February 18, 2018

Lita McClinton: A Deadly Flower Delivery

 

 
Friday, January 16, 1987 was a foggy, rainy day in Atlanta, Georgia.  Inside Lita McClinton's townhome, she and her best friend, Poppy Marable, who had stayed the night at Lita's, were discussing the day ahead.  For Lita, it was going to be a momentous one - - that day, a judge was scheduled to decide her divorce settlement.  After eleven years of being legally wed, she was ready to begin the new chapter of her life.

The doorbell rang shortly after 8 a.m. and to Lita's delight, it was  flower delivery man with a box of pink roses.  Still wearing her nightgown and bathrobe, she went downstairs to accept the flowers.

The foyer, bloodstained
The delivery man had a 9 mm gun hidden within the roses. He fired several shots at her, with one striking her in the head. 

Upstairs, Poppy Marable heard the gunfire. Terrified, she grabbed her 3 year old daughter and hid in a closet. She wouldn't come out until the police arrived. A neighbor heard the gunfire and found Lita on the entryway floor, still alive but mortally wounded.  Lita was quickly taken to the hospital but died of her wounds. When news of her death got out, her friends and family were convinced that her soon to be ex-husband, James Sullivan, was behind her murder, even though he was residing  a state away, in Palm Beach, Florida.

The McClintock-Sullivan wedding
Lita, the beautiful daughter of a U.S. Department of Transportation official and a Georgia state representative, had met Sullivan in 1975, after she had graduated from Spelman College and was working in a boutique. He had been a customer, was 34 years old to her 23, divorced with four children and white.  She found him charismatic and was beguiled by how the older man courted her.  Lita's parents, however, found him arrogant, maybe even a pathological liar, and worried about how an interracial couple would fare socially, especially in the south. Lita was in love and, ultimately, her parents did not interfere.  She and Sullivan married in December of 1976.

The newlyweds settled into married life in Macon, where Sullivan ran Crown Beverage, Inc., a company he inherited from his uncle in 1975, while Lita worked in a department store.  In 1983, he sold the business and the two moved to the ritzy Palm Beach area and into a prestigious oceanfront mansion. If the Sullivans hoped that an exclusive community like Palm Beach would be more tolerant and accepting of their relationship, they would be disappointed. Sullivan was desperate to climb the social ladder, becoming a regular on the town's social circuit, but he simply wasn't accepted to his liking. While on the surface it appeared they were living the glamorous dream, Lita's friends would later say she was miserable.  Sullivan blamed her and her race for his lack of social status.

Lita discovered that he had begun having affairs. She discovered blonde hairs and women's undergarments in her own bed.  She was a traditional woman at heart and these betrayals stung her deeply.  She wanted her marriage to work and fought desperately to keep it afloat.

Sullivan was also stingy. Despite his immense wealth, he was a terrible skinflint with his wife, often leaving her financially strapped.

Lita went to counseling. She even signed a post-nuptial agreement, giving her $2,500 per month in alimony should the marriage fail. She was willing to do anything in order to make her marriage a success but when she found out that Sullivan was picking up prostitutes, she finally decided to call it quits. After over 8 years of marriage, Lita packed her bags and returned to Atlanta, moving into a townhome they owned in the upscale Buckhead area. She filed for divorce and requested half of his $5 million estate. She threw herself into charity work and even began dating again.

Sullivan became suspect number one when the police began their investigation. It was clear that Lita was the target, she was so obviously assassinated. Who else would want her dead but James Sullivan, who she was in the midst of a fierce financial battle with?  Unfortunately, as far as the police were concerned, not only could Sullivan prove he was in Palm Beach but witness descriptions mentioned three men running away from Lita's townhome that morning and none of them matched Sullivan's description.

Still, the police believed Sullivan had to be involved. They determined that he had received a phone call from a rest stop outside of Atlanta on the morning of Lita's murder, one they believed was a signal to him to let him know his wife had been killed.  Sullivan denied any such thing and told the cops he believed that Lita's death was due to botched drug deal.

In February,  a telephone conversation between Sullivan and a friend was picked up and recorded via a police wiretap. Sullivan spoke about Lita's murder and the ongoing investigation, mentioning that she had been killed with a 9mm gun - - a bit of information that had not been released to the public.  However, with no gun or gunman, the district attorney felt it wasn't enough to indict Sullivan.

Sullivan with Suki
Eight months after Lita's death, Sullivan married Hyo-Sook Choi Rogers, a socialite who was 13 years his junior. He also continued his life of socializing and playing tennis.

There would finally be a break in 1990.  It started with Sullivan being pulled over for a traffic violation. Wanting to avoid any attention and the continuing investigation into Lita's murder, Sullivan did not appear in court and instead Suki showed up and claimed that she was driving and the ticketing officer had made a mistake.  Yeah, because a police officer could surely misidentify the younger and female Suki for the older asshole Sullivan. The judge was clearly no dummy and Sullivan was given house arrest for perjury and weapon possession (for the four guns found in his residence.).  Ha.

Things got worse though. Suki decided that maybe she might not want to continue hitching her wagon to a lying piece of shit like Sullivan and a divorce might be a better alternative. Keeping true to character, he was none too pleased with the little woman packing her bags. Suki, however, got the last word. She told cops that he had confessed to her that he had Lita murdered. Why hadn't she spoken up sooner?  Because she had feared for her own life.

Sullivan, naturally, denied the claim. Investigators felt that since the claim was made during a nasty divorce battle, it may not have enough legs to warrant an indictment.

A year later, a federal grand jury did indict Sullivan for conspiracy to commit murder based on the phone calls to and from his Palm Beach home at the time of Lita's killing. The case would be dismissed by the judge for lack of evidence.  Once again, James Sullivan skated by.

For Lita's parents, who never liked Sullivan, and who had waited patiently for seven years for justice to be served for their daughter, the dismissal was too much. In 1994, they filed a wrongful death claim against Sullivan in civil court, attesting that he had hired the hit man who shot and killed Lita. Sullivan, ever the genius, acted as his own attorney. He may have been delighted to torment the McClintons by cross-examining them but the jury found him liable and awarded them $4 million. He would not pay, claiming he was broke.

Harwood
The McClintons would not give up, vowing to continue to fight for Lita. Their persistence paid off. In 1998, a tip led the Atlanta police to a man in North Carolina who confessed that Sullivan paid him $25,000 to murder his wife. The man, Tony Harwood, would agree to testify against Sullivan in exchange for a 20 year prison sentence.

It seemed that finally there was enough evidence to charge James Sullivan with Lita McClinton's murder.  But James Sullivan had vanished.

He had been living in Costa Rica but went on the run once he heard that Harwood was talking. The FBI put him on their Ten Most Wanted list. Authorities were told that Sullivan had traveled through Venezuela and Panama but no leads panned out.

It would take four years and the television show "America's Most Wanted" before James Sullivan was found. A tip led authorities to Thailand, where Sullivan was living in a beachfront condo with a girlfriend. In 2004, he was extradited back to the U.S.

