The Innocent Killer by Michael Griesbach

The Innocent Killer

The Innocent Killer is an in-depth look at a very important case in Wisconsin criminal law. It is the story of violent crimes against women, police investigations and the vital importance of evidence.

The author is Michael Griesbach who is a prosecutor in Wisconsin in the same country where the central crime that is featured in this book took place.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers because this book has an incredible twist but here’s the basic outline: In 1985 a woman called Penny Beernsten raped and assaulted in an extremely violent attack as she took a run along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

A man called Steven Avery was convicted of the crime and spent 18 years in prison. The thing is, he didn’t do it. A serial sex offender called Gregory Allen was the man who attacked Penny.

Avery (who was by no means a man who lived a crime-free life), is freed, however that’s not the end of the story. What happens next is shocking. There is no clear black or white, good or bad here. Griesbach became involved in the case during the process to exonerate Avery so his first-hand knowledge is the strength of this book.

Griesbach has written an incredibly detailed story that is a must-read if you are interested in crime and legal books. The book is not a quick and dirty read. It is one where the reader needs to absorb the detail and they will certainly learn much about Wisconsin, the law, DNA and the devastating impact of slack…even corrupt police practices on people involved in and affected by crime.

In the press release for this book is said of Griesbach: “…He hopes to leave readers better informed about the inner workings of the criminal justice system and more concerned about those whose lives it deeply affects…”.

This book certainly achieves those aims.

To order The Innocent Killer go HERE.

Angels of Death – Charles Cullen


angels cover 2015

I’m excited to share with you that my second true crime book is out in stores in Australia and available in ebook.

It is called Angels of Death and features cases of nurses and doctors who were serial killers.

The first chapter is about Charles Cullen, the New Jersey nurse who is believed to have killed hundreds of people during his time working in hospitals.

The Herald Sun has run the extract: Angels of Death tells how nurse Charles Cullen killed patients

Angels of Death is published by The Five Mile Press

Burwood Murders

The 1992 Burwood triple killings in Melbourne is one of the most chilling crimes in modern Australian history.

The killer, Ashley Coulston, is in jail, never to be released.

I wrote about the case in my first true crime book, Murder in Suburbia. Here is the chapter extract as published in the Herald Sun.

Who Killed The Candy Lady?

candy lady

Earlier this year  while I was researching some cases for my latest book, I stumbled across some newspaper articles about the still unsolved disappearance and presumed murder of American Candy empire heiress Helen Brach.

I was intrigued. In 1977, the 65-year-old, was reported last seen by her houseman Jack Matlick, who said he left her at O’Hare International Airport to board a flight to Florida.

helen brach pic

So, I was very interested in reading James Ylisela Jr’s Who Killed The Candy Lady?: Unwrapping the Unsolved Murder of Helen Brach.

This is an e-book that is a quick and satisfying read. Ylisela is a long-time Chicago journalist and in this book he has presented a very clear telling of this case. He admits that he set out to solve the mystery, however changed tact to leave the readers to make up their own minds. I particularly like it when authors have a page dedicated to the “cast” of the book. I am always referring back to these pages to make sure I am fully digesting the text. Ylisela does this and the cast of characters in the Brach case is as intriguing as it gets.

I won’t spoil the story by giving too much away (as an avid true crime reader I love to read cases with no prior knowledge).

Who Killed The Candy Lady? is published by Agate Digital.

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran



I have had this book in my “to read” pile for months.

Like many readers (and especially when you have a book blog) I have SO many books to read and feel like I just want to devote whatever  spare time I have (apologies to my children!) to curling up and reading. This book by Australian John Safran – controversial media personality, filmmaker and now, author – was worth the wait.

I was fortunate to hear Safran talk about his journey to writing Murder in Mississippi (the book is called God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi for North America) at the launch of Monash Libraries’ Wordfest in the middle of 2014. Once I had got over my complete professional jealousy of him for having the planets align to create this incredible book, I was entranced by his retelling of his creative process. As a writer myself, I find him inspiring.

Safran is someone people either love or can’t stand. There is not a lot of middle ground with Safran and that’s why he is so good at what he does…which is basically getting himself run out of places for doing super-controversial things. His series Race Relations, which aired on Australia’s public broadcaster, saw him donate sperm to a Palestinian sperm bank (Safran is Jewish) and digs a hole next to his mother’s grave and performs a ritual order to ask her whether she approves of him marrying a non-Jewish woman.

For this series, Safran interviewed a notorious white supremacist named Richard Barrett.  This footage never made it to air (for reasons I will let you read in the book) but then Barrett  was brutally murdered in 2010 by a young black man named Vincent McGee. Some pretty startling revelations came to the surface and Safran seized his opportunity to go to Mississippi and write this book.

Even though it is a true crime book, Safran infuses his writing with his trademark humour. It’s not in the style true crime buff will be used to. There’s a lightness to the writing that seems at odds with a true crime subject, but it really worked in this case.

This is a standout true crime release of 2014.

Murder in Mississippi is published by Penguin.

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama


This book shows that DNA evidence is not failsafe. That mistakes can happen, assumptions made and that these can result in miscarriages of justice.

In 2008 a Somali-born Melbourne man Farah Jama, 21 was sentenced to six years jail for the rape of a woman in a suburban nightclub in the eastern suburbs.

Author Julie Szego tells this story of a man who maintained his innocent throughout. Jama’s conviction was eventually overturned and he was released and paid a substantial compensation payout from the government.

Szego details machinations of DNA testing and the reliance on science to make or break criminal cases. There’s also interesting detail of the Somali community in Melbourne and the challenges that young males who came to Australia as refugees face integrating into society. In particular, I found this aspect of the book really intriguing because when I was a high school teacher in London I taught quite a few Somali-born teens.

So, if Jama didn’t rape “Maria” in the Doncaster nightclub, what happened and why was his DNA on a database?

Szego details the reasons who Jama’s DNA was there. She interviews a young woman called “Taylah” who was involved in a sexual act with Jama and several other men the night before the alleged rape of Maria. This is uncomfortable and compelling reading.

As a journalist myself I was really compelled my Szego’s frank descriptions of what it is like to write a book and to tell other people’s stories. Her collaboration with Jama does not go to plan and this line she wrote really stuck in my mind: “Journalists swoop on people’s stories, pick the eyes out, mangle and reshape until they’re something entirely different. We thieve and desecrate for a living…”.

It’s the dilemma of the profession. Szego has written an important book. Told an important story about the criminal justice system and its flaws.

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama is published by Wild Dingo Press.

Crime news wrap

Some crime stories from around the web:

– Study identifies traits of serial killer nurses (The Guardian) Read here.

– Ipswich, England murder of young mum still a mystery 21 years on. (Ipswich Star) Read here.


– The murder of three Washington DC police officers in a shooting rampage is remembered 20 years on. (CBS Local) Read here.

– Police identify body of a Canadian man who went missing 30 years ago. ( Read here.

– Hollywood Actor Ashton Kutcher’d girlfriend was murdered by a serial killer when they were dating back in 2001 (InTouch) Read here.





The Skeleton Crew



For someone interested in true crime the new book The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving Some of America’s Coldest Cases is one of the most anticipated titles you could hope to read.

I really enjoyed this book. I often scan through missing persons websites and am endlessly intrigued by how someone could go missing or someone’s body could be discovered and their identity is a mystery. How does that happen? What happened? Why does nobody care about them?

Author and journalist Deborah Halber takes the reader on a journey of these databases of missing and unidentified bodies and the people who try and solve these mysteries. And it’s increasingly people doing amateur detective work from behind their computer screen who are giving closure to some cases that are often decades old.

There are currently 40,000unidentified dead stowed away in mortuaries, evidence rooms and potter’s fields around America. That is unbelievable and terribly sad.

Halber delves into the world of these people who spend their lives searching for clues on the web to try and identify these unidentified people with profiles of missing persons. It becomes somewhat of an obsession for many of these armchair detectives, as you’ll discover.

Halber covers details of cold cases, successful identifications and some of the lives of these amateur sleuths. There is also plenty of information about technology to help identify human remains and reconstruct what a person looked like from their skull. It is gripping stuff.

Skeleton Crew is published by Simon and Schuster. For Aussie and Kiwi readers it’s available on ebook.

That Night by Chevy Stevens


True Crime Reader partnered with Bookworld on this blog post.

