Writing Truth In True Crime: Joe Sharkey

 

DEATH SENTENCE, written by Joe Sharkey, is one of the best true crime books I ever read. I have read hundreds. He began his writing career as a journalist with the Wall Street Journal and was a columnist for 19 years at the New York Times. He does not consider himself a true crime writer despite having written three nonfiction books about crime. In the three cases he has written about, his interest has been in justice and how law enforcement succeeds or fails to carry it to the courts. I believe he is an investigative journalist in his soul, and sometimes a righteously angry one.

In addition to three nonfiction crime books (see also DEADLY GREED and ABOVE SUSPICION), he has written BEDLAM (St. Martin’s Press,1994), about changes in the mental health delivery system made in the 1990s with tragic results, and is currently finishing WRECKAGE, which examines–through the perspective of one case– the Catholic Church’s coverup of priests’ child molestations. Sharkey co-authored the detective novel LADY GOLD (St. Martin’s Press, 1999) with Angela Amato. He is also in the final stages of writing a screen play about the John List family murder case. Retired now and living in Arizona, Sharkey taught journalism there for several years. He graciously allowed me to interview him in June.

SK:    Hi Joe! Thanks so much for speaking with me today. DEATH SENTENCE (Penguin, 1990) is one of my favorite true crime books; my son gave it to me for my birthday a few years ago and I’ve read it several times. When and why did you first become interested in writing about crime?

JS:     I don’t really think of myself as a true crime writer. I haven’t read much of it, and the three cases when I wrote about it each appealed to me for different reasons. At the time John List [DEATH SENTENCE] murdered his whole family in 1971 in New Jersey, I lived in New Jersey not far from Westfield where the crimes took place.

List was supposedly quite religious and perceived as a “buttoned down” type until–without warning– he murdered his wife, his three teenaged children, and his mother in one brutal spree. Then he high tailed it out of town and created a new life for himself. He lived and remarried in relative obscurity for 18 years until he was finally caught. The case just fascinated me: How did he get away with it for so long? He had left the bodies in the ballroom of his home, and they were not discovered for nearly a month. This was probably one of the last moments in America when you could get away with something like that.

SK:    How DID he manage it?

JS:     He was smart enough to do all the basic things you need to do to start a new life. He fled cross country to Denver immediately after committing the crime. He changed his name to Robert P. Clark and got a new social security number. Then he very carefully kept his head down, avoided attracting attention, and constructed a new life based on the true but misleading narrative that he was a widower.

SK:    Were there other things about the case that drew you in?

JS:     Absolutely. I was horrified by the very act and felt that the only way to tell the story was to plunge in and travel his path to see how this guy built his life and eventually got caught. Other reporters focused on the murders without offering much in the way of context.

John List had a 16-year-old daughter, Patty, whom he considered a rebel. You and I wouldn’t have thought of her that way. She was a typical 1971 kid, maybe a little mouthy sometimes but her main “flaw” was that she didn’t fit List’s idea of what a proper young religious girl ought to be. She probably smoked a little pot and she had friends who were in amateur theater with her. She was the one I think who drove him to this horrible act, although there were other circumstances that accounted for it. Whenever this kid came in the door, she brought the ‘60s with her, a national period of social change and rebellion that he just could not tolerate.

SK:    His wife was not actively involved with her family toward the end, was she?

JS:     No, she was ambulatory but sickly and spent much of her time in bed, and Patty picked up the slack with running the household. Helen List had been formerly married to a Korean War veteran who died. Unknowingly he had given her syphilis, and she was in the final stages of that disease. When List found out, he was enraged but refused to leave Helen.

SK:    Who were you able to interview while you were researching the book?

JS:     I interviewed most of the people involved who were still alive, including Helen’s sister and brother-in-law and many of the friends he made in Denver who had no idea of what he had done at the time. I interviewed the kids in Westfield who knew Patty through the drama club, and her mentor, Ed Illiano, who directed the group. He said Patty had told him her father said he was going to kill her. Illiano told her, “Yeah but all parents say that at some point. They don’t really mean it.” It turned out that List had been quite serious.

Those people—the kids, Illiano, and another teacher Barbara Sheridan, were key to discovering the bodies in that decrepit mansion, almost a month after the murders.

SK:    Did you interview his second wife, Delores Miller Clark?

JS:     As a reporter you have to knock on doors and talk to people as sensitively as possible. I went to Delores’s house. List—now Robert P. Clark– had met this woman at church, and she was totally innocent and knew nothing about John’s life before he arrived in the west. Her world collapsed when he was arrested. She wouldn’t talk to me. I had a sense of a very stricken woman. She was one of the victims in this awful case.

SK:    I read that you are working on a screenplay about the case. True?

JS:     Yeah. True crime has become a really difficult subject to write about thoughtfully today because there is so much quickly written, inadequately researched stuff out there. I find it almost impossible to work in that genre these days. The List case fascinated me because of the kids and the connection with the ‘60s and ‘70s era. The conflict is between two eras: John was a politically and socially conservative World War II veteran. His children, on the other hand, were products of the looser social mores of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the music of the Beatles, the Vietnam War, and so on. I want to get the conflict exactly right in this screenplay.

