The Fall: How Simon Gittany murdered Lisa Harnum

 

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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

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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

 

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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.

MURDER MYSTERY: COULD A PAIR OF DUNLOP VOLLEYS LEAD TO A KILLER OF COLD CASE VICTIMS MARGARET AND SEANA TAPP?

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

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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: facebook.com/danmorsewriter

Website: theyogastoremurder.com

Love You to Death by Megan Norris

 

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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 (truecrimewriter83@mail.com)

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 truecrimewriter83@mail.com

 

Hauptmann’s Ladder by Richard T. Cahill Jr

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If you want an exhaustive and meticulously researched account of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping the Hauptmann’s Ladder is THE book to read.

If you’re not familiar with the case (it’s probably one of the most notorious and sensational crimes in American history), in 1932, the infant son of American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from the nursery on the second floor of the family’s New Jersey home. A ransom note for $50,000 was found on window sill. (A second ransom note for $70,000 came days later).

The body of the baby, Charles Jr., was found a few months later.

A German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann was arrested for extortion and later charged with the murder of Charles Jr. He was executed in the electric chair in 1936.

The significance of the book’s title is a reference to the ladder that was used to gain access to the child’s bedroom.

The author Richard T. Cahill Jr has researched the case for over 20 years. It is a case where there are theories that Hauptmann was innocent and the victim of corruption and a cover-up. However Cahill presents the cold, hard facts of the case and draws upon documentary evidence, even including evidence and information that has never before been revealed.

The Lindbergh case is fascinating, frightening and an important part of America’s social history. This book is a very intelligent read that transcends true crime.

Hauptmann’s Ladder is published by Kent University Press

Cold Justice Season 2

There are some great true crime programs out there and Cold Justice is one of them. I am absolutely intrigued by cold cases and am in awe of the dedicated professionals who help to solve these crimes.

Produced for cable network TNTDrama, Cold Justice is a few episodes into the second series and runs (on US TV) until July 25.


 

The cold cases featured on the series get investigated as you watch. The crack team of prosecutor Kelly Siegler and CSI Yolanda McClary travel to towns across America to help solves cold cases where families and loved ones had otherwise given up hope.

One upcoming episode “Sunspot Highway” (to air July 25) focuses on the case of a discarded body along a remote mountain road. The team race to determine who in the woman’s life could have committed the heinous crime.​

(In Australia Cold Justice Season 1 is currently on air on the Crime + Investigation Channel.)

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Hawaii Unsolved Murders

 

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Hawaii has always intrigued me.

I have been fortunate to have visited Oahu twice – when I was 9 and 15 and it was beautiful. I especially loved the night markets and the friendliness of people. I’d like to return to Hawaii for a holiday now that I am an adult.

Of course, there are the television shows that have been set in Hawaii – Magnum PI and one I loved (but didn’t last long) The Byrds of Paradise.

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But for all the beauty and seeming casualness of Hawaiian life, there is a dark side to the island life and that’s most evident in the unsolved murders that police are still actively trying to solve.

I was intrigued by a more than decade-old article by the Honlolulu Advertiser about unsolved murders from the 1970s and 1980s.

It appears that a serial killer was active in 1985-1986 as there are five cases of women murdered in Honolulu. The killer has been dubbed The Honolulu Strangler and has not been caught. The victims were aged from 17 to 36.

There is also the horror case of eight-year-old Roiti Dias (below) who was kidnapped while walking to school on May 27, 1980, and later found dead with her throat slashed. No one has ever been arrested for her murder.

Another girl, Jiezhao Li, 12, was last seen on Feb. 11, 1988, selling fundraiser tickets near a 7-Eleven store in a Honolulu suburb called Nuuanu. She is still missing.

These unsolved crimes haunt detectives.

And a recent report on the Kauai cold case unit to say that they have not forgotten victims and investigators are actively working with the island’s prosecution office to crack these cases.

– The 1981 gunshot slayings of Californians John Klein, 28 and his wife Michelle, 25 who were vacationing on Kauai. Their bodies were found on a tourist trail and had been shot seven times.

Their murders unsettled tourists and was a set back to state officials and locals, who were trying to reassure people that Hawaii was safe to visit after some other high-profile instances of attacks visitors. There had been a gang rape of a Finnish woman, 23, by a gang of local teenagers in 1979, which attracted national coverage and condemnation over the shoddy handling of rape cases by the State.

