August 31, 2016

The Death of Rising Star Dorothy Stratten

Vancouver native Dorothy Stratten very nearly had it all - - small town girl makes good in Hollywood - - living the dream before her estranged husband took it all away.

Dorothy was discovered at the age of eighteen by Playboy, who had received nude photos of the beauty sent by her then-boyfriend Paul Snider.  Snider had found the blonde Dorothy working at a Dairy Queen and, always looking for an angle, the former pimp decided her star potential would allow him to ride her coattails to success.

Playboy liked what it saw and Dorothy headed to L.A., with Snider following her a month or so later.  By August of 1979, she was Playmate of the Month, two months after marrying Snider in a quickie Las Vegas ceremony.  While Dorothy's motivation seemed to be obligation and a sense of gratitude for her "manager," Snider's intent was to keep her from slipping away from him.  Her friends and those acquaintances connected with Playboy were none too happy that she had married the slimy Snider, who began driving around town in a Mercedes with vanity plates - - STAR80- - to indicate where he felt he and his wife were going.

Dorothy and Snider
Dorothy worked as a Bunny at the Playboy Club and acting seemed a natural transition for her.  Hefner believed she could be one of the then few who could move from Playmate to actress.  She got roles, albeit small ones, in tv shows like Fantasy Island and Buck Rogers and the 25th Century and her first film role as a skater in Skatetown, U.S.A.  All of these roles showcased her girl-next-door type of beauty but did little to demonstrate any talent.   Her first starring role was as and in Galaxina, a science fiction parody, released in 1980.    

Her career was gaining momentum but the more success she seemed to gain professionally, the more stress her marriage was put under.  Snider was jealous, not just of Dorothy potentially looking at other men but of her career.  He had wanted to make her a star but now that she was solidly on the way, he began turning on her.

Hugh Hefner encouraged her to leave Snider, calling him a hustler and a pimp but Dorothy felt responsible for her husband and refused.  Friends began to warn her about Snider and his increasingly unstable behavior but again, Dorothy felt responsible.

Dorothy and Bogdanovich
In January 1980, Dorothy received the holy grail of Playboy stardom - - she was crowned the 1980 Playmate of the Year.  She also landed a small role that could have turned the tables completely for her, a mainstream part in the studio film They All Laughed, alongside Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazarra.    Leaving to shoot in New York must have been a wonderful reprieve for Dorothy; director Peter Bogdanovich kept a tight set and Snider was not allowed to be present.  This breather allowed Dorothy to think about her future . . . and fall in love with Bogdanovich,

Snider, always teeming with jealousy, must have known the end was near when Dorothy left to shoot the movie.  There was no doubt in his mind when he hired a private investigator who gave him details of the director and his star's relationship on set that spring of 1980.

Dorothy told her husband she was leaving him.  Snider had always had other women on the side and in fact was living with one by the time Dorothy was filming in New York but such hypocrisy mattered little to him; he wanted Dorothy if for no other reason than so no one else could have her.

Once filming on They All Laughed wrapped, Dorothy returned to L.A. with Bogdanovich and moved into his home.  Bogdanovich was head over heels for her and believed they had a future together, especially once her divorce from Snider was final.

Snider asked his estranged wife to meet him at their former marital home on August 14, 1980.  Against Bogdanovich's concern and wishes, she went.  She thought she and Snider were going to work out details of their split; she didn't know that Snider had acquired a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun.

Shortly after noon, Dorothy arrived at the residence with $1,000 to give Snider in hopes of an amicable divorce.

The house where Dorothy died; a news crew is by her car
At 11 p.m., Snider's private investigator called the owner of the home and Snider's current roommate on his private line to say that he had been attempting to reach Snider for hours without luck.  The roommate noted that there was nothing but silence coming from Snider's room; he knocked and called himself without answer before breaking in and discovering the gruesome sight of two dead bodies.

Both had died of shotgun blasts.  Police theorized that at some point that afternoon Snider had raped his wife before shooting her in the face; Dorothy had held her hand up in front of her as evidenced by a wound to her finger.  After that, based on bloody hand prints found on her, it seems likely that he violated her body on a bondage machine he designed and built before turning the gun on himself.

The tragedy shocked and saddened Hollywood.  Dorothy was known to be a sweet and somewhat naive girl; that she could have met such a brutal end and at the hands of a man she had supported and defended was doubly tragic.  Surprisingly, the media did not make mincemeat of her, instead going after Snider and the bitchy industry itself.  Quite a change from the Cielo Drive victim blaming of a decade earlier, where Sharon Tate's slaughter was laid down at her own doorstep.

Peter Bogdanovich, particularly grief stricken, claimed himself to be a widower and doubting that he would ever find such love again.  (He did; he married Dorothy's younger sister Louise in 1988 when she was 20 and he was 50. They would divorce after 13 years of marriage.)   He also went bankrupt in order to finish They All Laughed, which tanked at the box office and wrote a beautiful tome to Dorothy titled The Killing of the Unicorn.  

Two movies were made about Dorothy's life and death; the first with Jamie Lee Curtis and the second, and better known, with Mariel Hemingway and a frightening Eric Roberts as Snider.  The second was very aptly titled Star 80.  Star 80 had scenes filmed at the actual property Dorothy and Snider lived and died at - - even the murder/suicide scenes were shot in the very room that Dorothy was killed.  Bogdanovich dismissed Star 80 as "shit," although he admitted that he had never met Snider.

Why did Snider do it?  Jealousy was a part, although he himself was living with a blonde teenager that he hoped to turn into another Dorothy Stratten.  I don't think it was jealousy based on love he may or may not have had for her; I think it was jealousy based on Dorothy being his property.  In his mind, he had found and made Dorothy.  Based on that alone, he earned the right to be a star himself, he deserved it.  Nobody, and that included Dorothy, was going to take that away from him.

More importantly though, I think fear motivated Paul Snider.  Fear of losing Dorothy.  Fear of losing his golden ticket, his entry into the entertainment world where everybody was somebody.  Paul Snider knew he was nobody without Dorothy Stratten.  Without her, he would be exposed for the fraud and fake he was.  A failed pimp.  A failed nightclub promoter. A failed husband, whose gorgeous young wife had left their marriage for a man twice her age.  He couldn't return to Vancouver having come so close to the top.

I think once he decided to murder Dorothy he elected to do it in a way that would kill her beauty too.  He would destroy that which had initially attracted him, which had opened doors for her.  Why else would he choose a shotgun?  Why else would he aim it at her face and pull the trigger?  I think he felt power by doing so, I think he probably liked seeing the fear in Dorothy's eyes and knowing that he would be the last thing she ever saw on this earth.

I think he was punishing everyone else as well.  Hollywood and the rest of the world had effectively dropped him.  He would show them.  He would take what they loved most, this thing of beauty, and absolutely destroy it.  

Dorothy's story is especially sad as she felt she knew the man who would ultimately kill her. This man who at one time praised her beauty, gave assurances of love had intentionally pointed a gun at her face and pulled the trigger.  Her friends saw the signs; they noticed Snider's eroding behavior.  How had she not seen it?  Was it her youth?  Did she only see what she wanted to?  Was she so naive that she believed in the general good of everyone?

When I think about this case, my mind races with "what if"s.  What if Dorothy had listened to her friends?  What if she had listened to Hugh Hefner?  What if she had listened to Peter Bogdanovich?  What if she had met Snider in a public place or taken a friend?  What if she had never married Snider?  What if Snider had not come into the Dairy Queen in Vancouver on that particular day?  There are so many "what if"s, my brain hurts with them.