That Night is the third “psychological thriller” from Canadian author Chevy Stevens. I had never read any of Stevens’ books before so the fact that thriller heavyweights like Harlan Coban and Lee Child lent their names to praise That Night certainly piqued my interest.

I received my review copy from Bookworld,  which has an extensive range of crime fiction titles and I was very excited to start reading. and I was very excited to start reading. There’s something about starting a crime fiction book that is so tantalising, with the promise of reading late into the night when you find a book you can’t put down.

That Night did not disappoint me.

The book centres on Toni Murphy, who at 18 years old in 1996 was sentenced to a very long stint in prison for the murder of her little sister Nicole. Toni and her co-accused, boyfriend Ryan, always maintained they were innocent. After 14 years, Toni is freed and returns to her hometown where it becomes desperately clear she must unearth the dark secrets of the past. Especially why the group of high school girls who tormented Toni at school lied during the court case.

The book flips between 1996 and then to some of the years of Toni’s prison sentence, then to the present day where she is trying to forge a fresh start.

I felt an affinity with Toni as I was a similar age in 1996 and could relate to the references to the grunge movement of the time. Stevens writing is quite plain (in a good way that lets the reader flow through the pages) and was quite befitting of her protagonist who was just a teenager when sent to prison.

I was often reminded of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye while reading this in terms of the theme of “mean girls” and bullying. Atwood’s book was more subtle and literary however, Stevens firmly articulates Toni’s battle with her tormentors to keep the plot flowing.

The characters I was most intrigued by were Toni’s parents and Stevens has a particular focus of writing about family dynamics and she does it well in this book. You can really feel the complete destruction of the Murphy family.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, suffice to say Toni and Ryan have no choice but to get to the truth of “that night” and why Nicole was murdered.

I’ll definitely be reading more of Chevy Stevens‘ books.

*As well as reading true crime, True Crime Reader likes to keep up with what is happening in the world of crime fiction so expect to see more fiction reviews here*

The Time of Eddie Noel by Allie Povall

Reviewed by Clarence Walker (

As a true crime writer, research specialist, historian and freelance investigative journalist, what piqued my deep interest in The Time Of Eddie Noel by Allie Povall was the location where the crime happened – the state of Mississippi in the 1950s.


I’ve always been fascinated with the history of Mississippi and its culture, notwithstanding the fact that my paternal grandfather Walter Walker was from Natchez, Mississippi and my paternal grandmother, Olivia Walker, was from Arcola. I was born in a small town in Southeast rural Arkansas near Greenville, Mississippi where my deceased father Clarence Walker Sr. and my mother Thelma aka “Nellie” got married in Greenville in 1960.

My precious mother, Thelma Walker has recalled over the years that her paternal grandmother Mary Minor was from a small town in Mississippi called Port Gibson, a town once ruled by the French during the 1700s. Following the civil war, Mississippi became the battleground of the historic civil rights movement – its past represented deep bias segregation and white people hating blacks based on skin colour. Mississippi once epitomized vicious racism toward blacks as a way to keep white supremacy forever in power.

Times have changed now. Mississippi is a much better place to live these days.

Delta Mississippi is known worldwide for its rich music of blues, soul, country, rock and roll, and mixture of rhythm and blues heritage sung by popular artists like Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Tyrone Davis, Little Milton and the geriatric B.B. King.


Povall’s book The Time Of Eddie Noel is a well-written, compelling book about a young black man who killed three white men in Holmes County, Mississippi and got off scot-free at a time when blacks were lynched by whites at the drop of a hat.

For example, Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, allegedly because he “whistled” at a white woman. History shows that blacks were killed in Mississippi simply for defying a white person.

Prior to Till’s murder, in January 1954, a young Eddie Noel shot and killed a white man identified as Willie Ramon Dickard, the owner of a honky-tonk joint in Holmes County, Mississippi. The murder of Dickard triggered an outrage from the white community.

Angry white men swiftly formed a mob to hunt down Noel, to shoot him, cut his tongue out, lynch him, then burn the dark hide off his smouldering body. It was the largest manhunt in Mississippi history. Incredibly, Noel engaged in two separate gunfights with the mob and killed two more white men, one a deputy sheriff and wounding three others!

Povall’s superb narrative retells the night when Noel went on his shooting rampage by storming into the honky-tonk joint owned by Willie Ramon Dickard, a place where moonshine was sold unabatedly and interracial sex between customers was the norm.

Noel’s jealous heart led him to suspect that his wife, a hefty, sexy, “country soul sister” named Lou Ethel, had been tricking with Dickard in exchange for the old green mighty dollar. An argument ensued over whether Noel could take his own wife back home.

Dickard decided to teach Noel a lesson (to stay in his place and not interrupt business) by beating Noel bloody. Noel retaliated. He quickly fetched his rifle out of his vehicle and shot Dickard twice in the chest, killing him instantly. Echoes of revenge reverberated throughout Homes County over the harsh reality that a black man had killed a white man.

The hunt, led by Sheriff Richard Byrd and Deputy John Pat Malone, was on. Positioned in the dark cold woods, Noel fired a .22 rifle and struck Deputy Malone, killing him, too.

A few days later just when the mob thought they had the elusive killer cornered, Noel fired a shot wounding two and killed one more white man in Mississippi.

Here’s what make the book so fascinating – Noel was never caught by the mob or law enforcement, never put on trial for his life, and he never went to prison. The background about this entire case is so captivating until the world’s best Hollywood scriptwriter, nor a great fiction writer could have created the multitude of bizarre facts that collided amidst this true life drama of how a black man miraculously survive in the dark hateful era of Jim Crow Mississippi after killing three men.

One mesmerising point about Eddie Noel’s ancestors will blow your mind.

Eddie Noel (actually Edmond Noel) is a direct descendant of Edmund Faver Noel, Mississippi’s governor from 1909 to 1913. As the story unfold in Povall’s book, it illustrate that the killer Eddie Noel was named after the one-time popular governor, although Eddie’s first name is a variation of the governor’s first name. (Read this list of Mississippi Governors.)

The book provokes mind-boggling questions – how could a negro man kill three white men then elude an armed mob in the woods for several days during a frigid cold winter without incurring illnesses or starvation? And why has the history of Eddie Noel ‘s amazing story has not been well documented as part of Black History nor included into the annals of American Civil Rights? The author thoroughly explores and explains the dynamics behind this incredible story.

Eddie Noel’s story of never being tried for killing three white people in Mississippi at a time when blacks had no civil rights, unable to properly vote, and subjected to inhumane treatment is a story that will keep you turning the pages. The Time Of Eddie Noel is the story of a time and place whereby a young black man defied incredible odds of a criminal justice system that poised to send him to the electric chair for crossing the line to kill a white man.

I will not reveal how Eddie Noel escaped the electric chair or how he avoided prosecution altogether. Only the book can give you all the details to form a sensible, objective conclusion for a reader to get the complete picture.

This book is a rich history filled with explicit, colourful details of a time and place when the Deep South stood at the threshold of the civil rights movement, a legacy that would forever change both the landscape and the social system, which would govern the lives of its people, both black and white.

The Time Of Eddie Noel rivals John Grisham’s best-selling novel A Time to Kill.

The book is published by Comfort Publishing.

Clarence Walker can be contacted at


Justin Tapp death inquest


Here is an update I have written to this August 25 blog post on the Tapp murders about the tragic effect the crimes have had on the surviving family, namely Justin Tapp, who died earlier this year at age 44. Mr Tapp was traumatised by his mother and sister’s death and struggled for the rest of his life with depression and alcohol abuse.

AN INQUEST in England into the death of an Australian man whose mother and sister were murdered 30 years ago in Melbourne has delivered an open verdict.

Justin Tapp, who was 14 when his mother Margaret Tapp and nine-year-old sister Seana Tapp were killed on August 7, 1984, died earlier this year.

Mr Tapp was not at his family’s Kelvin Drive, Ferntree Gully home on the night of the still unsolved murders and moved to England in 2001 where he lived until his death.

He was found dead in his Wycombe bedsit on June 3 by ex-girlfriend Wendy O’Donovan, with whom he had remained friends in the years since their separation.

Ms O’Donovan told the Buckinghamshire Coroners’ Court on September 23 that Mr Tapp had problems with alcohol and had tried several times to commit suicide.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had depression.