On February 27, 2006, nearly twenty years after Lita's brutal death, the case of the State of Georgia versus James Sullivan began. Prosecutors would call Lita's divorce attorney to testify as to Sullivan's excessive desire to limit the amount of money Lita' might win in court. They explained that the date of her murder - - January 16, 1987  - - was highly significant. The divorce hearing scheduled for that day would decide whether Lita would be awarded $250,000 or $1 million.  No Lita meant no divorce hearing and that would mean that rather than paying her a minimum of a quarter of a million dollars, Sullivan wouldn't have to give out a cent.  That was the motive in a nutshell - - greed.

Lita's grieving parents
Lita's neighbor, Bob Christiansen, testified as to seeing the man approach Lita's front door. He got a good look at him and identified Tony Harwood from a photo lineup.

Tony Harwood testified to meeting Sullivan in November of 1986, two months before Lita's murder. Harwood worked for a moving company and had delivered a piano to Sullivan's Palm Beach mansion. Despite only being the mansion for two hours, in that brief period of time, Sullivan and Harwood birthed the plan to murder Lita. Hardwood stated he believed that Sullivan was kidding about needing someone to "take care of" his wife, until he received $12,500 in the mail.  He testified that Sullivan had wanted Lita done away with by Christmas but the murder scheme would have to wait until Hardwood and two friends could drive up to Georgia. Because obviously you need friends to support you when you knock off someone for some coin.

The trio's first attempt to destroy Lita McClinton did not work when they realized that a woman likely wouldn't answer the door to three strangers, especially at 5:30 in the morning.  They suspected she would, however, to a flower delivery man at a more decent hour.  That plan, sadly, succeeded. Harwood stopped at a rest stop on the way back to Florida to call Sullivan and deliver a disgustingly simple and chilling message: "Merry Christmas."

The unopened flower box, with Lita's blood
Amazingly, Harwood's former girlfriend Belinda Trahan was the informant who tipped the police off as to his involvement in Lita's homicide. She testified that Harwood had told her about meeting Sullivan after moving a piano and that he had wanted his wife taken out because he didn't want her to get anything in their divorce. She hadn't believed his tale at first, even when he took a trip to Georgia in January of 1987 and told her that the plan had failed because the woman wouldn't answer the door. It was Trahan who had told him the way to get a woman to answer the door was to show up with flowers.  Sigh.  Unfortunately Trahan could not be charged with being a dumbass. Honestly. 

Trahan testified that even after Harwood told her the hit had been a success, she still hadn't believed him.  It was James Sullivan delivering an envelope full of cash to Harwood, in Trahan's presence, that convinced her.  Well, duh.

Still, from a legal standpoint, the case wasn't a slam dunk. There was no murder weapon. There was no proof in banking records or any other paper trail that supported the case that Sullivan had paid Harwood (or anyone else) for killing Lita. And Tony Harwood was a problem witness.

For parts of his testimony, he seemed to flounder. When asked if he agreed to participate in the murder of Lita McClinton, he answered no. Contradicting Belinda Trahan's tale of Sullivan paying him at a restaurant table, Harwood stated that he and Sullivan had exchanged the money in the men's restroom. He admitted that he had a history of lying to the authorities and that he had given his girlfriend a different account of who had ordered him to kill - - not Sullivan but the Mafia. So shaky was his testimony, the defense elected not to cross examine him.

Lita
The defense did cross Belinda Trahan, who was not without her own problems. She could not recall what restaurant Sullivan met her and Harwood in, nor how far it was from their home.  While she easily identified Sullivan in the courtroom, she could not and did not do so eight years earlier in a photo lineup. The defense put forth that Trahan now identified Sullivan in order to claim the hefty reward that Lita's parents had put up for information on their daughter's murder.

After nearly two weeks, the case went to the jury of nine women and three men. An informal vote was taken at the start and it was nearly evenly divided.  Later some jurors would say that while they had difficulties with Harwood and Trahan, they took no such issues with Bob Christiansen.  Christiansen was Lita's neighbor and an eyewitness to the man who rang Lita's doorbell and an ear witness to the gunshots that killed her. They could not dismiss the phone calls between an Atlanta area motel and Sullivan's home and the call Sullivan received from a rest stop payphone, despite the defense's efforts to invalidate them.   They did wish there was more direct evidence, as the case was highly circumstantial, but it was enough for them to render a unanimous verdict.

Guilty! 
On March 13, 2006, James Sullivan was found guilty of malice murder. 

The prosecution argued for Sullivan to pay for his crime with the ultimate punishment - - death. The defense, without any family or close friends to speak on behalf of Sullivan, begged for mercy. Ultimately the jury showed far more compassion and consideration to James Sullivan than he ever did to Lita.  They spared his life and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

An interesting side note . . . while James Sullivan was awaiting trial in early 2005, Bibb County District Attorney Howard Simms ordered the body of Frank Bienert exhumed. As you may recall, Bienert was Sullivan's uncle, the uncle whose business Sullivan inherited and sold at a great profit. Simms, among others, believed Bienert might have been murdered by Sullivan. Tests conducted on tissue samples would indicate no presence of poison.

As late as 2015, Lita's parents were still attempting to locate Sullivan's fortune, money they believed he had hidden in Switzerland and Liechtenstein (Sullivan's criminal defense attorney had been paid from a Swiss bank account.). A Palm Beach County judge lifted the twenty year limitation, allowing them to continue to seek to collect on their judgment, which had ballooned from $4 million to more than $13.5 million with interest.

Also in 2015, Tony Harwood made the news again when he was one of four notorious Georgia criminals found with illegal cellphones within prison walls. (The other three inmates were Wayne Williams, Eddie Lawrence and Curtis Rower.)  Harwood, true to form, denied having a cellphone or knowing anything about anything. 

He is due to be released from prison in May of 2018.




February 16, 2018

The 1986 Murder of Cara Knott



In 1986, Cara Evelyn Knott was a 20 year old San Diego State University student, with her life ahead of her, just waiting.  She was a vivacious, bubbly young woman and the stereotypical southern California girl - - blonde hair and a wide, beaming smile.

She was also responsible.  So, on the night of December 27, 1986,  when she didn't return home from her boyfriend's residence, her parents were immediately alerted.  Cara's father, Sam, drove between the Knott family home in El Cajon and her boyfriend's place in Escondido, searching for his daughter's white VW.  In the early morning hours of December 28, he spied her car off Interstate 15, on the old Highway 395 bridge, near the Mercy Road exit. 



Police were called and Cara was discovered 65 feet below the bridge, in a dry creek bed. She had been strangled and then tossed from the roadway above.

Cara's boyfriend was investigated as a potential suspect but quickly cleared.  She appeared to have no enemies and seemed to have been a victim of opportunity for someone.

Two days after her murder, local station KCST-TV was covering the homicide and a reporter from the station was interviewing a CHP officer during a ride-along segment on self-protection for female drivers.  After the broadcast, two dozen callers, mostly women, contacted authorities about the officer in the segment - - 38 year old Craig Peyer. Peyer, the callers said, had pulled them over in the same general area where Cara had been found and while he was not violent, he detained them for an inordinate length of time (up to an hour), asked them questions about their personal lives, requested dates and/or stroked their hair and shoulders.  These women bore an uncanny resemblance to Cara Knott.