This case too reminds me of one that would follow nearly fourteen years later, also in Los Angeles, when O.J. Simpson would decide that his ex-wife should not live and butcher her, along with the innocent Ron Goldman.  I think the emotions were similar - - jealousy and fear.  Simpson was notoriously jealous of any attention being paid to his ex-wife and I think he was fearful that Nicole had moved on from him, once and for all.  Like Snider, if he couldn't have her, no one could.  The difference, of course, is that Simpson was a far greater narcissist than Snider could ever hope to be and played the murders into himself being victimized and persecuted by the corrupt LAPD.  Snider at least saved us all that.

It's been thirty-six years since Dorothy was brutally taken from this life.  Had she been allowed to live, she would be fifty-six years old.  What she might have become, who she might have become, we will never know.  She was in Hollywood only two years, from 1978 until 1980, and yet had managed to accomplish more in that short period than many artists do in their career lifetimes.  More importantly, she did not allow the seamy underside of the business to change her.  She was still the sweet, kind girl from Canada who wrote poetry.

Dorothy was buried in Westwood Memorial Park, the same location where Natalie Wood would be forever placed to rest a year later.

Paul Snider's body was returned to Canada, where he was laid to rest.  Since he and Dorothy both died without wills, he as her legal husband inherited her estate upon her death which was then reverted to his family upon his death.

August 25, 2016

The Halloween Murder of Ramon Novarro

It was Wednesday, October 30, 1968.  In Los Angeles the temperature had peaked around 75 degrees - - a wonderful autumn day - - dropping to 59 degrees once the sun set.  The American Basketball Association, famous for Dr. J and the L.A. Stars, were in town for a brief stop.  "Hey Jude" by the Beatles sat atop the records charts and dominated the radio airwaves while Airport by Arthur Hailey was the current New York Times fiction bestseller.

At 3110 Laurel Canyon Drive was a Spanish Colonial designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, it had been owned since 1927 by former stage, screen and television star Ramon Novarro.  Novarro was now 69 and frail, many days away from his life as a sex symbol of MGM following in Rudolph Valentino's vaulted footsteps after the infamous Valentino had died unexpectedly.  Despite being retired from acting for many years, Novarro had made wise real estate investments with his movie earnings and this allowed him to live very comfortably.

Navarro with the great Garbo
That evening Novarro, in a red and blue robe, welcomed brothers Paul and Tom Ferguson into his home.  The brothers Ferguson had gotten Novarro's phone number from a previous guest; both hustlers, they knew that Novarro was known to use agencies for sexual escorts.

Novarro, ever the gentleman and always gracious, served beverages - - liquor - - and read older brother Paul's palm, ironically predicting a bright future.  He played his piano, sharing with the brothers a tune he had composed and written.  He showed them promotional photos of himself as a young and virile MGM star.  It's likely that the former actor engaged in sexual activity with the older brother and then at some point the elder Ferguson demanded that Novarro hand over the $5,000 he was rumored to keep hidden in his home.

The young and beautiful Novarro
Novarro truthfully stated there was no such amount in his home; he never kept such large sums at his residence.  Tom Ferguson, having been speaking to a Chicago girl from Novarro's phone, joined his older brother in jostling, shaking and shoving the older man.  When that didn't net them the anticipated sum of cash, they began to pummel him violently; to keep him from losing consciousness, they dragged him into the bathroom where he was splashed with cold water.  One of the brothers, upon finding a cane, twirled it around and danced with it as their victim was tortured and bleeding.  While the Catholic Novarro began praying "Hail Mary, full of grace," the brothers bound him with an electrical cord and took turns striking him in the head and genitals with the cane.  Tom Ferguson, while carrying the bludgeoned and dying Novarro to his bed, scratched the older man's face in anger.  The two left the man to choke to death on his own blood.

The murderers decided to ransack the house, dumping Novarro's professional stills and photos on the floor, attempting to create a scene of a burglary gone wrong.  Complicating the matters, they also thought it would help to make the crime seem as though a vengeful woman had committed it, and so wrote on the bathroom mirror "Us girls are better than fagits (sic)."  They left the house with the cash they had netted from their torture and murder - - $20, taken from the pocket of Novarro's robe.

Novarro with a young Joan Crawford
While the Fergusons were caught and convicted quickly, it was Ramon Novarro who was put on trial.  The soft spoken and gentle star, who had for years struggled with the inner conflict of being Catholic and homosexual, who had stood up to Louis B. Mayer and refused a "lavender" marriage, and who had for years kept this part of his life from the world, now had his private affairs become posthumous fodder for gossips and entertainment hacks.  His killers' criminal trial saw him labeled "an old queer" by the defense attorney, the person defending two killers who were themselves homosexual hustlers, as if Novarro was less than human and somehow deserved or brought on what happened to him.

The Fergusons were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after each brother testified that it was the other that had killed their innocent victim.  The judge presiding over their criminal trial stated they should never be released; they both were.  The younger Tom was released after only six years; the elder Paul was out in nine years.

Nine years total for the brutal murder of a defenseless man.  It boggles the mind.  I believe the brothers were paroled for one reason only - - homophobia.  Novarro and his lifestyle were made out to be the guilty party.   If you solicit gay sex, look what happens.  It's a sad injustice, most especially for Ramon Novarro.

The Hollywood Hills home where Novarro died
Once the Fergusons were released, both quickly reoffended over the years,both separately committed rape.  Shocker.  In 1998 Paul Ferguson assumed the blame for Novarro's death; he claimed that neither he nor Tom went to the star's home to rob him and the murder happened out of a homosexual panic.  This, despite the fact that both brothers knew about the supposed cash stash and Paul at least had turned gay tricks for cash before.  In 2012, he would claim that he had come to peace with what happened to Novarro and stated that Novarro would not have died if he had not been so drunk.  Victim blaming at its finest and more than 40 years after his death, still putting Ramon Novarro on trial.  For the record, Paul Ferguson is currently serving a 60 year sentence for a rape and sodomy charge; not that rape and/or sodomy is not a grievous crime but telling that his current sentence is much longer than that sentence he served for beating to death Ramon Novarro.

In 2005, Tom Ferguson committed suicide at a Motel 6 by slitting his own throat.  He left no note nor commented on his part in the murder.

Ramon Novarro, toward the end of his life
Ramon Novarro's name would come up occasionally through the years, most notably when Kenneth Anger published one of his Hollywood Babylon books and claimed that Novarro had in his possession a black dildo made to the specifications of Rudolph Valentino's genitalia.  In 2012, Scotty Bowers released his juicy autobiography titled Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars and described gruesome details of Novarro's last moments, including the claim that he had been suffocated with a lead dildo given to him by Valentino.  However, I tend to side with writer William van Meter, who says the dildo is an urban legend that has been repeated often but with no proof.  Surely if such an item existed and was used in the assault, the ever resourceful Paul Ferguson would have mentioned it as yet another piece of evidentiary proof that Novarro brought his death on himself.

The October 30, 1968 homicide was a sad end to the life of a man often described as giving, kind, gentle and unassuming.  A man who not only managed to make a success for himself in silent films but rather easily transitioned into "talkies," a feat that was accomplished by very few, to become our first Latin American star.  It's tragic that his personal life was put on trial and that he is more recalled today for his gruesome end and an urban legend than for the happiness he provided many silent film and Depression-era audiences.

