Deaths Of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and James Michael Moore

The West Memphis Three are three men who – while teenagers – were tried and convicted, in 1994, of the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the children were killed as part of a Satanic ritual.

A number of documentaries have explored the case. Celebrities and musicians have held fundraisers in the belief that the three young men convicted of the crime are innocent.

In July 2007, new forensic evidence was presented in the case. A status report jointly issued by the state and the defense team stated: “Although most of the genetic material recovered from the scene was attributable to the victims of the offenses, some of it cannot be attributed to either the victims or the defendants.” On October 29, 2007, the defense filed a Second Amended Writ of Habeas Corpus, outlining the new evidence.

Following a 2010 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding newly produced DNA evidence and potential juror misconduct, the West Memphis Three negotiated a plea bargain with prosecutors. On August 19, 2011, they entered Alford pleas, which allowed them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them. Judge David Laser accepted the pleas and sentenced the three to time served. They were released with 10-year suspended sentences, having served 18 years and 78 days in prison.

THE CRIME

Three eight-year-old boys—Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers—were reported missing on May 5, 1993. The first report to the police was made by Byers’ adoptive father, John Mark Byers, around 7:00 pm. The boys were allegedly last seen together by three neighbors, who in affidavits told of seeing them playing together around 6:30 pm the evening they disappeared, and seeing Terry Hobbs, Steve Branch’s stepfather, calling them to come home. Initial police searches made that night were limited. Friends and neighbors also conducted a search that night, which included a cursory visit to the location where the bodies were later found.

A more thorough police search for the children began around 8:00 am on May 6, led by the Crittenden County Search and Rescue personnel. Searchers canvassed all West Memphis but focused primarily on Robin Hood Hills, where the boys were reported last seen. Despite a shoulder-to-shoulder search of Robin Hood Hills by a human chain, searchers found no sign of the missing boys.

Around 1:45 pm, juvenile Parole Officer Steve Jones spotted a boy’s black shoe floating in a muddy creek that led to a major drainage canal in Robin Hood Hills. A subsequent search of the ditch revealed the bodies of three boys. They had been stripped naked and were hogtied with their own shoelaces: their right ankles tied to their right wrists behind their backs, the same with their left arms and legs. Their clothing was found in the creek, some of it twisted around sticks that had been thrust into the muddy ditch bed. The clothing was mostly turned inside-out; two pairs of the boys’ underwear were never recovered. Christopher Byers had lacerations to various parts of his body, and mutilation of his scrotum and penis.

The autopsies, by the forensic pathologist Frank J. Peretti, indicated that Byers died of “multiple injuries”, while Moore and Branch died of “multiple injuries with drowning”.

Police initially suspected the boys had been raped; however, later expert testimony disputed this finding despite trace amounts of sperm DNA found on a pair of pants recovered from the scene. Prosecution experts claim Byers’ wounds were the results of a knife attack and that he had been purposely castrated by the murderer; defense experts claim the injuries were more probably the result of post-mortem animal predation. Police believed the boys were assaulted and killed at the location where they were found; critics argued that the assault, at least, was unlikely to have occurred at the creek.

Byers was the only victim with drugs in his system; he was prescribed Ritalin (methylphenidate) in January 1993, as part of an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder treatment. The initial autopsy report describes the drug as Carbamazepine, and that dosage was found to be at sub-therapeutic level. John Mark Byers said that Christopher Byers may not have taken his prescription on May 5, 1993.

VICTIMS

Stevie Branch
Grave of Stevie Branch
Christopher Byers
Grave of Christopher Byers
Michael Moore
Grave of Michael Moore
Memorial for the West Memphis Three Victims

Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore, were all second graders at Weaver Elementary School. Each had achieved the rank of “Wolf” in the local Cub Scout pack, and they were best friends.

STEVE EDWARD BRANCH

Stevie Branch (November 26, 1984 – May 5, 1993) was the son of Steven and Pamela Branch, who divorced when he was an infant. His mother was awarded custody and later married Terry Hobbs. Branch was eight years old, 4 ft. 2 tall, weighed 65 lbs., and had blond hair. He was last seen wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt and riding a black and red bicycle. He was an honor student. He lived with his mother, Pamela Hobbs, his stepfather, Terry Hobbs, and a four-year-old half-sister, Amanda. Steve Edward Branch is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Steele, Missouri.

CHRISTOPHER MARK BYERS

Christopher Byers (June 23, 1984 – May 5, 1993) was born to Melissa DeFir and Ricky Murray. His parents divorced when he was four years old; shortly afterward, his mother married John Mark Byers, who adopted the boy. Byers was eight years old, 4 ft. tall, weighed 52 lbs., and had light brown hair. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, dark shoes, and a white long-sleeved shirt. He lived with his mother, Sharon Melissa Byers, his adoptive father, John Mark Byers, and his stepbrother, Shawn Ryan Clark, aged 13. According to his mother, Christopher was a typical eight-year-old. “He still believed in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus”. Christopher Mark Byers is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery East in Memphis, Tennessee.

JAMES MICHAEL MOORE

Michael Moore (July 27, 1984 – May 5, 1993) was the son of Todd and Dana Moore. He was eight years old, 4 ft. 2 tall, weighed 55 lbs., and had brown hair. He was last seen wearing blue pants, a blue Boy Scouts of America shirt, and an orange and blue Boy Scout hat, and riding a light green bicycle. Moore enjoyed wearing his scout uniform even when he was not at meetings. He was considered the leader of the three. He lived with his parents and his nine-year-old sister, Dawn. James Michael Moore is buried in Crittenden Memorial Park Cemetery in Marion, Arkansas.

WEST MEMPHIS THREE VICTIMS MEMORIAL

In 1994, a memorial was erected for the three murder victims. The memorial is in the playground of Weaver Elementary School in West Memphis, where all three victims were second graders at the time of the crime. In May 2013, for the 20th anniversary of the slayings, Weaver Elementary School principal Sheila Grissom raised funds to refurbish the memorial.

CRIME SCENE PHOTOS

SUSPECTS

BALDWIN, ECHOLS, AND MISSKELLEY

At the time of their arrests, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was 17 years old, Jason Baldwin was 16 years old, and Damien Echols was 18 years old.

Baldwin and Echols had been previously arrested for vandalism and shoplifting, respectively, and Misskelley had a reputation for his temper and for engaging in fistfights with other teenagers at school. Misskelley and Echols had dropped out of high school; however, Baldwin earned high grades and demonstrated a talent for drawing and sketching, and was encouraged by one of his teachers to study graphic design in college. Echols and Baldwin were close friends, and bonded over their similar tastes in music and fiction, and over their shared distaste for the prevailing cultural climate of West Memphis, situated in the Bible Belt. Baldwin and Echols were acquainted with Misskelley from school, but were not close friends with him.

Echols’ family was poor and received frequent visits from social workers, and he rarely attended school. He and a girlfriend had run off and later broken into a trailer during a rain storm; they were arrested, though only Echols was charged with burglary.

Echols spent several months in a mental institution in Arkansas and afterward received “full disability” status from the Social Security Administration. During Echols’ trial, Dr. George W. Woods testified (for the defense) that Echols suffered from:

serious mental illness characterized by grandiose and persecutory delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, disordered thought processes, substantial lack of insight, and chronic, incapacitating mood swings.

At his death penalty sentencing hearing, Echols’ psychologist reported that months before the murders, Echols had claimed that he obtains super powers by drinking human blood. At the time of his arrest, Echols was working part-time with a roofing company and expecting a child with his girlfriend, Domini Teer.

CHRIS MORGAN AND BRIAN HOLLAND

Early in the investigation, the WMPD briefly regarded two West Memphis teenagers as suspects. Chris Morgan and Brian Holland, both with drug offense histories, had abruptly departed for Oceanside, California, four days after the bodies were discovered. Morgan was presumed to be at least casually familiar with all three murdered boys, having previously driven an ice cream truck route in their neighborhood.

Arrested in Oceanside on May 17, 1993, Morgan and Holland both took polygraph exams administered by California police. Examiners reported that both men’s charts indicated deception when they denied involvement in the murders. During subsequent questioning, Morgan claimed a long history of drug and alcohol use, along with blackouts and memory lapses. He claimed that he “might have” killed the victims but quickly recanted this part of his statement.

California police sent blood and urine samples from Morgan and Holland to the WMPD, but there is no indication WMPD investigated Morgan or Holland as suspects following their arrest in California. The relevance of Morgan’s recanted statement would later be debated in trial, but it was eventually barred from admission as evidence.

“MR. BOJANGLES”

The citing of a black male as a possible alternate suspect was implied during the beginning of the Misskelley trial. According to local West Memphis police officers, on the evening of May 5, 1993, at 8:42 pm, workers in the Bojangles’ restaurant located about a mile from the crime scene in Robin Hood Hills reported seeing a black male who seemed “mentally disoriented” inside the restaurant’s ladies’ room. The man was bleeding and had brushed against the restroom walls. Officer Regina Meeks responded to the call, taking the restaurant manager’s report through the eatery’s drive-through window. By then, the man had left, and police did not enter the restroom on that date.

The day after the victims’ bodies were found, Bojangles’ manager Marty King, thinking there was a possible connection to the bloody man found in the bathroom, reported the incident to police officers who then inspected the ladies’ room. King gave the officers a pair of sunglasses he thought the man had left behind, and the detectives took some blood samples from the walls and tiles of the restroom. Police detective Bryn Ridge testified that he later lost those blood scrapings. A hair identified as belonging to a black male was later recovered from a sheet wrapped around one of the victims.

INVESTIGATION

EVIDENCE AND INTERVIEWS

Police officers James Sudbury and Steve Jones felt that the crime had “cult” overtones, and that Damien Echols might be a suspect because he had an interest in occultism, and Jones felt Echols was capable of murdering children. The police interviewed Echols on May 7, two days after the bodies were discovered. During a polygraph examination, he denied any involvement. The polygraph examiner claimed that Echols’ chart indicated deception. On May 9, during a formal interview by Detective Bryn Ridge, Echols mentioned that one of the victims had wounds to the genitals; law enforcement viewed this knowledge as incriminating.

After a month had passed with little progress in the case, police continued to focus their investigation upon Echols, interrogating him more frequently than any other person. Nonetheless, they claimed he was not regarded as a direct suspect but a source of information.

On June 3, the police interrogated Jessie Misskelley, Jr. Despite his reported IQ of 72 (categorizing him as borderline intellectual functioning) and his status as a minor, Miskelley was questioned alone; his parents were not present during the interrogation. Misskelley’s father gave permission for Misskelley to go with police but did not explicitly give permission for his son to be questioned or interrogated. Misskelley was questioned for roughly 12 hours. Only two segments, totaling 46 minutes, were recorded. Misskelley quickly recanted his confession, citing intimidation, coercion, fatigue, and veiled threats from police. Misskelley specifically said he was “scared of the police” during this confession.

Though he was informed of his Miranda rights, Misskelley later claimed he did not fully understand them. In 1996, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that Misskelley’s confession was voluntary and that he did, in fact, understand the Miranda warning and its consequences.  Portions of Misskelley’s statements to the police were leaked to the press and reported on the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal before any of the trials began.

Shortly after Misskelley’s first confession, police arrested Echols and his close friend Baldwin. Eight months after his original confession, on February 17, 1994, Misskelley made another statement to police. His lawyer, Dan Stidham, remained in the room and continually advised Misskelley not to say anything. Misskelley ignored this advice and went on to detail how the boys were abused and murdered. Stidham, who was later elected to a municipal judgeship, has written a detailed critique of what he asserts are major police errors and misconceptions during their investigation.

VICKI HUTCHESON

Vicki Hutcheson, a new resident of West Memphis, would play an important role in the investigation, though she would later recant her testimony, claiming her statements were fabricated due in part to coercion from police.

On May 6, 1993 (before the victims were found later the same day), Hutcheson took a polygraph exam by Detective Don Bray at the Marion Police Department, to determine whether or not she had stolen money from her West Memphis employer. Hutcheson’s young son, Aaron, was also present, and proved such a distraction that Bray was unable to administer the polygraph. Aaron, a playmate of the murdered boys’, mentioned to Bray that the boys had been killed at “the playhouse.” When the bodies proved to have been discovered near where Aaron indicated, Bray asked Aaron for further details, and Aaron claimed that he had witnessed the murders committed by Satanists who spoke Spanish. Aaron’s further statements were wildly inconsistent, and he was unable to identify Baldwin, Echols, or Misskelley from photo line-ups, and there was no “playhouse” at the location Aaron indicated. A police officer leaked portions of Aaron’s statements to the press contributing to the growing belief that the murders were part of a Satanic rite.

On or about June 1, 1993, Hutcheson agreed to police suggestions to place hidden microphones in her home during an encounter with Echols. Misskelley agreed to introduce Hutcheson to Echols. During their conversation, Hutcheson reported that Echols made no incriminating statements. Police said the recording was “inaudible”, but Hutcheson claimed the recording was audible. On June 2, 1993, Hutcheson told police that about two weeks after the murders were committed, she, Echols, and Misskelley attended a Wiccanmeeting in Turrell, Arkansas. Hutcheson claimed that, at the Wiccan meeting, a drunken Echols openly bragged about killing the three boys. Misskelley was first questioned on June 3, 1993, a day after Hutcheson’s purported confession. Hutcheson was unable to recall the Wiccan meeting location and did not name any other participants in the purported meeting. Hutcheson was never charged with theft. She claimed she had implicated Echols and Misskelley to avoid facing criminal charges, and to obtain a reward for the discovery of the murderers.

TRIALS

Misskelley was tried separately, and Echols and Baldwin were tried together in 1994. Under the “Bruton rule“, Misskelley’s confession could not be admitted against his co-defendants; thus he was tried separately. All three defendants pleaded not guilty.

MISSKELLEY’S TRIAL

During Misskelley’s trial, Dr. Richard Ofshe, an expert on false confessions and police coercion, and Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, testified that the brief recording of Misskelley’s interrogation was a “classic example” of police coercion. Critics have also stated that Misskelley’s various “confessions” were in many respects inconsistent with each other, as well as with the particulars of the crime scene and murder victims, including (for example) an “admission” that Misskelley “watched Damien rape one of the boys.” Police had initially suspected that the victims had been raped because their anuses were dilated. However, there was no forensic evidence indicating that the murdered boys had been raped. Dilation of the anus is a normal post-mortem condition.

On February 5, 1994, Misskelley was convicted by a jury of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. The court sentenced him to life plus 40 years in prison. His conviction was appealed, but the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.

