In 1991 Manhattan man Herbert Weinstein killed his wife. Weinstein confessed to the murder – the couple were having a heated argument and he dropped his wife Barbara from their apartment window. A shocking crime that left Weinstein’s family stunned. Weinstein had no history of violent behaviour.
Enter medicine and brain science. An MRI revealed that Weinstein had a tumour on the frontal lobe of his brain, the area that governs decision-making and impulse control. Could this be the reason Weinstein acted out in murderous rage? His defence used this argument, marking the entry into America’s courtrooms of neuroscience to explain criminal behaviour.
Author Kevin Davis uses the Weinstein case as the anchor of his book The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms. The book also explores the history of brain science in criminal trials and the scientific links between brain injuries and anti-social and criminal behaviour.
You’ll be intrigued to find out more (if you don’t already know) about the University of Texas mass shooter Charles Whitman and whether the tumour detected in his brain post-mortem could have contributed to his killing rampage of 13 people (31 others were injured). He was shot dead by the police and that’s the only thing that stopped him killing more people. The correlation between Whitman’s dreadful crime, his mental health and the pecan-sized brain tumour found is still subject to debate.
The Brain Defense posed a lot of questions and issues. Can science and medical conditions really be a rock-solid explanation for crimes, especially murder. There’s some really stark evidence about how early-life stress and violence affects the developing brain of children. I found this so interesting and disturbing because it seems that children who have stressful or abusive homes and upbringings are really at such dire risk of stunted health and development.
Davis speaks to experts in the field of neuroscience and psychiatry, including Dr Martin H. Teicher, a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard.
“Society reaps what it sows in nurturing it’s children,” says Teicher.
Davis writes: While abused children may know right from wrong, their brains are so irritable and the connections between hemispheres so tangled that they lack the ability to use logic and reason to control their aggressive impulses…”
Deadly Triangle author Fran Parker writes a page-turning saga about love, sex, jealousy, race, and Southern justice in a small town involving two young college students who were star athletes.
The story delves into the drama of the inner workings of, a three-way affair that ended in cold blood murder.
Monroe Louisiana: Joel Tillis future appeared bright and promising as a star athlete. Tillis, a 22-year-old African American woman, was highly respected as a crack-smart college student and outstanding Basketball Player at (NLU) – the prestigious Northeast Louisiana University College located in Monroe, Louisiana, the eighth largest city in the state. A tough, ambitious, student, Tillis played on the NCAA Lady Indians Women’s Basketball Team at NLU. NLU women’s basketball team was once the second best college team in the nation.
While attending NLU college, Tillis met and fell in love with a tall, curly-haired, handsome, African American, pre-med student named Irvin Bolden. The whirlwind courtship between Tillis and Bolden blossomed into an engagement to marry upon graduation.
Problems and sporadic discord entered the picture between Bolden and Tillis after Bolden discovered that Tillis spent too much quality time with a classmate and teammate named Brenda Spicer.
Bolden thought Spicer, blonde and pretty with sparkling blue eyes, was infatuated with his girlfriend Tillis. In Deadly Triangle, Fran Parker retell the incidents of how Spicer affectionately gave Tillis expensive brand name clothes and stuffed animals.
Rumours spread like wildfire throughout NLU campus indicating Tillis and Spicer were secret lovers, although both women denied and dismissed the rumours as untrue, and further, Joel Tillis defended her closeness with Brenda Spicer as a “sister-to-sister” type relationship.
But Tillis denials failed to soothe Irvin Bolden’s jealousy over the thought that whenever he sought to spend leisure time with Tillis, the white girl Brenda Spicer tagged along.
During a heated confrontation, Bolden, as he’d previously done, questioned Tillis about her close relationship with Spicer. Tillis swelling with anger, rebuked Bolden for trying “to dictate my life”. Feeling a degree of distance between himself and Tillis, Bolden reached out in desperation and contacted the NLU women’s team coach, imploring the sympathetic woman , “to help me get Joel back”.
Then Bolden wrote and sent a threaten letter to Spicer that said, “Stay away from Joel or I’ll handle it“.
When asked what motivated her to write a 304 page book about one of Louisiana’s most infamous crimes, author Fran Parker, an English graduate from Louisiana State University, said, in a email sent to True Crime Reader, “I’ve been asked numerous times why I chose murder to write about”.
“I knew that sports ranked higher in priority than academics, and that NLU would do anything to keep the lid on lesbian scandals involving coaches and players,” the author explained.
Previously, according to news media reports, the NLU Female Basketball Team had been placed on probation over questionable recruiting and evidence of a female coach having a lesbian affair with another female player.
Deadly Triangle details how Brenda Spicer’s lifeless, partially nude body, was found in a dumpster on NLU College campus on March 5, 1988. Spicer’s murder sent shockwaves of terror among NLU students and faculty members. Evidence showed the victim suffered strangulation.
Following Spicer’s brutal murder an outpouring of grief and fear engulfed Monroe residents. Newspaper headlines asked a chilling question: “Who Murdered Brenda Spicer?” As Monroe’s widespread communities teetered on edge, majority African American citizens feared the police would arrest the first African American who may appear guilty because the victim was white.
