of his own cases. It is a bulletin for outstanding murder suspect Reshane Hayles Wilson. Hayles Wilson was part of Borg’s homicide case in January 2014, before he took over the cold case squad. They meet again.

Tweets also include pictures of evidence retrieved from homicide scenes. The pics on the right were tweeted in connection with the murder of a 24-year-old Toronto man named Mike Pimentel. Pimentel was stabbed death to death in Liberty Village on New Year’s 2012. The pic includes a blond hair extension, a pocket-knife, a stylized key chain and a pair of high-heeled pumps – as well as an image of a woman in a short skirt. The tweets, with the accompanying #mikepimentelmurder hashtag, have been widely disseminated. Det. Bui, who is a devoted Serial fan, tweeted the Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin for thoughts on what his fictionalized cop, Detective Inspector John Rebus, might do. Rankin actually replied: “Hmm. I have mixed feelings. Might be a lot of dreck to sift through. On the other hand, last chance saloon.”

There’s always a drawback with asking the public for help. The Pimentel campaign generated a wave of feedback on Twitter, including details about the items in the photos, and leads and likely red herrings. “Frankly, we’ve created a lot of work for ourselves,” he said in an interview.

westStill, the Toronto cold case squad are a stubborn bunch. It took thirty years, but they cracked the 1981 cold case of University of Toronto secretary Donna Ann Proian. They didn’t have far to look to find the killer. They went to a Toronto jail  and charged Ernest William Westergard with first-degree murder. Westergard was in jail serving a life sentence for the murder of another woman. Forty-nine-year-old Sonia Run was sexually assaulted and strangled in her Mississauga home in 1994. Proian, who was then 30, was strangled with her own clothing and stabbed several times in the face. Her husband found her body inside the locked apartment at 120 St. Patrick St.

You might think the perfect murder is possible to commit, but don’t get too confident. 5873136Westergard has been on the radar right from the onset of this investigation,” Det. Sgt. Ryan said. “You may think you’ve gotten away with a homicide, but in fact, you haven’t and you won’t. The scientific technology is so great that we will catch you. It may take time, in this case 30 years, but we will catch you.”

“Although it’s been 17 years and three months, it’s something very hard to move on from,” Run’s former husband said. “I remember during my wife’s tragedy, it took a very long time to get the DNA back. And this other case was 30 years ago. If the police could have caught him earlier, they would have.” Run asked a neighbour to check on his wife after he became worried when she didn’t show up to their jewellery business or pick up the home phone. Court documents stated Ms. Run’s “naked and badly beaten body was found on the upstairs bathroom floor.” An expert testified that “Ms. Run had been killed in the master bedroom and then moved to the bathroom, where she had been washed.” Strangely one article stated Run had been Westergard’s girlfriend, yet she was married. He had been in the home three times before the murder. Media reports can be false but it’s possible they were involved and Run tried to end it with Westergard on the day he killed her. Some men just can’t take rejection.

proian_andwestergard_jpeg_size_xxlarge_letterboxHere’s something creepy: At the time of the now 20-year-old murder, I was working for the Peel Regional Police and I transcribed the tapes for the Run case. I remember listening to Westergard and his brother discussing Sonia Run while his brother wore a body pack. Westergard wept with self-pity, denying that he had killed Run. He accused his brother of “never being there for me,” as the two were growing up.

It was Run who convicted her own killer. In a fight for her life, she beat him up almost as badly as he beat her. That evening, he attended the Merle Norman costmetics store in the shopping mall Sherway Gardens to get foundation to cover the bruises and scratches Run had left on his face. When he went to work the following day, Westergard told colleagues he was wearing acne medication. Police even questioned the saleswoman at Merle Norman. When his brother asked him about the makeup, he avoided the question. I remember wondering how it was that two brothers could come from the same family yet be such completely different people: one a monster and the other a police informant.

More than anything, on the audiotape, Westergard expressed his anger that police had seized some of his best suits. Westergard was a complete sociopath and incredibly vain. One of the homicide cops told me he couldn’t wait to march Westergard out into the courtroom imagewearing that lovely orange jumpsuit prisoners are forced to wear. I wish I could have seen the humiliated look on his face. I wouldn’t mind seeing the look on his face when he is turned down for parole in 2023.

I wish the Toronto cold case squad the best with their Twest (Twitter quest).





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The Menendez Murders: Visit the Sins of the Father on the Heads of the Children


Of course the real murders weren’t even remotely amusing, yet talk shows and spoof programs such as Saturday Night Live, found a great deal to joke about regarding the Menendez murders. It wasn’t the murders that people found amusing so much as the inane legal defense the brothers were advised by their lawyers to offer the jury.

menendez_015Beverly Hills, California – August 20, 1989. At around 10 p.m,, shots rang out in Jose and Mary Louise (Kitty) Menendez’ palatial home at 722 North Elm Drive, a mansion where musicians Prince and Elton John once lived (although presumably not together).  Joseph Lyle Menendez , 21, and his brother Erik Galen Menendez , 18, calmly drove away from the house after murdering their parents, dumped the shotguns on Mulholland Drive and went to a movie seeing, ironically, the James Bond movie License to Kill. Perhaps the boys should have purchased the latter along with the shotguns. It might have kept them out of prison.