ECHOLS’ AND BALDWIN’S TRIAL

Three weeks later, Echols and Baldwin went on trial. The prosecution accused the three young men of committing a Satanic murder. The prosecution called Dale W. Griffis, a graduate of the unaccredited Columbia Pacific University, as an expert in the occult to testify the murders were a Satanic ritual. On March 19, 1994 Echols and Baldwin were found guilty on three counts of murder. The court sentenced Echols to death and Baldwin to life in prison.

At trial, the defense team argued that news articles from the time could have been the source for Echols’ knowledge about the genital mutilation, and Echols said his knowledge was limited to what was “on TV”.

The prosecution claimed that Echols’ knowledge was nonetheless too close to the facts, since there was no public reporting of drowning or that one victim had been mutilated more than the others. Echols testified that Detective Ridge’s description of their earlier conversation (which was not recorded) regarding those particular details was inaccurate (and indeed that some other claims by Ridge were “lies”). Mara Leveritt, an investigative journalist and the author of Devil’s Knot, argues that Echols’ information may have come from police leaks, such as Detective Gitchell’s comments to Mark Byers, that circulated amongst the local public. The defense team objected when the prosecution attempted to question Echols about his past violent behaviors, but the defense objections were overruled.

AFTERMATH

CRITICISM OF THE INVESTIGATION

There has been widespread criticism of how the police handled the crime scene. Misskelley’s former attorney Dan Stidham cites multiple substantial police errors at the crime scene, characterizing it as “literally trampled, especially the creek bed.” The bodies, he said, had been removed from the water before the coroner arrived to examine the scene and determine the state of rigor mortis, allowing the bodies to decay on the creek bank and to be exposed to sunlight and insects. The police did not telephone the coroner until almost two hours after the discovery of the floating shoe, resulting in a late appearance by the coroner. Officials failed to drain the creek in a timely manner and secure possible evidence in the water (the creek was sandbagged after the bodies were pulled from the water).

Moreover, Stidham calls the coroner’s investigation “extremely substandard.” There was a small amount of blood found at the scene that was never tested. According to HBO’s documentaries Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000), no blood was found at the crime scene, indicating that the location where the bodies were found was not necessarily the location where the murders actually happened. After the initial investigation, the police failed to control disclosure of information and speculation about the crime scene.

According to Leveritt, “Police records were a mess. To call them disorderly would be putting it mildly.” Leveritt speculated that the small local police force was overwhelmed by the crime, which was unlike any they had ever investigated. Police refused an unsolicited offer of aid and consultation from the violent crimes experts of the Arkansas State Police, and critics suggested this was due to the WMPD’s being under investigation by the Arkansas State Police for suspected theft from the Crittenden County drug task force. Leveritt further noted that some of the physical evidence was stored in paper sacks obtained from a supermarket (with the supermarket’s name printed on the bags) rather than in containers of known and controlled origin.

When police speculated about the assailant, the juvenile probation officer assisting at the scene of the murders speculated that Echols was “capable” of committing the murders,” stating: “it looks like Damien Echols finally killed someone.”

Brent Turvey, a forensic scientist and criminal profiler, stated in the film Paradise Lost 2 that human bite marks could have been left on at least one of the victims. However, these potential bite marks were first noticed in photographs years after the trials and were not inspected by a board-certified medical examiner until four years after the murders. The defense’s expert testified that the mark in question was not an adult bite mark, while experts put on by the State concluded that there was no bite mark at all. The State’s experts had examined the actual bodies for any marks, and others conducted expert photo analysis of injuries. Upon further examination, it was concluded that if the marks were bite marks, they did not match the teeth of any of the three convicted.

APPEALS AND NEW EVIDENCE

In May 1994, the three defendants appealed their convictions; the convictions were upheld on direct appeal.

In 2007, Echols petitioned for a retrial, based on a statute permitting post-conviction testing of DNA evidence due to technological advances made since 1994 which might provide exoneration for the wrongfully convicted. However, the original trial judge, Judge David Burnett, disallowed presentation of this information in his court. This ruling was in turn thrown out by the Arkansas Supreme Court as to all three defendants on November 4, 2010.

JOHN MARK BYERS’ KNIFE (1993)

 

John Mark Byers, the adoptive father of victim Christopher Byers, gave a knife to cameraman Doug Cooper, who was working with documentary makers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky while filming the first Paradise Lost feature. The knife was a folding hunting knife manufactured by Kershaw. According to the statements given by Berlinger and Sinofsky, Cooper informed them of his receipt of the knife on December 19, 1993. After the documentary crew returned to New York, Berlinger and Sinofsky were reported to have discovered what appeared to be blood on the knife. HBO executives ordered them to return the knife to the West Memphis Police Department. The knife was not received at the West Memphis Police Department until January 8, 1994.

Byers initially claimed the knife had never been used. However, after blood was found on the knife, Byers stated that he had used it only once, to cut deer meat. When told the blood matched both his and Chris’ blood type, Byers said he had no idea how that blood might have gotten on the knife. During interrogation, West Memphis police suggested to Byers that he might have left the knife out accidentally, and Byers agreed with this. Byers later stated that he may have cut his thumb. Further testing of the knife produced inconclusive results about the source of the blood. Uncertainty remained due to the small amount of blood and because both John Mark Byers and Chris Byers had the same HLA-DQα genotype.

Byers agreed to and passed a polygraph test about the murders during the filming of Paradise Lost 2: Revelations, but the documentary indicated that Byers was under the influence of several psychoactive prescription medications that could have affected the test results.

POSSIBLE TEETH IMPRINTS (1996–1997)

Following their convictions, Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin submitted imprints of their teeth. These were compared to the alleged bite marks on Stevie Branch’s forehead that had not been mentioned in the original autopsy or trial. No matches were found. John Mark Byers had his teeth removed in 1997, after the first trial but before an imprint could be made. His stated reasons for the removal are apparently contradictory. He has claimed both that the seizure medication he was taking caused periodontal disease, and that he planned the removal because of other kinds of dental problems which had troubled him for years.

After an expert examined autopsy photos and noted what he thought might be the imprint of a belt buckle on Byers’ corpse, the elder Byers revealed to the police that he had spanked his stepson shortly before the boy disappeared.

VICKI HUTCHESON’S RECANTATION (2003)

In October 2003, Vicki Hutcheson, who had played a part in the arrests of Misskelley, Echols, and Baldwin, gave an interview to the Arkansas Times in which she stated that every word she had given to the police was a fabrication She further asserted that the police had implied that if she did not cooperate with them they would take away her child. She said that when she visited the police station, employees had photographs of Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley on the wall and were using them as dart targets. She also claimed that an audiotape the police said was “unintelligible” (and that they eventually lost) was perfectly clear and contained no incriminating statements.

DNA TESTING AND NEW PHYSICAL EVIDENCE (2007)

In 2007, DNA collected from the crime scene was tested. None was found to match DNA from Echols, Baldwin, or Misskelley. A hair “not inconsistent with” Stevie Branch’s stepfather, Terry Hobbs, was found tied into the knots used to bind one of the victims. The prosecutors, while conceding that no DNA evidence tied the accused to the crime scene, said: “The State stands behind its convictions of Echols and his codefendants.” Pamela Hobbs’ May 5, 2009 declaration in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division indicates that “one hair was consistent with the hair of [Terry’s] friend, David Jacoby”. Additionally, after the Murders my sister Jo Lynn McCauhey and I found in Terry’s nightstand a knife that Stevie carried with him constantly and which I had believed was with him when he died. It was a pocket knife that my father had given to Stevie, and Stevie loved that knife. I had been shocked that the police did not find it with Stevie when they found his body. I had always assumed that my son’s murderer had taken the knife during the crime. I could not believe it was in Terry’s things. He had never told me that he had it.

Also, my sister Jo Lynn told me that she saw Terry wash clothes, bed linens and curtains from Stevie’s room at an odd time around the time of the Murders.

FOREMAN AND JURY MISCONDUCT (2008)

In July 2008, it was revealed that Kent Arnold, the jury foreman on the Echols-Baldwin trial, had discussed the case with an attorney prior to the beginning of deliberations. Arnold was accused of advocating for the guilt of the West Memphis Three and sharing knowledge of inadmissible evidence, like the Jessie Misskelley statements, with other jurors. At the time, legal experts agreed that this issue could result in the reversal of the convictions of Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols.

In September 2008, attorney (now judge) Daniel Stidham, who represented Misskelley in 1994, testified at a postconviction relief hearing. Stidham testified under oath that during the trial, Judge David Burnett erred by making an improper communication with the jury during its deliberations. Stidham overheard Judge Burnett discuss taking a lunch break with the jury foreman and heard the foreman reply that the jury was almost finished. He testified Judge Burnett responded, “You’ll need food for when you come back for sentencing,” and that the foreman asked in return what would happen if the defendant was acquitted. Stidham said the judge closed the door without answering. He testified that his own failure to put this incident on the court record and his failure to meet the minimum requirements in state law to represent a defendant in a capital murder case was evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel and that Misskelley’s conviction should therefore be vacated.

REQUEST FOR RETRIAL (2007–2010)

On October 29, 2007, papers were filed in federal court by Echols’s defense lawyers seeking a retrial or his immediate release from prison. The filing cited DNA evidence linking Terry Hobbs (stepfather of one of the victims) to the crime scene, and new statements from Hobbs’ now ex-wife. Also presented in the filing was new expert testimony that the supposed knife marks on the victims, including the injuries to Byers’ genitals, were in fact the result of animal predation after the bodies had been dumped.

On September 10, 2008, Circuit Court Judge David Burnett denied the request for a retrial, citing the DNA tests as inconclusive. That ruling was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case on September 30, 2010.

ARKANSAS SUPREME COURT RULING (2010)

On November 4, 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a lower judge to consider whether newly analyzed DNA evidence might exonerate the three. The justices also instructed the lower court to examine claims of misconduct by the jurors who sentenced Damien Echols to death and Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin to life in prison.

In early December 2010, David Burnett was elected to the Arkansas State Senate. Circuit Court Judge David Laser was selected to replace David Burnett and preside in the evidentiary hearings mandated by the successful appeal.

PLEA DEAL AND RELEASE (2011)

After weeks of negotiations, on August 19, 2011, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were released from prison as part of a plea deal, making the hearings ordered by the Arkansas Supreme Court unnecessary. The three entered into unusual Alford plea deals. The Alford plea is a legal mechanism that allows defendants to plead guilty while still asserting their actual innocence, in cases where defendants concede that prosecutors have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. Stephen Braga, an attorney with Ropes & Gray who took up Echols’s defense on a pro bono basis beginning in 2009, negotiated the plea agreement with prosecutors.

Under the deal, Judge David Laser vacated the previous convictions, including the capital murder convictions for Echols and Baldwin, and ordered a new trial. Each man then entered an Alford plea to lesser charges of first- and second-degree murder while verbally stating their innocence. Judge Laser then sentenced them to time served, a total of 18 years and 78 days, and they were each given a suspended imposition of sentence for 10 years. If they re-offend they can be sent back to prison for 21 years.

Factors cited by prosecutor Scott Ellington for agreeing to the plea deal included that two of the victims’ families had joined the cause of the defense, that the mother of a witness who testified about Echols’s confession had questioned her daughter’s truthfulness, and that the State Crime Lab employee who collected fiber evidence at the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests had died. As part of the plea deal, the three men cannot pursue civil action against the state for wrongful imprisonment.

Many of the men’s supporters, and opponents who still believe them guilty, were unhappy with the unusual plea deal. In 2011, supporters pushed Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe to pardon Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley based on their innocence. Beebe said he would deny the request unless there was evidence showing someone else committed the murders. Prosecutor Scott Ellington said the Arkansas state crime laboratory would help seek other suspects by running searches on any DNA evidence produced in private laboratory tests during the defense team’s investigation. This would include running the results through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System database. Ellington said that, although he still considered the men guilty, the three would likely be acquitted if a new trial were held because of the powerful legal counsel representing them now, the loss of evidence over time, and the change of heart among some of the witnesses.

FAMILY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT OPINIONS

The families of the three victims are divided in their opinions as to the guilt or innocence of the West Memphis Three. In 2000, the biological father of Christopher Byers, Rick Murray, expressed his doubts about the guilty verdicts on the West Memphis Three website. In 2007, Pamela Hobbs, the mother of victim Stevie Branch, joined those who have publicly questioned the verdicts, calling for a reopening of the verdicts and further investigation of the evidence. In late 2007, John Mark Byers–who was previously vehement in his belief that Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were guilty–also announced that he now believes that they are innocent. “I had made the comment if it were ever proven the three were innocent, I’d be the first to lead the charge for their freedom,” said Byers, and take “every opportunity that I have to voice that the West Memphis Three are innocent and the evidence and proof prove they’re innocent.” Byers has spoken to the media on behalf of the convicted, and has expressed his desire for justice for the families of both the victims and the three accused.

In 2010, district Judge Brian S. Miller ordered Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, to pay $17,590 to Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines for legal costs stemming from a defamation lawsuit he filed against the band. Miller dismissed a suit Hobbs filed over Maines’ remarks and writings implying that he was involved in killing his stepson. The judge said Hobbs had chosen to involve himself in public discussion over whether the convictions were just.

John E. Douglas, a former longtime FBI agent and current criminal profiler, said that the murders were more indicative of a single murderer intent on degrading and punishing the victims, than of a trio of “unsophisticated” teenagers. Douglas believed that the perpetrator had a violent history and was familiar with the victims and with local geography. Douglas was formerly FBI Unit Chief for 25 years of the Investigative Support Unit of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. He stated in his report for Echols’s legal team that there was no evidence the murders were linked to satanic rituals and that post-mortem animal predation could explain the alleged knife injuries. He said that the victims had died from a combination of blunt force trauma and drowning, in a crime which he believed was driven by personal cause.

DOCUMENTARIES, PUBLICATIONS AND STUDIES

Three films, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood HillsParadise Lost 2: Revelations, and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, have documented this case and are strongly critical of the verdict. The films marked the first time Metallica allowed their music to be used in a movie, which drew attention to the case.

There have been a number of books about the case, also arguing that the suspects were wrongly convicted: Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt; Blood of Innocents by Guy Reel; and The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three, edited by Brett Alexander Savory & M. W. Anderson, and featuring dark fiction and non-fiction by well-known writers of speculative fiction. In 2005, Damien Echols completed his memoir, Almost Home, Vol 1, offering his perspective of the case. A biography of John Mark Byers by Greg Day was published in May 2012.