Investigators targeted Irvin Bolden. Joel Tillis boyfriend, due to reports of his suspicious behaviour including peculiar unanswered questions surrounding the case:
What Irvin Bolden actually knew about Joel Tillis and Brenda Spicer’s relationship that nobody else knew about?
Was it true that a NLU coach once discovered Spicer in Tillis private hotel room under suspicious circumstances?
And when Bolden heard about the bedroom incident involving Tillis and Spicer:did Bolden go into a rage in the lobby of a Beaumont Texas hotel?
Did jealousy turn Irvin Bolden into a ticking time bomb that set him off to rape and murder his lover’s best friend?
Fears of the African American community came true when Monroe homicide investigators charged Mr. Bolden with Brenda Spicer’s murder.
Deadly Triangle explores heavily how the conclusion of Bolden’s murder trial was as shocking as the murder itself.
Parker’s amazing true crime book further delve into what many eyes don’t see: that Southern Justice don’t always go astray to convict a Black person accused of committing crime against whites.
“Another deterrent to justice was that so many involved had their own inside agenda for lying to help the defense,” the author said in her email to True Crime Reader.
From a critical viewpoint, the only downside with Deadly Triangle is that the author occasionally shifted from one scenario to another without making the appropriate transition, but this is minor when compared to the totality of the superb writing.,
At Irvin Bolden’s trial for the murder of Brenda Spicer, the infectious and charming Joel Tillis betrayed her loving friend in death and stood by her man, contributing false testimony that contributed to Bolden’s freedom.
Now the couple would start over again. But the nightmare wasn’t over yet.
On June 11, 1989, Joel Tillis’s decomposing strangled body was found in a grassy field in Arkansas, 25 miles from Memphis, Tennesse. After Bolden’s acquittal in Spicer’s murder, Tillis and Bolden had packed up and moved to Memphis to pursue dreams of marriage and success in the business world, and possibly have children. Again, Irvin Bolden drew immediate attention from police once they discovered Bolden filed a bogus missing person report on Tillis. Investigators subsequently charged Bolden with the Joel Tillis murder. In a bizarre twist, the murderer that Tillis had gave her love and loyalty, had now turned on her like a Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde and murdered Tillis in the same manner he’d murdered Brenda Spicer.
Deadly Triangle is a must read for true crime fans who savor to probe into darkest deeds within human nature. This compelling story exemplifies an unstable love affair, filled to the brim with jealousy, unbridled passion, lesbianism, shattered manhood, and betrayed loyalty; the kind of toxic ingredients that ends in a deadly twist of double murders, the murders of two precious lives; Joel Tillis and Brenda Spicer extinguished forever.
Ace crime writer Fran Parker rips apart complex layers of a tragic story to finally expose the naked soul of a depraved mind. The book reveals how the search for true justice in America’s criminal justice system can go awry. And for the families of Joel Tillis and Brenda Spicer, many years have passed since the tragedies but they finally came to realise there would never be a peaceful closure and no real justice for some murderers.
Editor’s Note: Although Book Review Author and true crime journalist Clarence Walker resides in Houston Texas, Mr. Walker is a native of Southeast Arkansas located near Monroe Louisiana. Mesmerized by this sensational case down through the years this journalist followed the twists-and-turns of the Tillis-Spicer murders.
Caitlin Rother proves that a true crime writer must be many things: detective, researcher, legal expert and persuasive interviewer. In relating the case in Then No One Can Have Her Rother uses these skills plus gentle empathy for the victim, her friends and family.
The book is the story surrounding the murder of Carol Kennedy — a mother, artist, spiritual therapist and a wife in love with her husband despite her need to save herself by divorcing him. Just piecing together this case which covers a span of five years and has more ups and downs than the Swiss Alps proves Rother’s expertise and tenacity as a true-crime author.
On July 2, 2008, just 35 days after divorcing her charming stock-trader husband Steve DeMocker, Carol was found in her Prescott, Arizona, home bludgeoned to death. The investigation focuses on two possible suspects: her ex-husband and a male friend who occupied a guest house on Carol’s property.
Rother (above) describes the early stop-start and slightly bumbling efforts by local authorities to unravel this crime that was veiled by misrepresentation from the start. To add to the complexity of events, the investigation was hampered at every stage — even the outdoor portion of the crime scene was obliterated by rain shortly after the murder.
By distilling reams of evidence reports that ultimately implicated the killer, Rother describes years of psychological mistreatment endured by the victim. Carol’s dream marriage to her “soulmate,” as she called Steve, began to crumble under the strain of watching him jeopardize their family year after year by his self-centered spending and crass womanizing.
Rother’s investigation reveals that Steve counted on Carol’s loyalty despite his despicable behavior and used her love as the ultimate weapon against her. Steve’s passive-aggressive control over Carol broke like a parched twig in the Arizona desert when she divorced him setting in motion the grizzly events afterward.
