December 31, 2017

The MacDonald Case: The Suitcase

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Let's consider another theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

December 29, 2017

Erik and Lyle Menendez: Was Justice Done?

Erik (left) and Lyle - before August 20, 1989


I remember vividly the 1989 shotgun murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez.  I was living on the east coast and desperate to move to southern California.  The news stations were giddy over the murder of Jose, an entertainment executive, and his blonde wife, in their plushy Beverly Hills home - - calling it a nightmare on Elm Drive (taking off from the then-popular Freddy Krueger franchise.)  I knew only what was reported in the media (so basically what they wanted me to know) and grew to believe that the brothers had massacred their parents solely for greed.  Case closed.

Or is it?  Watching the recent A&E program called "The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All" led me to do some serious digging in this case.  All is not what I thought, that's for certain.

The one fact that is absolutely not in dispute in this case is that Erik, then 18, and Lyle, then 21, shot their parents to death on August 20, 1989.  The motive behind the killings, however, may not be what you think.

Jose and Kitty
On the evening of Sunday, August 20, Jose and Kitty were in the den of their fancy home at 722 North Elm Drive.  They had been watching a videotape of The Spy Who Loved Me and snacked on blueberries and cream.  It was a quiet night in. Around 10 p.m., their sons entered the room, armed with 12-gauge shotguns.  Jose was shot in the back of the head, point blank, killing him instantly. Three more shots to his arms followed. Kitty, who may have been dozing, jumped from the couch and attempted to flee.  She was shot in the leg and in left arm, causing a fracture. She fell in front of the couch, leaving her vulnerable to the blasts. Once down, she was shot in the left breast, right arm, left thigh . . . she was still alive and writhing on the floor when the tenth and final shot was delivered to her, when the barrel of the shotgun was placed against her cheek and the trigger was pulled.   It was incorrectly reported that both Jose and Kitty were shot in the knees after death in order to make the murders look as though they were Mob related; however, pictures of Jose, clad in shorts at the time of his death, show his knees unmarked and unwounded.

Despite statements repeated in the press, neighbors did hear the shots but attributed them to kids playing around with fireworks.  Having driven through the neighborhood and seen the house years after the murders, this is not surprising.  The houses, while grand, are close together and it would be insane to think that two 12-gauge shotguns could be blasting inside one of the residences without being heard.  Seriously.   What was the media thinking?  That it was somehow more ninja-like or shifty to suggest that these murders were committed silently? 

At 11:47, a 9-1-1 call was made by Lyle in which he stated "Somebody killed my parents!"  Both he and Erik told police they had been at the movies and returned home to find their parents dead.  They should have been prime suspects, as immediate family normally is, but for whatever reason, the LAPD neglected to treat them as such or test their hands and clothing for GSR (gunshot residue.)

While the LAPD apparently wasn't seriously investigating Jose and Kitty's sons, they were checking out theories that the murders were indeed a Mob hit and/or due to shady dealings by Jose and/or his company and/or by a disgruntled employee.  They found out that Jose was not well liked by his coworkers and employees and that he had extracurricular interests outside his marriage to Kitty.

Months later, after Lyle and Erik began spending lavish amounts of money on cars, clothing and Rolex watches, Erik began seeing therapist/psychologist Jerome Oziel.  Dr. Oziel, as you will soon find out, gives therapists a bad name. 

Erik confessed to Dr. Oziel that he and his older brother had committed the murders, after being tormented by his crime, suffering with anxiety, depression, insomnia and suicidal thoughts.  Oziel, who was having an affair with his patient Judalon Smyth, convinced Smyth to eavesdrop on his sessions with Erik.  He also told her what Erik discussed during his sessions  - a very clear and egregious violation of the doctor-patient privilege.  Oziel would later state that Lyle threatened him and he had Smyth eavesdrop in order to ensure his personal safety.

Oziel was married (what a catch) and attempted to end things with Smyth (as most wives don't appreciate their husbands having mistresses, much less those that are also patients.)  As hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Smyth promptly called the police and blabbed all that she overheard and that Oziel had told her.

Under arrest
Lyle was arrested in March of 1990; Erik, who was in Israel for a tennis tournament, surrendered voluntarily three days later.  They would not be indicted for murder until December of 1992, as it took two years to determine whether or not Oziel's taped sessions with Erik were admissible.  (Some were but not those in which he discussed the murders.)