Ramon Novarro should be remembered as a kind, gentle soul who after achieving film success supported his large and extended Mexican family; a devout Catholic who more than once considered the priesthood or monastery, so ardent was his religious devotion; a well liked professional of whom nobody appeared to have anything bad to say; a talented actor who also had a glorious singing voice and a talent for dance; and, as his gravestone memorializes for all time, a beloved brother.


Photo taken in September 2015 during my visit to Calvary Cemetery in L.A.

August 24, 2016

The Infamous 27 Club - Inception through the 1960s

The 27 Club:  a group or club of musicians/artists who died at age 27, often the result of drugs, alcohol or violent means.

Circa 1935; orig pub at
Robert Johnson.  The founding member of this notorious club is called the father of modern blues and the resulting rock and roll.   His unexplained death has become the stuff of legends, due to poison, womanizing and/or a deal with the devil, depending on who you ask.  Robert Johnson created his own songs, mixing his incredible guitar skills with blues of the existing lexicon of the day, turning out music that is still fresh, inspiring and groundbreaking to this day.  His skill and creativity was inexplicably high which led to the rumors both during his lifetime and after his death that he had made a deal with the devil for his amazing ability.  Some of his songs played into this myth, with Johnson singing about hellhounds, a crossroads and burying his body by the side of the road.  Truth or not, or whether he was incredibly media savvy long before others were, he was a gifted musician with a taste for the ladies and a taste for liquor.  His recordings were made only during the last two years of his lifetime, in 1936 and 1937 in San Antonio and Dallas; before then he was often playing on street corners, juke joints and Saturday night dances.  These recordings would change musical history although Johnson himself would never know as he experienced little success or public recognition during his lifetime.

In August of 1938, Johnson had been performing at a dance hall outside of Greenwood, Mississippi.  He was reported to have been flirting with a married woman or women and as he had been in the area for several weeks, his dalliances became well known and to the wrong people.  Some sources theorize that he was given poisoned hooch by an angry man or jilted woman but if the drink was laced with the suspected strychnine it seems that Johnson would have fallen and died sooner.  Not only that but strychnine has a very distinct odor and taste which would make it difficult to ingest unknowingly.  Whatever the means, on August 16, 1938 after three days of suffering, Robert Johnson died of unspecified causes on a plantation outside of town.  The investigation at the time noted that the plantation owner, while not knowing Johnson, opined that Johnson had died of syphilis.

The enigma of Johnson's life and death surround him to this day.  To add to the mystery, the location of Johnson's grave is unknown, with three different markers erected at cemeteries in Mississippi.  In all likelihood, he was given a pauper's grave and buried on or close to the land in which he died.

Jesse Belvin.   While Jesse Belvin's name is not well remembered today, his 1950s melodies of "Earth Angel" and "Goodnight, My Love" certainly are.   Like Robert Johnson, Belvin was a songwriter and singer but rather than strumming the guitar, he tickled the ivories of a piano.  Given the nickname "Mr. Easy," RCA began to mold him to rival Nat King Cole and be a crossover star to white audiences.

On February 6, 1960, following a performance in Little Rock, Arkansas with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Marv Johnson, Belvin and his wife were killed in a head-on collision.  As this concert was the first integrated one in Little Rock's history, tensions had been high.  Belvin received death threats prior to the concert; during the show itself racial epithets had been shouted by whites, leading to interruptions of the concert.  These things had led to speculation that his 1959 Cadillac had been tampered with.  The true cause of the accident was the hired driver falling asleep at the wheel - - something he had recently been fired for by another musical act.  Jesse Belvin's death was a sad and tragic accident, cutting short a talented life.

Rudy Lewis.  Rudy Lewis started his career as a gospel singer before joining The Drifters in 1960 to replace Ben E. King as lead vocalist.  What should have been an incredibly good break, following King proved to be unfortunate for Lewis; King had redefined the group's sound, got the recognition for it and Lewis was never allowed to eclipse that despite singing most of King's repertory in concert.  Lewis was blessed with a rich, passionate voice that made The Drifters' songs vivid and undeniably sensuous.  

Sadly, his place with the group was cut tragically short on the night/morning of May 20-21, 1964.  The group was set to record "Under the Boardwalk," written specifically for Lewis, on May 21 but Lewis did not show.  A check to his Harlem hotel room found him dead in bed.  Strangely, an autopsy was never performed and the authorities ruled his death a probable drug overdose.   Acquaintances would say that Lewis was a binge eater and may have choked to death in his sleep,  His own family and friends believe he died from a combination drug overdose, asphyxiation and heart attack.  Johnny Moore would sing "Under the Boardwalk" in Rudy Lewis' stead and remain with The Drifters for the duration of their career.  The Drifters would record "I Don't Want to Go On Without You" in tribute to Lewis.

Malcolm Hale.  Malcolm Hale, of Spanky and Our Gang had one of the briefest musical careers and yet his death put paid to the band's life span.  Not much appears to be published on his early life, other than being born in Butte, Montana but Hale, along with Spanky McFarlane, was a founding member of the folksy band in 1967.  Officially their lead guitarist, the talented Hale also wrote songs, did some vocal harmonies and played the trombone, horns and keyboards.  The group's first album was released in August of 1967 and scored two hits -- "Lazy Day" and "Sunday Will Never Be the Same."   The spring of 1968 birthed their sophomore effort and this second LP contained big hits "Sunday Morning" and "Like To Get To Know You."  

The summer of 1968 saw the release of a single that would create much controversy, both publicly and within the band - -"Give a Damn."  Many radio stations would not play the single due to the word "damn" being used but the major sore spot was the basis of the song, which was about racial equality, complete with the use of an angry African-American's voice at the end.  The song did manage to become a minor hit, even without popular play; Spanky and Our Gang performed it live on The Smothers Brothers tv show, drawing ire and complaint from President Nixon, among others.

On October 30, 1968, while suffering from a terrible case of bronchitis, Malcolm Hale died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Chicago, due to a faulty space heater in a poorly ventilated bedroom.  With his unexpected death, it was discovered that he was the guiding force and glue holding the band together; without him, it quickly disintegrated, leaving only two albums in Spanky and Our Gang's library.  While Hale is not a well known musician today, his contributions and Spanky and Our Gang's music lives on.

Dickie Pride.   Dickie Pride has the questionable distinction of being the first British rock star to die of a drug overdose.   He began his career singing toward a possible opera career before joining a skiffle group known as The Semi-Tones.  At the age of seventeen he was heard by Russ Conway, who had him signed with Larry Parnes.  Parnes changed his name from Richard Kneller to Dickie Pride and he was soon signed by Columbia Records, who would dub him "The Sheik of Shake" thanks to the way he moved as he sang.  Still only 17, Pride began performing on stage all over England, collecting universal praise.  Not only did he have a splendid voice but he was a natural performer on stage; British TV soon followed.

Despite these successes however, Pride's behavior began to become erratic.  Other singers were fearful of his personality, which apparently could flip on a dime.  He would fight on a moment's notice and began drinking and smoking dope.  It wasn't uncommon for a drunk or stoned Pride to jump into an audience and began beating a heckler, just as it wasn't uncommon for a sober Pride to be kind and friendly.  By 1961, the year he turned twenty, he career seemed to be all but over.  He attempted to record an album of standards for Columbia but the label dropped him, to be followed by Parnes.  He married in 1962; tried to start a band in 1963, without success; and became the father to a son in 1965.  That same year he began performing with a band called The Sidewinders.  Despite this upturn, addiction had reared its ugly head and Pride began using heroin.  At the time he tried to get off the drug, there were only some 600 registered addicts in the entire country so it's safe to say that not much was known about heroin addiction and how to kick it.  The drug addiction, coupled with depression and his marital breakup, led to him being committed to a mental hospital in 1967 and given a lobotomy.  Despite the barbaric procedure, his family and friends claim that the procedure allowed him to return to his normal self for the next year.

