Author: Meredith

Changing careers and having adventures

The Assasination of Robert Kennedy

Robert-F_-Kennedy_1838259cIn 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was shot to death during a campaign stop at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. This tragedy ushered a new Secret Service duty of protecting presidential candidates.

Hotel busboy Juan Ramirez was shaking the senator’s hand when the shots were fired. He now has his own family and lives in San Jose – this is an excellent follow-up piece on Ramirez.

Kennedy had an entourage with him as he was attacked in the hotel kitchen, and panic and confusion ensued when the shots were fired. Writer George Plimpton, who was a personal friend of Kennedy, assisted in wrestling Sirhan to the floor with one of Kennedy’s private bodyguards. Sirhan continued firing the gun during the struggle, wounding William Weisel of ABC News, Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers union, Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service, and Kennedy campaign volunteer Irwin Stroll.

Officially, Palestinian Arab Sirhan Sirhan was convicted of the murder – he was apprehended at the scene with a gun – but like all Kennedy-related scandals, there are conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, Sirhan Sirhan is still living out a life sentence at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California. His crime is widely credited as the first act of political violence over the Arab-Israeli conflict.

George Plimpton died in 2003 after a versatile career as a writer and actor (he has a cameo as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting).

William Weisel continued to cover politics for NBC news for another 12 years before relocating to Napa Valley and retiring from journalism to enter the restaurant business.

Paul Schrade was not re-elected to union office after the assassination and took a factory job. He has repeatedly accused the LAPD of botching the investigation into the assassination and still believes that there was a second gunman present.

Irwin Stroll went on to become an interior designer to the stars and died in 1995.

Ira Goldstein left journalism to start a privately-owned business – he does not give interviews.

Elizabeth Evans faded from politics after the shooting – her whereabouts are unknown.

If you’re interested in the conspiracy rabbit hole, a new book due out this November entitled A Lie Too Big to Fail will detail the LAPD’s investigation and basically tear it apart – you can pre-order a copy on Amazon here.

The Milton Academy sex scandal of 2005

667367_origIn 2005, the school expelled three members of the boys varsity hockey team for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old female student in a school locker room. After an investigation, two of the students who were 16 at the time of the alleged incidents were charged with statutory rape. Both accepted plea deals and received no jail time. For an in-depth read, check out Restless Virgins on Amazon.

The boys who were expelled are:

Jay Driscoll – his parents sued Milton Academy for assuming that the story the 15-year-old told told to school administrators was true and then expelling the boys. The Massachusetts appeals court threw the suit out.

Alex Casiano – went to college at some school named Salve Regina (so much for that Ivy League-feeder-school thing) where he played hockey. He moved back to Florida. He married in 2015 and is expecting his first child.

Pasko Skarica –  Attended the University of Nebraska, where he played college hockey. Works in New York for a firm called sportsYou and married in 2015

Abby Blagg is officially considered missing

The murder of Jennifer Blagg, missing Abby Blagg, and Michael

Abby Blagg is officially considered missing

Abby Blagg, if still alive

A follow-up on one weird case from 2001 in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Michael Blagg, a husband and father thought to be a devoutly religious man, left for work one morning and came home at the end of his day (he says) to find his wife Jennifer and daughter Abby missing. There was a pool of congealed blood in the master bedroom, with no cast-off droplets of blood.

The evidence pointing to Michael was circumstantial: detectives found porn on Michael’s computer, which isn’t a celebrated hobby in the religious world, and some evidence of an argument the day before the murder. Investigators also discovered that he was taking equipment from his employer.

Michael Blagg attempted suicide during the initial investigation of his family’s disappearance.

Co-workers stated that on the day of the disappearance, Michael took bags of garbage to the company dumpster, which was unusual behavior for him.

Jennifer Blagg’s body was found in a landfill outside of Junction – the same place Michael’s employer sent their trash to the same landfill. Abby’s body has been found.