The body of Mr Tapp, aged 44, was in such a state of decomposition that the cause of his death could not be found by a post-mortem.

Police found a book and other literature about suicide near his body.

Accounts from neighbours on Mr Tapp’s last known movements indicate he may have died around a week before he was found.

The Bucks Free Press newspaper reported that Mr Tapp had no family living in Britain and it was after a concerned aunt in Australia contacted Ms O’Donovan that she went to his flat.

The coroner’s court heard that Ms O’Donovan looked through the window and saw Mr Tapp collapsed on the floor.

A former neighbour of Mr Tapp, Charlotte Kirby, contacted True Crime Reader via a comment on the blog post “Margaret and Seana Tapp murders – more tragedy”  and said she knew nothing of his traumatic history until she read about it last week on the front page of her local newspaper Bucks free Press.

Ms Kirby told True Crime Reader that Mr Tapp was a ‘very quiet and private man’ and she wished they had talked more.

“I felt really bad about his death and cried when I read the newspaper,” Ms Kirby said.

She said they both lived in an old house in Wycombe that had been split into three flats and Mr Tapp lived in the basement one.

They both moved away in 2011.

“Justin did not wish to be bothered really by the world,” Ms Kirby said.

“It is just a shame that he lived in isolation, but with that kind of trauma in his past, no wonder.”

Ms Kirby said she had often wondered about Mr Tapp’s past.

“I suspected there were reasons for his departure from Australia and even asked him why he left,” Ms Kirby said.

“All he told me was that he had grown tired of Australia.

“I just pray he rests in peace and that he has a decent funeral and resting place.”


The cold case murder of Margaret and Seana Tapp is one of Victoria’s biggest mysteries. On August 7, 1984 Margaret Tapp, 35 was strangled in her bed. Seana, 9 was sexually assaulted and also strangled.There was no sign or forced entry, which suggested that the killer was familiar with the house. The backdoor had a broken latch and could not be locked. A neighbour heard a muffled scream at around 11pm and other neighbours heard the Tapp’s dog barking frantically, which was not usual. The murders of the mother and daughter were not discovered until 6pm the next day when a friend of Mrs Tapp arrived to take her on a pre-arranged date.

Anyone with information should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000

Lethal Lovers



Melbourne author Victoria Heywood catalogues some of Australia’s most chilling crime cases of where love and relationships go wrong.

In Lethal Lovers: Horrifying True Australian Crimes of Passion Heywood details cases from modern-day to as far back as the 1800s. One of the crimes that stood out for me as that of Rodney Francis Cameron who was dubbed “The Lonely Hearts Killer”. I won’t reveal the story for those who are not familiar with it but Cameron, met one of his victims via a lonely hearts radio program.  And tragically for his victim Maria Goellner, Cameron had a very dark and dangerous past.

There’s also the story of Frederick Leeming, who was once a suspected of being Jack the Ripper.  Leeming murdered his wife and four children in England before fleeing to Australia. his second wife was also murdered in Melbourne and Leeming hung for his crime in 1892 at the age of 38.

There are 23 cases covered in the book.

Lethal Lovers is published by The Five Mile Press.

AUTHOR EVENT – The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama by Julie Szego



Australian journalist and author Julie Szego will speak in Perth on Tuesday october 14 about her true crime book The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama.

In 2008, 21-year-old Farah Jama, who had arrived in Australia as a refugee from Somalia, was sentenced to six years behind bars for the rape of a middle-aged woman as she lay unconscious in a Doncaster (ED NOTE: an eastern suburb of Melbourne) nightclub. Throughout the trial Jama had maintained his innocence against the accusations he committed such a heinous crime. But the Prosecution had one ‘rock solid’ piece of evidence that nailed the accused – his DNA.

In 2010 his conviction was overturned and Szego tells the whole story of how a young man came to be convicted of rape and the failings of the justice system. Szego’s book has had praise from people including Julian Burnside, AO QC, barrister, human rights and refugee advocate.

ED NOTE: I wish I was in Perth so I could attend!

DETAILS: ‘The Tainted trial of Farah Jama’ by Julie Szego, Tue 14 Oct, 7-8pm cost $19

To book go to

The book is published by Wild Dingo Press


The Fall: How Simon Gittany murdered Lisa Harnum



This is a very good book by  journalist Amy Dale about the killing of young woman Lisa Harnum.

Dale is Chief Court Reporter for The Daily Telegraph and started covering this case from the point of Simon Gittany’s arrest in August 2011. She speaks to the family and friends of Canadian-born Lisa Harnum, who lived with Gittany in a luxury Sydney apartment.

The relationship was abusive. Gittany was obsessed with controlling Lisa – he referred to her by her second name Celeste – and wanted to know her every move. Lisa was an unwell woman. Anorexic and hopelessly dependant on Gittany. She was trying to leave when she was thrown off their Sydney high-rise. As is well documented, the time when a woman wants to leave is the most dangerous in a domestic violence situation.

The case attracted high media attention and Dale was there for it all, which gives this book great weight. Dale also travelled to Lisa’s hometown and spent time with her family and friends.

I remember following some of the case and the appearance of Gittany’s new girlfriend Rachelle Louise was disturbing and to me, exemplified the obsession of some people for fame and recognition. Rachelle Louise, a beautiful woman (though in an odd, fake way) courted the media’s attention and held placards protesting other miscarriages of justice. The cameras followed her everywhere and when she cut her long hair into a slick bob and arrived for Gittany’s sentencing it also made news. Rachelle Louise gave a “tell-all” interview on Sunday Night, claiming her payment would fund law school so she could prove Gittany innocent.

Gittany was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years with a maximum of 26 years.

It’s a very sad story. A young woman is killed by her partner. Treated like a piece of rubbish and thrown to her death. A photo in the book shows the contents of Lisa’s handbag splayed all over the road. In it was something like an affirmation card or book of Loise L. Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. To me that is the sadness and desperation Lisa Harnum felt to change her life.

She never got the chance.

I did find parts of the book repetitive but this was more a reflection of the abuse and control in Gittany and Lisa Harnum’s relationship. He was so obsessed with knowing where she was and tracking her via text message. Constantly. Lisa Harnum’s victimisation was awful to read.Every time she would maybe have a chance to leave, she wanted to give him another chance…he was a master manipulator. He made her dependant on him and had exploited her fragile state of mind and made it far worse…then he killed her.

The Fall is published by Random House.

Fabulous Fred: The Strife and Times of Fred Cook


This book is more than a sport biography.

Debut author Paul Amy write the tale of Fred Cook, who was one of the legend players of the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in the 1970s. Cook was a colourful character and had “fame at a pop star level” during his heyday.

But with all intriguing stories, Cook had his flaws and these caused him to have a stunning crash to earth from his lofty fame. He earned excellent money for the time, was the publican of a legendary Melbourne watering hole The Station Hotel and had a thriving media career.

But as Amy details, Cook fell into drug use (“…Up until then he’d relied on strong coffee (sweetened by five sugars and cigarettes to stay ‘up’…”) and was mixing with the dangerous Melbourne underworld, namely the fearsome and crazy Dennis Allen. Allen was a regular at Cook’s Station Hotel and was the person who first offered the legendary footballer amphetamines. (For overseas readers of this blog, Dennis Allen was a deadly drug dealers who was behind the slayings of two Victoria Policemen Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre in 1988. Allen was part of the notorious Pettingill family – a crime clan headed by matriarch Kath. The hit Australian film Animal Kingdom drew inspiration for its central characters from the Pettingills and their crimes.

Cook did stints in jail and had a very chaotic romantic life – he estimates he has eight children from three or four mothers. (Cook struggles to remember details of his life due to his drug use.)

Amy is a fantastic storyteller. He worked closely with Fred Cook and his family, friends and associates to write this book. Amy is a sports journalist for Leader Community Newspapers in Melbourne and is one of the finest writers in Australia. (I disclose I work with Paul Amy and he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and absolutely passionate about sports and journalism).

Even if you don ‘t care much for sport, Fabulous Fred is a gripping read. It is a fascinating social and sport history as well as the tragic tale of a man who had everything and lost it all.

This book has a lot of heart.

Fabulous Fred: The Strife and Times of Fred Cook is published by Melbourne Books.


Margaret and Seana Tapp murders – more tragedy



For those of you who regularly read this blog you will know that I do have an interest in unsolved crimes, especially ones in Melbourne, Australia.