On March 26, 1969, Dickie Pride would take heroin for the last time.  Upon arriving home from the jazz club where he had scored his hit, he took his prescribed dose of methadone, went to sleep, woke during the night to take sleeping pills to go back to sleep and never woke again, overdosing on the combination.  After his death, many of Pride's fellow artists came forward to say that he was the most talented of all of them and should have been a major star with a huge career if only fate hadn't been so unkind to him.      

Photo: Daily Mail
Brian Jones.  One of the most infamous members of The 27 Club, thanks to his unusual death happening within a month of cutting ties with The Rolling Stones, who were hitting their peak of success,  Brian Jones was the founder and original leader of the iconic British rock group and specialized in playing the guitar, harmonica and keyboards.  Eventually being overshadowed by the powerful duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Jones' drug addiction led him to become difficult and cruel at times. The increase of his drug consumption, combined with his girlfriend leaving him for Richards, led to sporadic musical contributions and a boredom with playing guitar.  After two drug arrests led to problems with Jones' visa, making it impossible for him to tour in North America with the group in the fall of 1969, he was fired although the band let him publicly say that he left of his own accord.

A month later, on the evening of July 2-3, 1969 Jones was found in the bottom of his pool, not moving.  Although his girlfriend would state he was still alive when pulled out, by the time doctors arrived it was too late.  The coroner ruled it "death by misadventure," noting his liver and heart were greatly enlarged from drug abuse.  Jones' body was embalmed, his hair bleached white and he was placed in an air-tight metal casket before allegedly being buried 10 feet deep to discourage trophy hunters.  Of his former bandmates only Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman attended his funeral.   It wasn't long after his death before theories on murder began surrounding Jones' end.  Despite the sensationalism of the claims and a 2009 reinvestigation by Sussex police, it appears that the initial ruling was correct and Jones likely died accidentally after tumbling in the pool while stoned/high/intoxicated.

Alexandra. Alexandra was the stage name of a German singer who was born Doris Treitz.  Her mother supported artistic endeavors and before she turned to singing, Alexandra studied to be a fashion designer and actress.  At 19 she fell in love with  the man who rented a room from her mother; the man was 49, Russian and stopping in Germany on his way to emigrate to the U.S.  Despite this, they married and had a son.  The marriage did not last long, with Alexandra's husband continuing to the States and a divorce resulted.

Feeling that her legal name of Doris Nefedov would not be helpful in a career, she took "Alexandra" in honor of her son, Alexander.  Alexandra began wooing Germany audiences with her melancholy voice and style and released her first hit single in 1967.  Several more followed but none became huge hits, in part according to her producer because they were ahead of their time.  Alexandra recorded songs not only in her native German but also French, English, Russian and Hebrew.  In the spring of 1969 she was awarded the Golden Europa award for best newcomer; shortly after she took a holiday in Davos and met a man named Pierre Lafaire.  Their affair was quick and intense, with Alexandra saying they intended to marry.  Her sisters opposed, suspecting fraud and caused the pair to break up.  Alexandra began receiving phone calls after the break-up that led her to sleep in the same room with her son, fearing he might be abducted.  She also decided to write her will, bequeathing everything to her mother and son.  

On July 31, 1969, she traveled to Hamburg to negotiate with her record company and then head out to a holiday on the German island of Sylt.  Alexandra was driving her fairly new Mercedes-Benz with her mother and Alexander in the car with her.  The car had been checked at a service center and yet she still failed to brake at a crossing, colliding with a truck.  Alexandra was killed instantly; her mother survived the accident but died in the hospital.  Alexander survived with minor injuries.  Rumor had it that the car might have been sabotaged.   As an interesting footnote, movie director Marc Boettcher wrote a biography on Alexandra in 1999 and says he received several anonymous threats while researching the circumstances of her death.  In 2004, he pushed for a new investigation into her death based on his research and claiming that state security documents revealed that Alexandra's former lover Pierre Lafaire had been an American secret agent in Denmark  To date, no further investigation has been ordered and no charges have been filed.

August 22, 2016

The Mystery of Mary Shotwell Little

Date of Disappearance:      Thursday, October 14, 1965
Location of Disappearance:  Lenox Square Shopping Center, Atlanta, Georgia

Mary Shotwell Little was a 25 year old secretary with then C&S (Citizens & Southern) Bank (now NationsBank) in downtown Atlanta.  She was a newlywed, married to Roy Little only six weeks at the time of her disappearance.  Roy was out of town on October 14, 1965.  After work, Mary purchased groceries at the Colonial Market and then met a female co-worker for dinner at the S&S/Piccadilly Cafeteria at the Lenox Square Shopping Center, located in the tony Buckhead area of Atlanta.  According to statements her co-worker made later, Mary was in good spirits and seemed happy with her married life. Around 8:00 p.m., she bid goodnight to her friend with a "See you!", heading toward her car, carrying a brown leather purse.  She has not been seen since.

Her disappearance was noted the next morning when she failed to show up for work and did not call in sick.  Her boss spoke to the co-worker she had dined with; the co-worker provided the location of Mary's car at the Lenox lot.  Security guards sent to look for the car failed to locate it; Mary's boss, upon arriving at Lenox later, found the car in the spot the co-worker gave.  More on that to come.

The car's exterior had a coating of red dust (likely red Georgia clay if you're familiar with the region) and the four bags of groceries Mary had purchased the night before were found inside, along with either Coke or Tab bottles (something Mary was known to drink) and a package of Kent cigarettes, Mary's brand.  Also found, neatly folded on the console, were a slip, pair of underwear and girdle.  A bra and single stocking were discovered on the floorboard.  The stocking had been cut, possibly by a knife, and the underwear, recently worn, was said to be Mary's.  None of Mary's outer clothing - - a sheath dress, a white London Fog raincoat - -  nor her purse, jewelry or car keys have ever been found.

More disturbing was that blood was found on the undergarments and smeared on the steering wheel, the driver's side door near the handle, the inside passenger side window and both front bucket seats. An unidentified bloody fingerprint was found on the steering wheel.  The blood was not in great quantity, only that amount you might get from a nosebleed, and the blood was tested to be Mary's.  Due to the relatively small quantity being found in a wide range of places within the car, and the nature of it being smeared, some police officers believed the car was staged.

On October 15, Mary's credit card was used at an Esso gasoline station in Charlotte; twelve hours later, the card was used at another Esso station, this time in Raleigh.  The credit card slips were signed "Mrs. Roy H. Little, Jr." and appeared to be in Mary's handwriting. Attendants at both stations recalled a woman with a minor head injury, with bloodstains on both her head and legs, and who was accompanied by one or two unshaven middle aged men who appeared to be commanding her.  The woman tried to hide her face from the attendants and did not ask for help.  The North Carolina plate number noted on the charge slips turned out to have been stolen in the days before Mary's disappearance.

Being that Charlotte and Raleigh were only two to three hours apart by car, the twelve hour difference seemed odd.  Also odd was the fact that Charlotte was Mary's hometown.

Lenox, as it would have appeared in 1965
Once news of the credit card slips was released, Roy Little received a ransom call with a demand for $20,000.  The caller never contacted Roy or any member of Mary's family again and the FBI believed it was a hoax.

