April 27, 2016

Should Leslie Van Houten Be Granted Parole?

Van Houten in 1970

Vincent Bugliosi predicted this, although he believed it would happen many years ago.  He did think that the Manson "girls" would be granted parole, paving the way for Tex Watson, Bruce Davis, Bobby Beausoleil and eventually Manson himself.   So this shouldn't be all that surprising.

The Manson "girls" aren't girls any longer.  Only two remain - - Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie Van Houten - - and both are in their sixties.  (The third, Susan Atkins, died where she should have - - still incarcerated and a guest of the State of California.)

Van Houten had her twenty-first parole appearance and the Board recommended that parole be granted.

This makes me angry.  I'm a resident of California and I don't want to see Leslie Van Houten (or any of the Merry Manson Band of Murderers) at my grocery store or in my neighborhood.   I know that some have said that she is the least culpable in the group of killers but killing is killing in my book.  She can whine all she wants about how Rosemary LaBianca was already dead when Leslie took a knife repeatedly to her back and it makes little difference to me.  Leslie held her down, Leslie aided and abetted Watson and Krenwinkle at the very least.  At most, she stabbed a woman who was still alive at the time.  Coroner Thomas Noguchi said that a number of Mrs. LaBianca's wounds were antemortem, meaning they occurred before death.  There is no way to say which wounds Van Houten delivered and which were delivered at the hands of Krenwinkle and/or Watson so I think it's best to err on the side of caution and assume that Mrs. LaBianca was still breathing when Van Houten attacked her.
Van Houten today

This is a woman who laughed and joked during the criminal trial, when witnesses were talking about the brutalization of the victims, their pleas for mercy and when her own life was on the line (she and her co-defendants received the death penalty.)    She admitted she felt no remorse for the victims' deaths, their pain or their loved ones' pain.  She admitted she only thought about Rosemary LaBianca while in the courtroom.  Within her first few years of incarceration, she was found to have a woman's prison guard uniform in her cell.  Until last month, she never admitted responsibility for her actions nor any remorse.  She blamed her actions on Charles Manson, on drugs, on her parents' divorce and on an abortion she had as a teenager.

To the finger pointing, I say this - - bitch, please.  We all deal with various shit in our lives.  Some of us have more to deal with than others.  Some of us handle that shit better than others.  None of it - - no matter how much or on what level - - justifies breaking into someone's house and slaughtering them.

I don't buy Van Houten's remorse.  I think she's a sociopath and this is just a calculated act in order to leave prison in something other than a pine box.

Something else about Van Houten scares me and that's this.  Bugliosi said himself that she was the least devoted of Manson's followers (and he should know.)  Think about that.  She was the least devoted out of this ragtag group and she was willing to kill strangers on his orders?  That's frightening.  What would she have done if she was utterly devoted to him?

If you don't believe that Manson ordered those murders, that would mean that Van Houten simply thrilled in killing.  Or maybe it's both.

Her attorney claims that this "violent act" was the only one of her life.  Not only would I hope so but isn't it enough?  Her "act" resulted in the violent and horrific deaths of two people that can never again live.  She has been given more compassion and mercy than the victims were.  They begged for their lives and were met with laughter, insults and the business end of a knife.  She and the others have been given the gift of parole hearings, of education, of families and of life.  Now she wants to beg and plead?  I say let's respond to her pleas with the same denial she gave her victims.  No business end of a knife but with a resounding "no."

While it's true that no amount of punishment will ever bring back the persons that were killed, punishment is punishment, justice is justice and life should mean life.

If she is granted parole, how long before Patricia Krenwinkle follows suit?  If Krenwinkle is granted parole, the clock will be ticking on the men.

Rosemary and Leno LaBianca
None of these people should get parole.  None of them.  I hope that Governor Jerry Brown is listening to the people and thinking about justice, the victims, the victims' families and what is right.

Sharon Tate's sister Debra started a petition to keep Van Houten in prison.   Add your name as a supporter here.

Let me know what you think.  Has Leslie Van Houten served her time?  Should she be paroled?  If so, why?  If you think she should remain in prison, give me your thoughts on that.

April 26, 2016

The Broderick Case: Was It About Money?

Linda and Dan, 1989

Betty and Dan, 1969

The Betty Broderick saga continues to be the most popular posts on this site.  For my previous posts go here and here.  It appears that the case still strikes a chord with many people, although opinions are as divided as Betty and Dan were.

A response to my original post on the case referenced Dan's greediness and suggested that perhaps if Dan had been more generous with regard to his settlement with Betty, the murders may not have happened.

So let's talk money and the Broderick case.

For what it's worth, I don't believe money was at the root of the murders. Let's put this into context.  It's true that Betty and Dan were living very well by the time he began an affair with Linda.  Betty had been a stay at home mother for years, rearing the children and keeping an immaculate home.  Prior to that, she had babysat and kept children to make ends meet while Dan attended medical school and then law school.  Yes, Dan got the education and it was his professional smarts that were bankrolling the homes, cars, jewelry and fabulous trips but without Betty's sacrifice and teamwork, he wouldn't have accomplished that.  By the time of their divorce in 1989, they had been married for nearly twenty years (although separated for the last few.)  Even so, Betty deserved a piece of the pie.

