February 17, 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 fiancĂ©'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. 

February 6, 2016

Remembering Ron Goldman

With FX's American Crime Story premiering this past week, I was thrown back to 1994 and the time when a sports figure's murder trial  was plastered on every newspaper, magazine and tabloid, hijacking tv programs for months and being an endless topic of water cooler discussion and heated debates.   

What was apparent then and remains apparent now was how Ron Goldman is lost in the shuffle of celebrity, domestic abuse and racial tensions.  He was unidentified when the murders were discovered and it's sad that even today, he is a second-class citizen behind the killer and Nicole Brown.

Nothing against Nicole - - she was a victim and most certainly did not deserve what befell her - - but she wasn't the only victim.  Ron lost his life too and he did so while trying to help her.  Painful enough that he's been relegated to footnote status in the entire saga but very few people acknowledge that Ron was a hero.  As his sister has said, he could have saved himself when he either saw Nicole dead on the ground or witnessed her being attacked but he didn't do that. 

So much ink has been spilled about the killer's violent streak, his womanizing, his repetitive legal troubles - - the public seems more interested in idolizing him than the young man who put someone else's safety above his own.  It's shameful.  Shouldn't we know that Ron Goldman was a loving son and brother, close with his father and sister, dedicated to his friends and who dreamt of one day opening his own restaurant?  That's the person he was and that is what his killer robbed him, his family and his friends of.

When I think of this case, my first thought is always of Ron and my heart breaks for him.  We were almost exactly the same age in June of 1994.  I got to turn a year older in July; Ron did not.  Every life experience I've had since then, Ron has been robbed of.  Every holiday I've been able to spend with my family, Ron hasn't.  

If you're reading this, I ask that you take a moment to think about Ron.  Remember this young man doing a quick favor for a friend, who was then going to head out on a normal evening with other friends, not knowing this compassionate nature he had would be one of the last acts he'd perform.  Think of his joyful smile as pictured here, his zest for life.  Say a prayer for him.  Think of him when standing in the sun or doing a good deed.

Most of all, think of him.

February 4, 2016

Debunking Helter Skelter

The ones who matter

If it seems too crazy to believe, it might just be. 

The theory of "Helter Skelter" has long been accepted as the motive behind the senseless slayings of seven people and one unborn child on the weekend of August 8-10, 1969 in Los Angeles by the so-called Manson Family.  Vincent Bugliosi did a masterful job presenting the theory of Helter Skelter to the jury, who listened, understood, bought it and found the killers guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.  Honestly though, if Manson were trying to jumpstart a race war, why stop after the two sets of murders?  It's not like the police were hot on his trail.
So was Helter Skelter the true motive for the murders? 

Drugs.  Were drugs the underlying cause of the massacre?  Tate detectives initially believed they were, convinced that a drug deal had gone south.  True, drugs were found on the property . . . but not enough to suggest anyone at Cielo was a dealer.  If a drug burn was the root of the homicides, wouldn't a hit be more clean?  In other words, would a professional (as surely a hit would suggest) show up at the Cielo property with a rope, knives and a bayonet?  Hardly the weapons of a professional killer. 

Was Voytek Frykowski dealing?  Feelings on this seem divided.  If he was, he had to have been small potatoes.  No significant amount of drugs were found in the house to suggest he was a major player and there were no weapons -- like a gun - - that you would expect a dealer to have.  Would a dealer be living in such an easily accessible property?  Even assuming that he was the target, he left the house earlier in the day - -  the perfect time to carry out a hit and making him a far easier target for a professional.

Same with Abigail Folger.  If she were the target, she had a standing appointment Monday through Friday to see her therapist every afternoon.  She could easily have been eliminated leaving or returning to Cielo Drive without involving anyone else.

Rumors have floated for years that Jay Sebring was the candyman to quite a few Hollywood players.  If true and if Sebring was the target, it makes zero sense that he would be taken out anywhere other than his own house or office.  His visit at Cielo seemed to be a casual type of dropping by you do with friends, which would make it more unlikely that he was the target in my book.  He also had no drugs on him and a relatively small amount in his Porsche.  None were found in his system at autopsy.  While it could bolster the dealer argument (as most dealers apparently live by the creed that you don't use yourself) it does weaken the rumor that he had a major coke problem.  If he was such an addict, wouldn't he have the drug in his system? 

Besides that, assuming that one victim was the target why take out everyone?  Would anyone attempting a hit slaughter a pregnant woman?   Would they write in blood on the front door?  Would they tie rope around the victims' necks? 

And where does Steven Parent fit in all this?  He had no previous connection with anyone at the Cielo property and it's not been suggested that he was a drug dealer or user.  Assuming professionals were dispatched to Cielo over a drug burn, they would have let the unsuspecting Parent, leaving the guesthouse, get in his car and drive away.