SK:    List himself wrote a pathetic attempt to exonerate himself, an unedited self-serving book COLLATERAL DAMAGE, with another peculiar man, Austin Goodrich.  List self-published the book. Have you read it?

JS:     No. Austin Goodrich had his own interesting story. He was a C.I.A. spy posing as a journalist during World War II. You know, of course, that murderers develop “fans.” It is not uncommon for people to become pals with murderers. Goodrich visited List in prison. They developed a relationship based on commonalities. They both grew up in Michigan, served in the army at the same time, and went to the same college. Goodrich convinced List that the murders were the result of PTSD. I looked into his military record and his service was a kind of mop-up operation at the end of the world. His claim of PTSD was utterly ridiculous.

The police chief in Westfield said when he got to the scene, he was completely baffled about why John List felt he had to kill his family. He could have just left. They wouldn’t have starved. Things might have been hard, but they’d still be alive.

SK:    I feel as if there are more of these whole-family murder cases in recent decades. There are so many that sadly, there’s a name for them now, “Family Annihilation.” Green Beret surgeon Jeff MacDonald killed his pregnant wife and two daughters in North Carolina in 1970. In 2002 Scott Peterson killed his pregnant wife in California. Chris Watts killed his wife and two daughters in Colorado in 2018, and the next year, 2019, Tony Todt killed his wife, three children, and the family dog in Celebration Florida, a Disney-designed community. If any of the perpetrators had given their victims a choice—I’ll leave or you die—I can’t imagine that any would have chosen death.

JR:    How absurd is that? There is no way you can understand that kind of insanity. It makes me furious. In a new epilogue I wrote for DEATH SENTENCE, I ended with a quote from the famous African American comedian Moms Mabley: “They say you shouldn’t say nothin’ about the dead unless it’s good. He’s dead. Good.” And I meant it.

SK:    Readers will have to buy DEATH SENTENCE to get the rest of the story, because now we are moving on to DEADLY GREED: THE RIVETING STORY OF THE STUART MURDER CASE (Prentice, 1991), your book about the murder of Carol Stuart and her unborn child. What grabbed you about that case?

JS:     That case was a perfect example of how media can affect crime outcomes.

In 1989 Charles Stuart was a successful manager of a fur shop on toney Newbury Street in Boston, and his wife Carol was a tax attorney. They were young, not yet 30, living in an upscale suburban home. He was interested in opening a restaurant, but Carol wanted to start a family. She got pregnant and insisted she wanted to have the baby. Chuck was upset at first, but gradually seemed to warm to the idea. On the night of October 23rd, the couple had just begun to drive home from a childbirth preparation class at Brigham-Women’s Hospital in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston when, Chuck later told police, a young black man forced his way into their car at a light, robbed them, shot his wife, and tried to kill him. Carol died almost immediately, and baby Christopher survived only 17 days in intensive care. Chuck required two surgeries and was hospitalized for many weeks.

The Roxbury neighborhood had been in the news recently and characterized as a crime-ridden black neighborhood. Chuck had cynically seized on that fact to blame the murder on a local black assailant and the police investigated the case accordingly. I hate to pound on the media, but my take was that the press and Boston cops set up an environment of racial hysteria. There was a theme: Boston was a dangerous place because of black crime. Media immediately framed the situation as “Young white suburban couple ambushed in dangerous city.” I got clobbered by the Boston media for saying that, but so be it.

You didn’t have to be a genius to figure out something was fishy. The neighborhood people, the police, and the hospital staff all knew that most street crime was black-on-black, and there were not a lot of white suburban couples wandering around Roxbury late at night.

It is common knowledge that when a wife is killed, the husband is nearly always investigated first. In this case Charles Stuart was lionized, made to sound like a hero. That really stuck in my craw. Charles’s brother Matthew had become unwittingly involved in getting rid of the murder weapon and other evidence, and he eventually turned his brother in to the police. Chuck jumped off a bridge and committed suicide to avoid being convicted of murder and sent to prison.

SK:    Your identification of a racial component in that story was prescient. Now in a world of Black Lives Murder and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, do you think the press would have handled the reporting differently?

JS:     Oh yeah. No question. Boston was an anomaly at the time Carol Stuart was killed. The Boston Globe, the established newspaper, and the Boston Herald, a scrappy tabloid, were fierce competitors. Everyone was scrambling to pound on that same racist narrative. The guy the cops initially arrested certainly wasn’t an angel, but he did not do that murder. Today’s Boston media is much different. They would have covered the case more carefully and in greater depth.

SK:    The setting for ABOVE SUSPICION (Open Road Integrated Media, 2017) was entirely different, set in eastern Kentucky. Did you spend much time there while you were writing the book?

JS:     I spent a lot of time there then, and again later during the filming of the Phillip Noyce movie based on the book.