The trial began in 1993.  Lyle and Erik both testified that they had been abused, sexually and physically, for years by their father, with their mother turning a blind eye to it, and it was this abuse that led to their committing the murders.  Judge Stanley Weisberg allowed the defense to present the "abuse excuse" and call witnesses to support their case.  The trial, with a jury each for Erik and Lyle, ended in a deadlock, with the males in both juries voting to convict. The DA elected to try the Menendezes again.

On trial
Incredibly, in the second trial, where Weisberg once again presided, he reversed his decisions from the first trial and did not allow the claims of sexual abuse and rape to be presented as a defense.  That effectively meant that Erik and Lyle, while admitting to the murder of their parents, had no real defense for their actions.  As the abuse was not allowed, the many witnesses who took the stand in the first trial, to recount having seen the abuse, were not permitted in the second trial.  The juries, having only the option for first degree murder or acquittal - - not manslaughter - - , convicted both brothers of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.  The state wanted the death penalty; Erik and Lyle were spared due their lack of a past criminal history and on July 2, 1996, Weisberg sentenced them to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As expected, attorneys for Lyle and Erik filed appeals.  In February of 1998, the California Court of Appeals upheld the convictions. In May of that same year, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the convictions and the sentences with none of the justices voting to review the case.

The habeas corpus petitions filed by both were denied by the Supreme Court of California in 1999.  Attorneys then filed habeas corpus petitions on behalf of both in the U.S. District Court;  the petitions were denied in March of 2003.  An appeal was then made to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District. The denial of the petitions was affirmed in September of 2005.

Legally, this is where the road ends for Lyle and Erik Menendez.

These are my thoughts.  They are clearly guilty of killing their parents.  There is no dispute on that.  Was there abuse in the Menendez household?  I think so.  Not because Lyle and Erik testified there was (although I can't imagine any teenage boy - - or a young adult of Lyle's age at the time - - who would be willing to claim that his father, an adult male, forced him to give and receive oral and anal sex) but because they had witnesses to back it up.  And not just friends, their tennis coach and Erik's therapist post-Oziel but also the son of Jose Menendez' brother and the sister and niece of Kitty Menendez.

It's really incredible when you think on it.  Not one person during the first or second trial spoke on behalf of Jose Menendez to defend his character. Not one individual said he was a nice, good, decent person.  Not saying that meant he deserved to be killed but it says something, doesn't it?  Jose's own mother sat in the courtroom, supporting her grandsons  - the same Lyle and Erik who killed her son.   Kitty's sister spoke of the abuse she and Kitty were exposed to while growing up, which may have slanted her view on Jose's abuse; Jose's nephew testified as to Kitty's addiction to prescription pills and alcohol.  While the press took such revelations as victim blaming, victim shaming and putting the victims themselves on trial, they were only correct in that the victims were indeed on trial.  And should have been, based upon the allegations.

I believe that Judge Weisberg was correct during the first trial, where he allowed Leslie Abramson, Barry Levin and Jill Lansing to present claims of abuse and belief of imminent danger from their parents.  It was a legitimate defense and the jury should have been allowed to consider it and debate on it (as they did.) 

When the Los Angeles D.A. essentially lost the case via a mistrial, I think he erred greatly in reversing that decision.  Did he do so under pressure from the D.A., who surely had egg on his face?  Weisberg had sat through the first trial.  He knew exactly what would happen if Lyle and Erik were unable to present the abuse defense.  Things were made worse for the defense when Weisberg sealed the deal by taking manslaughter off the table.

As someone who once believed that the brothers killed their parents for good old fashioned money, I have changed my stance.  I believe after years of abuse, they snapped.  Do I believe they were convinced their lives were in imminent danger on the night of August 20, 1989?  I honestly don't know.  I can't answer one way or the other because I don't know what years of abuse may or may not do to someone psychologically.  According to Erik, on the afternoon of August 20, he told Lyle that Jose had been sexually abusing him for years and was still doing so, an admission which pained Lyle greatly as he too had been abused by Jose and, as a child, had turned around to abuse Erik.  Also that day, Erik claimed that he was told by his parents that rather than living in the dorms for his upcoming freshman year at college, he would remain at home.  Where he would be available for any type of abuse.  Would these two occurrences be enough to push the brothers into a murderous act? 