Many songs were written about the case, and two albums released in support of the defendants. In 2000, The album Free the West Memphis 3 was released by KOCH Records. Organized by Eddie Spaghetti of the band Supersuckers, the album featured a number of original songs about the case and other recordings by artists such as Steve EarleTom WaitsL7, and Joe Strummer. In 2002, Henry Rollins worked with other vocalists from various rock, hip hop, punk and metal groups and members of Black Flag and the Rollins Band on the compilation album Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three. All money raised from sales of the album are donated to the legal funds of the West Memphis Three. Metalcore band Zao‘s 2002 album Parade of Chaos included a track inspired by the case named “Free The Three”. On April 28, 2011, the band Disturbed released a song entitled “3” as a download on their website. The song is about the West Memphis Three, with 100% of the proceeds going to their benefit foundation for their release.

A website by Martin David Hill, containing approximately 160,000 words and intending to be a “thorough investigation”, collates and discusses many details surrounding the murders and investigation, including some anecdotal information.

Investigative journalist Aphrodite Jones undertook an exploration of the case on her Discovery Network show True Crime With Aphrodite Jones following the DNA discoveries. The episode premiered May 5, 2011, with extensive background information included on the show’s page at the Investigation Discovery site. In August 2011, White Light Productions announced that the West Memphis Three would be featured on their new program Wrongfully Convicted.

In January 2010, the CBS television news journal 48 Hours aired “The Memphis 3”, an in-depth coverage of the history of the case including interviews with Echols and supporters. On September 17, 2011, 48 Hours re-aired the episode with the update of their release and interviews from Echols and his wife, and Baldwin. Piers Morgan Tonight aired an episode on September 29, 2011, about the three’s plans for the future and continued investigations on the case.

West of Memphis, directed and written by Amy J. Berg, and produced by Peter Jackson, as well as by Echols himself, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Actor Johnny Depp, a longtime supporter of the West Memphis Three and personal friend of Damien Echols, was on hand to support the film in its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012.

Atom Egoyan directed a dramatized feature film of the case, titled Devil’s Knot, released in U.S. theaters on May 9, 2014. The film stars Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.

DEFENDANTS

JESSIE MISSKELLEY

Jessie Misskelley Jr. (born July 10, 1975) was arrested in connection to the murders of May 5, 1993. After a reported 12 hours of interrogation by police, Misskelley, who has an IQ of 72, confessed to the murders, and implicated Baldwin and Echols. However, the confession was at odds with facts known by police, such as the time of the murders. Under the “Bruton rule”, his confession could not be admitted against his co-defendants and thus he was tried separately. Misskelley was convicted by a jury of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. The court sentenced him to life plus 40 years in prison. His conviction was appealed and affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

On August 19, 2011, Misskelley, along with Baldwin and Echols, entered an Alford plea. Judge David Laser then sentenced them to 18 years and 78 days, the amount of time they had served, and also levied a suspended sentence of 10 years. All three were released from prison that same day. Since his release, Misskelley has become engaged to his high school girlfriend and enrolled in a community college to train as an auto mechanic.

CHARLES JASON BALDWIN

Charles Jason Baldwin (born April 11, 1977) along with Misskelley and Echols, entered an Alford plea on August 19, 2011. Baldwin pleaded guilty to three counts of first degree murder while still asserting his actual innocence. The judge then sentenced the three men to 18 years and 78 days, the amount of time they had served, and also levied a suspended sentence of 10 years.

Baldwin was initially resistant to agree to this deal, insisting as a matter of principle that he would not plead guilty to something he did not do. But, he said, his refusal would have meant that Echols stayed on death row. “This was not justice,” he said of the deal. “However, they’re trying to kill Damien.” Since his release, Baldwin has moved to Seattle to live with friends. He is in a relationship with a woman who befriended him while he was in prison. He has stated that he plans on enrolling in college to become a lawyer in order to help wrongfully convicted persons prove their innocence. Baldwin said in a 2011 interview with Piers Morgan that he worked for a construction company and he was learning how to drive.

DAMIEN WAYNE ECHOLS

Damien Wayne Echols (born Michael Wayne Hutchison, December 11, 1974) was on death row, locked-down 23 hours per day at the Varner Unit Supermax. On August 19, 2011, Echols, along with Baldwin and Misskelley, was released from prison after their attorneys and the judge handling the upcoming retrial agreed to a deal. Under the terms of the Alford guilty plea, Echols and his co-defendants accepted the sufficiency of evidence supporting the three counts of first degree murder while maintaining their innocence. DNA evidence at the scene was not found to include any from Echols or his co-defendants.

Echols, ADC# 000931, entered the system on March 19, 1994. Until August 2011, he was incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) Varner Unit Supermax. In prison in 1999, he married landscape architect Lorri Davis. He moved to New York City after his release.

APPEAL

Echols’ mental stability during the years immediately prior to the murders and during his trial was the focus of his appellate legal team in their appeal attempts. In his efforts to win a new trial, Echols, 27 at the time of the appeal, claimed he was incompetent to stand trial because of a history of mental illness. The record on appeal spells out a long history of Echols’ mental health problems, including a May 5, 1992, Arkansas Department of Youth Services referral for possible mental illness, a year to the day before the murders. Hospital records for his treatment in Little Rock 11 months before the killings show a history of self-mutilation and assertions to hospital staff that he gained power by drinking blood, that he had inside him the spirit of a woman who had killed her husband, and that he was having hallucinations. He also told mental health workers that he was “going to influence the world.”

The appellate legal team argued that Echols did not waive his assertion that he was not mentally competent before his 1994 trial because he was not competent to waive it. To assist in the appeals process, Echols’ appellate legal team retained a Berkeley, California-based forensic psychiatrist, Dr. George Woods, to make their case.

Echols’ lawyers claimed that his condition worsened during the trial, when he developed a “psychotic euphoria that caused him to believe he would evolve into a superior entity” and eventually be transported to a different world. His psychosis dominated his perceptions of everything going on in court, Woods wrote. Echols’s mental state while in prison awaiting trial was also called into question by his appellate team.

RETRIAL REQUEST

While in prison, Echols wrote letters to Gloria Shettles, an investigator for his defense team. Echols sought to overturn his conviction based on trial error, including juror misconduct, as well as the results of a DNA Status Report filed on July 17, 2007, which concluded “none of the genetic material recovered at the scene of the crimes was attributable to Mr. Echols, Echols’ co-defendant, Jason Baldwin, or defendant Jessie Misskelley …. Although most of the genetic material recovered from the scene was attributable to the victims of the offenses, some of it cannot be attributed to either the victims or the defendants.”Advanced DNA and other scientific evidence – combined with additional evidence from several different witnesses and experts – released in October 2007 had cast strong doubts on the original convictions. A hearing on Echols’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus was held in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

AFTERMATH

Echols relocated to Salem, Massachusetts with his wife and has no intentions of returning to Arkansas. In an interview with Piers Morgan, he said that he would like to have a career in writing and visual arts.

MEDIA PROJECTS

Echols self-published the memoir, Almost Home: My Life Story Vol. 1 (2005), while still in prison. After his release, he has worked on a number of additional media projects.

MUSIC

  • He co-wrote the lyrics to the song “Army Reserve”, on Pearl Jam‘s self-titled album(2006)
  • Echols and Graves released an album titled Illusions(October 2007).

ART

  • Echols began creating art while on death row as a “side effect of my spiritual, magical practice.” The Copro Gallery in Los Angeles exhibited Echols’ artwork (March 19-April 16, 2016). The focus of the exhibit, entitled ‘SALEM,’ draws attention to the comparison between the historical U.S. Salem witch trialsand Echols’ own experience during a modern-day U.S. witch-hunt known for false accusations of Satanic ritual abuse.
  • On March 23, 2016, Echols gave a presentation about his art processes at the Rubin Museum of Art.

SPOKEN WORD

  • The transcript of Echols’ spoken word performance in The Mothis included in a written compilation of 50 stories from the show’s archives, published in 2013.

WRITTEN WORKS

  • Punkmusician Michale Graves, formerly of The Misfits, has written music to coincide with Echols’ poetry
  • Echols’ poetry has appeared in the Porcupine Literary Artsmagazine (Volume 8, Issue 2)
  • He has written non-fiction for the Arkansas Literary Forum.
  • Since his release, he has published a non-fiction book about both his childhood and incarceration, Life After Death(2012), which includes material from his 2005 memoir
  • He and Lorri Davis, a NYC landscape architect who initiated a correspondence with Echols in 1999 and ultimately became his wife, co-authored Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row(2014)

 

Murder of Dorothy Jane Scott

Dorothy Jane Scott disappeared on May 28, 1980, in Anaheim, California. She had driven two co-workers to the hospital after one had been bitten by a spider. While they were waiting for a prescription to be filled, Scott went to get her car and bring it around to meet them. Her car approached them, but it sped away; neither could see who was driving as its headlights had blinded them. They reported her missing a couple of hours later, after not hearing from her. In the preceding months, Scott had been receiving anonymous phone calls from a man who had reportedly been stalking her. He had threatened to get her alone and “cut [her] up into bits so no one will ever find”.

Dorothy Jane Scott

In June 1980, a man called the Orange County Register, a local newspaper that had published a story on the disappearance, and claimed he had killed Scott. Police believe that the caller was Scott’s killer. From 1980 to 1984, Scott’s mother Vera also received phone calls from a man who claimed that he had Scott or had killed her. The phone calls could not be traced, as the man did not stay on the line long enough. In August 1984, partial remains were found and identified as Scott’s. No arrests have ever been made in her case, which has been called one of the strangest disappearances ever.

Dorothy Jane Scott

Scott was a single mother, living in Stanton, California, with her aunt and 4-year-old son. She was a secretary for two jointly-owned Anaheim, California, stores, one that sold psychedelic items (i.e. love beads, lava lamps) and the other a head shop. Co-workers and friends said she preferred staying at home, was a devout Christian, and did not drink or do drugs. Her parents, who lived in Anaheim, babysat their grandson while Scott worked. Scott’s father, Jacob, said his daughter may have dated on occasion but had no steady boyfriend that the family knew of.

Dorothy Jane Scott And Her Son

PRIOR TO ABDUCTION AND MURDER:

Months before her abduction, Scott had been receiving anonymous phone calls at work from an unidentified male. She told her mother she recognized the voice but could not remember the man’s name. The caller alternately told Scott of his love and devotion and also threatened to kill her. The man also said he had been stalking her, and provided accurate details of her day-to-day life to prove it. Scott’s mother recounted, “One day he called and said to go outside because he had something for her. She went out and there was a single dead red rose on the windshield of her car.”

Scott’s mother said one call especially horrified her daughter. The man reportedly told Scott he would get her alone and “cut [her] up into bits so no one will ever find [her]”. Because of the calls, Dorothy considered buying a handgun; about a week before her disappearance, she began taking karate lessons.

DISAPPEARANCE AND MURDER:

At 9 p.m. on May 28, 1980, Scott was at an employee meeting at work. She noted co-worker Conrad Bostron did not look well and had a red mark on his arm. She and another co-worker, Pam Head, left the employee meeting to take Bostron to the emergency room (E.R.) at UC Irvine Medical Center. Scott then changed her black scarf to a red one and stopped by her parents’ house on the way to the hospital to check on her son. Medical personnel determined Bostron had suffered a black widow spider bite and treated him; Head said she and Scott remained in the E.R. waiting room. At no time, Head said, did Scott leave her side.

Bostron was discharged around 11 p.m. and given a prescription. Scott offered to bring her car to the exit; she did not want Bostron to walk too far in his condition, as he was still not feeling well. Head said Scott used the restroom briefly before heading out to the parking lot.

Head and Bostron filled his prescription and waited at the exit for Scott; when they did not see her after a few minutes they went out to the E.R.’s parking lot. Suddenly, they saw Scott’s car speeding toward them; its headlights blinded them, so they could not see who was behind the wheel. They waved their arms to try to get Scott’s attention, but the car sped past them and took a sharp right turn out of the parking lot. Initially, both thought Scott had an emergency come up with her son. A few hours later, after not hearing from her, Head and Bostron reported Scott missing.

At about 4:30 a.m. on May 29, Scott’s car, a white 1973 Toyota station wagon, was found burning in an alley about 10 miles (16 km) from the hospital. Neither she nor her supposed kidnapper were anywhere nearby.

DISCOVERY:

On August 6, 1984, a construction worker discovered dog and human bones side by side, about 30 feet (10 m) from Santa Ana Canyon Road. The bones were partly charred, and authorities believed they had been there for two years, as a bushfire had “swept across the site” in 1982. A turquoise ring and watch were also found. Scott’s mother said the watch had stopped at 12:30 a.m. on May 29 – about an hour, she said, after Pam Head and Conrad Bostron last saw Scott’s vehicle. On August 14, the bones were identified as Scott’s by dental records. An autopsy could not determine the cause of death. A memorial service was held on August 22.

The motivation for Scott’s abduction and murder is unknown.

MYSTERIOUS PHONE CALLS:

About a week after Scott’s disappearance, her parents received a phone call from an unidentified man who said, “I’ve got her” and hung up. The same man called every Wednesday and said either that he had Dorothy or had killed her. The calls were usually brief, and usually occurred when Vera was home alone. In April 1984, the man called during the evening; Jacob Scott answered, and the calls stopped. After Scott’s remains were found in August 1984, the family started receiving calls again. Police installed a voice recorder at the Scott residence. They were not able to trace the calls, however, because the man never stayed on the line long enough.

A possible motivation in Scott’s murder surfaced June 12, 1980. An unidentified man called the front desk at the Orange County Register (the paper had run a story that day about the case). A managing editor told police the man said, “I killed her. I killed Dorothy Scott. She was my love. I caught her cheating with another man. She denied having someone else. I killed her.” The editor also said the caller knew Conrad Bostron had suffered from a spider bite the night of May 28. He also knew that Scott had been wearing a red scarf; she had changed her black scarf to a red one after the employee meeting. Neither of these details had been published in the June 12 article. The caller also claimed Scott phoned him from the hospital that night. Pam Head disputed that claim, saying she had been with Scott the entire time and she had not made a phone call. Investigators believe the anonymous caller was responsible for Scott’s death.

 

Lizzie Borden – The Murders Of Andrew & Abby Borden

Lizzie Borden

Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Borden

Born: Lizzie Andrew Borden
July 19, 1860
Fall River, Massachusetts, United States
Died: June 1, 1927 (aged 66)
Fall River, Massachusetts, United States
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
Resting place Oak Grove Cemetery

Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was an American woman who gained infamy after being tried and acquitted for the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts.
The case was a cause célèbre throughout the United States. Following her release from prison, where she was held during the trial, Borden chose to remain a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, despite facing ostracism. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected not to charge anyone else with the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden; speculation about the crimes still continues more than 100 years later.