To expand on your question, I spent enough time there to get a real feel for the atmosphere and to begin to know the people. The folks who live in these rural townships have had their natural resources exploited by outsiders for a hundred-plus years. As a result, they have become independent and fiercely individualistic, and they are delightful people when you get to know them. Their land is the site of the Hatfield-McCoy feud which set up that kind of violence-prone hillbilly stereotype. “If you need shootin’ they’ll shoot you.” I’m just kidding, but they would have said it that way.

SK:   So along comes Mark Putnam, a shiny new FBI agent, with his first assignment to take charge of the Pikeville, Kentucky coal town FBI office. How did that work out?

JS:     He was gung-ho, right out of the academy, a tightly wound boy scout, but unsupervised there and raw. The local police loved him. They saw he was willing to get his hands dirty and thought he was a great cop. His wife was Kathy Ponticelli Putnam who was an utterly honest, remarkable woman. She supported Mark every way she knew how.

His new assignment was to organize and manage this small-town rural office that primarily investigated bank robbery and fraud cases, or in collaboration with the Drug Enforcement Agency, big multistate drug operations. His job-specific training was all on the job.  He soon met Susan Smith, a local drug addict with an unsuccessful history with men and a willingness to serve as Mark’s paid informant, and she quickly became dependent on him. Not only was he her handler in the FBI, but he also became her lover. Kathy Putnam, unaware that Susan was her husband’s mistress, got to know her and they became quite close friends too.

One day Susan asked Mark to go for a drive. When they parked, she announced that she was pregnant with his child and would not agree to an abortion. Mark offered to raise the child with his wife. Susan refused and wanted Mark to leave his wife and marry her. She threatened to reveal their relationship to his wife and the FBI, destroying his career. The situation rapidly spun out of control, and he strangled her in the car. He had been the only man who ever treated her with respect—until he killed her.

SK:    Did he cover his tracks to avoid detection?

JS:     Not well. After he killed her, things got really weird. He stripped the body and put her in the trunk of his car. The next day he had meetings in Lexington, 120 miles away, and he kept her in the trunk until afterwards when he got back to Pikeville. He dumped her body into a remote ravine about 9 miles out of town. Coincidently, soon after, a strip mine bulldozer dumped a load of dirt over the spot where he had covered Susan. He thought  that the body would be found immediately, and his world would end. At first, nothing happened.

Pikeville is one of those places where somebody’s always around to watch the kids. Susan had two at the time, and a friend was taking care of them, and it wasn’t unheard of for her to leave town for a week or so. At first nobody thought much about her disappearance. In the meantime, Mark’s conscience was bothering him: Do you confess or keep your mouth shut and live with your horrible actions, not only saving your life but protecting your family?

He finally told Kathy. She became a woman whose life had just been blown up. “Look,” she said. “Right now, it’s just a missing person report. Without the body, they don’t have a case. We can live with this. You don’t have to confess.” But his conscience would not rest, and he did–to his FBI superiors and the police, and was tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

SK:    Do you think he was motivated to kill Susan by fear of discovery, or anger, or both?

JS:     In his confession he said he was horrified and terrified about Susan’s threat to expose him. He killed her in a fight. Susan was a fighter. He put his hands around her neck, he said just to control her, and somehow, she ended up dead. All I have is his story and that’s as good a story as we’re gonna get.

SK:    Did you stay in touch with Kathy after the trial?

JS:     Yes, I did. I spent a lot of time with her in person and on the phone where we had hours-long conversations. She loved the book. Mark liked it too. He thought it was fair.

SK:    I read somewhere that she had a serious drinking problem. Did you see signs of that?

JS:     It wasn’t clear to me at the time that she was drinking as heavily as she was. Her family notified me when she died at age 38, and I was stunned. If I have any regret, it is that we lost track of each other, and I was not there to be a better friend when she needed one.

SK:    I saw the movie recently and thought it was good. The scenery was so beautiful and the acting terrific. If I had one criticism, it would be that there was a lot of emphasis on the poor, rural, druggy character of the town. Would you have changed anything?

JS:     First I want to say how pleased I am with the film. I was fortunate to be invited to be a consultant on the movie. Director Phillip Noyce is well known for being meticulous about conveying a sense of place, and he spent a lot of time in Kentucky before and while the movie was being made. He got it exactly right. Chris Gerolmo wrote the screenplay, and that’s a tough job. You have 120 pages, triple-spaced, with wide margins to tell a complicated story. If everything I thought should have been in the film was in, the movie would have been nine hours long! You have two hours. Chris got all the important stuff said. Finally, the actors were amazing. Emilia Clark brought Susan Smith from the page to life. I only wish there had been more time to fill out the story of the friendship between Kathy Putnam, a middle-class girl from Connecticut, and Susan Smith, a poor coal miner’s daughter. COVID messed up our schedule, but the movie was finally out in limited released in May. It has basically become an Amazon Prime movie.

SK:    If you had another chance to work on a film, would you do it?

JS:     Definitely. I wish I had gotten involved in filmmaking when I was 35. On a movie shoot, you are surround by filmmaking masters who participate in a collaborative process. Not just directors and writers, but grips, photographers, boom operators, production assistants and a hundred more experts in their fields. The drawback to my doing much screenwriting is that there is a strong screenwriter’s guild, the union for screenwriters, and it’s hard to get in. In an old Steve Martin movie he says about Hollywood, “Out here they can smell 50.” I’m well past 50 and I know what he meant!