But what about the renter in the guest house? Was he really just a friend or a man who wanted more? Peel back the truth as Rother takes you along in this crisscross investigation.
Then No One Can Have Heralso examines the challenges of prosecuting an educated, narcissistic suspect. In the hands of a less competent writer, the book could easily have become a tedious list of circumstances, but Rother keeps the story moving at a fast clip using a crisp, clear and detailed writing style she undoubtedly polished in her career as an award-winning journalist.
Rother also dissects a dark side of human behavior rarely seen — even in criminals — a parent who manipulates his children to protect himself. How the killer influences those that he should love and protect before and during his trial will both amaze and repulse readers.
One of the sections of Then No One Can Have Her not to be missed is the “author’s notes” because Rother reveals her personal reason for selecting this particular case for her book and why readers will feel that she was the perfect author to advocate for the victim.
This book, published by Pinnacle, illustrates how one man’s manic lust for control ended in murder. Then No One Can Have Her is a suspenseful read well worth your time.
Put on your fedora, sit back and enjoy one of the best period true-crime books to be released recently.
“Deadly Hero” by Jason Lucky Morrow takes the reader back to the heartland of America — Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the mid-1930s. The book illuminates how power, money, and a killer who is right on the edge of sanity combined to produce a tragedy that rocked Oklahoma for decades after the crime.
“Deadly Hero” is the story on two “rich kids” from Tulsa and a scheme involving get-rich-quick-money and a damsel in distress. Setting up this convoluted convergence of story lines takes Morrow’s gift to cut to the chase and boil the story down. The heart of the book reveals how the killing of one of those boys occurred, a brazen claim of self-defense and how the parents of both young men reacted to the crime and the ensuing trial.
Morrow is the perfect storyteller for this crime. His prose is crisp, no-nonsense and uses just enough period lingo to shed light an era when the justice system was easily swayed not by what was right, but by the connections of the criminal. Morrow’s research and careful examination of hundred of pages of court notes, newspaper archives and first-person interviews are handled with care and accuracy.
Morrow’s earlier career as a reporter provides him a solid footing to approach this type of book. “Deadly Hero,” however, is more than this — it’s a look at the dark side of the newspaper business in the 1930’s and how it fed hysteria as reporters worked fast-and-loose to cover the murder.
It also describes the painfully slow legal process that is as true today as it was then, and how political power may or may not help when a parent is protecting his child who has done something unspeakable.
The story is filled with many characters (even some who gave police false names), the rumors of unknown illegal past behavior of the victim and his killer and a town all too eager to spread gossip as gospel. Morrow’s attention to detail is evident on every page. The book includes footnotes, maps and photographs that help readers understand a time that few lived in. The story unfolds at a great clip, and the author makes additional impact by providing insights into an era when being a cop, detective or reporter were just beginning as true professions in America.
“Deadly Hero” is a great read that reminds one of the black-and-white films that we all love to watch on dark, stormy nights. Enjoy.
The Day the Catskills Cried recounts the 1977 kidnapping and tragic murder of Trudy Resnick Farber in a rural New York town near the Catskill Mountains. Trudy, a young wife, was the daughter of millionaire industrialist Harry Resnick and niece of the former U.S. Representative Joesph Y. Resnick.
She was abducted at gunpoint from her home by a masked intruder then buried alive in a pit while her abductor demanded one million dollars ransom for her return. The crime was devised by the schizophrenic mind of Ronald H. Krom and motivated be greed and revenge. Krom and Trudy knew each other as youngsters because their parents had a business relationship at one time. Krom is revealed as a man who has a grandiose self-image combined with a propensity to demand social respect that resulted in a senseless murder. The slight that starts this bizarre spiral is that Krom is not invited to Trudy’s wedding.
The book describes the arduous process of bringing Trudy’s killer to justice. It’s only after Krom has confessed and brings authorities to Trudy’s earth-bound cell that they all realize that Trudy died alone and terrified while in captivity. Then the legal circus begins and is drastically slowed down when allowances have to be made due to Krom’s previously diagnosed schizophrenia.
Throughout the book, Beyea, a former state investigator for New York, shows his respect for authorities and prosecutors involved in the case by highlighting the nature of the exacting work done by the team. He also shows his compassion toward for the victim’s family as they restrained their emotions and focused only on bringing Trudy’s killer to justice despite endless delays.
There is a distraction in the book, however, that is created by choppy writing and insertion of the author into the story via “notes” to the reader. Meaningful character development is lacking and the author characterizes those involved are clearly all good or all evil. Bringing the courtroom drama alive at the trial of Ronald Krom is where Beyea’s grit and skill as an author shines.
The book makes two strong points: evil exists in this world, and the American system of justice protects the rights of everyone — even those who are accused of unthinkable criminal acts until proven guilty, despite how long that process takes.
This true crime case has a lot of elements that make it an extremely intriguing tale – a missing and murdered Michigan teen, witchcraft, a defence lawyer who also happened to be a priest, other tragedies that befell people with links to the case.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, The True Story of Murder in a Small Town, is an eBook version of the traditionally published, Murder in the Thumb, which came out in 2012.