One theory for the murders of the Kleins is that the couple – he a lawyer and she a publicist – stumbled across a marijuana crop. An Associated Press article from January 3, 1982 called “Marijuana Blight: Hawaii Paradise Threatened by Hidden Cultivation” reported that six months after the couple’s death, police harvested almost a tonne of weed within a mile of where their bodies were discovered.

Information on these cases and more can be found on the website of the Kaua’i Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.

Anyone reading this blog who has information that could solve any of these homicides should contact Honolulu Crime Stoppers or the Kauai County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney at 808-241-1888 or via email: coldcase@kauai.gov

A mother’s torment – the disappearance of Suzie Lawrance

Today is International Missing Children’s Day and I wanted to share with you all the story of Liz Westwood, an Australian mother whose daughter Suzie, 16, went missing in 1987.

On February 7, Suzie went to a party at Healesville Memorial Hall. She was last seen the next day, before disappearing without a trace. Healesville is a rural town and tourist attraction in Melbourne’s outer east and in 1987, it was very much a place where everyone knew one another.

As part of a multimedia project I did in 2012 called Unsolved East, photojournalist Eugene Hyland and I travelled to Liz Westwood’s home to speak with her about Suzie’s disappearance. The video interview can be found here on YouTube.

It is a baffling case. Liz has never heard from her daughter since, nor has any of Suzie’s brothers. As Liz told us, Suzie was very close in particular to one brother and she said it made no sense that she wouldn’t have at least contacted him over the years.

An aspect of the case that i found really strange was that the party dress that Suzie wore to the 21st birthday party – a white taffeta dress – has never been found (see story below. The picture is from a television recreation of her case). Suzie would have had to change from her party clothes as she was seen the next day at a music festival in nearby Yarra Glen.

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Someone must know what happened to Suzie?

Mothers whose murders are still unsolved

It’s Mother’s Day in Australia and North America. A time to celebrate mothers. Children give their mums/moms homemade cards and gifts. It’s a day for mum to be spoilt with a sleep-in and breakfast in bed.

But there are many families who are still waiting for justice. Their mothers have been murdered and the killer/s have not been brought to account…yet.

Here are some cases where families are desperate for answers:

>>The children of murdered Melbourne woman Nanette Ellis hope a $500,000 reward, announced in February, will bring the vital clues needed to solve their mum’s murder 30 years ago. Nanette’s murder was brutal and baffling. Who would want to kill her? Read the detailed account of the crime here, written by Melbourne journalist and crime writer Keith Moor. (Australia)

Nanette Ellis.
Nanette Ellis.

 

>>The naked, bashed and strangled body of 29-year-old factory worker and single mother of two Annette Steward was found in the bedroom of her Geelong West, Victoria home on March 18, 1992. Police believe this now 22-year-old cold case is solvable and they have a “strong suspect”. A 2007 coroner’s inquest named a suspect. (Australia)

Annette Steward
Annette Steward

 

>>The murder of Pennsylvania mom Joy Hibbs in 1991 is still unsolved. her 12-year-old son David came home from school on April 19, excited to tell her he’d made the school honor roll, only to see his home enveloped by thick smoke. Joy had been strangled and stabbed to death before the house fire. The killer, no doubt, trying to cover the crime by setting the house alight. (United States)

Joy Hibbs
Joy Hibbs

 

>>The brutal bashing of 53-year-old mother Julie Paskall as she was waiting to pick up her teen son from a hockey game shocked Canadians. Julie was beaten to death outside a Surrey, B.C., hockey arena on December 29, 2013 and when son Cailean came out to the parking lot, he found his mother surrounded by paramedics trying to save her life. Julie’s husband of 35 years said he wants to find the person responsible, but not for revenge. He simply wants to know why anyone would attack his 4-10″, 125-pound wife. Canadian detectives said in March that they were confident they would find her killer. (Canada)

 

Julie Paskall

 

 

 

Dig the Archives event

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I couldn’t have written  my true crime book Murder in Suburbia without the help of newspaper archives. And the thing is, I stumbled across it rather than actually knowing how to navigate my way through available resources. Finding out more about research and resources is something I am really keen to do.

The Victorian Archives Open Day is on Saturday, May 17 in Melbourne and is a fantastic way to discover how to “dig” into the resources available.  There will be a series of informative talks on offer all day from property research with Adam Ford of the ABC’s Who’s Been Sleeping In My House? to finding out about how to research your family history. You will also have the opportunity to get a behind the scenes tour where you will discover the “Treasures of the Archives”.