Jose Menendez was a highly successful corporate executive in the entertainment industry. Kitty was a schoolteacher who quit her job to become a full-time homemaker after her sons were born. The family lived a lavish lifestyle. They seemed to have an idealistic existence: all four were good-looking, wanted for nothing financially and materially, and moved in elite social circles. Yet beneath the crystalline surface, trouble was brooding.

It was Lyle who contacted police after returning home at 11:47 p.m. The police suspected the two boys right away. There was something odd about the whole scene. Whoever had shot the two Menendez adults had deliberately shot their victims in the kneecap in an attempt to make the murders appear related to organized crime. Not likely. Jose was shot point-blank in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty was shot in the leg, causing it to break. She ran and slipped in her own blood and fell, then was shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Nasty. In fact, after Kitty had been shot 8 times she was still living so the boys went out to the car where they reloaded one of the shotguns and returned to finish her off.

jose-and-kittyDuring the months after the murders, the Menendez brothers were none too smart about their behavior after the fact. They spent money lavishly; about $1 million during their first six months as orphans. Lyle bought an expensive Rolex watch; a Porsche Carrera; and Chuck’s Spring Street Cafe, a Buffalo wings restaurant in Princeton. Erik hired a full-time tennis coach and competed in a series of pro tournaments in Israel. They lived in two separate penthouse apartments in nearby Marina del Rey. They drove around Los Angeles in their late mother’s Mercedes-Benz SL convertible and went on overseas trips to the Caribbean and London. Nothing but the best for the Menendez brothers.

In spite of their high living, very few of their friends associated with the Menendez boys anymore. It was widely believed that the brothers had murdered their own parents and their behavior did nothing to deter rumors to that fact. Naturally, the media had a field day. They were eager to spread the ridiculous tales the brothers told about sexual abuse, including being raped with a toothbrush. Neighbors gave interviews to television reporters. You know what they say about everyone wanting that 15 minutes of fame. Elisia Hertz was one of those neighbors, appearing on Nancy Grace. Looking serenely at the camera, when asked by Grace why she believed the Menendez boys murdered their parents, Hertz stated, “perhaps a cumulation of post-stress disorder.” (fyi: the term is post-traumatic stress disorder). “And the victims of other kids bullying them perhaps because they were so different.” Well, she got that much right.

menendez_103Grace insisted Kitty had “not wanted children at all.”  In court, she was described as being a “mentally unstable, alcoholic drug addict.” Kitty isn’t here to defend herself. Perhaps this was true. Perhaps not. Hertz admitted that the Menendez showed dinner guests child pornography. “That was their entertainment.”  In fact, Jose Menendez distributed the stuff. Although it was ascertained that the Menendez brothers were not sexually or physically abused by their father as they claimed, he was a bully, often humiliating the boys for their “lack of discipline” and “ignorance” about current and political events.

The brothers pled guilty of two counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for reasons of self-defence, that is to say, they feared further abuse by their parents. Dr. Barbara Kirwin, a guest on Court TV, disagreed. “There didn’t seem to me to be a sense of immediacy here. I’ve had other cases, battered women’s cases, battered child cases, where it’s very clearly self-defense… and there’s a very, very high level of emotion. And that seems to be absent here. It was almost as if they came in, thought about it, and ambushed the parents…” 

Menendez_brothers_-_mug_shotLyle was arrested near the Menendez Mediterranean-style mansion on March 8, 1990, after police received information that he was preparing to flee California. Erik, who was in Israel at the time, surrendered himself three days later upon returning to Los Angeles. Very matter-of-factly, both boys admitted, “I just started firing.” Lyle stated coolly. “You could hear things breaking and you could hear ringing noises from the booms. There was the smoke from the guns. Just chaos.” It was as though he was describing the movie he’d watched that evening instead of the murder of his own parents.

Jose Menendez was a troubled man who had no business raising children. What disturbs me the most was his enjoyment and distribution of child pornography. It was this sick obsession that, along with his sons false claims that they were sexually abused, nearly allowed the boys to go free. Kitty couldn’t have been much better at mothering. She was present when her husband showed their friends pornography. She didn’t seem to intervene when her husband bullied their children, and it is quite possible she emotionally abused her sons, too. However, these are mere allegations and will probably never be entirely proven. Most significantly, in spite of all of the sins of the parents, and perhaps many more we will never know about, were the brothers justified in committing cold-blooded murder?

Clearly the jury that eventually convicted the two brothers didn’t think so. Jurors later said that the abuse defense was never a factor in their deliberations. They believed that the murders were committed with the intent of gaining control of Menendez’ considerable wealth. I suspect this is correct but I doubt that anything in this twisted case is that simplistic. For one thing, years of being bullied by a domineering father must have shaped the boys’ personalities in a perverse manner. Jose Menendez’ addiction to pornography and his continual threats to leave his sons penniless also contributed to the family’s significant dysfunction. It’s almost impossible to envision a healthy person emerging from the Menendez household.