It was also discovered that not only had a mother contacted authorities a month before Cara's murder to complain about Peyer pulling her daughter over at the Mercy Road exit off I-15 for no apparent reason but that Peyer had visible scratches on his face during the KCST-TV segment.

The picture of Craig Peyer began to change drastically.  Instead of the loyal, 13 year officer, it was revealed that he had a reputation for following young female drivers and pulling them over on the pretext of a citation or ticket and then becoming overly friendly with them.

One of Peyer's two ex-wives would reveal that he became "Mr. Macho" after joining the CHP, using the badge to flirt.

Witnesses came forward about the night Cara died.  She had last been seen alive at a Chevron gas station, roughly two miles from where she was found. The attendant at the station recalled seeing a CHP patrol car making a U-turn on the road just after Cara had pulled out.  Another witness recalled seeing a patrol car accompany a Volkswagen Beetle, thought to be Cara's, in that area at the time the murder occurred.   Perhaps the best witness was an off-duty San Diego cop, who noticed a disheveled and scratched Peyer drive in at high speed.  Peyer would claim he got the scratches from falling against a chain link fence in the CHP parking lot but the off-duty officer noted them a full hour before Peyer claimed to have gotten them.

Peyer attempted to falsify his logbook, trying to show that he had issued tickets in a different location at the time of Cara's murder but the ticketed motorists disputed his claims.

Physical evidence too would tie Craig Peyer to Cara Knott.  Gold fibers found on the dress she wore matched the gold braid on the shoulder patch of Peyer's uniform.  A drop of blood found on one of her boots was typed as AB negative - - Peyer's blood type.  AB negative blood is the most rare type of blood in persons - - only one percent of the population has it.  A rope found in the trunk of Peyer's patrol car had a pattern that matched that found on Cara's neck.

POS Peyer under arrest
On January 15, 1987, Craig Peyer was arrested and charged with the murder of Cara Knott.  In May of 1987, he was officially fired from the CHP.

There would be two trials in the case of the State of California versus Craig Peyer.  The first would end in a hung jury in February of 1988, with a deadlock of 7 to 5 for conviction.  Peyer did not testify.

In the second trial, his third wife Karen testified.  She mentioned that Peyer had returned home from work shortly after 11 pm on the evening of December 27, 1986 with scratches on his face and "a little tired."  The scratches, she said, were fresh but not dripping blood and she did not ask him how he had gotten them.  She insisted he exhibited no unusual emotions on that day.

Cara's parents during the trial
Peyer did not testify in his second trial either but this jury did not deadlock. They found him guilty of first degree murder - - the first ever conviction of murder by an on-duty CHP officer.  The judge, Richard Huffman, who presided over both trials, praised the CHP for working diligently to restore its damaged reputation following Peyer's arrest but also noted they had to share some blame for Cara's death, regarding their failure to act when a complaint about his behavior came in a month before the murder.  "I can't fix anything," Judge Hoffman stated. "I can only punish."

He sentenced Craig Peyer to 25 years to life.

Craig Peyer continued to declare his innocence in the murder of Cara Knott.  His wife, Karen, believed in her husband's innocence.

In 2004, Peyer was asked to contribute a sample of his DNA to a San Diego County program that was designed to use DNA samples to possibly exonerate wrongfully imprisoned persons.   Such testing was not available at the time of his trial and conviction.  Peyer refused.  When asked at a 2004 parole hearing why he would not provide such a sample, he would not answer the question.  At that time, he was denied parole due to his lack of remorse as well as his refusal to explain why he was innocent and yet not allowing any testing that could prove that innocence.

Peyer was denied parole again in 2008 and 2012.  In 2012, he was given a 15 year denial, making his next parole hearing in 2027, when he will be 77 years old.  He is currently serving his sentence at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.

After his daughter's death, Sam Knott became an advocate for crime victims, campaigning tirelessly for law enforcement agencies to construct a way to monitor the locations ad activities of their officers at all times. He also pressed for agencies to ease the standard 48 hour waiting time before issuing a missing persons bulletin to officers in the field.

He and his family created a memorial garden in honor of Cara and other victims of crime underneath the bridge where Cara was found - - renamed in 1995 as the Cara Knott Memorial Bridge in her memory - - and planted oak trees and other beautiful plants and flowers in remembrance. Sam would often go there to tend the garden and pay respects to his daughter.

On December 2, 2000 he was at the garden when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died only feet from where Cara was found.

In the years since Cara's murder, some individuals have come forward to say that the Mercy Road exit off I-15 has strange or bad energy. Some claim it is haunted, hearing cries and screaming and even seeing spirits roaming the area.

As a result of Craig Peyer murdering Cara Knott, police now allow solo drivers to maintain driving until reaching populated, or safer, areas before pulling over during patrol stops.

What happened to Craig Peyer?  While some of his fellow officers reported him as "strange," others stated he was a good officer.  Perhaps there is truth to both.  He did act inappropriately with females and he did seem to target young blonde women, like Cara, who were driving alone.  He had apparently never been violent with one, though, before December 26, 1986.  So what would cause him to strike Cara with his flashlight (as the prosecution alleged), strangle her with a rope from his car and toss her body over the side of a bridge?   Only Craig Peyer knows for certain but it's possible that Cara threatened to report him for his behavior, whether that was questioning her about her personal life, asking for a date or touching her.  For Peyer, an alpha male who may have been aware that a complaint about him had been made a month earlier and who could have envisioned his 13 year career going up in flames, such a threat could have made him snap.

We will likely never know, as Peyer continues to maintain his innocence.


Memorials left at Cara's garden







January 28, 2018

The Ewell Family Murders

Glee, Tiffany and Dale Ewell


Sunday, April 19, 1992 was a mild, partly sunny day in Sunnyside, California, a perfect Easter Sunday afternoon.  Sunnyside, just over five miles from bustling Fresno - - the most populated city in the Central Valley and fifth largest in the state  - - was a small bedroom community in the San Joaquin Valley, comprised mostly of Caucasians.

Glee and Dale
Dale Ewell had been born in Ohio during the Depression, a hard worker who knew the value of a dollar.  Perhaps his upbringing in a family that endured the Depression fueled his drive and fire but Dale became a successful and wealthy businessman, following a stint in the Air Force.  He was president and owner of Western Piper Sales, Inc., a company that sold small aircraft.  He used some of the profits from Western Piper to invest in several farms, further bulking up his financial portfolio. He had married the former Glee Mitchell and the two became parents to Tiffany in 1967 and Dana in 1971.  His success allowed the Ewells a comfortable family home in Sunnyside, a beach house in Pajaro Dunes, luxury vehicles and designer clothing.

Dale, his wife Glee and their daughter Tiffany had spent that Easter weekend at the beach house.  Glee and Tiffany had returned directly to Sunnyside by car, while Dale chose to fly his private plane to his hangar and then pick up his car and head home. 

Tiffany
Glee and Tiffany had no way of knowing that someone waited for them, as they concluded their two and a half hour journey and entered the home. They were ambushed almost immediately, shot as they came through the door.  Tiffany, a 24 year old Fresno State graduate student, died first, shot in the head.  Glee, 57, a former teacher and very well liked civic activist, was shot four times. 