Erik, in a telephone conversation for "The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All," admitted guilt for his act.  A crime, he said.  He apologized to his mother's sister and niece and his father's mother for the effect his actions had on them - - pushing them into the spotlight and causing them grief over the loss of Jose and Kitty.  The same aunt, niece and grandmother who have stood by him (and Lyle) since their arrests and who, as recently as this year, have visited Erik in prison in San Diego.  Erik also told his therapist, Dr. William Vicary, that if he could do anything differently, he would - - he would have killed himself rather than his parents. 

Should Lyle and Erik Menendez have been convicted for the deaths of their parents?  Yes.  I think manslaughter may have been a better option but even convicting for first degree murder, their home lives and the abuse they suffered at the hands of both parents should have been an extenuating factor and circumstance given weight during the penalty phase.  Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was wrong.  Even the Manson killers are given opportunity for parole.

In my opinion, the Menendezes have served their time.  They have been incarcerated since 1990.  That's twenty-seven years.  I think it's enough.  I wish the State of California felt the same.

"The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All" can be viewed via On Demand or at A&E's website.

Following their murders, Jose and Kitty were buried in New Jersey, at Princeton Cemetery.

722 North Elm Drive
The Mediterranean style house in which they died was sold in 1991 at a $1.2 million loss to a television writer (it was sold for $3.6 million.)  In 2001,  it was sold to a telecommunications executive.  Extensive interior renovations were done in 2002 but the exterior remains much the same as it did in 1989.  Over the years, many A-listers have rented the property, including Elton John and Prince.

Their first California home in Calabasas, a property they still owned at the time of their deaths, was bought at auction for $1.3 million in 1994, well under the $2.65 million appraisal.

The Menendez estate, valued at $14.5 million at the time of the murders (an amount that would be equivalent to nearly $29 million today), was nearly bankrupt by 1994.  Lyle and Erik reportedly went through close to a million dollars before their arrests.  The proceeds from the sale of the Beverly Hills home went to pay off the mortgage and the IRS. The money netted from the sale of the Calabasas home paid off the outstanding $864,000 mortgage and some $600,000 in outstanding taxes.  The remainder of the estate was quickly drained by the defense attorneys.

Two made-for-television movies were made about the Menendez murders;

Erik's former therapist, the sleazy Dr. Oziel, lost his license in 1997.  Breaking confidentiality and sleeping with female patients will do that for you.

Judge Stanley Weisberg retired in 2008.

Lyle married on July 2, 1996, the same day he and Erik were sentenced to life in prison.  The marriage ended in divorce in 2001; he remarried in 2003.  He is currently incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, where he runs a support group for inmates who have experienced sexual abuse.

Erik married in 1999, becoming a stepfather in the process, and remains married to date. He is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, where he works as a caregiver for terminally ill and physically challenged inmates.

The brothers remain in contact via letters.






November 21, 2017

Does the Death of Manson End the Family Mystique?


The news that Charles Manson had died of natural causes (unlike the victims who died due to his orders/influence/crazy) on Sunday has put his infamy back on the front page and dredged up the summer of 1969. 

From this . . . 
I have to admit that while news of Manson's passing isn't wholly surprising (he was 83 and in failing health, after all) there was still a part of me that figured Manson would outlive everyone else involved in this horrible case.  I'm happy to be wrong here.

Manson, whether alive or dead, seems to generate more vitriol and hatred than any other Family member.  Understandable, to a degree, since he was the "face" of the Family and certainly the one who garnered the most press attention, both during and after the trial.  Does that hatred now transfer to the still living killers?  It should. 

Tex Watson should be hated just as much as Manson.  He personally shot Steven Parent to death; he personally shot and stabbed Jay Sebring and Voytek Frykowski to death; he stabbed an already dead or dying Abigail Folger; he personally stabbed to death Leno LaBianca; he at the least held Rosemary LaBianca, and more likely stabbed her.  He admitted to cutting Sharon Tate's face before she was slaughtered; who personally stabbed her to death has been under debate for decades.

. . . to this. 
Bobby Beausoleil personally stabbed Gary Hinman to death, after Gary begged him not to.

Bruce Davis was present when Gary Hinman's ear was sliced off by Manson.  He was also present when Donald "Shorty" Shea was killed, as well as when Family member John Philip Haught committed suicide (or should I say "committed suicide" since Haught was playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded handgun.) 

