College in Session

Hello everyone! I have an announcement: college is back in session! As some of you know, I am a full time college student and I have a part time job. This semester my courses have a heavier work load, especially doing them at home due to the pandemic. To work with this, I am going to be posting every other week instead of every week. On weeks that I have less of a work load, I will try to post an extra case. During breaks I will go back to weekly cases as I have during the summer, and depending on the workload I have next semester I may be posting weekly again when next semester starts.

I would like to try to do short updates on some of the cases I’ve written about previously on the off-weeks for the semester, so do keep an eye out for some updates. I know at least one case I covered has had updates recently.

Want to keep up with me outside of this blog? I have a twitter for this blog, @SynTalks, and a personal twitter, @syntheticabdiel. I can be found on Instagram under synwritestruecrime and syntheticabdiel as well, and there is a tumblr dedicated to this blog as well, synwritestruecrime.tumblr.com. I have plans to eventually start a youtube channel, also under Syn Talks like my twitter, where I will discuss true crime as well as branch out into other topics occasionally.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders

            Lori Farmer, 8, Michelle Guse, 9, and Doris Milner, 10, were attending what was supposed to be a two week long camp when their young lives were so suddenly and brutally ended (D’Souza, 2018). In June 1977, Locus Grove, OK woke up to the horrific news of a murder at the Camp Scott Girl Scout Camp not far from them. Camp counselor Carla Wilhite was on her way to the showers at the camp at approximately 6 AM on June 13th when she came across the bodies of three of the campers, taken roughly 150 yards from their tents and into the path (girlscoutmurders.com). Milner was found on the path directly, while Guse and Farmer were found in their sleeping bags, zipped up, nearby. Reportedly, others at the camp had heard strange noises during the night but had likely written the sounds off as those made by the local wildlife (D’Souza 2018). By 7:30 that morning the investigation into the deaths of the young campers was started. The remaining campers were evacuated by 10 AM with no knowledge of what had occurred, only knowing that they were being sent home after only one night of camping. That was the last night Camp Scott was open. After the horrific events of June 13, 1977, the camp that had been open for approximately 50 years, Camp Scott permanently closed its doors (girlscoutmurders.com).

            When it all began, things seemed to be going fast. Within the first few days, the wooden floor from the tent the girls had been in, tent 7, was airlifted from the camp to be examined. It was reported that a tennis shoe print was found outside the tent as well as another inside the tent, and Mayes Country DA, Sid Wise, announced outrage that the information had been made available to the public. Specially trained dogs were flown in from Pennsylvania, known as the Wonder Dogs, after an arrest was made of a man who lived near the camp in his van. He was later released. A ranch not far from Camp Scott became a subject of investigation for a while after it was discovered that the ranch had been robbed around the time; the owner later passed a lie detector test. A name is even suggested, Gene Leroy Hart, who was on the loose after escaping the Mayes County jail four years before the murders (girlscoutmurders.com). Hart continued to be on the top of the suspect list, partially due to a single hair not belonging to the victims that was found. The hair was reportedly likely from someone of Native American descent, like Hart, who was Cherokee. Local Native American groups felt that Hart was being unfairly targeted due to his Cherokee ancestry and race became a factor in the case. Some believe that locals involved with the Native American groups may have actually helped Hart while he was on the run (D’Souza 2018). It is also worth noting that Hart wore a size 11 to 11.5 in shoes, and the shoe prints found by the crime scene were significantly smaller, at a size 9.5. While squeezing into a smaller shoe isn’t impossible, a shoe that much smaller is unlikely (Rebel 2020). More information is released to the public, fingerprints on the bodies, duct tape and cord, as well as a flashlight found at the scene. The Wonder Dogs, after finally arriving from Pennsylvania, traced the scent of the killer(s) passed the counselor’s tent (girlscoutmurders.com).

            On June 18th, it’s announced that a murder weapon was found by Sheriff Pete Weaver, however DA Wise and other agents claimed to have no idea what Weaver was referring to. The murder weapon is reported as a crow bar with fingerprints found on it, and the Wonder Dogs lead investigators to ponds on the same property of the robbed ranch, but lose the trail there. The next day it is announced by the trainer of the Wonder Dogs that they have found evidence in the case and expect a break any day. That same day, the public gets three different answers to possible suspects in the case. The FBI claims there are three suspects, DA Wise claims there are no suspects, and Sheriff Weaver claims there is one suspect in the case. DA Wise also publicly corrects Sheriff Weaver’s earlier statement and claims no murder weapon was found (girlscoutmurders.com).

            By the 20th, however, DA Wise turns around the claims that there are actually several suspects in the case and that they have a lot of evidence collected, including the earlier reported fingerprints on one of the bodies. The governor of Oklahoma, David Boren, offers the national guard’s help on the hunt for the killers on the 21st, and another suspect who was camping nearby when the murders happened is added to the suspects list. A media blackout is ordered by DA Wise on the 22nd, but not before word gets out that photos with three women in them have been found, some say at the camo ground while others claim in a cave approximately two miles from the camp ground. On the same day, the medical examiner declares that only one of the fingerprints found on the bodies is actually usable, as the other prints are too smudged (girlscoutmurders.com).

            On the 23rd the photos are announced as having been processed by suspect Gene Leroy Hart while he was at a reformatory. A full-scale hunt is launched after a man matching Hart’s description is seen nearby. The group that comes together the next day, made up of 200 law enforcement officers and 400 volunteers, are not supposed to have guns. Many do, and many arrests are made for drunken behavior and marijuana possession. Most of the officers involved leave the manhunt on the 26th. They try using heat seeking equipment, but the equipment fails, possibly due to weather conditions. After a $14,000 reward is put up, Hart’s mother comes forward claiming that the photographs were planted by Sheriff Weaver due to the stress to find a suspect, and that she was being continually harassed. Despite these claims, the FBI says there is evidence that Hart was in the area at the time of the murders (girlscoutmurders.com).

            July 6, 1977, the medical examiner’s report is released on the girls. The report indicates that, despite earlier reports, there are no fingerprints found on the bodies (girlscoutmurders.com). While Milner had been strangled to death, Guse and Farmer had been brutally beaten (D’Souza, 2018). OSBI Director Jeff Laird declares that there is a lot of evidence against Hart and that he would declare him guilty if he could. On the 29th, a security team hired to look after the camp claims to have seen someone in the woods and apparently found the shoes of the one of the victims, along with her socks, in a bag on the steps of the counselors’ cabin. The items were wet. October 10th, it is declared that they are still looking for Hart and that the hunt will remain on until he is found (girlscoutmurders.com).

            In late January of 1978, composite sketches of Hart are made available to the public along with a list of possible aliases he may have been using. Among the sketches are some showing what he may look like with long hair or glasses. Hart is apprehended on April 6th after eight OSBI agents storm a house 45 miles from Camp Scott. Hart is on trial from March 19, 1979 until March 30, 1979, and acquitted of the charges (girlscoutmurders.com). Ann Reed, investigative forensic chemist, examined the hair that supposedly connected Hart to the case and declared that, while they appeared identical, she couldn’t actually say definitively if the hair belonged to Hart. While the jury acquitted him of the murders, he was sentenced to 300 years in prison for other crimes, but died later in 1979 from a heart attack (D’Souza 2018). Why was Hart the only suspect so doggedly sought after? Was it underlying racism, due to him being Cherokee? It’s no secret that the United States has a major problem of system racism, and a man who isn’t white being framed for a crime he did not commit is hardly unheard of. Hart had a history of sex crimes, having raped women previously. Who would be an easier target to frame, in order to have someone pay for a crime, than someone that is known to the public to already be a convicted criminal? At the same time, the crimes that Hart committed were not just similar. He kidnapped two women and raped them before leaving them dead not far from where Camp Scott was. Knowing that, the suspicion of the OSBI seems slightly more founded. This knowledge does not change the noticeable tunnel vision investigators seemed to have on Hart (Rebel 2020).