Thirty minutes later, as Dale pulled into the drive, he had very little time left to live.  The killer of his wife and daughter had stayed in the house, waiting for the final target.  Dale, 59, was shot once, as he opened the door from the garage into the home, before he knew what had happened to his family.

Two days later, Dana Ewell, Dale and Glee's son and youngest child at 21, contacted family friends in Sunnyside, telling them he had been unable to reach his parents.  Dana lived in the house with his parents but had spent the Easter weekend with his girlfriend, Monica Zent and her father, John, 200 miles away in San Francisco.  John Zent was an FBI agent.

Also on Tuesday, April 21, 1992, the Ewells' housekeeper arrived for work. When she entered the kitchen, she found Tiffany lying in a pool of blood, face down and with her hands beneath her. The stricken housekeeper ran to a neighbor's home and police were called.

Detectives investigating the crime scene found a very organized and planned execution. The killer's aim had been remarkable, only missing his or her mark one time, and had picked up the spent bullet casings.  A box of 9 mm shells, purchased by Dale, was discovered in the home and later determined to be used in the murders.  While the home appeared to be ransacked, nothing of value was taken.  No windows were broken, no doors were forced and the alarm, normally set, was off. The scene appeared to be staged in order to look as though a burglary had been in progress when the Ewells returned.

The victims and their backgrounds were thoroughly investigated, to see if something in their pasts had led to their homicides.  In the 1970s, Dale had sold airplanes for a California man later convicted for drug smuggling.  Dale had also been involved in a bad real estate deal with his brother, Ben, which had threatened to cost investors millions.  Both these incidences were later ruled out as having anything to do with the murders.

As the sole survivor of the Ewell family, and beneficiary to the estate, Dana became a suspect. Despite  his rock solid alibi, with an FBI agent, no less, police had a hinky feeling about him. 

He did little to calm their intuition.  Although he appeared upset about the murders, and offered a reward for information on the crimes, his grief didn't seem right.  He seemed far more concerned about the reading of his parents' wills, and claiming his inheritance, than his family's tragic end.  He invited a friend to "tour" the house on East Park Circle, with bloodstains and spatter still visible. He reportedly told the friend that police "will never solve this case. They are dummies." 

Dana
To throw gasoline onto the growing fire, Dale's brothers contacted authorities to point fingers at their nephew. They claimed that upon the reading of the wills, Dana had erupted in anger when finding out that trust provisions would keep him from having full access of the $8 million estate until he was in his thirties.  He had gone so far, they claimed, as to have punched the desk and shouted "How could he (Dale) have done this to me?"  

The Ewell brothers, before the funerals for Dale, Glee and Tiffany, had made efforts to block Dana's attempts to collect on what he considered his due.  However, Dana would receive around $300,000 in proceeds from an insurance policy that was not subject to the trust provisions or mistakenly overlooked.   

Detectives began to dig around Dana Ewell.  They found that from the time Dana was very young, he had a habit of fabricating stories.  It ran the gamut from where he was born to parental abuse. By the time he was a teenager, his lies had severely strained his relationship with his parents, most especially his father.  Dale had very little while growing up and had given generously to his children but it was never enough for Dana, who possessed a galling sense of entitlement. 

When he left home for the University of Santa Clara, he did so in a BMW and fancy designer clothes. He attended classes in a suit and carrying a briefcase.  He told his classmates that he had been a stockbroker at eighteen and currently owned a company that grossed nearly $3 million per year.  Many saw his stories as bragging; others saw Dana as an overly ambitious young man.

Joel
One friend who believed Dana's tall tales was Joel Radovcich.  Joel, introverted, shy and very nearly the polar opposite of the outgoing and handsome Dana, was fascinated by his college buddy's ease with which he picked up girls and the wealthy lifestyle he enjoyed.  Unfortunately for Joel, and especially Dale, Glee, and Tiffany, he was a drug addict that obsessed over video games, guns and explosives.  His friendship with Dana gave him entry into parties and introduction to girls.

Not long after the murders, Joel dropped out of school.  Only weeks after his family had been slaughtered in the home, Dana and Joel were residing in the house. Additionally, they were making unusual cash purchases, like helicopter piloting lessons, despite Joel having no obvious source of income.

Both Dana and Joel were put under surveillance and it was noted they communicated by way of complex pagers and pay telephones.  Authorities had Dana's pager cloned and wiretapped his landline. In May 1993, Joel was overheard by an officer speaking on a payphone, saying "They don't have evidence. They will try to catch you in a lie."  Joel's statements were recorded by the officer. Another time, he was observed saying "Just play the game."

Dana continued living it up, buying his girlfriend a new car and paying her law school tuition.  After going through the insurance payout, he bilked his sick grandmother's account out of $400,000, leaving her a measly $2,000 to pay for her nursing home care.  Dana Ewell, ever the selfish prick. 

In 1994 detectives turned their attention to the forensic analysis, which determined the murder weapon to be a specialty 9 mm assault rifle manufactured in Colorado.  Company records showed that one such rifle had been purchased by an Ernest "Jack" Ponce shortly before April of 1992.  Jack just so happened to be a high school friend of Joel Radovcich.  When questioned, Jack at first denied buying the gun and then tried to say he purchased it for himself as a birthday gift that Joel had never seen nor known about and furthermore, the gun had been stolen. 

The noose was beginning to tighten around Dana Ewell and Joel Radovcich.

Detectives did their best to rattle Dana's cage when they visited him in his dorm room at USC and informed him they believed Joel Radovcich had murdered his family.  Dana said nothing but his face drained of color. Once the detectives left, and not knowing he was being watched, he and his girlfriend Monica, who was there that day, rushed to a phone and called Radovcich.

Dana under arrest
On March 2, 1995, the police were ready to move and arrested Dana and Joel.  Along for the ride were Peter Radovcich, Joel's brother and Jack Ponce.

Peter would make a deal with authorities in exchange for immunity and testify at trial against his brother and Dana.  He would tell cops that he had been the one to make the homemade silencer and weld it to the murder weapon, as well as dispose of the gun barrel, the tennis shoes Joel had worn during the commission of the murders and a stash of gun enthusiast magazines.  He did this in conjunction with Jack Ponce.

Joel under arrest
Jack, once arrested, told a very different tale about the gun in question. He admitted to buying it for Joel but denied knowing that it was going to be used for murder.  He also backed up Peter's statement that the two of them had disposed of evidence.  He too was given immunity in exchange for his testimony at trial.

Based on the statements of Peter and Jack, the barrel of the murder gun was unearthed in a dirt field in Reseda. 

No deals were obviously forthcoming for Dana and Joel, who were both charged with three counts of first degree murder and special circumstances, making them eligible for the death penalty.