Patricia Krenwinkel was present at both the Tate-Polanski residence and the LaBianca residence on both nights of murder.  She personally stabbed Abigail Folger in the residence and, wielding an upraised knife, ran after Abigail when the poor woman made a break for it, out the back door.  She caught Abigail on the lawn and continued to stab her.  She stabbed Leno LaBianca after Watson had killed him and left a carving fork and knife in his body.  She stabbed Rosemary LaBianca and helped to hold the woman down.  She wrote in blood at the LaBianca residence.

Leslie Van Houten was not present for the Tate murders but she was for LaBianca, and she knew full well what was going to happen. She personally stabbed Rosemary LaBianca, possibly administering the death blows. She also aided and abetted in the murder of Leno LaBianca and, with Watson and Krenwinkel, ate the LaBiancas' food, showered in their bathroom and played with their dogs after butchering the couple.  

With old Charlie's death, that's two Manson Family killers who have died where they belong - - in prison.  (If you're not sure, the other is Susan Atkins -  she who told Sharon Tate "Bitch, I have no mercy for you," and who actually tasted Sharon's blood, who died in 2009.  Nope, I didn't cry for Susan then and I'm not now.) 

Manson's death ends an era in a way that the deaths (and eventual deaths) of his followers (convicted or not) has not and will not.  While California taxpayers should be rejoicing that they no longer have to support Manson's sorry ass, they do still have to contend with Watson, Krenwinkel, Beausoleil and Davis.  Van Houten has once again been granted parole by the Parole Board; it's a wait and see game, once again, with Jerry Brown.  But that's another story.

Does the story of "Helter Skelter" die with Manson?  Will interest in the crimes and the remaining Family fade away?  I think not.  The brutality the laughing killers used on their victims, as well as the celebrity factor (Sharon Tate being an actress and the wife of Roman Polanski; Jay Sebring being a hair stylist to the stars; Abigail Folger being heiress to the Folger Coffee empire) and the sad/gory fact that Sharon Tate was heavily pregnant at the time she was killed will keep the murders in the forefront of true crime.  It may be harder to comprehend today, where such violence isn't as shocking, sadly, but the Tate-LaBianca murders truly were the crimes of the century.  Before August 9, 1969, even in Los Angeles, people did leave their doors unlocked. Inviting strangers, or friends of friends of friends, into your home wasn't crazy.  After that weekend in Los Angeles, things changed.

What do you think?  Does the story of "Helter Skelter" die with Manson?  Will the case finally gather dust on the crime books?





May 14, 2017

The Murderous Assaults of Peter and Joan Porco


In the gruesome world of murder, there is nothing worse than family members who turn on each other and kill.  For family members who do so over greed, it's even more repulsive.

The Porco case is a particularly disgusting one, not just in how the victims were attacked but also in what the assumed motive was.

In November of 2004, Peter and Joan Porco were like so many other middle aged, middle class Americans. They lived in Delmar, New York in a comfortable two-story home and worked for a living. Peter was an appellate court clerk and Joan worked as a speech pathologist.  They had been married for thirty years and had two sons.  Peter was very responsible and reliable so when he did not show up for work on Monday, November 15, 2004, a court officer was dispatched to the Porco residence on Brockley Drive to check on his welfare.
The Porco family in the 1980s; Christopher is on the left

The officer was horrified to discover Peter by the front door, where he had apparently collapsed.  He lay in a huge pool of blood and had endured a vicious assault to his head.  A blood trail was noticeable from where Peter had died to the front door, the kitchen, the hallway and up the stairs.

The local police were notified immediately and searched the home. They found Joan in the blood drenched bedroom, lying in bed and, remarkably, still alive.  She too suffered the same grievous injuries to her face and head that her husband had endured - - a portion of her brain was actually exposed - - but she was conscious.  Detective Christopher Bowdish of the Bethlehem Police Department worried, and even expected, that Joan Porco would not survive her injuries and asked her if she knew who had attacked her. Using a nodding or shaking motion of her head, along with moving her hands, she indicated that a family member had attacked her.  She shook her head "no" when asked if it was son Johnathon; she nodded her head "yes" when asked if it was son Christopher.  This exchange occurred in front of the paramedics, as they would later testify.

Once Joan Porco was taken to the hospital, where she would undergo emergency surgery and then be placed into a medically induced coma, the police began their investigation. They quickly discovered that the home's alarm system had been smashed, the telephone landline had been cut and a screen to one of the windows had been slashed.  However, nothing appeared to have been stolen from the residence. Neither Peter's wallet nor Joan's had been taken nor rifled. Joan was still wearing jewelry. None of the electronics had been touched.  They also found a fireman's axe in the bedroom; the weapon belonged to the Porcos.

