March 10, 2017

O.J. Simpson: Was There a Rush to Judgment?


theweek.co.uk

A friend of mine recently watched Ryan Murphy's American Crime: The People vs. O.J. Simpson - - a surprisingly quality show - - and we were discussing it.  This friend had the opinion that while Simpson is most likely guilty of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and Ron Goldman, the LAPD had tunnel vision and rushed to judgment.

I am very opinionated about the Simpson case and have no problems sharing my thoughts (clearly.)  So let's talk about the LAPD's response to the murders.

The crimes happened on the evening of Sunday, June 12, 1994.  The first responders showed up on Bundy Drive after midnight, in the early morning hours of Monday, June 13.  Simpson had his infamous slow speed chase on Friday, June 17.  To the layperson it may seem as though that was some quick decision making by the LAPD but this was not surprising.

First, whenever a spouse or former spouse is killed, the husband/wife, current or former, is always, always suspect number one.  And with good reason - - they quite often have something to do with it. So naturally O.J. Simpson immediately went to the top of the LAPD's suspect list.

Being that the minor Simpson children were at the scene, upstairs sleeping while their mother was being murdered, the detectives quickly and safely removed them from the scene.  As their mother was dead, that left their father as their sole remaining legal parent. The detectives elected to make a death notification to Simpson in person; while this in itself is not that unusual it is unusual that they would choose to inform Simpson of his ex-wife's death prior to notifying her parents, who were her legal next of kin, since she and Simpson were divorced. Why did they do that?  I believe it was because of the children, who were taken to an LAPD station to await their father and because, once again, authorities were giving preferential treatment to a celebrity (more on that below.)

So, let's go back to the crime scene.  Both victims were attacked with a knife.  Killing with a knife is a very personal way to take someone out.  You must get up close and personal; there is no distance doing it this way.  The defense would eventually float the idea that a hitman took out Nicole and Ron, citing the infamous "Columbian necktie" and how Nicole's wound was similar.  Preposterous.  Nicole's tongue was not pulled through her neck wound a la Columbian necktie.  Furthermore, the majority of hit men do not use knives unless specifically instructed to. They do not want any type of personal interaction with the victim; that's why guns are normally favored. A gun allows them to keep their distance and not get their hands dirty, so to speak.  A knife would involve not just close up interaction but also a potential battle, which is exactly what happened with Ron Goldman.  A hit man likely would not wait for Nicole to come outside her condo, where anyone might see or overhear the attack (again, what happened with Ron); rather, her movements would be followed and she would be taken out at a time when it wasn't likely there would be a witness.  (All this without even addressing how ridiculous the hit man suggestion is - - who would take out a hit on Nicole?)

I recall reading in one of the many books and articles I have read on this case that Nicole had told one of her friends that she was most terrified of dying by knife.  Don't you wonder if her ex-husband knew that?

The buzzer at Nicole's gate was broken at the time.  Given that Simpson came to the Bundy residence in order to pick up and drop off his children, I'm sure he knew that.

Nicole had also mentioned to a friend that the house key she normally left in a large potted plant outside her residence while she jogged had gone missing in the days before her murder.  Wonder if Simpson knew about that or had anything to do with it?  

The LAPD had two very bloody bodies. The attack on Nicole was precise and methodical; the attack on Ron was frenzied which suggested that Nicole was the target.  A dark knit cap and a leather glove found at the scene, along with bloody footprints that led to the alley, suggested that the killer had arrived prepared with his weapon, cap and gloves and had parked in the back alley and returned there after the crimes.    

Even before the detectives arrived at Simpson's Rockingham Avenue residence to notify him, they were well aware of his domestic violence record.  There had been multiple calls to both the Rockingham house and a rental house on Gretna Green that Nicole had moved into when the couple separated when their fights had become violent. One call to Rockingham had resulted in Simpson being made to do community service for his assault on his wife but he was never arrested or charged with spousal abuse or battery.

All these facts up to this point would be enough to justify questioning Simpson but a whole lot more was going to come into play.

At the Rockingham residence, Simpson's Bronco was parked on the street, rather than in the driveway as he normally parked it.  The Bronco was not parked straight but rather haphazardly, as if the driver had pulled up to the curb in a hurry.  A blood spot was noticed on the outside driver's door handle.  More blood drops and smears would be found inside the Bronco, on the steering wheel, the driver's side floor panel, the carpeting, the middle console and on the passenger seat.  The blood would be a mixture of Ron and Nicole . . . and Simpson.

Blood drops were found in the driveway, indicating this was from active bleeding, as were blood drops noticed at the Bundy crime scene.  Blood was found inside the residence, in the master bedroom, on black socks discovered on the bedroom floor.  This blood would be typed to Nicole.

A leather glove, matching that one found at Bundy, was found on the property by the back fence, stained with blood that was typed to Nicole.

Simpson, however, was not home.  He had left for Chicago late Sunday evening.

The detective making notification to him by telephone would recall that Simpson, upon being informed that his ex-wife had been killed, did not ask how she was killed or what happened to her.  As Nicole was a young 36 and not ill, why didn't Simpson ask what happened?  An innocent person would.

Simpson returned to L.A. later that Monday. Detectives immediately noticed a bandage on his finger and underneath, a deep,nasty cut. Simpson claimed at first not to know how he got that cut, saying that he cut himself all the time and bled everywhere, all the time. Then he claimed that upon hearing the news of Nicole's death in Chicago, he went "a little nuts" and broke a glass, causing the cut.  All of the above is clearly bullshit.

He would sit down with detectives to give them an interview, one that was far too brief and which they, of all things, halted. Simpson had problems nailing down his timeline for Sunday evening. His housemate, Kato Kaelin, had already told detectives that Simpson uncharacteristically asked  him to change a large bill and then went to McDonald's to pick up burgers. Kaelin had offered to help him load bags in the limo for his Chicago trip and Simpson had been adamant that Kaelin not touch a bag that only Simpson handled.

The limo driver, Allan Park, was precise about the time he arrived at Rockingham and the fact that the Bronco was not there on his arrival.  Neither was Simpson.  Despite lights being on in the home, no one answered his repeated buzzings at the gate. Park's supervisor, who he called to relay this information, verified all this was true. Park saw a dark figured adult man, who he suspected to be Simpson, coming from the back yard area, where the glove was later found, and enter the home through a side door.  It was then, after he once again buzzed, that Simpson answered and said he had been asleep, somehow managed to sleep through the constant calls, and was now jumping in the shower and would be down shortly.  When the limo left, with a sweating and bleeding Simpson in the back, Park noticed that the Bronco was now parked on the street.  (My guess is that Simpson had planned on returning the Bronco to the driveway, where he normally parked it, but the limo had blocked his path.)

This is a mountain of evidence and not even all of it.  This is what the LAPD knew by Wednesday or Thursday of that week.   I didn't mention above that the detectives, when notifying the Brown family in Dana Point of the horrible end of Nicole, heard Nicole's sister Denise screaming that O.J. had done it.

It would have been INSANE for the detectives not to suspect Simpson.  He was the ex-husband; he had had a violent relationship with Nicole; their current relationship was contentious; his alibi didn't fully check out; he had a serious cut that he could not explain; his blood was at the crime scene; the victims' blood was in his vehicle and at his residence.

Do I think the LAPD had tunnel vision?  Hell, no.  In fact, I think the LAPD made a massive mistake in not pinning Simpson to the wall during the only interview they would get.  He arrived without his attorney - - a gift!  He was floundering for answers to the detectives' questions and they pussyfooted around him like starstruck fans rather than grilling his ass.