SK:    Let’s move backward a little to your book BEDLEM: GREED, PROFITEERING, AND FRAUD IN A MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM GONE CRAZY (St. Martin’s Press, 1994). Why did you write it?

JS:     I had a personal interest because my father-in-law was a psychiatrist, a really good one. It was an investigative work. Nobody read it. In the 1980s asylums were closing. The idea was to transition to a community-based care system. Instead, personal community-oriented care was melted into hospital-based care. A for-profit, rapacious form of psychiatric care took over. Their marketing strategy roped in women and children to 30-day in-patient treatment that insurance plans paid for. Then the patients were dumped without follow-up support.

SK:    That sounds too much like the current system. Let me change directions here and ask you about the only novel you have written. You collaborated with Angela Amato to write LADY GOLD (St. Martin’s Press, 1999). How did that happen, and how did it go?

JS:     My friend Angela was a New York City detective, a real go-getter, a fireplug. In the late 1990s there was a move to bring the mafia down. For a year Angela was assigned to play the girlfriend to a player in the Gambino family. She did her part, but it went haywire. The witness protection status they were counting on didn’t come through. After that she quit the force. There were too many complications to write the case as a true crime. It was largely true but had to be fictionalized to make it publishable.

SK:    Would you collaborate again?

JS:     No. Angela was a gem, but I know enough about collaborations to know how often they go wrong. I was lucky with her and wouldn’t risk a less satisfying relationship with another writer.

SK:    Are you finishing WRECKAGE now? It looks like you are centered on one particular victim.

JS:     Yeah. I’m still working on it. The book centers on the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandal. I have a friend here in Arizona who works on death penalty investigations and worked on this one kid’s case. He was a battered 11-year-old boy in Boston whose aunt connected him as an alter boy with a priest there, Father Gagin, later known to have abused that child and many other boys. Immediately after those encounters the nephew sprang into a life of crime, including attempted murder. Sentenced to prison, he told the warden “You can put me with anybody in a cell, but if you put me with a child molester, I’ll kill him.” They did and he did. Two years later, the pattern repeated itself. My friend eventually got his client’s sentence reduced from death row to life in prison without a parole option.

The problem is how do you build a book about a character like that? I’m an old Catholic school boy from Philadelphia. “Wreckage” is an appropriate description of what is still happening. Nothing has been settled. Jimmy Breslin said, “Nobody leaves the Catholic Church.” You don’t ever get out.

SK:    I went to Catholic schools from first grade through twelfth, then I entered the convent and stayed for a week. I know what you mean! Now, changing subjects again, I know you taught journalism for some years in Arizona. How was that?

JS:     I enjoyed teaching journalism a lot. In recent years, though, I’ve begun to wonder if I was teaching 1986 skills that were no longer useful. Some of my friends here in Arizona worked for the New York Times and Boston Globe and the Washington Post. We often talk about those days, and it was great fun. We had a good run and rode the wave from the late ‘60s through the 1990s.

The kids now are bright, but they don’t read the newspaper.

SK:    I don’t like to hear that. Thank you so much for spending this time with me, Joe. I look forward to reading WRECKAGE [he laughs and murmurs ‘So do I’] and watching DEATH SENTENCE on the big screen.

Krauseneck Ax Murder Update And More

Cathy and Jim Krauseneck with baby daughter Sara, circa 1979-80

Krauseneck Case Update

See the website http://www.krausneck.com for a more complete history of the case. That site is produced by journalists Nancy Monaghan and Laurie Bennett who are writing a book about the case. Also, I have written articles about the case and Nancy Monaghan’s involvement in writing about it which are available at the Archive here. The posts are dated June 22, 2020 and April 5, 2021.

James Krauseneck’s arrest–37 years after the crime was committed– for his wife’s 1982 ax murder continues to wind its way through the New York State court system. Krauseneck was indicted on one count of first degree murder by a county grand jury late in 2019 based on evidence gleaned from an FBI cold case review and the contents of 2018 interviews with Krauseneck and his daughter, Sara K. Young. He was released on bail following his arrest and returned to his home in Arizona. A trial date originally set for January 2021 was postponed due to Covid.

In June 2021, New York State Supreme Court 7th District Judge Charles Schiano Jr. heard four days of pre-trial motions made by James Krauseneck’s defense attorneys, Michael Wolford and William Easton, and expert witness testimony presented by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. Defense motions have argued that the Brighton Police department failed to investigate suspects other than Jim Krauseneck, presented their own expert testimony conflicting with a prosecution expert’s testimony about the time of death, and have argued that the prosecution cannot produce new evidence that was unavailable when the crime was committed, asking that the case therefore be dismissed. Prosecution witnesses rebutted defense claims. Presiding Judge Schiano is currently reviewing those motions and the additional witnesses’ testimony.