Blagg was charged and convicted with his wife’s murder in 2004. There are no eyewitnesses to the alleged murder, and no physical evidence to tie him to it .He was sentenced to life in prison.  He was not charged with Abby’s disappearance.

Robert Scott wrote a book about this case in 2007.

Lead investigator Steve King was elected to the Colorado state senate after his work with the Mesa County sheriff’s office, but plead guilty to several felony counts of embezzlement in 2014.

Michael Blagg was granted a new trial in June, 2014 when it was discovered that a juror lied during juror selection about being a victim of domestic violence. No trial date has been set yet – Mesa county prosecutors speculate that it may not take place until 2016.

The crazy tragedy of Susan Newsom & Fritz Klenner

Bitter_Blood_Front_CoverSusan Newsom was a divorcee with two young sons in the 1980s. Her divorce from Tom Lynch was bitter, and the two often fought over custody of the boys in North Carolina courtrooms. Once their divorce was settled, she fell in love, inexplicably, with her cousin, Fritz Klenner.

Fritz was your basic weirdo: he was a gun fanatic who called himself a medical doctor, although he had never attended college, let alone medical school. He had a “medical practice” in Reidsville, North Carolina, when he became intimate with his cousin Susie.

First, Tom’s mother and sister died mysteriously, shot execution style in June, 1984. Then both of Susie’s parents and her grandmother met their fate the same way in 1985, putting Susie at the top of authorities’ suspect list. Susie’s parents had, just before they died, agreed to testify in court that the boys should be in Tom Lynch’s custody.

Their story ended in a horrific car chase, but even then the truth proved elusive. With her sons in the car, Susie and Fritz were fleeing from police, with Fritz firing back at them. Then, he detonated a bomb and killed everyone in the car.

Tom Lynch had the boys’ bodies transported to New Mexico for burial, and he relocated to Albuquerque. He practiced dentistry there until his retirement in 2014. He is still married to Kathy, whom he began seeing during the divorce from Susan. They have a daughter who is in her teens at this update.

Tom Lynch filed wrongful death suits against the Newsom family and the state of North Carolina for the deaths of his mother, sister, and two children. The suits were settled in 1991 for an undisclosed sum. Items recovered from inside the exploded vehicle were auctioned to the public in 2003.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Susie Sharp of North Carolina died in 1996

Find a grave site for James Lynch

Jerry Bledsoe published a book on this case called Bitter Blood.

And the TV miniseries

Widbey Island murder of Russel Douglas by a “beauty” queen

In 2003, on the charming Washington island of Widbey Island, lived a rather unhappily married couple named Russel and Brenna Douglas. They had 2 children. In December of 2003, the island sheriff’s deputies found Russel dead in his SUV with a bullet between his eyes.

Widbey Island is small and quaint. Crime is rare there, violent crime rarer still.

When deputies informed Brenna of her husband’s death, they found her reaction unusual: she asked few questions and remarked that Russel often said things that hurt her feelings.

When detectives went through Russel’s phone records, they found several calls to an attractive island resident named Peggy Sue Thomas (Peggy Sue was once crowned Ms. Washington). She told detectives that she was friends with Russel’s wife, but knew nothing about Russel’s murder.

Seven months after the murder, Widbey Island detectives received an anonymous tip from a caller, stating that the murder was committed by a musician named Jim Huden. Not sure who the heck this was, detectives learned that Huden was Peggy Sue’s boyfriend. They also learned that the mystery caller was a band-mate of Huber’s named Bill Hill.

Detectives contacted Hill again. Hill told them that Brenna and Peggy Sue came up with an idea to kill Russel for his life insurance proceeds. They would split the money three ways if Huden would do the dirty deed.

Peggy Sue and Jim were interrogated by police, and neither cracked. They were forced to release the couple. This was apparently way too much excitement for Jim, who left Peggy Sue and his wife and fled to Mexico, and lived there for 6 years. Peggy Sue left Washington and began a limousine service in Las Vegas.