In May of 1967, eighteen months after Mary Little walked into oblivion, Diane Shields, a former C&S employee who was hired after Mary's disappearance and who not only worked at Mary's former desk but also roomed with Mary's one-time roommates, was found dead in the trunk of her car, suffocated/strangled by a scarf and paper found in her throat.  Her diamond engagement ring was still on her finger and she had not been sexually assaulted. Was Diane the victim of the same killer that could have grabbed Mary?  Was it merely coincidence?  Or were there darker forces at play?  Diane had quit her C&S job by the time of her death but it was reported by a family member that she was working as an informant in an undercover capacity when she was hired on at C&S in order to help the police catch the person who took Mary.  If this was true, it indicates that the police believed that Mary's employer had something to do with her death.  Law enforcement, it must be said, has always denied that Diane Shields had any such role.

Diane Shields' murder has never been solved.

After the Diane Shields homicide and two years after Mary's disappearance, Mary's mother requested that authorities cease their investigation.

In the years after Mary disappeared in 1965, her case file also vanished.

My Thoughts and Theories.   I began researching this case after my mother mentioned it to me, as she vividly remembered when Mary disappeared, thinking it was a relatively straightforward missing persons case. Was I surprised to find this case anything but straightforward.  There are so many possibilities, potential suspects, theories . . .  I'll get right into it.

Mary's husband Roy Little is the obvious first suspect as her spouse.  He certainly did himself no favors with his actions and behavior following his wife's disappearance.  Some reports say he was aloof and indifferent with regard to Mary's whereabouts and safety, seeming more concerned about his car.  He also reportedly had an abrasive relationship with the detective in charge of the case.

I briefly gave thought to Roy Little as a suspect.  Refusing to take a polygraph . . . twice.  Wanting to know when he could get his car back, after the crime lab had marked his wife's blood from the interior.  Just . . . gah.  But despite the fact that on paper Roy Little comes off somewhere in the range of being indifferent to emotionally withdrawn to just a dick, I don't think he had anything to do with Mary's disappearance.  It's not because he has an alibi because, let's face it, he could have had someone help him out.  It's based on all the known facts taken together, as I will outline below.

I never seriously considered that Mary might have fallen victim to a random predator hunting in the Lenox area that evening.  During the investigation it was discovered that a young woman, who was at the Lenox Square shopping center the same evening as Mary, was encountered by a man who approached her as she entered her car.  The young woman locked her door and refused to open it, despite the man's assertions that her tire was flat.  She drove away in a fright (and would stop at a service station down the road where it was determined all four of her tires were in good condition.)  The time was shortly before 8:00 p.m., when Mary would be bidding goodnight to her co-worker and heading for her car in the Yellow Lot.

Was there a "Tire Guy" at Lenox that night?  Possibly.  If so, I don't think he had anything to do with Mary and here's why.  Mary's car was clearly staged to appear as though an assault happened.  If there was a Tire Guy, his motive would have been to assault; he would have no reason to stage Mary's car to make it look as though one did.  In fact, wouldn't Tire Guy have wiped down Mary's car and discarded her undergarments?  That's not all.  I don't believe it was coincidence that Mary was in Charlotte, her hometown, the next time either by choice or force.  A random attacker would have no idea of Mary's hometown; nor would he want to take the risk of driving her north and making certain she was seen at two separate service stations.  In fact, he would likely want to distance himself from Mary as soon as the assault was completed.

Some of the police investigators initially thought that Mary herself staged her car but apparently were not clear on why.  I feel that Mary herself is a better suspect than Roy or Tire Guy.  And while I initially thought the chances were fairly good that Mary could have staged her disappearance, I don't believe that's what happened.  During dinner with her co-worker that night, she appeared to be pleased and happy with her marriage.  If there were any marital problems, she didn't express them and in fact, seemed to be in good spirits.  Would a woman planning on running away from her life bother shopping for groceries for a dinner party that she knew wasn't going to happen?

More so than that, all reports insinuated that Mary had a close and loving relationship with her family in North Carolina.  If she was going to flee, she would either need to involve her family in the deception or cut off all ties to them.  Would she subject her parents and sister to the strain of lying to authorities, her husband, her friends?  For that matter, would she intentionally subject her family to the pain of believing she was missing and possibly endangered?

There is quite a bit online about alleged scandals and harassment that were going on at C&S Bank in the Sixties, as well as the institution supposedly being under investigation by the FBI, and the possibility that Mary was either the victim of harassment or that she found out something - - something illegal, something to do with unaccounted money, something dirty - - happening at the bank that she wasn't to have known.  Either scenario according to some got her killed.

This theory held my interest for more than a quick minute, especially when I read that her boss, upon realizing that she had not shown up for work on Friday morning, had called Lenox security rather than first calling her home.  More research led me to more solid reports that state that Mary's boss had initially called Mary's landlord at the Belvedere Apartments first, with the landlord stating that Mary's newspaper was still outside before entering the apartment and finding it empty.  Only then did her boss contact the Lenox Mall security and ask them to check the parking lot for Mary's car.  And this he would have known from Mary's co-worker so nothing untoward there.  It's also not significant in my mind that he immediately located Mary's car in the lot around noon because it was not there when Lenox security checked earlier that day, as evidenced by their statements and in checking the citations issued for cars left in the lot overnight.  Mary's car was not cited and so was not there.

This does make me also consider the co-worker Mary had dinner with the night she disappeared.  Did the APD ever check this woman's story out?  She told the police what time she and Mary met, ate and then window shopped.  She said that Mary had gone grocery shopping before their date.  She said that Mary was headed to her car in the Yellow Lot just before 8:00 p.m.  Did the APD check with anyone at the restaurant to verify the story?  Or to ask if any of the employees might have noticed anything out of the ordinary (i.e., the two women not talking; anyone watching or paying particular attention to Mary)?  Did the APD go to the Colonial market to ask the same questions?

C&S Bank building on Mitchell Street, 1960s
Another key point for me against C&S Bank making Mary disappear is that Mary was still employed by C&S on October 14.  If there was something going on, if Mary did know something that was dangerous for her to know, does it make sense that she would keep her job?  Atlanta was hitting its decades of economic boom; there were plenty of secretarial jobs available and Mary was an attractive, responsible young woman.  She would have had no problem finding employment.  And Roy Little was a bank examiner.  If Mary stumbled upon something, wouldn't she tell her new husband?  Her girlfriends?  Her family?  You would think someone . . . and yet she apparently did not.

So that takes me to what I think happened to Mary Shotwell Little.  I think her disappearance was very likely tied to C&S but not in the way outlined above.  Co-workers of Mary's stated that in the weeks prior to her disappearance she seemed to be receiving unwanted phone calls.  No one knew who made the calls to her but one did overhear a portion of Mary's side of the conversation in which she said something along the lines of "I'm a married woman now," and "I can't go there but you can come to my house."  She also received a delivery of five roses the week she disappeared and while the florist was located by Mary's apartment, the flowers were delivered to her office.

What this says to me is that Mary had a stalker.  And I believe it was someone she knew based on her comments on one of the phone calls.  She was a married woman now.  This was someone who knew her prior to her marriage to Roy Little but I don't think it was in a romantic sense.  This could have been someone Mary considered a friend, someone she didn't realize was developing an unhealthy interest in her.  Someone who was either a C&S employee or customer because it had to be someone who knew where she lived and who knew she was from Charlotte.