            Chillingly, only a few months before the murders took place a counselor at the camp was left a message in a donut box after her belongings had been ransacked. The message, which at the time was thought to be a bad prank, made the promise to kill three campers (D’Souza, 2018). In 2008 and in 2018, DNA tests were conducted. The 2008 test was inconclusive and the tests from 2018 have had no public updates. Hopefully this lack of updates to the public means that something has happened with these tests (Rebel 2020). Hopefully someday soon, we will have answers to this horrific crime.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2020, from http://www.girlscoutmurders.com/index.html

D’Souza, B. (2018, February 19). 12 Facts to Know about the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders That Remain Unsolved. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://crimeola.com/oklahoma-girl-scout-murders-12-facts/

Rebel, A. (2020, June 08). The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders – did the OSBI get the right man? Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://darkideas.net/the-oklahoma-girl-scout-murders-did-the-osbi-get-the-right-man/

The Dating Game Killer: Rodney Alcala

            The 1970s is often said to have been a Golden Age of Serial Killers, and among those that are thought of is a man known as the Dating Game Killer. Rodney Alcala, who appeared on the Dating Game television show in 1978, was an active serial killer during the 1970s with a possible victim count of more than 100 people. Alcala is serving time for the murder and abduction of a 12-year old girl, for which he was arrested in July of 1979. While he was given a death sentence, he is serving in California where all executions have been stalled (Kettler 2020).

            While Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas, in August 1943, he spent some of his childhood living in Mexico as well when he was eight (Kettler 2020). He returned to the United States later, with his mother and siblings after his father abandoned them, when he was only 12-years old (Bizarrepedia). There, at the age of 17, Alcala joined the army for a short time. In 1964, he was discharged with a diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder following a break down (Kettler 2020). Antisocial personality disorder is generally characterized by disregard for the rights of others, and sometimes even the blatant disregard for the rights of others (Bizarrepedia). Alcala attended three separate universities: California State, followed by UCLA (from which he graduated with a degree in fine arts in 1968) and, under the alias John Berger, New York University (Kettler 2020).

            In 1968, Alcala fled to the east coast after attacking 8-year old Tali Shapiro (Kettler 2020). Shapiro was raped and beaten with a 10-pound steel pipe (Montaldo 2019). She was on her way home from school when he came across her. Using a promise of a cute picture, Alcala managed to get the girl into his car. He took her to his apartment where he committed his awful crimes against her, not knowing that someone had seen him abduct her. The person who saw the abduction had the presence of mind to follow Alcala’s car and call the police with the location. Alcala managed to flea through the back door by the time police arrived, but Shapiro was able to survive despite lasting mental scarring caused by the assault. The Shapiro family moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after the attack, frightened by the brutality of it (Bizarrepedia). He worked at an art camp, under the alias John Burger (Bizarrepedia), but was recognized by some campers after he was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. The campers alerted the dean of the camp and Alcala was arrested in 1971 and served 34 months in prison for the charge of child molestation (Kettler 2020). Due to the Shapiro family moving away, the police couldn’t rely on Tali Shapiro’s testimony and couldn’t convict him on the rape and attempted murder. It didn’t take long after he was released for Alcala to violate his parole. He was found giving a ride to a 13-year old known only as Julie J. and giving her marijuana. For this, he served a further two years in prison. He managed to get a job as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times in 1978 (Bizarrepedia), despite being a registered sex offender, and was a suspect in the Hill Side Strangler murders. Police let him go when they found no connection, but were unaware that they had just let another serial killer out into the world (Kettler 2020). While working at the Los Angeles Times, Alcala was able to convince hundreds of people that he really was a fashion photographer and that he was building a portfolio of some kind. After his arrest, this portfolio would become infamous (Bizarrepedia).

Like many others killers, Alcala had this ruse – he was a fashion photographer. Usually, he claimed to be taking photos for some kind of contest, and with the intelligence (a reported IQ of 135, according to Bizarrepedia) and charm that Alcala exuded his victims found him to be an easy man to trust. A woman he was supposed to go on a date with before his arrest had even said such. He was good at drawing people in (Kettler 2020).

            Cornelia Crilley was found in June 1977, raped and strangled in her own studio in Manhattan. Despite Alcala’s arrest in the next few years, Crilley’s murder was unsolved for 40 years. In July of that same year, the body was Ellen Hover was found in her New York apartment as well as18-year old Jill Barcomb that November. Barcomb brutalized, raped and sodomized by her attacker, strangled with a belt and some trousers, bitten repeatedly on her right breast, and finally killed with a rock (Bizarrepedia). Barcomb had moved to California, but was from New York state. Alcala left her body, posed on her knees with her face in the dirt, at the foothills near Hollywood (Montaldo 2019). A majority of Alcala’s victims ran the age range of eight years old to 31-years old, a wide range of ages for his victims. Most were raped or molested, sodomized, strangled with items like nylons, and beaten to death with blunt objects (Bizarrepedia). Many of his victims showed signs of having been strangled, revived, and strangled again (Kettler 2020). Sometimes he would repeat this horrific game over and over again, deriving some kind of pleasure from his horrific game. The victims were often found in careful poses, arranged specifically by Alcala, and he often took earrings from his victims as trophies. The official body count for Alcala is eight victims, but it is believed he could have killed as many as 130 people during his spree (Bizarrepedia).

            There were three trials for Alcala. He was charged in the first two trials with the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe; 12 days after her disappearance her earrings were found in a locker Alcala rented in Seattle (Bizarrepedia). Alcala had met Samsoe and one of her friends, Bridget Wilvert, at Huntington Beach earlier on the day she went missing. He apparently approached them asking to take some photos, and after several were taken before a neighbor came to ask if everything was okay (Montaldo 2019). Samsoe left for her ballet class and she was taken by Alcala (Bizarrepedia). Alcala disposed of her remains at the foothills near Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel Mountains. Her remains were recovered on July 2, 1979, scavenged by animals and skeletal. It looked as if Alcala had knocked out her front teeth (Montaldo 2019). Alcala received the death sentence for this murder, but the verdict was overturned after it was learned that the jury had been informed of Alcala’s previous crimes before trial. DNA evidence was used in the third trial that linked Alcala to the murders of two women in Los Angeles and their earrings, just like Samsoe’s, were found in a locker of Alcala’s. The DNA matches resulted in more murder charges being brought against Alcala. He was charged with not only Robin Samsoe’s murder, but also the murders of Jill Barcomb, 27-year old Georgia Wixted, 31-year old Charlotte Lamb, and 21-year old Jill Parenteau (Bizarrepedia).

            Georgie Wixted, a nurse, was raped and sodomized by Alcala in December of 1977. He used a hammer to abuse her sexually, then killed her by beating her to death with the claw end of the hammer’s head and strangled her with a nylon stocking. She was found in her Malibu apartment, posed by Alcala, on December 16, 1977. June 1979, Alcala murdered Charlotte Lamb by strangling her with a shoelace from one of her own shoes. Her body was left posed in the laundry room of an El Segundo apartment complex to be discovered on June 24, 1979.  That same June, Jill Parenteau was raped and murdered by Alcala in her apartment in Burbank. She was strangled with a nylon cord. Alcala left through her window, where he cut himself and left blood and DNA evidence behind. Due to a semi-rare blood match, he was linked to her murder, but the charges were dismissed in her case (Montaldo 2019).

            Like other narcissistic psychopaths, such as Ted Bundy, Alcala chose to act as his own lawyer at this final trial. During the trial, Alcala played both the witness and the lawyer while he was on the stand. He would refer to himself as Mr. Alcala when acting as the lawyer and would use a deeper voice when acting as his lawyer. This went on for five hours, during which time the star witness was also brought out. Tali Shapiro, his first victim, was there to testify against the man who had brutalized her years prior. Unfortunately for Alcala, but fortunately for any future victims he had planned, his attempts as being charming during the trial didn’t work for him the way it had in the past. He was found guilty of five charges of first-degree murder. At closing arguments, he chose to play a song, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” He was sentenced to death for a third time in 2010 (Bizarrepedia). During the trial, Alcala attempted to defend himself by claiming that he was on Knotts Berry Farm the day that Samsoe disappeared, despite witnesses recognizing him as the man seen earlier taking photos of Samsoe and Wilvert (Montaldo 2019).

