March 3, 2018

The 2004 Napa Murders


Before November 1, 2004, Napa, California was known for its temperature weather, gorgeous scenery, plethora of local vineyards and quality of life for its residents, including being a very safe community.  Despite the many tourists who flocked from other parts of California, as well as throughout the United States and Europe, crime was not a common occurrence.  In fact, Napa had not seen a homicide in over two years as Halloween of 2004 rolled around.

On that last day of October, roommates Adriane Insogna, Leslie Mazzara and Lauren Meanza spent the evening handing out candy to trick-or-treaters that rang the bell at their Dorset Street home.  By 11 p.m., the lights were out and all three had turned in; Adriane and Leslie to their upstairs bedrooms and Lauren to her downstairs bedroom.  All would be quiet until around 2 a.m.

At that time, Lauren was awakened by the sound of breaking glass and what she would describe as "a blood curdling, terrified scream."  She cautiously crept from her bed, to head upstairs to investigate.  She was stopped when she heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the stairs toward her.  Terrified, she ran out the back door and into the yard, where she hid, perfectly still.  She would hear the sounds of someone climbing out of the basement window and running off into the night before she would regain her courage and reenter the house.  She climbed the stairs and, hearing crying coming from Adriane's room, headed that way.  She never could have been prepared for what sight met her.

Leslie
Leslie was face down, in a pool of blood.  Adriane was crouched down behind the bed, still alive, but having sustained many, many stab wounds from which she was bleeding heavily.  There was so much blood in the room that Lauren slipped.

She tried to call 911 on the house phone but the line was dead. She retrieved her mobile phone and called for help, while running out to her own car and driving away.  She was petrified that the person who attacked her roommates was still in the house or the area.

Paramedics arrived on Dorset Street quickly.  Leslie was dead.  Adriane would die very soon after the paramedics' arrival.  Both of them had been stabbed repeatedly.  Lauren had not seen anyone, although she had heard the attacks.

The local authorities began their investigation.  They combed the crime scene and found cigarette butts outside the home. As neither Lauren, Leslie nor Adriane smoked, they believed the attacker had lain in wait, biding his time and smoking,, before entering the home on his murderous errand.  They would also find blood at the scene that was not Leslie's or Adriane's.  Clearly their killer had cut himself.  DNA tests, though, would take time.

Napa reeled from the savage murders. Because a suspect wasn't caught immediately, residents were terrified and rumors began to swirl.  One of the more repeated ones was that Lauren, Leslie and Adriane were mixed up with drugs and the murders were a hit.  Another one was that Leslie's employer, Francis Ford Coppola, who owned the winery Leslie worked at, had mob ties and the ladies were collateral damage.  Neither rumor had any basis in truth and fact.

The local police believed that Leslie was the intended victim.  She had been attacked first and very viciously.  The evidence indicated that she had been sleeping when she was first stabbed and had attempted to run away from her killer, headed toward Adriane's room.  Adriane, it seems, had heard the attack on Leslie and run to her friend's defense, sustaining fatal stab wounds herself in the process.

Police began to check into the backgrounds of Adriane and Leslie, looking for a killer.

Adriane and Lily
Adriane Insogna had cheated death at 16, surviving a near fatal car crash.  The car had rolled three times, Adriane striking her head on the pavement through the open window.  Always scrappy, she had survived -  a miracle - and returned to school within a few months, although she did suffer with some memory loss as a result of the temporary brain damage caused by the accident.  She would heal and excel in school, earning a scholarship to California Polytechnic State University. She pursued her dream of becoming an engineer, successfully.  Hired on by the City of Napa after she graduated, Adriane was working there at the time of her murder.  Just four months before her death, she would celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the car accident, the time when she was granted a miracle and cheated death, with one of her closest friends, Lily Prudhomme. 

Shortly after being hired by the city, she started dating Christian Lee.   Their relationship would be rocky, on again and off again.  She wanted a serious commitment; he wasn't ready.  Adriane had seen Christian on Halloween night, when she dropped by after handing out candy to the kids.  She left his place around 10 p.m. and that was the last time he saw her.   They had been arguing, about her desire for a commitment and about the fact that she had gone to a party recently and met a guy, something that made Christian jealous.

Other than the quasi-drama with Christian, Adriane led a quiet life.  She had a circle of friends, including Lily, that she had known for years.  She did not have a high risk lifestyle.