I think this man had been able to keep himself and his obsession with Mary under relative control until she married Roy Little.  The timing is right.  Mary and Roy had only been married for six weeks when she disappeared; her friends mentioned that the last few weeks of her life she seemed to be afraid to be at home alone or in her car alone.  Her co-workers noted unwanted phone calls in the weeks prior to her disappearance.  The marriage and, as a result, Mary's unavailability set him off.  I think he began following her and Mary sensed it; hence, her nervousness/fear at being alone.  She knew she was being watched.  But I don't think she realized how dangerous this person was.

I believe this man had followed Mary on the afternoon and evening of October 14, 1965.  Lenox was a busy and crowded shopping center so he could have easily tailed her without her being the wiser.  I had asked myself why a woman would buy groceries before meeting a friend for dinner, especially when the grocery store was located in the same shopping center.  Even if you purchased only canned goods, it just didn't make sense to me.  Until I began hashing the stalker theory in my mind.  I think Mary bought the groceries while it was still light outside (she was alone, after all) and so that she wouldn't be getting home a minute later.  After dinner she could head back to her car immediately and return home.  Only she didn't.

I think either this man approached her or she saw him when she was returning to her car.  Knowing him, she wouldn't have hesitated to say hello.  I think this man could have asked Mary for a lift; if he did and she obliged, she ultimately would have been at his mercy.

We know that forty miles were unaccounted for on the Mercury Comet.  We know that the car was returned to the Lenox lot the next day.  So that means it was driven roughly twenty miles from Lenox and then driven back.  We know that a red dust was found on the car and that some blades of grass were found in the interior.  That suggests to me at some point the car was taken off a paved road, even if just pulled on a shoulder.  This is just a possibility but perhaps this man expressed his affection for Mary or told her he had sent her the flowers.  Little known fact but five roses means I admire you and love you very much.  She would have rebuffed him and that would crush him/anger him/humiliate him.  And this could have been where he might have punched her in the nose or mouth, to get a little blood flowing, or even throttled her (some minor bleeding can happen with throttling or strangulation.)

I'm honestly uncertain whether or not he would have sexually assaulted Mary.  When I look at someone like Robert John Bardo, who stalked actress Rebecca Schaeffer for two years, he never physically touched her although he did shoot and kill her.  Could Mary's stalker have been the same?  I also have to look at the fact that her car was staged.

At some point this person had to realize that things had gone too far; he couldn't go back to obsessing about her.  She knew who he was, she could report him.  She may have even told him she would.  Whoever this man was he almost certainly would have needed help.  He could not possibly have driven Mary to North Carolina and made certain she was seen in Charlotte and Raleigh while her car was being returned to Lenox.

And this was a sticking point for me on many theories.  Why was her car taken and then returned to Lenox?  Taken I could understand but why return it?  Why risk discovery?

And it finally hit me.  The car was returned because the abductor's car was still in the lot.  We know that the Lenox security had cited cars left in the lot overnight because they searched to see if Mary's car was cited.  I think if the APD had investigated every car that was cited that night, they may have found who was behind Mary's disappearance.

That said, in order to have the connections necessary to make this "problem" go away, this man had to have been a mover and shaker, a big enough fish, to make it happen. It's apparent that whoever took Mary wanted to be sure it was clear she was taken to North Carolina - - she was seen and her credit card was used to purchase gas.  Why would someone do this?  Because he wanted to steer the investigation away from Atlanta.  Maybe this person knew Mary's boss and was able to make sure that he would be certain that Mary's car was located, which was essential for the cover story of Mary being grabbed and assaulted.

I think Mary was taken to North Carolina so that she could be seen and so that perhaps the thought might be that it was someone from Mary's past that snatched her.  After her two service station appearances, her time was limited.  If she was killed in North Carolina, I don't believe she was left there.  As I stated above, Atlanta was in the  midst of a large economic boom; there was a lot of building and construction going on.  An exec at C&S, a bank that funded a lot of the building happening around town, would certainly know or be able to find out when concrete was scheduled to be poured at job sites.  For what it's worth, so would a customer tied to the builders and developers.  I think Mary was taken to one of these job sites before concrete was poured and that's why she has never been found.  The Atlanta airport at the time was in growth mode although there was plenty of wooded, natural land around it.  The airport is also located right off Interstate 85, which would be handy for someone coming south down 85 from North Carolina.

Another mark in favor of the stalker theory is Diane Shields.  Diane is the young woman who replaced Mary at C&S; not only did she take over Mary's job but she sat at Mary's desk and even shared some of Mary's former roommates and friends. Was one of these friends or former roommates connected to someone big and powerful in the Atlanta community?  Or did Diane, young and pretty like Mary, attract the notice of someone at the bank?

Diane too received five roses the week she was killed.  There is no way that was a coincidence.  While Mary was newly wed, Diane was two months away from getting married.  I don't believe that was a coincidence either.  I speculated that Mary could have been throttled and/or strangled; Diane died due to strangulation, which is a very up close and personal way to attack someone.  Diane was found in East Point, which is only about five miles from the airport, where I speculated Mary's body could have been hidden.  Why wasn't Diane buried?  Perhaps her killer was interrupted or afraid of discovery.  Or perhaps he had gotten brave after Mary's disappearance.  Regardless I have no doubt that Diane's death was connected to Mary's.

Final Word:   The disappearance and likely murder of Mary Shotwell Little is a tragedy and an especially horrible one for her family and friends. There has been no closure for them.  Mary has been missing for nearly 51 years.  It's a good assumption that the case will never be solved unless someone comes forward - - and someone, somewhere knows something.  If he or she is still alive.

Diane Shields' family at least had the closure of knowing what happened to her and were able to bury her but they have not gotten justice for her murder.

For an update on this post, please click here.

August 20, 2016

The Fall of Peg Entwistle

Peg Entwistile's name is little known today and she's remembered more for her tragic death than what she accomplished during her short life but her life gave a glance at the dirty underbelly of Hollywood and fame.  

Born Millicent Lilian Entwistle in Wales in 1908 but always known fondly as "Peg", she was brought up in London before immigrating to Ohio and New York City via Liverpool by 1913.  She did appear to have some dissension in her early life; some reports say her mother died while Peg was still fairly young but a Last Will and Testament written by her father in 1922 states that he divorced Peg's mother, was granted custody of the then still minor Peg and wishes that should anything happen to him, under no circumstance should Peg be returned to her mother.  Perhaps more common today but a father being granted custody of his minor child, and a daughter, in the 1920s was very unusual.  My guess would be that perhaps Emily Entwistle was ill.

Peg's father Robert was listed in the cast of several plays in 1913, helping to spark an interest in the theater in his young daughter. In 1922 tragedy struck for Peg when her father was killed in a hit and run accident in New York City.  She and her two younger half brothers were taken in by an uncle who managed actors.

Over the next five years Peg would act in a variety of stage plays, one even seen by the young Bette Davis, who would later remark that seeing Peg Entwistle on stage had inspired her to become an actress.  Peg became a member of the New York Theater Guild and would rack up an impressive ten separate play performances as a member between 1926 and 1932, with one play - - Tommy (1927) running for an incredible 232 performances.  She acted with many notables of the day - - George M. Cohen, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Gish, and Laurette Taylor, to name just a few.  Peg seemed assured of a solid and respectable career.

She married fellow actor Robert Keith in 1927 but the marriage would last barely two years with Peg requesting a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty, claiming that Keith had neglected to inform her that he had been married previously and had a six year old son.

Peg hit the road over the next few years, touring with her company, and made her last Broadway performance in 1932.  Unfortunately for her, she ended up in Los Angeles.