            So, how did Alcala earn the name the Dating Game Killer? He was a registered sex offender, but the company that produced the Dating Game didn’t run background checks. When the game, which featured a single woman, in this case Cheryl Bradshaw, would ask questions to bachelors she could not see, accepted Alcala onto the show, no one knew who he truly was. The bigger surprise looking back is that Alcala was charming and managed to win the date with Bradshaw. The date never happened however, because once she met Alcala in person, Bradshaw found him to be creepy. It’s possible that the decision not to go on that date saved Bradshaw from an awful fate (Kettler 2020).

            In the time since his arrest, trials, and sentencing, photos from him infamous portfolio have been released in hopes of victims being identified. It is possible that there are as many as 120 more victims out there, somewhere in the world, waiting to be identified (Montaldo 2019). If you or someone you know, knows of people, particularly women, who went missing during the time that Alcala was active, the photos of believed victims are available to be viewed on Bizarrepedia.

Kettler, S. (2020, May 28). Rodney Alcala. Retrieved August 30, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/rodney-alcala

Rodney Alcala: The Mother of All Serial Killers. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.bizarrepedia.com/rodney-alcala/

Montaldo, C. (2019, July 01). How the Dating Game Killer Evaded Justice for 40 Years. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-serial-killer-rodney-alcala-973104

The Disappearance of Alissa Turney

            Alissa Turney, 17, was finishing her junior year in high school on May 17, 2001, when she disappeared. Her sister, Sarah Turney, was 12-years old when her sister disappeared and remembers her sister being excited for the summer to come. While young Sarah was on an end-of-year field trip to a water park, her family was about to change forever. The Turney sisters lived with Sarah’s biological father, Michael Turney, after their mother, Barbara Strahm, died from cancer when Alissa was eight-years old. Michael adopted Alissa as his own afterwards, adding a daughter along with his daughter, Sarah, and three sons who were already grown and out of the house (Cavallier 2020).

            When Michael Turney went to pick up Alissa from school that day, she reportedly was not there (Cavallier 2020). According to Sarah Turney, he also claims to have taken Alissa out of school early. However, he gives conflicting stories: he picked her up early, she never went to school that day, or she ran away with a biker. He also told a neighbor that she went to live with relatives in California. Her disappearance happening on the last day of school also seems to be strategic: if she disappears on the last day, children won’t be at school going to counselors where they may talk about things she had told them about her relationship with her father (Turney 2019). Her boyfriend and some of Alissa’s friends did confirm that Michael picked her up around lunch time on the last day of school (Pai 2020). Her bedroom, which was usually tidy, was found in disarray, and her phone was found on her dresser when they attempted to call her. With her phone was a note, written in what appeared to be her handwriting, claiming that she was running away to California, where an aunt lived (Cavallier 2020). The note read,  “Dad and Sarah, When you dropped me off at school today, I decided I really am going to California. Sarah, you said you really wanted me gone – now you have it. Dad, I took $300 from you. That’s why I saved my money” (Pai 2020). Alissa had previously talked about leaving Arizona and heading to California, even talking about wanting a white jeep like Cher in Clueless. The family learned later that Alissa had never made it to their aunt’s house, if that was truly where she was heading (Cavallier 2020).

            According to Sarah, her father was frantic about her sister, both before and after she went missing. Before her disappearance, he constantly needed to know where she was and what she was doing. He was overbearing, controlling to the point of possible psychological abuse. Sarah Turney noted that he never treated her the way he treated Alissa. After Alissa went missing, he apparently went to California repeatedly to look for her. He passed out fliers of her and went house-to-house looking for information on his missing child (Cavallier 2020). His frantic behavior with his family, and the panic he caused in them, was contrary to the nearly blasé way in which he reported her missing at nearly 11 PM that night. When he called to report her missing, he reported that she had left and left a note, leading to the conclusion that she had run away. Michael once worked for law enforcement and would absolutely know how to report in a manner that would result in little interest in following up with the report. Calling in and acting as if this is a standard runaway teenager and not a genuinely missing person would result in less eyes on the case. This caused a major delay in investigating the case, which meant evidence that could have helped find Alissa Turney is no longer available, such as phone records from the time or traffic cameras (Turney 2019).

            While Michael Turney was apparently building the façade of a concerned father, his son James Turney was more concerned with his sisters’ safety. James told Dateline that, after their mother’s death, he hoped to give the girls a safe place to live and that he felt his father was not treating them well or keeping with safe. Just months before Alissa disappeared, she told James during a conversation that she was frightened of her father and wanted to leave. When he learned she was missing, he thought she had run away just like most everyone else. What was confusing was that she didn’t go to any of the places she could have, like his house or her aunt’s house, and she had left behind her belongings, including approximately $1,800 in her bank account (Cavallier 2020). In the years since her disappearance, not only has that $1,800 gone untouched, but her social security number has never been used. If she had run away, eventually she would have needed to use her social security number to get a job or attend school again. She never got to attend her senior year and would surely have joined a new school when she settled. She’s never contacted anyone else in her family, even 19 years later. Surely, once her family was free of her father, she would make contact were she still alive (Pai 2020).

            While Michael Turney has been the main subject of scrutiny by the public, in 2006 a confession made by Thomas Hymer brought the case back to the public eye. Hymer, who was serving time for the 2001 murder of Sandra Goodman in Florida, claimed to have killed Alissa. Unfortunately for the Turney family, his story didn’t add up and he later confessed that he was mistaken. The confession may have been false, but it brought a renewed interest in the case and family members who had never been talked to by the police began to come forward. Allegations began to pile up on Michael Turney and his relationship with Alissa. Sarah, who would have said before that her father was not likely involved, began to question him as well. She found that his story about the day Alissa went missing seemed to be changing over time and it didn’t feel right (Cavallier 2020).

            It was in 2008 that the case was finally reopened and reclassified from a runaway to foul play. Due to the allegations made by others against Michael Turney of sexual abuse, he quickly became the main suspect in her disappearance and possible murder. When a search warrant was served in December 2008 for the house the Turney’s lived in at the time, they found videotapes dating back to the 1980s and surveillance footage from the house. Despite the surveillance on the house, no videos were found from the day Alissa went missing (Cavallier 2020).  Sarah Turney sites the supposed failure of all the surveillance equipment on the exact day that Alissa went missing as suspicious. There was a passive recording device on the family phone that recorded all calls, and she says her father maintained before she was even born. There were multiple cameras hidden throughout the house, including phasing the doorway and hidden in a vent facing their cough. Michael Turney claims that the recording device on the phone failed when Alissa supposedly made a phone call to the family in which she told him that her leaving was his fault and that she was never leading California (Pai 2020), and has said both that the cameras in the house failed and that there is video from the day Alissa disappeared, but he won’t share it with police (Turney 2019). If he truly has footage from the day Alissa Turney disappeared, it is extremely suspicious that he won’t hand the footage over to detectives investigating her disappearance.

Other items found in the house included two handmade silencers, 26 handmade explosive devices (filled with gunpowder and nails), a van filled with gas cans, and a whopping 19 high caliber rifles. A manifesto was also found, titled “Diary of a Madman Martyr” and spanning 98-pages. Michael Turney plead guilty to possessing 26 unregistered pipe bombs in March of 2010 and received the maximum 10-year sentence, but was released in 2017. While Sarah Turney was hopeful that the investigation into her father’s involvement in Alissa’s disappearance would continue, but was disappointed to be told by the police that they could not bring charges against any people of interest in the case (Cavallier 2020). During this search was also when they recovered letters written by Alissa in which she wrote about the sexual abuse she suffered at her stepfather’s hands. They also recovered the contracts she signed which stated that he had not sexually abused (Pai 2020).