They also gave him privileges that most of us would never get.  They allowed him and his attorney to dictate when he would turn himself in.  Say what now?

When the slow speed chase happened, I don't believe for a minute that he was heading to Orange County to kill himself at Nicole's grave.  Absolutely not.  Class A narcissists like Simpson don't do that.  Would he say he was in order to play victim and gain sympathy?  Sure would.

I believe he was headed to Mexico.  A disguise and a nice stack of money was found with him when he eventually turned himself in.  Why would an innocent man need these items?  And why would someone planning to kill themselves need those items?

No, O.J. Simpson is guilty as sin.


February 22, 2017

The MacDonald Case: The Footprint

Photo: JustTheFacts


In a case rife with physical evidence, the bloody footprint found inside Kristen MacDonald's bedroom is often overlooked in being as "important" as other clues and evidence but the print is vital to telling the true story of what happened the evening of February 16-17, 1970.

The footprint was noticed by the investigators on the morning of February 19, 1970 and classified as a bloody print made by an adult bare foot. While there was a great deal of blood in all three bedrooms, the bulk of the blood found in Kristen's room was under her body, on her bed and splattered on the wall.  So a bloody footprint on the wood floor would definitely stand out.

Photographs were taken of the print and, unfortunately, the print itself was destroyed when, in an attempt to preserve it by removing the floorboards, the boards split and basically eradicated it. However, based on the photographs, analysis and Jeffrey MacDonald's own testimony, it provides an important piece of the puzzle.

MacDonald was fairly descriptive of his alleged attackers, down to sergeant's stripes on a jacket and boots worn by the female intruder and three male intruders.  He never mentioned that any of them were barefoot.  All members of the MacDonald family, however, were at that time.  Given the footprint was obviously that of an adult, both Kimberley and Kristen can be ruled out.  That leaves Colette MacDonald and Jeffrey MacDonald.

Colette's feet were examined and while she did have blood down portions of her pajama bottoms, her legs themselves were not injured and never bled.  Neither did her feet.  Not to mention that the size difference between her feet and MacDonald's feet would be apparent.

MacDonald's left foot, February 25, 1970
Image: thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com 
Back to MacDonald's testimony.  He admitted the footprint was his and this admission was borne out from the impressions taken of his left foot a week after the murders.  

Now, that's not unusual.  This was his home.  He said he put Kristen to bed earlier that evening.  He also said that he went to Kristen's room at least twice after the killings in order to administer CPR and check on her.  So finding a bare footprint is not incriminating.  Not even a bloody footprint.

This is where we have problems, Houston.

That footprint was made in the blood of Colette MacDonald.

It would be expected that in his handling of the bodies, MacDonald would get blood on him.  With the exception of the spot in the master bedroom doorway where Kimberley was felled, all of the blood (and there was a lot of it) shed in the master bedroom was Colette's.  The carpet her body was found lying on was pretty much soaked through.  MacDonald could most certainly have stepped in it while checking on/administering aid to his wife.

But no bloody footprints were discovered exiting the master bedroom, walking down the wood floor hallway nor going into Kristen's room.  Only exiting.

How on earth could someone step in Colette's blood in the master bedroom, leave the bedroom, walk down the hall, enter another bedroom and track that blood on their way out?   It is impossible.

So let's go back to Kristen's room.  As I posted above, the majority of the blood found in her room was under her body, on the top sheet of her bed, in spatters on the wall and some drips going down the side of the bed from her body.  Most of that blood belonged to Kristen.

The spatters on the wall and blood on the top sheet, however, belonged to her mother. None of Colette's blood found in that room was on the floor, save the footprint.

MacDonald never admitted to climbing on Kristen's bed and standing on it.  (For good reason - - he didn't do it and why would he?)  That is the only way he might innocently have gotten Colette's blood on the bottoms of his feet and then tracked it on the floor on his way out.

During his many interviews and his testimony about the events of that evening/early morning, he never said that Colette was in Kristen's bedroom during any of his "visits" to check on his daughter.  So clearly Colette had already bled in that bedroom before MacDonald went in, per his own testimony.

The doorway of Kristen's bedroom
Photo: thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com 
Let's go to what the experts said from the dimensions of the print.  They claimed that the print was made by a person carrying something while exiting the room.

We know that Colette MacDonald bled in that bedroom.  We know that scrapes from the club were found on the ceiling of the room, despite the fact that Kristen herself had not been struck with the club.  We know that Colette's blood spattered the wall and we know that she was struck with the club multiple times. We know that some of her own blood was found down the front of her pajama pants, despite her not suffering any injuries below her chest. We know that she was then moved back to the master bedroom where she was found.  We know that the blue bedspread had a large quantity of Colette's blood in it, as well as bloody fabric impressions from her pajamas.

Take all of this together and what does it mean?

Jeffrey MacDonald left that footprint as he was carrying his wife's battered body back to the master bedroom.  He had struck her at least once, viciously, with the club and had hit her with enough force to leave the scrape marks on the ceiling and cast off blood spatter on the wall.  Colette had bled enough to leave bloodstains on the top sheet of Kristen's bed and then had fallen forward to bleed on her own pajama bottoms.  MacDonald left her there, unconscious and bleeding, while he returned to the master bedroom to collect the bedspread so that he could return Colette to the master bedroom.  He placed her body in that spread and as he was picking her up, as she was still bleeding, he stepped into her blood that was in/on that spread and left the footprint.

There is no innocent explanation for it.  None.  MacDonald himself admitted he left that footprint. He cannot explain or account for its presence in any way.

February 7, 2017

The Unsolved Murder of Kirsten Davis



Vidalia, Georgia is a stereotypical small southern town, situated between interstates 75 and 16, and halfway between Savannah and Macon.  At one time its fields harvested pecans and tobacco, the area became best known for its sweet onions, first produced in 1931 and by 1940, so popular that they became a tourist item. So proud of its onions is the area that each spring Vidalia hosts a five-day long Onion Festival, drawing in many tourists.

Vidalia was also the birthplace to notables such as NFL players Mel Blount, Carl Simpson and Fred Stokes; golfer Paul Claxton; baseball player Wallace Moses; oilman and benefactor Algur H. Meadows; and NBC News correspondent Don Harris.

Some five minutes away, the tiny hamlet of Santa Claus sits, home to fewer than 200 residents but a place that tourists and locals alike will travel to in December in order to mail their Christmas cards and letters.  In keeping with their seasonal name, Santa Claus boasts several themed street names, including Candy Cane Road, Rudolph Way, Dancer Street, Prancer Street and Sleigh Street.

By 1991 "The Sweet Onion City" of Vidalia hit its population peak at just over 11,000 residents.  With the increased population came increased crime but violent crime, like murder, was a rarity.

July 3, 1991 was a Wednesday. Kirsten Davis, 21 years old and a recent graduate of Berry College, was traveling from Rome, Georgia to Vidalia to visit a friend.  The drive would normally be about four hours, give or take, and Kirsten had exited Interstate 16 and was driving on Highway 297 around 1 a.m.  She was roughly five miles outside of Vidalia when the shooting happened.

About thirty minutes later, passing motorists spotted Kirsten's blue 1985 Subaru station wagon overturned in a ditch.  She was still inside, dead from a shotgun wound to her face and neck.