By May of 1932, Peg had hopes for the ironically named play The Mad Hopes but it would close after little more than a week.  It was at this time that she would land her one and only credited film role, Radio Picture's Thirteen Women, starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne.  While the film would later be appreciated as one of the first, if not the first, female ensemble films, when it was released in October of 1932 it was neither a critical nor commercial success.

It's unknown exactly when Peg felt she was out of options with her career or her number was up but on Friday, September 16, 1932, she left the home she shared with her uncle stating that she was going on a walk to see some friends.   Two days later a woman's shoe, purse and jacket were discovered below the Hollywoodland sign; a suicide note was discovered inside the purse.   Peg's body was discovered later that day, although she remained unidentified until her uncle made the connection between the moderately well dressed woman, the suicide note with the initials P.E. and Peg's failure to return home.  Why he wasn't actively looking for her after she didn't return on Friday is a mystery.
The story released to the media was that the blonde haired blue eyed actress had made her way to the southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign, climbed a workman's ladder and jumped from the "H."  Her suicide note, as published in the local papers, read "I am afraid.  I am a coward.  I am sorry for everything.  If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E."

Was Peg referring to her own pain?  Or was she insinuating she caused others pain?  It was never known.

The coroner determined that she had died due to multiple fractures of the pelvis, which would indicate that she had jumped feet first and landed feet, or lower body, first.  It must have been agonizing.

Peg's death revealed a reality that Hollywood did not want America to see.  She was quickly forgotten in the industry, helped out by Paul Bern's death earlier that month, and even the Hollywoodland sign would undergo a change in the 1940s, distancing itself from its sad history., dropping the "land" and making the sign a more palatable nine letters versus the unlucky thirteen.

In October of 2015 Peg's name would again be in the media as it was reported that Peg's apparition was sighted at the Hollywood sign.  Is it possible that she continues to remain in the city that crushed her dreams?

What really happened to Peg Entwistle?  Why didn't she return to New York and back to her respected stage career?  Could this twenty-four year old have already been burnt out?  Was she that ashamed that she didn't make it in L.A.?   Was it possible that she suffered with something more serious, something along the lines of an undiagnosed mental disorder that led to her suicide?  Something that maybe her mother could also have suffered with, which had led to the divorce and loss of custody?  It will never be known.

A sad footnote to the story of Peg Entwistle is that the six year old son of her husband was Brian Keith, who would go on to become an actor himself.  While he would conquer stage, television and movies, his greatest success would be as the lovable and dependable Uncle Bill on the classic 1960s television show Family Affair in which he portrayed a bachelor raising his brother's orphaned children.  What  nod to Peg Entwistle.  In all, Keith's career would span a formidable four decades.  On  June 24, 1997, after suffering from declining health and finances, Brian Keith died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Two months prior, his youngest daughter Daisy had committed suicide.   Actress Maureen O'Hara firmly believed that Keith would not have committed suicide due to his Catholic beliefs.  She visited with him shortly before his death and found him in good spirits.  She knew he had a large gun collection that he was diligent about cleaning and believed that he had accidentally shot himself while cleaning a gun.

August 17, 2016

What Happened to Tiffany Sessions?

Much like the case of Julie Love (which I wrote about here), the disappearance of Tiffany Sessions is etched in my mind as an indelible memory from the 80s, helped in part by the fact that Tiffany Sessions and I were the same age and both college students at the time.

Tiffany would disappear from Gainesville, Florida, the same town that would be rocked by serial killer Danny Rolling a year and a half after her disappearance.  The Gainesville Ripper's (as Rolling was dubbed by the overzealous media) crimes and capture would take much of the national news away from Tiffany.

Tiffany had been a student at the University of Florida, majoring in finance.  She was twenty years old that February of 1989, a pretty girl with blonde hair and brown eyes.  She left her residence at the Casablanca East Condominiums, dressed in red sweatpants, a long sleeved white pullover sweatshirt, and Reeboks, carrying a Walkman, and telling her roommate she was going to take a walk.  The only other item Tiffany had with her was her ladies silver and gold Rolex watch.

Witnesses would later come forward to say they had seen Tiffany that Friday evening, some saying she had been speaking to several unidentified individuals in a vehicle. and possibly entering the vehicle.  Authorities have never been able to confirm or deny these reports or whether that woman was Tiffany Sessions.

The case went cold until 1994, when a missing child's hotline received a tip about Tiffany, the caller claiming that Tiffany was being held against her will in Austin, Texas, with two other missing young women (Tracy Kroh and Elizabeth Miller) and the three were being forced to work as prostitutes.  Tracy had disappeared from Pennsylvania in 1989 and Elizabeth from Colorado in 1983 but the police departments from all three states (including Florida) got together to investigate before determining the tip was nothing but an elaborate hoax and the case went cold again.

Inmate Michael Knickerbocker, sentenced to life for a 1989 rape of a Gainesville college student the same age as Tiffany, and the 1989 shooting death of a 12 year old Starke girl, told fellow inmates that he had chained Tiffany to a tree the night of her disappearance and then murdered her shortly thereafter, disposing her body in the Calosahatchee River near Fort Myers.   Authorities searched the area but found nothing of note (which is not surprising given that the waterway could have taken any evidence quite a distance away and enough time had passed to destroy any remaining evidence.)  In August of 2002, investigators searched an area outside of Gainesville where he claimed to have buried her sweatshirt and recovered a piece of bloodstained material.  Tests were run to determine if the blood matched Tiffany's DNA but the results have never been announced.  It's been said that the material does not match that of a sweatshirt.

Finally, in February of 2014 the biggest break in the case happened as Alachua County named Paul Rowles as Tiffany's abductor.  Rowles appeared to have been a career criminal, sentenced to prison in 1976 for the 1972 Miami rape and murder of his neighbor, released in 1985 and then sentenced again in 1994 for sexual battery, kidnapping and lewd and lascivious molestation against a 19 year old woman who escaped.  Rowles was such a sociopathic and terrifying individual that his first wife, the one who came home one day to find out that her husband murdered their neighbor, refused to sign a sworn statement against him, forty years after the crime and even as he lay dying in prison of cancer. After his death, DNA linked him to the unsolved 1992 homicide of Santa Fe College student Elizabeth Foster whose body was found in a shallow grave only a mile from where Tiffany disappeared.  He was also known to have worked at a construction project along Tiffany's normal jogging path.  Furthermore, a day planner Rowles kept in prison had the notation "#2" written in on February 9, 1989 . . . the date of Tiffany's disappearance.  Serial killers are notorious for remembering the dates of specific events in their "careers."  If Paul Rowles killed Tiffany Sessions, she would indeed have been his second victim.

Tiffany Sessions is still missing and her case officially unsolved.  What do I think happened?  I believe she went for what was a normal walk that late afternoon of February 9, 1989.  On this day she went by herself rather than with her roommate, with sad consequences.  I believe Paul Rowles was at the construction site and saw Tiffany, a pretty victim of opportunity. He likely lured her with some type of ruse, abducted and assaulted her and then killed her.  I think he buried her, wearing the Rolex watch that has never turned up despite its serial number being on a hot list, in the area where he would dispose of Elizabeth Foster three years later.  Rowles would angrily deny to investigators shortly before his death that he had anything to do with Tiffany Sessions but killers lie.

What about Michael Knickerbocker, who claimed to have chained Tiffany to a tree and killed her?  More lies.  Knickerbocker was not even in the Gainesville area when Tiffany disappeared so I believe that rules him out completely.

