True Crime and Justice: Joe Sharkey

 

DEATH SENTENCE, written by Joe Sharkey, is one of the best true crime books I have ever read, and 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, 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.

Like Father Like Son: 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.

Blood Brothers: The Murders of Florida State Troopers Claude H. Baker Jr. and Charles Eugene Campbell

Trooper Claude Baker
Trooper Charlie Campbell

The beginning of this blog reflects my own personal opinions and very likely does not reflect the beliefs of my writing partner, retired Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells. His frame of reference is vastly different from mine. It reflects different experiences than those I have had; I deeply respect what he believes to be the truth.

Most of the following blog tells the stories of two fine, dedicated Florida Troopers, Claude Baker and Charlie Campbell, and how their duty to protect the public cost them their lives. By telling their stories in tandem with references to George Floyd and Derek Chauvin, I want to emphasize that we cannot afford to polarize our nation further by simplistically defining complicated people and situations as right or wrong, good or evil, Black or White, racist or non-racist. Abolishing police departments is a foolish idea; making them better trained and accountable for the acts they perform, right now, is essential. God bless the brave men and women who leave their homes each morning in the hope of protecting our communities. May they remain strong, fair, and safe.

Law Enforcement as a career is taking a brutal beating these days with some justification. The world froze in horror at the video image of Minneapolis police officer Derek Michael Chauvin kneeling for eight minutes on the neck of George Floyd, who had been suspected of passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. Floyd was only the most recent victim of a flurry of Black American deaths by officers of the law. These deaths are not largely the product of evil racist cops. They are the product of a racialized country that not only permits but in some cases encourages citizens to take the worst parts of their nature, their prejudices and hatreds, out onto the streets and to act on them without fear of recrimination.

I think most law enforcement professionals do the best job they can to protect the public–Black and White–and to put bad people away where they can do no more harm. They risk their lives every day to do so.

Charlie Wells told me the stories of two fellow-troopers he knew, worked with, liked, and respected during his early law enforcement days. I have paraphrased here but have written in the first person: Wells is the narrator. Sections that appear in italics were written directly by Charlie Wells and are part of his forthcoming autobiography.

*****

Troopers Claude Baker and Charlie Campbell were as close as any two troopers I knew. They shared a common vision of what it was to be a law enforcement officers but they were different men with different personalities and characteristics.

Charlie, who stood about 6’1” and weighed around 250 pounds, had little patience when he was confronted by a violator who wanted to give him a hard time. Otherwise he just looked mean. A sinkhole had developed in one of the roadways in Sarasota and troopers were assigned to prevent motorists from driving into it. Charlie was directing traffic that hot summer day when he motioned drivers to turn right or left, avoiding the hole. One vehicle pulled up to the intersection and watching Charlie’s direction, the driver honked his horn. Charlie looked at the guy who was yelling at him, but could not hear what he said because the car window was up. He shrugged his shoulders questioningly and the driver pointed that he wanted to go straight. Charlie once again motioned for the driver to turn.

The driver blew his horn again, this time louder and longer, and once again motioned to Charlie that he wanted to go straight. Charlie moved the barricade, then walked over to the driver who by now had rolled his window down and was still grumbling. Charlie said “Do you see that sinkhole over there?” The driver raised up in his seat to see better and finally said yes. Charlie said “Drive into the hole.”  The driver said “I don’t want to drive into the hole.” Charlie said “I told you to drive into the hole.” By this time the driver was red-faced and shaking his head no. Charlie said “If you don’t want to drive into the hole, then you have to turn. Why do you think the barricades are there? Why do you think I’m here?” The embarrassed driver finally got the message, turned right, and drove off.

While Charlie was the more serious of the two, he also had a sense of humor. One night he invited Trooper Ron Getman to go fishing with Claude and him. Getman showed up at the meeting place by the water and got out of his car with a bucket of shrimp for bait. His friends asked him what was in the bucket and Getman told them. Campbell grabbed one of the shrimp from the bucket, threw it in the water, and announced “Well, looks like they aren’t biting. Let’s go get a beer.” Getman caught on immediately. The invitation had not been for a fishing trip, it was strictly a beer drinking night!