The victim was Robin Adams, a 17-year-old high school girl. She vanished in 1976 and her disappearance was unsolved for eight years until a brother and sister were in the frame for her murder. (The sister, Nora Garza, cooperated with police to lead them to Robin’s body in exchange for the murder charge against her being dropped.)
At the time of the prosecution of the siblings, Robin’s body had not yet been found. The case was a legal first for Michigan because the prosecutors charged the accused with murder without a body. It was the first time this had ever been done.
Author Richard W. Carson is a journalist with decades of experience who has worked on newspapers, including The Columbus Dispatch (the major daily newspaper for Ohio’s capital city). Putting this intriguing story into a book has been a long project for Carson. As a journo and true crime author myself, the story seems mind-boggling and Carson has done a fantastic job. It’s a great read. It is detailed and painstakingly researched.
This book is about the sensational trial of a woman called Jodi Arias who was convicted of the brutal murder of her boyfriend Travis Alexander in 2008. He was stabbed around 30 times, had his throat slit and his body lay undiscovered for days.
This case has gripped America. In fact, Arias will be sentenced in April to either life in prison or a life term with the possibility of release after 25 years. The death penalty was taken “off the table” after the jury could not reach a decision on her punishment.
California-based court blogger and author Lisa Wilson teamed up with South African photojournalist Nick Van Der Leek to write about the Arias crime and trial. This book covers the background, investigation and trial of Arias, who displayed bizarre behaviour in the wake of her boyfriend’s murder. She did headstands in the police interview room just minutes before she was charged with Travis’s murder.
Jodie Arias has fascinated people because her behaviour plays into the public’s intrigue and fears about evil women. The motive for the murder is believed to be Arias’s fury that Travis wanted to end their relationship, which was volatile. (The couple’s phone sex conversations were sensationally played in court, among other things.)
For someone like me who knew only scant details about the Arias, Audacity was a decent read that gave me a comprehensive look at the case.
Being based in Australia where our criminal justice system is very different to that in America, I can find coverage of cases a bit overwhelming…and that’s coming from someone who is very interested in true crime.
For instance, jurors are never allowed to speak to the press. Only details in open court are allowed to be reported and the media must wait until a conviction to reveal certain details of police investigations and an offender’s background. (I still can’t get my head around how in the US it is open slather to report on every little detail of a crime, the accused and the victim. how does that not influence a jury?)
That is why books and media coverage about US cases are so tantalising for true crime readers.
Audacity was quite a gripping read. Arias is certainly a very dangerous woman. I really feel for the family of Travis Alexander.
Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas PokerREVIEWED by By Investigative Crime Journalist Clarence Walker: firstname.lastname@example.org
Texas outlaw Benny Binion was an amazing character.
In fact, he was many characters all wrapped up into one – A Texas cowboy, famous casino owner, a poker pioneer, gambler, a smooth-talking businessman, a ruthless gangster with organized crime connections, a killer…and the founder of the World’s Poker Series, a series held each year in Las Vegas that showcases the best players from around the globe.
The life story of Benny Binion had to be told in all its splendid glory and spellbinding details.
Blood Aces is the definitive biography of a Texas outlaw who played important roles in making Las Vegas the world’s most famous gambling empire. Blood Aces may sound like a fiction novel, but it is a true-life book, which comes compellingly alive.
People are fascinated by the Sopranos, Mafia dons, hit men, drug kingpins and flashy criminals.
But meet Benny “Cowboy” Binion, a real-life Texas gangster.
Swanson, a Dallas Morning News Investigative Project Editor, writes in Blood Aces. “The nation’s history is packed with legendary outlaws. But none of them can match Binion’s wild, bloody, and American journey.”
“As much as anyone,” says Swanson, “Binion made Vegas a mecca for high rollers”.
Binion’s poker games became a big hit when Binion and close friends played a few rounds in 1970. A shrewd money-maker, Binion figured out that poker games could make money at his Horseshoe Casino.
Benny Binion was a modern day Billy “the” Kid. As a killer, Binion’s oft-remarks were, “I ain’t killed nobody that didn’t deserve it”. Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong
As a killer, Binion’s oft-remarks were, “I ain’t killed nobody that didn’t deserve it”. Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong…and my enemies can do no right. Do your enemies, before they do you.”
Other remarks by Binion are legendary: “My friends can do no wrong, and my enemies can do no right. Do your enemies, before they do you.”
When FBI agents pursued Binion for his involvement in the murder of Bill Coulter, a former FBI agent, and a Russian guy named Louie Strauss, Binion, in a moment of rage, told a reporter: “Tell them FBIs’…I am still capable of doing my own killing!”.
When Herbert “the Cat” Noble refused to give Binion 40 per cent of his gambling operation, Binion tried to kill Noble 11 times!