Andrew Borden – Lizzie’s Father
Sarah (Anthony) Borden (Lizzie’s Birth Mother)

Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts to Sarah Anthony (née Morse; 1823 – 1863) and Andrew Jackson Borden (1822 – 1892). Borden’s father, Andrew, grew up in very modest surroundings and struggled financially as a young man, despite being the descendant of wealthy and influential residents. He eventually prospered in the manufacture and sale of furniture and caskets and went on to become a successful property developer. He directed several textile mills, including the Globe Yarn Mill Company, Troy Cotton, and Woolen Manufacturing Company. He also owned a considerable amount of commercial property and was both president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co. At the time of his death, his estate was valued at $300,000 (equivalent to $8,170,000 in 2017).

Despite his wealth, Andrew was known for his frugality. For instance, the Borden home lacked indoor plumbing and electricity. The residence at 92 Second Street (number 230 after 1896) was located in an affluent area, but the wealthiest residents of Fall River, including Andrew Borden’s cousins, generally lived in the more fashionable neighborhood, “The Hill”. The Hill was farther away from the industrial areas of the city and much more homogeneous racially, ethnically and socioeconomically.

Emma Lenora Borden – Lizzie’s Sister

Lizzie and her older sister, Emma Lenora Borden (1851 – 1927), had a relatively religious upbringing and attended Central Congregational Church. As a young woman, Lizzie was very involved in church activities, including teaching Sunday school to children of recent immigrants to the United States. She was involved in Christian organizations such as the Christian Endeavor Society, for which she served as secretary-treasurer and contemporary social movements such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She was also a member of the Ladies’ Fruit and Flower Mission.

Abby Durfee Gray – Lizzie’s Step Mother

Three years after the death of Sarah Borden, Andrew Borden married Abby Durfee Gray (1828 – 1892). During police questioning and inquest, Lizzie stated that she called her stepmother “Mrs. Borden” and demurred on whether they had a cordial relationship. Lizzie believed that Abby was after her father’s money. During the inquest, Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s live-in maid, testified that Lizzie and Emma rarely ate meals with their parents. In May 1892, Andrew killed the pigeons in his barn with a hatchet, believing the pigeons were attracting local children to hunt them. Lizzie had recently built a roost for the pigeons and was upset over their deaths. A family argument in July 1892 prompted both sisters to take extended “vacations” in New Bedford. After returning to Fall River, a week before the murders, Lizzie chose to stay in a Fall River rooming house for four days before returning to the family residence.

Bridget Sullivan – Borden Home’s Maid

Tension had been growing in the family in the months before the murders, especially over Andrew’s gifts of real estate to various branches of Abby’s family. After their stepmother’s sister received a house, the sisters had demanded and received a rental property (the home they had lived in until their mother died) which they purchased from their father for $1; a few weeks before the murders, they sold the property back to their father for $5,000 (equivalent to $136,000 in 2017). The night before the murders, John Vinnicum Morse, the brother of Lizzie’s and Emma’s deceased mother, visited and was invited to stay for a few days to discuss business matters with Andrew. Some writers have speculated that their conversation, particularly about property transfer, may have aggravated an already tense situation.

For several days before the murders, the entire household had been violently ill. A family friend later speculated that mutton left on the stove for use in meals over several days was the cause, but Abby had feared poisoning, as Andrew Borden had not been a popular man. Of note, the Borden’s did have an icebox and some historians believe that the hot weather at the time makes it unlikely it was not used.

Abby and Andrew Borden were murdered at their home on the morning of Thursday, August 4, 1892; Abby between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and Andrew between 10:30 a.m. and 11:10 a.m.

John Morse – Lizzie’s Uncle (Birth Mom’s Brother)

Although cleaning the guest rooms was one of Lizzie’s and Emma’s regular chores, John Morse had slept in the room the previous night, and Abby had gone up to the room to make the bed. According to the forensic investigation, Abby was facing her killer at the time of the attack. She was first struck on the side of the head with a hatchet which cut her just above the ear, causing her to turn and fall face down on the floor, creating contusions on her nose and forehead. Her killer then struck her multiple times, delivering 17 direct hits to the back of her head, until she was dead.

After breakfast, Andrew and Morse went to the sitting room where they chatted for almost an hour. Morse left to visit a relative at 8:48 a.m. and Andrew left for his morning walk sometime after 9 a.m. When he returned at around 10:30 a.m., his key failed to open the door, so he knocked for attention. Bridget went to unlock the door; finding it jammed, she uttered an expletive. She would later testify that she heard Lizzie laughing immediately after this; she did not see Lizzie, but she stated that the laughter was coming from the top of the stairs. This was later considered significant because Abby’s body was visible through the gap between the bed and the floor when climbing the stairs, only becoming hidden by the bed upon reaching the top. Lizzie later denied being upstairs and testified that her father had asked her where Abby was, and she had replied that a messenger had delivered a summons to visit a sick friend. Lizzie stated that she then removed Andrew’s boots and helped him into his slippers before he lay down on the sofa for a nap. (However, in his death photo, his shoes are clearly visible.) Next, she informed Bridget of a department-store sale and permitted her to go, but Bridget felt unwell and went to take a nap in her bedroom instead.

A Rough Drawing Done During Autopsy Of Andrew’s Head
Andrew Borden – Murder Scene
Andrew Borden – Murder Scene
Andrew Borden – Skull

Bridget Sullivan testified that she was in her third-floor room, resting from cleaning windows, when just before 11:10 a.m. she heard Lizzie call from downstairs, “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” (Lizzie always called Bridget Sullivan “Maggie”, the name of an earlier maid.) Andrew was slumped on a couch in the downstairs sitting room, struck 10 or 11 times with a hatchet-like weapon. One of his eyeballs had been split cleanly in two, suggesting that he had been asleep when attacked. His still-bleeding wounds suggested a quite recent attack.

Andrew Borden – Murder Scene

Lizzie’s answers to the police officers’ questions were at times strange and contradictory. Initially she reported hearing a groan, or a scraping noise, or a distress call, before entering the house, but two hours later she said she had heard nothing and entered the house not realizing that anything was wrong. When asked where her stepmother was, she recounted Abby receiving a note asking her to visit a sick friend. She also stated that she thought Abby had returned and asked if someone could go upstairs and look for her. Bridget and a neighbor, Mrs. Churchill, were halfway up the stairs, their eyes level with the floor, when they investigated the guest room and saw Abby lying face down on the floor. Most of the officers who interviewed Lizzie reported that they disliked her attitude; some said she was too calm and poised. Despite Lizzie’s “attitude” and changing alibis, nobody bothered to check her for bloodstains. Police did search her room, but it was merely a cursory inspection; at the trial they admitted to not doing a proper search because Lizzie was not feeling well. They were subsequently criticized for their lack of diligence.

Abby Borden – Autopsy Picture Of Back of Head
Abby Borden – Her Murder Scene
Abby Borden – Her Murder Scene
Abby Borden – Her Murder Scene

In the basement, police found two hatchets, two axes, and a hatchet-head with a broken handle. The hatchet-head was suspected of being the murder weapon as the break in the handle appeared fresh and the ash and dust on the head, unlike that on the other bladed tools, appeared to have been deliberately applied to make it look as if it had been in the basement for some time. However, none of these tools were removed from the house.

Axe Head – Murder Weapon

The sisters’ friend, Alice Russell, decided to stay with them while John Morse spent the night in the attic guest room, contrary to later accounts that he slept in the murder-site guest room. Police were stationed around the house, and later that night an officer saw Lizzie enter the basement and bend over the pails containing her parents’ bloody clothing, an action never explained. The following night, Morse left the house and was swarmed by hundreds of people; police had to escort him back to the house. On August 6, police conducted a more thorough search of the house, inspecting the sisters’ clothing and confiscating the broken-handled hatchet-head. That evening a police officer and the mayor visited the Borden’s, and Lizzie was informed that she was a suspect in the murders. The next morning, Alice Russell entered the kitchen to find Lizzie Borden tearing up a dress. Lizzie explained that she was planning to put it on the fire because it was covered in paint. It was never determined whether it was the dress she had been wearing on the day of the murders.

Alice Russell – Lizzie Borden’s Sister’s Friend

Lizzie appeared at the inquest hearing on August 8. Her request to have her family attorney present was refused under a state statute providing that an inquest might be held in private. She had been prescribed regular doses of morphine to calm her nerves, and it is possible that her testimony was affected by this. Lizzie’s behavior was erratic, and she often refused to answer a question even if the answer would be beneficial to her. She often contradicted herself, such as claiming to have been in the kitchen reading a magazine when her father arrived home, then claiming to have been in the dining room doing some ironing, and then claiming to have been coming down the stairs. She had also claimed to have removed her father’s boots and put slippers on him despite police photographs clearly showing Andrew wearing his boots. The district attorney was very aggressive and confrontational. On August 11, Lizzie was served with a warrant of arrest and jailed. The inquest testimony, the basis for the modern debate regarding her guilt or innocence, was later ruled inadmissible at her trial in June 1893.

A grand jury began hearing evidence on November 7, and Lizzie was indicted on December 2.

Lizzie’s trial took place in New Bedford starting on June 5, 1893. Prosecuting attorneys were Hosea M. Knowlton and future Supreme Court Justice William H. Moody; defending were Andrew V. Jennings, Melvin O. Adams, and former Massachusetts governor George D. Robinson.

PROMINENT POINTS IN THE TRIAL (OR PRESS COVERAGE OF IT) INCLUDED:

Courtroom Of Lizzie Borden Trial

The hatchet-head found in the basement was not convincingly shown to be the murder weapon. Prosecutors argued that the killer had removed the handle because it was bloody. One officer testified that a hatchet handle was found near the hatchet-head, but another officer contradicted this.
Though no bloody clothing was found, a few days after the murder Lizzie burned a dress in the stove, saying that it had been ruined when she brushed against fresh paint.

Lizzie Borden – Jury

According to testimony, the maid, Bridget, went upstairs at around 10:58 a.m. and left Lizzie and her father downstairs. Lizzie told many people that at this time, she went into the barn and was not in the house for “20 minutes or possibly a half an hour”. Hyman Lubinsky testified for the defense that he saw Lizzie leaving the barn at 11:03 a.m. and Charles Gardner confirmed the time. At 11:10 a.m., Lizzie called the maid downstairs, told her Mr. Borden had been murdered, and told her not to go into the room where he died. Instead, Lizzie sent the maid to fetch a doctor.
There was a similar axe-murder nearby shortly before the trial, though its perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country when the Bordens were killed.

Evidence was excluded that Lizzie had sought to purchase prussic acid (for cleaning a sealskin cloak, she said) from a local druggist on the day before the murders when the judge ruled that the incident was too remote in time to have any connection.

Because of the mysterious illness that had struck the household before the murders, the family’s milk and Andrew’s and Abby’s stomachs (removed during autopsies performed in the Borden dining room) were tested for poison none was found.

The victims’ heads were removed during autopsy. The skulls were used as evidence during the trial – and Lizzie fainted upon seeing them – the heads were later buried at the feet of each victim.

Andrew Borden’s Skull
Abby Borden’s Skull

The presiding Associate Justice, Justin Dewey (who had been appointed by Robinson when he was governor), delivered a lengthy summary that supported the defense as his charge to the jury before it was sent to deliberate.

On June 20, after deliberating an hour and a half, the jury acquitted Lizzie.
No one else was charged, and the murders continue to be the subject of research and speculation.

AMONG THOSE SUGGESTED TO BE THE KILLER OR KILLERS BY VARIOUS AUTHORS ARE:

Lizzie herself. Although acquitted at trial, she remains the prime suspect. One writer proposed that she committed the murders while in a fugue state. One prominent theory suggests that Lizzie was physically and sexually abused by her father. There is little evidence to support this, but incest is not a topic that would have been discussed at the time, and the type of methods for collecting physical evidence would have been quite different in 1892.

Bridget Sullivan, perhaps in rage at being ordered to clean windows on a hot day—the day of the murders was unusually hot—and while still recovering from the mystery illness that had struck the household.

Mystery author Ed McBain, in his 1984 novel Lizzie, suggested that Lizzie committed the murders after being caught in a lesbian tryst with the maid. McBain elaborated on his theory in an episode of the 1999 Film Garden Entertainment video series Case Reopened. He speculated that Mrs. Borden had caught Lizzie and maid Bridget Sullivan together and had reacted with horror and disgust, and that Lizzie had killed Mrs. Borden with a candlestick. When her father returned she had confessed to him, but he had reacted to her revelation of the affair exactly as Mrs. Borden had. Enraged, she got one of the hatchets and killed him with it, with Bridget disposing of the hatchet somewhere afterward. In her later years, Lizzie Borden was rumored to be a lesbian, but there was no such speculation about Sullivan, who found other employment after the murders and later married a man. Sullivan allegedly gave a deathbed confession to her sister, stating that she had changed her testimony on the stand to protect Lizzie.

A “William Borden,” Andrew Borden’s illegitimate son, may have tried and failed to extort money from his father. This theory is advanced by Arnold Brown in his book Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter.
Emma Borden, having established an alibi at Fairhaven, Massachusetts (about 15 miles away from Fall River, Massachusetts) comes secretly to Fall River to commit the murders and returns to Fairhaven to receive the telegram informing her of the murders.

William Borden

John Morse, Lizzie’s maternal uncle, rarely met with the family after his sister died, but came to stay with them the night before the murders. He was considered a suspect by police for a period.

After the trial, the sisters moved into a large, modern house in the neighborhood called “The Hill” in Fall River. Around this time, Lizzie began using the name Lizbeth A. Borden. At their new house, which Lizbeth named “Maplecroft”, the sisters had a staff that included live-in maids, a housekeeper, and a coachman. Because Abby was ruled to have died before Andrew, her estate went first to Andrew and then, at his death, passed to his daughters as part of his estate; a considerable settlement, however, was paid to settle claims by Abby’s family (especially Abby’s two sisters).
Despite the acquittal, Lizbeth was ostracized by Fall River society. Lizbeth Borden’s name was again brought into the public eye when she was accused of shoplifting in 1897 in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1905, shortly after an argument over a party that Lizbeth had given for actress Nance O’Neil, Emma moved out of the house. She never saw her sister again. There is further reference to a rumored affair that Lizzie had with this actress Nance O’Neil. This is ultimately what was rumored why the sister moved out. There is also a note about this actress Nance O’Neil – she and Lizzie had know each other before the murders. In text above I mention about a rumor that Lizzie had been caught by Abby Borden with the Maid Bridget. Another variation to this is to exchange Bridget with Nance O’Neil.