25 years later, a police officer who worked the Menendez case recalled some key moments during his investigation on Nancy Grace (what is it with appearing on that tacky show)? The cop believed the boys “weren’t grieving at all.” The boys used Jose’s penchant for distributing pornography to confuse police in their search for viable suspects. However “there was absolutely no sexual abuse that we determined at all… there was mental abuse because Jose would … threaten them by saying ‘if you don’t shape up, if you don’t do what I say, you’ll be kicked out of the will….so they had to do what Jose said…”

The police felt the brothers’ motive was Jose’s controlling, emotionally abusive treatment of his sons. Although intelligent, the boys did poorly in school over the years, probably an act of rebellion against their father. Jose didn’t approve and knowing their failures could get them disinherited, this led the boys to murder their parents. The jury ultimately believed a great deal of the physical and sexual abuse that the boys alleged happened to them, most of which was untrue. In fact, initially the jury was hung and the boys had to be retried. Nothing like a good lawyer to help guilty people walk. Eventually of course, the brothers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Even after their conviction, police noted the brothers never showed remorse for killing Jose and Kitty Menendez.

Since entering prison, both brothers married, even though California does not allow conjugal visits for those convicted of murder or for those serving life sentences. On July 2, 1996, Lyle married longtime pen pal Anna Eriksson, a former model, in a ceremony attended by Abramson and his aunt Marta Menendez, and presided over by Judge Nancy (no, not Grace) Brown. The two were divorced on April 1, 2001, after Eriksson reportedly discovered that Lyle was “cheating” on her by writing to another woman. Seriously. That’s someone’s definition of adultery. Ah, prison marriages. They never last. During 1997, Erik married in a telephone ceremony at Folsom State Prison in a waiting room. Tammi Menendez, an attractive blonde, later stated that “Our wedding cake was a Twinkie. We improvised. It was a wonderful ceremony until I had to leave. That was a very lonely night.”

In an interview with ABC News during October 2005, Tammi stated that her relationship with Erik, her husband of six years, is “something that I’ve dreamed about for a long time. And it’s just something very special that I never thought that I would ever have.” Tammi self-published a book during 2005 titled They Said We’d Never Make It – My Life With Erik Menendez, though Tammi said on Larry King Live that Erik had greatly edited the book. I bet he did.

10357In an interview with People magazine, Tammi Menendez stated that “Not having sex in my life is difficult, but it’s not a problem for me. I have to be physically detached, and I’m emotionally attached to Erik… My family does not understand. When it started to get serious, some of them just threw up their hands.” Tammi also noted that she and her 10-year-old daughter drive the 150 miles (240 km) every weekend to see Erik, whom her daughter refers to as her “Earth Dad.” Erik has stated: “Tammi is what gets me through. I can’t think about the sentence. When I do, I do it with a great sadness and a primal fear. I break into a cold sweat. It’s so frightening I just haven’t come to terms with it.” Erik also stated,  “(Tammi) sent me a letter during my first trial. It’s funny, I have a visual memory of seeing her letter. I believe in soul mates. I believe in spirituality, in a religious sense. I believe in God and that nothing happens by chance. I saw Tammi’s letter and I felt something. I received thousands of letters, but I set this one aside. I got a feeling. And I wrote her back.”

In November 2003, Lyle, then 35, re-married to a woman named Rebecca Sneed, a 33-year-old magazine editor from Sacramento, at a ceremony in a maximum security visiting area of Mule Creek State Prison. Lyle and Rebecca had reportedly known each other for approximately 10 years prior to their engagement. What kind of woman marries a man who is jailed for life for first degree murder? A death groupie, basically. Sondra London is a living example of this bizarre phenomenon.

A made-for-cable film, Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills, is available on Youtube. The movie portrays Kitty Menendez as a victim of her husband’s bullying as much as her boys. In 2010, A&E released a documentary on Tammi Menendez, titled Mrs. Menendez.



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Boring Bob was a Bizarre, Sexually Buried Barbarian


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St-Petersburg. Florida – Gailen Eugene (Gene) Thurnau, a popular, attractive air traffic controller, had moved to Florida to start his life over after a difficult divorce from gailen-eugene-thurnau3his wife of 20 years. In fact, he requested the transfer after all hope of reconciliation between him and his wife was lost. Robert Dean Peterson, also known as Bob, was the overweight, unobtrusive controller who worked in the cubicle beside Thurnau. Thurnau and Peterson were polar opposites. Thurnau was an extrovert, charming and chatty with everyone in the office. Peterson was quiet and introverted. However, Peterson wasn’t unpopular. He was well-liked, just not someone who fit in easily.