Binion’s crew finally succeeded by killing Noble…on the eleventh try. Previous attempts to kill “Cat Noble” included bombs that didn’t go off, shots that either hit Noble (but he survived) or multiple shots that missed Noble. On one attempt, the killers blowed up Noble’s car, then went back to Binion to claim a $25,000 reward, but Binion broke the sad news, that they killed Noble’s wife, not Noble.
It took eleven attempts, but old Cowboy Benny finally killed the “Cat.”
Benny “Cowboy” Binion was a modern day Billy “the kid” or Jessie James, but Binion had much more money. Much more.
Binion was dangerous as a rattlesnake, but also he became a “super rich” gangster, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Inside Binion’s Horsehoe Casino he allowed regular customers and tourists to take pictures standing outside a glass-plated showcase filled up with a million dollars.
Binion’s wealth influence and power connections led him into the circle of some of America’s most notorious and prominent people, as well as those abroad. Blood Aces retrace Binion’s footsteps all the way from the back woods of Texas to the West Coast, where he settled in Las Vegas.
Arriving in Vegas from Texas during 1940s’, Binion, as a southern style gambling boss, forged close relationships with Mafia players like Meyer Lanksy, Bugsy Siegel, Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, Mickey Cohen, and billionaire Howard Hughes. He surrounded himself with a host of well-connected people with political power, capable of making things happen. Or make things not happen.
Gifted with razor-sharp intelligence, boldness, folksy charm, and having the heart of a cold-bloodied killer, Benny Binion opened Las Vegas Horseshoe Casino & Hotel on Freemont street in 1951. And he became the most revered figure in the history of Las Vegas gambling.
Benny Binion was a true pioneer who understood the makings of a successful casino by offering patrons a better deal for their money – good food, fine whisky, lovely-looking women, private rooms, and beautiful central air suites to sleep in. If customers so desired, Binion had limousine service to drive customers to and from the airport.
Binion’s formula for running a business was simple: cultivate the big boys, own the cops, and kill your enemies.
For decades, Benny Binion’s name and hellish reputation has echoed throughout Texas and Las Vegas history like old ghost stories and never-ending gangster lore, but author Douglas Swanson may be the first writer to cobble together all the nitty-gritty exclusive details together.
Blood Aces captures the essence of Benny Binion’s dirt-poor childhood life growing up in Texas, all the way to his gigantic rise as boss of the “numbers rackets” in and around Dallas Texas. “He came from nothing,” writes Swanson, “or the nearest thing to it”.
VERDICT: Blood Aces is a page burner. It’s hard to put it down without going back to it.
The Innocent Killeris 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…”.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I 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”.
This longform true crime case is By Clarence Walker (email@example.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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Kauaicold 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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)
>>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)
>>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)
>>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)
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.
PART ONE On January 31st 1988, a cold, windy chill plunged Glenview Illinois, a Chicago suburb, into an icy city with temperatures reaching far below 20’s, when 67-year-old Knut Einarsen received an ominous phone call at his suburban home.
Picking up the receiver, Mr. Einarsen greeted the caller with a cordial “hello”.
“Is Shelia there?” the woman’s voice spoke in a whispered tone into the phone.
“Who’s calling, please?” Mr. Einarsen inquired.
“Ann”, the woman answered gently.
Thinking the young woman was a friend of his lovely daughter Shelia, Einarsen replied, “she’s in Houston Texas.”
“Okay, thank you, the caller said, ending the conversation.
On February 1st, several hundred miles away from Glenview, way down in Texas, Lieutenant Richard Holland with Houston Police Homicide Division called Sergeants Waymon Allen and Doug Bacon into his office.
“Got a dead female at a Townhouse at 2600 Westerland street off Westheimer.”
“It looks like foul play, the woman been shot, Holland advised the sergeants.
“Alright we’re headed out there,” Allen responded.
The evening traffic was pretty heavy as Sgt. Allen navigated the unmarked police car down Memorial Drive until turning onto 610 South passing through the fabulous Galleria area, zigzagging around vehicles until exiting the cruiser onto Westheimer. Arriving at Woodlake Townhouses at approximately 6:40 p.m.– the Sergeants exited the vehicle and headed up to apartment# 1812. TV news media crews were already there to broadcast a “breaking news” story about the woman’s death. HPD (Houston Police Department Officer) James Walker (no relations to author), briefed the Sergeants on the preliminary findings.
“Apartment manager found the victim when she went to the home to discuss with the victim the changing of floor carpet,” Walker informed the homicide investigators.
The victim was officially identified as Shelia Doll, a school teacher from Illinois who’d arrived in Houston on January 29th to live with her husband. Meanwhile Sgt. Bacon canvassed the apartments, knocking on doors in hope of finding someone who may have seen or heard something unusual. CSU officer G.L. Burke retrieved a fired .25 caliber shell and tagged it as evidence. An examination of the woman’s body kneeling on the chair with her face turned sideways showed she’d been shot in the back near her upper-left shoulder.
With no suspect in custody, Allen and Bacon braced themselves for a real whodunit. But when the victim’s husband Paul Doll, an Enron employee, arrived on the scene the investigation focused in on one person. Doll told detectives he’d been married to the victim for four years and that after four months of marriage they separated for 14 months as result of marital conflicts involving his wife’s dalliance with another man. She arrived in Houston from Illinois on January 29th.