Prior to their divorce being finalized, Dan had been paying Betty an amount he deemed appropriate (albeit a hefty amount.)  Before you negate all sympathy for Betty, Dan also took it upon himself to financially penalize Betty for infractions such as leaving volatile messages on the answering machine and entering his home without approval.  Despite the frustrations such actions must have caused - - because Betty would often damage the premises - - he should not have had the right to deduct monies from her support.   Now, before you start feeling sorry for Dan, he did cheat on Betty for years while lying to her about it, all the while suggesting that not only was she crazy for thinking such a thing but she also needed to lose weight and do something about her appearance so that she would look younger.   So let's say they were both acting like jerks.

Betty had difficulty finding and keeping a family law attorney that would be willing to go up against Dan.  The legal community in general in a small one and no one in San Diego was willing to get on the wrong side of Dan Broderick.  Having dealt with a drawn out divorce myself, I can attest to feelings of frustration so great that you begin to feel mentally and emotionally unhinged.  Had I also had to deal with an ex who was an attorney himself and had connections all over the city that made my case difficult, I think I would have been on medication.  So I can imagine the stress Betty must have felt to not only be hitting the wall in an attorney search but going through these things when she didn't want the divorce at all.

Dan also allegedly sold their family home behind Betty's back, depending on who you believe.  I do think it's likely that Dan withheld funds and hid money from her but I also think that Betty did not want to deal with the sale of the home as it would firmly close the door on the marriage once and for all.

When a settlement was decided, with Betty of course not being happy about it, she was granted just over $16,000 per month.  That's a ton of money and this was in 1988-1989.  There is no reason she could not have lived very, very comfortably on that sum.   My opinion?  She didn't want to.  No amount of money would have pacified her because it wasn't about the money.  She didn't want the money.

She wanted Dan.  Not because she was in love with him because I don't believe she was.  She wanted him because she wanted the lifestyle.  She didn't want to fail.  And she didn't want Linda to have him.

Really, this is nothing new.  This same soap opera is playing out many times every day, although perhaps less likely by persons in their forties, as Dan and Betty were at the time.  What gets me though is why on earth Dan didn't change the locks of his house?  Not just at the end but years earlier, when Betty was leaving vitriolic messages on his machine, breaking items in the house and ruining his clothing?   Why didn't he tell her the truth when she confronted him way back in 1983 or 1984?   Why didn't he leave her sooner?  Why didn't he force the divorce sooner?

He was playing with fire.  Maybe he knew it, maybe not.  But it seems clear that he enjoyed tormenting Betty, if not the drama itself.     Just as Betty enjoyed tormenting him and Linda enjoyed tormenting Betty.  I said it in an earlier post but these adults were all acting like temperamental children.  Neither Dan nor Linda deserved to be murdered but neither were being very smart about antagonizing Betty.

I veered off a bit on the topic at hand but to state it briefly, I don't think money played a part in these murders.  Do I think Betty was humiliated by selling her La Jolla home?  Absolutely.  Do I think she hated living in a condo?  Sure.  Was she threatened by Dan?  Of course.  But I can't help wondering what may have been if she had just taken the alimony payments and kept her mouth shut.   She would have collected nearly $200,000 from Dan a year - -  that's nearly $400,000 in today's dollars.  Not a shabby bit of coin.

The bed, after
Speaking of money . . . did Linda fall in love with Dan because of his personality (despite the fact that he had a wife and children) or was it because of his power and money?  Did she fall in love with him at all or was she in love with what he could provide her with?

Was Dan in love with her?  Clearly money would not have been a motive for him but if he was in love with her, why did it take him so long to formally leave his wife, divorce her and marry Linda?  Did Dan ever love Betty?  (I'm guessing not.)

What do you think?  Did Betty kill for money?  Or partly because of money?  Did anyone in this twisted saga love anyone besides themselves?

The end result

March 29, 2016

Why Ted Bundy Continues to Fascinate Us

Some of Ted Bundy's victims

I recently read Kevin Sullivan's second book on Ted Bundy (review to follow shortly) and while reading it I started to contemplate why we are still fascinated with a serial killer who was executed twenty-seven years ago.  Okay, maybe it's just me.   (It helps too that Mr. Sullivan broached that very topic by the end of his companion volume.)

Ted Bundy wasn't the showiest serial killer although he did enjoy the spotlight when he was on trial in Florida.  The FBI doesn't consider him the most prolific, although I think their count of thirty-six victims is conservative and low.  And while he was smart  (scoring above average in IQ), he wasn't the only intelligent killer out there.   But Ted Bundy preys on the conscious - - I think of his victims often, although I have no connection to any of them.  None of them would have been my contemporaries although I have outlived them all.  What I find interesting about the "phenomenon" of Ted Bundy is that he is one of the few killers that is often referred to by his first name, as if we know him.  We don't refer to Richard Ramirez or John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer that way and Ted was just as egregious a killer as they were.  So why? 

