Showing posts with label unsolved crimes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label unsolved crimes. Show all posts

31 January 2019

What We're Best at Being Bad At


by Eve Fisher

Ah, the nuances of our various United States.  And, thanks to the Internet, we have more memes and statistics and sites than ever before to show everyone what we're good - and bad - and very VERY bad at.

According to the Reader's Digest, South Dakota is Best at Retirement — Everyone’s golden years are more, well, golden in South Dakota, where a combination of low taxes and happy residents makes it the best state for retirement according to Bankrate. And we're Worst at Child Mortality Rate — Unfortunately, the younger generation in the Mount Rushmore state isn’t faring so well. With 47 teen and child deaths per 100,000 people every year, it’s leading the nation in child mortality.  So - give birth somewhere else, but come here to retire.  Interesting...

How does this compare to other states I've lived in?

Well, California is Best at diversity, and Worst at quality of life. I'm surprised at that, because I remember California as wonderful - and I don't think it was all youth and hormones...

But it beats North Carolina (where I went to graduate school for a while at Chapel Hill), which is Best at Millenial Living but Worst at STDs. Please folks - start using condoms!

Georgia is Best at onions - specifically Vidalia, and I can attest to their sweetness.  It's Worst at flu prevention.

Tennessee is Best at Fast Wi-Fi - apparently the state's internet is 50 times speedier than the national average, and God only knows how they got that - and Worst at childhood obesity rates.

But let's move on to crime.  What's the most famous unsolved crime in every state?  (see MSN to look up your state.)

In South Dakota, it's the murders of 30-year-old LaDonna Mathis and her two sons, aged 4 and 2, shot dead on September 8, 1981, in Mount Vernon in Davison County, South Dakota. The father, John Mathis, was shot in the arm, but survived. He said a masked man had carried out the attack, but investigators considered him the prime suspect. He was acquitted a year later when a jury found him not guilty, mainly because the prosecution had no witnesses, no murder weapon and little physical evidence.  "As I look back, I would have recognized that at that time there was a myth, a myth that parents could not harm their children, No. 1," then-Attorney General Mark Meierhenry said. "No 2., that sometimes myth overwhelms reason. Because it's what we all want to believe."

NOTE:  The Argus Leader has a whole different set of top five unsolved mysteries - look them up HERE.

BTW, there are lots of gruesome stories on this website, but the weirdest one is from Vermont:
Between 1920 and 1950, as many as 10 people mysteriously disappeared in a patch of woods surrounding Glastenbury Mountain in southwestern Vermont. Native Americans consider Glastenbury Mountain “cursed” and used it strictly for burying their dead. They believed the land to be cursed because all four winds met in that spot. There is also mention in native American folklore of an enchanted stone which is said to swallow anything that steps on it. Some have also reported UFO activity and Bigfoot sightings in the area.  Author Joseph Citro coined the term "Bennington Triangle" in 1992.  Well, sounds like a new movie franchise to me.

John Dillinger mug shot.jpg
John Dillinger
The most notorious crime for each state is almost always entirely different (see Insider) than the "most famous unsolved" one, with the exceptions of the murder of Jon Benet-Ramsay in Colorado, and the murder of TV star Bob Crane in Scottsdale, AZ in 1978.  But they are indeed all notorious - I'd heard of most of them, including the 1924 murder by Leopold and Loeb of their 14 year old cousin, Bobby Franks, the 1954 Clutter murders which was the source material for Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood", and Jeffrey MacDonald, who was accused and eventually convicted of the 1970 murders of his family at Fort Bragg.  BTW, Mr. MacDonald has consistently declared his innocence (but then so do so many), but has consistently been refuted, denied, etc.  However, in 1997 DNA testing was done on some hair from the crime scene, some of which matched no one in the MacDonald family.  So far this evidence has not been enough to get him a new trial.  That happens more often than you'd think.  

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, it's when John Dillinger robbed the Security National Bank in Sioux Falls on March 6, 1934.  He got $50,000, which would be almost a million dollars today.