Earlier this month was the 30th anniversary of the murders of mother and daughter Margaret and Seana Tapp, 9, in Ferntree Gully, Melbourne.

On August 9, Herald Sun journalist Andrew Rule, who covered the case from the start and later unearthed information about deficiencies in the original police investigation, relayed another tragic element to the case.


Justin Tapp, who was 14 when his mother and baby sister were murdered, was found dead on June 3. Justin had moved London in 2001 but the tragedy followed him and he slowly drank away relationships, jobs and was found dead in a tiny bedsit.

“…He was slowly poisoned by the horror of what happened to them. He rarely spoke about it but was haunted by the thought that if he’d been at home at the time, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. He was only 14 then — just old enough to blame himself over the evil act that took two lives and destroyed his…” – Andrew Rule.

The last lines of Rule’s article are quite chilling: “…Whoever goes to see potential suspects might check their shoe size … and whether any of them ever had a link with the Girl Guides or Brownies. It could paint a whole new picture.”

(The strongest piece of evidence was the imprints of Dunlop Volley sneaker shoe in Margaret’s bedroom and the bathroom. Seana was also in a Brownies troupe, hence the reference to police investigating who may have been involved with the Girl Guides troupe.)



Mothers Who Murder by Xanthe Mallett

Mothers who murder

This book covers a topic that is deeply distressing and uncomfortable to consider. Women who kill their son or daughter, known as filicide, challenge our deeply ingrained notion of what we think a woman, and a mother in particular, should be and how she should act.

The author, Dr Xanthe Mallett covers many of the well-known cases in Australian criminal history of mother who have murdered their children , including Keli Lane, Kathleen Folbigg and most recently Kristi Abrahams. Mallett, who was a presenter on the recent Channel Ten show Wanted, is also a forensic anthropologist and draws on her expertise to review each case and also add her opinion on the facts, evidence and investigation. However, there’s not much new in the case chapters to draw on. There’s no new insights revealed, which dedicated true crime readers would probably be looking for from this book.

Mallett also details some well-known miscarriages of justice, including Australia’s most notorious case of Lindy Chamberlain as well as shocking cases from her native United Kingdom and Europe.

Mothers Who Murder paints a shocking picture of the cruelty (and evil as Mallett concluded) that women can inflict. To do so on their own flesh and blood is mystifying and perhaps, this is why the topic of mothers who kill their children will always be heavily covered by the media and disseminated by experts and pundits.

This is Mallett’s first book and it is thorough and well-written.

Mothers Who Murder is published by Ebury Press, an imprint of Random House Australia.


The Yoga Store Murder by Dan Morse


YSMCover3D1I remember reading about this strange and shocking murder when it happened. It stood out in my mind because of where the crime happened – a Lululemon Athletica store.

I’m no stranger to the brand, we have it in Australia where it has gained serious popularity in the past few years. The clothes are pricey and the staff – usually always Canadians on working holidays – are really friendly and very chilled out. It is the last place you’d expect to see a murder.

So this crime, which happened in a retail store in Bethesda, Maryland (America’s most educated small town according to Forbes. This is due to its proximity to Washington DC) was certainly at odds with its zen backdrop.

On March 12, 2011, two young saleswomen were found brutally attacked in the store. One, 30-year-old Jayna Murray, was dead. Her colleague, Brittany Norwood, 28 was found tied up on the bathroom floor.  Norwood told a disturbing story of two masked men coming into the store after the women had closed.  The wanted money but then things turned violent.

“I just remember there being so much blood,” Norwood told investigators.

A terrifying incident…if it was true. Why would masked men want to rob a yoga store? Of course, there was more to the story and police didn’t have to look far for the culprit, despite fears there were two maniacs on the loose in the affluent town. Forensics don’t lie and days later it was revealed that Norwood had brutally murdered Jayna.

The author, Dan Morse, is a crime reporter at the venerable Washington Post and covered this case. From the outset, you know Morse has real journalistic authority of this strange crime. As a journalist myself, this certainly appealed to me and as a true crime reader, I knew I was in for a good read…and I was not disappointed.

The book is exhaustive in its research. It’s really hard work to write a crime book (I wrote one that was published this year and it was a case file book. I am in awe of writers who cover a WHOLE case in one book) and Morse has really written a cracker of a story.

What is most interesting to me is why? What makes a young woman launch such an act of brutality…Jayna had hundreds of wounds on her body. (The case reminds me a bit of that of South Australian teen Jason Downie, who had no previous history of violence yet stabbed to death a 16-year-old girl and her parents that left one of the most bloody scenes police in that state had ever encountered.) And acts of violence by women are always more perplexing as they defy our stereotype of femininity. Morse goes into the “why”, as well as the “how”.

A strange and very sad case.

You follow Dan Morse at:

Twitter: @morsedan AND Facebook:


Love You to Death by Megan Norris



This is the latest book from Australia’s true crime queen. Megan Norris has written a gripping account of Melbourne businessman Chris Soteriou’s life with wife Vicky…and his almost death.

In 2010 as he left his surprise 44th birthday, organised by the sexy, seemingly devoted Vicky, Chris was attacked by a man called Ari Dimitrakis…Vicky’s lover.

Chris was walking arm in arm with Vicky when Dimitrakis stabbed him and slashed his throat.

Vicky, Chris’s wife of 18 years, was manipulative and conniving. She promised Chris she “loved him to death” yet organised for him to die. At the surprise party she fawned all over him while her lover lay in wait to kill Soteriou. At her trial her defence claimed she was suffering from post-natal depression, yet it wasn’t the first time she had tried to have Chris killed, nor was she the model of fidelity to her husband, whom she had three children.

Norris, a veteran courts and crime journalist and freelancer,  goes way beyond what is reported in the news and tracks down new information on this most sensational case.

Soteriou survived to tell his tale and Norris has produced a fascinating, chilling story of an evil woman and misguided love.

Last year Norris released On Father’s Day, which is the devastating account of the murders of three little boys by their father Robert Farquharson.

But Farquharson’s crime is the most extreme, and little understood,  example of family violence – the murder of children to punish the mother. It took seven years, two trials and three appeal hearings (Robert Farquharson was jailed for a minimum of 33 years) for this story to finally be heard and it contains details never before revealed in the trials or media coverage. Norris worked with Cindy Gambino, the boys’ mother, to tell this definitive account of one of the most notorious crimes in Australia.

Love You to Death is published by The Five Mile Press and available online and in bookstores from today.

Murder in Texas: Love, Sex and Betrayal. The Shelia Dillard-Jennifer Lewis Story…and the $300 Hitman!

This longform true crime case is By Clarence Walker (

Editor’s Note: Jupiter Entertainment,  a  U. S.-based production company is currently working on producing the Shelia Dillard-Jennifer Lewis murder story into a TV cable episode for TVONE Fatal Attraction program. The episode is scheduled for a later date.

Tuesday evening, March 23rd, 1993, 27-year-old Jennifer Lewis and Cheryl Allen, both nursing students headed to class at Houston Community College of Health Career Professionals, a highly respected medical training center in Houston Texas– located in the 3100 block of Shenandoah street, an area of Third Ward near North Macgregor and interstate freeway 288. Cheryl later graduated.

But Jennifer Lewis never achieved the academic goal she anxiously desired because a lone gunman shot her down in cold blood in that evening as witnesses watched.

On this dreadful evening 20 years ago, Cheryl parked her vehicle in the school’s parking lot, then Cheryl joined Jennifer as they strolled towards the entrance building. As Jennifer and Cheryl strolled along chatting they saw students on the campus ground waiting to be picked up for transport to their destination.

As Cheryl and Jennifer crossed the street towards the entrance a female student identified as Jessica Anderson would later recall a frightening moment while waiting for a relative to pick her up.

“I got out of school around 5:10 p.m.- I noticed two ladies walking out of the parking lot into the street when this black guy came up behind them. Then I heard a shot!” “I saw the smoke from the gun and the ladies began running, and the man ran eastbound with a big black gun in his “right” hand.”

Gasping for breath, the precious life of Jennifer Lewis hung in the balance. The scene was chaotic, pierced with the sound of wailing sirens from Houston Police patrol cars and emergency medical vehicles. Witnesses told arriving police officers that they saw a suspicious “red car” driving off at a high rate of speed at the end of the street headed towards 288 Freeway.