Nance O’Neil – Actress That Was Rumored To Have Been Known By Lizzie For A Long Time Before The Murders – AND That Had Had An Affair With Lizzy

Lizbeth was ill in her last year following the removal of her gallbladder; she died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927 in Fall River. Funeral details were not published, and few attended. Nine days later, Emma died from chronic nephritis at the age of 76 in a nursing home in Newmarket, New Hampshire, having moved to this location in 1923 both for health reasons and to get away from the public eye, which had renewed interest in the sisters at the publication of another book about the murders. The sisters, neither of whom had ever married, were buried side by side in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Lizbeth left $30,000 (equivalent to $567,000 in 2017) to the Fall River Animal Rescue League and $500 ($9,000 today) in trust for perpetual care of her father’s grave; her closest friend and a cousin each received $6,000 ($113,000 today) — substantial sums at the time of the estate’s distribution in 1927.

The case was memorialized in a popular skipping-rope rhyme sung to the tune of the then-popular song Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Folklore says that the rhyme was made up by an anonymous writer as a tune to sell newspapers. Others attribute it to the ubiquitous, but anonymous, “Mother Goose”. In reality, Lizzie’s stepmother suffered 18 or 19 blows; her father suffered 11 blows.

POPULAR CULTURE

Fall River Legend, a 1948 ballet based on the case.
“Lizzie Borden,” a song in the 1952 musical and 1954 film New Faces of 1952.

“The Older Sister,” an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Season 1, Episode 17, first aired January 22, 1956), written by Robert C. Dennis and Lillian de la Torre, and directed by Robert Stevens. Set a year after Lizzie was acquitted for the murder of her parents. Ambitious reporter Nell Cutts barges into the home of the Borden sisters Lizzie and Emma in the hopes of an exclusive interview. Cutter’s aggressive questioning causes Emma distress, but it turns out that Emma killed their parents, and Lizzie was merely trying to protect her.

Lizzie Borden, a 1965 opera based on the case.

The Legend of Lizzie Borden, a 1975 ABC film based on the case. Lizzie was played by Elizabeth Montgomery. Montgomery and Lizzie Borden were sixth cousins once removed, both descending from 17th-century Massachusetts resident John Luther. Rhonda McClure, the genealogist who documented the Montgomery-Borden connection, said, “I wonder how Elizabeth would have felt if she knew she was playing her own cousin. “One of the gowns worn by Montgomery in the film is on display at the bed-and-breakfast that now occupies the Borden house.

Blood Relations, a 1980 Canadian play centered around the events leading up to Andrew and Abigail Borden’s murder.

“The Fall River Axe Murders,” a short story by Angela Carter, was published in her 1985 collection Black Venus (ISBN 978-0701139643). Another Lizzie Borden story by Carter was “Lizzie’s Tiger”, in which Lizzie, imagined as a four-year-old, has an extraordinary encounter at the circus. The story was published in 1993 (posthumously) in the collection American Ghosts and Old-World Wonders. Two versions of this story have been broadcast as readings on BBC Radio, unabridged on August 26, 1991 read by Liza Ross and abridged on June 29, 2012 read by Debora Weston.

Miss Lizzie, a 1989 novel by Walter Satterthwait, takes place 30 years after the murders and recounts an unlikely friendship between Lizzie Borden and a child and the suspicions that arise from a murder.

Lizzie Borden, another musical adaptation with music and lyrics by Christopher McGovern and Amy Powers, starring Tony nominee Alison Fraser premiered in 1998. A cast album was recorded.

“Me, Myself and Murdoch” an episode of Murdoch Mysteries first aired on March 16, 2010. Murdoch solves the murder of a man and the prime suspect is his daughter in a case that resembles the Lizzie Borden murder. The time period of the episode is concurrent with the actual Lizzie Borden murder.
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, a U.S. television movie that premiered on Lifetime on January 25, 2014 with Christina Ricci in the title role.

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, a limited series and sequel to the above TV movie that premiered on Lifetime on April 5, 2015 (with Ricci again playing Lizzie), which presents a fictional account of Lizzie’s life after the trial.

“Thin Lizzie,” an episode of Supernatural (Season 11, episode 5, first aired November 4, 2015), written by Nancy Won, and directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green. Sam and Dean investigate the murder of a couple in a hotel that used to be the home of Lizzie Borden.

Lizzie, a 2018 American biographical thriller film directed by Craig William Macneill and written by Bryce Kass. The film stars Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jay Huguley, Fiona Shaw, Jamey Sheridan, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare, and Jeff Perry.

Allentown 4 Bear Brook Murders

The Bear Brook murders (also referred to as the Allenstown Four) are four unidentified female murder victims discovered in 1985 and 2000 at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire. The case had never been solved until January 2017. All of the victims were either partially or completely skeletonized; they’re believed to have died between 1977 and 1985. The victims’ faces have been reconstructed multiple times, most recently by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

In 2017, the father of the middle child was identified as Robert “Bob” Evans, who is believed to be responsible for these murders, as well as several others, including the disappearance of his girlfriend in 1981. He was convicted of a different murder and died in prison in 2010.

On November 10, 1985, a hunter found a 55-gallon metal drum near the site of a burned-down store. Inside were the bodies of an adult female and young girl. The remains had been wrapped in plastic (possibly a garbage bag). Autopsies determined both had died of blunt trauma; they were later buried in the same grave.

On May 9, 2000, the remains of two young girls were found near the first discovery site. The bodies were also in a 55-gallon metal drum. The cause of death for these children has not been determined.

Reconstructions of the victims by Carl Koppelman

The woman may have had Caucasian and Native American heritage. She had curly or wavy brown hair and was between 5’2″ and 5’7″. Her teeth showed significant dental work, including multiple fillings and three tooth extractions. The three girls may have also had Native American heritage, with light or white complexions.

The girl found with the adult female was between 5 and 11 years old. She had symptoms of pneumonia, a crooked front tooth and a diastema, two earrings in each ear, and was between 4’3″ and 4’6″ tall. Her hair was wavy and light brown; unlike the woman, she had no dental fillings. She had a gap in her front teeth.

The second-youngest girl (age estimated between 2–4 years old) also had a gap in her front teeth. She had brown hair and was about 3’8″ tall. She had an overbite, which was probably noticeable.

The youngest girl (estimated age 1–3 years old) had long blond or light brown hair, was between 2’1″ and 2’6″ inches tall, and had a gap in her front teeth.

In the early days of the investigation, authorities publicized the case in the media in the United States and some parts of Canada. At least ten possible identities for the victims have been ruled out. Hundreds of leads have been followed, but have not resulted in identification of the killer or the victims.

In June 2013, new versions of the victims’ facial reconstructions were created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These versions incorporated their dental information, showing how their teeth could have affected the appearance of their faces. The reconstructions were created in black and white, as their skin tones and eye colors could not be determined.

In November 2015, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released a third set of reconstructions of the four victims at a news conference at the New Hampshire State Attorney General’s office.

DNA profiling determined the woman, the oldest child, and the 1-to-3-year-old girl are maternally related. This meant the woman could have been the girls’ mother, aunt, or older sister. It’s not clear how or if the 2-to-4-year-old child is related to the other three victims.

New information has also revealed the woman and children lived together in the Northeastern United States between two weeks and three months before their deaths. Investigators have also concluded the woman and two of the children lived in the area where their bodies were found. Advanced forensic testing showed that the 2-to-4-year-old girl probably spent most of her childhood in either the upper Northeast or upper Midwest.

In January 2017, it was announced that Denise Beaudin, missing since 1981, was connected to the murders. Beaudin disappeared from New Hampshire and was not reported missing until 2016. Beaudin’s daughter, who disappeared alongside her with Beaudin’s boyfriend, Robert Evans, resurfaced in California, prompting the report to be filed. Despite the so-called link to the case, Beaudin has been excluded as a possible identity for the adult victim.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children announced that Robert Evans was identified as the father of the middle child, who was not related to the rest of the victims. They elaborated by explaining they believed they “had their offender,” yet they had yet to identify any of the victims or the middle child’s mother. Evans died in prison in 2010, having been serving a prison sentence for murdering and dismembering his wife, California chemist Eunsoon Jun, in 2002.

Keddie Cabin 28 Massacre

In November of 1980, Glenna Sue Sharp (36), known as Sue, moved her family from a tiny, cramped trailer in Quincy, CA, to the comparably large, 3-bedroom cabin 28 in nearby Keddie. A Navy wife who’d been stationed around the country, she and her five kids had been kicked out of their Connecticut home by her abusive husband, James Sharp, in 1979. They moved across the United States, visiting family and old neighbors before settling in Quincy, where they rented the trailer her brother had just vacated. Despite Keddie being a run-down, low-rent railroad town long in decline, the kids had more room in the cabin, and their yard was the forest, stream, and railroad tracks.

Johnny, the oldest at 15, took an unfinished room downstairs, off the small utility area in the partial basement. With no internal stairwell or bathroom, he used the back stairs or front door to access the main cabin, but was otherwise quite happy with his relative independence. The younger boys, Rick (10) and Greg (5), shared a bedroom at the front of the cabin, adjacent to the living room, while Sue and her youngest daughter, Tina (12) shared the rear bedroom opposite the kitchen. In mid-February, the elder daughter, Sheila (14), joined the family after giving birth to a baby in Oregon, which was swiftly put up for adoption. At that time, Sue slept in the twin bed while the girls shared the queen, or sometimes Sue slept on the pull-out couch in the living room by the TV.

Times were hard in Plumas, as they always have been, and Sue had to make ends meet with the $250 she received from the Navy (which just covered rent), food stamps and other social welfare, and the stipend she received for being enrolled in CETA, a federal education program of the era. Sue has been described as quiet, reserved, a woman who primarily kept to herself. An FBI document dated a month after the murders depicted her much as her neighbors had:

“She was not a fancy dresser and was best described by casual associates and neighbors as a loner. Sharp had one close girlfriend, a neighbor woman with the last name of Meeks. Sharp’s only known source of income came from her position as a CETA worker, wherein she was paid to attend school, the Feather River Community College, where she was to learn a business trade. She was described as a good student who studied hard and obtained good grades but who was also a loner and who did not participate in social gatherings such as coffee breaks. She had no other known source of income other than a $250 a month allotment check from the US Navy via her husband. Prior to her death, Sharp had no local criminal record nor was she known to local authorities.”

Sue still managed to date with some frequency and, while her romantic ambitions remain unclear, several of her boyfriends simply seemed at odds with her background and temperament. Plumas is a county of desperate social and economic classes, a place where the American Dream went to die decades ago. Opportunities to better oneself, much less ‘climb the ladder’, are slim to none. Given the pool of eligible men, Sue was not exactly fending off prosperous beaus who appealed to her sensibilities. Religion and drinking have been cited as reasons she broke off relationship. One of her suitors proposed marriage on the first date. According to one report of questionable veracity and dubious intent (seemingly filed to divert attention), Sue was in a vitriolic and abusive relationship with a man shortly before her murder, climaxing in a loud argument in her front yard six weeks prior to the murders, filled with rage and coarse language. Yet another boyfriend was killed a month after the murders, while being chased from a bar by PCSO deputies.

It’s been claimed many key persons of interest either dated Sue, had their advances rebuffed by her, or were simply infatuated with her. Her most recent known boyfriend, Daryl, had been introduced to her a week prior to her death, and they spent much of time with each other in the ensuing days, either at his nearby trailer, or at area bars, playing pool and drinking beer. Their last date was two days prior to the crime, after which Daryl left Keddie to spend his weekend with family in Paradise, CA.

On Sunday morning, April 12, 1981, Sheila Sharp woke up next door at cabin 27, where she’d spent the night with neighbors, the Seabolts. Having decided to attend church with them that morning, at about 7:45 she went to her cabin, 15 feet to the south, to get her Sunday clothes. Upon opening the front door, she saw three bodies on the floor, the furthest away covered with a blanket. She also saw a knife on the floor, between the doorway and the closest body, bent at such an angle she mistook it for an opened pocket knife. She ran, screaming, back to the Seabolts. Sheila and Mrs. Seabolt went to the nearest working phone, across the street at the landlords’ cabin 25, and called the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office.

As PCSO dispatched a car to the scene, Sheila and Zonita Seabolt returned to 27 and, with the help of Zonita’s son, Jamie, knocked on the boys’ bedroom window. Jamie pulled three unharmed kids from that window: Greg, Rick, and neighbor Justin Smartt (12), who had spent the night at 28 on a ‘sleepover’. Jamie then went to the rear of 28, up the stairs, and inside through the back door, which was open or left ajar by the killers. After looking around and searching for survivors, he rejoined the others outside. Soon, PCSO squads would be on hand.

The first member of LE to arrive, shortly after 8 am, was PCSO Deputy Hank Klement, who did a quick search of the cabin, confirming the murders. At 8:25, Sgt. Jerry Shaver arrived and Klement, talking with a group of residents in front of 28, told him there appeared to be a triple murder. After Shaver and Klement entered the front door and reviewed the scene together, Shaver placed Klement on point in front of the cabin. Upon asking the dispatcher to inform sheriff Sylvester Doug Thomas and send out investigators, Shaver began interviewing witnesses. At approximately 8:30 am, PCSO’s Don Stoy was called by dispatch, and told to report to a triple homicide in Keddie. Also informed was Assistant Sheriff Ken Shanks.

At 8:45, Don Davis, Sue’s brother, arrived and met with Shaver in front of 28. Don gave Shaver details on Sue and the family, about her pending divorce and move from Connecticut. Davis also detailed how Sue’s estranged husband, Jim, hadn’t visited the family since November of 1979, and how Sue refused to give Jim the new address or phone number after moving to Keddie. He supplied the names and ages of Sue’s kids, then mentioned Sheila’s baby, giving the baby’s father’s name and address and mentioning he hung around the gaming arcade in East Quincy.

When Shanks and Stoy arrived around 9:30 am, Klement was again inside 28, and came out to greet them. After a briefing from Shaver and Klement, Stoy and Shanks began photographing the crime scene and collecting evidence. Shaver returned to interviewing witnesses in the cabin’s picket-fenced yard, while Klement was dispatched to do a cursory house-by-house welfare check of the area. PCSO went on investigating the crime scene for several days and, while all crime scene reports aren’t available, it’s clear many reports don’t match each other or the facts, and that Stoy’s report (written to cover both his and Shanks’ accounts of events) seems to have been doctored to indicate PCSO immediately understood something evidence shows they didn’t realize for hours: Tina Sharp was missing.

By noon, a California Department of Justice (CA-DOJ) helicopter from Sacramento was hovering over Keddie taking photographs, even capturing on film what appears to be the killers, sneaking out of town the back way to avoid notice. Were either P.A. Crim of Harry Bradley, CA-DOJ Special Agents for the Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence (BOCCI), on the chopper? Either way, two unreliable mafia agents were seemingly instantaneously on-scene, distorting the facts and destroying any chance of arresting suspects or solving the case.