An investigation yielded little.  Kirsten, a friendly girl who planned to be a teacher, had no apparent enemies who would wish her harm.  She did not live a high risk lifestyle and was, in fact, a scholarship student from Boulder, Colorado.  As a child in her native Colorado, she had collected aluminum cans for recycling and gave the money to missionaries.   While at Berry College, she again begun collecting aluminum cans as a way to raise money to install a flagpole on campus, by the Dining Hall, so that students could pledge to the flag and pray.  She planned on staying in Georgia to pursue a teaching career and in her spare time, Kirsten mentored foster children through the Big Sister program and worked as an aide at a Christian summer camp.  Even if she were to have incited someone to kill her, it's unlikely they would have followed Kirsten from Rome to Vidalia.

Kirsten was buried on a hillside in Rome, a spot where four months earlier, after her graduation, she had pointed out to her mother Barbara as a place she would sit to watch the sunset.

Executive from Chick-Fil-A, who had sponsored Kirsten's scholarship, contacted Berry College to ask what they could do in the wake of Kirsten's death.  That led to the installation of the flagpole, just as she had hoped, with a granite marker at its base, memorializing Kirsten.  

The case, however, quickly went cold.  

I have an opinion (of course.)  I don't believe, based on what is known about Kirsten, that she was a target.  Why wait until she's four hours away from her home base of Rome before taking action?  Choosing to follow her and then shoot her with a shotgun would require a ruse of some sort to get her to stop, or to be ahead of her, which seems unlikely.  The fact that her car was found overturned indicates to me that she was driving along normally when she was shot.  There were no skid marks reported at the scene, so I don't believe she was fleeing an attacker.

Given the time the shooting happened, I think it's possible that someone was drunk and/or playing around with a gun.  I think it's possible that Kirsten was shot accidentally and whoever shot her did not intend to shoot another person, much less Kirsten.  I think that person either fled when they realized they shot her, or they never realized they shot a person until perhaps they saw it on the news and out of fear, have not come forward.

Last July, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his sister's death, Kirsten's twin brother Tim recalled her as a straight A student, someone who was involved in every club.  He wonders what she would be like today.

The homicide of Kirsten Davis is still an active case but seems to be at an impasse.

If you have any information, please contact the Toombs County Sheriff's Office at 912-526-6778 or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Eastman Office at 478-374-6988.

Kirsten and her brother Tim

February 2, 2017

February 3, 1959: The Day The Music Died



But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

From "American Pie" by Don McLean


Most people have heard Don McLean's classic 1971 tune "American Pie" and sung the lyrics but few know the meaning behind those words.

Photo: kopr94.net 
The song was born from a winter day in Iowa, back in 1959, when a small plane crash snuffed out the lives of four people and put a cloud on the end of the otherwise sedate decade and taking away the presumed innocence of the early rock and roll period.


J. P. Richardson, a Texas native, had studied pre-law and done a stint in the Army before working at a local radio station as a disc jockey.  During his Monday through Friday shift of 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., a sponsor wanted him for a new time slot and, given his larger than life, exuberant personality, a specific show that would air from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m.  J.P. had seen college students doing a dance called "The Bop" and adopted a modified version of that name to come up with his professional moniker.  His radio show was a success, leading him to become the station's program director. Within a few months (May 1957), he broke the record for continuous on-air broadcasting, performing for a total of five days, two hours and eight minutes and spinning 1,821 records.  He took showers during 5 minute news broadcasts.   In 1958, he became a trailblazer by creating the first music video, recording an image of himself.

J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson
Photo: thechive.com
J.P. had enjoyed the band and chorus while in school and played the guitar.  He began writing songs and Harold "Pappy" Daily, a promotion director for Mercury and Starday Records, signed J.P. to Mercury.  His first single, "Beggar to King," failed to ignite but his second - - "Chantilly Lace," with its rockabilly, folksy flavor - - initially cut for Daly's D label but bought by Mercury was released in the summer of 1958 and made him a star.  It reached as high as #6 and spent 22 weeks in the Top 40, with an "answer" to Richardson's pretend phone conversation from the tune being provided via Jayne Mansfield in the sequel-ish song "That Makes It."

J.P. had also written "White Lightening," recorded by George Jones (and which became Jones' first #1 country hit) and "Running Bear" for Johnny Preston (in which J.P. sang background.)  "Running Bear" would not be released until after J.P.'s death and would become a #1 hit for three weeks in 1960.

With these successes and more apparent in the horizon, J.P. chose to take time off from the radio station and join "The Winter Dance Party" tour, with Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, Frankie Sardo, Ritchie Valens and Dion and The Belmonts.  The tour began on January 23, 1959.






Ritchie Valens in a promotional photo
Ritchie Valens, a Los Angeles native, was the youngest musician on tour and would become the youngest victim of February 3, 1959.  Despite his young age of seventeen, he was a rock and roll pioneer, a forefather of the Chicano rock movement.

Ritchie was born into a Mexican family and from the age of five, expressed an interest in making music of his own. His father encouraged him to take up the guitar and the trumpet and Ritchie later taught himself the drums.  Left handed by nature, he was so determined to learn the guitar that he mastered the traditionally right handed version of the instrument.

At sixteen, Ritchie was invited to join The Silhouettes, a local band as their guitarist.  Soon after, the main vocalist left the group and Ritchie stepped into the role, making his performing debut on October 19, 1957.  He was also still attending school in Pacoima, where he would bring his guitar and sing and play songs for friends on the bleachers.

On January 31, 1957, an event occurred that would shape Ritchie Valens' life and provide an eerie foretelling into his death.  On that date, Ritchie had missed school in order to attend his grandfather's funeral and was not present when two airplanes collided over the playground area of his school in Pacoima.  Several of his friends were injured or killed, leading Ritchie to develop an intense fear of flying.  

In May of 1958, Bob Keane, the owner and president of Del-Fi Records in Hollywood, was given a tip about a Richard Valenzuela (Ritchie's birth name), a kid that was so good he was known as "The Little Richard of San Fernando."  Curious, Keane auditioned Ritchie and promptly (and smartly) signed him.  On May 27, 1958 he took the name of "Ritchie" to distinguish himself from the "Richards" already in the industry and shortened his surname from "Valenzuela" to "Valens" to provide a wider appeal, outside of any particular ethnic group.  

Ritchie demoed several songs for Keane, showing not only his musical talents but also the ability to improvise new lyrics and add new riffs to popular songs he was playing.  One of the demoed songs became "Donna," one of Ritchie's most popular songs.

In July 1958. at Gold Star Studios, and in a single session, Ritchie recorded "Come On, Let's Go," and "Framed."  "Come On, Let's Go" was a success, putting Ritchie's name into the public consciousness.

His next record, the last one to be released in his lifetime, was a double A side containing the previously mentioned "Donna," written about a real life girlfriend, and "La Bamba." "La Bamba" was an upbeat version of a traditional Mexican wedding song and would become insanely popular.  It would be the song Ritchie Valens would best be remembered for.  The record would sell over a million copies and was recorded a gold disc by the Record Industry Association of America.

To concentrate on his career, Ritchie decided to quit school in the autumn of 1958. He was booked in venues across the United States as well as appearing on television shows.   He alleviated his fear of flying in order to further his career, going to Philadelphia to appear on Dick Clark's American Bandstand on October 6, 1958, where he sang "Come On, Let's Go."   In November, he flew to Hawaii where he performed alongside Buddy Holly and Paul Anka.  He then went to New York City for a Christmas Jubilee, singing with those performers who had greatly influenced him - - Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran (who would later write a song about the coming tragedy) and Jackie Wilson.   On December 27, Ritchie returned to Philadelphia and American Bandstand for his second appearance, this time performing "Donna."

He returned to Los Angeles at the end of 1958, in time to appear in the movie Go Johnny Go! and return to Gold Star Studios to record what would comprise tracks for his two albums.