And while the crimes of Ramirez, Gacy and Dahmer were just as horrific as those Ted committed, those killers have been relegated to the annals of crime without as much interest.  Again, why?  All of them, including Bundy himself, are dead.  Bundy, in fact, was the first to die out of them.  So why hasn't Bundy faded off into obscurity?

Like Bundy himself, I think the answer is multifaceted and complex. 

Maybe because he's the killer that shouldn't have been, at least per the logic we utilized before Ted began speaking about his career in murder.   He was raised in a good, solid home with a loving mother and caring stepfather.  Neither abused him, alcohol or drugs.  He had brothers and sisters, who would speak of him in glowing and loving terms after he was convicted of kidnapping in Utah.  He had a long term relationship with a girlfriend whose daughter he appeared to dote on.  He was a law student, an employee and was looked upon favorably by most coworkers, students and teachers. He didn't fit the mold of the serial killer as we knew it back then.

Some of his crimes were audacious - - Ted appeared to operate at will, with impunity and utterly impervious to danger.  Even while Seattle and its environs were giving a nervous eye to shadows and well aware that a coldly efficient killer was in its midst, he still managed to lure victims away.  One college student was abducted from the basement room where she slept, in a home with five other roommates, and carried out the front door; two young ladies were abducted from the same state park within four hours of each other on a day when the local police were having a picnic; he returned to the site of yet another college student's abduction the following day to retrieve one of her shoes and her earrings, items unwittingly left behind after he knocked her unconscious with a crowbar, while the area was teeming with police (and successfully rode by them on a bicycle and picked up the items).  Ted left nothing of himself behind, other than a somewhat vague description and a name authorities thought surely could not be his own.  Even then he was assured and cocky enough to use his own first name when striking up necessary conversation with a potential victim.

Some victims were never found; for the "luckier" ones that were it was too late to determine anything about their killer. The full truth of what they had been subjected to would stay hidden for many years (and I believe some truths accompanied Ted to the grave.)  These unknowns - - the true number of victims and their identities, where Ted buried them and hid their belongings - - helped to solidify a mystique of sorts about Ted Bundy, the same mystique that surrounds the notorious Jack the Ripper.  Jack the Ripper didn't operate for long - - only four months, as far as we know - - and had five official victims - - a paltry number by serial killer standards - - and yet he remains one of the most researched, talked about and written about criminals to this day.  The question of the Ripper's identity, how he operated and the true victims keep the story alive, much as they keep Ted Bundy's story alive. 

Unlike Jack the Ripper, though, Ted Bundy spoke of his crimes; first, in an obtuse third person dialogue.  Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth were able to get him to talk about the abductions and murders in a "what if" type scenario, stroking Ted's ego by claiming that only Ted could adequately explain to those of us less intelligent and in such close quarters with the criminal justice system how "the killer" could have managed to abduct and kill so many females at his leisure.  Reading Bundy's own words in their book is both chilling and insightful.  His victims - - lovely young women who were beloved daughters, sisters and friends - - were "cargo" to Bundy, "possessions" and playthings to be done with as he pleased until he temperamentally decided he no longer wanted to play with them.  He felt as much empathy and concern for them as he would a potted plant. 

Ted also spoke quite a bit with Bob Keppel, the King County detective who spent many years on his tail.  Despite Keppel's desire to find and incarcerate Bundy, Ted had a grudging sort of respect for Keppel because Keppel never lied to him.  Ted, the self-professed expert on serial murder, offered his services to Keppel in the mid-80s in order to help find and identify the then unknown Green River Killer.  True to form, such "help" would allow Bundy to exercise his vast knowledge on the killing of females while also perhaps keeping another killer from nabbing his prime serial killer status in the state of Washington.  Serial killers certainly aren't above such competition.

Bundy did provide Keppel with some helpful tips and Keppel managed to question Bundy about his own crimes and a fuller, more grim picture of exactly what atrocities he engaged in started to emerge, although it wouldn't be until after his 1989 execution that details began to be released. If law enforcement and/or families of the victims hoped that Bundy's deeds would be as dead as Bundy himself, it was a forlorn wish. 

Bundy's last interviews, those he gave in the days and hours before dying, revealed the full depth of his depravity.  Whispers of necrophilia, of keeping victims after death turned out to be true.  It was reported that he had admitted all of his murders and yet . . . there are still questions. 

How did Ted Bundy manage to kill so effortlessly, so easily for so long?  How did he manage to grab victim after victim, while rarely being seen?  How did he have this homicidal part of him coexisting (at least for a time) with what appeared to be a relatively normal part of him? How did those closest to him never see it? 

Bob Keppel once said that the "why" doesn't catch anyone.  True, but "why" still weighs heavily on my mind.  Perhaps Ted Bundy himself answers this best.  When asked why he had committed these terrible murders, his answer was painful and abrupt in its simplicity.  "Because I liked it."

And perhaps this, most of all, is why Bundy continues to fascinate us.  For those of us who don't fantasize about murder, who are without the constant urge to harm others, we cannot contemplate enjoyment in taking the life of a stranger, much less reveling in it.  Ted Bundy could and did; fifteen years after some of his murders, he could still remember exacting details of where he abducted his victims, what they wore and where he left them.