Dana on trial
As the wheels of justice move painfully slow, the trial did not start until late 1997.  The presiding judge did not allow television cameras into the courtroom but did allow a local radio station to broadcast the proceedings.  Dana and Joel, who had been close enough at one point to travel to Mexico together, take joint flying lessons and reside in the home that Dale, Glee and Tiffany had been shot to death in, had separate attorneys and took separate stances during the trial.  Prosecutors felt that Dana was motivated by greed and had promised Joel a share in the wealth. Dana's attorney argued that his client was innocent and that Joel and Jack had planned and executed the murders themselves.  Joel's attorney felt the evidence was overwhelming and wanted to save his client from the death penalty.

Joel on trial
Jack Ponce testified that not only had he purchased the murder weapon for Joel, and helped to dispose of it, but that Joel described what happened that April day in 1992. 

Joel, acting as the trigger man for Dana, who did not want to wait for his inheritance nor share it with his sister, entered the Ewell home with instructions from Dana.  Having previously shaved his entire body, Joel waited for twelve hours, sitting on a plastic sheet, so as not to leave so much as an eyelash behind.  Tiffany had been the first to die.  She walked by Joel, unaware, and he shot her in the back of the head. She never saw him.  Glee, however, had. She had been struck by a bullet and, bleeding, ran for the office to escape.  He caught  up with her and pumped more bullets into her, straddling her. She had looked him in the eye, recognizing him as a friend Dana had brought home a month earlier. After killing Glee, he had changed magazines in the gun and put fresh gloves on his hands, waiting for Dale. 

During Jack's testimony, and describing Dale's murder from Joel's point of view, he slipped up and stated "and I saw the eye."   The jury would find his testimony less than credible and believe him to be far greater involved than he had admitted but his immunity deal prevented him from being charged in any of the deaths.

On May 27, 1998, eight months after the start of the trial, the jury, not surprisingly, found Dana Ewell and Joel Radovcich guilty on all counts.  The jurors were unable to come to agreement on the sentencing however.  Joel was spared from death by two votes; Dana by only one. Given the mercy Dana's family was not, each was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Dana Ewell, P04759
Dana was sent to Corcoran State Prison, fifty miles south of Fresno, where his fellow inmates included Juan Corona and, until recently, Charles Manson.   His grandmother, the one he stole from and for whom Glee was named after, died in 1999.   Some three years after being convicted, Dana claimed to have found God and Christianity.  He is currently listed through an online prison pen pal group, where his profile states, in part: "A finance graduate from Santa Clara University, I was beginning my career in investment banking when some extraordinarily painful events turned my world upside down."  Today, as I write this post, is Dana's forty-seventh birthday.  Rather than being the successful and wealthy entrepreneur he always claimed and aimed to be, he's instead Inmate No. P04759.

Joel Radovcich, P04766
Joel Radovcich was sent to the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, about two hours south of San Francisco, where he remains today as Inmate No. P04766.  Mule Creek housed or has housed such other infamous inmates as Tex Watson, Robert John Bardo, Lyle Menendez, Herbert Mullin and Suge Knight.  A newer facility, opened in 1987, it is home to nearly 3,100 residents - - well over its designed capacity of 1,700.

Peter Radovcich runs and owns a company in the L.A. area.

Jack Ponce went on to become an attorney and continues to practice today in southern California.

Monica Zent also went on to become an attorney. She practices at her own firm in central California.

Did Dana befriend Joel merely to recruit a hitman?  Could the desire for wealth have motivated Joel to kill the very people who welcomed him into their home a month earlier?  Or did the men share a close relationship that may have been physical, as inferred by more than one detective? 

Was Jack Ponce involved more than ordering the murder weapon and helping to dispose it?  Did Monica Zent know the car and law school tuition bought for her by Dana was done so with blood money?

Ultimately, what went wrong with Dana Ewell?  He was born into a secure and loving family, given every opportunity and luxury.  Did he become this greedy, selfish monster because he never had to work at anything or was this abnormal, dysfunctional and destructive personality there from the start, evidenced by Dana's propensity to brag, exaggerate and lie?  Did his obsession for wealth led to the execution of his family in April of 1992?  Or was it because Dale, having seen an article published in The San Jose Mercury News about Dana being one of America's most successful young entrepreneurs had become so offended at the blatant lies, threatened to cut his son off following his completion of school that summer? 

To date, all appeals filed by Dana and Joel have been denied.



January 26, 2018

Updates on the Mary Shotwell Little Case



Back in 2016, I wrote about one of Georgia's most iconic and unsolved missing persons cases - - the 1965 disappearance of Mary Shotwell Little.  That post can be found here.

Poking around online to see if there had been any updates, I came across a local news story from November (found here) in which is was stated that former police officer John Fedack, along with a dozen retired detectives, profilers and prosecutors, have gained the cooperation of the Atlanta Police Department, along with their existing files, to review the case and, hopefully, solve it.  Interestingly, the dozen or so persons who are working with Fedack have chosen to remain anonymous due to the "nature of this case."

I have to wonder what that means exactly.  This case is more than 52 years old.  Why the anonymity?  Unless, of course, any suspect or suspects may be the bigwigs or big fish I alluded to back in 2016 . . .

Regardless, I still believe Mary Shotwell Little's disappearance was and is connected to the murder of Diane Shields in May of 1967.  There are simply too many coincidences - - Diane taking over Mary's position at C&S Bank after Mary's disappearance, Diane rooming with the same friends Mary did, Diane being two months away from marrying, Mary being a newlywed of only six weeks, Diane allegedly receiving mystery flowers in the week before she died, as Mary did - - to say they are not.

I still think both women had a stalker.  In my initial post, I theorized that stalker could be a man who either worked at C&S or worked with C&S, which would put him in close proximity with both Mary and Diane.  One thing I didn't consider at the time was that the stalker could have been a woman.

Would Mary have been afraid or hesitant to go with another female that night?  What if she had seen someone she  knew, or encountered a woman who asked for help?  Sure, today we might be more wary but this was 1965.

Homosexuality was much less understood in 1965.  A female who developed an unnatural fixation on Mary would have been just as frustrated as a man; maybe more so.  A lesbian may have been looked upon as being "sick," "unnatural," or even mentally ill.  Could such a person have attempted to reach out to Mary and, after being rebuffed, exploded in a violent rage?  Could such a person have reacted with jealousy over Mary's recent marriage to Roy Little?   And could this person, nearly two years after Mary's disappearance, felt the same attraction to Diane Shields?  Could Diane then have fallen victim to the same rage and frustration?

Since Mary was never found, it's not known if she was sexually assaulted . . . but Diane was not.  This could certainly fit a particular type of male stalker but it could also nicely fit into that of a female.

A female perp would also be much lower on the list for the PD, if at all.  Most were convinced that if Mary was indeed abducted, it was by a man and for the purpose of a sexual assault.

Another thing that continues to stick with me is the report that Mary's mother asked the detectives to cease their investigation in 1967, only two years after Mary went missing.  I find that baffling.  Not knowing what has happened to your loved one must be far worse than having the closure of knowing, no matter how painful.  Why would a parent do this?