In January of 1959, Ritchie left Los Angeles for the final time in order to perform in "The Winter Dance Party" tour.   The show was split into two acts, with Ritchie closing the first act.



Buddy Holly
photo: Rolling Stone
Charles Holley was born in Lubbock, Texas to a musical family during The Great Depression, learning to play guitar and sing alongside his three older siblings.  Dubbed "Buddy" from an early age, he would also pick up the violin and ultimately be influenced by gospel, country and rhythm and blues.  He would eventually meld country and western with rhythm and blues for his unique sound.

Throughout his teens, Buddy would play locally and upon graduating from school in 1955, he chose to make music his full-time career. He saw Elvis Presley perform live in Lubbock and would open for him in April and June of that year.  In October, Buddy was booked as the opening act for Bill Haley and the Comets, a booking that would change the course of his life.

Nashville scout Eddie Crandall was there and was impressed by what he saw. He encouraged Grand Ole Opry manager Jim Denny to obtain a recording contract for Buddy.  Denny forwarded a demo tape to Paul Cohen, who would sign Buddy to Decca Records in February 1956.   In that contract, Denny misspelled Buddy's surname; instead of "Holley," he wrote "Holly," something that would stick.

Buddy's first formal recording session was on January 26, 1956, with two more following, but he found it frustrating.  The producer would select the session musician and arrangements and Buddy wanted more creative control.

Denny included Buddy as the opening act for Faron Young, billing them as Buddy Holly and The Two Tones. Decca would later call them Buddy Holly and The Three Tunes but they made little impact.  Decca would release four singles without much movement leading to the label to drop him on January 22, 1957.

Better things were ahead for Holly.  He went to producer Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico and along with Jerry Allison, Niki Sullivan and Joe B. Mauldin recorded a demo of "That'll Be The Day," among other songs.  Petty, acting as the group's manager, sent the demo to Brunswick Records.  Brunswick released "That'll Be The Day" as a single and the quartet was dubbed The Crickets.

In September 1957, as the band was touring, "That'll Be The Day" became a #1 single. It was followed up quickly in October by the smash "Peggy Sue."   "Peggy Sue" would simultaneously reach #3 on the pop chart and  #2 on the R&B chart.  In November, the band's first album, titled "Chirping Crickets" dropped, reaching #5.   On December 1, 1957. the group performed "That'll Be The Day" and "Peggy Sue" on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Following that appearance, and with the increasing stress of touring, Niki Sullivan left the group and resumed his education.

On January 25, 1958, Holly and the Crickets would make their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  They would perform in Honolulu on January 27 and then depart for a week long Australian tour.

In February of 1958 the Crickets would play 50 concerts in 25 days in the United Kingdom.  That same month, Holly's debut solo album was released.

Once they returned to the States, the Crickets would join Alan Freed's "Big Beat Show" tour for 41 appearances.  In April, Decca released "That'll Be The Day," despite having cut Buddy.  In May, there was a new recording session in Clovis.  Buddy hired Tommy Allsup to play lead guitar and "It's So Easy" and "Heartbeat" were produced.  Buddy was happy with Allsup and invited him to join The Crickets.  In June, Buddy traveled alone to New York to record solo.   Not having The Crickets, he was backed by a jazz and R&B band, recording "Now We're One" and Bobby Darin's "Early In The Morning."

Prior to his departure to New York, Holly had found out that his hometown girlfriend had left him for a friend.  He would not be in a serious relationship again until his New York trip, when he met Maria Elena Santiago.  He asked her out on their first introduction, she accepted and on their first date, Buddy proposed.  She accepted and the two were married on August 15, 1958.

Manager Petty disapproved of the marriage and advised Buddy to keep it secret so that Buddy's female fans would not be upset.  This disapproval and Petty's suggestion caused friction between the two and Holly began questioning Petty's bookkeeping.  The Crickets also were frustrated with Petty, as he controlled all the proceeds.

While in New York, Buddy took his new bride to music venues, where he told her that he wanted to learn fingerstyle flamenco guitar and collaborate between rock and roll and soul singing.  He dreamt of making an album with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson.   To feed his dreams of working in film, he registered at Lee Strasburg's Actors Studio.

In order to hide the marriage, Maria Elena was presented as The Crickets' secretary, where she took care of laundry, equipment set up and collecting the revenue from the concerts.  The job wouldn't last long.

She and Buddy settled in Greenwich Village and he continued recording his solo work.  In December of 1958, he officially ended his partnership with Petty.  His band members would keep their relationship with Petty.  This, along with Buddy's desire to live in New York, led him to split from The Crickets.  Petty, however, was still holding monies from royalties, which led to Buddy forming a new band and picking up touring once again.

He would gather Tommy Allsup, Waylon Jennings and Carl Bunch for this new Midwestern winter tour, titled "The Winter Dance Party."  Their first stop was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 23, 1959.  Maria Elena would normally have accompanied her husband on tour but, having found out she was pregnant, stayed home.

Despite the split, it appeared there were no hard feelings between Buddy and The Crickets; Allison and Mauldin looked forward to rejoining Holly after The Winter Dance Party tour concluded.


Roger Peterson
photo: photorecon.net
Roger Peterson was born in Iowa to Arthur and Pearl Peterson, the oldest son of four children.  He graduated from high school in 1955 and earned his private pilot's license in October of that same year.

In 1958, he earned his commercial pilot's license and was hired by Dwyer Flying Service.  On September 14, 1958, almost exactly a month after Buddy Holly and Maria Elena Santiago married, Roger married his high school sweetheart, Deanne Lenz.  The newlyweds set up their home in Clear Lake, Iowa, a short drive from Mason City, where both worked.

In January of 1959, Roger received his certification as a Limited Flight Instructor.  He was still working on his Instrument Flight Rating and was not yet certified to fly at night.









February 2, 1959 was the eleventh day of the tour and the party was playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  Up to that point, the musicians had traveled to their destinations by bus, a generally arduous journey in those days before cross country freeways and especially in freezing weather.  When the scheduled had been set, the distances between the venues had not been taken into consideration.  The bus they had chartered had already broken down twice and the musicians were exhausted.  The cold and abyssmal conditions had led both Richardson and Valens to bouts with the flu and Carl Bunch to be hospitalized with severely frostbitten toes, a result of the freezing temperatures aboard the bus. 

Holly had commissioned an airplane from Dwyer Flying Service in nearby Mason City, Iowa, planning to fly himself and his bandmates (Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup) to their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota.  This would allow them time to rest up and, of all things, get laundry done since the bus journey made such a menial chore difficult if not impossible.

The manager of the Surf Ballroom contacted Roger Peterson and tapped him to pilot the chartered plane and, despite having worked a 17 hour workday and being fatigued, he agreed.

Holly notified Jennings and Allsup of their revised plans and in a friendly wager the seat on the plane, Allsup and Valens tossed a coin with Valens winning the toss.  Valens reportedly said that was the first time he had ever won anything in his life.  Jennings, upon hearing that Richardson was suffering with the flu and complaining about how cold the bus was, as well as uncomfortable for a man of his size, voluntarily gave up his seat to the ailing musician.  Dion had also been invited on the flight but felt the $36 per passenger fare (equivalent today to over $300) could not be justified and passed.  The stage, as it were, was set.

Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly
Hearing that his bandmates had given away their seats, Buddy Holly joked "I hope your ol' bus freezes up!" Not to be outdone, Jennings replied "I hope your ol' plane crashes!"   The words would haunt Waylon Jennings for the rest of his life.