Bundy left an ugly, gruesome odyssey behind him but he also left us with a legacy of better understanding people like him. 

Looking back now it's interesting that my bizarre journey through Bundy's crimes started when I was a teenager - - his preferred victim age and close to the age of many of the young girls that had the terrible misfortune to cross his path.  Being that young and naïve, it was hard for me to conceive that this well educated and clean cut man could do the horrible things he was accused to have done (don't get me wrong, I absolutely believed in his guilt.)  Something about Bundy and his crimes stuck with me, leading me to read and re-read every book I could find on the subject and driving me into the study of psychology.  I even dreamt of chasing after Bundy - - with him running away from me - - telling him "But I want to talk to you!"  (This dream led my father to tell me that perhaps I should change my choice of reading material.)

In the end, once again, I am left with sadness for his victims - - the young women and girls who lost their lives to him, the families of the victims who were left with the unbearable grief of losing a loved one to a human monster, his family who believed up until the very end that he was not capable of such terrible acts, the friends who supported him for many years and felt guilt over that and Liz, the girlfriend who endured so much and received pain in return.  As I said above, I think about Ted Bundy's victims a lot.   Most of them were young, college age girls whose lives had not really begun when Ted snatched them away.  What might they have accomplished had Ted allowed them to live?  How would the world be different if they had?   


February 16, 2016

Terror in Gainesville, Part 1

Photo courtesy of www.theexaminer.com

Prior to the summer of 1990, Gainesville, Florida was a stereotypical southern town, with loads of small town charm.  Pretty homes and oaks are everywhere; Gainesville is very much a university town heavily dependent on the University of Florida.  School pride can be seen everywhere, from the businesses that are kept afloat during the school semesters thanks to hungry and thirsty college students to the school's colors and the mascot - - the Gator - - being liberally used throughout the town.  Gainesville has its share of drunk and disorderly calls, thefts and even rapes but murder is rare.  As late as August of 1990, it wasn't uncommon for people in town to leave their doors unlocked.

Rival and neighboring city Tallahassee had achieved a level of unwanted notoriety in 1978 when serial killer Ted Bundy, sitting in cold Ann Arbor, Michigan, selected Florida as his next destination.  He chose Tallahassee thanks to its proximity the water, allowing the more landlocked Gainesville to avoid that fate.  Gainesville was just fine with that slight, preferring to be known as the birthplace of Gatorade and the hometown of musician Tom Petty and actor River Phoenix. 

August 1990 was the start of another school year.  The summer months in Gainesville are quieter than the rest of the year, with a great majority of the University's students returning home, leaving apartments vacated and bars and restaurants half full.  It gives Gainesville a sleepy, laid back atmosphere until the cars begin arriving with parents dropping off new students for their first year in college and away from home.

Sonja Larson
Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, were like so many thousands of other students that August.  Both had graduated from high school the spring before and were coming to the University as incoming freshmen.  They had met during the summer semester while staying on campus in a dorm.  With a third roommate, they had rented a townhome style apartment at the Williamsburg Village Apartments, off campus but only four blocks from the school.  

Sonja and Christina, both the youngest and "babies" of their families, were outstanding softball players.  After attending a magnet school in her hometown of Deerfield Beach, Sonja, an Honors student, planned to major in education.  Christina had graduated from a Jacksonville Episcopal high school and as she excelled in Bible study, planned to major in theology.

Christina Powell
They both arrived in Gainesville on Friday, August 24.  They spent most of the day unloading their cars and then taking a trip to the local WalMart to buy items for their new home.  They had dinner together at a Chili's and then stopped at a convenience store so that Sonja could use the pay phone to call her mother.  Their home phone had not yet been hooked up and this was before cell phones.   The girls' plan was to get up on Saturday morning to continue with their unpacking and organizing and find jobs.  Their third roommate and Christina's parents were due to arrive on Sunday. 

Neighbors later reported hearing George Michael's "Faith" blasting from the apartment on Friday morning and a shower running around 6 a.m. on Saturday but could recall little else about their new neighbors.

Sonja had promised her boyfriend she would call him.  That call never came.  Christina's parents tried calling throughout that weekend before arriving on Sunday as planned.  Their knocks went unanswered; they called the police.

The police would find Sonja and Christina in their new apartment, both dead from stab wounds.  It appeared they had died sometime on Friday evening or early Saturday morning.  As if killing them hadn't been degrading enough, their killer had posed their bodies in lewd positions. 

Archer, Florida is about fifteen miles southwest from Gainesville, a tiny city that spans less than seven miles.   It's a relatively poor city perhaps best known for being where musician Bo Didley would die in 2008. 

Christa Hoyt
In 1990, eighteen year old Christa Hoyt, an Honors student, was attending Santa Fe Community College with the goal of joining the FBI to work in forensics.  Until mid-August she had shared a duplex apartment with a roommate; the roommate moved out amicably a week prior to Christa's murder. 