Leslie
Leslie Mazzara, unlike Adriane, had a huge circle of friends and was extremely outgoing.  She was the new girl on the block, having moved to California from Anderson, South Carolina only months earlier.  A former beauty queen, Leslie had given consideration to becoming a teacher or an attorney but seemed stuck. Her mother Cathy had gone to Berkeley and had invited her daughter out for the summer, to work in one of the wineries and gather her thoughts.  From the moment that Leslie arrived in Napa, she seemed to love it.  She went to director Francis Ford Coppola's winery and was hired on the spot. The stunning and outgoing young lady was the perfect fit for the winery. What began as a summer job turned into a passion.  She decided that she wanted to make the wine business her career. Even when her mother relocated to Michigan, Leslie stayed behind in Napa.  For Leslie's family, there seemed little cause for concern.  She was well liked, a smart girl, and Napa was a safe, homey community.

Leslie was popular, especially so with men.  She didn't appear to be a player or user; in fact, she remained on good terms with everyone she dated.  Two of her South Carolina friends who had visited Leslie only weeks before the murders said that she was dating two men at the time.  One man was older and the other, they said, Leslie was quite serious about.  The two friends had been there when the older man came by and spotted flowers the younger man had sent and was "furious."

Multiple friends of Leslie's said she was a heartbreaker, but an unintentional one.  She was a sweet girl who made everyone feel as though he or she was Leslie's best friend.

Leslie's computer was searched and an email from an ex was discovered. The two had broken up years earlier, after he proposed and she turned him down, but he reached out to her not long before her murder.  The family of another man had sent her on a cruise and she received a car as a gift from another man.  A month before her death, Leslie had returned to South Carolina for a friend's wedding, toting a new set of luggage she received from another admirer.  This same friend would report that the night Leslie was murdered, the father of a man Leslie had broken up with had tried repeatedly to reach her by telephone.

Between Adriane and Leslie, Leslie seemed more likely in the cops' eyes to be the intended target. They felt that she may have crossed paths with someone who grew obsessed with her.  The murders were clearly not random; the killer had waited outside and then, upon gaining entry to the house, headed straight upstairs.

Police would interview more than 1,500 people, obtaining DNA samples, with no matches or further leads.  They interrogated Christian Lee the day that Adriane was murdered, even getting a DNA sample.  They interviewed and obtained samples from the men Leslie had dated.  No luck. The lack of any suspects or arrests frustrated the victims' families and friends, who felt they had to defend their reputations and fight to keep the investigation going.

Time passed and went on for others.  Lily Prudhomme, Adriane's best friend, decided after Adriane's murder that life was too short and after putting it off the year before, married her boyfriend Eric Copple. Adriane's mother Arlene attended the wedding, where the song "She Will Be Loved" (Adriane's favorite song) was played in her honor. It was a joyous occasion and yet still sad, as someone was clearly missing from the Prudhomme-Copple wedding party.

In South Carolina, a fundraiser called "The Raising Race" was organized in Leslie's memory, to raise funds for Calvary Home for Children, a charity Leslie worked closely with when she was a beauty queen and living in the area. The Raising Race is a South Carolina version of The Amazing Race and helmed by Survivor contestants Rob and Amber, who met Leslie's friend Kelly while competing on The Amazing Race.

In September of 2005, almost a year after the murders, the local police decided to publicly release the evidence about the cigarette butts and the fact they were Turkish Gold, a variation of Camels, that had only been on the market for a very short period of time and were unusual.  DNA tests revealed that the DNA on the cigarettes matched the blood DNA in the upstairs bedroom.  The police felt that revealing the brand of cigarettes would result in someone knowing who the killer was. They had no idea the killer would contact them himself.

It was a Tuesday night.  All the detectives working the case had left for the day.  Eric Copple showed up at the station with his wife, Lily, and other family members.  Like other Napa residents, he had heard about the Turkish Gold cigarettes being found at the crime scene and believing he was about to be caught, confessed to having killed Adriane and Leslie.

Eric Copple's arrest was both a relief and devastating.  Adriane's mother was shocked and horrified that the husband of Adriane's best friend, the wedding she herself had attended in place of Adriane, had murdered her daughter.  For Leslie's family, there was a sense of relief that Leslie was not the sole target but equal confusion as Eric had never met her.

The police came under scrutiny with Copple's arrest.  They had never interviewed him nor taken a DNA sample, despite being in Adriane's inner circle and having been to the Dorset Street home. They had apparently called him at the beginning of the investigation and left messages (which Copple did not return) but never followed up.  The police chief, after the arrest, said they would have eventually spoken to Eric and obtained a DNA sample.  Eric provided one after his arrest and, to no surprise, his DNA matched that on the cigarettes and in the blood found in the house.

In January 2007, Eric Copple was sentenced to life in prison, after a plea deal was agreed upon by Copple, the DA and the victims' families taking the death penalty off the table.  The mothers of both Leslie and Adriane addressed Copple and the court.  Arlene, Adriane's mother, recounted that her daughter never wore turtlenecks in life but was buried in one to attempt to cover the wounds Copple left on her body. She counted out the number of stab wounds he had delivered to Adriane's body.  Leslie's mother Cathy read a 13 page letter.  As he had done with Arlene, Copple did not look at Cathy during her statement.