Shortly before 1 a.m. on February 3, 1959, it was 18 degrees with moderate gusty winds and light scattered snow.  The weather was deteriorating along the planned route but this information was not passed along to Peterson.  Holly, Richardson, Valens and Peterson boarded a red and white single engine 1947 Beechcraft 35 Bonanza and moments before 1 a.m., Peterson received clearance for takeoff, from runway 17 to head to Fargo.

Jerry Dwyer, the owner of Dwyer Flying Service, watched the plane takeoff from a platform outside the control tower.  It took off normally and without incident.  He saw the aircraft's taillights as it banked left and headed northwesterly to a climb of 800 feet.  The taillight was then seen to gradually disappear.

Peterson failed to communicate with the control tower at 1 a.m. as scheduled and repeated attempts were made to contact the plane, at Dwyer's insistence, but they were unsuccessful.

Having not heard a word from Peterson since departure, Dwyer took off later that morning in an air search along the same path the Beechcraft was to have taken.  At 9:35 a.m. he spotted the wreckage in a cornfield belonging to an Albert Juhl, less than 6 miles from the airport.



The plane had slammed into the ground at full throttle, some five miles outside of Mason City, in farm country.  The right wingtip of the Beechcraft sliced into the frozen ground, causing the plane to cartwheel 540 feet across a cleared cornfield at 170 mph.

Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens were ejected from the plane upon impact and the wrecked aircraft came to rest on a barbed wire fence.  The bodies of Holly and Valens, which with Richardson's had likely tumbled along with the plane, would end up resting several feet from the plane, on open ground.   Peterson's body was trapped in the horrifically mangled fuselage.  Richardson's body was thrown 100 feet clear of the wreckage, over the barbed wire fence and into the neighboring cornfield owned by an Oscar Moffett.  All four had died instantly of massive head and chest injuries.

With the rest of the musicians on the bus, en route to the next venue, it sadly fell to the Surf Ballroom's manager, Carroll Anderson, who had driven the flight party to the airport, to identify the bodies.

Buddy Holly's widow, Maria Elena Holly, would learn of his death from news reports on the television.  Pregnant at the time, Maria Elena, a widow after only six months, would suffer a miscarriage from the stress.  Holly's mother, at home in Lubbock, Texas, would learn of her son's death from a radio report.  Maria Elena Holly, distraught,would not attend her husband's funeral nor would she ever visit his gravesite.

The "Winter Dance Party" tour did not stop, continuing for another two weeks, with Waylon Jennings taking over in Holly's stead as lead singer.

On February 6, 1959, pilot Roger Peterson was buried in his hometown of Buena Vista, Iowa.

On February 7, 1959, Buddy Holly was buried in Lubbock.  His grave marker would bear his correct surname (Holley) and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson's body was sent to Texas, where he was buried.  Ritchie Valens' body was returned to California, where he was buried.

The families of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens would send condolence letters to Roger Peterson's parents and widow.

On April 7, 1959, Buddy Holly's signature glasses, not found during the initial recovery, had been found and given to the local sheriff's office.  They were placed in an envelope, along with The Big Bopper's watch, a lighter, two pairs of dice and another watch.  (That envelope was misplaced during a move and would remain undiscovered until March of 1980.  Buddy's glasses, the lenses missing, were returned to his widow in 1981, after a legal battle with his parents.   They are now on display at The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas.)

Also in April of 1959, J. P. Richardson's son Jay was born, two months after his father's death.

The Civil Aeronautics Board began their investigation. They found that Peterson had over four years of flying experience, one with Dwyer Flying Service, and had accumulated over 700 hours of flying time, 128 of which were on Bonanzas.  He had logged 52 hours of flight instrument training but had only passed his written exam, which meant he was not yet officially qualified to fly in weather that solely required instruments. He, along with Dwyer Flying Service, was certified to operate only under visual flight rules - - in layman's terms, the pilot must be able to see where he is going.  At the time of the accident, visibility would have been impossible, between the cloud cover, lack of a visible horizon and the absence of ground lights in a less populated area.

The CAB would conclude that the accident resulted from Peterson's "unwise decision to embark on a flight" that required instrument flying skills that he did not have.  His unfamiliarity with the old style altitude gyroscope that was fitted on board the Beechcraft made have made him believe he was climbing when he was in fact descending, something that is known as spatial disorientation.  Another contributing factor was the lack of weather briefing provided to Peterson.

In March of 2007, a subsequent investigation was conducted when J.P. Richardson's son had his father's body exhumed and an autopsy performed in order to address rumors that an accidental firearm discharge caused the crash.  (Two months after the crash, a farmer found a .22 pistol belonging to Buddy Holly at the crash site.)   Dr. Bill Bass, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Tennessee, conducted the autopsy, with Richardon's son Jay in attendance.  Both men were shocked at the remarkably preserved condition of Richardson's body, so much so that he was immediately recognizable.  Dr. Bass corroborated the initial findings, saying there was no sign of lead from a bullet nor any foul play.  He put to rest the rumor that Richardson had survived the crash, crawling away from it only to die in the field.  According to Dr. Bass, Richardson had not crawled or walked away from the crash but, like the others, had died instantly from extensive, nonsurvivable fractures.

Following the autopsy, Richardson's body was placed in a new casket and reburied next to his wife in Beaumont's Forest Lawn Cemetery.  The original casket, with Jay's approval, was put on display at the Texas Musicians Museum.

In March of 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board received a request to reopen the investigation into the February 3, 1959 crash.  L.J. Coon, a retired pilot from New England, felt the initial investigation from 1959 was inaccurate. Coon believed there may have been a failure with the right rudder or a problem with the fuel system, as well as improper weight distribution. He thought that Peterson might have tried to land the plane and his efforts should be recognized.  The following month, the NTSB declined his request, believing there was insufficient evidence to reopen the case.

The legacy of the doomed flight has been long lasting.

After the wife and mother of Buddy Holly found out about his death from the media, a policy was adopted by authorities in which victims' names were not disclosed until after families have been notified.

Many films and biopics have been done on the musicians and the crash, most notably in 1978's The Buddy Holly Story and in 1987's La Bamba.

Eddie Cochran became the first musician to memorialize the singers with "Three Stars" in 1959.  Don McLean wrote and recorded his ode in 1971.   In 1978 Waylon Jennings would mention the accident in his song "A Long Time Ago" ("Don't ask me who I gave my seat to on that plane; I think you already know.")

Since 1979, fans of Holly, Richardson and Valens have gathered for annual memorial concerts at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.  In 2009, the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy, Richardson's son Jay was one of the participating artists and Bob Hale, master of ceremonies in 1959, stepped up once again.

In the summer of 1988 a four foot tall granite memorial with the names of Buddy Holly, J.P, Richardson, Ritchie Valens and Roger Peterson was erected outside the Surf Ballroom.  The event marked the first time the families of Holly, Richardson, Valens and Peterson gathered together.

In 1989, Wisconsin resident Ken Paquette, a fan of the 1950s era, made a monument from stainless steel depicting a guitar and three records that was placed at the crash site.  Each record bears the name of one of the three musicians killed that night.

Paquette also created a similar monument outside the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Holly, Richardson and Valens played their second to last show on February 1, 1959.   This memorial was unveiled on July 17, 2003.

In February of 2009, Paquette unveiled a memorial to pilot Roger Peterson at the crash site.

Clear Lake resident Michael Conner constructed a large plasma cut steel set of Wayfarer-style glasses, similar to those favored and popularized by Buddy Holly, at the entrance to the crash site.

A road originating near the Surf Ballroom and passing west of the crash site is now known as Buddy Holly Place.

The influence and impact that Buddy Holly, J. P. Richardson and Ritchie Valens had on music and future artists cannot be fully measured and reported.  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Los Lobos, Bruce Springsteen, Carlos Santana . . all were influenced and inspired by the lost musicians.