Claude, who was the smaller of the pair, was always smiling. When he issued citations to violators they never seemed to get mad at him. Getting promoted within the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) was difficult. It meant months of studying law, policy and supervision prior to the promotional examinations. On one occasion the promotional examinations were held at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Claude and Charlie rode to the exam together in Charlie’s car. I pulled up in the university parking lot at the same time they did. We got out of our cruisers, shook hands, and walked to the examination room together. I asked Claude if he had been studying. “Yes” he said, “on the ride up here, but it was hard to concentrate because Charlie kept talking to me.” I knew Claude was kidding, he hadn’t studied at all. We all laughed and entered the exam room. After we had finished I saw Claude again and he said “I think I may have missed one or two questions.” We laughed and walked to our cruisers. Claude had no interest in being promoted. He was content with his life and did not care about climbing the chain of command. In many ways I admired him for his contentment. It wasn’t that he was lazy or unintelligent. He was a bright trooper with a good head on his shoulders, but above all he was happy.

*****

Henry Lorenzo Payne was not a stranger to law enforcement. Two days before encountering Trooper Claude Baker, Payne had been serving a three-year sentence for auto theft at Zephyr Hills Prison Camp in his home state of Florida when he escaped from a work release program on November 15, 1973. It didn’t take him long to return to a life of crime. The next day he went to a Ware Construction Company site in Tampa. He reached through a car window where a security guard named Spivey was seated and attempted to grab the guard’s gun. When Spivey refused to give it up, Payne dragged him from the car, beat him, and stole his weapon and a small television set he had been watching.

The following day, November 17th, Payne abducted a twenty-one-year-old female from a shopping center and forced her to drive to a wooded area near Tampa. There he raped her, stole her 1972 blue Oldsmobile, and drove off leaving her in the woods. The victim walked to the nearest phone and called the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Payne laid low until nightfall, then headed south, passing through Ruskin, Palmetto, Bradenton, Sarasota, and Venice in the stolen car. He was, unsurprisingly, speeding. Trooper Baker who was on duty and traveling north on route 41 at the time, made a U turn and gave chase.

At 7:58 p.m. , Trooper Baker, #365, radioed the Bradenton dispatcher and advised that he was stopping a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass, license number FL 3W-51397. They were seven or eight miles south of Venice on U.S. 41, otherwise known as Tamiami Trail. The Bradenton dispatcher checked his records and reported that the car was not missing or stolen. Traffic stops like this one occur thousands of times a week and were normally routine. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office report of the rape and car theft had not yet been entered into the system; This stop on this night would be anything but routine.

Terry and Sharon Rhodes were traveling south on U.S. 41 and saw a trooper pass them with blue lights on. They said the trooper went out of sight at a curve in the road, then a few minutes later they saw the trooper’s blue lights again. When their car was adjacent to the patrol car they saw the trooper lying on the ground face down. Terry, who worked for an ambulance service in Fort Myers, jumped from his car and ran to the trooper’s aid.He turned Claude Baker over and attempted to clear his air passage. Claude was moaning and then expelled a lot of blood. Rhodes did not see Payne who had already left in the blue Oldsmobile.

Everything was quiet in the dispatch system until 8:03 p.m.  The on-duty Bradenton dispatcher broke the radio squelch and I detected a nervous quiver in his voice. Ben Clinger, ordinarily a calm dispatcher and a man I knew well was not calm now as he spoke on the radio. He was talking to a citizen speaking from Claude’s radio, which was very unusual. While I could not hear what the citizen was saying I could clearly hear Clinger and some back and forth between Clinger and the citizen. Clinger broadcast words that chilled me to the bone: “Bradenton all units, #365 has been shot on U.S. 41 approximately 7 miles south of Venice.”  I had heard a similar message about a trooper earlier in my career and the results had not been good. I felt sick.

Sarasota County Sheriff’s deputies rapidly deployed to the scene. Detective Robert Hampton and his colleagues searched the area to recover evidence. Hampton reported that Claude had been shot twice, once on the left chest and a second time on his right arm near the elbow. His gun lay on the ground behind the left rear tire. Ironically, Sergeant Eric Britt found a check issued by the Ware Construction Company to Henry Lorenzo Payne two feet in front of Claude’s patrol car. Payne had worked at the work site where he had robbed the security guard the day before.

At midnight the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office reported they had received a call from a Port Charlotte resident. She had been watching television and had seen the news report of the trooper killing with a description of Payne and the car he was driving. She said she had seen a car matching that description parked in her neighborhood. Charlotte County deputies immediately responded. They found Payne. In the Oldsmobile he was driving, deputies found a .38 revolver and the clothes Payne had been wearing. There were bloodstains on his jeans.