Before a trial date can be scheduled, the judge will hold one final proceeding, a Huntley Hearing, to consider the legal admissibility of some statements that were not made in a courtroom. The Hearing is expected to be held later this month.

In summary, here are some of my own unanswered questions: If Krauseneck returned from work at 5 p.m. as he testified, why did it take him an hour to carry his toddler daughter across the street at about 6 p.m., as his neighbor told detectives at the time, to ask her to call police? Why didn’t he or his family members maintain contact with Brighton police about the status of the investigation? Doesn’t it seem unusual that he closed the family dog (who was not heard by neighbors to bark during the crime) in the basement before he left for work? Why would anyone expect Sara Krauseneck Young to ever think her father– the parent who raised her from age 4 and selected all the information she ever heard about her mother’s murder– might be guilty of the crime? I’ll save the rest of my questions until the legal proceedings have concluded!

True Crime Mama Site Changes

If you are a long-time follower, the posts you may have seen in the last few days may seem familiars. If so, you are not losing your mind! –I am re-arranging the site by subject categories and have changed some titles to better reflect their content. Thanks so much for reading!

I want to increase my readship and encourage readers to stay on the site longer, so I will be adding some different types of content–like book reviews of true crime works and more digital video content– in coming weeks.

Stay tuned, and please encourage people you know who may be interested to check out the site and become a Follower. I am actively seeking a book publisher now and understand that a vibrant social media presence will help me with that. Stay well, get vaccinated, and keep reading everything, everywhere!

Pure Evil: William Edward Hickman and Israel Keyes

left and center, William Edward Hicks; right, Israel Keyes

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS ACCOUNTS OF HORRIFYING GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, SOME OF IT INVOLVING A CHILD VICTIM. IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR ALL AUDIENCES.

More details about each of these murderers is easily available on the internet and in many excellent true crime books, blogs, and podcasts. One source I highly recommend is Deranged LA Crimes, the blog site produced by LA writer, actor, and social historian Joan Renner, where she discussed the Hickman case among many other LA-based crimes. Black Lyon Publishing LLC has launched a new line of true crime books, all of which are very well-written and cover cases not widely known otherwise.

TRUE CRIME fascinates me because I want to understand what separates the psyche of people who kill with no obvious motive from “the rest of us.” Twenty-first century psychiatric opinion suggests that multiple factors combine in some people to create this criminal personality. Deprived childhood is not sufficient, nor are genetic factors. Three motives seem to dominate: A desire to exercise power over the victims, lust, and monetary gain. Men are statistically more likely to kill for the first two reasons; women kill most often for monetary gain.

William Edward Hickman and Israel Keyes, I think, killed for an altogether different reason: They got pleasure from causing their victims pain, terror, and death. They were evil human beings.

William Edward Hickman and the Marion Parker Murder

12-year-old Marion Parker
Telegram to Marion Parker’s Father Sent by William Edward Hickman aka “George Fox”
Parcels containing Marion Parks’s Body Parts Found in Elysian Park
Ransom note from W.E. Hickman to Perry Parker

William Edward Hickman was a handsome young man who excelled in school and participated in numerous extra curricular activities. He was one of five children raised by his mother Eva after his father deserted the family. After graduating from high school, he wanted to go to college but did not immediately have sufficient financial resources. To expand his bank account, he committed numerous armed robberies—at least one of which he was convicted—and killed one of his victims but was not caught in that case.

Hickman worked briefly at a Los Angeles bank but was fired when he stole and forged $400 in checks. Perry Parker was an officer at the bank and the father of twin 12-year-old daughters, Marion and Marjorie. In December 1927, Hickman, at the time age 19, followed the twins from their home to Mt. Vernon Junior High School. Later that morning he appeared at the school office where he introduced himself with a false name and reported that he was a bank employee and had been sent by Perry Parker who had been seriously injured in an auto accident and was asking for his daughter. He was well-dressed and courteous according to the school secretary and a teacher who asked him which daughter Parker wanted to see. “The younger one,” Hickman said, unaware that the girls were twins. When told, he said “the smaller one.” Marion was summoned and Hickman knelt at her level and explained why he was there. Marion began to cry, and he comforted her by assuring he would take her to her father. They left without incident.

Mrs. Parker was immediately alarmed when Marjorie returned from school alone and notified her husband who then called police. That evening the Parkers received a telegram telling them to “do nothing” and await further instructions. Other telegrams and a letter followed shortly after. Parker was directed to obtain $1,500 in twenty-dollar gold certificates and bring them to a location where Hickman would them swap the ransom for Marion. The Parkers were warned not to notify police, or they would never see their daughter again. A handwritten postscript from Marion was included with the letter: “Daddy, please do what this man tells you, or he’ll kill me if you don’t. Your loving daughter, Marion Parker.”

After abducting Marion from her school, Hickman drove aimlessly around LA with Marion in the car and later told police that he stopped to take her to an afternoon movie. They returned to his apartment at the Bellevue Arms where he tied her to a chair while he negotiated with her parents over a period of two days. He later told police that he and Marion conversed and became quite well acquainted, and that she had not been frightened.