Buddy Holly was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986; Ritchie Valens in 2001; The Crickets in 2012.  The Big Bopper, as of this date, has not been inducted into  the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but he has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, as well as the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


In life . . .












May they rest in peace, never to be forgotten.







February 1, 2017

Remembering Linda Ann Healy



 Forty-three years ago yesterday, Linda Ann Healy enjoyed her last day of life before Ted Bundy would take it from her.

On January 31, 1974, Linda, a willowy 21 year old brunette, was a student at the University of Washington.  She was studying psychology and hoped to make a career out of helping children. She shared a rooming house in the popular "U District," located at 5517 Northeast 12th Street, with four other girls.  She and one roommate shared the basement area, turning it into two makeshift "bedrooms" with use of a piece of plywood.  Two other girls occupied two bedrooms on the upstairs, second, floor and one girl used the bedroom on the main floor of the home.  Their set up and accommodations were no different than thousands of others in the area.

On that Thursday, it was Linda's turn for kitchen duty and she rode her bike to the local Safeway, picking up items for dinner.  Later on, it would be discovered that Ted Bundy was in the Safeway as well, cashing a check.

Linda in her high school graduation photo
Linda likely had a lot on her mind.  Not just dinner for that evening but her parents were coming over for dinner on Friday, the following evening, and she and her roommates were planning a party for Saturday.  Furthermore, Linda had a morning job announcing the ski reports for a local station before she headed to the university for classes.

That evening, after all five women had sat down and enjoyed dinner together, several of them would head over to Dante's, a local tavern that was a favorite of the college crowd.  The girls could walk, where they met up with friends.  They enjoyed a pitcher or two of beer before deciding to call it a night shortly before 9:45.  One of the group's friends had to catch a 9:45 bus and would later be precise about the time.  It is unlikely that Linda or anyone in her group would have noticed Ted Bundy in the tavern, watching Linda intently.

As she had done in many previous evenings, Linda watched a bit of tv with her roommates before saying goodnight and heading downstairs.  She changed into her nightgown, set her alarm clock for 5:30, turned out the light and went to sleep. Her roommate would come downstairs later, around 1:30, and see and hear nothing out of the ordinary.  She would sleep soundly until 5:30, when Linda's alarm clock began buzzing insistently.  When her own alarm went off around 6, she shut it and Linda's off, noticing that Linda's bed was neatly made - - something Linda almost never did, as she had to be at the radio station at 6.  Shrugging it off, the roommate got dressed and left for her classes.

Around 7 a.m., Linda's manager at the radio station called to find out where his reliable employee was.  A roommate with a later class schedule answered the phone and went downstairs to see if Linda had overslept.  She saw that Linda was not there, nor was there anything amiss.  She too left for school.

By 3 p.m. that day the women compared notes.  None of them had seen Linda at school or heard from her.  Their concern grew when they realized that Linda's bike was still at home and Linda's parents were due for dinner in just a few hours.  One of the women called all of Linda's friends, even her ex-boyfriend, hoping to find her.  With no luck, she finally dialed Joyce Healy, Linda's mother, who knew immediately something was very wrong.

The first officers to respond to this missing persons call had little concern.  "Missing" students in a college town were a dime a dozen and the majority of these cases solved themselves when the "missing" person showed up within hours.  This was the 70s, too, when young people frequently went off to "find themselves," and hitchhiking around the state or even the country was not uncommon.  Despite the Healy family's protests that Linda would never just walk away from her life, the officers felt certain she was gone of her own volition and would return shortly.  As they saw nothing suspicious in her basement bedroom upon a cursory look, they left.

Two hours later, a roommate's mother, a friend of the police chief, called and got them back.  This time a homicide detective came with them.  What they found sent shivers down the spines of Linda's loved ones and became the start of what was one of the most inexplicable and unusual disappearances on record.

The detective pulled back the bedspread of Linda's made bed.  He immediately saw the blood, a large splotch of it on the bottom fitted sheet and a stain in the pillow, missing its usual pillowcase.  An inspection of her closet led to the discovery of her nightgown, hung neatly on a peg, with dried blood caking the back of the neckline.  Taking into account that Linda's backpack, a blouse, pair of jeans and boots were missing, the detective at first believed that Linda had suffered a nosebleed and had gone somewhere to have it attended to.

The theory seems rather preposterous today (although maybe that's with the hindsight of knowing what actually happened to Linda).  If Linda had a nosebleed, would she have bled down the back of her nightgown?   Would she have bled so much as to leave a large stain on her bed?  Why would she take her pillowcase?  Wouldn't she wake a roommate or leave a note? And why on earth would someone who rarely, if ever, made her bed on any other day make her bed if she was having a medical emergency?

Yet the initial theory is understandable.  How could someone -- anyone - - sneak into the house without awaking any of its occupants, assault Linda without waking her roommate sleeping behind a slight partition and then smuggle Linda's unconscious or dead body out?  It seemed even more far-fetched than the nosebleed theory.

And yet . . . it would turn out that was exactly what happened.

Linda's friends and family would continue to search for her in the following weeks and months.  The police, no idea that her disappearance was the start of terror for women and girls in multiple states, contacted every person they could find that had any interaction with Linda and came up with nothing.  Linda Ann Healy was an average college student with nothing in her past to suggest that she might be a victim.

It would be a long thirteen months before Linda's fate was known with certainty.  On March 1, 1975 hikers on Taylor Mountain would stumble across a skull.  The location would turn out to be a dumping ground of sorts for the killer of not just Linda Healy but also Susan Rancourt, Kathy Parks and Brenda Ball.  Partial remains of four women were discovered there; Rancourt, Parks and Ball were identified by their skulls and remaining teeth. Linda, the first one to go missing, was identified on the basis of a single tooth, found in a lower mandible.  Her skull was not recovered, nor any other part of her or her belongings.

In 1989, shortly before his execution Ted Bundy confirmed that he had spirited Linda away that windy evening of January 31-February 1, 1974.  While not every detail was confirmed or given, I believe he had been stalking Linda.  His cousin knew one of Linda's roommates.  In fact, Ted visited the home where Linda lived after her disappearance and could possibly have been there before January 31.  He took some of the same psychology classes that Linda did at the U and he moved in her circle, at least peripherally.  He was in the Safeway store at the same time she was on that last afternoon of her life.  He did admit to going to her home that day and, upon finding the front door unlocked and no occupants home, entered and walked about.  I think this may have been either in the afternoon while everyone was out on errands or at school or after dinner, when Linda and friends went to Dante's.  This would have given him a perfect opportunity to locate Linda's room - - if he didn't already know.  Ted, by this point, was a well practiced voyeur.

I think he watched Linda at Dante's.  I think he returned back to the house and watched until he was certain everyone had gone to bed and was asleep.  I think he had probably left himself an entrance during his earlier exploration and he used that to get to the basement.   While he stated at one point that he strangled Linda, I think it's more likely, given the amount and location of blood, as well as what we know with certainty he did to others victims, that he struck her in the head.  I believe he used her pillowcase to wrap around her head to keep the blood from spreading.  He then took off her nightclothes and redressed her, either in an attempt to conceal the abduction for as long as possible or because he preferred her dressed in her normal college attire.  He then, amazingly, picked her up and carried her outside to his waiting car.

Even being early in the morning - - sometime between 1:30 when Linda's roommate went to bed and 5:30 when her alarm went off - - this was a college town.  There was always activity.  Bundy would have had to park his car on the street in front of the house or in the alleyway behind it, blocking any other traffic.  Either location was a huge risk for someone carrying a body.  And yet, he did it.

