murder

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.

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

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!)

TNT’s Cold Justice cuts through the Hayes murders

One night in 1997 in the small town of La Porte, Texas, Charlie and Kathy Hayes were bludgeoned to death in their home while their daughter, Tiffenie, slept in her bedroom. Tiffenie discovered her parents covered in blood, Kathy already dead and Charlie clinging to life, and called 911.

Suspicion surrounded Tiffenie because she slept through and obviously violent attack in a small house, and many found that unlikely. Rumors around town alleged that Tiffenie resented her parents’ interference with her relationship with her boyfriend, but the case went cold.

Earlier this year, the Hayes case was featured on TNT’s Cold Justice, and investigators managed to get Charlie Hayes’ cousin Craig Houser arrested for the murders when they realized that he had no alibi and knowledge of the murders that hadn’t been publicized.

Charlie and Kathy Hayes

Tiffenie Hayes married her boyfriend, Brian Stanczak, in 1999. They are still married, have four children, and live in the nearby city of Pasedena. Both stated that the veil of suspicion has cost them friendships in town. Brian is a member of the band Pirate Radio.

Charlie and Kathy had another daughter, Samantha, who is several years younger than Tiffenie. On the night of the murder, Samantha was spending the night with her grandmother. Today, Samantha lives in the Houston suburbs.

The Hayes’ alleged murderer, Craig Houser, was extradited from Arkansas to Texas earlier this year to face two counts of capital murder.

Lubbock’s suitcase murderer

In 2005, a city of Lubbock solid waste worker discovered a suitcase containing the body of a young woman. This morbid find sent Lubbock detectives on a case compounded by the mystery of the victim’s identity. Through fingerprint records, they identified the young woman as Summer Baldwin. An autopsy showed that she had been pregnant at the time of her murder. Impressive detective work led detectives to Texas Tech student and Marine reservist Resendo Rodriguez.

After Rodriguez was in custody, investigators delved into Rodriguez’s laptop, and found that he had been chatting online with a 16-year-old girl named Joanna Rogers. Rogers had been found dead in a trash dumpster shortly after their chats online had taken place. Coincidence? Oh no. Rodriguez confessed to Rogers’ murder in exchange for having the death penalty waived for Baldwin’s murder (he backed out of this deal at the last second). Rodriguez did receive the death penalty after all, but unfortunately, we can only kill him once.

Joanna’s parents, Joe Bill and Kathy Rogers, plan to attend Rodriguez’ execution.

Rodriguez’ father, attorney Rosendo Rodriguez II, died in 2011 of a “sudden illness” (probably embarrassment). His obituary is here.

Rosendo Rodriguez began serving his death row sentence in 2008 in Livingston, Texas. He is exhausting his appeals process, so he does not have an execution date as of today. All of his appeals have been denied so far. He has developed a voracious reading habit that he describes on a webpage sponsored by a group that opposes capital punishment (it’s quite a missive, although he omits any reference to murdering young women).

Joanna Rogers

Summer Baldwin

Murderous mother: Diane Downs

It is difficult for any normal parent to comprehend the case of Oregon’s Diane Downs. In 1983, the young mother of shot all of her children when she pulled her car over in a rural area during the night. She killed one of her children and permanently disabled the other two. As many would after her, she claimed that a carjacker did it. Diane was having an affair with a co-worker at the time, and lucky fella Robert Knickerbocker made it clear to Diane that he did not want children.

Then, Diane didn’t want kids either.

Diane Downs was sentenced to life plus 50 years, with the sentences to run consecutively. She was denied parole in 2008 and 2010, and is not eligible to be considered for parole again until 2020, when she is 65 years old. Diane has not admitted any wrongdoing in the attack on her children.

Diane escaped from the prison in 1987 and was captured roughly 10 days later. Her escape got another 5 years added to her sentence.

Diane became pregnant before her sentencing and gave birth to a daughter in 1984, which was taken by Oregon’s Family Services Department. The baby, named Rebecca Babcock, was successfully adopted. She found out who her biological mother was at 16, when a boyfriend showed her a made-for-tv movie about Diane’s case.  Rebecca wrote to Diane in prison, but stopped contacting Diane when Diane’s letters became alternately angry and paranoid. Rebecca still lives in Oregon and has a son of her own.