Copple's wife, and Adriane's best friend, Lily spoke.  She admitted to grieving with Adriane's mother but said that she knew a "gentler Eric" than the Eric that murdered her friend.  She publicly proclaimed support for her husband, going so far as to tell him that there was "nothing in this world that you could do that would make me love you less."

Before he was sentenced, Copple himself spoke.  He apologized to the Insogna and Mazzara families, even crying. He blamed the murders on the death of his grandfather, that sent him into a depression, and the alcohol he was using in an attempt to cope with the depression.  He said that he was going to kill himself but decided instead to turn himself in, so there would be closure to the case.

Lily herself would say that Eric killed because of his depression.  Despite her claim that he could do nothing to change her love for her, she later divorced him but, inexplicably, kept his name.

Why did Eric Copple kill?  The Napa police never publicly stated a motive for the murders.  Do I think he killed because his grandfather died?  Absolutely not.  Do I think it was depression?  Hell, no.

It was not a coincidence that November 1, 2004 was the date that he and Lily Prudhomme had initially planned to marry.  She had backed out.  Lily later said that she and Adriane would discuss their relationships with each other, as girlfriends do. I think Lily may have decided to call off the wedding after one of these discussions.  Maybe she told Eric, maybe not.  But Eric's decision to murder her best friend was one of extreme passive-aggressiveness toward Lily.  He couldn't kill her, didn't want to kill her, so he could do the next best thing to punish Lily.  Heck, he may have even been attracted to Adriane.

He had been to the house before.  He likely knew that Adriane slept upstairs.  I don't think he knew Lauren slept downstairs, which spared her life.  He had never met Leslie and it's probably he didn't know that there were three women living in the home.  In all likelihood, he only expected two women.  Adriane, always the scrappy one, had attacked him after he stabbed Leslie.  She had drawn blood, leaving behind more DNA evidence.  Good for her.

Adriane
It's unusual that Eric Copple had no record when he murdered Adriane and Leslie. He was on no one's radar.  Lily herself had told the television program 48 Hours that someone surely had noticed something, the killer must have been acting strangely - - how could it not be noticed? She also had said she hoped that Adriane had injured her killer.  All the while, Eric Copple was sitting beside her.

Had she not known?  How had she not known?  They are questions that seem puzzling . . .but Ted Bundy too had friends and family that never suspected he was abducting and murdering young women.  Would Lily have figured it out had the police released the info about the Turkish Gold cigarettes any earlier?

Lauren Meanza, the roommate who survived that brutal night, left Napa and relocated to L.A. She would say she felt safer in a larger city where violence was the norm.

Eric Copple remains behind bars, where he is serving two life sentences with no possibility of parole.

February 25, 2018

Ken McElroy: Killed in Broad Daylight

McElroy. Town bully and general POS

From the beginning of his life, on June 1, 1934, Ken Rex McElroy seemed destined for a troubled, cruel life.  He was the fifteenth of sixteen children born to a poor, migrant tenant farming family that moved between Kansas and the Ozarks before settling outside of Skidmore, Missouri.  His formal education ended when he was fifteen and in the eighth grade. Ken dropped out, at which time he already had a reputation as a raccoon hunter, castle rustler, thief and a womanizer.

Over the next two decades, McElroy would be suspected of the thefts of grain, gasoline, alcohol, antiques and livestock, arson, assault, child molestation, and statutory rape, resulting in charges being brought against him twenty-one times.  Amazingly, he was never convicted, mostly because the witnesses were afraid.  McElroy was known to have intimidated witnesses, mainly by parking outside their homes and stalking them.

In between his many felonies and intimidation tactics, McElroy fathered ten children with different women and married four times.  He met his fourth wife, Trena, when she was twelve years old.  By the age of fourteen, Trena was pregnant and had dropped out of school.  McElroy divorced wife number three and married Trena in order to escape statutory rape charges.  Before the divorce and marriage, he moved the pregnant teenager into his marital home with wife number three.  Yeah, this guy had zero boundaries.

Two weeks after Trena gave birth, she and wife number three fled to Trena's parents' home. McElroy tracked both down and brought them back to his home.  He wasn't done; he returned to Trena's parents' home while they were away, shot their family dog and burned down the house.

This led to McElroy being indicted in June of 1973 for arson, assault and statutory rape. He was arrested but then released on $2,500 bail.  Trena and her baby, meanwhile, were put into foster care. After getting bail, McElroy located where his child wife and baby were and committed his usual M.O. - - parking in front of the home and telling the foster parents that he would abduct their daughter and then "exchange" her for Trena. He strengthened his threat by telling the parents that he knew what school their daughter went to and her schoolbus route home.