            According to Sarah’s blog, “Justice for Alissa”, she knows exactly why her father likely killed her sister. Michael Turney was abusing Alissa sexually as well as the abuse through control. Not only did family members come forward with allegations of abuse, but friends of Alissa’s came forward and a teacher who had been dating Michael Turney attested to the abuse as well. Alissa also wrote letters here she talked about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her father. Michael was known to follow Alissa to work and wait in the parking lot so that he knew where she was at all times. His controlling behavior with Alissa came across to others as more of an abusive boyfriend than a father.  Not only did Michael warn Alissa’ friends and their parents that she was gullible and couldn’t take care of herself, he also forced her to sign behavioral contracts that stated that he never abused her, sexually or physically. Michael made a call to Child Protective Services  a year before Alissa’s disappearance claiming that she was going to call and falsely accuse him of sexually abusing her to get him to buy her a car (even though in reality, he had been offering to buy her a car so that she could drive Sarah to school and run errands), apparently to ask what a parent should do if a child falsely accuses them of sexual abuse. Sarah does not remember any of Michael’s other children ever being subjected to the treatment that Alissa was, and she believes this behavior becoming public knowledge was the motivation for Michael (Turney 2019).

            On that day, Michael would have had an alarmingly long amount of time alone with Alissa during which time he could have murdered her and hidden her body. From the time he picked her up, approximately 11 AM, to nearly 7 PM that night, he was alone with Alissa. It is known that Michael has an extensive knowledge of the desert, leading to the possibility that her remains could be out there somewhere. He was also seen buying a large amount of lye near the time that Alissa went missing and has acknowledged that he did buy the lye. Furthering the suspicion on Michael, he had identical trucks at the time, one of which was hidden from his children, which he sold shortly after Alissa’s disappearance (Turney 2019). As we know already, he made several trips to California under the guise of looking for Alissa. Is it possible that her remains are hidden somewhere out there? Did one, or perhaps both, of those trucks have evidence in them that could tie him to her? Michael Turney also told family members another story: someone had been following Alissa with the intent to cause her harm. This was where he came up with his excuse to go to California looking for her and began making the fliers he gave out. He said the police were not helping and he would have to do things himself (Pai 2020).

            Michael told one of his sons that Alissa was killed by assassins sent by the Electrician Union and buried in Desert Center, CA and that he was forced to kill these men. Yet, he continued to tell the rest of the Turney family that Alissa was missing. If he truly knew that Alissa was dead and where her body was buried, why would he continue to tell the rest of his family that she was missing? Why wouldn’t he have told investigators where her remains were (Turney 2019)? Michael did apparently tell police the same story, but when they checked on the men he named, they found that the men had actually died of natural causes (Pai 2020). On top of this suspicious behavior, Michael Turney refuses to give DNA samples to police and has refused to do any formal interviews without meeting certain criteria first. A meeting with police must take place on live television, with him having the ability to interrogate his family, John Walsh, the judge that presided over his bomb case, and two Phoenix police detectives. Not only would he be interrogating these people, but he would require them to be on a polygraph operated by a Canadian operator (Turney 2019).

            Since his release from prison on the bomb charges, Sarah has only seen her father in person once. It was October of 2017 when she met with him at a Starbucks, a neutral space, Sarah with the intention to find out what happened to Alissa and Michael with the intention of reconnecting with his daughter (Cavallier 2020). However, when Michael realized that Sarah was not there to reconnect after his stay in prison, he became angry. Sarah reports on her blog that he made several jarring, digusting statements about her sister before declaring, “Be at the deathbed Sarah and I will give you all the honest answers you want to hear,” followed by the statement that he would tell everything if the state would give him a lethal injection within 10 days (Turney 2019).

            Sarah Turney has remained vocal in the case of her sister, running her blog and her podcast, Voices for Justice, which chronicles Alissa’s disappearance. She also began a youtube channel, a facebook page, and began posting videos on Tik Tok, which is where I was first exposed to the case. Her Tik Tok videos are what made me decide to write on her sister’s disappearance, in hopes that maybe someone would read this article and know something that may help (Cavallier 2020). While I was beginning my research for this blog, a major break was made in the case: Michael Turney has been arrested for the murder of Alissa Turney. The announcement that a grand jury indicted Michael on second-degree murder charges in the death of Alissa Turney came on Thursday, August 20, 2020. The actual indictment was handed down on Agust 19, 2020 (Phakdeetham 2020). Sarah Turney and her siblings will finally see justice, but it isn’t over yet. The Turney siblings deserve the chance to have a proper burial for their sister. Her remains have still not been recovered, all these years later. If you know something, or believe you do, please contact the Phoenix, AZ police at (602) 262-6141 or phoenix.tips.ppd@phoenix.gov. Alternatively, you can contact Silent Witnesses at 480-WITNESS (Cavallier 2020).

Cavallier, A. (2020, June 14). Sister of Alissa Turney who disappeared on last day of school in Phoenix, Arizona in 2001 turns to TikTok app for help. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/sister-alissa-turney-who-disappeared-last-day-school-phoenix-arizona-n1231014

Turney, S. (2019, April 27). 5 Reasons I Know My Father Killed My Sister, Alissa Turney. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://justiceforalissa.com/blog/f/5-reasons-why-i-know-my-father-killed-my-sister-alissa-turney

Pai, A. (2020, July 16). Alissa Turney’s stepfather facing charges 19 years after Arizona teen went mysteriously missing from school. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://meaww.com/19-years-after-alissa-turney-disappeared-police-set-to-charge-her-stepfather

Phakdeetham, J. (2020, August 21). Stepdad charged with 2001 murder of teen despite NO body being found. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/12468994/alissa-turney-stepdad-charged-murder-no-body/

The Doodler Murders

            If you aren’t from San Francisco, CA, chances are good you haven’t heard of the Doodler murders. The Doodler was active in San Francisco, CA in the 1974 to 1975 and mainly targeted gay men. He killed at least five people, but up to 14, in the short period of time he was known to be active and was never caught. With the arrest of the Golden State Killer in 2018, this case is among many being viewed as solvable through the same DNA process used by Golden State Killer investigators (Dowd 2019).

            It began on January 27, 1974, with the discovery of the first known victim: Gerald Cavanaugh (Dowd 2019). A call was made to police at approximately 1:30 AM by an unknown individual, possibly even the Doodler himself. The caller refused to identify himself, claiming that he felt it wouldn’t be important and that he simply felt it was his duty to report the body he found (Miller 2019). Cavanaugh was found at Ocean Beach, stabbed to death. Defensive wounds were found on him, indicating that he had fought back against whomever it was that took his life. Five short months later, the second victim was found at Spreckels Lake. Joseph Stevens, sometimes known as Jae, was a known drag queen, at the time described as a “female impersonator.” Just like Cavanaugh, Stevens had been stabbed to death. Klaus Christmann was found at Ocean Beach just like Cavanaugh a few weeks after Stevens (Dowd 2019), slashed across the throat three times and stabbed 15 (Green 2014). While Cavanaugh and Stevens were single, Christmann was married and had children. Frederick Capin was found on Ocean Beach in May 1975. Capin was a nurse and a Vietnam war veteran. The final confirmed victim, Harald Gullberg, was found in Lincoln Park in June 1975, apparently hidden in some bushes that were reminiscent of an igloo and he is believed to have been dead for at least two days before being found (Down 2019) The victims were notably all white (Miller 2019).

            What do we know about the victims? What could we learn from their lives that could lead us to the Doodler? Cavanaugh was 49-years old, balding, stood at approximately five feet, eight inches tall and weighed around 220 pounds. He was known to have been Catholic and was never married. Beyond these things, not much is known about this victim. Stevens was 27-years old and worked as a female impersonator at Finnochio’s for the summer. While Finnochio’s was once a popular bar, having been around since the 1930s, by the 1970s most of the LGBT+ crowd had moved on from the club due to hands off rules. By the time of his death, Stevens had actually moved away from his work as a female impersonator and headed in the direction of being a gay comedian. When he first took the stage eight years before his death, he was well received (Green 2014).

 Christmann, 31, was a German national who worked for Michelin. He was last seen at Bojangles and was found with a tube of makeup in his pocket, leading detectives to believe he had homosexual tendencies. Christmann was visiting San Francisco and had been staying with his friends, the Williams’s, for three months at the time of his death. His remains were returned to Bamberg, Germany for funeral services. Capin was 32 at the time of his death, and stood approximately six feet tall while weighing only 148 pounds. An obituary was run in Port Angeles, WA, where Capin’s sister lived, which talked about his time as a medical corpsman for the Navy. Capin had received a commendation medal during his time in Vietnam when he saved four men while under fire. Gullberg was the oldest of the Doodler’s victims at 66-years old and, according to the pathologist who examined him, was unhealthy and dying of portal cirrhosis. Gullberg was a Swedish sailor with both his arms tattooed and became a naturalized citizen on August 15, 1955. During his time as a sailor, he made stops around the world, including Boston, Yokohama, Liverpool, and Cuba (Green 2014).