Now it's very appropriate that a bank robbery would be our most notorious crime, because when it comes to crime statistics, South Dakota is best known for its larceny.  61% of all our major crimes are monetary, and if you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention to my past blogs on EB-5, Gear Up!, and Maria Butina:  61% larceny and theft, 14% burglary, 14% aggravated assault (combine drinking and winter, and a lot of stuff happens around the bars or at home), 7% motor vehicle theft, and the remaining 4% rape, robbery, and murder/manslaughter.  (MuniNetGuide)

I looked over the charts, and while the numbers do change, the actual proportions of crime look almost the same for all the states. But you feel it a bit more in a state like this.  South Dakota has a current population of around 870,000, which means that each and every South Dakotan will either experience crime, commit crime, or feel the effects of crime upon them or someone they know. You know that whole "Six Degrees of Separation" rap? Here it's Two Degrees. At the most.

It's like when Carl Ericsson, 72 years old and holding a serious grudge, came to Madison, SD one night in 2012, and went literally from door to door, looking for someone on his grudge list who was home.  (Yes, he had a list.)  Fortunately for all but one, the only one home was a very popular retired teacher, Norm Johnson, who Ericsson shot twice in the face.  Johnson died that night.  I knew Johnson - he always was the host of the annual Spelling Bee, and I was one of the AAUW women who judged it.  I also knew him from substitute teaching at the high school when we first moved up to Madison.  I didn't know Carl Ericsson, but I knew his brother (who was also on Carl's grudge list), and all of his brother's family.  And that night the deputy who lived next door to us knocked on my door and asked me to babysit his kids while he went to join the other law enforcement looking for the shooter.  This was before anyone knew who the shooter was, or where he was, or who he was looking for.  The deputy gave me a gun in case the shooter came calling, and I sat there while the kids slept for a few hours.  Safe, but listening for footsteps on the sidewalk, and/or a knock on the door.  Everyone in Madison (population 6,000+) knew either Ericsson, Johnson, or both.  It resonated in a way that you almost never see on TV.

But back to embezzlement.  Besides grifting on the state level, there's also one heck of a lot of small potatoes embezzlement here in South Dakota, much of it fueled by gambling addiction and/or medical bills.  $500 from the local VFW; $1,500 from a doctor's office; $2,500 from a nursing home.  Interestingly, besides the public humiliation, the punishment is more a slap on the wrist:  the main penalty is to pay the money back and do community service; rarely is there any jail time.  Perhaps that's why it's so common...

hi-grain_766852540621But every once in a while it gets bigger than video lottery.  Just recently, up in Kingsbury County a family-run grain elevator has gone bankrupt because the family was hedging commodities and lost as much as $15 million of other people's money. Now that's serious gambling. And the farmers who trust them are in a world of hurt.  The farmers hauled their grain to the elevator, waited for prices to go up and the grain to be sold, and then waited, waited, waited for their checks...  Besides the fact that the grain elevator pocketed the money, while grain purchasers have to post bonds to guarantee that they'll pay the grain producers - but this company only had a bond of $400,000.  That's going to resonate for a long time.  Maybe longer than murder.  (KELO-TV)

Anyway, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

PS - In a sea-filled flavor of things to come, Madison, SD is taking up shrimp farming!  Tru Shrimp, from Ballaton, MN, has announced plans to build its first commercial shrimp harbor in Madison. "The facility is expected to employ 60, produce 8 million pounds of shrimp annually, and have a $30 million impact on a five-county area."  (Madison Daily Leader)  Because nothing says shrimp harbor like the plains of South Dakota... I see a real story coming here, folks, and I will keep you posted!

PPS - Leigh Lundin's tid-bits from Florida have made me feel that I need to provide aid and comfort to him in regard to a certain Mr. Sardo.  (Leigh's post)  Here in South Dakota, on January 11, 2019, an Ipswich man was convicted for fulfilling his dream of having sex with underage twins - in this case, two calves.  He tried to claim that the laws against bestiality were unconstitutional, but the judge didn't buy it.  (Story Here)


25 September 2014

The Minister and the Choir Singer


by Eve Fisher

This summer, among other things, I read Sarah Churchwell's "Careless People: Murder and the Making of The Great Gatsby". Very well written, very well researched. Churchwell says that The Great Gatsby was influenced, and borrowed from, the Hall-Mills murder case, which captured everyone's imagination from Damon Runyan (who was one of the reporters on the spot) to James Thurber ("A Sort of Genius") to William Kunstler ("The Minister and the Choir Singer"). The case was never solved, for a variety of reasons ranging from incomprehensibly bad police work to, as David Gates put it a while back, "a lack of any practical forensic approach", to the wholesale swamping of any reason or fact by a media storm that most people don't think existed until O. J. Simpson.