Of particular interest to me is veteran crime journalist and author Russell Robinson who will run a session on “Archives of intrigue”. Robinson has written about some of Victoria’s most notorious crimes that have not been in the public eye for many, many years.

The event and sessions  are free but bookings are essential.

For more information go to prov.vic.gov.au/dig-the-archives

The Victorian Archives Centre is at  99 Shiel St, North Melbourne.

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

I am really, really enjoying Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo. I am trying to read more crime fiction (when I find an author I love get so excited!) at the moment and while I still love my true crime, I like to keep an eye on what’s happening in the world of fiction.

I was sent a great selection of crime fiction by the good people at Dymocks booksellers. I was really excited to receive this surprise package and Jo Nesbo’s Cockroaches was among the selection.

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I have never read Jo Nesbo before. I don’t know why it has taken me so long (that’s kind of what happens when you read so much true crime!).

Cockroaches is one of Nesbo’s early novels featuring Harry Hole. Like most great crime protaganists, Hole,  an Oslo-based detective  is a loner, a loose cannon and he has some really unorthodox investigation methods. In Cockroaches, Hole arrives in Bangkok to investigate the death of the Norwegian ambassador.

I’m about a quarter way into this book and it is riveting.

Nesbo is Finnish and has sold more than 3 million of his books in his homeland – 23 million in other parts of the world. Nesbo is one of the leaders of Scandinavian Noir (ScandiNoir) as the genre is popularly known.

I’m looking forward to reading more Jo Nesbo

Source: Dymocks.com.au
Source: Dymocks.com.au

Been a bit quiet here

Hi everyone. I felt the need to explain why posts have been a little sporadic at True Crime Reader.

I am head down into writing my second book, which will have more of an international crime flavour.

My first book Murder in Suburbia is going well and I’m getting lots of feedback from readers. Thanks to everyone for the support.

Writing books is HARD. I’m finding is harder to write my second now that i know how much work and research goes into it. I had absolutely NO idea (which was probably a good thing) when I embarked on writing Murder in Suburbia.

I’ll get back into regular posts asap. In the meantime, please keep in touch and let me know what books you are reading at the moment!

 

 

The Mad Sculptor by Harold Schechter

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The mad Sculptor is an absolutely fascinating book by author Harold Schechter. Released last week, the book tells the story of a grisly triple murder at one of New York’s most prestigious addresses. I am absolutely mad (pardon the pun) for researching historic newspapers so this book had instant appeal to me. Here’s the dish on this book:

Beekman Place had a curious way of making it into the tabloids in the 1930s: “SKYSCRAPER SLAYER,” “BEAUTY SLAIN IN BATHTUB” read the headlines. On Easter Sunday in 1937, the discovery of a grisly triple homicide at Beekman Place would rock the neighborhood yet again—and enthrall the nation. The young man who committed the murders would come to be known in the annals of American crime as the Mad Sculptor.

Caught up in the Easter Sunday slayings was a bizarre and sensationalistic cast of characters, seemingly cooked up in a tabloid editor’s overheated imagination. The charismatic perpetrator, Roger Irwin, was a brilliant young sculptor who had studied with some of the masters of the era. But with his genius also came a deeply disturbed psyche; Irwin was obsessed with sexual self-mutilation and was frequently overcome by outbursts of violent rage.

Irwin’s primary victim, Veronica Gedeon, was a figure from the world of pulp fantasy—a stunning photographer’s model whose scandalous seminude pinups would titillate the public for weeks after her death. Irwin’s defense attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, was a courtroom celebrity with an unmatched record of acquittals and clients ranging from Al Capone to the Scottsboro Boys. And Dr. Fredric Wertham, psychiatrist and forensic scientist, befriended Irwin years before the murders and had predicted them in a public lecture months before the crime.

Based on extensive research and archival records, The Mad Sculptor recounts the chilling story of the Easter Sunday murders—a case that sparked a nationwide manhunt and endures as one of the most engrossing American crime dramas of the twentieth century.

I asked Harold Schechter a question about how things have changed with the media since the 1930s:

QUESTION: Describe how you view the evolution of media and journalism since the time of the Beekman Place murders.

ANSWER: One word: technology. In the 1930s, the public was forced to gratify its prurient interest with daily newspapers. Now we have 24/7 cable TV coverage and the Internet.

 NOTE: if your are lucky enough to be in NYC, Harold will be appearing at The Mysterious Bookshop on February 27.