Well, for one - - because you know where your child is.  That would suggest that Mary organized her own disappearance, involved her family in it and her family continued the subterfuge to the authorities. Could she have done this?  Of course, anything is possible.  For what reason?  Well, she certainly could have found something very unsavory or dangerous going on at C&S and felt her life was in danger.  It's extreme, sure, but weirder things.  Perhaps then Diane Shields, in taking over Mary's job, also stumbled upon the same mess and was not fortunate enough to extricate herself from it.  If this did happen, Mary has managed to remain hidden for over half a century.

A further reason for Mary's mother to request a halt on the investigation would be in order to save another child.  She's lost one and she doesn't want to lose another.  That would indicate that one of Mary's siblings had killed her, the rest of the family knew and were circling around to protect that sibling.  Possible?  Sure.  But I don't think it happened in this case.  

By all accounts, Mary had a solid, loving relationship with all members of her family.  There is no account of any friction, other than a tale of Mary wanting to go to New York at one point prior to her move to Atlanta and her parents refusing.  She didn't mention anything to her husband, her co-workers or her girlfriends.  And a family dispute would not explain the telephone calls or the flowers.

I guess it's possible that the Shotwell family, by 1967, had already emotionally buried Mary and simply wanted to move forward.

Decatur, where Mary lived, in 1965
I think the biggest problem, the biggest question, in this case is the North Carolina connection.  If someone did abduct Mary, why take her to North Carolina?  If indeed they did.  The mystery woman in both Esso gas stations could never positively be identified as Mary Shotwell Little.  The attendants never got a good look at her, as she kept her face down.  If it was Mary, why didn't she cry out for help?  Try to make a run for it?   The credit card slips, using Mary's credit card, were supposedly in Mary's handwriting, identified by her family.  But was it possible her family was mistaken?  Was it possible they wanted to believe she was alive so badly they convinced themselves it was Mary's writing?  Could it have been someone who had seen Mary's writing and was able to duplicate it enough to get by?

So let's go back to the female stalker/admirer theory.  If it was a woman and a woman who killed Mary out of jealousy, anger, frustration or anything else, could she have pulled this off?  Yes.  Especially if she had help - - like brothers, male relatives or friends.  She could have driven Mary's car back to the lot at Lenox.  She could have left a few items of Mary's clothing behind, neatly folded, in order to insinuate that an attack had taken place. She could have been the mystery woman in North Carolina.  Why North Carolina?  She could have known it was Mary's home state and was attempting to throw the investigation off track, out of Atlanta and away from her.

And perhaps the same thing went down with Diane Shields.  Perhaps there was help with Diane as well, or perhaps help wasn't available this time and that's why Diane was left in the trunk of her car.

The Belvedere Apartments, Mary's home, today
I do think everyone close to both Mary and Diane should have been thoroughly investigated.  Mary's husband was out of town the night she vanished - - if her abductor was indeed a stalker, I think he or she knew that.  Mary wasn't grabbed outside her apartment or taken from inside her home, while her husband was gone.  She was taken the one night she went out during his trip.  And he was due back the following day.  The co-worker she dined with that night absolutely knew that.  Was she investigated?   We only have her say so that she and Mary parted company after eating and some brief window shopping, with Mary heading to her car in the Yellow Lot alone.  

This case continues to mystify, confuse and sadden me.  I would like to see justice done for Mary, if she did not leave under her own accord, and for Diane.


January 23, 2018

Leslie Van Houten: Denied!



In a stunning case of good sense and forethought, California Governor Jerry Brown has gone against the recommendations of the parole board and denied Manson Family killer Leslie Van Houten parole.

Last September, a California Board of Parole panel found her "suitable" for release but Brown, on January 19, denied her that privilege, believing that she should remain incarcerated due to the "aggravated nature of the crime" and Van Houten's reluctance to wholly take responsibility.

This is who counts - Leno and Rosemary
I absolutely agree with Governor Brown's decision.  As he said, "The devastation and loss experienced by the LaBianca family and all the victims' families continues today."  What Van Houten did - - regardless of her age - - cannot be righted. Ever.  I have read where people say that she was young, she made a mistake . . . she was nineteen or twenty at the time.  Old enough. Making a mistake is dropping out of school or quitting a job or settling for a poor boyfriend.  Not stabbing a woman in the back with a knife, to the hilt.

What I find interesting is that while some want to give Leslie Van Houten mercy, claiming her age at the time or her small victim count compared to the other killers, they were never merciful toward Charles Manson, who didn't put a knife in any of the victims.  Yes, he at the very least suggested his merry little band of murderers where to go and what to do and he did initially tie up Rosemary and Leno LaBianca but he did less in action than Van Houten did.  So why the push to grant her parole?

A joyful Leslie (right) during the trial
I've said this in other posts and I'll say it again.  Leslie Van Houten was considered the least devoted of Manson's minions.  The least.  Let that sink in.  Yet she still willingly and happily accompanied the group that night back in 1969, knowing full well what their bloody mission would be, and partook in the violence.  She had zero sympathy for Rosemary LaBianca, fighting for her life, as she helped to put a pillowcase over her head and a lamp cord around her neck and then took a knife to her. She had zero sympathy for her, or any other victim, when she sang and giggled in court.



Leslie Van Houten wasn't a child, she was a legal adult.  I don't care what kind of drugs you are doing, or what kind of alcohol you are drinking, or if your mother forced you to get an abortion or your parents were mean or you weren't popular in school or whatever else.  It's no excuse for murder. None.   And blaming Manson, at least in part, seems to be the modus operandi for those left, as both Patricia Krenwinkel and Tex Watson have done the same.


Governor Brown previously denied Van Houten parole in 2016.


January 10, 2018

The Death of Nicholaus Contreraz



During Nicholaus Contreraz' short life, he was often in the wrong place at the wrong time and given the short end of the proverbial stick.

It started when his father was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1994.  The elder Contreraz was a victim of mistaken identity; worse, young Nicky, who had turned twelve just two months earlier, witnessed the murder.  Such trauma led the boy, previously a good student, to slip academically and to begin committing petty crimes, like shoplifting.  The Sacramento teenager finally pushed his luck when he was caught joyriding in a stolen car. A judge told him and his family that in order to avoid California juvenile prison, he would have to go to the Arizona Boys Ranch.

Nicky was reportedly optimistic about the Ranch - - he was told by a Ranch representative prior to his arrival that the Ranch was his golden ticket to starting a new chapter in his life.  He was excited about getting high school credits and earning his diploma because he wanted to be a firefighter.

At the time Nicky arrived at the Arizona Boys Ranch in January of 1998, the facility was celebrating its forty-ninth birthday.  It was a privately run, military-style "bootcamp" located near Oracle, Arizona in Pinal County. Over the years, it had received the support of numerous politicians and lawmakers.  It also received funding from California, a state that did not allow staff in juvenile institutions to physically restrain their wards.  Arizona, sadly for Nicky, had no such law on the books.

He arrived on January 8 and was examined on arrival by Dr. Virginia Rutz. He had asthma, a condition that likely was exacerbated by the change in elevation and atmosphere.  Dr. Rutz would prescribe inhalers for his condition, but not until a month later and a second medical evaluation, on February 8.  That was inexplicable enough but Nicky was told that he was not allowed to use the inhalers without permission of the staff.