Payne was not going to give up easily. After his arrest he told Detective Hampton that his name was Leroy Jenkins. He admitted having been in the blue Oldsmobile, but insisted that a man he called “Bee Bop” had picked him up hitchhiking and was the actual shooter. After Hampton left the room, Payne finally admitted his true identity to the other officer interrogating him, Lieutenant Bohanson. Payne invoked his right to an attorney, was assigned a public defender, and refused to talk to detectives any further.

Undoubtedly to avoid the death penalty, Payne eventually plead guilty to first degree murder for the death of Claude Baker. He was sentenced to life in prison at Tomoka Facility. In addition to murder, Payne was convicted of robbery, rape, grand theft auto, and escape. In 1987 he again escaped his Jackson County facility. While out of prison Payne was convicted of additional crimes: Robbery with a firearm and aggravated battery with intent to do harm, and escape. Again, hopefully for the last time, he is serving a life sentence in prison.

*****

Over 700 were in attendance at the Ewing Funeral Home in Venice to show their respect for a fine trooper and an outstanding man. The chapel was filled to capacity and an overflow crowd listened to the service on outside speakers. Staff members from General Headquarters (GHQ) Tallahassee including FHP Director, Colonel J.E. Beach. The Lieutenant Colonel and several Troop Commanders from around the state were also in attendance. Law Enforcement officers from hundreds of state and local agencies were in attendance to honor Claude. Hundreds of local citizens came, even though many of them may have never known Claude, but they wanted to let Claude’s family and law enforcement know they cared for them and many of them wept during the service.

An FHP Honor Guard stood at Claude’s casket. An American flag covered the casket, which I believed would have pleased Claude: He was a patriotic man. Claude’s family was ushered into the chapel and quietly took their seats.  Connie Baker, Claude’s wife along with his daughter Sabrina were escorted in by Corporal Steve Ward, Claude’s immediate supervisor.  It was heartbreaking for me to look at Connie and Sabrina Baker as the sat, eyes overflowing with tears. Connie was a beautiful, dignified lady. She and Claude had been married for over nine years. The service was almost unbearable for her. At her young age I was not certain that their daughter, beautiful little Sabrina, could understand that her daddy was never coming home again. 

The motorcade that accompanied Claude Baker’s body consisted of more than 150 patrol cars and police motorcycles from multiple agencies, blue lights flashing with hundreds of civilians falling in behind them. The procession was two miles long. Along the route, hundreds lined up on the sidewalks and street corners to salute the hearse carrying Claude to his final resting place. The entire experience was humbling, yet bittersweet, bitter because of Claude’s murder, sweet because of the support he was receiving from the public along the way. We had lost a good man and the public knew it.

*****

Losing Claude Baker had been agonizing for Charlie Campbell and he was never the same after his best friend was murdered. He finally asked for and was granted a transfer to Perry. He thought the change might ease his pain and help him get past it all. Before long he settled into his new assignment and seemed relatively satisfied.

On November 16, 1974, near Thanksgiving and one day short of a year since Claude Baker had died, Charlie got into his cruiser, signed on in service, and headed to the Perry Florida Highway Patrol station. He spoke with the dispatcher, jotting down information on a “Be On The Lookout” (BOLO) for a stolen beige Volkswagen. He headed south on U.S. 19, the main arterial highway through Taylor County.

About seven miles south of Perry Charlie spotted a beige Volkswagen that fit the description of the BOLO stolen car. Charlie made a U-turn though the median and fell in behind the car. Reading the license plate, he noticed that it was different from the one on the BOLO. He activated his emergency lights and stopped the Volkswagen to investigate. Charlie had no way of knowing that the driver was one of the most evil human beings in the nation at the time: Paul John Knowles. It was never determined why Campbell had not radioed ahead to dispatch, as was protocol, to report that he was stopping the Volkswagen.

Knowles was a ruthless serial killer who had already murdered and raped numerous times. [See the details in the blog dated July 31, 2020, truecrimemama.com]. As Charlie approached the Volkswagen, Knowles quickly exited with a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun and got the drop on the trooper. Knowles handcuffed Campbell, then ordered him into the passenger side of the car. The two drove away with Knowles behind the wheel, leaving the Volkswagen behind.

Knowles could not afford to be spotted driving a sheriff’s vehicle, but he used it one final time to stop a blue Ford Torino driven by 30-year-old James E. Meyer of Wilmington, Delaware. Meyer had rented the car from Hertz at the Tallahassee airport and was headed to Perry on business. Knowles subdued Meyer, most likely, by handcuffing him with a spare set of handcuffs found in Charlie’s FHP cruiser, then placed him in the Torino’s back seat with Charlie and took off looking for an escape route to leave the area.