The Charley Project

My website traffic had a massive surge last week and looking at my stats it is all thanks to the excellent website The Charley Project.

I have long been a fan of this blog, which is named after a famous missing persons case from the 1870s of a 4-year-old American by Charles Brewster Ross (You can read about the case here).

I think the Charley project is the most exhaustive resource on the internet devoted to Missing Persons.

Check it out. It’s fascinating and a very important source of information.

 

 

Murder in Suburbia

Things have been busy so far this year. I wrote my first true crime book last year and it was published by the Five Mile Press in January. For a long time I have been reading true crime so it was a very new experience to be writing my own book!

The book is called Murder in Suburbia and it features over 20 cases of murder in Australia’s suburbs and small towns.

You can read an extract here about the shocking case from 1950 of the suburban Melbourne mother who axed her teenage daughter to death while she was in a sleepwalking state.

There’s also an interview with the parents of murdered Melbourne mum jane Thurgood-Dove, who was shot in front of her children in a mistaken identity hit in 1997.

You can also read another extract about the shocking triple murder of three young people in Melbourne in 1992. The killer, Ashley Coulston, is one of the prisoners in Victoria whose file is marked “never to be released”.  Find the extract here.

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Find out more about the book at emilywebbcrime.com

Fate: Inside the Backpacker Murders Investigation by Neil Mercer

Review by A. R. Muir

The Sydney ‘backpacker murders’ of the 1980 and early 90s stand as perhaps the most infamous and scary chapter in Australia’s criminal history. Numerous books have been written about these serial killings from all angles. Fate by Neil Mercer targets the case from the point of view of the victims’ families. It tells of their first inklings that something may be wrong to their attempts to find their loved ones, and finally their reactions to the murder trial of Ivan Milat.

As a book on the backpacker murders it is probably best read in combination with others that contain more details on Milat’s life and family, for example Sins of the Brother by Mark Whittaker. What Mercer, a veteran Aussie journalist, does in Fate is put a very poignant face on the victims’ families, and their struggle for answers. He uses personal interviews and quotes to help narrate the unfolding horror of the families as they discover what monstrous atrocities their loved ones were forced to endure at the hands of the psychopath who then took their lives. It is moving to read of the search made by Manfred and Anke Neugebauer, parents of Gabor Neugebauer, and Norbert Habschied, Anja Habschied’s brother.

This is not a long book, but it does a decent job of outlining the case, and adding more understanding of the suffering felt by the victims’ families. It is a good introduction to the very convoluted case of the backpacker murders.

Forever Nine: The untold story of Bondi’s missing schoolgirl Samantha Knight

Review by A.R Muir

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When nine year old Samantha Knight was abducted from Bondi Road in 1986, Sydney reacted with a frantic search for any trace of the missing schoolgirl. Tips flooded in to police who pursued many avenues of inquiry, but ultimately failed to find her.

It took 16 years for some sort of justice to be obtained. The case “officially” ended with a plea of manslaughter from known paedophile, Michael Guider. He was allowed to plea to manslaughter despite the fact that he refused to tell the police where her body lay. Samantha, he claimed, was given an overdose of sleeping drug (in preparation of his abusing her). He was sentenced to only 12-17 years.

This is essentially where the story in Forever Nine by Denise Hoffman and John Kidman  takes off as co-author and one-time friend of Guider, Denise Hoffman, attempts to get him to reveal where her body is hidden. Working for the police, Hoffman pretends to want to renew their rather fleeting relationship as bush surveyors.

It culminates in her wearing a wire to prison visits with Guider. But he is a remorseless narcissist and in a child-like manner, refuses to play the game. This book is a well-paced narrative of Samantha’s disappearance, although the authors do not seem to have had much access to the family. The authors make a compelling circumstantial case for Guider’s guilt, although the decisive physical link in the evidence (such as DNA) is missing.

The story does not quite hold its momentum when it gets to the tete-a-tete between Guider and Hoffman. It seems a bit perverse that he is getting so much attention (which is what he craves) when it is clear that he will not give up his secrets so long as he can string Hoffman along. This is not a criticism of their attempts, as they have the best intentions of finding Samantha.

The reader can empathise with their frustration and disappointment. Perhaps the most chilling part of the case is that with a conviction for manslaughter, Guider could be out of jail sooner rather than later. This is a very well written and gripping true crime book, that will definitely leave an enduring image of Samantha Knight’s tragic story, as well as the hope that someday she may be returned to her family.