Doll said during his separation he met a woman also a school teacher identified as Christine Larson. Doll recalled having a satisfying sexual relationship with Larson but that suddenly she changed, becoming obsessive, and threatened to commit suicide when he broke the news to her that he would reconcile with his wife.
On two occasions, according to Doll, Larson purchased a weapon and threaten to commit suicide by putting a gun to her head if he ended their relationship. Doll relented, and decided he should at least remain as a friend with Larson.
Sgt. Allen took copious notes as Doll revealed more interesting details. “My wife said prior to coming to Houston that a female called her in Illinois and told her that if she moved back to Houston she would be killed.” On January 31st, Doll elaborated, “My in-laws in Illinois said they received a phone call from a female who told them she was a friend of my wife Shelia and wanted to know when she would return to Houston, and when the caller was told Shelia was already in Houston, the female hung up the phone.”
Doll said the last time he spoke with his wife was around 10:45 a.m. when she told him she was waiting for someone to change the locks and carpet at the place where they were staying. When Doll called back at 11:30 a.m., his wife didn’t answer the phone.
Doll admitted he accused Larson of making the calls to his in-laws and that the only way she got the Illinois numbers was when she used the key he previously gave her when they were together, and by having the key this is how she entered his apartment while he was gone. The house key matter explained why Doll had requested apartment manager to change the locks on his residence.
Allen and Bacon received another lead when the apartment’s maintenance worker Carlos Ariaza said shortly before noon that day he saw a woman on the property that he knew by sight as Christine Larson, Paul Doll’s girlfriend. “I thought it was strange that Larson was going to the front of the apartments instead of the rear because most residents entered through the back where parking spaces are.”
Ariaza said the last time he saw Larson was when he was headed to lunch in his car and that he saw Larson turned off on Westheimer onto Jeanetta street. To expedite the investigation, Lieutenant Holland assigned Homicide Sergeant investigators Steve Garza and John Castillo (now deceased) to pay a visit to the home of Christine Larson who lived at 7302 Alabonson street–apartment# 1002. Their routine game plan was to cordially ask the woman to accompany them back to police station where Garza and Castillo would question Miss Larson about the murder of Shelia Doll.
Upon arrival at the suspect’s apartment both officers politely introduced themselves to Christine Larson when she answered the door. Both sergeants explained the urgency to speak with her about what happened to her lover’s wife.
“Shelia Doll was killed today and we need to talk with you about it,” Garza explained.
Larson voluntarily agreed to accompany the murder squad sergeants back to homicide division located downtown Houston at 61 Riesner Street. Arriving at downtown station shortly before 10:p.m., the suspect was escorted to room# 363A. Prior to interviewing Larson, Sgt. Garza issued a miranda warning explaining her right to remain silent if she wished to do so. Garza already knew the dynamics behind the relationship the suspect once had with the murdered woman’s husband Paul Doll, and the fact Larson threatened suicide to blackmail Doll into not breaking off the turbulent affair. With no eyewitness to the crime, no murder weapon, and no physical evidence to put Larson inside the house, Garza needed a confession. Or even if the suspect gave a self-serving incriminating statement this also would suffice to file charges. “I have nothing to hide,” Larson said.
During interview Larson denied killing Shelia Doll but she fondly recalled how she first met Paul Doll back in November 1987. “It was love at first sight,” Larson spoke in a monotone voice. Paul would make remarks inferring that someday we would be married and that he loved me.” She acknowledged Paul being separated from his wife Shelia and that Shelia had returned to Illinois after the separation. Larson said the victim cheated on Paul and the couple split up.
Larson and Paul Doll lived together periodically at Paul Doll’s townhouse during his separation from his wife. Recalling how the relationship between herself and Doll went sour, Larson said she was so despondent over Paul’s intent to break off their relationship to reunite with his wife until she purchased a weapon and threatened to kill herself at the home of Paul Doll’s mother. Paul eventually convinced Larson to put the gun down, asking her to please return the gun back to the store where she purchased it from.
“What kind of gun was it?” Garza asked skeptically.
“It was a small type gun,” Larson replied. “A few weeks later we had another bad argument and I purchased a second gun from a different gun shop,” Larson pointed out.
“I was really going to kill myself this time–and I went through a long period of depression,” she added as if she wanted Garza and Castillo to believe they were her confidant. For a second time, Larson said, her lover Paul Doll coaxed her to put the gun down.
Although Larson’s love affair with Paul cooled off still they continued to spend time together and have sex. Doll would later testify in court that Larson would drive him to the airport so he could catch a flight to Illinois to visit his estranged wife. Larson insisted she had not been nowhere near Shelia Doll when she was murdered. But Garza knew she lied because a witness had already informed Sgt. Waymon Allen that he saw Larson on the property before noon.
Garza played the game to trap Larson in more lies. Larson gave an alibi to prove she was not the killer. “This morning I went to school at Carr Elementary to get everything ready for the kids.”