Furthermore, if drugs were behind the crimes, would the assailants leave any behind?  Wouldn't they search the property and take any and all drugs with them, even minor amounts?  And where does that leave the LaBiancas?  They had no known connection to drugs, nor were any found in their home or in their systems upon autopsy. 

While drugs may have been present and perhaps even tied the victims, however remotely, to their eventual killers, I don't think it was why the murders were committed.

The Mob.  The Mob angle is tossed around with regard to the LaBiancas but not Tate.  Since the two crimes are related we'd have to find a connection to the Tate homicide and the Mob and so far, there appears to be none.  Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski had no known ties to the Mob.  Jay Sebring was in debt at the time of his death but not to the Mob - - to Sharon, to Abigail, to his dentist, all of whom invested in Sebring International.  He seemed to be a textbook case of cash poor but having assets from his business.  No apparent connection with Abigail Folger or Voytek Frykowski.  Steve Parent had just graduated from high school two months prior to his murder so a connection there is about as likely as Manson getting parole. 

Even if the Mob were somehow involved with the LaBiancas, specifically Leno, would they execute a hit by tying up Leno and his wife, putting lamp cords around their necks, stab them repeatedly and write in blood on the walls before taking a shower and grabbing a bite to eat on their way out the door?   And making sure to write about Manson's infamous upcoming race war on the fridge?  Really?   Not only great luck and quite a coinky-dink but also an extremely sloppy hit.

As far as the Mob contracting Manson to perform the hit . . . my eyes ache from how hard I'm rolling them.

Black Magic and Witchcraft.  This theory is almost too laughable to press but it came out immediately following the murders and it still haunts to this day.  I think the gruesomeness of the crimes combined with Roman Polanski's films (most especially the then-recent Rosemary's Baby) gave this tale legs.  It didn't help that Sharon Tate was pregnant (feeding into the allegations that a child is the ultimate sacrifice) or that is was mistakenly reported (repeatedly) that Jay Sebring was found with a hood over his head. 

Over the years various "sources" have claimed that Sharon was initiated into witchcraft and said witchcraft is what got her killed.  They use a photo of her standing in a magic circle to prove it.  First, the photo is a picture taken on set of Eye of the Devil, in which she plays a witch so no dice.  If a real photograph existed, in this age of social media and eBay, you'd bet it would be circulated.  No black magic paraphernalia was discovered at 10050 Cielo Drive so what kind of black magic practitioner was Sharon anyway?  Witchcraft doesn't mesh with Sharon's Catholic upbringing and none of her friends claim that she participated in any such thing.  Her sister spent quite a bit of time with Sharon that summer and saw nothing amiss.  Furthermore, nothing has been said about Abigail, Jay, Voytek or Steven being into witchcraft so why were they killed?  Guilt by association?  The magic circle made a mistake? 

Orgies and Sex Tapes.  This topic has reached almost epic proportions in some arenas.  It was reported in Bugliosi's Helter Skelter that the LAPD recovered a videotape in the loft of the Cielo property that showed Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski making love.  Hardly an orgy or a cache of porn and yet some remain convinced that Tate, Polanski, Sebring and a host of other Hollywood players were participating in various orgies, all of which were recorded for good measure and the existence of these tapes (and the threat of them) is what incited the murders.

What makes this impossible for me to believe is, once again, that if such tapes existed, where are they?  It's been more than forty-six years since the murders; surely they would have surfaced by now.  Someone, somewhere, would be trying to get big bucks for these tapes and yet . . . not a peep.

And if the murders were committed in order to retrieve these tapes, why was it necessary to kill everyone in the house?  Why write in blood?  And why execute the LaBiancas the next evening?  Surely they had nothing to do with supposed Hollywood orgies.

And maybe the most important point - - what would Charles Manson and his band of killers have to do with sex tapes that don't involve them?  Exactly.  Nothing.

Copycat Motive.  Other than below, this motive makes the most sense out of all of them.  To wit:  Bobby Beausoleil was sitting in jail for killing Gary Hinman and The Family/Charlie/the girls thought a copycat killing spree would exonerate him for the Hinman murder and/or they needed cash to bail Bobby out.

The robbery angle is weak in my book.  Manson had no problems sending his girls out hooking before for cash so why not do that now?  He had also starting creepy-crawling homes so surely they could have pocketed some items worth a little bank. 

If Manson was so concerned about Beausoleil's incarceration why was he taking his jolly ass up north with Stephanie Schram and hitting the Esalen Institute to play his music?  (More on that below.)   Shouldn't he have been staying in town to organize his troops for soliciting and stealing? 

As far as that goes, wouldn't you think that he'd want to distance himself as much as possible from Hinman?  Especially given that he was present during Gary's imprisonment and torture, slicing off the poor man's ear himself.   You would think he'd go underground or something but this is Charles Manson.