Since Thurnau and Peterson sat beside each other the two became friends. Thurnau showed Peterson a picture of his “family” – 3 pet dogs. “I love that breed!” Peterson lied. He had no dogs of his own but eventually he would purchase one just like Thurnau’s. When Thurnau requested a transfer to Florida, Peterson tried to be happy for him. But he wasn’t.

Months later, Thurnau had settled into his new life in Florida at the St-Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. He soon met a woman named Juanita, known as Jaye-Jaye. She too was divorcing after 20 years of marriage to her spouse. Although the two were obviously attracted to one another it would be two more years before they became romantically involved. During that time Thurnau became a born-again Christian. His faith meant a great deal to him and as a result, his relationship with Jaye-Jaye suffered: she wanted to become sexually involved but he believed that sex before marriage was sinful. Finally, one night Thurnau proposed marriage to Jaye-Jaye and that problem was solved.

robert-peterson1At work, everyone was thrilled for the couple. Well, everyone except Peterson. Didn’t I mention? Peterson too had requested a transfer to Florida after Thurnau left, and now he worked in the same office as his former “best” friend. Weird, I know.

Jaye-Jaye and Thurnau began custom-building their dream home in sunny, beautiful Florida. They lived in a gorgeous gated community on a spacious lot. Peterson congratulated them as heartily as everyone else. Then he did something odd: he bought the couple a wedding gift, even before they were married. It was a gorgeous, expensive crystal vase from an exclusive line of crystal ware. The couple was speechless. Although they found it rather strange, the couple was touched by Peterson’s considerateness.

Months went by. Finally, the dream home was built. Peterson asked if he could come over for dinner one night. He had a gift he wanted to give the couple and they he thought they would really like it. Again, they thought this was strange, but Peterson was Peterson. And they didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Why not?

The promised night arrived and Peterson arrived early for dinner. Thurnau and Jaye-Jaye had other business later in the evening and they didn’t want Peterson staying long. However, every time Peterson emptied his plate he insisted he wasn’t full and he wanted more. Jaye-Jaye offered him seconds of salad, entrée, dessert. She and Gene looked at one another often. When was this man going to leave? “I have a house-warming gift for you!” Peterson told them. They opened a beautifully wrapped box. Inside was a beautiful, leather-bound photo album. On each page was a large, glossy picture of their home as it was being constructed, week by week, from the ground up.

You’ve been at our house watching it being built?” Jaye-Jaye asked in astonishment.  “Oh yes! I’ve been at everyone’s houses from work!” Peterson gushed. He didn’t seem to register the odd look that passed between Thurnau and his wife. Decidedly uncomfortable, the couple was about to ask Peterson to leave when Jaye-Jaye’s daughter arrived. Mother and daughter left to run errands and Peterson and Thurnau were alone together. “I have another gift for you!” Peterson stated excitedly, and went out to his car.

He returned with a 3-page homo-erotic love letter written for Gene. It explained that he was in love with Gene but had always “chickened out” when he tried to tell him.
“I have already asked God’s forgiveness….I have had sex with 25 men in my life…I want to have sex with you…I am not leaving until you place your manhood in my mouth.”  From this point on, only speculation can re-create the scene. Shocked, Gene probably stood up and threw the letter on the floor. “Get out of my house!” he roared. Peterson simply replied, “no.” Hours later, Jaye-Jaye returned without her daughter. She was annoyed and confused to find Peterson’s car still in the driveway. Her confusion increased when she saw what appeared to be red paint all over the front steps of the house. Thinking Thurnau had decided to finish working on the porch, she stepped inside then noticed a long, thick line of paint that went from the doorway into the foyer. Confusion turned to fear. She ran up to the bedroom calling Thurnau’s name. No one was in the house. Jaye-Jaye called police who were also unable to locate the missing man.  Or Peterson for that matter.

The men were found two days later in the master bedroom of Peterson’s rented house in Safety Harbor. Peterson was lying dead on the bed in the master bedroom wearing only his t-shirt and underwear. He had shot himself in the face. On the floor beside the bed was Jaye-Jaye’s nude, dead husband. There was more: Gene’s genitalia were missing. Authorities surmised that Peterson dragged Thurnau’s body into the room and cut off his genitals with a razor blade. With the same .22-caliber handgun he used to kill Thurnau, Peterson killed himself. Of course there could be no charges filed against the killer. He’d already convicted and executed himself.

Detectives don’t know how Peterson’s profession of love to Thurnau turned violent. “It’s hard to tell what happened there after he gave him the note,” said Pasco sheriff’s spokesman Kevin Doll. “We just know what the aftermath was.” Jaye-Jaye imagined her husband was repulsed by Peterson’s proposition. “I’m sure Bob’s feelings were extremely hurt. Gene would not hold back on how he felt about that….I don’t hate Bob. How can you hate someone who is mentally disturbed?”

It was discovered that Peterson had a brother, Anthony Peterson, who lived in Miami. He stated his brother did not hide the fact that he was gay. He spoke of Thurnau often but he didn’t indicate that they had a relationship. Peterson said the killing shocked him. “I didn’t even think he had a gun,” he said. “I didn’t think he was capable of doing it … he might have snapped.”