A quick note about Dr. Rutz.  At the time Nicky arrived at the Ranch, she was reportedly on probation by the State of Arizona for the illegal use of narcotics, prescribing medication to herself and inadequate maintenance of medical charts.  Her license had been yanked, she went to rehab and then her license was reinstated.  Marvelous.  We can see that the Ranch had high standards, can't we?

Nicky had also begun to experience nausea and diarrhea but staff members berated him, telling him it was "all in his mind" and that he was being "a baby." 

On his medical chart, it was indicated that between January and March, Nicky suffered with muscle spasms, severe chest pains, chills, sweating, rapid pulse, impaired breathing, dry heaves, cyanosis, coughing, wheezing, a "moldy" body odor and fevers of over 100 degrees.  He also lost nearly 20 pounds.  Nevertheless, the oh-so-caring staff at the Ranch believed that Nicky was not only faking it but milking it. 

As the young man became more ill, he began receiving worse and worse treatment.  Believing him to be lazy, staff used calisthenics to get him in line; when he slowed down or faltered, he was shoved on the ground and punched. When he lost consciousness, he had water thrown on him.  He was routinely denied the right to use the restroom, with privileges only being given in the morning after breakfast and in the evening after completion of what they termed "physical training."   Nicky became unable to control his bodily functions, resulting in him soiling his clothing and his mattress.  He was punished for this, moved into the barracks' bathroom and forced to sleep in his soiled clothes and on his soiled mattress.  Staff made him eat his meals while sitting on the toilet, and encouraged other wards to tease and scrutinize Nicky when they ordered him to drop his pants.  When he did leave the bathroom, he was made to carry his urine/feces/vomit soaked clothing around in a trashcan with him.  Staff made him do push-ups over that same trashcan.  As if the young man wasn't being humiliated enough, the staff could tell when he was about to become sick and they would mockingly do a "3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . ." countdown. They also told the other wards that Nicky had AIDS, a complete fabrication.

On February 27, Nicky had a phone conversation with his family, which was monitored by staff. His grandmother recalled later that her grandson could barely put a sentence together, he was so unresponsive and weak, but he did state his chest was hurting badly, he wanted to die and be with his dad, that it was "too hard."  His mother recalled that he coughed uncontrollably during the conversation.  Ranch staff informed his family at that time that Nicky hadn't eaten in a week - - but it was nothing to be concerned about. 

Amazingly, there appeared to be no further attempt by his family or by Berg to intervene on Nicky's behalf or ensure that he received medical attention.

On March 2, 1996, Nicky was awakened from his bathroom bedroom at 6:30 a.m.  During the day, he collapsed repeatedly.  Staff told him he deserved an Academy Award before bouncing him off a wall and throwing him to the ground for push-ups.  After he collapsed during an uphill run, another ward of the Ranch pushed him in a wheelbarrow while Nicky was ordered to make sounds mimicking an ambulance siren. 

Somewhere around 1:00 that afternoon, he spoke to Don Berg, his Sacramento probation officer.  Nicky told Berg that he was sick; Berg chose to ignore him.

Following his phone call and plea for help to Berg, he was taken back to his physical activities, where he again vomited and defecated on himself.  Pursuant to statements given by other Ranch wards, he was not allowed to clean himself up or change clothes. At 5:30, he collapsed for a final time.  Ordered by staff to get up, Nicky responded "No."  It was the last thing he would ever say.

Upon this collapse, Nicky was picked up by two Ranch staff members, one on either side of him, and, with his toes dragging on the ground, they attempted to force him to consume water. As he had already gone into cardiac distress, their attempts were unsuccessful.  It was only then that EMS was called but it was far too late for Nicky. 

Two autopsies were performed on Nicky's body and the results were shocking, horrifying and disgusting.  Nicky had been suffering with a massive infection in both of his lungs.  One lung had partially collapsed.  Both lungs contained fluid that was most likely vomitus that had been inhaled.  His abdomen was distended with more than two and a half quarts of pus from a different combined infection of both staphylococcus and streptococcus.  His body, including his head and face, was covered with seventy-one separate cuts, bruises, abrasions, scratches and minor puncture wounds that were determined to have come from manhandling.  Blood was found in his stomach.  Nicky suffered a cardiac arrest, likely brought on by the fluid build-up in his lungs and chest cavity.

Ranch nurse Linda Babb, who took Nicky's temperature and listened to his lungs approximately once,  and on the day of his death, denied any type of responsibility and claimed there was no outward sign of infection.  You know, like fevers, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, odor . . . She also took victim blaming to new heights by claiming that he most certainly had the opportunity to tell people if he were sick.   I am torn between my eyes rolling painfully to the back of my head and wanting to punch Babb in her nether regions.

A relative of Nicky's would later say that the Ranch had initially told the family that Nicky had committed suicide via a self-induced hunger strike. 

Given that Nicky was a resident of California and a minor, the California Department of Social Services began an investigation. They found his death was the result of medical neglect and physical abuse. (Because clearly having dipshit assclowns in charge is not a legitimate cause of death.) 

The president of the Ranch, Bob Thomas, denied there was any physical abuse whatsoever.  Seventy-one separate cuts and bruises?  Yeah, no big deal.  This denial was despite the findings of two separate autopsies.  He believed the California report, a report which he could not be bothered to read, was made simply and solely to make the Ranch look bad.  Never mind that California had been funding the Ranch.  I've got news, Bob Thomas.  You don't need a report from California or anywhere else to make your facility look bad.  He also opined that you need to believe either the staff or the kids.  Hmmmmm.

It very soon came to light that in the previous five years, nearly 100 counts of child abuse had been leveled at the Ranch.  These counts included an incident in which a boy was burned so badly with hot water he required skin grafts, a boy whose nose was broken after being slammed into a table and another who was struck in the head with a shovel by a staff member.  In 1994, a Mississippi youth drowned in a canal after attempting to flee the Ranch.  In 1995, a California boy was struck twenty-five to thirty times (the two employees responsible were fired.)  In 1996, five employees claimed the Ranch was hostile and continued to abuse children. Also in 1996, the Ranch's license was put on provisional status due to abuse - - the third time it had happened.

Employees directly implicated in Nicky's death were either fired, laid off or resigned. Seventeen former staff members were placed in the Arizona Child Abuse Directory as a result of what they had done to Nicky.  The Ranch lost its license on August 27, 1998.  Bob Thomas (again) publicly stated his intention to get the license reinstated but board members of the Ranch got smart and put him on administrative leave. 

Staff employees Geoffrey Lewis, Montgomery Hoover, Michael Morena and Troy Jones all had criminal charges brought against them for Nicky's death.  Nurse Linda Babb was charged with one count of  manslaughter and one count of child abuse.  Babb, if you recall, was the nurse who claimed that Nicky had every opportunity to let on that he was sick.  For her part, she cleared Nicky for physically demanding exercise and, via reports to staff, encouraged them to "hold Contreraz highly accountable for his negative behavior." 

The charges truly did not fit the crime.  With conviction, each defendant only faced some twelve years for Nicky's homicide.