Eventually she began to insist rather loudly that she be released. Aggravated, he strangled her from behind with a towel, then dragged her into his bathroom and laid her in the tub. He put a recording of “Bye, Bye, Pretty Baby,” on his phonograph and listened while he disemboweled and dismembered her corpse. He was not certain she was dead when he began.

Afterwards he thought about what he had done and decided her father might insist on seeing her before he released the ransom money. He reassembled her head and torso, affixed wire around her hair to which he attached her eyelids so her eyes would be open to appear lifelike, then he wrapped her body in a blanket, propped it in the passenger’s seat of his car, and drove to the appointed street to meet Perry Parker.

Parker had arrived before Hickman. The latter drove up parallel to Parker’s car and rolled down his window, extending a loaded shotgun and demanding the cash. Parker saw Marion in the dark car and addressed her, but she did not respond. He thought she might have been drugged with Chloroform. He passed the money to Hickman who then directed him to follow while he released Marion. He drove a few hundred feet forward, leaned over and opened the passenger side door and rolled Marion onto a lawn adjacent to the road. Perry parked quickly and rushed to Marion, gathering her in his arms before he realized she was no longer alive.

The medical examiner determined that Marion had been dead for at least 12 hours. Her limbs were missing, and her body cavity had been stuffed with a towel bearing the name of Hickman’s apartment building. The following day detectives identified the missing body parts and organs scattered and wrapped neatly in newspaper throughout nearby Elysian Park.

Hickman left LA quickly, driving 1,700 miles to Pendleton Oregon where he was apprehended driving a stolen car and returned to California where he was tried and convicted of Marion Parker’s murder. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging at San Quentin Prison, a sentence that was carried out in the fall of 1928.

His motive for the kidnapping was, he testified at trial, that he needed money for college. He said he bore no malice toward Perry and had not intended to hurt Marion. Her parents mourned her for the rest of their lives.

Author Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged) patterned several of her protagonists after William Edward Hickman whom she greatly admired although she said she did not approve of the murder.

Israel Keyes and His Final Victim, Samantha Koenig

Security footage of Samantha Koenig at Common Grounds Coffee Shop just before kidnapping
18-year-old Samantha Koenig
Israel Keyes — He could have been the boy next door
With ransom note left at Conner’s Lake Park. Samantha had been dead for 2 weeks when photo was taken.

When he was apprehended after confessing to 11 homicides committed between 2000 and 2010, Israel Keyes told detectives he had not patterned his behavior on any other serial killer. While there is no evidence that he knew the details of William Edward Hickman’s case, these men were cut from the same cloth.

Like Hickman, Keyes was handsome, sociable, and intelligent. He was born the second of ten children to Heidi and John Keyes in Utah in 1978. Theirs was an unusual family. They did not interact with their neighbors, were opposed to government interference in personal lives, homeschooled all the children, belonged to a fundamental Christian white supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic church, and disavowed modern life—living in a crude 2-room cabin John built in an isolated site without plumbing or electricity. Like many serial killers, Israel enjoyed torturing small animals. He was fascinated by serial killers. By the age of 14, he realized that things that did not bother him were much more disturbing to his peers.

He joined the army where he served without incident and was honorably discharged in 2001. By all accounts, he lived quite an ordinary life for the next ten years. He lived with Tammie Hawkins, a woman he met online, and they had a daughter together who may have been named Sarah. The relationship did not last, though, and he moved to Anchorage Alaska with nurse practitioner Kimberly Anderson. Keyes had shared custody of his daughter, and she lived with him and Kimberly one year, then with her mother the next.

Keyes was unique in the annals of serial killers; he organized the means to his crimes before he selected his victims. He assembled what he dubbed “kill caches,” which consisted of 5-gallon orange buckets he bought at Home Depot and filled with firearms, ammunition, large knives, rope, tape, cash, and Drano. He criss-crossed the United States and buried the kill kits in remote locations which he memorized. When he felt the urge to kill, he traveled to those areas by air or car and scouted potential victims. He had no “type.” Keyes killed people who were young, old, male, female, and no particular body type or physical characteristic.

By 2012, after having committed at least 10 undetected murders and numerous armed robberies to support his lifestyle, Keyes’s psyche began to unravel. Unlike his previous crimes, his last was committed close to home. Like Hickman, he abducted his victim and tried to collect ransom from her family. Samantha Koenig was an 18-year-old barista who worked the night shift at a tiny coffee kiosk located in a commercial parking lot. As she was closing for the night about 11:30 p.m. on February 1st, her final customer was Israel Keyes, who ordered an Americano coffee. When she produced it, Keyes pointed a gun at her, climbed through the order window, and forced her to his car where he secured her hands. He used her cell phone to text her employer, notifying him that she would be out of town for the weekend, and her boyfriend Dwayne to explain she was upset by a recent disagreement they had and would be going away with friends for a few days. Then he assured Samantha that this was only a kidnapping, and that as soon as he collected the ransom, he would set her free. He was lying.