Finally, Jim’s wife (who is NOT Peggy Sue) let Whidbey Island police know that Jim was in Veracruz, Mexico. He was arrested and returned to Washington in 2011. Peggy Sue was arrested in Vegas a month later.

Brenna Douglas now uses her maiden name of Haslam.  In 2012, there was no evidence of Briana’s involvement in the murder, but the Widbey Island prosecutor told the press that Brenna was “still on the radar.” You can see pics of her now practically-grown children on her Facebook page. She still works as a hair stylist and colorist but has moved from Whidbey Island. She still lives in Washington state.

Peggy Sue Thomas received 4 years in prison in 2013 as part of a deal to plea to criminal accessory. She is serving her sentence at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

Jim Huden was sentenced to 80 years for the murder of Russel Douglas and is serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary. It is unlikely that he will spend any time left on earth as a free man, due to his age at sentencing.

Bill Hill testified against Jim Huber at his trial.

Jean Huden, Jim’s wife, has battled drug addiction during and since the murder investigation and trials. In 2011, she was arrested and charged with forging checks. She was charged with parole violations and possession of a controlled substance in October, 2013.

Mysterous death of blogger mom & child in Texas

I was working on a follow-up piece on an old case, as I like to do, when I came across a new, mysterious, and tragic case in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Here’s what we know so far: earlier this week, police discovered both a wrecked car, and the bodies of Lindsay Groce

Lindsay Groce Gardner

Gardner, 27, and her toddler daughter, Hailey in a field in Ft. Worth. Both bodies were nude. Their clothing was strewn between the car and the bodies. Their injuries do not initially suggest how they were killed and are currently being autopsied.

There is a husband, and he is suspiciously absent from any press on this matter (hoist the red flag, ya’ll).

Lindsay worked at a Ft. Worth church’s childcare center and was quite the artist.

To be the devil’s advocate, there is a weird symptom of advanced hypothermia known as paradoxical undressing. As Texas resident, I can tell you will certainty that temps in Ft. Worth have been literally freezing during the time in question.

Media summary of what we know so far here.

Lindsay’s Pinterest

San Antonio Quad Mom Murderer Dies in Prison, and more updates

In 1997, a Sarasota, Florida mother of 6 was murdered in her home. Her name was Sheila Bellush, and she was the ex-wife of San Antonio millionaire Allen Blackthorne. Sheila had won custody of her two daughters with Blackthorne, and moved with her new family to Florida to put distance between them. She was remarried and had quadruplets with her new husband. Blackthorne also remarried and had two more children.

Blackthorne hired some famously amateur men to commit Sheila’s murder. He received two life sentences, but last November, Blackthorne died in an Indiana prison. The Bureau of Prisons does not list a cause of death. In 2001 he was almost killed during an attack by a prison gang, after which he was segregated from the general prison population.

The actual hit man was a San Antonio man named Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., who received a life sentence for murdering Sheila. Del Toro received two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole (when he fled to Mexico, he was extradited back to Texas once Texas agreed not to seek the death penalty in his case).

Del Toro was solicited to commit the murder by a golf caddy named Samuel Gonzales, who is Del Toro’s cousin.Gonzales took a plea agreement to give the state everything he knew on the case in exchange for a sentence of a maximum of 19 years in prison. That makes his estimated release year 2016.

Gonzales was contacted by Blackthorne’s golf buddy Daniel Rocha. Blackthorne promised Rocha financing for a golf course development. Rocha received a life sentence from the state of Florida for solicitation to commit murder

Jamie Bellush, Sheila’s husband, relocated with Stevie and the quadruplets to (he adopted Stevie and Daryl, Allen’s daughters, in 1997) to New Jersey, and then moved to Alabama. He has remarried.

Blackthorne’s wife Maureen, whom he married after divorcing Sheila, was convicted in 2005 of filing a false tax return and sentenced to serve a year in federal prison. She filed for divorce from Blackthorne in 2004. After serving her sentence, she returned to San Antonio and raised her sons in the Jewish faith.