            At the same time as the Doodler murders, there were other attacks on white, gay men occurring in the area at the time. Two of the victims even lived in the same apartment complex, though they were attacked at different times. Another victim that survived the attack was able to give police details that lead to the connections made between the assaults and the murders. Surviving victims were able to give enough of a description of their attacker to result in a sketch of the offender. The offender was described as a lanky black man around six feet tall, aged between 19 and 25-years old at the time of the attacks (Miller 2019). Investigators believed that he was upper-middle class with the education to match and an above average intelligence. He was supposedly quiet with a serious personality. A witness claimed the suspect told them he was studying commercial art, leading investigators to believe he was likely an art student. Surviving victims claimed he told them, “All you guys are alike,” likely meaning gay men (Green 2014).

            In 2019, an updated sketch of the Doodler was released and a call was made to the public for any information any may have. The sketch was what they believe the Doodler would look like today, based on a sketch made from two survivors. Along with the updated sketch, the audio file of a man calling in one of the victim’s remains to the police was also released. A reward of $100,000 was offered at the time (Miller 2019).

            How has this case gone unsolved all these years? The answer may be simple, if a bit upsetting: the murders occurred only a year after the American Psychiatric Association of Trustees declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. Gay men were viewed in a less-than-favorable light and were easy victims for an aspiring murderer. Just like with sex workers, gay men were seen as less desirable to society and therefore, easy pickings for a murderer. The killer was even seen, supposedly, at a local club, the Castro (Green 2014). He got the moniker of the Doodler because he was spotted many time drawing caricatures of club goers (Miller 2019). At the time, San Francisco was the place to be if you were gay. It was, essentially, a safe haven from the rest of the world, before the AIDs epidemic that would soon take over (Green 2014).

            At the times of the Doodler murders, gay men were not taken seriously as victims. Murders committed against gay men were common, and while there are five confirmed Doodler murders, there are others that could be attributed to him as well. However, many of those that are listed as possible Doodler murders may very well not be, given the high rate of crime against gay men at the time. The surviving victims were, understandably, scared to be outed as gay at the time and would not testify when a possible arrest was made. One survivor was supposedly a diplomat while another was some form of public figure. At the time, being gay would have destroyed their careers (Green 2014). As it stands, we may never get an answer to who committed the Doodler murders. He may not even be alive anymore, or, perhaps, he is in prison for something else entirely.

Dowd, K. (2019, February 06). Who was San Francisco’s Doodler killer, and why wasn’t he caught? Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/the-doodler-serial-killer-cold-case-unsolved-13014008.php

Miller, R. (2019, February 07). ‘The Doodler’ killed 5 gay men in 1970s San Francisco. Police just released new info on him. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/02/06/san-francisco-doodler-serial-killer-cold-case-has-new-info-reward/2795825002/

Green, E. (2014, December 11). The Untold Story of the Doodler Murders. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from https://www.theawl.com/2014/12/the-untold-story-of-the-doodler-murders/

The Austin Yogurt Shop Murders

            At approximately midnight, December 6, 1991, Troy Gay, an officer in Austin, TX, notified emergency services that smoke was rising from the area of the I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop. Inside the shop, firefighters found the bodies of four young women – a horrific discovery (C. 2020). While the firefighters who made the discovery were initially told to keep quiet about the details, later they came out and said they found the bodies of three of the young women piled on top of each other. The last victim was found approximately half an hour later in another location within the shop (Amie 2019).

            The victims were Amy Ayers (or Ayres, depending on report), 13, Sarah Harbison, 15, her sister Jennifer Harbison, 17, and Eliza Thomas, 17. Sarah and Amy were keeping Jennifer and Eliza company that night while they closed the shop (Amie 2019). Supposedly, the girls had plans to have a sleepover that night. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the girls never got to have that sleepover (C. 2020). Reports show that Sarah was found nude, tied, and gagged with her own underwear. Evidence showed that the young girl had been raped before being shot in the back of the head with a .22 lead bullet. Jennifer was also nude, but she was not bound as Sarah had been. Her hands, however, were behind her back suggesting that she may have been at some point when she died. Just like Sarah, Jennifer had been shot with a .22 bullet, which was recovered from her remains. Like Sarah, Eliza was also nude, bound, and gagged, and like Jennifer, the .22 bullet that killed her was recovered. The remains of the first three victims were all severely burned to the point of being described as char (Amie 2019). Reportedly, the girls’ legs were splayed open and an ice cream soup had been placed between at least one of the girls’ legs (C. 2020).

            Poor Amy, however, was different. She was found away from the other victims with something, possibly a sock, tied around her neck with a half-hitch in the back. Just like the other victims, Amy had been shot with a .22 caliber, the same used on the other victims, but the bullet did not enter her brain. A second gunshot of an unspecified caliber, however, caused significant brain damage to the young girl, exiting the right cheek and jawline. While the other victims were nearly charred, Amy’s body had severe second-to-third degree burns covering 25-30% of her body. It is believed that, when the bodies of the victims were piled up and the fire was started, Amy was still alive and managed to pull herself from the pile and to the area where her remains were recovered by firefights (Amie 2019).

            At the time that the murders occurred, the police force in Austin was not emotionally equipped to take on a case like the Yogurt Shop Murders. The officers in the area were hardly used to the level of public pressure that came with a case so widely publicized and this led to several issues, including false confessions. There was eventually a suspect list of over 300 possible perpetrators and over 50 false confessions had to be debunked (Walsh 2018). The forensics unit in Austin was small, with only one unit for fingerprints and one actual homicide detective. The department was woefully unprepared for the realities of this case (C. 2020). We do know customers at the shop claimed to have seen two suspicious, unknown men in the yogurt shop the night that the murders occurred (Amie 2019). We also know that, according to management and the investigators, there was approximately $540 stolen from the shop. Whether the intention of the murderers was originally robbery or if the robbery was secondary is unknown (C. 2020).

            There were arrests made in the case in late 1992, and those arrested were even convicted. However, after it was discovered that the confession made was encouraged by arresting officers using cayenne pepper and a coke bottle full of water to essentially torture a confession from the suspect, the suspect was acquitted and released. The confession given by the suspects, Carlos Saavedra and Alberto Cortez, had been to the November 1991 rape of a woman in Austin and to the yogurt shop murders. After the suspects recanted, they admitted to knowing nothing of the yogurt shop murders. Another suspect was serial killer, Kenneth Allen McDuff, who was known for crimes against teenagers, but DNA proved he was not the killer of the young girl (Amie 2019).

The DNA was recovered from Amy’s remains. Y-STR DNA, which is passed between male family members, was extracted from the recovered DNA. With more and more Y-STR databases becoming available to investigators, it would seem that we have a door with which to find answers. In 2017, the DNA was run through one of these databases and a hit did come back. However, as anyone who works with DNA can tell you, a Y-STR hit does not mean the DNA being searched for has actually been found. Y-STR can be found in all men in the same family; fathers, sons, uncles, and cousins. A hit through Y-STR only gives a male family member and that could be a distant relative. According to the information available on the DNA match, the match came from the University of Central Florida’s database and had been submitted by the FBI. As of February 2020, the FBI has not shared with Austin investigators who the DNA match was and it would seem it is because it is a Y-STR match and not a standard DNA match (Plohetski 2020).

            More arrests were made in 1999, but just as before, the confessions were not as they seemed. There were four suspects this time, Robert Springsteen IV, Maurice Pierce, Forrest Wellborn, and Michael Scott. Scott gave a written confession in 1999 admitted that he, along with the other three, had committed the awful crimes against the young girls in the yogurt shop. In June 2000, however, an image came to the public of Scott making the written confession. In it, the officer interrogating him had a gun to his head. The detective, Robert Merrill, admitted to the gun being near his head, but would not admit to the gun being against his head as it appears in the photo (Amie 2019).