Eleanor Mills
On September 14, 1922, in New Brunswick, NJ, the bodies of Eleanor Rinehardt Mills and the Edward Wheeler Hall were discovered lying side by side under a crab-apple tree. They had been shot, and the bodies carefully arranged so that her left hand laid on his thigh, and his right hand on her neck. He had a hat over his face, and his calling card placed at his feet. Torn love letters were strewn over them. He was an Episcopal priest, and she sang in his choir. In the words of The New York Times, although both were married to other people, Hall and Mills "had long been friendly."

It was obvious they'd been shot, but the investigation was... unbelievable. According to Churchwell, the first doctor to look at Mrs. Mills body didn't even do an autopsy, since it was obvious she was dead by foul play; and it took two more autopsies to discover that Mrs. Mills had been shot three times, her throat cut, and her tongue cut out. There was no police cordoning of the area, and, as publicity blazed ("Priest and choir singer slaughtered in New Jersey!"), people came and went freely. It became such a tourist destination that, by the time of the 1926 trial, the crab-apple tree was entirely gone, hacked away by souvenir hunters.

Frances Noel Stevens
The prime suspects never changed: Hall's wife, Frances Noel Stevens (1874–1942), and her two brothers, Henry Hewgill Stevens (1869–1939) and William "Willie" Carpender Stevens (1872–1942). (James Thurber's essay was primarily about Willie Stevens, who was an odd duck all the way around; probably high-functioning Asperger's, in his world, he couldn't hold a job and spent most of his time hanging around the local fire house.)

The prosecution's key witness was Jane Gibson, a pig farmer on whose property the bodies were discovered. She would be known throughout the next few years as The Pig Woman. Because she was poor, uneducated, and highly "colorful", people quickly took sides regarding her story: she was either the bearer of ultimate truth or a crazy woman trying to get attention and money. Her first story was that her dog got her up and out around 9 on the night of the murder. She saw a man standing in her cornfield, so she got on her mule and rode towards him. As she got close, she saw four people by the crab apple tree. Then she heard gunshots, and one fell to the ground. She heard a woman scream, "Don’t", repeated three times. She said she turned her mule in the opposite direction, heard more gunshots and when she looked back, saw a second person fall and heard a woman shout "Henry".

Over time she saw more people; she saw fewer people; she heard more sounds; she saw a black man; she didn't see a black man. At the trial, she was a great sensation, rolled in on a hospital bed to give her testimony.

The trouble was, there was no proof, no evidence, and even if Mrs. Hall had arranged and/or participated in the murders, her husband was an adulterous pastor. The Hall/Stevens family were all acquitted, even though most historians and students of the case believe that they were guilty. (William Kunstler was the exception: he posited that the KKK committed the murders. Most people disagree.)

But the case captured the imagination of the day, especially since it was never solved. It held primacy in the public imagination until the tragic Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932.

Churchwell links this murder to The Great Gatsby, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, everyone was talking about it during the time F. Scott Fitzgerald was actually living in Great Neck ("East Egg" in the book). The novel takes place in 1922, the year of the crime. And there are patterns throughout: Hall gave Mills a novel - Simon Called Peter - (racy for the 1920s) that Fitzgerald has Nick Carraway read while Tom Buchanan and his mistress, Myrtle, romp in the back bedroom. Myrtle and George Wilson are supposedly based on Eleanor and James Mills. George was a mechanic, James a janitor. Tom Buchanan describes George in the novel as "so dumb he doesn't know he's alive", and one of the reasons James Mills was never a credible suspect is that he first appeared to be so dumb he didn't know his wife was having an affair, and he didn't have the "manliness", apparently, to do something about it. Meanwhile, Myrtle and Eleanor were both sleeping above their station, desperate for another life, away from their boring, working-class husbands.

I don't know if Churchwell is right in all her surmises, but it's a fascinating case, and a great book. Start off slow: read Thurber's essay and/or Gatsby to whet your appetite; then go to Churchwell and discover the whole cast of characters. And let me know who you think did it.