In the front room of cabin 28 were three bodies. Closest and parallel to the front door, supine on the floor, was Johnny’s corpse, his feet inches from the south wall and head nearest to the doorway. Inches away to his left lay the cheap table steak knife which Sheila had noticed. Two feet away and parallel to Johnny’s body lay that of Dana Wingate, a friend who was to sleep over at 28 Saturday night. Laying prone, the head was barely resting on the corner of a cushion which had been removed from the couch. Adjacent to Dana’s body was Sue Sharp’s, on its right side with the head by the base of the couch and feet near Dana’s left arm. Sue’s body was covered with a blanket and sheet, later determined to have come from Tina’s bed.

Johnny’s hands rested on his abdomen, taped tightly at the wrists with several loops of white cloth medical tape. His ankles were wrapped twice and tightly knotted with a white extension cord. The cord stretched neatly parallel to the base of the disturbed TV stand, then turned abruptly 90 degrees, leading to Dana’s ankles, where it was loosely looped once and knotted. Around one of Dana’s hiking boots was one loop of medical tape, and there was also half a loop of tape on his right boot, but the tape appeared to have been broken. Likewise, the tape around his wrists was broken, with the broken bands of tape connected only to his right wrist. The tape around the stronger Dana was also much wider than the tape binding the younger, smaller Johnny.

Sue’s ligatures were, by far, the most complicated. Her wrists and ankles were bound with the narrow med tape relatively loosely. Over the tape on her wrists was a tight loop of electrical cord, knotted several times. Over that was another loop of stronger electrical cord, knotted and connected to a third length of cord which extended to and tightly looped around her ankles. Yet another length of wire superfluously tied her ankles together. The cord between her ankles and wrists was so taut, her legs and knees were drawn together. She was also gagged with a bandana and her panties, with several lengths of med tape applied on top of them.

For more photos including autopsy reports and crime scene photos please go to:

http://www.keddie28.com

https://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f237/keddie-murders-crime-scene-photos-120245/

Belle Sorenson Gunnes – Prolific Female Serial Killer

BELLE GUNNESS
BELLE GUNNESS

Belle Sorenson Gunness, a notorious female serial killer born November 11, 1859 and declared dead April 28, 1908 was born Brynhild Paulsdatter Storseth. She was a Norwegian-American serial killer. Standing six feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds, she was a physically strong woman. She was a big woman. She killed most of her suitors and boyfriends, and her two daughters, Myrtle, and Lucy. She may also have killed both of her husbands and all their children. Her apparent motives involved collecting life insurance, cash, and other valuables, and eliminating witnesses. Reports estimate that she killed between 25 and 40 people. But these numbers may be somewhat small from investigations.

Gunness’ origins are a matter of some debate. Most of her biographers state that she was born on November 11, 1859, near the lake of Selbu in Norway, and christened Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset. Her parents were Paul Pedersen Storset (a stonemason) and Berit Olsdatter. She was the youngest of their eight children. They lived at Storsetgjerdet, a very small cotter‘s farm in Innbygda which was 37 miles southeast of Trondheim, the largest city in central Norway.

YOUNG BELLE
YOUNG BELLE

An Irish TV documentary aired on September 4, 2006, tells a common, but unverified, story about Gunness’ early life. The story holds that, in 1877, Gunness attended a country dance while pregnant. There she was attacked by a man who kicked her in the abdomen, causing her to miscarry the child. The man, who came from a rich family, was never prosecuted by the Norwegian authorities. According to people who knew her, her personality changed after this attack. The man who attacked her died shortly afterwards. His cause of death was said to be stomach cancer. Having grown up in poverty, Gunness took service the next year on a large, wealthy farm and served there for three years to pay for a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

Following the example of a sister, Nellie Larson, who had immigrated to America earlier, Gunness moved to the United States in 1881 and assumed a more American-style name. Initially, she worked as a servant.

BELLE'S SISTER LARSON
BELLE’S SISTER LARSON

 

In 1884, Gunness married Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson in Chicago, Illinois, where, two years later, they opened a confectionery store. The business was not successful; within a year the shop mysteriously burned down. They collected insurance, which paid for another home.

Though some researchers assert that the Sorenson union produced no offspring, other investigators report that the couple had four children: Caroline, Axel, Myrtle, and Lucy. Caroline and Axel died in infancy, allegedly of acute colitis. The symptoms of acute colitis — nausea, fever, diarrhea, and lower abdominal pain and cramping — are also symptoms of many forms of poisoning like strychnine. Both Caroline’s and Axel’s lives were reportedly insured, and the insurance company paid out. An article in The New York Times  in May 7, 1908 states that two children belonging to Gunness and her husband, Mads Sorensen, were interred in her plot in Forest Home cemetery. On June 13, 1900, Gunness and her family were counted on the United States Census in Chicago. The census recorded her as the mother of four children, of whom only two were living: Myrtle, 3; and Lucy, 1. An adopted 10-year-old girl, identified possibly as Morgan Couch but apparently later known as Jennie Olsen, also was counted in the household.

5629310ad0ac5-image
BELLE WITH HER CHILDREN

Sorenson died on July 30, 1900, reportedly the only day on which two life insurance policies on him overlapped. The first doctor to see him thought he was suffering from strychnine poisoning. However, the Sorensons’ family doctor had been treating him for an enlarged heart, and he concluded that death had been caused by heart failure. An autopsy was considered unnecessary because the death was not thought suspicious. Gunness told the doctor that she had given her late husband medicinal “powders” to help him feel better.

Gunness applied for the insurance money the day after her husband’s funeral. Sorenson’s relatives claimed that Gunness had poisoned her husband to collect on the insurance. Surviving records suggest that an inquest was ordered. It is unclear, however, whether that investigation occurred or Sorenson’s body was ever exhumed to check for arsenic, as his relatives demanded. The insurance companies awarded her $8,500 (equal to $240,000 in 2012 dollars), with which she bought a farm on the outskirts of La Porte, Indiana.

In 1901, Gunness purchased a house on McClung Road in LaPorte, Indiana. It has been reported that both the boat and carriage houses burned to the ground shortly after she acquired the property.

As she was preparing to move from Chicago to LaPorte, she became re-acquainted with a recent widower, Peter Gunness, also Norwegian-born. They were married in LaPorte on April 1, 1902. Just one week after the ceremony, Peter’s infant daughter died (of uncertain causes) while alone in the house with Belle. In December 1902, Peter himself met with a “tragic accident.” According to Belle, he was reaching for his slippers next to the kitchen stove when he was scalded with brine. She later declared that, in fact, part of a sausage-grinding machine fell from a high shelf, causing a fatal head injury. A year later, Peter’s brother, Gust, took Peter’s older daughter, Swanhild, to Wisconsin. She is the only child to have survived living with Belle.

Her husband’s death netted Gunness another $3,000 (some sources say $4,000; equal to about $65,200 and $87,500 in 2012, respectively). Local people refused to believe that her husband could be so clumsy; he had run a hog farm on the property and was known to be an experienced butcher; the district coroner reviewed the case and unequivocally announced that he had been murdered. He convened a coroner’s jury to investigate the matter.

Gunness successfully convinced the investigators that she was innocent of any wrongdoing. At the time, Gunness did not mention that she was pregnant, despite the possibility that it might have inspired sympathy, and in May 1903 Gunness gave birth to son Phillip. In late 1906 Belle told neighbors that her foster daughter, Jennie Olsen, had gone away to a Lutheran College in Los Angeles (some neighbors were informed that it was a finishing school for young ladies). In fact, Jennie’s body would later be found buried on her adoptive mother’s property.

Between 1903 and 1906 Belle continued to run her farm. In 1907 Gunness employed a single farm hand, Ray Lamphere, to help with chores.

RAY
RAY

Around the same time, Gunness inserted the following advertisement in the matrimonial columns of all the Chicago daily newspapers and those of other large midwestern cities to attract her victims:

Personal — comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

Several middle-aged men of means responded to Gunness’ ads. One of these was John Moe, who arrived from Elbow Lake, Minnesota. He had brought more than $1,000 with him to pay off her mortgage, or so he told neighbors, to whom Gunness introduced him as her cousin. He disappeared from her farm within a week of his arrival. Next came George Anderson from Tarkio, Missouri, who, like Peter Gunness and John Moe, was an immigrant from Norway.

During dinner with Anderson, she raised the issue of her mortgage. Anderson agreed that he would pay this off if they decided to wed. Late that night, while sleeping in the guest room, Anderson awoke startled to see Belle standing over him, peering into his eyes and holding a candle in her hand. He later stated that the expression on her face was so sinister and murderous, that he let out a loud yell and she immediately ran from the room without uttering a single word. Left feeling terrified and uncomfortable, Anderson somehow knew of Gunness’s intentions to murder him. He quickly jumped out of bed and threw on his clothes. He fled the house without saying goodbye, and as he ran away, he kept looking over his shoulder the entire time, fearing Gunness would come chasing after him. When he finally made it to La Porte still in one piece, he got on the first train headed to Missouri. He never returned for his belongings, nor did he ever speak to Gunness again.

The suitors kept coming, but none, except for the lucky Anderson, ever left the Gunness farm. By this time, she had begun ordering huge trunks to be delivered to her home. Hack driver Clyde Sturgis delivered many such trunks to her from La Porte and later remarked how the heavyset woman would lift these enormous trunks “like boxes of marshmallows,” tossing them onto her wide shoulders and carrying them into the house. She kept the shutters of her house closed day and night, keeping mostly to herself; farmers traveling past the dwelling at night saw her digging with a shovel in the hog pen.

Ole B. Budsberg, an elderly widower from Iola, Wisconsin, appeared next. He was last seen alive at the La Porte Savings Bank on April 6, 1907, when he mortgaged his Wisconsin land there, signing over a deed and obtaining several thousand dollars in cash. Ole B. Budsberg’s sons, Oscar and Mathew Budsberg, had no idea that their father had gone off to visit Gunness. When they finally discovered his destination, they wrote to her; she promptly responded, saying she had never seen their father.

Several other middle-aged men appeared and disappeared in brief visits to the Gunness farm throughout 1907. Then, in December 1907, Andrew Helgelien, a bachelor farmer from Aberdeen, South Dakota, wrote to her and was warmly received. The pair exchanged many letters, until a letter arrived that overwhelmed Helgelien, written in Gunness’ own careful handwriting and dated January 13, 1908. This letter was later found at the Helgelien farm. It read:

To the Dearest Friend in the World: No woman in the world is happier than I am. I know that you are now to come to me and be my own. I can tell from your letters that you are the man I want. It does not take one long to tell when to like a person, and you I like better than anyone in the world, I know. Think how we will enjoy each other’s company. You, the sweetest man in the whole world. We will be all alone with each other. Can you conceive of anything nicer? I think of you constantly. When I hear your name mentioned, and this is when one of the dear children speaks of you, or I hear myself humming it with the words of an old love song, it is beautiful music to my ears.

My heart beats in wild rapture for you, My Andrew, I love you. Come prepared to stay forever.

In response to her letter, Helgelien rushed to her side in January 1908. He had with him a check for $2,900, his savings, which he had drawn from his local bank. A few days after Helgelien arrived, he and Gunness appeared at the Savings Bank in La Porte and deposited the check. Helgelien vanished a few days later, but Gunness appeared at the Savings Bank to make a $500 deposit and another deposit of $700 in the State Bank. At this time, she started to have problems with her farm hand, Ray Lamphere.

In March 1908, Gunness sent several letters to a farmer and horse dealer in Topeka, Kansas, named Lon Townsend, inviting him to visit her; he decided to put off the visit until spring, and thus did not see her before a fire at her farm. Gunness was also in correspondence with a man from Arkansas and sent him a letter dated May 4, 1908. He would have visited her, but did not because of the fire at her farm. Gunness allegedly promised marriage to a suitor Bert Albert, which did not go through because of his lack of wealth.

The hired hand, Ray Lamphere, was deeply in love with Gunness; he performed any chore for her, no matter how gruesome. He became jealous of the many men who arrived to court his employer and began making scenes. She fired him on February 3, 1908. Shortly after dispensing with Lamphere, she presented herself at the La Porte County courthouse. She declared that her former employee was not in his right mind and was a menace to the public. She somehow convinced local authorities to hold a sanity hearing. Lamphere was pronounced sane and released. Gunness was back a few days later to complain to the sheriff that Lamphere had visited her farm and argued with her. She contended that he posed a threat to her family and had Lamphere arrested for trespassing.

Lamphere returned repeatedly to see her, but she drove him away. Lamphere made thinly disguised threats; on one occasion, he confided to farmer William Slater, “Helgelien won’t bother me no more. We fixed him for keeps.” Helgelien had long since disappeared from the precincts of La Porte, or so it was believed. However, his brother, Asle Helgelien, was disturbed when Andrew failed to return home, and he wrote to Belle in Indiana, asking her about his sibling’s whereabouts. Gunness wrote back, telling Asle Helgelien that his brother was not at her farm and probably went to Norway to visit relatives. Asle Helgelien wrote back saying that he did not believe his brother would do that; moreover, he believed that his brother was still in the La Porte area, the last place he was seen or heard from. Gunness brazened it out; she told him that if he wanted to come and look for his brother, she would help conduct a search, but she cautioned him that searching for missing persons was an expensive proposition. If she were to be involved in such a manhunt, she stated, Asle Helgelien should be prepared to pay her for her efforts. Asle Helgelien did come to La Porte, but not until May.

Lamphere represented an unresolved danger to her; now Asle Helgelien was making inquiries that could very well send her to the gallows. She told a lawyer in La Porte, M.E. Leliter, that she feared for her life and that of her children. Ray Lamphere, she said, had threatened to kill her, and burn her house down. She wanted to make out a will, in case Lamphere went through with his threats. Leliter complied and drew up her will. She left her entire estate to her children and then departed Leliter’s offices. She went to one of the La Porte banks holding the mortgage for her property and paid this off. She did not go to the police to tell them about Lamphere’s allegedly life-threatening conduct. The reason for this, most later concluded, was that there had been no threats; she was merely setting the stage for her own arson.

Joe Maxson, who had been hired to replace Lamphere in February 1908, awoke in the early hours of April 28, 1908, smelling smoke in his room, which was on the second floor of the Gunness house. He opened the hall door to a sheet of flames. Maxson screamed Gunness’ name and those of her children but got no response. He slammed the door and then, in his underwear, leapt from the second-story window of his room, barely surviving the fire that was closing in around him. He raced to town to get help, but by the time the old-fashioned hook-and-ladder arrived at the farm at early dawn, the farmhouse was a gutted heap of smoking ruins. Four bodies were found inside the house. One of the bodies was that of a woman who could not immediately be identified as Gunness, since she had no head. The head was never found. The bodies of Gunness’ children were found still in their beds. County Sheriff Smutzer had somehow heard about Lamphere’s alleged threats; he took one look at the carnage and quickly sought out the ex-handyman. Leliter came forward to recount his tale about Gunness’ will and how she feared Lamphere would kill her and her family and burn her house down.