The copycat motive is similarly weak in places.  Beausoleil (and possibly Manson, Atkins and/or Mary Brunner) had Hinman sign the titles of his two vehicles over to the Family before his death.  (In fact, Beausoleil was arrested in one of Hinman's vehicles.)  None of the vehicles at either Cielo or Waverly was touched.  (Maybe Beausoleil's stupidity taught them?)  The cops also knew that Beausoleil was part of Manson's gang so it stands to reason that another murder or set of murders along the lines of Hinman should have been a red flag leading the cops to Manson, right?

Manson and Revenge.  I believe Manson spoke about "Helter Skelter" coming down to the Family.  He was a storyteller and a preacher (non-religious, of course) who loved to hold people in rapt attention, particularly those who were under the influence of drugs and other dysfunctions.  One thing I will say about Charlie was that he was very adept at reading others' hang ups and issues, like most good con men and sociopaths.  The ragtag group of social misfits and dropouts that made up his "Family" wanted something to believe in besides all the free love and drugs that permeated Spahn Ranch.  Helter Skelter gave them a purpose and also fed into their antisocial nature by promising the "Pigs" (i.e., the white establishment) would get theirs while Charlie and his group remained hidden away until they could safely emerge and take over.  It's been said that Charlie is actually quite intelligent with a fairly high IQ, something that might very well be the truth given how easily he manipulated the Bible and the songs on the Beatles' White Album to interpret Helter Skelter. 

However, I don't think that's why seven people lost their lives that terrible weekend.  I don't think it's a coincidence that on August 8, 1968 - - exactly a year before the Tate murders - - Manson recorded his music with the help of Dennis Wilson, Terry Melcher and Greg Jacobson.  Manson wanted to be a musician, like Dennis (of the Beach Boys fame) and the Beatles but he wanted to do so without having to pay the dues that most musicians do.  In other words, he didn't want to work his way up the ladder, he wanted to own the ladder from jump.  While it's been said that he wasn't a bad musician and his voice was fine, his lyrics and the overall down nature of them turned off the executives.  Remember, this was just before the Summer of Love; the hippies were preaching peace and love, not death and destruction.  So Manson got the usual "thanks, we'll be in touch" line and went back to Spahn Ranch to wait for the call that would make him king.  The call that would never come.

Manson apparently waited and stewed for months, while putting Terry Melcher on redial.  By March of 1969, he had enough and went directly to Melcher's residence on Cielo Drive to find out why the executives weren't beating down his door with offers.  The property's owner, Rudi Altobelli, was living in the guesthouse at the time and informed Charlie that Melcher had moved out and new tenants were living in the main house.  When pressed, Altobelli told Manson that while Melcher had moved to Malibu, he had no idea where in Malibu.  A lie.  He also told Manson, when Charlie asked about Altobelli's contacts in the entertainment industry, that he was living for Europe the next day and would be gone for a year.  Also a lie - - Altobelli did leave for Europe the next day, along with Sharon Tate, but he wasn't planning on being gone for a year. More like a few months.

Manson went back to his life at Spahn of fixing dune buggies, eating out of garbage cans and sending the girls out on prostitution runs for extra cash and things seemed to be status quo until August.  In early August Charlie went up north to the Esalen Institute and played his music for its guests - - the so-called establishment that he despised.  There is no proof they were there at the time but both Sharon Tate and Abigail Folger had been guests of the Institute previously.  Charlie's music was met with dislike and disdain and he must have left thoroughly bitter.  He left on August 7, 1969.

I think when he returned to the L.A. area on the afternoon of August 8, he was seething.  It had been a year since all of his music industry dreams were to have come true.   Terry Melcher had told Manson he was going to get his music out there and to Charlie, a man born of the prison system where your word is the only thing you have, a promise was a promise.  Melcher, part of that establishment of "Pigs", along with those at Esalen Institute, had humiliated him for the last time.  He wanted revenge.

Charlie wouldn't have offed Melcher, the same way he wouldn't have offed Dennis Wilson or Greg Jacobson.  He needed them to further his musical career.  But sending a message was okay.  He had done so with Wilson by leaving him a bullet, the subtext loud and clear.  He would do the same to Melcher but in far gorier terms.

He knew Melcher no longer lived at Cielo; he may have heard that movie industry people resided there now.  It mattered little.  He knew the layout of the property and he knew that Melcher would hear of what was going to happen.  

When he sent his merry band of killers out that night, he was careful not to accompany them but his wishes were clear.  I think he sent them out on their deadly mission under the guise of Helter Skelter because he didn't want to tell them that he was really throwing a temper tantrum and ordering the deaths of a group of people because he was pissed.   Watson, Krenwinkle and Atkins - - thoroughly antisocial and blood thirsty - - were more than happy to instigate what they thought would be a race war.  In truth, they were simply obliterating human beings because Charles Manson didn't get his way.