Paul Rowles was a known and convicted sex offender and murderer.  Tiffany was the right age and in his "territory."  Tiffany's father Patrick believes that Rowles killed his daughter but so far, Tiffany hasn't been found.  A search of the 10 acre area where Elizabeth Foster was found has been conducted but finding human remains nearly thirty years after being buried or placed there is a long shot.  The Sessions family would like to find Tiffany and bring her home.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Det. Kevin Allen of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office at (352) 384-3323 or by email at

Find out more about Tiffany and her case at

August 15, 2016

The MacDonald Case: The Icepick

The icepick as it was found on the morning of February 17, 1970

In the Jeffrey MacDonald case, the icepick was one of four weapons found at the crime scene, tossed under a bush outside the back door with the club and the Old Hickory knife.  The fourth weapon, as you may know, was the bent Geneva Forge knife found in the master bedroom just feet from Colette MacDonald's body and the knife MacDonald claims to have pulled from her chest.  I say "claim" because the dimensions of the Geneva Forge knife did not match any of the wounds on Colette's body.

But back to the icepick.  Both Colette and her youngest daughter Kristen were stabbed with the icepick.  Only Kimberley escaped being attacked with it.   The icepick was the MVP of the infamous pajama top experiment, wherein in recreating how the pajama top belonging to MacDonald was found on Colette's chest, it was discovered that the icepick wounds through the top aligned with the icepick punctures in her chest.

It's also been said that the bloody imprint of the icepick was discovered on the Hilton bathmat found across Colette's abdomen, suggesting that after using the weapon on his wife, MacDonald then placed the bloody pick on the bathmat until he was prepared to use it again.  And once his bloody and vicious assaults were complete, and in order to explain why blood was found on the bathmat, he placed it on his wife.

MacDonald's pajama top with icepick punctures, none of which
corresponded to any of his wounds
According to MacDonald's story, he had fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room that night, being forced to sleep there after Kristen had wet his side of the bed badly enough so that he would not be able to crawl into bed.  At some point after falling asleep he says he was awoken by both Colette and Kimberley screaming and he saw four individuals standing around him on the sofa.  He claims that a struggle then ensued in which his feet were bound up in the afghan he had used for cover and his hands were bound by his pajama top, which had gotten pulled from behind over his head.  He thought that he was struck possibly more than once by what he took as a baseball bat and then claims to have seen the glint of a blade before feeling what he then assumed was a punch and later came to believe was a stab wound or wounds.

This is where it gets interesting with the icepick.  Remember that MacDonald says he saw the glint of a blade.

Upon regaining consciousness, he goes to check on his family members for signs of life and to attempt CPR before calling for help.  When the MPs arrive, they transport MacDonald out the front door to a waiting ambulance and to Womack Hospital.

During an interview conducted while he was at Womack Hospital, MacDonald says that "that is when I must have gotten stabbed with the icepick."

How does MacDonald know an icepick was involved?  Let's go back a couple of paragraphs - - he said he saw the glint of a blade during the attack, which would insinuate a knife, not an icepick.  The icepick was not found inside the house where he might have seen it; it was found outside.  And not outside the front door, where he was wheeled out into an awaiting ambulance on the morning of February 17, 1970 but outside the back door.  In no retelling of the murders has he ever suggested that he saw the attacks on either his wife or his daughters.  So he wouldn't have seen the icepick  being wielded on them . . . unless he was wielding it himself.

The icepick and MacDonald's own suggestion of icepick wounds to his body appears to be a major slip-up he committed in the immediate hours after the murders and one that he would manage to deflect.  Much more importance was placed on the origin of the icepick with MacDonald claiming never to have seen it before, the family having not owned an icepick, with the MacDonald babysitter and Colette's parents stating the MacDonalds did indeed have an icepick and the instrument would be used to remove Popsicles and other treats from the freezer for the children.

Where does the truth lie?  What do you think?

Van Houten Denied Parole; On to Beausoleil and Watson

Joyous Leslie then, serious Leslie now

Delayed news but Governor Jerry Brown did the right thing and denied Leslie Van Houten parole, despite the parole board recommending that the 66 year old convicted killer and former Manson Family member be sprung.  Thank you, Governor Brown.

Without getting too much into whether or not she's rehabilitated (which Governor Brown apparently didn't buy), let's realize for a moment that she has been incarcerated since late 1969.  That's 47 years, more than double the time she had lived in 1969.  To say that she's thoroughly and completely institutionalized is an understatement of the highest level.  (Granted, she was on bond in 1977 during her retrial.)  Things have changed since 1969 and even 1977.  The world has changed.  Van Houten herself is no longer a giggly nineteen year old singing songs on her way to and from jail.  If she were considered rehabilitated and released, could she be a healthy and productive member of society?  How?   She needs to pay for her crime with her life.  A life sentence should mean a life sentence.  And be grateful that society has granted her more mercy than she granted to Rosemary LaBianca.  Van Houten was allowed to live, more than four decades past Mrs. LaBianca, and was even able to obtain a college degree.  On the California taxpayers' dime, no less.

In October, two more Manson killers come up for parole and two more petitions need your signature.

Beausoleil today
Beausoleil in 1969
From July 25-27, 1969, Bobby Beausoleil tortured music teacher Gary Hinman.  He forced Hinman to sign over his two vehicles to him before stabbing him to death on July 27, while Hinman, who knew Beausoleil, begged him for mercy.  It's this crime for which many Tate-LaBianca devotees believe led to the August 8-10, 1969 massacre that would make Manson infamous, as some believe the Family was trying to commit copycat murders to free Beausoleil.  In 1984 Beausoleil was caught drawing cartoons of naked toddlers being spanked by adults and selling them to known pedophiles.  He has told various parole boards different stories about Gary Hinman's murder and his participation in it and even goes so far as to claim today that he was never affiliated with Charles Manson and the Manson Family in any way - - a fact that is easily disputed.  He once said "you'd better hope I never get out."  I say we heed that advice and make sure he doesn't.

Watson today
Watson in 1969/1970
The most infamous killer, outside of Manson himself, and one who participated in each of the brutal murders August 8-10, 1969 is Charles "Tex" Watson.  Watson, who now claims he prefers to go by his given name of Charles versus his Family name of Tex, also claims to be a born again Christian (isn't everyone in prison?) and has been allowed to marry and father four children while a longtime guest of the state of California's penal system.  That's right - - the man who personally stabbed to death the very pregnant Sharon Tate was not only granted the privilege to father children himself but to place the burden of the cost of those children on the state's taxpayers.  Seems fair.  He's also presented himself as some sort of pastor to a prison church that his now ex-wife helped him run (thereby having free reign with the tithes and donations) and has written several books, the most recent of which is nothing more than a finger pointing exercise at Charles Manson while claiming he was just a poor puppet influenced by the evil Manson and he's so, so sowwy for what he's done.  Yeah, not buying it.  Let's also not forget that he told his victims on the night of August 8-9, 1969 "I'm the devil and I'm here to do the devil's business."   If this individual is eligible for parole in anyone's book, there is no justice.

Van Houten's denial does not bode well for Beausoleil or Watson.  It's unlikely that Watson will ever get out (nor should he) but Beausoleil, being less known and having one victim versus seven, has a better shot.  Beausoleil has been incarcerated since July of 1969; I would think it's not likely that during his incarceration he's become a mellow tree-hugging lover of people.

Debra Tate, Sharon's younger sister, has been an advocate for many years.  I encourage you to sign her petitions, asking the California parole board to keep both Bobby Beausoleil and Tex Watson behind bars.

You can find the petition to oppose Bobby Beausoleil's parole here.

You can find the petition to oppose Tex Watson's parole here.