Lamphere did not help his cause much. At the moment, Sheriff Smutzer confronted him, and, before a word was uttered by the lawman, Lamphere exclaimed, “Did Widow Gunness and the kids get out all right?” He was then told about the fire, but he denied having anything to do with it, claiming that he was not near the farm when the blaze occurred. A youth, John Solyem, was brought forward. He said that he had been watching the Gunness place and that he saw Lamphere running down the road from the Gunness house just before the structure erupted in flames. Lamphere snorted to the boy: “You wouldn’t look me in the eye and say that!”

“Yes, I will”, replied Solyem. “You found me hiding behind the bushes and you told me you’d kill me if I didn’t get out of there.” Lamphere was arrested and charged with murder and arson. Then scores of investigators, sheriff’s deputies, coroner’s men, and many volunteers began to search the ruins for evidence.

The body of the headless woman was of deep concern to La Porte residents. C. Christofferson, a neighboring farmer, took one look at the charred remains of this body and said that it was not the remains of Belle Gunness. So, did another farmer, L. Nicholson, and so did Mrs. Austin Cutler, an old friend of Gunness. More of Gunness’ old friends, Mrs. May Olander and Mr. Sigward Olsen, arrived from Chicago. They examined the remains of the headless woman and said it was not Gunness.

Doctors then measured the remains, and, making allowances for the missing neck and head, stated the corpse was that of a woman who stood five feet three inches tall and weighed no more than 150 pounds. Friends and neighbors, as well as the La Porte clothiers who made her dresses and other garments, swore that Gunness was taller than 5’8″ and weighed between 180 and 200 pounds. Detailed measurements of the body were compared with those on file with several La Porte stores where she purchased her apparel.

When the two sets of measurements were compared, the authorities concluded that the headless woman could not possibly have been Belle Gunness, even when the ravages of the fire on the body were considered. (The flesh was badly burned but intact). Moreover, Dr. J. Meyers examined the internal organs of the dead woman. He sent stomach contents of the victims to a pathologist in Chicago, who reported months later that the organs contained lethal doses of strychnine.

Gunness’ dentist, Dr. Ira P. Norton, said that if the teeth/dental work of the headless corpse had been located he could definitely ascertain if it was her. Thus Louis “Klondike” Schultz, a former miner, was hired to build a sluice and begin sifting the debris (as more bodies were unearthed, the sluice was used to isolate human remains on a larger scale). On May 19, 1908, a piece of bridgework was found consisting of two human canine teeth, their roots still attached, porcelain teeth and gold crown work in between. Norton identified them as work done for Gunness. As a result, Coroner Charles Mack officially concluded that the adult female body discovered in the ruins was Belle Gunness.

Asle Helgelien arrived in La Porte and told Sheriff Smutzer that he believed his brother had met with foul play at Gunness’ hands. Then, Joe Maxson came forward with information that could not be ignored: He told the Sheriff that Gunness had ordered him to bring loads of dirt by wheelbarrow to a large area surrounded by a high wire fence where the hogs were fed. Maxson said that there were many deep depressions in the ground that had been covered by dirt. These filled-in holes, Gunness had told Maxson, contained rubbish. She wanted the ground made level, so he filled in the depressions.

Smutzer took a dozen men back to the farm and began to dig. On May 3, 1908, the diggers unearthed the body of Jennie Olson (vanished December 1906). Then they found the small bodies of two unidentified children. Subsequently, the body of Andrew Helgelien was unearthed (his overcoat was found to be worn by Lamphere). As days progressed and the gruesome work continued, one body after another was discovered in Gunness’ hog pen:

~Ole B. Budsberg of Iola, Wisconsin, (vanished May 1907)

~Thomas Lindboe, who had left Chicago and had gone to work as a hired man for Gunness three years earlier

~Henry Gurholdt of Scandinavia, Wisconsin, who had gone to wed her a year earlier, taking $1,500 to her; a watch corresponding to one belonging to Gurholdt was found with a body

~Olaf Svenherud, from Chicago

~John Moe of Elbow Lake, Minnesota; his watch was found in Lamphere’s possession

~Olaf Lindbloom, age 35 from Wisconsin

Reports of other possible victims began to come in:

~William Mingay, a coachman of New York City, who had left that city on April 1, 1904

~Herman Konitzer of Chicago who disappeared in January 1906

~Charles Edman of New Carlisle, Indiana

~Christie Hilkven of Dovre, Barron County, Wisconsin, who sold his farm and came to La Porte in 1906

~Chares Neiburg, a 28-year-old Scandinavian immigrant who lived in Philadelphia, told friends that he was going to visit Gunness in June 1906 and never came back — he had been working for a saloon keeper and took $500 with him

~John H. McJunkin of Coraopolis (near Pittsburgh) left his wife in December 1906 after corresponding with a La Porte woman

~Olaf Jensen, a Norwegian immigrant of Carroll, Indiana, wrote his relatives in 1906 he was going to marry a wealthy widow at La Porte

~Henry Bizge of La Porte who disappeared June 1906 and his hired man named Edward Canary of Pink Lake Ill who also vanished 1906

~Bert Chase of Mishawaka, Indiana, sold his butcher shop and told friends of a wealthy widow and that he was going to look her up; his brother received a telegram supposedly from Aberdeen, South Dakota claiming Bert had been killed in a train wreck; his brother investigated and found the telegram was fictitious

~Tonnes Peterson Lien of Rushford, Minnesota, is alleged to have disappeared April 2, 1907

~A gold ring marked “S.B. May 28, 1907” was found in the ruins

~A hired man named George Bradley of Tuscola, Illinois, is alleged to have gone to La Porte to meet a widow and three children in October 1907 {note name could also have been spelled “George Berry”

~T.J. Tiefland of Minneapolis is alleged to have come to see Gunness in 1907

~Frank Riedinger, a farmer of Waukesha, Wisconsin, came to Indiana in 1907 to marry and never returned

~Emil Tell, a Swede from Kansas City, Missouri, is alleged to have gone in 1907 to La Porte

~Lee Porter of Bartonville, Oklahoma separated from his wife and told his brother he was going to marry a wealthy widow at La Porte

~John E. Hunter left Duquesne, Pennsylvania, on November 25, 1907 after telling his daughters he was going to marry a wealthy widow in Northern Indiana

~Two other Pennsylvanians — George Williams of Wapawallopen and Ludwig Stoll of Mount Yeager — also left their homes to marry in the West

~Abraham Phillips, a railway man of Burlington, West Virginia, left in the winter of 1907 to go to Northern Indiana and marry a rich widow — a railway watch was found in the debris of the house

~Benjamin Carling of Chicago, Illinois, was last seen by his wife in 1907 after telling her that he was going to La Porte to secure an investment with a rich widow; he had with him $1,000 from an insurance company and borrowed money from several investors as well; in June 1908 his widow was able to identify his remains from La Porte’s Pauper’s cemetery by the contour of his skull and three missing teeth

~Aug. Gunderson of Green Lake, Wisconsin

~Ole Oleson of Battle Creek, Michigan

~Lindner Nikkelsen of Huron, South Dakota

~Andrew Anderson of Lawrence, Kansas

~Johann Sorensen of St. Joseph, Missouri

~A possible victim was a man named Hinkley

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RINGS FOUND FROM VICTIMS AT BELLE’ FARM

Reported unnamed victims were:

~a daughter of Mrs. H. Whitzer of Toledo, Ohio, who had attended Valparaiso University near La Porte in 1902

~an unknown man and woman are alleged to have disappeared in September 1906, the same night Jennie Olson went missing. Gunness claimed they were a Los Angeles “professor” and his wife who had taken Jennie to California

~a brother of Miss Jennie Graham of Waukesha, Wisconsin, who had left her to marry a rich widow in La Porte but vanished

~a hired man from Ohio age 50 name unknown is alleged to have disappeared and Gunness became the “heir” to his horse and buggy

~an unnamed man from Montana told people at a resort he was going to sell Gunness his horse and buggy, which were found with several other horses and buggies at the farm

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Most of the remains found on the property could not be identified. Because of the crude recovery methods, the exact number of individuals unearthed on the Gunness farm is unknown, but is believed to be approximately twelve. On May 19, 1908, remains of approximately seven unknown victims were buried in two coffins in unmarked graves in the pauper’s section of La Porte’s Pine Lake Cemetery. Andrew Helgelien and Jennie Olson are buried in La Porte’s Patton Cemetery, near Peter Gunness.

Ray Lamphere was arrested on May 22, 1908, and tried for murder and arson. He denied the charges of arson and murder that were filed against him. His defense hinged on the assertion that the body was not Gunness’. Lamphere’s lawyer, Wirt Worden, developed evidence that contradicted Norton’s identification of the teeth and bridgework. A local jeweler testified that, though the gold in the bridgework had emerged from the fire almost undamaged, the fierce heat of the conflagration had melted the gold plating on several watches and items of gold jewelry. Local doctors replicated the conditions of the fire by attaching a similar piece of dental bridgework to a human jawbone and placing it in a blacksmith’s forge. The real teeth crumbled and disintegrated; the porcelain teeth came out pocked and pitted, with the gold parts rather melted (both the artificial elements were damaged to a greater degree than those in the bridgework offered as evidence of Gunness’ identity). The hired hand Joe Maxson and another man also testified that they’d seen “Klondike” Schultz take the bridgework out of his pocket and plant it just before it was “discovered.” Lamphere was found guilty of arson, but acquitted of murder. On November 26, 1908, he was sentenced to 20 years in the State Prison (in Michigan City). He died of tuberculosis on December 30, 1909.

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On January 14, 1910, the Rev. E. A. Schell came forward with a confession that Lamphere was said to have made to him while the clergyman was comforting the dying man. In it, Lamphere revealed Gunness’ crimes and swore that she was still alive. Lamphere had stated to the Reverend Schell and to a fellow convict, Harry Meyers, shortly before his death, that he had not murdered anyone, but that he had helped Gunness bury many of her victims. When a victim arrived, she made him comfortable, charming him and cooking a large meal. She then drugged his coffee and, when the man was in a stupor, she split his head with a meat chopper. Sometimes she would simply wait for the suitor to go to bed and then enter the bedroom by candlelight and chloroform her sleeping victim. A powerful woman, Gunness would then carry the body to the basement, place it on a table, and dissect it. She then bundled the remains and buried these in the hog pen and the grounds about the house. Belle had become an expert at dissection, thanks to instruction she had received from her second husband, the butcher Peter Gunness. To save time, she sometimes poisoned her victims’ coffee with strychnine. She also varied her disposal methods, sometimes dumping the corpse into the hog-scalding vat and covering the remains with quicklime. Lamphere even stated that if Belle was overly tired after murdering one of her victims, she merely chopped up the remains and, in the middle of the night, stepped into her hog pen and fed the remains to the hogs.

The handyman also cleared up the mysterious question of the headless female corpse found in the smoking ruins of Gunness’ home. Gunness had lured this woman from Chicago on the pretense of hiring her as a housekeeper only days before she decided to make her permanent escape from La Porte. Gunness, according to Lamphere, had drugged the woman, then bashed in her head and decapitated the body, taking the head, which had weights tied to it, to a swamp where she threw it into deep water. Then she chloroformed her children, smothered them to death, and dragged their small bodies, along with the headless corpse, to the basement.

She dressed the female corpse in her old clothing, and removed her false teeth, placing these beside the headless corpse to assure it being identified as Belle Gunness. She then torched the house and fled. Lamphere had helped her, he admitted, but she had not left by the road where he waited for her after the fire had been set. She had betrayed her one-time partner in crime in the end by cutting across open fields and then disappearing into the woods. Some accounts suggest that Lamphere admitted that he took her to Stillwell (a town about nine miles from La Porte) and saw her off on a train to Chicago.

Lamphere said that Gunness was a rich woman, that she had murdered 42 men by his count, perhaps more, and had taken amounts from them ranging from $1,000 to $32,000. She had allegedly accumulated more than $250,000 through her murder schemes over the years — a huge fortune for those days (about $6.3 million in 2012 dollars). She had a small amount remaining in one of her savings accounts, but local banks later admitted that she had indeed withdrawn most of her funds shortly before the fire. The fact that Gunness withdrew most of her money suggested that she was planning to evade the law.

Gunness was, for several decades, allegedly seen or sighted in cities and towns throughout the United States. A local delivery boy who had brought some groceries to the home of Elizabeth Smith, Gunness’ closest friend in La Porte, three days after the fire at her farm, later said he saw Belle standing in Smith’s kitchen. Terrified, however, he didn’t tell anyone for years, and his story was never verified. Friends, acquaintances, and amateur detectives apparently spotted her on the streets of Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. As late as 1931, Gunness was reported alive and living in a Mississippi town, where she supposedly owned a great deal of property and lived the life of a doyenne. Smutzer, for more than 20 years, received an average of two reports a month. She became part of American criminal folklore, a female Bluebeard.

The bodies of Gunness’ three children were found in the home’s wreckage, but the headless adult female corpse found with them was never positively identified. Gunness’ true fate is unknown; La Porte residents were divided between believing that she was killed by Lamphere and that she had faked her own death. In 1931, a woman known as “Esther Carlson” was arrested in Los Angeles for poisoning August Lindstrom February 9, 1931 for his money. Two people who had known Gunness claimed to recognize her from photographs of three unknown children in Carlson possession, but the identification was never proved. Carlson died May 6, 1931 while awaiting trial.

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The body believed to be that of Belle Gunness was buried next to her first husband at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.

On November 5, 2007, with the permission of descendants of Belle’s sister, the headless body was exhumed from Gunness’ grave in Forest Home Cemetery by a team of forensic anthropologists and graduate students from the University of Indianapolis in an effort to learn her true identity. It was initially hoped that a sealed envelope flap on a letter found at the victim’s farm would contain enough DNA to be compared to that of the body. Unfortunately, there was not enough DNA there, so efforts continue to find a reliable source for comparison purposes, including the disinterment of additional bodies and contact with known living relatives.

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Thomas (Tom) Thomoson Death

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TOM THOMOSON – ARTIST

Thomas John “Tom” Thomson (August 5, 1877 – July 8, 1917) was an influential Canadian artist of the early 20th century. He directly influenced a group of Canadian painters that would come to be known as the Group of Seven, and though he died before they formally formed, he is sometimes incorrectly credited as being a member of the group itself. Thomson died under mysterious circumstances on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park.