The blood patterns and trail from the master bedroom to and through the downstairs and out the front door indicated that, unbelievably, after suffering his wounds, Peter had risen from the bed in shock and had moved about, getting ready for his work day, as he often did - - from stepping into the bathroom to starting the coffee in the kitchen, preparing his lunch and beginning to unload the dishwasher. Only after stepping at or briefly out the front door - - either to check for a paper or leave - - did his wounds overtake him and he collapsed.

With his father dead and his mother terribly injured, Christopher Porco received a call from a newspaper reporter, looking for a comment about the murder. Chris was then a twenty-one year old student at the University of Rochester, some 230 miles from Bethlehem. He called police to inquire what had happened at his parents' home and was informed that his father had been killed but his mother was still clinging to life.  If you can listen to the recording, I suggest that you do. Chris is so detached, so emotionally cut off from what has happened, the guy might as well be calling to order a pizza.  Heck, I think most people have more emotion doing that.  I also think it's interesting that, at least from the portions I heard, that Chris doesn't ask how his parents were attacked or anything like that - he's very controlled.

Meantime, the Bethlehem Police had issued an all-points bulletin for Chris Porco.  This would later be criticized by the defense as the police having tunnel vision (but remember that Joan did identify Chris as her attacker.)

However, the police were checking out other leads as well. A tip came in that an unhappy litigant may have taken issue with the outcome of a custody case and had threatened Peter; the investigation into that was a dead end as the man had a solid alibi.  Peter's great uncle Frank had ties to the Mob and was known as "the Fireman."  Detectives wondered if Frank had threatened to talk to authorities and his associates had sent a message to him by killing Peter - - and with a fireman's axe.  That theory fizzled though when they discovered Frank incarcerated specifically because he refused to cooperate with authorities and rat.

One person they couldn't seem to clear, though, was Chris Porco.

For years Chris had been telling friends and classmates that he came from a wealthy family. He spoke of real estate holdings and vacation homes, something the Porcos did not have.  When the same friends would ask to see this magnificent home or one of the vacation homes, Chris would always have an excuse as to why they could accompany to him to one of the properties.

There had also been tension between Chris and his parents with regard to finances and Chris' tendency to lie.  He had taken out a loan, ostensibly to pay for his tuition at Rochester, but had used nearly $17,000 of the loan to finance a new Jeep Wrangler.  He had also done poorly at school, resulting in the University suspending him.  He went to a local community college but fared no better there.  He was touring Europe with friends when his parents found out he was flunking out of community college as well. He managed to get readmitted to Rochester the following year - - the fall of 2004 - - by forging transcripts from the community college.  He told his parents that he was readmitted because a professor had misplaced his final exam from the previous year and because of the University's mistake, his tuition would be covered.  Chris covered that lie by forging his father's signature on loan documents.  He also opened a line of credit with the bank, again forging his father's signature as co-signer, in order to go toward the financing of his Wrangler.

In addition to the acts above, Chris was also stealing property. His roommate's laptop was stolen and Chris suddenly turned up with the exact same make and model of computer. His parents' home had computers and cameras stolen from it in the summer of 2003 and they suspected that Chris was involved.

Chris had devised a scheme on eBay to scam persons out of money.  He listed the very computers and cameras he had filched from his parents for sale and collected payment for them but had no intention of mailing the items out. When he received emails about the items not being shipped, he posed as his older brother Johnathon, and stated that his younger brother Chris, who had listed the items for sale, had died and he did not know where the items were nor did he have any way to refund the purchaser their money.  Johnathon, a Naval officer whose career could be impacted by this type of behavior, attempted to reach his younger brother by phone more than 40 times. Chris did not bother returning a single call.
Chris with his infamous Jeep

Things came to a head around two weeks before the murder, when Peter Porco was notified that the loan Chris had taken out was delinquent. It was then he found out that Chris had forged his signature, not just on the loan for tuition but also on a line of credit.  He also found out that Chris had not been his tuition with the ill-gotten loan proceeds. Both Peter and Joan attempted to contact Chris by phone; their various phone calls were not returned by him.  Peter sent his son an email in which he berated him for the dishonesty and told him that if Chris were to do any more such things, Peter would be forced to file forgery affidavits with the bank.  He also told his son that Chris was welcome back into the family home to resolve the matter and while he and Joan were disappointed with Chris' actions, they still loved him and cared about his future.