Sadly, the case went nowhere when the Pinal County District Attorney dropped all charges. No one involved in Nicky's horrific end served time or was legally punished.  A technicality let them all walk.   The employees were supposedly relying upon Linda Babb and her (lack of) judgment; Babb reportedly didn't have enough information about Nicky to know his life was in danger and was absent most of the time period in question. 

The only true repercussion suffered was that California pulled its funding and canceled its contract, leading to the closure of the Ranch.  Nicky's mother settled out of court with both the State of Arizona and County of Sacramento, reportedly for three million dollars.

Despite the Ranch being closed (although a Queens Creek location still operates, albeit under "Canyon State Academy"), there was zero justice for Nicholaus Contreraz.  No one was forced to answer for his miserable, painful death.  This was a boy who died only two months after his sixteenth birthday.  He was abused, physically, verbally and mentally, by persons who were responsible for his care.  The double infection that caused a disgusting two and half quarts of pus to seep into his abdomen was almost certainly due to his being forced to do push-ups over raw waste.

Poor Nicky was let down by the adults in his life.  His father died in front of him, something that certainly caused him to act out.  The Sacramento judge who, rather than letting him serve his juvenile time in California, where facilities like the Ranch did not exist, sent him out of state.  The employees and medical personnel at the Ranch did not look out for his best interests and had a depraved indifference toward his welfare.  Linda Babb listened to his lungs on the day he died and could not tell that one lung had partially collapsed?  She could not see his abdomen was distended by the over half gallon of pus building up?  She did not notice the multiple abrasions and bruises that littered his body?  His parole officer was not apparently alerted by Nicky's deteriorating health or by the Ranch's statement that he had not eaten in a week.  Nicky's assigned caseworker at the Ranch said that Nicky never mentioned to him about feeling well and said he was treated with "compassion" by the Ranch staff.  Even his mother and grandmother, who certainly loved and cared for Nicky, did not take action after that last phone call, in which he sounded weak, sick, in pain and with zero desire to live. Why didn't they, or his parole officer, notify local authorities?  Contact the judge in Sacramento who had sentenced Nicky?  Get on a plane, or jump in a car, to Arizona? 

I think it's important to point out that the Pinal County Sheriff's Department conducted their own investigations, as California did, which resulted in a 1,000 page report.  While there were conflicting statements, the medical evidence and findings were never disputed.

His murder - - because it was murder - - is the greatest tragedy in this story.  The fact that not one person was held responsible, not forced to stand trial for depraved indifference or negligent homicide, at the very least,  adds flagrant injustice to the tragedy.

My heart hurts for this young man, who wasn't a bad kid . . . simply a confused and hurt one.  Nicky looked forward to his time at the Ranch, a time when he thought he could continue his education and get his life on track.  Not where he would meet an early death.

December 31, 2017

The MacDonald Case: The Suitcase

The suitcase, on right, as it was found on February 17, 1970
Photo: thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com


In this case, with enough gore to fill the pages of a lengthy book, the presence of a suitcase seems tame and uneventful and is very rarely mentioned.  It's one of the lesser pieces of evidence at a crime scene that has much but I believe its presence tells a very important story.

The suitcase was noticed by both William Ivory and Robert Shaw, initial investigators at 544 Castle Drive the morning of February 17, 1970. It sat on the white shag carpeting in the master bedroom, near the right hand corner of the footboard of the master bed and in a southward direction from Colette MacDonald's body.  It wasn't far from a pile of bloody bedding that had been placed or dropped outside the master closet door, immediately adjacent to the bedroom door.  The right side of the closet stood open; white shoes just inside the right side of the closet bore blood spatter.

The suitcase itself had no blood on it.  The carpet around it, and underneath it, however, had quantities of blood  - Colette's blood. The obvious inference is that the blood was shed before the suitcase was placed in that spot in the master bedroom.

Paul Stombaugh, once a Special Agent for the FBI, who became a qualified expert in fabric impressions, stains, hairs and fibers, and who examined the physical evidence in this case and testified for the prosecution in 1979, believes that Jeffrey MacDonald, after butchering his family and before deciding on the drugged-out-hippies-intruder theory and inflicting a wound on himself, grabbed that suitcase and planned to pack it and flee.

It is one theory.  MacDonald's narcissism, though, always gives me pause.  Would a narcissist like MacDonald actually flee?  And if he was going to flee, why wouldn't he do so before laying a hand on his youngest child, Kristen?  Wouldn't it make more sense, grotesquely, at least, to plan to flee while Colette and Kimberley were both unconscious, but still alive, in the master bedroom and Kristen had not yet been touched?  And if he was going to run, would he change out of his pajamas, especially given that the top was already torn and Colette's blood had already stained it, and into street clothes before packing?

Another view of the case, on right, with bloody bedding and open closet door
Photo: thejeffreymacdonaldcase.com 


Let's consider another theory.

We know from Mildred Kassab's later testimony and statements that Colette called her on the morning of Monday, February 16, 1970.  It was winter in North Carolina, gray and raining, and pregnant Colette had two children that were cooped up in a small apartment and no car. (The family's vehicle, one that was given to her by her aunt, was taken by MacDonald to and from work each day, leaving Colette to do her errands and shopping on foot.)  She was also increasingly unhappy in her marriage, although being private, she did not tell her mother this. She asked Mildred if she and the children could come home (to New York) for a visit.  Ground in the Kassab backyard had recently been broken for a swimming pool that the Kassabs hoped they, as well as Colette and the children, would enjoy for years to come. This was on Mildred's  mind as she considered the danger to the children and suggested that Colette wait until spring. By spring, the pool would be completed and therefore safer.

What if Colette, dispirited and unsatisfied with her domestic situation, had packed a suitcase with clothing for herself and her girls, in anticipation of going home?  She must have been thoroughly disappointed at not being told to get on the next flight.  Perhaps rather than unpacking, she simply placed the suitcase in the master bedroom closet, under the bed or in some other location.

What if before or during the argument that erupted fatally later that evening, Jeffrey MacDonald found that suitcase and didn't like that his wife was leaving, even for a temporary visit home?  The suggestion that she was going to leave certainly would not comport with the idyllic family life that MacDonald later told authorities.

Imagine that after Colette, Kimberley and Kristen had been murdered, MacDonald, while staging the scene, and/or after making the phone call for help and before the MPs arrive, must remove evidence that Colette had packed to leave.  He pulls her things from the suitcase and returns them to her dresser drawers, quickly.  The children's clothing is placed in a stack on the hallway floor, closest to the sofa in the living room, either due to forgetfulness, expediency or because MacDonald had no wish to again see what he had done to his children by returning the items to their proper bedroom.  Although he unpacked the suitcase, he forgot about it and left it on the floor, on top of and around blood evidence.

When that suitcase was inspected by Ivory, it was found to be empty.  An inspection also revealed that one of the dresser drawers, one belonging to Colette, was found that morning slightly open and the contents were in a jumble. Perhaps Colette had opened that drawer while preparing for bed that evening.  Perhaps she herself had put her own clothing in the drawer, without taking care for being neat.  Or perhaps Jeffrey MacDonald did it.

Either theory regarding the suitcase could be accurate; both could be wrong.  Just another enigma in the puzzle of this case.

What do you think?