Christie & Danny Downs, the two surviving children, were adopted by a couple who were prosecutors for the state of Oregon. Christie suffers from partial paralysis, and Danny is a quadriplegic. Both graduated from college. Christie married and had a child. Danny works as a computer specialist. They do not participate in Diane’s parole process.

The alleged super-stud Robert Knickerbocker still lives in Arizona.

Ann Rule wrote about this case in her best-selling book Small Sacrifices. It was also made into a TV movie of the same title starring Farrah Fawcett.

 

Lita McClinton Sullivan murdered by husband James Sullivan

Lita McClinton

In 1987, Lita McClinton Sullivan was shot to death in her Atlanta home while preparing to leave for her divorce hearing. She was divorcing her husband of 10 years, James Sullivan, for having numerous affairs (James had come into a large inheritance during his marriage to Lita, but felt that their interracial marriage was holding him back from truly fitting in with Florida’s polo set).

It would take almost 20 years and an international manhunt, but the state of Georgia finally arrested and convicted James Sullivan of hiring truck driver Philip Harwood to kill Lita before their divorce resulted in a large financial loss for Sullivan.

James Sullivan was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He filed an appeal in 1998, requesting a new trial, but that request was denied by the state of Georgia.

Philip Harwood testified against James Sullivan in exchange for a lesser charge of manslaughter. He received a 20-year sentence.

Lita’s father, Emory McClinton, a former U. S. Department of Transportation official, served on the Georgia State Transportation Board until 2013. He is still the president of Corporate Personnel Research, Inc. in Atlanta.

Lita’s mother, JoAnn McClinton, is a democratic representative in the Georgia House of Representatives. She is a board member for the East Lake Neighbors Community Association and the Southeast Energy Assistance program.

In 1994, Lita’s parents won a $4 million wrongful death judgement against James Sullivan in civil court, which was then overturned in 1997 and reinstated in 1999.

The McClintons started a scholarship fund in Lita’s name for collegiate women.

St. Martin’s True Crime published this case in its book The Palm Beach Murder.

 

The cowardly murder of Lori Hacking

Lori Soares with her mother.

In the summer of 2004, a beautiful young woman named Lori Soares Hacking was reported missing by her husband to Utah police – he told them she had gone running and never returned.

Authorities soon discovered that husband Mark Hacking had structured a life of lies to his wife and family, regaling them with tales of a earning a college degree and being accepted to medical school. In reality, he was pretending to leave the apartment to go to school, only to return once his wife was at school to work more diligently on video games.

Lori stumbled upon the truth that Mark had not been accepted to medical school (or applied, for that matter). Only days later, she went missing.

Mark’s brothers wrangled the truth from him and got him to turn himself in. He confessed to shooting his wife while she slept.

This case was detailed in a true-crime book titled Every Woman’s Nightmare: The True Story Of The Fairy-Tale Marriage And Brutal Murder Of Lori Hacking. Ann Rule also covered this in her book Kiss Me, Kill Me.

Mark Hacking was sentenced to life in prison in Utah, though he is eligible for parole in 2034. While he reportedly a well-behaved prisoner, he still enjoys some ill-gotten gains by supplying “murderabilia” sites with his autographs and drawings (at post time, several handwritten items purportedly by Mark Hacking are being peddled at roughly $50-75 each – no information on how these sites acquired these items).

Scott Hacking, one of Mark’s brothers who urged his confession, is a Utah physician. Lance Hacking is an electrical engineer in Austin, Texas.

Mark’s father, Douglas Hacking, is still a popular pediatrician in Utah. He also serves as a medical missionary on relief trips overseas through the LDS church. He is still married to Mark’s mother, Janet Hacking.

Lori’ mother, Thelma Soares, still lives in Utah. She created a scholarship in Lori’s name at the University of Utah for women who need financial assistance for their education. She sometimes speaks to domestic violence charities.

Lori’s father, Eraldo Soares, lives in California (the Soares’ were already divorced at the time of Lori’s murder). Mr. Soares lobbied for the successful Utah bill known as “Lori’s Law”, which requires that those convicted of murder in Utah serve a minimum of 15 years . He returned to Utah in 2006 to assist in the search for missing child Destiny Norton.

The Soares family had Lori’s married name removed from her headstone.