I don't think Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring or Voytek Frykowski had personally done anything to Manson.  In fact, I doubt they had any interactions with him, ever.  They were merely representations of the industry and the establishment that had mocked him and for that, they lost their lives.  Steven Parent was collateral damage, having the extreme misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting up with the evil and unsympathetic end of Watson's gun.

The LaBiancas were victims of geography, living next door to a house that Manson had been to several times, and victims of the Family's bloodlust.  They too represented the establishment that Manson had so much disdain for and yet wanted to be a part of.  For that, they too paid for his raging desire for revenge, plain and simple.

I think the truth of this case is a matter of Occam's razor - - the simpler explanation makes the most sense.  And the simplest explanation to me is revenge.

February 2, 2016

Bundy and the Pornography Connection

Pornography made him do it!

Last month was the 27th anniversary of the execution of Ted Bundy.  Hard to believe.  I remember watching the news and seeing footage of Starke, with the groups of people cheering once that white flag was raised (even setting off fireworks) and then attempting to storm the hearse transporting his body.  People can be so bizarre, can't they?

In any event, back during Bundy's final days, in between talking to investigators from multiple states about their open missing persons cases, he met with James Dobson.  Dobson is an evangelical Christian and author and perhaps best known for his "Focus on the Family" organization.  I have nothing against Dobson and think he was being genuine in his attempt to seek out what caused Bundy to be, well, Bundy (i.e., an intelligent and charming yet murderous dirtbag) but I think he got played by a master manipulator.

Bundy claimed that violent pornography led him to abduct, rape and murder more than thirty females.  (Thirty is the official number but I personally believe his victim count was likely closer to a hundred.)  But I digress. 

According to Ted, the process was a gradual one in which he eventually began to fuse sex and violence and that led him to act upon those fantasies.  If his first victim was Ann Marie Burr in 1961, when Ted was fifteen, what pornography was he viewing?  There was no internet, there were no VCRs or DVD players.  There were magazines and I think those are what he saw, like many teenage boys.  There was also his maternal grandfather (also purported to be his biological father) who it was revealed was a cruel, sociopathic individual that abused not only his wife and daughters but also the family pets.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Ted remembers this grandfather in a rosy Santa Claus type way.  While the grandfather never abused young Ted, he allowed his temper to erupt in front of him by abusing others.  Worse, he kept a stash of snuff-type magazines that a young Ted allegedly devoured.

Snuff type materials could absolutely do a number on a young, impressionable mind . . . especially one that is already dysfunctional and prone to violence as I think Bundy's was.  It sounds clichĂ© but I think Bundy was just born bad, period.  His exposure to a violent father figure early in life did not help matters but I think even if he had been raised by Santa Claus or James Dobson, he still would have turned out to be a serial killer.  Murder ran in Bundy's blood, it was the greatest passion in his life and one he likely considered his greatest accomplishment.

Bundy's claim for blame with regard to pornography seems disingenuous when you consider that he never brought up pornography or an addiction to it prior to his interview with Dobson.   He clearly wanted to discuss "why" with Robert Keppel, the Washington State investigator that Bundy seemed to admire, but Keppel had little use for the "why," instead wanting closure for the families of girls still missing.  Even when talking to authors Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, in which Bundy described his murders in the third person, pornography was never mentioned.   Alcohol was mentioned; Bundy claimed he needed to be drunk to commit his disgusting acts in order to quiet that rational part of his mind but never did pornography enter the equation.

I believe his liberal use of alcohol although he probably would have committed the crimes drunk or sober.  The Bundy of 1974 appeared to be far more calculated and cunning compared to the sloppy, unorganized Bundy of 1978.  Was alcohol to blame?  Did it help or hinder his cause? 

It's unfortunate that Florida authorities did not realize who and what they were dealing with when they captured Bundy in 1978.  After begging the arresting officer to kill him on the spot, he was at his psychologically weakest and very likely would have confessed all, to the right person and with the right prompts.  Washington, Utah and Colorado (where Bundy escaped from less than two months prior) investigators wanted to haul ass to the Sunshine State and advised their Floridian counterparts on how to handle Bundy but their advice was ignored.  Tragic, really. 

So why did Bundy blame pornography?  Because he had a captive audience with Dobson?  Was he trying to play the victim?  Was he trying to keep any attention or blame from his own family and their dysfunctional dynamics?  Was it because he was desperate to know what made him tick and desperate to find something to blame for his sickening behavior?   Or was it just a con artist, realizing that once he was executed he would quickly fade from public consciousness, scrambling to stay relevant and create yet more controversy?