The Taylor County area is a rural county encompassing fewer than 1,300 square miles with a population of 21,600. Perry is the county seat and is located about 50 miles south of the state capitol in Tallahassee. While the County is on the west coast, it is not a beach community but better- known for great hunting and fishing locations. Because of its size, limited financial resources hindered law enforcement in their search for Charlie. The County’s small sheriff’s force relied on wild life officers, state troopers, the marine patrol, the FBI, and local citizens to assist them. All their efforts failed and Knowles drove out of the county and made his way to Georgia, less than 40 miles away.

He traveled on less populated roads, but was not invisible. In Lakeland Georgia a service station attendant reported seeing Knowles in a car with two other men about 1 p.m. Another witness saw him in Abbeville around 4 p.m., and a third witness said he saw the car near the the Houston and Pulaski county lines a short time later where Knowles made a right hand turn onto the dirt state road 247, traveling at a high rate of speed. Between 6 and 7 p.m. purchases of a tape recorder, tapes, clothing, shoes and batteries were made at a Sears store in Macon Georgia with Charlie Campbell’s credit card. By 10:15 p.m. Knowles had checked into the Ambassador Motel in Macon. By then he was alone.

Early the following afternoon, Henry County Georgia Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Hancock received a BOLO for the blue Torino Knowles was driving. He saw the car and called for a roadblock at Highway 52 where Knowles was headed. Seeing the barrier, Knowles sped up and hit a patrol car, then sprang from his car, pointing a revolver at the pursuing sheriffs, but did not shoot. He ran for the nearby woods. Law enforcement officers and a team of tracking dogs were not immediately able to locate him.

Several hours later Knowles was apprehended in Henry County. His escape route covered a distance of 4.5 miles, primarily through a wooded area.  During the time he was pursued Knowles forcibly entered two residences located on Springdale Road. He had stolen a single-barrel Stevens shotgun from one of the houses and it was in his possession at the time of his arrest.

Knowles was eventually captured by a soft-spoken young man named David Clark. Clark had spotted Knowles while walking outside his house, calmly walked into his home to get his shotgun, and Knowles surrendered to him without a struggle.  He was exhausted after running several miles from the pursuing deputies and dogs. Ironically, the 12-gauge shotgun Knowles had stolen did not have a firing pin and was worthless to the killer. Clark marched Knowles across the street and asked one of his neighbors to call the police. Scores of law enforcement officers quickly appeared at Clark’s address and took Knowles into custody. Clark was considered a hero by his neighbors. The slender 27-year-old had not been figured to be the type to capture a dangerous criminal, his neighbor said.

*****

Four days later, on November 21, 1974 the bodies of Charlie and Meyer were found by two deer hunters, Dennis Thompson and Walter Owens, near Perry, Georgia.  Charlie and 7 another miles west where they were killed.  Charlie and Meyer were found lying head to head at the base of a large pine tree.  It appeared they had been restrained by handcuffs prior to being shot in the head.  Charlie was in full FHP uniform, except his hat and gun belt. He had been shot with a .357 magnum, Claude Baker’s gun, the gun Charlie had requested Florida Highway Patrol issue to him after Claude’s death.

A Federal Grand Jury was impaneled in Macon and Sheldon Yavitz, Knowles’ attorney, was subpoenaed to testify regarding tape recordings he possessed that Knowles had made at the scenes of 18 murders he was charged with. He wanted someone to write a book about his exploits using the tapes.

A large number of reporters and curiosity seekers had gathered at the jail trying to get a photo or glimpse of Knowles, which caused authorities to be concerned about his security and the security of police officers at the jail.  After careful thought, they decided to move Knowles to Douglas County Jail in Milledgeville, Georgia. The sheriff of Douglas County was Earl Lee who was a big affable man who had a solid reputation in law enforcement. After having served as a deputy for eight years, Sheriff Lee ran for sheriff and was elected. Lee had attended law enforcement schools to sharpen his skills and also graduated from the National FBI Academy. While he was there, Lee became friends with a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent named Ronnie Angel.