Medical personnel quickly loaded the victim into an ambulance. At high speed with its siren blaring and overhead lights blinking the ambulance raced down 288 freeway towards Ben Taub hospital. Ben Taub Hospital is an elite historical hospital renowned for its superior trauma center. HPD patrol cars flooded the area, blocking off mainline intersections that allowed officers to check out “red cars” fitting the description seen by the witnesses. Doctors worked feverishly to save Jennifer but fate took a bad turn. She died from a gunshot wound that entered her back and exited her chest area. Jennifer’s death was a shocking, sad day for relatives and friends who showed up at the hospital in droves.

“Lord my child is gone,” one of her parents sobbed. Back at the scene a full-scale homicide investigation got underway. Houston Police Sergeant-Homicide Detective Reuben Anderson and John Burmester conducted the preliminary canvass.

A TV news crew showed up and aired a live report for its late evening news. HPD officer C.A. Payne monitored the scene to preserve physical evidence.(Crime Scene Unit) officer J.L. Kay arrived at 1800 hours  to  work his expertise. First, Kay photographed and took video shots of  the scene where the victim collapsed in the street. Officer Kay circled the perimeter numerous times searching for shell casings but none were found.

A Nokia cell phone, an earring, and a plastic blood-stained lunch container were retrieved as evidence. These items belonged to Jennifer Lewis, the victim. Witnesses were shocked into fear that a brazen criminal would shoot a woman on school campus in broad daylight. Detective Anderson and Burmester interviewed witnesses who saw the shooting. “Tell me the best you remember what you saw and how the shooter looked,” Anderson asked a young lady.

“The man I saw do the shooting was a black man, early 20′s, 5″9, very thin, dark complexion, wearing a dark-colored baseball cap, black jeans and tennis shoes.”

A description of the wanted killer by witnesses varied. Yet they all agreed that the suspect was a young black man with a thin build and wearing a cap. Two other witnesses told detectives they saw the suspect jump into a red compact-type car and that another person was driving. One witness remembered the car as a 1991 or 1992 Red Pontiac Sundance with no license tags. Detective Anderson met with the deceased parents and siblings including a current boyfriend identified as Melvin Leon Reed. Reed was employed as a U.S. Postal worker and occasionally he served as an associated pastor. Jennifer Lewis and Melvin Reed were devout christians who frequently attended bible study and attended church together at  East Bethel Baptist church located in Southeast Houston on Calhoun street.  The attractive couple were deeply in love and had been happily engaged to tie the knot.  In a calm tone, Anderson offered condolences to Melvin Reed and Jennifer’s grieving relatives, but as a homicide detective, he had to mentally set his emotions aside to hunt down a killer.

Anderson discovered from relatives that Jennifer Lewis had no enemies, that she didn’t engage in malicious habits and attended church regularly. Also she worked in the medical field and took nursing courses at the college where she was shot to advance her profession. How could their child’s life be tragically taken so soon from them,  the victim’s parents wondered? Those who knew Jennifer were baffled. They could not figure out why someone wanted her dead. She was a pretty, very friendly, classy, young Christian woman, devoted to family, and deep in love with an aspiring pastor.

Cheryl  Allen was a bright young lady who adored Jennifer Lewis. They often rode to nursing college in Cheryl’s  vehicle. She gave Anderson a lengthy statement of the tragic events. “This afternoon I called Jennifer from work and she asked if I would take her boyfriend Melvin Reed home before we went to school.” “After I got off work at V.A. Hospital at 4:30 P.M.—I drove over to Jennifer’s house on Daphne street and picked her and Melvin up at 4:45; then I dropped Melvin off at home near the Astrodome.

“After dropping off Melvin, me and Jennifer continued to school.” As they walked towards the front entrance to enter the building, Cheryl told detectives she thought she heard a car backfire. “When I told Jennifer this,” she said, ‘I been shot.’ ”

“I saw a wound in Jennifer’s chest near her sternum. And while examining the wound I looked out the corner of my eye and saw a man running eastbound.” “We began running but Jennifer collapsed. Cheryl described the shooter as having a medium afro, between 17 and 45, wearing a dirty blue t-shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t get a good look at his face.”

Follow-up Investigation

Sergeant Anderson along with rookie homicide investigator Clarence “C B” Douglas exhaustively worked the case over the course of days that turned into months, and overlapped into the next year of 1994. Together these two homicide investigators chased down leads, no matter how insignificant, leaving no stones unturned. Anderson and Douglas had worked well together after Roy Ferguson, Anderson’s former long-time partner transferred to Houston Police recruiting division.

A lifelong resident of Houston’s Sunnyside, Reuben Anderson, upon returning from Vietnam, joined Houston Police Department as a rookie patrolman in 1970. Less than a year on patrol the young energetic Anderson transferred to narcotic division where he worked alongside legendary narcotic officer E.J. Stringfellow, Billy Williams, Bennie Alcorn, Joe Landrum, Robert Brady, Roy Ferguson, including other notable officers dedicated to sending dope dealers to prison who made a living off human misery by distributing deadly drugs throughout Houston area.

Homicide investigator Clarence Douglas also served in the Vietnam War. He left the military in 1971, and joined Philadelphia Police Department in 1972. Leaving Philly P.D. Douglas joined Houston Police Department in 1982. He transferred to homicide in 1992 from the Hiram Clark Station. Musically gifted, Douglas played guitar for the popular 1970′s Philadelphia  singing group, “The Stylistics”.

Douglas also has a son known in the entertainment business as Bennie Boom. Mr. Boom is a prominent Movie and Music Video Director who has directed music videos for rap legends like P.Diddy Sean Combs and 50 Cents. Boom has directed two feature movies, one called Next Day Air.

In 2011, Mr. Boom was also nominated for Video Director of the year by BET TV Network. “I’m very proud of my son,” investigator Douglas often says when people speak about the young man’s accomplishments in the Entertainment world. For Douglas, the investigator, the thrill of police work is like no other adrenalin rush. Unlike Douglas, his partner  Anderson exuded a tough veneer, the perfect image of a hard-nose cop who impressed upon suspects it was best to get their business straight. Douglas came across as a more caring, understanding kind of guy. But he was no pushover. He knew how to get tough.

Douglas wanted a feel for the scene so along with Anderson,  Douglas returned to Shenandoah street where the crime took place. “How could a woman be shot to death with people packed around the campus during daylight?” Douglas surmised to Anderson. “Whoever did it wanted Jennifer Lewis dead because the person could have shot the girl that Jennifer was walking with,” Anderson theorized. “But the shooter only shot Jennifer.” “No doubt Jennifer was the target,” Douglas agreed. Autopsy report confirmed obvious results: Jennifer Lewis died as result of a gunshot wound; the entry wound appeared to have been fired from a .38 caliber type.

 Who murdered Jennifer Lewis?

Melvin Leon Reed recalled to detectives how Shelia Dillard, an ex-girlfriend, stalked him, burglarizing his apartment and stole his .380 pistol. Further Reed explained, that Shelia, in a fit of rage, stole a beautiful photo of Jennifer that sat on a stereo in Reed’s house. “Shelia wanted us to get back together after I got with Jennifer but I didn’t want too. I loved Jennifer and wanted to make a life with her.” Reed further said he had a son by Shelia named “Little Melvin” and that he often had contact with Shelia through his son.

“After Shelia met Jennifer at my place she called me repeatedly wanting us to get back together. But I wasn’t interested.” Reed’s statement confirmed the sequence of events initially provided by relatives and witnesses who came in contact with Jennifer that tragic day on March 23rd.

Reed said he left work around 11:30 a.m.–and had a friend to drop him off at Jennifer’s house off Scott street. He stayed there with Jennifer reading the bible until Cheryl Allen arrived to pick Jennifer up so they could go to nursing school. On three occasions an unknown person called the Lewis home while Reed was there. Two of the calls came from a man asking for Jennifer and when her parent asked her to come to the phone the caller abruptly hung up. “When I answered one call, the voice made a grunt sound and hung up,” Reed said.