Claiming stomach cramps forced her to leave early Larson said she returned to her apartment and later had the apartment manager to change her door lock. Next, she said she went to Houston’s Northwest Mall where she walked around, window shopping; then, she went to the home of Paul Doll’s mother to have lunch. Leaving there Larson visited a friend’s business place on Pinemont Street.
From there Larson further said she went to Willowbrook Mall to visit a friend at Zales’s Jewelry, a store where Larson also worked part-time. “I returned to my apartment to wait for a friend named Robert to arrive when you all came,” Larson stated. Garza pressed Larson about the second gun she purchased, asking her pointedly, “What kind of gun it was?” And, “where did she throw it to get rid of it?” Despite remembering specific dates, locations, and exact times she interacted with Paul Doll and other people, yet she feigned ignorance as to when she purchased the second gun, what caliber it was, and where she disposed it.
Sgt. Castillo took over the interview after questioning Paul Doll some more. Castillo said Doll remembered the first gun as a .38 and the second one as a .25. A .25 shell casing was found at the murder scene. Castillo pointed out Larson’s inconsistencies in her statement to Garza. He reminded her that a witness saw her on the property where the homicide took place around noon or shortly before. Larson’s eyes widened in surprise upon hearing she’d been spotted on Doll’s premises when she previously denied that she had not been there. “A witness saw you, he knows you from being there with Mr. Doll,” Castillo said. He also told Larson she’d been seen with a small caliber pistol similar to the one used to kill the woman.
“You need to get your business straight,” Castillo warned Larson.
“We know you first bought a .38 and then you bought a .25 caliber. “If you had an argument or a fight with the woman that caused you to shoot her, you need to tell us.”
Castillo went on to tell the woman that if they proved she first burglarized the house by using a key and then shot the woman, he said, “you could be looking at capital murder,” he warned her. The penalty for capital murder carried automatic life in prison or a death sentence. If a first-degree murder charge was filed against Larson the penalty carried less as five years and up to life in prison. A person with no prior felonies like Larson even qualified for probation under Texas law written at that time.
Castillo’s psychology worked. Christine Larson had another story to tell.
“I haven’t told the whole story. I want to tell the truth now,” Larson spoke tearfully. “After I left work this morning I went home to change my clothes and to have my door locks changed. Then I went over to Paul’s apartment.
“At first I walked around the front door to see if Shelia was watching TV in the front room. But I couldn’t see inside. Then I went around to the back door where the parking area is. I rang the doorbell and then put my finger over the peep hole so she couldn’t see.”
Larson’s story indicated when Shelia Doll opened the door, a wave of fear gripped the targeted victim when she saw this desperate looking woman standing there. Before Shelia closed the door, Larson pushed it open. “You must be Chris,” Larson recalled the woman saying. “And I said,” you must be Shelia.” Larson Continued. “I already had the gun in my hand and I asked her where Paul was, and she said upstairs. I know he wasn’t because I already talked to him at work.”
Larson’s versions of events further indicated that when the woman turned to go back into the apartment a shouting match between them erupted as the two struggled over the gun. As both women pulled on the gun Larson explained, the gun went off. Larson excitedly said she didn’t know if the bullet struck the woman because she ran through the living room, opened the patio door and felled on a chair.
“She was still breathing, I tried to talk to her but she didn’t say anything. I walked over to where she was and I could see all the blood on the chair.”
Next, suspect Larson described her exit strategy. “I locked the door that I came in, then went back out the patio door to make it look like somebody else committed the crime.” Trying to downplay the cold-blooded murder she committed, Larson offered this self-serving version.
“I thought if I had the gun in my hand that I could get her to talk without fighting. I didn’t want her (Shelia) to hurt Paul anymore–like she had the first time she left him. I love Paul.
“I didn’t tell the truth because I was scared; I’ve never done anything like this in my life.”
According to criminal investigative experts most killers usually give police self-serving statements to make their bad act appear not as bad as it seem. Or in many cases if there is a shooting similar like Larson’s case usually the suspect will claim self-defense or the gun accidentally went off. After studying the facts in Larson’s case, J.C. Mosier, a retired former city of Houston-Texas Homicide detective, said.
“Suspect in this case definitely gave a self-serving statement . It’s kind of hard to claim that during the struggle the suspect shot the victim in her back accidentally.”
“Guilty suspects want to make an intentional shooting look like an accident so they don’t get charged with murder,” Mosier said. Johnny Bonds, also a former Houston city homicide detective explained why it benefit an officer for a suspect to give a self-serving statement.
“Anytime(like in the Larson case) that you can get a suspect to talk it is a good thing even if the suspect tells a self-serving lie. In this case the suspect(Larson) admits the shooting; so this saves an officer from having to prove who did it. and the more lies they tell, the more you prove they’re lying.” Bonds continued.