Christa was a cautious and dependable girl.  She was safety conscious and would never open her door to a stranger.  She worked in the records department of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and was scheduled to arrive around midnight that Saturday evening, August 25.  Because she was so reliable,  her tardiness was quickly noticed.   By 1 a.m. her co-workers had notified the local police to make a welfare check.  What would greet them would be the stuff of nightmares and leave no doubt that Gainesville had an evil presence in its midst. 

With the news of a third murdered female being discovered in twenty-four hours, panic began to set in.   Parents called their children repeatedly, some insisting they return home for the semester.  Stores in Gainesville ran out of deadbolts, baseball bats, mace, stun guns and handguns.  Students remaining at the school buddied up, gathering in groups to sleep in shifts.   Female students asked male friends to stay with them, believing the presence of a man or men would dissuade the killer.

Tracy Paules
Tracy Paules was one of those females who, while very frightened by the news of the murders, felt safe with her friend and roommate Manuel Taboada.  Manny, 23, was a former football player, a burly 200 pound six footer who claimed the woman in his life was his cat, Sasha.  He and Tracy, also 23, had known each other back home in the Miami area and elected to go to Gainesville together.  Manny wanted to become an architect while Tracy had dreams of becoming an attorney.  While there had never been any romantic feelings the two, these friends were devoted, with a deep respect and love for each other.  They shared a residence at the Gatorwood Apartments, an older somewhat rundown complex, located on Archer Road about a mile from campus. 

Manny Taboada
On Monday evening, August 27, Manny had just started a bartending job at the neighboring Bennigan's and arrived home late.  Tracy was on the phone, chatting with a friend about the murders, and noted his late arrival.  Manny headed to bed just after 2 a.m., unaware that a killer was watching him and Tracy. 

The next day a friend dropped by to see Manny and Tracy and discovered their bodies.  Manny was dead in his bed; Tracy lay in the hallway, posed as Sonja Larson, Christina Powell and Christa Hoyt had been.  Both had been killed with vicious stab wounds.

Fear permeated every corner of Gainesville.  Students fled the city in droves, some never to return.  If the killer could overpower Manny Taboada, no one was safe.  The University cancelled classes as news crews and media from around the nation descended on Gainesville.   Gainesville, the little town that had managed to evade Ted Bundy more than a decade earlier, was now home to the Gainesville Ripper.

February 15, 2016

Tragic Child Star Judith Barsi

The death of a child is a heartbreaking event, a blip of nature that shouldn't happen in the normal occurrence.  When it's done deliberately at the hands of a parent, there should be no mercy.

Judith Barsi was discovered in the manner rhapsodized by classic Hollywood journalists, only set to a 1980s background.  Five and a half year old Judith was noticed at a San Fernando Valley ice rink and, due to her petite size, was mistaken for a three year old.  Ultimately the mistake didn't hurt her as she was cast in a Donald Duck orange juice commercial and her career began.  She would eventually grace more than seventy commercials, including Campbell's soup, Toys R Us and Jif peanut butter.  It was a natural progression for Judy, as she was known, to act in television movies and theatrical films.  Her mother Maria was a stage mother but not along the lines of Judy Garland's mother or the mother of silent film star Mary Miles Minter.  Maria tried to keep Judy's life as normal as possible - - she kept her in school, unless she absolutely had to be pulled out for filming, brought her lunch daily and encouraged her normal child pursuits, like riding her bike, playing Operation and learning to knit.  Whenever one of her commercials or television programs was due to air, her mother would pop popcorn and the two would sit in front of the tv to watch.  Unless of course her father was home, in which case they would huddle together to watch in Judith's room. 

By all accounts Judy was a happy, cheerful child until around 1985.

Her father Jozsef was resentful of his only child and that resentment only grew as Judy's success grew.  Despite the fact that she was making six figures a year by 1987 and that salary had allowed the family to move into a nice family home on a cul-de-sac in Canoga Park, he verbally and physically abused both the little girl and her mother.  When he wasn't abusing or threatening to abuse (he would hold a knife to Judy's throat and tell Maria that if she even thought about not returning from a movie set he would hunt them down and kill them both) he was spending his time drinking. 

By the summer of 1988, the previously carefree and joyous Judith was showing signs of the stress she was subjected to at home - - she had gained weight, had pulled out her eyebrows and all her eyelashes and had even dewhiskered one of her cats. 

It's mind blowing to think about this today and it being par for the course for Maria and Judith but back in 1988, domestic violence was still a dirty family secret.  While CPS was called several times, Maria was reluctant to press charges and the matter went no further.  She didn't appear to reach out to anyone else for help and if those friends of Judy's mentioned the father they found scary, the parents went no further with it.  Likely, most felt it was none of their business and a private family matter that would go no further.  They were wrong.

On July 25, 1988, Judith had an audition with Hanna Barbera for an upcoming TV cartoon series - - the little girl wanted to be a voice actress into adulthood.  That dream would be smashed during the early morning hours that day as ten year old Judith slept in  her bedroom, Jozsef crept into her room with a handgun and fatally shot her in the head.   Maria, who never left Judith alone with her father because of his abusive nature, heard the shot and ran to protect her daughter.  She was met in the hallway by her husband who shot her as she fell to her knees and tried to protect her head and face with her hands. 