Three of the Bellush quads, Joe, Frank and Tim Bellush, joined the National Guard after they graduated from high school last year in Alabama. Their sister Courtney attends the University of Miami, Ohio.

Sheila’s daughter Stevie Bellush attended Portland State University and graduated in 2013.

Daryl Bellush attended college in Florida.

Ann Rule wrote extensively about this case in her book Every Breath You Take. Before her death, Sheila told her sister that if “anything ever happened” to her, to ask Ann Rule to write about the case. This became the first book Ann Rule ever wrote at a victim’s request.

UPDATE: Alan Hruby is Dana Ewell for the social media age

Hruby's victims - his own family

Hruby’s victims – his own family

UPDATE: Alan’s poor father John Hruby has a $20,000 life insurance policy. John had named Alan and his late daughter Katherine as joint beneficiaries of the policy. The life insurance company doesn’t want to give Alan the $20K (good for them), and has petitioned the court to determine who should get the policies proceeds.

+++++++++++

Since Dana Ewell, the social media age has given us Alan Hruby, who in 2014 was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. Like Ewell, Hruby suffered from an obsession with materialism, from cars to clothes to watches to shoes. Hruby went so far as open a credit card in his grandmother’s name and take out loans from loan sharks to fuel his shopping habit.

Duncan, Oklahoma police were called to the Hruby house in 2011 when Alan began choking his mother during an altercation.

But the money wasn’t coming in fast enough for Hruby. Law enforcement estimates that Alan spent a whopping $80,000 over the course of a year, and the Hrubys were enraged at their son’s shopping.

Hruby maintained Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, keeping a rather douchy-looking record of his material possessions.

So, like Ewell, he allegedly shot and killed both his parents and his sister for the inheritance he felt he would collect once they were all dead. Once he allegedly killed them, he spent the weekend partying in Dallas for the Texas/OU football weekend.

Hruby didn’t last nearly as long as Ewell did, however, and confessed to detectives after they realized he gave conflicting stories about where he was the night of the shootings.

Hruby is awaiting trial on three counts of first-degree murder in an Oklahoma correctional facility, which probably isn’t as cushy as the Dallas Ritz-Carlton.

In December, 2014, Hruby was sentenced to four years in prison for the credit card fraud involving his grandmother’s identity.

Oklahoma prosecutors are consulting with surviving family members about seeking the death penalty in Alan’s (I almost typed ‘Dana’s’) upcoming murder trial.

Dana Ewell murders his own family

In 1992, the Ewell family was living a quietly wealthy life in Fresno, California. Dale Ewell had made his fortune selling small aircraft to farmers and ranchers. He and his wife were almost finished raising their two children, son Dana and daughter Tiffany.

Dana Ewell was still living with his parents at the age of 21. He was extremely intelligent and doing well at the University of Santa Clara (okay, except for plagiarizing a paper for a business ethics class. That was probably a sign.), but he had some issues. Most notably, he told anyone who would listen that he was the self-made millionaire. One version of his story was that he was a gifted investor; another version had him president of his own aviation company. Neither were true, but both got back to Dale.

Dale didn’t find his son’s bragging cute, and he informed Dana that there would be no more financial support from the family. Dana liked driving his BMW and wearing designer clothing- life without Dad’s money was going to be uncharted territory.

Ewell enlisted the help of his friend Joel Radovich. Radovich would do the actual killing while Ewell was miles away on a trip with girlfriend Monica Zent (there has never been any proof that Zent knew of their plot). Ewell would compensate Radovich once he inherited his father’s money. Another friend, Ernest Jack Ponce, provided the gun and helped destroy evidence after the murders.

Once Radovich gunned down the Ewells in their home, Dana found out that he couldn’t inherit any of his father’s money until he turned 25. It was his emotional reaction to this inconvenient truth and not his family’s demise, that set detectives on Ewell’s trail (Dana did inherit a $400k trust fund, which he spent like a seasoned pro).