Once Melvin was dropped off he kissed Jennifer goodbye and handed her his cell phone. Later that evening a relative of Jennifer called Melvin by phone informing him of Jennifer getting shot walking to class and that she had died. Referring to Reed’s jilted ex-girlfriend Shelia Dillard, Anderson asked Melvin point-blank.”Do you think she had anything to do with it?” “I don’t know for sure but she may have.” Reed divulged how Shelia once followed him and Jennifer into a Chinese Restaurant in Gulfgate Mall. “Then she stole my .380 automatic pistol  twice!”

Reed explained to investigators. Reed got the gun back but not before Shelia pulled a strange stunt. “During one conversation I had with Shelia on the phone I could hear her hitting the phone with an object and she said, “I’m going to kill myself.’ ”

“Then I heard a shot!” “I started calling her name but she didn’t say anything for five minutes until finally she came back on the phone and resumed talking. I went and picked my gun up.” “I really wouldn’t talk to her afterwards. I kept telling Shelia that she was crazy.”

Shelia Dillard was love-smitten and by any means necessary, she desperately wanted Melvin Reed back into her life. She called Melvin’s phone so repeatedly until he decided to cool her off by answering.

“What is it that you really want?” Reed said he asked Shelia. . “I want that bitch dead,” Reed recalled her saying. “She started laughing and said,” ‘I didn’t mean it because if Jennifer comes up dead everyone will be looking at me.”

Douglas and Anderson instinctively knew from police work that sometimes when people speak of wanting people dead that it’s always possible a person will act.

“What Shelia said when you told her that Jennifer was dead?” Douglas asked Reed in his northern Philly accent. “Shelia said,” ‘Oh no.’ “I swear on my brother’s grave. Shelia insisted to Reed that, ” I don’t have anything to do with Jennifer’s death.

Reed promised detectives he would contact them if he found out who killed Jennifer.

“I think Shelia is involved somehow with Jennifer’s death,” Douglas commented to Anderson. “It appear she may know something; she stalked Melvin and Jennifer, and she threaten to commit suicide and even said she wanted the bitch dead,” Anderson responded. “If she did it she had someone to do it,” Anderson said. “Let’s bring her butt in for questioning and a polygraph,” Anderson suggested.

Shelia Dillard interview

Detectives explained to Shelia that she was a suspect based on certain things she said about Jennifer to her ex-lover Melvin Reed. Shelia denied killing and she denied having someone to kill Jennifer. She admitted to being in love with Melvin Reed and that she was hurt bad when she discovered Reed dating Jennifer. She recalled Police arresting Reed in her car for traffic warrants, and that Jennifer had took the car to Reed’s roomate. Reed later apologized to Shelia for having Jennifer in her car but added that Jennifer had needed a ride home from church.

“On the day Jennifer got killed I was home doing my mother’s and girlfriend hair. And on that day I did not have a car.” Shelia further admitted to detectives that she had stole Reed’s gun to make him come to her home to get it.

“The reason I took Jennifer’s picture from Melvin’s house and ripped it up, because he had had her riding in my car.” Nine days after Jennifer was killed, according to Shelia Dillard, sexual passion flamed between her and Melvin Reed. Shelia recalled the moment with acute clarity. “Melvin Reed called me over to his house and we made love. We have been seeing each other once or twice during the week after that.”

Shelia recalled another intimate moment with Melvin after Jennifer was murdered. “The last time we made love, Melvin wanted us to get in the pool together but we didn’t. But I still spent the night.” Prior to haviing the female suspect to take a polygraph, investigators conversed with the examiner as to which questions the examiner needed to zero in on concerning Shelia knowledge about the homicide.

A polygraph examiner had Shelia to take a lie detector test focused on specific questions: if she murdered Jennifer Lewis or had anyone to do it, and whether or not if she had a red car, or if she knew who killed the victim.

“She passed the test,” the examiner told detectives. Anderson, speaking in a tough-tone voice issued a dire warning to Shelia Dillard: “If we find out you had something to do with Jennifer’s death you’ll be going to the pen for the rest of your life.”

“I didn’t kill her,” Mr. Anderson, the well-dressed suspect declared.  Anderson told Shelia she was free to leave.  Investigators Douglas and Anderson tried another tactic to find the red car seen by witnesses leaving the scene.

Shelia Dillard Spotted in a Red Car

On April 14th, Sergeant Tyson of HPD Major Offenders Division was briefed by investigators about what was needed checked out to aid them to find the “phantom red car.” Investigators explained to Tyson that it was important to find out if Shelia Dillard had connections with anyone driving a Red Pontiac car similar to the one that witnesses saw leaving the murder location in Third Ward. Major Offender officers surveyed the Shelia’s apartment located at 7700 West Airport #215. Surveillance units observed several people walking inside and outside of the targeted apartment until finally officers spotted a Red 1990 Pontiac Sunbird at the apartment where the suspect lived. The vehicle later proved registered to an address at 503 Fawnwood street.

Officers saw Shelia in the Red Pontiac with a black male!

Shelia exited the vehicle and walked inside the apartment. Officers kept close watch as the man in the Red Pontiac drove three other females to a nearby shopping center where they met with another black male in a Red Chevrolet Beretta.

Now two red cars were seen near where Shelia Dillard lived.

After the Red Pontiac driver dropped the women off, officers followed him to 6600 Dumfries street. Detectives were advised of the new developments involving the Red car that Shelia had been riding in. Anderson and Douglas went to the registered address on Fawnwood to speak with the car owner. They discovered from a neighbor that the family had moved to Missouri City, and that the woman’s son who had lived there did drive a Red car. Addditional investigation showed the car belonged to Broderick Franklin who resembled the wanted suspect. Franklin was tall, well-built, and often wore a cap.

When Broderick Franklin received word that homicide investigators were looking for him, he hurried to HPD homicide division and took a polygraph to clear himself. When shown a photo of Shelia Dillard the young man denied knowing her. “She was in your car when you brought her home over on West Airport,” Douglas informed Franklin. “And you dropped off three other women at a shopping center. Franklin jogged his memory and responded. “I remember picking up the three girls but I don’t remember picking up Shelia.” He then explained not having the Red car anymore. It burned up in a fire on May 8th 1993, according to Franklin.

A subsequent polygraph test showed Broderick Franklin told the truth on the following questions:

(1) “Was you at Houston Community College on the day of the shooting of Jennifer Lewis?”

(2) “Do you know who shot the woman and have you ever let someone use your Red Sunbird without you being in it?”

(3) “Do you know Shelia Dillard?”

Detectives were back to square one. As big city homicide detectives other murders had to be solved that needed to be worked on. Still they refused to give up. In between working other cases Anderson and Douglas read the offense report searching for any clues they may have missed. Jennifer’s killer would not go unpunished.

A Call From Harris County Jail

On April 5th 1994, Deputy Price from Harris County jail contacted detectives about an inmate with important information about Jennifer Lewis death. Deputy Price briefed detectives of the interesting details that the inmate had privately told him. Detectives rushed to county jail on Franklin street where they met inmate Patrick Rynell Curry. Curry admitted that his girlfriend Lisa Randall, a close friend of Shelia Dillard had told him that Shelia hired a dope fiend to kill the girl walking to class. “On the day I found out about the murder I heard Shelia tell Lisa, “I got her.” “And Lisa said, do you know what you’ve done?”

Curry said he suspected Shelia was talking about the lady who had been dating Melvin Reed, Shelia’s former boyfriend.

“The next day I saw Melvin on TV talking about his girlfriend who was shot in the back as she walked to class with another girl.” Curry also remembered Shelia telling him and his girlfriend that she passed a polygraph test at the police department by sipping beer and taking a Xanax pill to calm her nerves. This witness swore he was telling the truth.

Leaving county jail the detectives were excited; the adrenalin in their veins pumping faster than a Texas oil well. From beginning both lawmen suspected the hit on Jennifer was connected with Shelia; proving it had not been easy. Detectives rushed into action to find other witnesses with first-hand knowledge about Shelia Dillard’s brutal deed.

Sergeant Tom Ladd partnered with Burmester to assist Douglas and Anderson to bring the case to a final solution. Ladd interviewed a female witness on April 6th at Saint James Rehab Center in Houston. Samari Michelle Dobbins, a close friend of Shelia Dillard, shared her own secret about murder. Samari said Shelia broke down crying implicating herself in the homicide.

(“Me) and Gary Chopp followed Jennifer to school,” Samar recalled Shelia’s words. “And we parked near a track.” When Shelia saw Jennifer, Samari stated, Shelia said to her that she ordered Chopp, “to go get that bitch, go get her.”