It was also around this time that Chris met with an investment professional, seeking financial advice.  He told the counselor that he was coming into some money.

With no other legitimate suspects, the police zeroed in on Chris.  His alibi was that he had been at school in Rochester, sleeping on the evening of November 14 and waking November 15 to find out about the attack on his parents by the phone call from the reporter.  The police believed that he had driven the three hours to his parents' home, attacked them and then returned back to school, without anyone in the dorm being the wiser. They obtained surveillance video that showed a yellow Jeep leaving the University dorm area around 10:30 p.m. on November 14 and returning at 8:30 a.m. on November 15.  They also discovered that while the Porcos' burglar alarm had been smashed, it was broken after it had been manually deactivated.  Given this information, they believed that Chris had left Rochester around 10:30, driven to Delmar, deactivated the burglar alarm at 2:14 a.m., attacked his parents, cut the phone line at 4:59 a.m. and headed back to school, returning at 8:30 a.m.  At some point either before or after attacking his parents, he cut the window screen to make it appear as though there was a break-in. With a three hour travel time each way, this was absolutely doable.

Chris' brother Johnathon, an officer in the U.S. Navy who was in South Carolina at the time of his father's murder, said only a few people knew the code for the burglar alarm system and Chris was one of them.  The police theorized that Chris smashed the alarm panel, hoping that would obliterate the fact that the code had been entered (it obviously did not.)

To no one's surprise, Chris Porco was arrested for the murder of his father and the attempted murder of his mother.  The trial took place in July 2006 with the defense arguing that the prosecution had no forensic evidence linking Chris to the crime, save a tollway ticket with his DNA on it. They asserted that whoever attacked the Porcos would be bloody and no blood was found in Chris' vehicle, nor were any bloody clothing recovered.  No fingerprints were found on the axe used to bludgeon Peter and Joan.

Some of Chris' fraternity brothers testified that he was not asleep in the dorm lounge as he had stated and a neighbor testified that he saw a bright yellow Jeep in the Porco driveway on the evening/early morning of the murder. Toll booth attendants that had worked in the "cash only" lanes said they recalled seeing a yellow Jeep like Chris' passing through that evening with who they thought was Chris Porco in the driver's seat.

Although there was no direct evidence putting the axe in Chris' hands or putting him in the Delmar home during the time of the attacks, the jury found him guilty of second degree murder and attempted murder.  He was sentenced fifty years to life on each count, which was a minimum of fifty years in prison.

Chris Porco showed no outward reaction during the verdict or the sentencing, although some said that his neck flushed red.  He said nothing but in the recording of the verdict the sound of the handcuffs being locked on his wrists is very audible.

Joan and Chris, heading into court together
One of the more surprising and heart wrenching aspects of this case was that Joan Porco stood by her youngest son during the investigation and trial.  She had survived the brutal assault that killed her husband; she lost her left eye and a portion of her skull but she had survived. After she awoke from her medically induced coma, she claimed to have no memory of the attack nor of telling Detective Bowdish that Chris was responsible. She asked the detectives and investigators to leave her son alone and accused them of botching the investigation. She got together the $250,000 needed for his bail when he was first arrested and the two attended the trial together, walking into the courtroom hand in hand.  She spent six hours in the witness box, recanting the twisted path of Chris' lies and actions, the childhood he had with his brother Johnathon and denied that he was mentally ill.  She also testified that she had been frightened on two occasions in the month or so prior to the attack by the presence of a stranger in her driveway; one time at night and once during the day.  She stated that the police never followed up on this or questioned her about it.

I think Christopher Porco did it.  I think he killed his father and meant to kill his mother. Peter Porco sustained sixteen blows from that fireman's axe; blows that penetrated his skull and took off part of his jaw. He bled for hours after he was attacked before he succumbed. Joan Porco's skull was split open, her left eye was lost and her right so damaged that she required a magnifying glass in order to read following the assault. That is tremendous rage and resentment.

It's clear that Peter and Joan were attacked in their bed. That fact, along with nothing being stolen from the house, seems to discount a burglary gone bad.

Chris' attorney would argue that Peter would often turn off the alarm late at night to let the dog out and forget to turn it back on and that it may very well have been Peter who disabled the alarm that murder morning.  That could be true.  But no burglar would smash an alarm box or touch it if there was no reason to.  And why wouldn't the dog bark or give an alert if a stranger were in the house?