No surprise that additional charges were filed against McElroy.  As per usual, though, he got away with it.

On July 27, 1976, McElroy shot a Skidmore farmer by the name of Henry twice after McElroy was challenged for firing weapons on Henry's property.  Henry survived and McElroy was charged (again) with assault with intent to kill.  He denied he was on the property or fired shots.  Henry would state that during the case, McElroy parked outside the Henry residence 100 times, in an attempt to intimidate.  Boy, this guy never changed, did he?

During the trial, McElroy had two fellow raccoon hunters testify that he was with them during the time Henry was shot.  While on the stand, Henry was forced to admit that he had neglected mentioning his own petty criminal record from thirty years earlier.  McElroy was acquitted.

Bo Bowenkamp
Fast forward to 1980.  One of McElroy's children gets into an argument with a grocery store clerk, after the child was accused of stealing candy.  Imagine that -  a McElroy child is a chip off the old (cell) block.  The child denied it (of course) and McElroy likely took the child's side.  Stealing does run in the family, after all.  McElroy began stalking the Bowenkamp family  - the owners of the grocery store. He would eventually confront Ernest "Bo" Bowenkamp in the back of the store, resulting in Bo being shot in the neck.

Bowenkamp survived his wound and McElroy was arrested once again and charged with attempted murder.  He would be found guilty of assault at trial but was out on bail pending an appeal.   Once out, McElroy headed to a local bar, the D&G Tavern, armed with an M1 Garland rifle.   He made violent threats about what he was gong to do to Bowenkamp once he found him, terrifying bar patrons.  The patrons, it seemed, had begun to have enough of McElroy and asked a county sheriff how to handle the matter of McElroy.  The sheriff advised them to form a neighborhood watch.

McElroy's appeal hearing was delayed.  What was it with the court system in this place?


On July 10, 1981, the townspeople of Skidmore met in the center of town with the local sheriff to discuss how to protect themselves from their town bully. During the meeting, McElroy showed once again at the D&G Tavern, with Trena, and began to drink.  Word got out that he was once again in town. The sheriff warned his citizens not to get into any type of confrontation with McElroy but, inexplicably, left town.  The citizens decided there might be safety in numbers and headed to the D&G, filling the bar.  McElroy finished his drink, bought a six pack and left with Trena.  He climbed into his pickup truck and was shot at several times, being hit twice.  Trena escaped unharmed.

None of the some sixty witnesses, including Trena, bothered to call for an ambulance or help.  McElroy, 47, was dead at the scene.  Only Trena claimed to have been able to identify a trigger man.  The other witnesses claimed an inability to know who did what.  The DA would wisely decline to press charges.

In 1984, Trena filed a wrongful death suit against the town of Skidmore, Nodaway County, the sheriff of Nodaway County, the mayor of Skidmore and Del Clement, seeking $6 million in restitution. Trena accused Clement of being the actual shooter.  The case would be settled out of court for $17,600 with no party admitting guilt.  Trena would remarry and move out of the Skidmore area.  She died on her 55th birthday in 2012 of cancer.

Murder is never acceptable but if anyone had it coming, it was Ken McElroy.  This man held the town of Skidmore hostage for years. He bullied and intimidated, took what he wanted, whether it was property, money or sex. The authorities seemed incapable or unmotivated to prevent him from intimidating and bullying witnesses, allowing him to continue his felonies. What the townspeople did was a crime but after years of being abused by McElroy and disappointed by authorities, they were victims themselves. These folks must have lived in fear of what McElroy might do.  In my opinion, they were given no choice but to take matters into their own hands. It was only a matter of time before McElroy killed someone.  The townspeople of Skidmore did everyone a favor by putting Ken McElroy down, the way you would a rabid animal.

No charges were ever filed against Del Clement, nor anyone else for the murder, despite three grand jury investigations and an FBI probe.  Clement died in 2009.  Interestingly, Clement, along with his brother Greg, was owner of the D&G (for Del and Greg) Tavern.  McElroy had supposedly scared customers away over the years, as well as threatened to shoot Del's horses (he was a rancher) and it was these facts that allegedly led Clement to shoot and kill McElroy.

Since McElroy's death,  a story surfaced that he placed a man on railroad tracks in order to watch him be killed.  The murder allegedly occurred in St. Joe but has not been proven.

On February 3, 1991, a miniseries titled "In Broad Daylight," inspired by the McElroy case, was shown on tv.  It starred Brian Dennehy (who also portrayed serial killer John Wayne Gacy) and was based on a book of the same name .


Skidmore residents inspect the crime scene

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.