As for Jaye-Jaye, her life was again in turmoil. And this time there was no kind-hearted work colleague to help her get through it.

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Haggard, Hapless Hagen Suffered a Mental Health Hell

Originally posted on Deathly Dames Inc.:

Boston, Massachusetts –  1976. 28-year-old blonde, pretty Dr. Kathleen Hagen was a highly accomplished woman. She attended Harvard Medical School, something that was uncommon for women in that era. She became the first female resident in urology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Hagen had shattered the glass ceiling. However, some people weren’t pleased. Hagan’s parents, James and Adele, weren’t impressed. Her father, James, told her outright he wished she had been his son. Nice guy.  During this period, Hagen was hospitalized for the first time for chronic, severe depression. James’ cruelty made Kathleen more determined than ever. She accomplished an amazing career progression.

Hagen moved to New Jersey became head of the Urology Department at Rutgers Medical School. Her imagespersonal life wasn’t too shabby either. In 1983 she married a handsome engineer named William Tyrell. However, stressors in Hagen’s life caused her to buckle. She took to her bed for two…

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Little Girl Lost in a Blaze of Gory Glory

Originally posted on Deathly Dames Inc.:

Greenwood, Indiana – 1967.  Sara (Cindy) White, 9-years-old, was one of 6 children who felt overlooked. saraSmall wonder. Her mother was severely alcoholic. Her father, Earl, was her only source of parental affection. Earl liked to bring little Cindy to work on cars with him, however, not for apprenticeship purposes. Knowing the child was love-starved, he made sexual advances towards his little girl until eventually Earl had full sexual intercourse with his child. Cindy had no harbor in her emotional storm. Her mother’s drinking left her oblivious – and unconcerned.

In 1974, at the age of 16, Cindy found herself paralyzed in one of her legs. She was sent to a psychiatric hospital and it was diagnosed that she had a somatic disorder, that is, extreme emotional stress had shut down her body. Perhaps it was her body’s way of protecting Cindy, since while she was hospitalized, she was protected…

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For the Sake of Medicine and the Macabre


frank_1803867bWith Halloween fast approaching, I decided it would be prudent of me to blog about a  criminal case reminiscent of the  brilliant fiction Mary Shelley wrote, entitled Frankenstein (who was the doctor, btw, not the Monster). Shelley wrote it for a fiction-writing competition she and some friends held to pass the time during a thunderstorm. I guess they hadn’t heard of spin-the-bottle. Shelley’s Monster (who was nameless, except for Monster) was a metaphor. Shelley lived during the late era of the Industrial Revolution in America (1760 – 1840). The monster was meant as a criticism of the glut of factories, pollution, inventions and the near-slave labour (a lot of it on the backs of children) that were the foundation of the revolution.

Many people missed the real implication of the Monster. They were too enthralled with the gore of digging up cadavers, cutting up Burke-and-Harebodies and sewing them together to resurrect and release a non-dead creature from death, yet in so doing, creating one that was not entirely alive. Here’s an even creepier non-fiction Frankenstein tale that happened in 1827 during what was to be the last fifteen years of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike Frankenstein, every word of it is true and it involved two small-time crooks and a respected doctor, in their macabre search for fresh human corpses, all in the name of medical science.

The Burke and Hare murders or West Port murders are a reference to two serial killers who operated in Edinburgh, Scotland during a ten month period in 1827. The killings were attributed to Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare, who sold the corpses of 16 victims to Doctor Robert Knox as dissection material for his anatomy lectures. Burke and Hare’s accomplices were Burke’s mistress, Helen McDougal, and Hare’s wife, Margaret Laird. And you thought women were fragile creatures. The British word “burking”, meaning to smother a victim or to commit an anatomy murder, was coined from this criminal case.

Before 1832, there was a dwindling number of cadavers for teaching anatomy in Britain’s medical schools. As medical science was flourishing in the early Victorian Era and the need for stiffs – oops – cadavers, increased. This posed a problem since the legal supply  had begun to wane due to a lack of criminal executions. The lack of corpses that were necessary to demonstrate anatomical dissection to medical students attracted criminal types willing to obtain specimens by any means.Doctors teaching at the Edinburgh Medical School, renowned for medical sciences, helped to generate the invasion of the body-snatchers for a steady supply of “anatomical subjects“. The murderers, politely termed by the doctors as,”resurrectionists”, caused significant public fear and revulsion. I doubt any of the killers or the doctors who procured them were evil. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution and medical technology was proceeding in leaps and bounds alongside industry. The doctors were desperate for fresh meat – oops – I mean, fresh material. The macabre movement from grave-robbing to what was termed as anatomy murder wasn’t a very big one. Elementary, Watson.

The_Hares_during_the_trialBurke (1792–1829) was born in the north of Ireland. After trying his hand at a variety of trades and serving as an officer’s servant in the Donegal Militia, he left his wife and two children in Ireland and emigrated to Scotland about 1817, working on the Union Canal. Really, he did his wife a favour. There he met Helen McDougal who became his mistress and bore him a child. Burke couldn’t seem to hold down a job. He also worked as a labourer, weaver, baker and a cobbler. Jack-of-all trades, master of none. At least, for now.