After Chopp killed the defenseless victim, Shelia told Samari the hitman ran back to her car and they drove off. Samari further recalled being at Shelia’s apartment on West Airport watching TV news when a report came on about the murder. “Shelia turned to Chopp, and shouted, ‘get rid of that hat.’ ” Embarrassed, Chopp threw the hat into a dumpster outside the apartment.

Meanwhile Shelia, Samari remembered, “paced the floor back and forth, waiting for her brother Darrell Dillard to return with her car. Samari explained to Ladd that Shelia had swapped off her beige-colored Ford to drive a Red Pontiac car that she used in the crime, a car owned by Darrell’s girlfriend named Gail.

“That night, Samari further told Ladd, the 10 P.M. news came on showing a photo of Jennifer Lewis. “And this is when, Little Melvin, Shelia’s son, said, ‘mother that’s my daddy’s girlfriend.’ ”

Then Shelia asked her son if he liked his daddy’s girlfriend, and if he “thought she was pretty.”

With a smile on his face, the young child, replied innocently, “Yeah I like her. She’s pretty momma.”

Ladd cracked a smile about the amusing incident. Samari identified Darrell Dillard as the person who introduced Gary Chopp to his sister, Shelia. And she also revealed the fact she knew Darrell provided the gun, a 38, to Chopp.

Darrell disposed of the gun and Shelia paid Chopp the money for the hit on Jennifer. But there was a catch. Darrell had sold Chopp so much crack cocaine in advance on credit, the money he earned for the murder, he wounded up handing over a total $300 back to Darrell.

Samari consoled Shelia as she sobbed uncontrollably, then according to the witness, Shelia deadpanned. “I didn’t want the bitch dead!” “I’m hurt and I wanted the bitch to be hurt too.”

The Takedown

After taking Samari Dobbins statement, Anderson, Ladd, Burmester and Douglas met at Harris County District Attorney Office where they discussed the evidence with Assistant D.A. Susan Brown.

Brown filed murder charges against Shelia Dillard, Gary Lane Chopp and Darrell Dillard. Lieutnant Knunkel organized detectives and HPD patrol officers to take the suspects down.

Clad in raid jackets, armed with heavy firepower, three different groups of officers during (early morning hours) at 2:a.m., they hit three address simultaneously. Detective Anderson arrested Shelia Dillard at Melvin Reed’s apartment on South Loop West.

Anderson berated Reed for lying about Shelia not being there. “I wanted to take him to jail,” Anderson recalled to this writer.

Four investigators including John Burmester, Mike Peters, George Aldrete and Frank Scoggins arrested hitman Chopp on Heatherbrook. Detective Douglas, Tom Ladd, and A.T. Hermann took Darrell Dillard down on Fondren. All three suspects were transported downtown to the city homicide division.

Truth Comes to Light

Trapped like a wounded animal, Shelia Dillard sobbed heavily until her eyes appeared blood-shot red. She didn’t want to talk with Anderson. He had already put the fear of God in her when he talked to her the first time.

Douglas was her choice. Like a patient mentor, Douglas kindly explained to Shelia that she was carrying a heavy burden, and that she had made the worst mistake in her life. He impressed upon her that he needed to hear the whole story to get everything straight. “Alright Shelia tell me what happened,” Douglas spoke in his gentle tone voice.

Shelia Dillard confessed hiring a heartless killer to murder Jennifer Lewis, a killer that she paid $700 dollars! Detective Douglas listened in awe as this scorned woman recalled masterminding a scheme to eliminate a rival who won the affection of Melvin Reed, a man who Shelia loved too much, and had loved him so much until she killed another woman, standing in her way.

Shelia said after she broke up with Reed in December 1992 that her brother Darrell Dillard made repeated comments indicating, “I looked stressed, had lost weight, and appeared worried over losing Reed to another woman.”

“I told him that I was just sick. But he said he would take care of it and make it alright.” Darrell and his girlfriend named Gail was living with Shelia at the time on West Airport. She would drop them off during the day at a crack house on Darlinghurst street.

“The day before the shooting I was at Melvin Reed’s place and I saw his phone book sitting on the bar. I already knew Jennifer’s phone number. But I didn’t know her address so I looked in the phone book and saw a letter sent to Melvin from Jennifer. I wrote the address on paper. And when Melvin came out of the restroom taking a shower I went home.”

On following day, that she received a “pager beep” that she carried in her purse. When she called the number, Darrell Dillard asked Shelia to meet him at the “crack house”.

Referring to killing Jennifer, Darrell said, “I got someone to take care of everything.”

“I didn’t ask him what he meant,” Shelia offered to Douglas.

After entering the “crack house” Shelia recalled Darrell introduced her to Gary lane Chopp, a drug-addicted hitman ready “asap” for the job.

“This is my buddy named Chopp,” Shelia recalled her brother saying.

Stalking a Victim

Shelia Dillard and her gang stalked Jennifer for hours before she was hunted down and brutally shot to death. Along with Shelia, Chopp and her brother Darrell, the trio drove to Melvin Reed’s apartment located on South Loop West to see if Jennifer was there. When no one answered Shelia’s repeated door “knocks” the suspects left. Having Jennifer’s address off Daphne street, Shelia drove down Daphne street (prounounced Daph-her-nee), along with Chopp riding shotgun. With no sign of the intended victim, Shelia dropped Chopp and Darrell off at the”crack house” on Darlinghurst street.

On March 23rd, Shelia met again with Darrell and Gary Chopp. Chopp, anticipating to shed blood, looked intently into Shelia’s eyes, and said, “I’m going to take care of that girl,” Shelia said to Douglas. The detective boiled with anger over the fact the young woman lost her life over a senseless situation.

“I told Chopp that Jennifer must be home because Melvin was at work. I drove on down Scott street to an Exxon Station on Yellowstone where I called Jennifer’s number from a pay phone. Once I dialed the number I gave the phone to Chopp.”

In a mild-tone voice, Chopp asked, “Is Jennifer there?”

A person who answered the call, said, “she’s here.” Chopp hung up, turned to Shelia, and stated, “she’s there.”

Playing spy games, Shelia and Chopp parked on Daphne street in front of a vacant house watching Jennifer’s address where she lived with her parents. When a suspicious man observed the couple, Chopp exited the vehicle driven by Shelia, walked over to the man, explaining they were waiting on a real estate agent.

Shelia continued. “We were still waiting when Chopp, looking through binoculars saw an uniformed mailman carrying a black briefcase walking across Jennifer’s yard.

“It’s Melvin,” Shelia yelled out. Next, Chopp pressured Shelia to drive to a nearby store so he could buy a cold beer. At the store, Shelia gave Chopp the phone again after dialing Jennifer’s number.

“Is Jennifer there?” Chopp asked. Hearing a man’s voice, the hitman quickly hung up.

Realizing she needed to pick up her children from elementary school, the stake out momentarily ended. After picking up her children, Shelia and Chopp met her brother Darrell along with his girlfriend to exchange vehicles in the parking lot of a popular nightclub called Carrington. Carrington was located off South Main street near 610 loop Freeway. Shelia gave Darrell her beige Ford Topaz and he gave a late model Red Pontiac Sundance that belonged to Gail his girlfriend. The car had dealer’s tag in the window. Darrell convinced his girlfriend Gail that his sister needed to use a different vehicle to take care of some business.

Returning to Daphne street where Jennifer lived, Shelia and Chopp observed Jennifer getting into a vehicle with two people inside. Shelia followed the vehicle to Melvin Reed’s apartment where the driver stopped at the entry gate.

“We stopped on the street and when Chopp jumped out of my car and walked up to the car that Jennifer was in–he saw a security man at the guard shack.”

Unable to strike, Chopp hurried back into Shelia’s car. They followed the vehicle onto the premises. Still undecided how to approach the vehicle the suspects watched as Melvin got out of the car, and handed Jennifer a cell phone. Shelia watched in a state of rage as her former lover passionately kissed Jennifer Lewis, the new woman in his life. Shelia’s heart broke into many pieces. She wanted to cry but more rage took over.

“What happened when you all made it to the campus where Jennifer went to school?” Detective Douglas inquired.

“When we got to the school….Jennifer and another girl went into the parking lot. Chopp told me to drive straight and stop by the Railroad Tracks and keep the car running. I stopped at the tracks, Chopp got out, walked behind the car towards the school with a gun inside a bag.”