(NOTE: I am, hopefully, in Quebec. See you in a week…)

24 July 2012

Forty Whacks


by David Dean

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Just about everyone is familiar with that iconic verse, even if they are not familiar with the infamous case from which it springs.  The average person is usually surprised to learn that the axe-wielding Lizzie was found not guilty of the murders of her father and step-mother.  Why then, those same people might ask, does that danged poem hang on so?  Good question, which unlike the case itself, has a fairly easy and clear answer--everybody thought she was guilty.  Well, maybe not everybody, but just about.  She did have her defenders during her trial, and she has a vast horde of them today.  There are many websites and books dedicated to clearing her name, just as the jury cleared her of any wrong-doing.

There are parallel cases even today: The O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony murder cases spring to mind.  Not guilty?  Most folks don't think so and never will.  People in Lizzie's time felt the same about her.  When you know the facts of her case it is difficult to rule her out...but not impossible, hence the verdict.  Here are the facts in brief: On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, father of Lizzie, 32, and Emma, 41, (spinsters according to the times) arrived home from his business rounds sometime close to 10:45am to take a rest.  The weather was brutally hot and it would appear that he lay down on a settee in the living room to nap.  He would not be getting up.  The maid (Irish, of course), Bridget Sullivan, was also lying down in her room upstairs when she heard Lizzie calling her to say that her father had been killed.  She stated that this was around 11:00am. 

Andrew Borden's Death Scene
 It is worth noting, that the entire household had been down with food poisoning the previous day, which may explain the need for rest in the Borden home.  Strangely, the fear of being poisoned had arisen in the days before the murders and created such paranoia that the Bordens had had some of their food tested.  The results were negative.  Other than the fact that Andrew was not the most popular figure in town, it is not clear why or how the Borden clan arrived at their suspicions.

In any event, Andrew was indeed murdered.  The number of whacks he had received fell well short of the infamous forty-one, but were more than sufficient at ten, or eleven, having been applied to the head.  The wounds appeared to have been made with an axe.  The police were summoned.  After their arrival, darlin' Bridget went in search of her mistress, Abby Borden, whom no one else seems to have missed up to this point...and found her in the upstairs guest room.  She was in a kneeling position between the bed and the wall, her face to the floor, her skull caved in.  It was estimated that she had received nineteen blows to the back of her head by an instrument similar to, or identical with, the one used on her husband.  A search ensued for evidence.

Abby Borden's Death Scene

All that was found of consequence was a hatchet with a broken handle.  This was in the basement.  There would later be conflicting testimony on whether the remainder of the handle was, or was not, discovered.  There were no blood stains evident on it.  Strangely, the police made a conscious decision not to dust the hatchet for fingerprints.  Forensics were just beginning to be used by police in the 1890's and trust in these new methods was not necessarily widespread.  Unfortunately in this case, this potentially valuable piece of evidence was left unprocessed.

On the day of the double murders, the only persons at home in the Borden household were the victims, Lizzie, and Bridget.  Emma was off visiting some friends in the country.  Lizzie would later testify that she had been out in the barn just prior to coming in and discovering her father's much-abused corpse.  According to her, there were some lead fishing sinkers stored in the loft that she wished to locate--this is Lizzie's testimony.  Bridget was supposed to be cleaning windows on that hot day, but had lain down to rest as previously mentioned.  There were no blood stains on the clothing of either woman.  Coincidentally, a few days later, Lizzie would be seen burning a relatively new blue dress in the kitchen stove.  She testified that the dress had got paint on it from some newly-painted baseboards and was ruined.  This was not the dress she had been wearing upon the arrival of the police.