            Springsteen was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death, later commuted to life, in 2001, along with Scott who also received life in prison. The convictions were overturned in 2006 when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that the two had not been given the chance to properly cross-examine each other. DNA later entirely exonerated the two in 2008 and in October of 2009 the charges against them were dismissed. Wellborn Pierce were never tried due to lack of evidence (Amie 2019).  The two were released from prison in 2009 after spending 10 years there for the murders. In 2010, Pierce died when he reportedly attacked an officer after fleeing a traffic stop. The officer’s partner apparently shot him (Walsh 2018).

            It has been nearly 30 years since four teenage girls met an awful end at the hands of unknown individuals. False confessions muddled the investigation early on and lead investigators down false leads. The firemen, while they were doing their job, likely washed away evidence that could have solved the case. Y-STR DNA may hold the answers to the case, but unless the FBI is willing to tell the investigators who the match belongs to, or at least the family, the Y-STR DNA will likely be a dead end. For now, the answers will remain a mystery. Hopefully for the families and for the victims, someday the perpetrators will be caught.

Amie. (2019, August 19). The Yogurt Shop Murders. Retrieved August 08, 2020, from https://truecrimesociety.com/2019/08/18/the-yogurt-shop-murders/

Walsh, R. (2018, March 28). The Brutal Austin Yogurt Shop Murders of 1991 Remain Unsolved Decades Later. Retrieved August 09, 2020, from https://the-line-up.com/yogurt-shop-murders-austin-1991

Plohetski, A. (2020, February 09). Why is the FBI withholding DNA evidence in Austin’s 1991 yogurt shop murders? Retrieved August 09, 2020, from https://www.kvue.com/article/news/investigations/defenders/1991-austin-yogurt-shop-murders-killer-dna-fbi/269-d28e6099-7c69-4e10-bb45-3054fde938aa

C. (2020, January 16). The Unsolved Austin Yogurt Shop Murders. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://thetruecrimefiles.com/austin-yogurt-shop-murders/

The Death of Ricky McCormick

            In an area of St. Charles County, Missouri, known to be a dumping ground for bodies, the remains of Ricky McCormick were found on June 30, 1999 (C. 2018).  His remains were already in a state of decay and to identify him his fingers were removed and the partial fingerprints that could be obtained were used (Casale 2016). McCormick had been missing for three days, but had not actually been reported missing yet by anyone. He had last been seen at the gas station the 41-year old worked at, Amoco. McCormick was known to have chronic lung and heart problems and was known not to have a vehicle or drive. This made something strange – McCormick’s remains were found more than 20 miles from his home. His cause of death is cited as unknown, but is classified by police as a homicide. He was strangely decomposed, despite being dead for no more than three days (C. 2018). How did he end up so far from home without a vehicle? There was no public transport available to bring him there, either (Casale 2016). The theory is that his body was held somewhere before being dumped where he was found by whomever killed him (C. 2018).

            On top of the mystery of how McCormick ended up so far from home, strange handwritten letters were found in his pockets. The letters were written in an apparent code that involved letters, numbers, and the use of parentheses (C. 2018). The FBI declared the case a homicide 12 years after McCormick’s remains were found, and the letters and their ciphers were made public (Casale 2016). There are similarities throughout the note, leading to the belief that the letter should be solvable. For an unknown reason, all attempts have failed. It is believed that the answer to McCormick’s death is in the letter, though some think the letter was planted to throw investigators off the trail of the real killer (C. 2018). A supposed acronym, “NCBE,” and the numbers 71, 74, and 75 make frequent appearances in the letters. Two theories explain the use of these numbers and the “NCBE”: the numbers could be local highways or they could be slang used by local drug dealers. Other suggested explanations include a schedule for medications, general gibberish, or car parts (Casale 2016).

            Another theory is that McCormick himself came up with the cipher and wrote the note. While McCormick was only semi-literate and seemed to have possible learning disabilities, he was known to tell tall tales and seems to have had a vivid imagination. Many who believe that McCormick wrote the note think it is written in a shorthand he developed throughout his life. If this is true, it would likely be impossible for anyone else to decipher it. The secret code used would have died with him if it was a short hand he made. Members of his family claimed he had been writing in a “secret language” since he was a small child, but other family members seem to believe that he was incapable of reading or writing at all. Those who believe that McCormick didn’t write the note, believe that he was acting as a courier and delivering the letter to someone (C. 2018). Could whomever the note was meant for have been McCormick’s killer? Or could the person who wrote it have killed him?

            In an effort to find answers, the police searched McCormick’s past for any possible leads. McCormick was unmarried, despite fathering four children, and had dropped out of high school (Casale 2016).  In 1990, McCormick pled guilty to statutory rape after fathering two children with a 14-year old girl (C. 2018), for which he served nearly a year in jail (Casale 2016), and his girlfriend told police at the time of his death that he had taken a trip to Florida to pick up marijuana for his boss. According to both his girlfriend and his mother, McCormick seemed afraid after his trip, and it is known that a high-level drug dealer was working in the area at the time. A police informant told police that the dealer, Gregory Knox, had claimed to have dumped the body of a black man he killed, who worked at a local gas station, near where McCormick’s body was found (C. 2018). Perhaps either his boss or Knox killed him after whatever he did in Florida. Perhaps something happened there that lead to his murder. McCormick was seen alive five days before his remains were recovered, at a hospital in St. Louis (Casale 2016).

            Who killed Ricky McCormick? Why? What do the letters found in his pockets say? It is possible that there will never be true answers. In researching the case, there were few articles and many seemed to have the same information. The case is a mystery, with very little information to help those hoping to solve it. That being said, the letters are found easily online for those who wish to try their hands at solving the cipher. Perhaps, someday, someone will solve it.

C. (2018, March 02). The Unsolved Murder of Ricky McCormick. Retrieved July 30, 2020, from https://thetruecrimefiles.com/ricky-mccormick-murder/

Casale, S. (2016, August 31). The Case of the Ricky McCormick Murder Notes. Retrieved August 02, 2020, from https://the-line-up.com/ricky-mccormick

The Lady of the Dunes

            For 46 years, the identity of the woman known as the Lady of the Dunes has gone unknown. Since she was discovered near Province Town, MA, on July 26, 1974, what happened to her has remained a mystery still on people’s minds decades later. Despite efforts, including the exhumation of her remains in 1980, 2000, and 2013, the identity of both the Lady and her killer has continued to allude investigators (Wikipedia).

            The Lady’s remains were discovered by a 13-year old girl, Leslie Metcalfe, who was following a friend’s dog when she came across the remains approximately 15 feet from the closest road. Metcalfe told an adult, but later Sandra Lee, who was 9-years old at the time and is now an author, claims to have found the body a couple days prior but been too scared to come forward (Leigh 2020). Near her remains there were two sets of footprints and tire prints, possibly belonging to those who committed the crime. There was significant insect activity at the scene and it is estimated that she had been dead for approximately two weeks when she was found. She was found half on a beach blanket and with a blue bandana, possibly used to hold back her long, auburn hair. Her hair was held back in a ponytail with a gold elastic band and her toenails were painted a pink color when she was found (Wikipedia).

            The Lady is described as having been approximately 5 foot 6 inches tall, weighing in at approximately 145 pounds with an athletic build.  She had quite a bit of dental work – approximately $5,000 to $10,000 worth. The form of dental work done on the Lady was known as “New York Style” among dentists and included crowns. At the time her remains were recovered, she was missing a hand and forearm. While most reports have her aged 25 to 40, some people believe she could have been as young as 20-years old and as old as 49-years old (Wikipedia). That being said, it is believed that she is most likely in the age range of 25 to 35-years of age (Leigh 2020).

