True crime books

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. ┬áIn 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.

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.