He drove to the small home he shared with his nurse-practitioner-girlfriend Kimberly and his 10-year-old daughter. There he carried her into a heated shed in the yard, secured her to metal rings in the walls, turned up the radio to cover any noise she might make, and double padlocked the door. Throughout the next two days, he visited the shed, raped Samantha repeatedly, and brought her water. Finally, he strangled and stabbed her to death, wrapped her body in vinyl, and turned off the heat to retard decomposition. Then he went into the house and packed for a planned family cruise. Early the next morning he woke his daughter, and they took a taxi to the airport to fly to Louisianna where they would begin their Caribbean adventure. Kimberly who was never allowed into the shed and unaware of its contents, went to work and lived her ordinary life while Israel and his daughter cruised.

In the meantime, Samantha’s father Jim and her boyfriend Dwayne had reported her missing immediately after receiving Keyes’s text sent from her cell phone. Police were not too alarmed at first; teenagers often left home and returned, uninjured, just as suddenly. Jim and Dwayne had a different viewpoint: They knew it was unlike Samantha to have taken off so suddenly, especially without talking to her dad with whom she was very close. They peppered the neighborhood with flyers and contacted all her friends, hoping to find someone who knew where she might have gone. As time passed, they became increasingly more alarmed.

The Keyes family vacation ended two weeks later, and at home again Israel got busy writing a ransom note with a typewriter he had bought at a thrift store. He wore gloves while he typed. Like William Hickman, he realized that Samantha’s father might want proof his daughter was alive before paying any ransom. Upon his return, he saw that Samantha’s body had frozen and her appearance did not improve when he thawed her with a hair dryer. Keyes drove to Walmart where he bought women’s makeup, strong thread, and sturdy sewing needles. He did his best to apply makeup, then washed and braided her hair. Finally, he sewed her eyelids open to make her appear alive, a strange practice William Hickman had also used with Marion Parker’s body. Keyes snapped an instant photo of Samantha with his own hand in the picture holding the local newspaper dated February 13th.  He drafted a second text message to Dwayne: “Conner park sign under pic of Albert ain’t she purty,” it read. Then he dismembered Samantha’s body and disposed of the parts while ice-fishing in deep Matanuska Lake. He cooked the fish he caught there for his family’s dinner.

Jim and Dwayne immediately notified police and rushed to Conner’s Lake Park, a popular recreation spot on the outskirts of Anchorage. There on a bulletin board they found a plastic sandwich bag thumbtacked above the photo of a missing dog named Albert. They waited for police to arrive. The latter opened the bag and found a lengthy typed ransom note demanding $30,000 for Samantha’s return and the intentionally fuzzy photo Keyes had taken.

Since Keyes had secured Samantha’s debit card and pin, Jim made the first of several deposits into the account. Detectives were able to trace Keyes’s whereabouts through his ATM withdrawals. After making a few transactions in various Anchorage locations, Keyes began to travel further from home.  He drove 4,000 miles in a rented white Ford Focus, traveling to New Mexico and Texas. Hickman and Keyes were both travelin’ men, perhaps both trying to escape from themselves. Police finally located Keyes in Texas during a traffic stop. His car’s image had been captured on an ATM security camera. Samantha’s cell phone and debit card were in the car. He was arrested there; as he later told detectives, he was getting careless.

FBI investigators interviewed Keyes for many hours, multiple times. He agreed to confess his crimes with some stipulations. He wanted to be supplied with Starbucks brand Americano coffee, a specific type of cigar, and Snickers candy bars. He demanded that his identity be kept from media because he did not want his daughter to know the details of his crimes. Last, he wanted an execution date. Agents explained that he could not be executed without due process, but if he were to provide them with details about other murders, they thought that would yield a speedier trial and better chances of execution.

The only power left to Israel Keyes was the power to give or withhold information, He gave up what he knew slowly. While he confessed to 11 homicides, he only named two victims, the middle-aged couple Bill and Lorraine Currier of Vermont. He had selected them at random and took them from their home to an abandoned farmhouse where he raped and strangled Lorraine and shot Bill to death. He hid their bodies in the basement. The house was demolished several months later, and the bodies were never recovered. The FBI had circumstantial evidence linking Keyes to other murders, but he would not confirm details.

He was being held in jail in Anchorage Alaska on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and burglary in early December 2012, when he finally beat the system he had viewed with such contempt: He committed suicide in his cell by cutting his wrists and hanging himself with a bedsheet. Beneath his cot were images of 11 skulls drawn in his own blood and a long dark poem he had written, a kind of ode to death.

Death At A Disney Destination : The Tony Todt Family Annihilation

Tony Todt was a family man much as his father Robert had been. In 1980 not only did the latter have a wife Loretta and two children, Tony and Chrissy, but he was assembling another secret family. He was engaged to a 20-year-old nurse who lived in a town near his family’s home in Bensalem Pennsylvania. She had no idea he had ever been married. His fiancee’s family was delighted that this charming educator with the gift of gab was about to become a family member. The couple was already making wedding plans with the parish priest. At the same time, Bob was romantically involved with a 17-year-old student in his special education class and had hired John Chairmonte, a 20-year-old former student, to kill his wife.