            The Lady had been strangled, to the point of near decapitation (Wikipedia), though there are some reports that her head was nearly decapitated using a shovel (Puente 2018). Her head was partially crushed, likely by some form of entrenching tool. Her cause of death was noted as the blow to her head (Wikipedia). A postmortem suggested that she had been sexually assaulted after death, possibly with a block of wood (Leigh 2020). No further evidence was found at the scene and no drugs or alcohol were found in her system (Capecod.com 2019). The blanket was mostly undisturbed, leading investigators to believe that she had been killed somewhere else. Despite an extensive search, the car that had made the nearby tracks was not found, no other location was found, and attempts at identification futile. In October 1974, the Lady of the Dunes was laid to rest when the case was officially considered a cold case (Wikipedia).

            When she was exhumed in 1980, an attempt was made to find more evidence on her person, but none was found. However, her skull was not reburied with the rest of her remains and instead kept out for further investigation. When she as exhumed again in 2000, it was to search for DNA, though no results have been announced. In 2010, her skull was sent through a CT scan and images were generated to be sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to have another reconstruction done. A Canadian woman told a friend in 1987 that she had seen her father strangle a woman in Massachusetts back in 1972, but attempts by police to find this woman were for naut. Another woman came forward after a reconstruction was released of what the Lady may have looked like, claiming that the reconstruction looked like her sister who had disappeared in Boston in 1974. Rory Gene Kessinger was also a possible victim, having broken out of jail in 1973 and gone missing. She would have been 25-years old at the time the murder occurred, but she has since been struck from the list of possible victims. Her mother’s DNA was tested and did not match with the DNA of the Lady (Wikipedia).

            In 2015, son of Stephen King, Joe Hill, became aware of the case after reading the book, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases. After reading the book, he watched the movie Jaws (filmed in Massachusetts in 1974) when it was in the cinemas again for the 40-year anniversary with his sons, when he spotted a young woman in the background of one scene wearing a blue bandana and jeans that were similar to the bandana and jeans found with the Lady’s remains. Unfortunately, records on extras were not well kept back then and it is possible she barely even knew she was being filmed, if the extra in the crowded scene 54 minutes into the movie is truly the Lady of the Dunes. The theory gained traction for a while after being brought up on a podcast about the movie, and has since been covered in other videos such as the one done by Buzzfeed Unsolved. One way of proving this would be to see if the woman in the scene comes forward. Being an extra in a movie as iconic as Jaws is not something someone would forget, and it is likely that, if the woman is still alive, she would come forward to declare that she is the extra (Puente 2018). While the theory that this extra in Jaws was the mysterious Lady of the Dunes, many have found the theory to be too far fetched and have written off this possibility (Wikipedia).  

            Several suspects have been named in various theories, including the infamous Whitey Bulger. A woman matching the description of the Lady was seen with Bulger around the time that the murder occurred and Bulger had a history of removing the teeth of his victims. The removal of teeth is often used to make identification of remains harder. Tony Costa, a serial killer active in the area, was a suspect at one point, but after it was uncovered that he had died the May before, he was removed from the list. Serial Killer Haden Clark confessed to the killing, but is known to have paranoid schizophrenia and be more likely to confess falsely to crimes. He was known to have told others that what the police needed was in his grandfather’s garden. In 2004, Clark reached out to a friend with a confession of killing a woman in Cape Cod, along with a map pointing to where the remains could be found and a drawing of a naked woman lying on her stomach with no hands. Four years earlier, in 2000, Clark lead investigators to a place he claimed to have buried two victims more than 20 years earlier (Wikipedia)

            In 2019, it was announced that a new kind of DNA test was going to be used in an effort to identify the Lady. In 2018, a long cold case was solved using this technique and the victims of the Golden State Killer found some modicum of peace knowing Joseph D’Angelo was no longer free. The DNA test is genealogical. Like with the Golden State Killer, DNA from the Lady could be taken and run against an anonymous database to search for possible relatives. While this was used to find relatives of the Golden State Killer in that case, in this case it could be used to finally identify the young woman murdered brutally all those years ago. Genealogical DNA has opened a door in crime investigation that could solve an untold number of cold cases, despite the reservations some have about the possibilities (Bragg 2019). Joe Hill has stated that he would like to see her DNA submitted to one of these databases in hopes that she could be identified as well (Puente 2018).

            Who was the Lady of the Dunes? Was she the extra spotted in Jaws? Or was she someone else, perhaps a hitchhiker who met the wrong person? 46 years later, we are closer to answers than ever with the advent of genealogical databases, but we are still so far. It is possible that someday in the next few years, we will get a name for the Lady. We will be able to say, “she was the Lady, and we finally have a name.” Perhaps, with a name, will come more suspects. Perhaps we will be able to look at the name and say, “we know who the Lady was around” and be able to narrow down the suspects. Perhaps. For now, the case unfortunately remains unsolved, and the Lady remains unidentified.

. “Lady of the Dunes.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 July 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_of_the_Dunes.

Leigh, Cat. “Lady of the Dunes.” Medium, True Crime by Cat Leigh, 2 Mar. 2020, medium.com/true-crime-by-cat-leigh/lady-of-the-dunes-623d5d723030.

“A Shocking Crime on Cape Cod: Is This the Lady of the Dunes?” CapeCod.com, 3 Oct. 2019, www.capecod.com/lifestyle/a-shocking-crime-on-cape-cod-is-this-the-lady-of-the-dunes/.

Bragg, Mary Ann. “New Look at Old ‘Lady of the Dunes’ Mystery.” Capecodtimes.com, Capecodtimes.com, 14 Apr. 2019, www.capecodtimes.com/news/20190414/new-look-at-old-lady-of-dunes-mystery.

Puente, Maria. “’Jaws’ Mystery: Did Long Unknown ‘Lady of the Dunes’ Cape Cod Murder Victim Appear in Movie Scene?” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 8 Aug. 2018, http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2018/08/07/jaws-mystery-did-unidentified-cape-cod-murder-victim-appear-scene/923860002/.

The Notorious Black Dahlia Murder

            On January 15, 1947, the remains of Elizabeth Short were found just feet from the sidewalk by a young mother walking with her child. Due to the position and condition of her remains, the young mother at first believed that she was seeing a mannequin that had been dumped and not the body of a murder victim. Short was cut in half at the waist, but, despite this and several cuts over her body, there was no blood at the dump site. It is likely that the scene of the murder was somewhere else, and over the decades since the murder occurred many suspects have been named and places suggested (FBI 2016). The victim had been drained of blood, in fact, and scrubbed clean by whomever the perpetrator was (Biography.com 2020). Short, who was 22-years old and an aspiring starlet, was dubbed the Black Dahlia in the press due to the short black dresses she often wore and a movie out at the time called the Blue Dahlia (FBI 2016).

            It was through her fingerprints that Short was identified. Her prints were on record for two reason: she had applied for a clerk job with the commissary of Camp Cooke, the local army base and she had been caught drinking while underage just a few months later and arrested in Santa Barbara. It was less than an hour after the fingerprints were sent via soundphoto (the predecessor to the fax) that Short was identified (FBI 2016). The horrific murder resulted in an in-depth investigation that followed every lead and lead to several false confessions. There was only one possible witness to the body being dumped, and all they could give the police was that they saw a black sedan parked nearby early that morning (Biography.com 2020).

            Elizabeth Short was born in Hyde Park, MA in 1924, to Cleo and Phoebe Short (Korzik). For a short period in 1927, the family relocated to Portland, ME before moving to Medford, MA. Her father, Cleo, worked building miniature gold courses until 1929 (Everyday 2019). She grew up in Medford, MA with her mother and sisters, while her father abandoned them in 1929 when the stock market crash occurred (Korik). Cleo faked his death in 1930 by leaving his car by a bridge, leading to the belief that he had jumped into the Charles River. Following his supposed death, Phoebe Short moved with their daughters into an apartment and began to work as a bookkeeper (Everyday 2019).

            Elizabeth was plagued by asthma and bronchitis and, following lung surgery at only 15-years old, she began to spend time in Miami, FL with family friends during winter. The hope was that the milder winter would help with her lungs. She did this for three years and dropped out of high school during her sophomore year (Everyday 2019).