After an investigation that lasted several years, both Ewell and Radovich were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Dana Ewell found religion in prison, according to his prison pen pal profile. He has exhausted all of his appeals. He is housed in the same protective housing unit as Charles Manson. He continues to claim that he is innocent.

Joel Radovich is also serving a life sentence, and you can be his pen pal too (whoopee).

Monica Zent, Dana’s college girlfriend, has become a successful Silicon Valley attorney, in part with funds provided by Ewell after the murders.

Ernest Jack Ponce assisted in the investigation and was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against Ewell and Radovich. He is also a California attorney, which is terrifying.

Dale Ewell’s brothers have campaigned to keep Dana from hiring attorneys to work on his appeal with Dale’s money.

Resources:

Catch Me If You Can by Kraig Hanadel
Seeds of Evil by Carlton Smith (one of my all-time favorite true crime writers!)

The unsolved murder of Bob Crane

Bob Crane in Hogan’s Heroes garb

Bob Crane starred in one of my parents’ favorite shows when I was a child: Hogan’s Heroes. Hogan’s Heroes was a comedy about American G.I.s being held prisoner by bumbling Nazis during World War II (that’s risky). In the late sixties and early seventies, Bob Crane was a major TV star.

His acting career floundered after the show was cancelled, but his name roared back into the headlines in 1978 when he was found in his Arizona apartment, bludgeoned to death in his bed.

Bob Crane at the time of his death was leading a seedier lifestyle than many would have assumed from his handsome, white bread image on television. He had become fascinated with the technology of videos and making amatuer movies – pornos, more specifically. He had divorced hi first wife, separated from his second, and led a sexually adventurous life, often with his friend John Carpenter by his side (literally). Carpenter was a sales rep for a video corporation and was introduced to Bob Crane in order to help Crane get started making his own videos.

In 1978 after a night of barhopping with his friend and some acquaintances, Bob Crane was never seen alive again. A friend found his body late the next morning. There was no sign of forced entry, and none of the valuable video equipment in the apartment had been taken. Crane had been beaten to death with a camera tripod and had a cord from a VCR around his neck.

John Carpenter was considered a suspect early on because of his odd behavior right after the murder. Crane had been arguing over the phone with his wife Sigrid Valdis the night of his murder, but Valdis had an alibi that put her several states away. John Carpenter was tried for Crane’s murder in the 1990’s and acquitted. The case is technically considered to be open, but Scottsdale police do not have any suspects.

The Winfield Apartments in Scottsdale still exist, although they are now called “The Winfield Condominiums“. They were listed on Ebay in 2003, but the auction didn’t meet the seller’s reserve price.

John Carpenter died in 1998 from unspecified illness.

Crane had three children with his first wife, Anne, whom he divorced in 1970: Robert David, Deborah Ann, and Karen Leslie. Anne later remarried.

Robert David Crane has done some acting, and is writing a book about his father’s case.. He oversaw production of the movie “Autofocus“, starring Greg Kinnear, about Crane’s life and death. Robert had a cameo appearance. The slant of the film drove a wedge between himself and his step brother Scotty. Robert is still living.

Crane’s daughter Karen Crane works as a special effects makeup artist in California. You can listen to a fascinating interview with Karen on TV Confidential.

Crane’s second wife, SIgrid Valdis, left Los Angeles after Crane’s murder with their son Robert Scott (“Scotty”) and daughter Ana for Seattle. In 2004, she moved back to California and had Bob’s remains moved to Westwood. She died in 2007 and is interred with Crane. They were never legally divorced.

Crane’s second son, Scotty Crane is an actor, radio personality, and record producer living in California. Scotty started a family dust-up when he posted some of Crane’s amateur porns on a pay-per-view websitem which he has since taken down. He is married to stylist Michelle Ahern. They have one child.

Resources:

The Hogan’s Heroes box set

The Murder of Bob Crane: Who Killed the Star of Hogan’s Heroes?

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