Jozsef then spent the next two days in the house with the dead bodies of his wife and child.  On the morning of July 27, he poured gasoline on both bodies and set the house on fire.  He then went into the garage and put a self-inflicted (and much deserved) bullet into his own head.  A neighbor was watering her plants outside and heard the gunshot, notifying authorities who arrived to a horrible scene. 

Judy's funeral must have been morbidly surreal for those who attended.  Actor Lance Guest, who played her father in the film Jaws IV, was one of her pallbearers.  Actresses and sisters Tracey, Missy and Brandy Gold (Brandy had worked with Judy on the television miniseries Fatal Vision in which - - eerily - - Judith played the part of a young girl murdered by her father) gave the eulogy, reading a poem titled "A Child of Mine."   Judith was buried with her mother at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills in a grave that would be unmarked until fans banded together to arrange for a marker in 2004.  It is unknown what happened to Jozsef's remains.

Judith's story is painful and tragic.  With all the business contacts she had, was there no one her mother felt she could go to for help?   How much emotional and physical abuse did the two suffer at the hands of Jozsef before he killed them?  And why?   He was a plumber by trade but had started becoming more and more reclusive even before Judith's career took off.  He refused to allow Maria to work so why did he allow Judith to work?  Why was he so angry and resentful toward this precious little girl that made so many others happy? 

It's hard not to imagine what and who Judy may have become if her father had allowed her to live.   She wouldn't be a little girl any longer - - she would be nearly forty now, the same age her mother was when she was killed.  Would she be a voice actress?  Would she still be tiny and petite or would she have hit a growth spurt that would allow her to catch up to other kids?  Would she be a parent now herself? 

While Judith's story is a cautionary tale of sorts, one that shows domestic abuse knows no boundaries insofar as race, culture and income levels, I remember her fondly as the sweet little girl on screen in Jaws IV or who voiced Ducky in The Land Before Time (her favorite role.) 

She was a good little actress who had a wonderful future ahead until it was robbed by a person who should have loved and protected her most.

From Edgar Albert Guest's poem "A Child of Mine":

But should the angels call for her,
Much sooner than we've planned.
We'll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.                         

February 13, 2016

Delayed Justice for Julie Love

Ask any person who lived in Atlanta in 1988 if they remember Julie Love and I guarantee you'll get an answer in the positive.  While today the news is saturated with missing persons and general negativity, then such cases seemed more isolated and the general belief was they certainly didn't happen in safe neighborhoods.

Julie Love was a 27 year old fitness instructor, a teacher of children, on July 11, 1988.  She was engaged to her longtime boyfriend and both lived in Buckhead, an affluent neighborhood of Atlanta.  She had run out of gas after attending a business meeting that evening and left her car - - a red Mustang convertible - - on Dover Road.  Since she was only half a mile from both her fiancé's residence and a gas station she set out on foot for one or the other.  She never reached either.

Her family and friends quickly banded together to speak to the media and pepper the area with posters of a smiling Julie captioned "Have You Seen Julie Love?"  The entire city seemed to be in lockdown, everyone desperately searching to find Julie and bring her home.  There was also an underlying cold fear, one that led women to look over their shoulders and go everywhere in pairs or groups.  If Julie Love could go missing on a warm summer evening, while it was still light outside, in a safe and well-to-do area of town, no one was safe. 

Atlanta was a city that was known for its crime issues - - it had led the nation in murder statistics in the early part of the decade, uneasily taking the title of the "Murder Capital of the U.S." - - as well as racial tensions.  Another reason the Julie Love disappearance scared so many was the fact that Julie disappeared from an area that was primarily Caucasian, not one of the areas closer to the city that were populated by minorities and therefore assumed to be more dangerous. 

Julie's disappearance managed to garner national attention and despite a reward offered by the Love family and hundreds of tips, including leads given by psychics, months slipped by without a trace of her.  Not knowing what had happened to her made the fear even more palpable for Atlanta and must have been unbearable for her Julie's loved ones. 

Thirteen months after her disappearance, investigators got their first tangible break.  A woman contacted the Fulton County PD to tell them that a man by the name of Emmanuel Hammond, in jail on an armed robbery charge, was guilty of abducting and killing Julie Love.  The woman, a stripper and Hammond's "companion," was afraid that Hammond would kill her for what she knew - - and with good reason.  Hammond had offered a cellmate $20,000, a car and a job to kill his girlfriend because she knew too much.