“Best thing a guilty person can do is say nothing but most of them think they can talk their way out of it.” As a retired Lieutenant criminal police investigator with Harris County District Attorney office, Bonds, once the subject of a best-selling book, The Cop Who Wouldn’t Quit, can now be seen working true life cold case murder cases on TNT’s blockbusting reality show Cold Justice.
Obsessive Love And Murder
Following Christine Larson’s first-degree murder charge arrest in Shelia Doll’s death, the lurid details of marathon sex, obsession, undying love, and Larson’s suicidal blackmails against her lover Paul Doll, the dead woman’s husband, all the drama exploded into a media sensation.
Front page news and TV coverage dominated the story prime time. News reporters dubbed the case a true life “Houston’s Fatal Attraction Murder.”Fatal attraction stories like Christine Larson’s involvement with Paul Doll, a married man, swept the nation during the 1980′s following the popular blockbusting movie Fatal Attraction. Released in 1987, actors Michael Douglas and Glenn Close played the star roles that highlighted the extreme danger of marital affairs. Like the characters in the Fatal Attraction movie, Paul Doll and Christine Larson first met at a social club atmosphere.
“It was love at first sight,” Larson lamented to homicide investigators. Fatal attraction stories are a common occurrence among people. It is the oldest form of violence and jealously when a person desire to control another person’s life. Fatal attraction stories are common occurrences among people whose desire to control another person’s life.
According to psychiatrists, killers who murder in this fashion are in fact psychopaths, unable to accept rejection. They usually claim they kill out of an intense love similar to the Shakespeare’s Sonnets. “Rejection is the trigger of toxic and obsessive love,” according to Melanie Canie. Canie is the author of a book Poisoned Love. “People with obsessive love disorder between only the person they fixate on can make them feel happy and fulfilled,” Canie further says.
“The obsessed is trying to hook you into loving them, but their concept of love is control–and you will end up feeling like you are on a scary, twisted ride if you join them, says Mary Jo Rapini, a Texas-based psychiatrist in Houston. “Christine Larson tried everything to hold onto this relationship including threatening suicide.”
When this ploy didn’t work her final weapon was murder. Author Gloria Lee wrote in her spiritual book You Are the Prophet Of Your Life. Psychological assessments of Larson’s actions towards Paul Doll has a large degree of accuracy particularly when he rejected her and telling her he wanted to reunite with his wife. Author Lee further wrote, “the greatest illusion in the world held by women is ‘I can supplant the wife by using sex’.” Still the million dollar question is: why would a woman like Larson persist in a relationship where she is the third party?
Author Lee’s book explains it this way. “It took a woman with low-self esteem with the sense of competition pure and simple. I am going to be the winner.” Psychological assessments of Larson’s actions towards Paul Doll when he rejected her, but still he continually had sex with Christine Larson, although Mr. Doll already told Larson he would reconcile with his wife Shelia.
Efforts to bring capital murder charges against Larson shifted in high gear due to the unclear statement she made indicating how she entered the home. There was also the question of the exact position the victim was in to sustain a gunshot to the back and the fact Paul Doll suspected Larson of having keys to his home.
Lt. Holland assigned homicide sergeants Hub Mayer and A.J. Toepol to search Larson’s home for keys while CSU officer G.L. Burke searched Larson’s Honda vehicle. After searching Larson’s apartment Mayer and Toepol found keys but none matched the door where the victim was murdered nor did Burke’s search of the vehicle yield any clues. Sgt. John Adams (deceased) subpoenaed phone records that belonged to the victim’s parents’ landline service to determine if Larson’s phone records showed she had made the threatening calls to Illinois prior to pulling the trigger.
“If the suspects made the calls it shows intent,” Sgt. Allen said to fellow detectives while discussing the ongoing developments. But to file a capital murder charge they needed to prove Larson first burglarized the apartment. Christine Larson was released on a $10,000,00 bond pending trial for Shelia Doll’s murder.
An anonymous source reported to this author that while Larson awaited trial she accepted Christ as her savior and joined the same church that her parents belonged too. And when a spiritual friend of Larson asked how she felt about taking another human’s life the source says that Larson unleashed a stream of profanities to describe the character of the woman she murdered.
Dead Run: The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West is a journey into the modern wild west of America. Author Dan Schultz has written the definitive account of an extraordinary crime and three survivalists fugitives who would not be out of place as outlaws in American frontier times during the 1800s.
I found this book compelling. It’s exhaustively researched and that’s why it took me a while to read. I didn’t want to miss any detail. The backdrop of America’s “west” is fascinating and Schultz’s detailed writing provides social and geographical history as well as the story of the crime – the killing of a policeman in small town Colorado by three “desperados” Jason McVean, Robert Mason and Alan “Monte” Pilon, which resulted in a manhunt across 10,000 square miles of American wilderness.
The story did not end with the murder of Officer Dale Claxton – the mystery of what happened to his killers spanned a decade and I loved the detail about the workings of the various sheriffs offices and state and federal police and army units. The turf wars and failings of government agencies really add to this tale. The fugitives, all interested in survivalist pursuits, evaded even the most up-to-date technology and investigation techniques. The manhunt made international headlines.