Hare’s birthplace was in Ulster. He was born in 1792 or 1804. He had a ferocious and malignant disposition. Once, in a fit of rage he actually killed of one of his Master’s horses, which was why he migrated to  Scotland, where he also worked as a labourer on the Union Canal. While working at the Edinburgh terminus of the canal, he met a man named Logue, who ran a lodging-house for beggars and vagrants. When Logue died in 1826, Hare married Logue’s widow, Margaret Laird. She continued to run the lodging house while Hare worked at the canal basin. A rather prudent professional move on Hare’s part.

The Criminal Partnership
Shortly after their arrival in Edinburgh, Burke and McDougal James_Wilson_(Daft_Jamie)moved into Tanner’s Close where Margaret Hare’s lodging-house was situated. Burke and Hare met and became good friends. Hare swore in court testimony that the first body they sold was that of a tenant who died of natural causes on 29 November 1827. He had died owing Hare £4 rent, so to recoup the loss they substituted the body by in the coffin by filling it with bark and took it to Edinburgh University.  They sold the body for what would now amount to roughly $1,000.00 U.S. to an assistant of Dr. Robert Knox. It isn’t known whether the good doctor was aware of how his assistant came into possession of the mortal remains at that time.

First Murder
Burke and Hare’s first murder victim was a sick tenant named Joseph, a miller by trade. They plied the old man with whisky and then suffocated him. Nasty. I mean just bash him over the head or something. Suffocation takes about 90 minutes. That’s just cruel. When there were no other sickly tenants, they decided to lure a victim from the street. They invited pensioner Abigail Simpson to spend the night before her return home to her village of Gilmerton. The following morning they got her good and trunk, then they also smothered this poor woman. laced the body in a tea-chest and handed it over to a porter sent to meet them “at the back of the Castle“.  They were paid £10.

More Murders
The boys were on a roll. Two further murders took place that Mary_Patersonspring. One victim was invited into the house by Mrs Hare who got her drunk until her husband arrived home to finish her off. The other was dispatched in similar circumstances by Burke acting on his own.Next, Burke encountered two women, Mary Paterson and Janet Brown, in the part of Edinburgh known as the Canongate. The two women were described as prostitutes but there is no evidence that this was true. He invited them to breakfast at his brother’s house in Gibb’s Close, but Brown left when an argument broke out between McDougal and Burke. When she returned, she was told that Paterson had left with Burke. In reality, Paterson’s corpse had been taken to Dr. Knox’s rooms in a tea-chest. One of Knox’s students recognized the dead Paterson. They had just met a few days earlier. Uh-oh. That didn’t bode well for Hare and Burke.

One victim was an acquaintance of Burke, a woman called Effie who scavenged for a living. She often sold Burke scraps of leather she found which he used for his cobbling. The murderous men were paid £10 for her body. Then Burke “saved” an inebriated woman from being held by a policeman by claiming he could take her back to her lodging. He was only half-lying. He delivered her body to the medical school just hours later. The next two victims were an old woman and her mute 12-year-old son or grandson. While the woman died from an overdose on painkillers, Hare took the young boy and stretched him over his knee, then proceeded to break his back. Ouch. Burke stated in court that this was the murder that disturbed him the most, as he was haunted by his recollection of the boy’s expression. He couldn’t have been too upset. He kept killing.

The tea-chest was inadequate for a double murder, so both Mrs_Dochertybodies were forced into a herring barrel. The bodies were worth  £8 each. The barrel was loaded onto a cart which Hare’s horse refused to pull uphill from the Cowgate; maybe it sensed this was no ordinary delivery. Hare took his anger out on the horse by shooting it dead in the yard. You really can’t teach an old dog new tricks, can you? Two more victims were Burke’s acquaintance, Mrs. Hostler, and one of McDougal’s cousins, Ann Dougal. Burke later claimed that about this time Mrs Hare suggested converting Helen McDougal into merchandise on the grounds that “they could not trust her, as she was a Scotch woman”; but he refused. It would seem the women’s friendship didn’t run too deep.

Another victim was Mary Haldane, a former lodger who, down on her luck, asked to sleep in Hare’s stable. Burke and Hare also murdered her daughter Peggy Haldane when she called a few days later to inquire after her mother. Burke and Hare’s next victim was a familiar figure in the streets. He was a mentally disabled young man with a limp, named James Wilson. “Daft Jamie“, as he was known, was 18 at the time of his murder. The boy resisted, and the pair had to kill him together, though later each blamed the other for taking the main part in the crime. His mother began searching and asking for him. When Dr. Knox uncovered the body the next morning, several students recognized Jamie. Knox denied that it was the missing boy, and was reported to have dissected the body ahead of others to render the remains unrecognizable. So much for professional integrity. We know for certain now that old Knox was as culpable for the killings as his criminal cohorts. While Hare was in the habit of disposing of victims’ clothing in the Union Canal, Burke passed Jamie’s clothes to his nephews, leaving behind material evidence which was recovered before the trial. They say criminals aren’t too intelligent and there’s your proof.