“Then I heard a gunshot. I looked up in my mirror, and seen Chopp running towards the car. He got in and told me to go! He still had the gun in his hand.”

Both suspects fled the scene; the getaway car crossed over the tracks as Shelia drove the vehicle onto the 288 freeway. Gripping the steering wheel, she accelerated the gas pedal to a high speed while Chopp pulled off a burgundy shirt and threw it out the window.

“She’s at the hospital,she’ll be alright,” Shelia spoke out loudly. “No, I got her real good in the back; it’ll stop her from breathing,” hitman Chopp shot back with a glare. “I started to shoot the other girl walking with Jennifer, Chopp further said, but I only had two bullets in the gun and had to save a bullet, in case someone tried to catch me.”

Safe at home, Shelia told Douglas she was so upset until she cried out to her friend Samara Dobbins. “I told her that Chopp had shot Jennifer so she got me something to drink to calm me down. We stayed inside and watched the news.” “I got a call from Melvin Reed later that night asking for Jennifer’s picture.

When I asked why he wanted the picture, he said because Jennifer is dead!”

A Cheap Hitman Paid Off

Hitman Gary Chopp was paid off a few days later for killing Jennifer Lewis when Shelia returned to the ‘crack house” where Chopp, her brother Darrell and other small time dealers and users mingled in and out of the residence. Actually Shelia tried to dupe Douglas into believing she never paid Chopp any money for the hit. Instead she insisted she gave money to her brother Darrell to invest in his crack selling hustle in return for a profit on the money she fronted.

“If Darrell gave the money to Chopp it was because Chopp was working for Darrell in the dope house.” Yet what Shelia didn’t know is that her friend Samari Dobbins had already made a detailed statement to police indicating she knew firsthand that Shelia paid Chopp $700 in increments for shooting Jennifer. Dobbins told Detective Anderson and Douglas that Shelia told her that when she saw Jennifer on the campus she had told Chopp, “there go that bitch, go get her. I’m hurt and I wanted the bitch to be hurt.”

Gary Lane Chopp confessed being the hitman who stole the life of a beautiful, progressive, innocent woman, all for a few hundred dollars spent on “crack cocaine.” “I have known Darrell Dillard (Shelia’s brother) for about 4 or 5 years. Last year I was using crack, about 5 or 10 rocks per-day. Darrell was someone I would buy crack from.” “One day Darrell asked me if I would like to make a little money doing something for someone. He said he needed someone hurt and that the job would pay $700.” Darrell, acting as a broker and middleman, told Chopp that out of the $700 that he wanted $400 and that Chopp would get $300!

Chopp resumed his story. “I told him, yeah, I can do that. Then I started getting crack from Darrell on credit. He let me have it so I could do this job for him.” Finally Darrell introduced Chopp to his sister Shelia at the dope house on Darlinghurst. During this initial meeting, Chopp said Shelia impressed upon him that she wanted something done to her boyfriend who worked at the Post Office.

Chopp’s statement pretty much corroborated Shelia’s involvement in Jennifer’s murder except for he told detectives it was Shelia who set everything up; spying on Jennifer’s house with binoculars, exchanging vehicles with her brother, and had went as far as to buy flowers for him to act as a delivery man to get Jennifer to come to her door so he could kill her. Recalling in vivid details how( himself) with Shelia driving the Red car followed Jennifer and her friend from Melvin’s house to the nursing school located off 288 freeway at Macgregor, Chopp stated: “Shelia parked by the Rail Road tracks and I got out of the car and walked up to where the two girls was walking and shot Jennifer. She took off running down the sidewalk when I shot her. Then I ran to the car and we took off.” Next day, Chopp said Darrell told him the woman died. Detectives were repulsed to hear the young woman was murdered by someone who was so cold who took her life to be paid $300!

Detective Anderson gave Darrell Dillard his Miranda rights, explaining he had the “right” to remain silent or have an attorney present during questioning. But Dillard rebuffed detectives by denying accusations leveled against him. Sergeant-Detectives Mike Peters and George Aldrete joined Anderson to coax Dillard into incriminating himself to strengthen the murder case. “I have nothing to do with nobody’s murder,” Dillard told detectives.

When shown a photo of Gary Chopp, the man who Dillard hired for his sister to kill the victim, he denied knowing Chopp. Detectives tried another ploy. Since Gary Chopp had told detectives that he wanted to speak with Dillard, the officers seized this opportunity to have Chopp confront the guy.

“Maybe he’ll break,” Anderson suggested. Once Chopp entered the room he stared at Dillard and said, “You need to get your business straight. Look at us now. If it wasn’t for you, none of us would be here. We’re screwed up because of you!” Dillard acknowledged him, but said nothing in return. Sergeant Peters read Shelia’s statement to Dillard implicating him in the murder, still, he refused to admit involvement. After wrapping up the case, all three suspects charged with murder were placed in city jail.

News Media Coverage

On Friday, April 8th 1994, local TV stations aired several stories highlighting the work done by police that led to solving the case. Houston Chronicle published a feature story about the arrested suspects charged with murder in the 185th Criminal District Court. Houstonians were stunned to hear how a young lady was murdered in cold blood at the hands of a drug-addicted hitman whose share of the $700 payoff, was a pitiful $300. In a perverse way, Gary Lane was a cold piece of work by killing an innocent woman for $300.

Equally disgusting, Chopp, the hitman, never got the money in cash; he owed it for crack cocaine that he purchased in advance from Darrell Dillard, the drug dealer who brokered the murder . Still in mourning yet the arrests satisfied the victim’s parents.

“At first I thought it was a dream,” Bernard Lewis, the victim’s father, told a Chronicle reporter about the 4:a.m. call from detectives.” “To think somebody would take a life on that account, it’s just unbelievable, like an animal so to speak,” Mr. Lewis added. Attending church with friends and prayers to God helped the victim’s parents to cope with the tragedy. “When somebody’s gone, that’s all you can do,” the father lamented.

Detectives were overwhelmingly excited to put the killers behind bars. “We never put the case down,” Douglas told reporters. “We always waited for the final piece. It feels real good. We put in a lot of hours.”

Anderson agreed. “We were ecstatic to call Mr. Lewis and say, we caught your daughter’s killer.

What impulse triggered Shelia Dillard to kill another woman over a man who now neither one would have. Douglas summed it up: “It was all about jealousy.” “Shelia couldn’t stand to lose Melvin to Jennifer. He had broken up with her and wouldn’t take her back, but he still would have sex with Shelia. But Jennifer was the woman he wanted to marry.”

Final Chapter

Convicted murderer Shelia Dillard (inmate#754469) received 50 years in prison on May 31st 1996. A model inmate she now resides at a prison unit in Gatesville Texas. She came up for parole in 2010. Her parole was denied until 2014. Gary Lane Chopp (inmate#739474) got life in prison on November 14th, 1995. He reside at the Clements prison in Amarillo Texas. His next parole date scheduled for 2029.

Darrell Dillard previously made parole on the 20-year sentence that he received for his role in Jennifer Lewis death but currently he’s back in prison serving a long stretch on an unrelated case.

Sergeant-Detective Rueben Anderson retired from the city police department in 2003, the same year he unsuccessfully ran for Harris County Constable Precinct# 7, a top law enforcement position.. Bored with retirement, Anderson returned to Houston Police Department in 2007 to work as an information analyst in the Homicide Cold Case Murder division.

Leaving the department again in 2009, Anderson retired into a dedicated christian life working in the ministry, winning lost souls for Christ.

Sergeant Clarence Douglas left Houston Police Department in March 2005 to work for Recovery Healthcare Corporation. Prior to leaving the city, Douglas worked on the heartbreaking high-profile case of Raysate Knight aka Angel Doe. Raysate was a 6-year-old child killed by her mother and stepfather. Along with Detective Darcus Shorten. Douglas persistent work on the Angel Doe case was featured in Lois Gibson true-crime book: Face of Evil. Gibson is a world-renowned forensic artist.

Gibson’s superior artist work has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “The world’s most successful forensic artist whose sketches has helped law enforcement capture over 1000 wanted criminals.”

It has been 20 years since Jennifer Lewis was murdered. Her remains lie in Houston Memorial Garden Cemetery. But her spirit lives on.

Clarence Walker can be contacted at