After Knowles was incarcerated in the Douglas County Jail, Lee and Angel regularly visited his cell to establish rapport with him. The two lawmen were tenacious and wanted to get as much information as Knowles would give them about other murders he had committed. Sheriff Lee later testified before the grand jury that he had asked Knowles how many people he had killed and Knowles had written in the palm of his hand the number 18. The sheriff also testified that Knowles had written on the wall of his cell Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Connecticut, Mississippi and Ohio as the states where he had committed his crimes. Sheriff Lee and Agent Angel also asked Knowles what he had done with Charlie’s service revolver and after many conversations, on December 10, Knowles finally agreed to show them where he had discarded the weapon.  The sheriff knew that Knowles was a vain, cocky man who was upset when he wasn’t mentioned in the media and might cooperate for the attention it would offer him.

On December 18th, Lee and Angel collected their prisoner from his cell and secured his hands and legs with cuffs and chains to prevent an escape attempt. Lee drove the cruiser and they proceeded south on Interstate 20 toward Henry County. Agent Angel had contacted several GBI agents and members of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and requested they meet him and Sheriff Lee at Hudson Bridge Road and Interstate 75 to provide additional security for the search for the gun.

At the county line road bridge Knowles lit up a cigarette and Lee directed him to throw the cigarette out. He pulled over to the side of the road for Knowles to dispose of it, but Knowles said he would put it out in the ash tray.  Shortly after that Sheriff Lee saw and felt Knowles’ arm reach over his shoulder and grab his gun. Agent Angel also saw Knowles grab the sheriff’s gun. Shots were fired and the vehicle left the roadway. Upon coming to a stop, Sheriff Lee got out of the vehicle and confirmed that Knowles was dead. The latter had actually fired the sheriff’s gun while it was partially holstered and at approximately the same time, Agent Angel fired the shots that killed Knowles.

Examinations by the state crime laboratory recovered three bullets from Knowles body during an autopsy. A metal paper clip was found in the Douglas County Sheriff’s vehicle that Knowles had used to pick the handcuff lock from his right hand. On December 30, 1974, a coroner’s inquest was held in Douglas County to examine the facts surrounding the death of Knowles. After hearing nine witnesses testify, the coroner’s jury ruled that the death of Knowles was justifiable homicide.

*****

In a single year’s time, two outstanding law enforcement officers, Claude Baker and Charlie Campbell, colleagues and the best of friends, lost their lives in the line of duty. Henry Lorenzo Payne was off the streets for life, no longer a threat to innocent Florida citizens. The spree killer, Paul John Knowles, a man who had at the same time gone on a murderous six-month rampage, was also now dead. Without the courage and persistence of men like Baker and Campbell, there is no doubt that the world would be a vastly more dangerous place. We are grateful for their lives. May they rest in peace.

Paul John Knowles: A Serial Killer You May Not Recognize

Top: Paul John Knowles Left: Cocktail Waitress Angela Covic Right: British Journalist Sandy Fawkes

WARNING: THESE CONTENTS DEPICT EXTREME VIOLENCE AND ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR A VARIETY OF READERS.

My writing partner, retired Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells, first told me the story of Paul John Knowles. Wells’ law enforcement career had begun with the Florida State Troopers, and in that role he worked and became friends with Trooper Charles Campbell, one of Knowles’ two final victims, whom Knowles kidnapped and killed in Macon Georgia in November 1974. That event will be the subject of another blog.

By the time Charlie Campbell was shot, Knowles, then 28 years old, had become a brutal predator who strangled, shot, tortured and raped at least 20 people; he claimed to have killed 35, as many as better-known serial killer Ted Bundy. There is no conceivable justification for such cruelty, but after researching his life and his crimes, it is possible to understand how such a monster came to be.

If nurture is a factor in creating a killer, Paul John Knowles’ family life would have easily qualified him. The 5 Knowles children lived near Jacksonville Florida with their parents in a 3-room house–a main room, one bedroom, and a kitchen. Their toilet needs were met by an outhouse. Paul’s younger brother Clifton Knowles told a reporter that if the things that happened in his family were to have occurred today, the children would have been placed in foster care. What his father described as a “whippin,” he said, “I called a beating.” The children bore bruises from his belt and Clifton said his father nearly beat Paul to death more than once. He would run off into the woods until he healed, then come home until the next time.