260px-Execution_of_William_BurkeBurke stated later that he and Hare were “generally in a state of intoxication” when the murders were carried out, and that he “could not sleep at night without a bottle of whisky by his bedside, and a twopenny candle to burn all night beside him; when he awoke he would take a draught of the bottle—sometimes half a bottle at a draught—and that would make him sleep”. The last victim was Mrs Mary Docherty, also known by her maiden name as Margery Campbell. Burke lured her into the lodging house by claiming that his mother was also a Docherty, but he had to wait to complete his murderous task because of the presence of lodgers James and Ann Gray. Finally the Grays left for the night and neighbours later reported having heard the sounds of a struggle and a woman crying “murder!”

The next day the Grays returned, and Ann Gray became suspicious when Burke would not let her approach a bed where she left her stockings. When they were alone in the house in the early evening, the Grays checked the bed and found Docherty’s body under it. That must have been a pleasant sight. On their way to alert the police, they ran into McDougal who tried to bribe them with an offer of £10 a week. Not as concerned with the cadaver shortage as Dr. Knox, they refused. Burke and Hare removed the body from the house before the police arrived but Burke claimed Docherty left at 7 a.m., while McDougal claimed that she left in the evening. The police arrested them. An anonymous tip-off led them to Knox’s dissecting-rooms where they found Docherty’s body, which James Gray identified. William and Margaret Hare were arrested soon thereafter. While incarcerated, Burke confessed to a number of other killings. The murder spree had lasted almost ten months and resulted in at least 16 murders. That’s slightly more than one killing a month. Income generated from the sale of cadavers must have been sweet by 1827 standards.

William_Burke's_skeletonNaturally the two men were tried and convicted. The judge stated,  that your body should be publicly dissected and anatomized. And I trust, that if it is ever customary to preserve skeletons, yours will be preserved, in order that posterity may keep in remembrance of your atrocious crimes. Burke was hanged at 8.15 am on 28 January 1829, in front of a crowd estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000. Window-seats in tenements overlooking the scaffold were hired at prices ranging from 5 shillings to £1. On the following day Burke was publicly dissected in the anatomy theatre of the University’s Old College. Police had to be called when large numbers of students gathered demanding access to the lecture for which a limited number of tickets had been issued. A minor riot ensued until one of the professors (Dr. Knox?) decided to allow the gatecrashers into the theatre in groups of fifty at a time.

Masks_of_Burke_and_Hare,_Edinburgh_Medical_SchoolBurke’s skeleton is now displayed in the Anatomy Museum of the Edinburgh Medical School. His death mask and a book said to be made from his tanned skin can be seen at Surgeons’ Hall Museum. McDougal was released after the charge against her was found to be not proven. Dr. Knox was not prosecuted, despite public outrage at his role in providing an incentive for the murders. Burke swore in his confession that Knox had known nothing of the origin of the cadavers. Millions wouldn’t believe him but I do.

There are tours of the skeletons and local areas where the crimes were committed, included the Hares’ boarding house the murders were committed. There is a collection of “Burke and Hare Mystery Dolls” that were supposedly recovered from a cave by a boy after the murders.  There are currently 8 of the original 17 murder dolls left. They are kept at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.


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Sinful Sisterly Love with a Sinister Twist

La Mans – Southwest of Paris – 1920. L’Amour was a Papins0001picturesque town with a population of perhaps 1,000 people. It was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone else and their business. The Papin sisters, Christine, 16, and Lea, 11, were abandoned to an orphanage by their vain, pleasure-seeking mother, Clemence, so she could enjoy a life free of responsibility.  They had an elder sister, Emilia, whom their alcoholic father raped when she was only 9 years old. She eventually became a nun. There was a history of mental illness in the family. The sisters’ paternal grandfather displayed a violent temper and had epileptic fits. Some relatives died in asylums or committed suicide. Clemence was an abusive woman who hated everything about her girls, even their appearance.  The girls formed a close bond with one another, a survival tactic in response to their mother’s abandonment. Set against this troubling backdrop was the strange relationship that would develop between Christine and Lea. Christine was of average intelligence, and would one day be completely dominant over younger sister Lea. Léa was of low intelligence and eventually her personality virtually disappeared into Christine’s personality.