That fear incited the woman to contact authorities, where she shared what she had known for over a year.  She stated that she, Hammond and Hammond's cousin Maurice Porter were driving down Howell Mill Road when they spotted Julie walking alone.  They pulled over and asked Julie if she needed a ride.  She responded in the negative and pointed to a home, saying she lived there, and headed up the driveway.  The trio drove off but Hammond noticed her turn and head back on the road.  He also noticed the red Mustang further up the road and correctly deduced it was her disabled car.  They turned around, putting their bright lights on, and approached Julie.  Hammond jumped out with a sawed off shotgun, hit her and pushed her into the car.  She was taken to an elementary school, where she gave them her ATM cards.  Two of her abductors left with the cards and the PIN Julie gave them, leaving her with one.  And a shotgun.     Hammond claimed he wanted the money in order to buy drugs.  The two with the cards had no luck.  The number Julie gave them did not work and the machines took the cards after incorrect attempts.  They returned to Julie incensed and Porter raped her.  Julie offered up more cards that she had at home.  The car carrying Julie, Hammond, Hammond's girlfriend and Porter, headed toward Julie's apartment only to turn away when they saw a security guard at the entrance.  At this point Hammond's girlfriend decided she had enough and demanded to be taken home.  After she was dropped off, Julie, Hammond and Porter went to the Grove Park Place area.  Julie's hands and feet were tied and she was wrapped in a sheet.  A wire coat hanger was wrapped around her neck, with Hammond and Porter each pulling on one end.  However, Julie fought back and her assailants found the wire hanger was not the most effective means of tying up their loose ends.  Porter stayed at the car while Hammond marched Julie off toward the wooded area, where shortly after he heard a single gunshot. 

The next day Hammond's girlfriend asked him what had become of Julie.  He replied that Julie had put her hand up in front of her face in a defensive motion and he had blown it and half her face off.  Nice guy.  

Amazingly, not only did the girlfriend ride along quite willingly during the abduction and the attempt to take money from ATM machines, as well as being present during Julie's rape, but she didn't immediately go to the police upon finding out that Julie had been killed.  Only when she felt her own life was in danger did she spill all, finally letting authorities and Atlantans know what had happened to Julie.  A search of the area led investigators to Julie's physical remains.

The girlfriend was given immunity in exchange for her testimony against Hammond and Porter.  Porter was spared the death penalty by making a guilty plea to murder, rape and armed robbery.  He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.  Hammond was convicted in 1990 after an eleven day trial and sentenced to death. 

Killer and general POS
Sadly and frustratingly, it would be nearly twenty-three long years after Julie's murder before justice was delivered to her killer.   In 1993, Hammond would begin the first of his five state level appeals for his conviction.  In 2003 he would file the first of seven federal level appeals.  All were denied. 

Fifteen days before his execution, Hammond filed a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court.  It was a last ditch effort to stave off execution and the writ was denied. 

On January 25, 2011 Hammond was executed by the state of Georgia for abducting and murdering Julie Love.    The execution was somewhat unusual in that most people were quite glad that legal justice was finally being carried out.

The execution closed a chapter of Atlanta history.  Julie Love was very much a part of the fabric of the 1980s for Atlanta.  No longer did women feel as carefree in nice neighborhoods and much more care was taken to keep your vehicles from running out of fuel.  Julie did what we were all instructed to do - - never take a ride with strangers and if you feel threatened, go to the first house.  It nearly saved her.  If only she had knocked on that door or waited another moment before heading back to the street.  If only Hammond had not looked back.  If only.

Had she lived, Julie would be fifty-five years old.

February 11, 2016

The Murder of Rebecca Schaeffer

I am so wise, to think love will prevail.  I am so wise. 
                      - Rebecca Schaeffer, 1989

In July of 1989, a month before the killings of Jose and Kitty Menendez shocked L.A. and took over the airwaves and newspapers, a young actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was stalked and killed by an overzealous fan.

Rebecca was a lovely girl who had started her career modeling for local department store catalogs and commercials and then wholesome outlets like Seventeen magazine, the Bible for adolescent girls in the 70s and 80s.  In an era and an industry that worshipped blue eyed blondes, her curly auburn hair and brown eyes made her a standout.  Also a standout was her sweet demeanor, kind nature and intelligence.

Roles on the ABC daytime soap One Life to Live and the Woody Allen film Radio Days followed (although her Radio Days role would end up on the cutting room floor.)  Rebecca was bitten by the acting bug and Hollywood came calling, with a role on a new sitcom called My Sister Sam.  Her role as Patti gave her greater exposure and a fan base.  She was known for personally responding to all her fan mail herself.  One of those fans who wrote her was Robert John Bardo.

Bardo was a high school dropout working as a fast food restaurant janitor from Tucson, Arizona who had been institutionalized at fifteen for emotional problems, following a childhood of abuse and problems including at least one threat of suicide.    Too bad for Rebecca that he didn't follow through on the threat.

He had become obsessed with peace activist and actress Samantha Smith, all of thirteen years old, stalking her in earnest before she was killed in a plane crash in 1985.   Her death left an opening in Bardo's fevered mind, one that he was able to replace with Rebecca when My Sister Sam premiered in 1986. 

The sitcom was nothing groundbreaking and very 80s.  Rebecca, however, shined.  Her Patti was representative of what every teen girl was or wanted to be in the mid to late 1980s.  She had a wonderful chemistry with costar Pam Dawber (late of Mork & Mindy fame); so much so that Rebecca would live with Dawber and her soon to be husband Mark Harmon before moving into her own apartment in West Hollywood, on Sweetzer Avenue.