Why would Chris Porco's toll road transponder be found under the front passenger seat when authorities searched his vehicle?  Possibly because he thought if he put it away or covered it, it wouldn't "ping" going through the toll booths and provide proof that he was not in Rochester during the crucial hours?

August 10, 2006.  Guilty.
I think the time frame is of crucial importance. Just that two weeks prior to the murder Chris Porco's house of cards came tumbling down.  He had screwed over his parents and his brother. They had all reached out to him but he had cut himself off.  It was November. The school semester would be ending shortly and surely Chris would be kicked out of the University.  He had not paid his tuition and he was flunking out. He would have to explain this to his parents, the one thing they may not have yet been aware of  - - that his tuition was not covered by the school and had not been paid.

What did Chris do with the money?  He used a portion of the funds to purchase the Jeep but I have to wonder if he was using drugs. He appeared to be partying and drinking.  Before the attacks, Joan had found out that Chris was using a Mobil card for snacks and food instead of gasoline, which was what the card was for.

I think Chris wanted to remain at the University of Rochester, not because he was an outstanding student but because he had freedom there he didn't have at home and he was partying. His parents reportedly had a two million dollar life insurance policy that would pay out if both of them were dead.

I believe that Chris decided to do away with his parents before the end of the semester. He expected to collect that life insurance policy, at least half of it (as the other half would have gone to his brother.)  He also would have been free to sell the family home and collect half the proceeds on that.

As a killer, Chris was about as adept as he was a student. He didn't manage to kill his mother and his father lived for several hours after the attack, even getting up and stumbling about the house.  He also used a brutal, unwieldy weapon that belonged to the Porcos.  Something a burglar likely would not know they owned.  He smashed the alarm box after the alarm was disabled. He cut the screen, despite the killer entering the home through the front door and with a key. (The key was found by the front door, likely dropped in error and without the killer's knowledge.)  He didn't expect the toll booth operators to remember him, nor for a neighbor to notice his Jeep. He didn't expect for nine of his dorm mates to recognize that he was not in the dorm that evening or early morning.

While no blood was found in Chris' Jeep or on any clothing he had at the dorm, I agree with the prosecution's theory that Chris was probably wearing scrubs from the veterinary office he worked at during the assaults. It would have been easy for him to take those off and dispose of them somewhere along his route back to Rochester, leaving his clothing underneath unsoiled.

As an interesting footnote to this case, Lifetime TV put a made for television movie into production on the Porco case.  Surprisingly called Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story, Lifetime portrayed Chris Porco as a ladies man who was as sociopathic in his romantic relationships as he was in everything else.  Chris had not seen the movie but sued Lifetime.  A judge issued a ban on the movie days before it was to premiere. An appellate court, however, issued a stay on that order and the movie was allowed to be broadcast.  Eventually Chris' case was dismissed.  Not so fast!  In March of this year, a New York Court of Appeals judge reversed the dismissal.  Is your head spinning yet?  And Lifetime is arguing that their program is a fictionalized account of Christopher Porco and so his argument that his privacy has been violated does not stick.  It's an interesting argument from Lifetime's perspective as the movie could hardly be subtitled The Christopher Porco Story if it's a fictionalized account.

In the meantime, Christopher Porco remains incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. He will be eligible for parole in 2052.  His mother still believes in his innocence.

The murder weapon

March 10, 2017

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


theweek.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 22, 2017

The MacDonald Case: The Footprint

Photo: JustTheFacts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where we have problems, Houston.

That footprint was made in the blood of Colette MacDonald.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take all of this together and what does it mean?

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

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

February 7, 2017

The Unsolved Murder of Kirsten Davis



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case, however, quickly went cold.  

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsten and her brother Tim

February 2, 2017

February 3, 1959: The Day The Music Died



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

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

From "American Pie" by Don McLean


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

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


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

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

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

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






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

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

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

On January 31, 1957, an event occurred that would shape Ritchie Valens' life and provide an eerie foretelling into his death.  On that date, Ritchie attended his grandfather's funeral and missed school.  He was not present when two airplanes collided over the school's playground area; falling debris killed some of his friends and injured others. The tragedy caused Ritchie to develop an intense fear of flying.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legacy of the doomed flight has been long lasting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In life . . .












May they rest in peace, never to be forgotten.