One day, Clemence decided to send Christine out to work in order to earn money for her self-indulgences. The nunnery informed Clemence that Lea was too young to join her but Christine refused to go without her sister. Too bad. Christine was sent away to be a maid. The extreme stress Christine experience was ignored. The oversight would prove to be a major mistake. Six years later, Christine was a free woman, long out of the orphanage and she had a good reputation as a maid with the elite class. Although the girls’ employers never had a bad word to say about Lea, they claimed Christine had a “difficult” personality and she would eventually be dismissed for insolence on more than one occasion.

pap4In 1926, Christine secured a job with Monsieur René Lancelin and his family, being his wife and adult daughter. He was a retired solicitor. The family lived in luxury. Madame Lancelin offered Christine the job right away, but the latter asked if the Madame would also employ her sister. It was a strange request. However, Madame advised Christine if she performed as expected, she would consider employing Lea. Of course, Christine worked better than any maid ever had for the Lancelin family and soon Lea joined her in the Lancelin household. That meant that Genevieve Lancelin now had a servant to wait on her. For some months, Clemence visited the two sisters regularly but there was always friction between her and Christine. Two years before the murders, there was a complete rift between the girls and their mother, caused by disagreements over money. Their mother wrote to them after this rift, but was ignored.

The sisters shared an attic room together and expressed no outside interests in the community, except for being regular church-goers. They were obsessed with one another and eventually began an incestuous relationship. They braided each other’s hair. They made clothes for one another. They went leaeverywhere together. It was the only love the girls had ever experienced. At first Madame Lancelin took no notice of the goings-on between her two maids. The girls’ housework was impeccable. Madame was heard to refer to them  as “two pearls.” However the girls and the Lancelin family were very distant. Madame was rather like Clemence. There was little conversation between Madame and the girls, except a curt morning greeting and the continual orders Madame gave the sisters. Madame was critical of the girls and frequently reminded them of their low social status. The girls were exploited by their employer, who made them work  fourteen-hour days, with only half a day off each week. Understandably the girls transferred their pent-up anger for Clemence onto Madame Lancelin. Secretly, they mocked and imitated the Madame.

As if that wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Madame couldn’t help but notice all the time the girls spent in their room. This was most odd indeed and Madame became suspicious about the girls’ relationship. One night she spied on the girls and caught them making love. This didn’t sit well with Madame. Madame informed the rest of the family but nothing came of it. On 2 February 1933, the girls were ironing a dress for Madame. The faulty iron blew out the electricity. Madame demanded an explanation and when Christine informed her of the problem with the iron, Madame yelled at the sisters. She made remarks about their incestuous behavior and Christine flew into a rage. She grabbed a blunt object and struck Madame in the face. Madame fell to the floor, screaming. Christine hit Genevieve who also fell to the floor. Christine then bludgeoned Madame repeatedly until she stopped screaming. Christine did the same to poor Genevieve.

Papin-Sisters_Christine_being_transferred_to_mental_asylumLike vultures, the sisters tore out the eyes of both Madame Lancelin and Genevieve.  They didn’t stop there. Using a hammer and a butcher knife, the sisters attacked the corpses repeatedly, seeking revenge for every unkind word Madame had ever uttered at them. Hours later, Monsieur arrived home, looking for his wife who hadn’t arrived for an evening with friends. He was locked out of his own house. Finally, he called police who assisted him in entering the house. They discovered the horrible corpses of Monsieur’s wife and daughter. The police assumed it had been a break-in and they expected to find the sisters massacred in their bed. Instead, they went upstairs to find the two girls making love, completely unbothered by their crime. The sisters had made no attempt to leave the house.

The sisters admitted their guilt and were placed in separate prison cells. Christine became extremely distressed because she could not see Léa, but at one stage the authorities relented and let her see her sister. She threw herself at Léa and spoke to her in ways that suggested a sexual relationship. In July 1933, Christine experienced a kind of “fit” in which she tried to gouge her own eyes out and had to be put in a straitjacket. She made a statement to the magistrate, in which she said that on the day of the murders she had experienced an episode like the one she had in prison, and this was what precipitated the murders.

Trial666The trial was a national event, attended by vast numbers of the public and the press. Police had to be called in to control the crowds outside the packed courthouse. That year, Christine was sentenced to death by guillotine. As if she hadn’t laboured enough, her sentence was later commuted to hard labour for life. While in prison, Christine’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Profoundly depressed over being separated from Lea, she refused to eat and was transferred to an asylum in Rennes. She never showed the slightest improvement and died in 1937 at the young age of 32. Leah was sentenced to ten years had labour and released in 1943. Christine had clearly been the dominant of the two and Leah had simply followed along. After the evil influence of her twisted sister was over, Leah settled into a quiet life, returning home to Nantes to Clemence, who accepted her daughter. Somehow the dysfunctional mother-daughter remained intact. Lea got a job as a maid in a hotel under a false name.

chrisThe case had a huge impact on the public and was debated furiously by the “intelligentsia“. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartrenots.Jean Genet was so taken by the case, that he loosely based his most famous play Les Bonnes or The Maids on it.  Two films were released in the last ten years, an English film called Sister, My Sister, starring Joely Redgrave and Jodhi May, based on a play by the American playwright Wendy Kesselman, and a french film, Les Blessures Assassines (Murderous Maids in English) by filmmaker Jean-Pierre Denis.The films portray the relationship between the two sisters differently, particularly in regard to alleged sexual nature of the relationship.


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