Along with Georgann Hawkins' June 1974 abduction, also from the University of Washington, Linda's kidnapping and murder is one that shouldn't have happened . . . and yet it did. It put paid to the theory that living in a group ensured your safety.  More importantly, it took a lovely young woman away from her family, friends and life.

Linda is mostly remembered as Ted Bundy's first victim (something I am certain she was not.)  She was much more than that. By all accounts, she was a gregarious, caring and sweet young woman who worked with handicapped children (she had pictures of those children on the wall in her basement bedroom.)  She had pretty blue eyes and a dulcet voice, both for singing and for broadcasting.  She was a loving and loved daughter, sister and friend.

The grave of Linda's father with a memorial to Linda
photo: findagrave.com 







January 27, 2017

Abby Vandiver's Murder by Richard Gellner




Dunwoody, Georgia in 1987 was the very essence of a bedroom community.  Roughly twenty miles as the crow flies from downtown Atlanta, it seemed a world away from the violence, crime and traffic that had clogged up the state's capital city, earning it the dubious title in the early 80s as the murder capital of the U.S.  Upscale subdivisions with names like Brooke Ridge, Hidden Branches, Redfield, Wynterhall, Village Mill and Dunwoody Station skirted the homey Dunwoody Village, where you would pop into the local Hallmark store or Versatile Video to rent a game or VHS movie.  You played tennis at Dunwoody Country Club, you shopped, to shop or be seen - - usually wearing your tennis outfit - - , at Perimeter Mall and your kids went to Vanderlyn or Austin Elementary and then Dunwoody High.  Friday nights were devoted to Dunwoody's football games, weekends were devoted to one of the handful of churches in the area, shopping and possibly driving into the city to watch the Braves (America's Team) play baseball at the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.  Journeying into the city, be it for work or sport, was the closest residents of Dunwoody got to the grittier, less insulated, aspects of life.  Until July 18, 1987.

Dunwoody had been established in the early 1830s, named for Major Charles Dunwody. (The misspelling occurred due to an extra "o" being added to a bank note.)  The area's first church, the Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church, dates back to 1829 and still stands, and is active, today.  It's also home to one of the area's oldest cemeteries, where many of Dunwoody's founding fathers were laid to rest.  Thanks to the Roswell Railroad running north along the Chattahoochee (the 'Hooch to locals) and what is now Chamblee-Dunwoody Road in 1881, the town of Dunwoody became a crossroads of sorts.  President Theodore Roosevelt made a campaign whistle stop in Dunwoody in 1905 on his way to Roswell.  While the railroad shut down in 1921, the little community of Dunwoody flourished.  It remained relatively rural until the 1960s, when suburban residential development was initiated.   The Spruill family, who owned a great deal of the land in Dunwoody, sold a large portion of it in 1971 in what would become Perimeter Mall.  In the years following Perimeter Center would sprout up around the Mall, complete with major office, commercial and residential developments, leading it to become one of the Metro Atlanta area's largest job centers. Also in 1971, Dunwoody Village, with its distinctive Colonial Williamsburg architecture, was completed and became what residents would consider the center of Dunwoody.

By 1987, Dunwoody had become one of "the" places to live outside the Metro area.  Good schools, nice homes and an involved (perhaps too involved by some) community.  Dunwoody residents prided themselves on their nice homes, cars and clothes; their children were expected to go to college and do just as well as, if not preferably better than, their parents. If the pressure was too much, either for the adults or their children, it wasn't discussed.

Abby Vandiver was twenty years old that summer of 1987.  She had been a competitive figure skater in upstate New York but had come to Dunwoody to stay with her older sister, Hope Taratoot, and Hope's family.  The pretty young lady had gotten a job working part-time at an Italian restaurant in Dunwoody Village.  She was happy; she would be turning twenty-one in September; her whole life was ahead of her.

Richard Gellner was fifteen years old that summer, also a resident of Dunwoody.  He lived with his parents and younger sister not far from Abby's sister Hope.  He was an Honor student at Dunwoody High School and a former Boy Scout who was seven merit badges away from becoming an Eagle Scout.  His sub-freshman yearbook photo from 1986 shows a slight boy, almost more innocent and teddy bear in appearance.  His slight frame and intelligence made him an easy target for the larger (and meaner) boys at his school.  Back in the 80s bullying wasn't looked at seriously; it was simply how some kids were.  You just had to deal with it.  Later on, after Abby's murder, there were rumors that there was physical abuse in the Gellner household. Regardless, no one seemed to recognize or appreciate the violent anger that was festering inside Richard.

As many boys did before they were able to drive or get a "cool" job, Richard mowed lawns around the neighborhood. He would occasionally mow the Taratoots' lawn, as he was friends with Abby's nephew.  It's unknown if he first saw Abby there at the house or at the Italian restaurant, where he also had a job washing dishes.

In June of 1987, Motley Crue released their album Girls, Girls, Girls. That album, along with Nikki Sixx's song "You're All I Need," became an obsession for Richard.   Sixx had written the song after learning his girlfriend was cheating on him.  The wording is raw and angry and the narrator of the song proceeds to get his revenge by stabbing his girlfriend to death.  A frightening portent of things to come.

Richard began listening to the song on his earphones every night before he went to bed. Parental advisories on music labels had just become a "thing" but the artists being singled out were more along the lines of 2LiveCrew, not the more mainstream Motley Crue.  With the glam metal sounds of the popular title track, along with Wild Side, the album hardly seemed destined to trigger something unhealthy, even violent, in a teen listener.

He had also begun to prowl his neighborhood, armed with a butcher knife, looking for some place to break into and cause some form of trouble.  He would later claim the only thing keeping him from following through with these dark fantasies was the fear of getting caught.  Sadly, that fear would not last long enough to save Abby Vandiver.

July 18, 1987 was a Saturday.  In six days' time, Atlanta would have its hottest day of the year with temps scorching to a blistering 98 degrees. On this day, the temperature would peak around 91.  Richard, at the Taratoot home, mowing the lawn had already decided that he was going to do "something" when he knocked on the front door.  He had taken off his wristwatch in preparation, so that it would not get bloody by his own later recounting.

It is unclear if he knew that the Taratoot family was out that day, save Abby, but given that he was friends with Abby's nephew and that he had already planned a vicious attack, it's likely he did.

Abby had just taken a shower when Gellner knocked at the door.  She answered in her bathrobe and when he asked to use the phone, she let him in without hesitation.  He was, after all,her nephew's friend and a co-worker.

Prosecutors later theorized that when Abby headed back upstairs to finish dressing, Gellner followed her.  It's unknown exactly how the attack started or what, if anything, precipitated it.  It's possible that he made advances to her that she rebuffed.  It's also possible she did nothing at all.  He attacked her with a phone cord, wrapping it around her neck.  He didn't count on her fighting back, and she did.  She bit off the tip of his right hand little finger before he managed to strangle her into unconsciousness.  At that point, Richard Gellner exploded.

He stabbed Abby 57 times with three different knives; bludgeoned her with a drinking glass to the head; and attempted to decapitate her with hedge trimmers.  Spent, he took a shower and returned home in his bloody clothing.

Quite amazingly, Gellner told his parents that he had an accident with the lawn mower in which he had lost part of his finger, in order to account for the blood. Equally amazingly, they appeared to believe him.  They drove him to the ER where they were told that the tip of his finger could be reattached if it could be located.

The Gellners, including the newly murderous Richard, returned to the Taratoot residence to search for the finger.  Instead, they were met by the police.