That is the bare-bones of the crime scene. I'm not going to dwell on all the potentially relevant details as most are a matter of interpretation and debate, and there are a number of well-researched books on the subject available.  Instead, I will turn to a brief description of the dynamics underpinning the Borden household in the days prior to the murders: In a nutshell, no one was happy.  Abby, who was Lizzie and Emma's stepmother, was not popular with the girls, especially Lizzie.  In fact, about six years prior to the fateful day, Lizzie had quit calling her mother (she had been the mother figure in her life since the age of three) and began to refer to her as Mrs. Borden.  It is not recorded why.  Their father, Andrew, was a notorious skinflint who spent as little as possible on the home they all lived in.  In spite of the fact that they were quite well off, they had no electricity or indoor plumbing, having to dump their 'night soil' in the back yard each day.  A running dispute had arisen in recent times over the distribution of property and monies, both sisters demanding what they felt was their due.  Also, an illegitimate son of Andrew's had attempted a shake-down of the old man just days out from the tragedy.  He was not successful.  Did I mention that no one was happy?  On top of all this was the family's shared concern over poisoning.  Could it get any worse?  Yes.  According to Liz, her father beheaded all her pet pigeons that she kept in the barn.  He was concerned, it seems, that they were attracting curious neighborhood children who might cause damage or be hurt in the disused building.  Right...Murder, anyone?

So what's the upshot of all this?  Not guilty.  Lizzie was acquitted less than a year later, June 20, 1893 to be exact, after only one and half hours of deliberation.  In modern terms it's not too hard to understand why--there was virtually no physical evidence.  Circumstantial evidence is another thing altogether.  There was some of that, but the jury chose to give it scant weight.  I think she would have been given the same result if it were tried today.  Recent verdicts would seem to indicate that juries don't want the moral burden inherent in circumstantial cases.  It was also difficult for the all-male jurors of the Victorian era to envision young ladies of the proper class committing heinous crimes.  It just wasn't done.  Unthinkable.

I'm thinking it's thinkable.  How about you?  With a verdict of not guilty, the slayings remain officially unsolved, as are the Simpson and Casey murders.  That does not mean that we don't form our own opinions, whether rightly or wrongly we may never know.  It's an interesting, if ultimately futile, exercise to think of what modern investigative techniques might have been able to do with the Borden crime scene.  There has been much speculation over the years as to what really did happen August 4th, 1892, including the tantalizing theory that Lizzie committed the murders in the buff.  The picture my mind conjures of the rather formidable Lizzie (see photo) creepy-crawling through that dark, narrow-roomed, stuffy Victorian home in her birthday suit is mind-jarringly terrifying.  Can you imagine the horror of the last thing you see in this world being your naked, adult child swinging a hatchet down onto your head?

The debate over the Borden case goes on, and probably will for some time to come.  It is possible that it may yet be solved.  Patricia Cornwell, famous writer of mystery novels, as well as a forensic pathologist, claims to have solved the Ripper murders of London.  She makes this claim in her book, "Portrait Of A Killer--Jack The Ripper Case Closed," setting forth a very intelligent investigation into the available evidence and arriving at a very convincing conclusion with the use of DNA.  Certainly a surprising one for me.  Though the case she puts forth can only be tested so far, it is the most compelling one I've read.  It's well worth a look if you're interested.  Perhaps she'll move on to the Borden case.  Maybe Lizzie really is innocent, or at least, not guilty.  Who knows?  Stranger things have happened--the actress, Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), who played Lizzie in a made-for-TV-film, turned out to be actually related to her.  She did not know this at the time of the filming, and it was only discovered after her death by someone doing genetic research on Lizzie.  The doctor who did the autopsies on Andrew and Abby had to be sued to return their heads.  This was only accomplished after their funerals; the heads being buried atop the caskets in separate boxes later.  I did say stranger, didn't I?

Well, what say you?  Lizzie, or nay?  It could have been the illegitimate son, though he was never considered a serious suspect at the time.  He certainly had both a beef (his unacknowledged status) and a motive (money). What about dear Bridget?  She was supposed to be washing windows, not laying about in her room.  She wasn't too happy about that assignment.  Maybe she was very unhappy about it.  The Bordens couldn't have been easy to work for, I'm thinking.  Who's to say Emma couldn't have ridden in from her friend's home and committed the murders and returned the way she came.  Especially if she was in cahoots with Lizzie, the look-out, in the barn. Was the only thing that saved Bridget the fact that she didn't rise to investigate any strange sounds in the house?  Was she asleep?  She doesn't say so.  Was she an accomplice?  It would have been instructive, perhaps, for someone to have looked into her finances after the murders.

It was a long time ago...but it could have been yesterday--we see similar crimes far too often.  What do you think?  Did Lizzie give those infamous whacks?