Thomas John “Tom” Thomson was born near Claremont, Ontario to John and Margaret Thomson and grew up in Leith, Ontario, near Owen Sound. In 1899, he entered a machine shop apprenticeship at an iron foundry owned by William Kennedy, a close friend of his father. He was fired from his apprenticeship by a foreman who complained of Thomson’s habitual tardiness. Also in 1899, he volunteered to fight in the Second Boer War, but was turned down because of a medical condition. Thomson was reputed to have been refused entry into the Canadian Expeditionary Force for service in the First World War also. He served as a fire ranger in Algonquin Park during this time. In 1901, he enrolled in a business college in Chatham, Ontario, but dropped out eight months later to join his older brother, George Thomson, who was operating a business school in Seattle. There he met and had a brief summer romance with Alice Elinor Lambert. In 1904, he returned to Canada, and may have studied with William Cruikshank, 1905–1906. Settling in Toronto, Thomson joined Legg Brothers, a photo-engraving firm. In late 1908/early 1909, Thomson joined Grip Ltd., an artistic design firm in Toronto, where several of the future members of the Group of Seven also worked. In fall 1912, Thomson left Grip with several other designers to work at another Toronto firm, Rous & Mann.

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TOM THOMOSON ON THE LAKE WHERE HE DIED

Thomson first visited Algonquin Park in May 1912. There after he often traveled around Ontario with his colleagues, especially to the wilderness of Ontario, which was to be a major source of inspiration for him. In 1912 he began working, along with other artists who would go on to form the Group of Seven after his death, at Rous and Mann Press, but left the following year to work as a full-time artist. He first exhibited with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1913, and became a member the following year. He would continue to exhibit with the Ontario Society until his death. In 1914 the National Gallery of Canada began acquiring his paintings, which signaled a turning point in Thomson’s career. For several years he shared a studio and living quarters with fellow artists. Beginning in 1914 he worked intermittently as a fire fighter, ranger, and guide in Algonquin Park, but found that such work did not allow enough time for painting. During the next three years, he produced many of his most famous works, including The Jack Pine, The West Wind and The Northern River.

Thomson was largely self-taught. He was employed as a graphic designer with Toronto’s Grip Ltd., an experience which honed his draughtsmanship. Although he began painting and drawing at an early age, it was only in 1912, when Thomson was well into his thirties, that he began to paint seriously. His first trips to Algonquin Park inspired him to follow the lead of fellow artists in producing oil sketches of natural scenes on small, rectangular panels for easy portability while travelling. Between 1912 and his death in 1917, Thomson produced hundreds of these small sketches, many of which are now considered works in their own right, and are housed in such galleries as the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

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WEST WIND

Many of Thomson’s major paintings, including Northern River, The Jack Pine, and The West Wind, began as sketches before being expanded into large oil paintings at Thomson’s “studio”—an old utility shack with a wood-burning stove on the grounds of the Studio Building, an artist’s enclave in Rosedale, Toronto. Although Thomson sold few of these paintings during his lifetime, they formed the basis of posthumous exhibitions, including one at Wembley in London, that eventually brought international attention to his work.

Thomson peaked creatively between 1914 and 1917. He was aided by the patronage of Toronto physician James MacCallum, who enabled Thomson’s transition from graphic designer to professional painter.

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FOREST UNDERGROWTH

Although the Group of Seven was not founded until after Thomson’s death, his work is sympathetic to that of group members A. Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, and Arthur Lismer. These artists shared an appreciation for rugged, unkempt natural scenery, and all used broad brush strokes and a liberal application of paint to capture the stark beauty and vibrant color of the Ontario landscape.

Thomson’s art bears some stylistic resemblance to the work of European post-impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, whose work he may have known from books or visits to art galleries. Other key influences were the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, styles with which he would have been familiar from his work in the graphic arts.

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THE JACK PINE

Described as having an “idiosyncratic palette,” Thomson’s control of color was exceptional. He often mixed available pigments to create unusual, new colors making his distinctive palette along with his brushwork instantly recognizable regardless of the subject of his work.

For artist and Thomson biographer Harold Town, the brevity of Thomson’s career hinted at an artistic evolution never fully realized. He cites the oil painting Unfinished Sketch as “the first completely abstract work in Canadian art,” a painting that, whether or not it was intended as a purely non-objective work, presages the innovations of Abstract expressionism.

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APRIL IN ALGONQUIN PARK

Thomson disappeared during a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park on July 8, 1917, and his body was discovered in the lake eight days later.

Thomson’s body was examined by Dr. Goldwin Howland, who concluded the official cause of death was drowning. The coroner, Dr. Arthur E. Ranney, MD, supported Howland’s conclusion that the drowning was accidental. The body was interred in Mowat Cemetery (45°33’46.9″N 78°43’41.5″W 45.563028, -78.728188), near Canoe Lake, the day after his body was discovered. Under the direction of his older brother, George Thomson, the body was exhumed two days later and re-interred in the family plot beside the Leith Presbyterian Church on July 21.

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PINE ISLAND

In 1935, Blodwen Davies published the first exploration of Thomson’s death outside of newspaper accounts from the time of Thomson’s death. As this was a self-published edition of 500 copies, her doubts about the official decision of cause of death did not receive wide attention. A version of her text, edited by A. Y. Jackson, was published posthumously in 1967.

In 1970, Judge William Little’s book, The Tom Thomson Mystery, recounted how—in 1956—Little and three friends dug up Thomson’s original gravesite, in Mowat Cemetery on Canoe Lake. They believed that the remains they found were Thomson’s. In the fall of 1956, medical investigators determined that the body was that of an unidentified Aboriginal.

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TOM TOMOSON CABIN

Since the publication of The Tom Thomson Mystery, theories have proliferated regarding Thomson’s cause of death, including suicide and murder. Proponents of these theories suggest that Thomson may have committed suicide over a woman who holidayed at Canoe Lake being pregnant with his child, or out of despondence over his lack of artistic recognition. Others have suggested that Thomson was in a fatal fight with one of two men who were living at Canoe Lake, or killed by poachers in the park.

In 2007, the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project launched “Death On A Painted Lake: The Tom Thomson Tragedy”, a book-length, bilingual (English/French) web site featuring a selection of over fifty transcribed primary and secondary documents related to Thomson’s death, including documents never before made public, such as Blodwen Davies’ 1931 request to the Ontario Attorney General for opening of Thomson’s Algonquin Park burial site.

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MEMORIAL MARKER

Utilizing, in part, the Great Unsolved Mysteries site transcriptions, Canadian newspaper columnist Roy MacGregor has described his 2009 examination of records of the 1956 remains unearthed by William Little (the remains have been reburied or lost) and concluded that the body was actually Thomson’s, indicating “that Thomson never left Canoe Lake.”

In an essay entitled, “The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson,” published in 2011, Gregory Klages describes how testimony and theories regarding Thomson’s death have evolved since 1917. Assessing the secondary accounts against the primary evidence, Klages concludes that Thomson’s death is consistent with the official assessment of ‘accidental drowning’. Historians Kathleen Garay and Christl Verduyn state, “Klages” forensic archival sleuthing does provide for the first time some degree of certainty regarding this event.”Klages” expanded on these ideas in a book with a similar name, The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson: Separating Fact from Fiction, published in 2016. He particularly challenges MacGregor’s claims, suggesting MacGregor is guilty of misrepresentting evidence.

MEMORIAL PLAQUE
MEMORIAL PLAQUE

Since his death, Thomson’s work has grown in value and popularity. In 2002, the National Gallery of Canada staged a major exhibition of his work, giving Thomson the same level of prominence afforded Picasso, Renoir, and the Group of Seven in previous years. In recent decades, the increased value of Thomson’s work has led to the discovery of numerous forgeries of his work on the market.

In September 1917, the artists James E. H. MacDonald and John W. Beatty, assisted by area residents, erected a memorial cairn at Hayhurst Point on Canoe Lake, where Thomson died. The cost was paid by MacCallum. It can be accessed by boat. In the summer of 2004 another historical marker honouring Thomson was moved from its previous location nearer the center of Leith to the graveyard in which Thomson is now buried. In 1967, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery opened in Owen Sound. Numerous examples of his work are also on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario. Thomson’s influence can be seen in the work of later Canadian artists, including Emily Carr, Goodridge Roberts, Harold Town, and Joyce Wieland.

During the 1970s, Joyce Wieland based a movie (The Far Shore, 1976) on the life and death of Tom Thomson. Journalist Roy MacGregor’s 1980 novel Shorelines (reissued in 2002 as Canoe Lake) is a fictional interpretation of Thomson’s death. Neil Lehto’s Algonquin Elegy (2005) is an ‘historical fiction’ focusing on Thomson’s death. Several songs reference Thomson’s death: Alex Sinclair’s Tom Thomson, and The Tragically Hip‘s “Three Pistols” (1991)—have also been recorded. Several books of poetry inspired by Thomson have also been published: George Whipple’s Tom Thomson and Other Poems (2000), Troy Jollimore’s Tom Thomson in Purgatory (2006), and Kevin Irie, Viewing Tom Thomson: A Minority Report (2012). In 2011, artist George A. Walker created “The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson“, a “wordless narrative told in 109 wood engravings.”

On 3 May 1990 Canada Post issued ‘The West Wind, Tom Thomson, 1917’ in the Masterpieces of Canadian art series. The stamp was designed by Pierre-Yves Pelletier based on an oil painting “The West Wind”, (1917) by Thomas John Thomson in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario. The 50¢ stamps are perforated 13 X 13.5 and were printed by Ashton-Potter Limited.

Hinterkaifeck Farm Killings

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FARM WHERE KILLINGS TOOK PLACE

Hinterkaifeck was a small farmstead situated between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen, approximately 70 kilometres (43 mi) north of Munich. On the evening of March 31, 1922, the six inhabitants of the farm were killed with a mattock. The murders remain unsolved.

The six victims were the farmer Andreas Gruber (aged 63) and his wife Cäzilia (aged 72); their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel (aged 35); Viktoria’s children, Cäzilia (aged 7) and Josef (aged 2); and the maid, Maria Baumgartner (aged 44).

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BARN

Hinterkaifeck was never an official place name. The name was used for the remote farmstead of the hamlet of Kaifeck, located nearly .62 miles north of the main part of Kaifeck and hidden in the woods (the prefix Hinter, part of many German place names, means behind), part of the town of Wangen, which was incorporated into Waidhofen in 1971.

A few days prior to the crime, farmer Andreas Gruber told neighbors about discovering footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm, but none leading back. He also spoke about hearing footsteps in the attic and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, the house keys went missing several days before the murders. None of this was reported to the police prior to the attack.

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MOTHERS BEDROOM

Six months earlier, the previous maid had left the farm, claiming that it was haunted; the new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived on the farm on the day of the attack and was killed hours later.

Exactly what happened on that Friday evening cannot be said for certain. It is believed that the older couple, as well as their daughter Viktoria, and her daughter, Cäzilia, were all lured into the barn one by one, where they were killed. The perpetrator(s) then went into the house where they killed two‑year‑old Josef, who was sleeping in his cot in his mother’s bedroom, as well as the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in her bedchamber.

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STABLE

On the following Tuesday, April 4, neighbors came to the farmstead because none of its inhabitants had been seen for a few days. The postman had noticed that the post from the previous Saturday was still where he had left it. Furthermore, young Cäzilia had neither turned up for school on Monday, nor had she been there on Saturday.

Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department investigated the killings. More than 100 suspects have been questioned through the years, but to no avail. The most recent questioning took place in 1986, fruitlessly.

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MURDERED IN COFFINS – DECAPITATED – HEADS LOST

In 2007 the students of the Polizeifachhochschule (Police Academy) in Fürstenfeldbruck got the task of investigating the case once more with modern techniques of criminal investigation. They came to the conclusion that it is impossible to completely solve the crime after so much time had passed. There is a lack of evidence because the investigation techniques were primitive. In addition, evidence has been lost and suspects have since died. Nevertheless, the students did establish a prime suspect, but did not name them out of respect for still‑living relatives.

The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and interrogated several inhabitants from the surrounding villages, as well as traveling craftsmen and vagrants. The robbery theory was, however, abandoned when a large amount of money was found in the house. It is believed that the perpetrator(s) remained at the farm for several days – someone had fed the cattle, and eaten food in the kitchen, and the neighbors saw smoke from the chimney during the weekend – and anyone looking for money would have found it.

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HINTERKAIFECK MEMORIAL

The death of Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband who had been reported killed in the French trenches in World War I, was called into question. His body had never been found. Despite this, most of his fellow soldiers reported seeing him die and their reports were believed by police.

The day after the discovery of the bodies, court physician Johann Baptist Aumüller performed the autopsies in the barn. It was established that a mattock was the most likely murder weapon and that the younger Cäzilia had been alive for several hours after the assault. Lying in the straw, next to the bodies of her grandparents and her mother, she had torn her hair out in tufts. The corpses were beheaded, and the skulls sent to Munich, where clairvoyants examined them, but to no avail.

 

The six victims are buried in Waidhofen, where there is a memorial in the graveyard. The skulls were never returned from Munich, after having been lost during the chaos of World War II.

The farm was demolished a year after the attacks, in 1923. Close to where the farm was located, there is now a shrine.

There are two movies with the name Hinterkaifeck: one by Hans Fegert from 1981, and one by Kurt K. Hieber in 1991.

Hinter Kaifeck is a mystery thriller from 2009 made by director Esther Gronenborn and producer Monika Raebel, starring Benno Fürmann and Alexandra Maria Lara.

In 2006, German writer Andrea Maria Schenkel wrote a novel entitled Tannöd where she tells the story of Hinterkaifeck using different names for the locations and people involved. Also the novel The Murdered House, written by French writer Pierre Magnan, is allegedly inspired by this case. In this novel, the youngest victim of the massacre survives and returns to the farm as an adult to investigate the crime.

Munich journalist Peter Leuschner wrote two books with the title Hinterkaifeck: Der Mordfall. Spuren eines mysteriösen Verbrechens. in 1979 and 1997. The second book is an extension of the first book. The title means Hinterkaifeck. The Murder Case. Traces of a mysterious crime. In this book, Leuschner quotes the original police files.

~In 2013, the Connecticut-based musician Dan Barrett released an EP called Hinterkaifeck under the name Giles Corey.

~In October 2015, popular podcast “Stuff You Missed in History Class” covered the HinterKaifeck murders.

~In 2016, popular podcast “Stuff You Should Know” did a show on the events that occurred for their pre-Halloween special.

~Subject covered in 2-8-16 Lore Podcast, Episode 27 “On The Farm”

~Subject covered on podcast The Witching Hour: Stories of the Macabre and Unusual, Episode “The Hinterkaifeck Farm Murders”.

~In 2016, the Swedish death metal band Volturyon released “Hinterkaifeck”, a single from their 2016 album “Cleansed by Carnage”.