True crime book

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.


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

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.