Chairmonte was not a natural killer but after a lot of badgering and two false starts, he finally took the 38-calibre gun and key Bob Todt gave him, entered the house, and in the upstairs bedroom pointed the gun at sleeping Loretta who awoke and screamed. Chairmonte was drunk and high on Quaaludes and his aim went wild. He shot her in the left eye but did not kill her. Tony, 4 at the time, woke to his mother’s screams and ran into her room. He later told investigators that a strange man had taken him back to bed. He and his mother both thought two men were in the house.

Emergency surgery by an excellent physician saved Loretta’s life but he could not save her eye and a bullet fragment remains embedded in her brain. The assassin was soon identified and arrested. While Chairmonte told detectives that Robert Todt had been behind the murder-for-hire scheme and Todt was later arrested and convicted of that crime, it took years before Loretta believed that her husband had tried to have her killed. She was convinced, as Todt has insisted to this day, that she was shot by a home invader. A jury thought otherwise and convicted Todt who was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison. He served about 10. Loretta divorced Todt while he was in prison, moved her family to Connecticut, severed all contact between Bob and his children, and remarried. Tony continued to have nightmares that years of therapy could not erase.

*****

Despite the childhood trauma he had suffered, Tony graduated from college, opened a physical therapy practice in Connecticut, and married. He and Megan had three children, Alek, Tyler, and Zoe. From outward appearances, the Todts seemed to have a happy marriage and they worked smoothly together in the physical therapy office. By 2018 Alek was 13, Tyler 11, and Zoe 4. There were some financial problems that Tony explained only vaguely to his wife, but he could work them out, he assured her.

She was nevertheless puzzled when he suggested they relocate and rent a house in Florida in the planned community of Celebration near Disney World. He would spend the week in Colchester where his physical therapy practice was active, then fly to Florida and spend weekends with his family. Megan would not miss the snowy winters in Connecticut so agreed to the move.      

They rented a lovely 2 ½ story classic center entrance colonial in Celebration and soon settled there contentedly. Photos throughout the house showed a happy couple, a fun-loving family enjoying the beach and dressed in matching pajamas for their 2018 Christmas card. Meanwhile ongoing financial trouble and a federal case pending against him for Medicaid fraud that Megan had not been told about had created considerable stress for Tony.

The family seemed to drop from sight by late December and family members up north began to worry. Tony’s sister Chrissy spoke to him by phone twice. He told her the whole family had been sick with the flu. Megan’s health had not been good, he said. Recently she had some pain-free days, but the “bad” days were really bad, he explained. He was not specific about her diagnosis.

Nonetheless Chrissy had not talked to her sister-in-law or the children since Christmas and was sufficiently concerned to contact the Oceola County Florida Sheriff’s Office and request a visit to check on the family. On December 28th officers went to the house and rang the bell, but no one answered and there was no sign of trouble when they walked around the house. They spoke to a next-door neighbor who had not seen the family recently either. Officers felt there was no evidence of a problem and it was common for families to go away for the holidays, so were unconcerned. On January 11th when there was still no contact, investigators made a second visit but were unable to find anyone home.

Two days later the sheriff’s office was contacted by the FBI. They planned to arrest Todt at his Florida home on fraud charges and asked for two additional officers for backup. The four officials drove to the house and rang the bell on the front porch. When there was no answer, they tried the front door and found it unlocked. The officers entered and called out to identify themselves. They immediately noticed an odor they recognized. It was the smell of decomposing flesh.

Following sounds from the second floor, they encountered Tony walking unsteadily toward the stairway. When investigators asked where his family was, he said his wife was upstairs sleeping. They told him to stay where he was while they checked the upstairs rooms. In the master bedroom on the bed where Tony had been sleeping, 42-year-old Megan’s body was wrapped in blankets. Across the end of the bed lay his 4-year-old daughter Zoe, similarly wrapped. On the floor a mattress held the bodies of 13-year-old Alek and his 11-year-old brother Tyler. They were wrapped snuggly, and Alek wore a set of rosary beads around his neck. Their dog Breezy had also been killed and was in the room. The bodies had been dead for at least two weeks and Tony had been sleeping in the room with them. He was immediately arrested on suspicion of murder and taken into custody without incident.

Two days later he confessed to the crime. He had fed heavy doses of Benadryl to his family and the dog, then while they were unconscious, he stabbed all of them except Zoe. The medical examiner later determined that either the medicine or the wounds could have killed Megan and the boys, but no cause of death could be determined for Zoe. Days later Tony changed his story. Megan had killed the children by feeding them a Benadryl-laced pie while he was not home. When he returned and she confessed, he claimed she wanted to commit suicide to be with her children. He told his father in a letter he wrote from jail that he wanted to die too and had attempted suicide 8 times. “Yet another thing I suck at,” his letter read.

Since then, he has hinted that Megan discouraged him from getting professional medical care when he needed it. The undercurrent is “I’m not to blame, I’m not to blame.” He repeats his father’s refrain. Todt is a German name. Translated, it means “death.”

Covid has postponed Tony Todt’s trial, currently scheduled for September 2021.