At age eight, he had stolen a bike and committed other petty crimes. Beatings not having tamed his son, his father turned Paul over to the state where he was placed in the infamous Dozier School for Boys located in Marianna Florida where he remained off and on until his early teen years. It was the ideal place to feed his growing rage. A reformatory that operated from 1900 until its forced closing in 2011, the institution was known for its extreme brutality. Boys whose spirits could not be easily broken, known as “The White House Boys,” were taken to a special building where they were severely beaten, raped, and sometimes killed by guards. The State investigation that resulted in the institution’s closure uncovered at least 81 child deaths that had resulted from abuse or neglect at the hands of Dozier School employees. An NPR documentary was produced that portrayed the school through the eyes of many of its victims, now adults who could finally speak up and defend themselves. In 2020, novelist Colson Whitehead won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Nickel Boys, based on facts uncovered about the Dozier School. The reformatory did not “reform” Paul. It may very well have helped to transform him from a bad boy, a budding criminal, into a stone killer.

As an adult, Paul John Knowles was a red-haired, six feet tall handsome man sometimes described as a combination of Robert Redford and Ryan O’Neal, and dubbed “The Casanova Killer” because of his good looks and charm. In the last half of 1974, in at least 6 states, he killed 14 women and 6 men. Because he murdered several victims in a short time span at different locations, he was branded a special breed of serial killer known in law enforcement as a spree killer. Most of his victims were complete strangers. They did not resemble one another: They were gay and straight; men, women, and children; attractive or not so much; homebodies and hitchhikers; ages ranging from 7 to 65, engaged in various occupations–waitress, teacher, retiree.

He did not strike out because he lacked love or companionship in his life. Paul may have despised his father, but he loved at least three women: His mother for whom he wanted to publish his life story and support her with the proceeds; Jackie Knight whose marriage to him did not last, but nonetheless remained his lifelong friend; and Angela Covic, a San Francisco waitress and his pen pal who obtained his early release from prison. They intended to marry immediately, but when he arrived in California he found that she had become disenchanted and called off the nuptials. He claimed to have killed his first three victims that night in San Francisco although it could not be proven. Only weeks later, Knowles began the rest of his murder spree.

In July, he entered the Florida home of 65-year-old Alice Cooper, ransacked her residence, gagged and tied her to a chair, and stole her car. Cooper wore false teeth which slipped and caused her to die choking; Knowles discovered her body when he returned to her house a second time that night. She was his first victim.

That evening, while he was attempting to abandon her car, he spotted two family acquaintances, 7-year-old Mylette Anderson and her 11-year-old sister Lillian. Afraid they might identify him for police, he strangled the little girls and dumped their bodies in a swamp. These were victims 2 and 3. In addition to the trooper and James Meyer with whom he was kidnapped, 15 other strangers were murdered, singly and in pairs. A father and his 15-year-old daughter were killed. A mother was strangled in front of her 3-year-old child. He killed gay men whose bodies he left nude, and a woman whose corpse he had sex with. No one seemed immune from his carnage except young boys. Even when they were present at killings, he left them untouched. They reminded him, perhaps, of himself as a young boy, abused by his father and again by his keepers at the Dozier School. He could live again through these boys, unassaulted this time.

Sandy Fawkes was one woman he charmed but did not kill. She was a British journalist on assignment for an American publication and she met Paul John Knowles in the bar of a Holiday Inn in Atlanta Georgia. They spent the night together and while Fawkes reported that the sex was unspectacular, she accepted his invitation to travel to Florida and see southern America with a native. Why did he leave her unmolested? Many hypothesized that he wanted her alive because she was a writer, and he craved being famous like his hero Jesse James and having the opportunity to earn book royalties that he could give to his mother. As a convict he and his family could not have benefited from such a book, but he did not know that.

Moreover, his life ended on December 18, 1974, a month after parting company with Sandy Fawkes. He had been arrested again and was terrified of the electric chair. He accepted an invitation to accompany Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Ron Angel and Douglas County Sheriff Earl Lee on a road trip to visit some of his crime scenes in the hope of gathering more information about his motives and victims. Seated in the back of the squad car, he surreptitiously worked his hands free of handcuffs using a paper clip and made a grab for Lee’s gun, perhaps a bid for “suicide by cop.” Agent Angel obliged him with three bullets, ending six months of national terror.

Readers who may want to know greater detail about Knowles’ specific crimes are referred to Google or to any of the following resources: The Casanova Killer: A Documentary; The Casanova Killer: The Life of Serial Killer Paul John Knowles a Kindle edition written by Jack Smith and Marjorie Kramer; and Natural Born Killer: In Love and On the Road with a Serial Killer and Killing Time: The Bizarre But True Story of Two Weeks of Love and Terror, both written by Sandy Fawkes.

Thanks for reading, stay well, and keep safe!

NEXT UP: The Killing of Charlie Campbell and James Meyer