The show ran for only two full seasons but during that time, Bardo travelled to L.A. and attempted to get on to the Warner Brothers set with gifts to meet Rebecca.  He was motivated in part by a response that she had sent him after receiving a fan letter.  He was denied access to her and returned home where he wrote her more fan letters.  He also went to see her in her latest film and was left irate after a scene that depicted her in bed with a man.  Bardo likely saw her as virginal and innocent; that image was shattered after watching her on a theater screen with another man.  Not one to be rational, he decided then that Rebecca had to die to pay for her immoral behavior.

In the year or so prior to the murder, Bardo was arrested three times for domestic violence and disorderly conduct.    He began exhibiting strange and threatening behavior toward his neighbors and hired a private detective to find out where Rebecca lived. 

Back in 1989, anyone with a couple of bucks could fill out a form at the DMV and get anyone's address.  That's right, anyone.  You had to give your name and the reason why you needed this other person's address but even if your reason was complete bullshit, the information was turned over to you on the spot.  Frankly it's amazing more celebrities weren't stalked with horrifying outcomes.

While Bardo's private detective was getting Rebecca's home address, Bardo himself was attempting to obtain a handgun.  He was denied after admitting on his paperwork that he had been institutionalized.  Not one to be deterred, he returned with his brother who bought the gun in his name and then promptly turned it over to Bardo upon leaving the store. 

The scene was now set for tragedy.  Bardo wrote his sister, living in Tennessee, a letter that if he couldn't have Rebecca, no one could and then packed his illegally acquired gun and hopped a bus for L.A.    He arrived in town on July 17, 1989. 

On July 18, Rebecca was due to audition for The Godfather III.  She was home, dressed casually in a black robe, and waiting for the script to be delivered to her.  Bardo, armed with the address the private detective had acquired from the DMV, rang her bell that morning.  As the intercom to her apartment was broken, she came downstairs.  It must have shocked Bardo.  He had spent three years devoted to Rebecca and countless attempts to see her in person without success.  Now she was in front of him.  He told her he was a fan and she graciously gave him an autograph.  He left to go to a restaurant down the street, dining on onion rings and cheesecake and reading through The Catcher in the Rye.  An hour later, he was back at Sweetzer Avenue.

When the bell rang again, Rebecca must have thought it was the script being delivered to her for the audition that afternoon.  She must have been surprised to see Robert John Bardo once again at her door.  He claimed later that she accused him of wasting her time although it's unknown exactly what conversation transpired, if any.  What is known is that Bardo fired a shot into Rebecca's chest and ran off as she fell, screaming.  A neighbor overheard the gunshot and Rebecca's screams and called 9-1-1.  She was rushed to Cedars Sinai where she died thirty minutes later from the bullet to her heart. 

Bardo had been spotted running from the scene.  Witnesses later recalled him walking the neighborhood the day before the murder, with Rebecca's photo, asking persons if they knew where she lived.  He had tossed his copy of The Catcher in the Rye in an alley down the street from Rebecca's home.  He would be arrested the following day in Tucson, where he was wandering aimlessly in traffic.  He immediately confessed to the murder. 

As expected, Bardo's attorneys argued that the murder was a result of his unstable mental condition (duh) because of childhood abuse.  Cry me a river, seriously.   Thank God that excuse went over like a lead balloon.  Marcia Clark, who would become famous in 1994 thanks to her connection with the O.J. Simpson case, prosecuted Bardo in a non-jury trial, resulting in him getting life without parole. 

One of the more frustrating aspects of this case is that he told his sister what he was going to do - - maybe not in so many words but given his history and unstable behavior, one or twelve red flags should have been flying.  But nothing, it seems.  And worse, no charges were brought against his brother, who committed a federal violation by lying on his firearms application by being a "straw man" for Bardo.  Without the brother's intervention, Rebecca Schaeffer likely would not have died on July 18, 1989. 

The system failed Bardo but more importantly, failed Rebecca.  Bardo had many issues that were apparently ignored, bypassed, swept under the rug.  He had an unhealthy fascination with Samantha Smith, a child, before Rebecca and was reportedly following the movements of singers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany simultaneously with Rebecca. 

Bardo remains incarcerated in California.  He was stabbed eleven times by a fellow prisoner in 2007 but managed to survive and remain to be a drain on state taxpayers. 

The one positive thing that came out of Rebecca's tragic death, along with the frightening attack on actress Theresa Saldana, was recognition of stalking and an anti-stalking law that went into effect on January 1, 1991.  This law prohibits the DMV from releasing addresses of residents.  By 1993, all states, along with Canada, would have active anti-stalking laws.  The LAPD also instituted a Threat Management Team. 

Rebecca died at only twenty-one, with a lifetime of promise ahead of her, but she left behind a legacy of love and caring.  In 1989 she was a spokesperson for Thursday's Child, a charity for at-risk teens.  She made a personal appearance at a girls' shelter, signing autographs and graciously agreeing to return for their Renaissance Fair.  She loved nature and wrote poetry.  As her grave marker says, she was a courageous spirit.