In the interim, Hope Taratoot had returned home to find her younger sister dead and had called the local police.  When the Gellner clan rolled up, they were naturally curious as to who they were and why they were at the property.  Richard Gellner informed them he was looking for his finger, saying he had lost it in the garage where - - not surprisingly - - there was not a drop of blood.

The police were happy to tell him they had found his finger . . . not six feet from Abby's savaged body.  Gellner was taken into custody immediately in what surely was one of the most quickly solved homicides in Georgia's books.

While the PD was able to consider the case "solved," the rumor mill was just getting fired up.  Classmates of Gellner's began telling tales of the unsuspecting looking teen being teased so badly that it took four, five, maybe even six, big teen boys to hold him down, he was so irate.  Whispers were that a friend of a friend said that Gellner had made sexual advances to Abby that she rejected.  Or that she had been teasing him and then laughed at him, sparking his murderous attack.  Some reported that she had been stabbed more than 100 times.  Some said that Gellner had rolled up his bloody socks and attempted to flush them down the toilet.  No one tried to understand why Richard Gellner had done what he did.

The arrest of Richard Gellner was a mixed bag for Dunwoody.  On the one hand, residents didn't need to worry about some bushy hair stranger (because aren't they always bushy haired strangers?) lurking around the community, waiting to commit unspeakable acts on them; on the other, it was one of their own members who had done such a thing.

Richard Gellner around 2013
The murder trial was scheduled to begin in late winter/early spring of 1988, with Gellner being tried as an adult.  In February of that year, seven months after the murder, Gellner plead guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.   His plea saved the state a boatload of money on the trial, as well as the special kind of agony Abby's loved ones would have to endure, reliving her brutal death.  It also left a lot of questions open.

The biggest question is why.  Why did Richard Gellner kill Abby Vandiver?  Why did he have such dark urges?

Despite the suggestive lyrics of Motley Crue's song, music cannot be held responsible.  If it wasn't their music, it would have been another band's or something else that Gellner would have grabbed ahold of, to obsess over.

If physical abuse was indeed present in the Gellner household, it could have affected Richard's emotional growth as well as his capacity for empathy.  I have not found a definite answer anywhere on whether there was abuse.  Regardless, there had to be have been something missing, something deficient in Richard Gellner with or without abuse.

The court appointed psychiatrists that examined Richard in preparation for the trial that would not happen could only guess at what went wrong. They stated he might have Borderline Personality Disorder.  BPD is characterized by emotional instability, feelings or worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity and impaired social relationships. (These things, at least to me, also characterize being a teenager.)  There is no cure for BPD, only treatment which can include therapy, medication or even hospitalization.

The psychiatrists said his possible BPD was coupled with "low self-esteem and difficulties with his sexual identity."  I find this the most interesting part of their theory and the most realistic.  Most teenagers suffer with low self-esteem at some point.  Certainly Richard Gellner did, physical abuse in his home notwithstanding.  Being rejected by an attractive girl like Abby would be crushing but especially so to someone like Richard, who may have been sensitive about his slight size and who was being overtaken by dark fantasies telling him to act out violently.  If he was questioning his sexual orientation - - especially at a time when being gay was not as acceptable as it is now; when being questioned "What are you? Gay?" was the single biggest insult that a teen could hurl - - along with these dark desires to harm someone, his emotions and his identity itself could very easily have been fracturing.

In the end, it's likely no one will know exactly why Richard Gellner chose to murder Abby Vandiver on July 18, 1987.  Neither he nor his family have spoken publicly about it.  Abby's sisters have spoken at Gellner's parole hearings - - one would like to talk to him to know why; the other wants nothing to do with him and wants him to remain locked up for the rest of his life.  



Abby was buried at the Westminster Memorial Gardens in Peachtree City, Georgia, never to see her twenty-first birthday.

Abby's final resting place









January 18, 2017

David Temple Freed From Texas Prison

The Temple Family before January 11, 1999


Oh, prosecutorial misconduct. Damn you.

David Temple, convicted in 2007 of the January 11, 1999 shotgun murder of his pregnant wife, Belinda, was freed on bail December 28 pending a decision on whether to retry him.   Why was a convicted murderer freed?  Because the prosecutors in his trial withheld significant evidence from defense attorneys, including information about an alternative suspect.  Law school 101, people.

Some background on the case.

David Temple was a coach at a Texas high school; his wife Belinda was a special education teacher at another local high school.  Together they had a 3 year old son, Evan, and Belinda was six months pregnant with their daughter, to be named Erin.

David Temple testifies 
Temple had been having an affair with a co-worker for months and in the days prior to the murder had supposedly told this teacher that he was in love with her.  Circumstantial to be sure but it doesn't look good.

On the day in question, Evan stayed home from daycare with a fever; Temple left his job early that day in order to be with him.  According to his story, he took his son to a local park, to the neighborhood where he grew up, to a grocery store to buy two drinks and cat food and to a Home Depot, where nothing was purchased.  Upon returning home, Evan remained in the garage while Temple found the back door ajar and the window broken.  He then took his son to a neighbor's house before returning to discover his wife dead in the master bedroom closet.

The prosecution believes that Belinda returned home from work, went into the master bedroom closet in order to change clothes and was ambushed there.

Many things don't add up about Temple's story.  First, if his son was suffering with a fever, would you really take him to a park, to a grocery store and a Home Depot and to the neighborhood where you grew up?   If you believed the home had been burglarized, wouldn't you call the police first?  Why did Temple have no fear upon entering the home himself?

The door . . . in the courtroom
Most importantly, at least to me, was that the back door had small window panes in the top portion.  The window pane furthest from the door knob was broken out.  Wouldn't a burglar break the pane closest to the knob?  Why break out a pane that would require you to stick your entire arm through the pane and then stretch and angle as much as possible to reach the knob?  Especially when there was a pane directly next to the knob.  Furthermore, lab tests showed that the pane of glass was broken after the door was open.

And what burglar wouldn't take anything?  The house wasn't disrupted, nothing was stolen. Jewelry was out in plain sight. It doesn't make sense that a burglar would go directly to the master bedroom closet.  If Belinda was home, wouldn't she hear the breaking glass?  I don't think she would stay in the closet, waiting to be murdered with a 12 gauge shotgun.  And what burglar would carry such an unwieldy weapon?   The majority of burglars don't want to enter a home while anyone is in residence; for that reason, house burglars usually don't carry weapons.  Carrying a weapon also can up the ante on a conviction.

One more thing.  The Temples owned a Chow dog.  The police, upon responding to the call, were initially hesitant to enter the property because the dog was barking fiercely at the fence.  Where was the dog when the intruder showed up?

So none of it makes sense.  When you take all that and add in Temple's affair it looks as if he was trying to get out of that marriage as quickly and "easily" as possible.  That opinion is certainly not changed by the fact that one month after the murder, Temple sent his mistress flowers for Valentine's Day.

The two of them would be engaged two years after the murder and married within six months.  They are still married.

Another notable about this case is that the prosecutor was Kelly Siegler, who stars on her own reality show, Cold Justice on TNT.  Yep, that Kelly Siegler.  And yep, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that she suppressed evidence, also known as a Brady violation.

Do I think David Temple killed his wife and unborn daughter?  Yes, I do.  I think he wanted out of his marriage and didn't want to do so via divorce . . . very much like Scott Peterson.  He made a number of mistakes but the prosecution, in its zest, zeal or however you want to define it, chose to violate due process and based on that choice, it's entirely possible that David Temple could end up a free man.  A terrible injustice to Belinda Temple, baby Erin and their families.

The final resting place of Belinda and Erin