 When Short was 18, Cloe sent a letter to Phoebe from California, apologizing for what he had done. He wanted to rejoin his family, but Phoebe did not want to see him again after his departure years earlier. Elizabeth moved in with her father in California when she was an adult after he offered her a place to stay until she found a job. Early in 1943, Elizabeth moved in with her father, but it took less than a year for their relationship to strain. She was kicked out of the home because her father did not approve of her dating choices and felt that she was lazy. She worked shortly at Camp Cooke and even won a contest there that lead to her title as “Camp Cutie of Camp Cooke.” However, due to her emotional fragility and desire for a relationship that would result in a marriage, she had trouble making connections and often ended up staying in at night (Korzik).

            After a run-in with police, Short was sent back to Massachusetts, but returned to California not long after. She reportedly began to see a pilot named Gordon Fickling when she returned, but their courtship was cut short as Fickling was shipped to Europe. After spending some holidays in Medford, MA with her family and heading to Miami, FL for a while where she dated more servicemen with the intention of finding a husband, she fell in love again with another pilot. Unfortunately, this pilot, Major Matt Gordon, was killed in action and was unable to keep his promise to marry her. After a period of mourning where she was known to have told some that Gordon was her husband and that they had lost a child together, Short reached out to her friends from her time in California and rekindled her relationship with Flicking. She returned to California, intent on pursuing her dreams of stardom again and continuing her rekindled love (Korzik).

            While living in Hollywood, CA, Short began to live with friend Dorothy French, who had offered her a place to stay after finding Short sleeping in a theater seat at the Aztec Theater where French worked. She continued a life-style of late-night parties and dating during her time with the French family, including reportedly seeing a salesman who was married with a pregnant wide, Robert “Red” Manley. Manley claimed later that while he found Short attractive, the two had never slept together. He admitted to sleeping in the same hotel room during their short courtship, but claimed that while Short slept in the chair while he slept in the bed available in the hotel room. On January 9th, just a few days before Short’s remains would be found, Manley claimed that she had asked him to take her to meet her sister as the Biltmore Hotel and that she told him she was going to be returning to Massachusetts. According to Manley, he dropped Short off at the hotel and left for an appointment, last seeing her in the lobby of the hotel. Those working in the hotel were the last known to have seen Short alive (Korzik).

            It was 2013 when the most well known possible suspect was brought to the attention of the general public: Doctor George Hodel. Hodel’s son, Steve Hodel, joined forces with retired police officer Paul Dostie and a dog trained to search for decomposing flesh, Buster, to search the home of Hodel extensively (Biography.com 2020). Dr. Hodel was a distant father to his son and abandoned his family when Steve Hodel was only nine-years old, heading instead to the Philippines. After his father’s death, Hodel began to work through the possessions the doctor left behind. Among these belongings was a photo album that, at first, seemed innocuous enough. The pictures at the front were the usual – family photos – but towards the back were two pictures of a young woman. Reportedly, the first thing Hodel thought when he came across the pictures of the young woman with the dark, curly hair was that she looked remarkably like the Black Dahlia. Hodel began to dig into the case when he made the connection, using the intuition he had used for 23 years working as a homicide detective to gather information and evidence (Sobel Fitts 2016).

            Hodel began to put together the pieces that resulted in his conviction that his father was the murderer of Elizabeth Short, as well as possibly others. The procedure used on Short’s body to mutilate her was known was hemicorporectomy. In this procedure, the body is cut under the lumbar spine, where it can be cut without breaking any bones. During the time that Doctor Hodel was in medical school, this procedure was taught regularly. Hodel claims as well that a letter sent to police by the supposed killer of Short matched his father’s handwriting as well. Doctor Hodel’s name was present on the suspect list at the time of the murder as well, but Hodel is not the only person in the decades since Short’s murder to claim that he knows whom the killer is. Hodel is not even the only one to claim a parent is the killer. Hodel has published several books on the subject of his father being the murderer of Short, his first making the New York Times best sellers list in 2003 (Sobel Fitts 2016).

            Doctor Hodel was, of course, not the only suspect in the case of the Black Dahlia murder. No true answer has ever been found, but names have come forward several times in these decades since. Walter Bayley was a surgeon who lived only a block away from where Short’s remains were found until 1946, when he divorced his wife and moved. He had a connection to Short: Barbara Lindgren, his daughter, was friends with Elizabeth’s sister, Virginia, and her husband, Adrian West. Bayley passed away in 1948 and was found to have been suffering from a degenerative brain disease. According to his widow, his mistress knew a terrible secret about him that lead to her being his main beneficiary. This terrible secret could have been the Black Dahlia murder, but others posit that it was that Bayley was performing illegal abortions. While his name has been suggested due to his surgical knowledge and the fact that he had lost a son in a tragic car accident whose birthday would have been just two days before Short was found, Bayley was not an official suspect according to the LAPD (Korzik).

            Other suspects include the editor of the Los Angeles Times, Norman Chandler, who some suspect may have gotten Short pregnant while she was supposedly working as a call girl for a local Madam. Leslie Dillon, who worked as a bellhop and had once been a mortician’s assistant, was also suggested. Dillon never confessed to the murder, though he reportedly had an interest in sadism, but insisted a friend of his, Jeff Connors, was actually the killer. Joseph Dumais falsely confessed to the murder during the investigation, but the soldier had been seen on base during the time that Short was missing. Theater owner Mark Hansen was one of the last people to talk with Short over a phone call before her death and was known to have contradicted himself when talking about the phone call. George Knowlton was suggested by his daughter, Janice, who was 10-years old at the time of the murder. According to Janice, her father had been involved with Short and she had seen him beat her to death. Janice Knowlton has since published a book, Daddy Was The Black Dahlia Killer, where she chronicles the circumstantial evidence that ties her father to the case (Korzik). It has also been suggested that, due to the similarities in Short’s murder and the crimes committed in Cleveland, Short may have been a victim of the Cleveland Torso Murderer. Just like the victims of the Torso Murderer (AKA the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run), Short was dismembered and tortured (Siegel 2016).

             This case, one of the most well-known cold cases in modern history, will likely never be solved. Suspects will be brought forward, more evidence will be found that many will find links to the suspects they feel fit. The story will continue on until such a time as we can adequately say, “this is the person who did it.” That time may come, but after more than 50 years, it is likely this case will remain officially unsolved.  

FBI. “The Black Dahlia.” FBI, FBI, 18 May 2016, www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/the-black-dahlia.

“Black Dahlia.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 8 Jan. 2020, www.biography.com/crime-figure/black-dahlia.

Sobel Fitts, Alexis. “I Know Who Killed the Black Dahlia: My Own Father.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 May 2016, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/26/black-dahlia-murder-steve-hodel-elizabeth-short.

Korzik, Morgan. “The Life of Elizabeth Short.” The Black Dahlia, blackdahlia.web.unc.edu/the-life-of-elizabeth-short/.          

Everyday, Vintage. “The Short Life of Elizabeth Short Aka the ‘Black Dahlia.’” Vintage News Daily, 31 July 2019, vintagenewsdaily.com/the-short-life-of-elizabeth-short-aka-the-black-dahlia/.

Siegel, Dick. “The Chilling Link Between the Black Dahlia Murder and Cleveland’s Infamous ‘Torso Killer.’” The 13th Floor, 21 Apr. 2016, http://www.the13thfloor.tv/2016/04/20/is-there-a-link-between-the-black-dahlia-murder-and-clevelands-torso-killer/.   

The Cleveland Torso Murderer

            From 1935 to 1938, the unsolved murders of 12 people rocked Cleveland, Ohio. The true victim count of the Cleveland Torso Murderer, also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, could be as many as 20 people, all dismembered and dumped around Cleveland, ranging from the 1920s to the 1950s. These grisly murders have remained unsolved in the nearly 100 years since they were committed. A majority of the victims have not been identified and were drifters, easy prey for a serial killer. Edward Andrassy, victim #2, and Florence Polillo, victim #3, were identified, and another possible identity was found for victim #8, Rose Wallace. Many of the victims were what one would call the “working poor” during the Great Depression, and lived in the shanty towns present at that time (Wikipedia).  

The Torso Murderer decapitated and dismembered his victims, many of the male victims also being subjected to castration, and some victims showing signs of some kind of chemical treatment on their skin. Many times, the decapitation or dismemberment was the cause of death. The dismemberment was sometimes done in the middle of the torso, while other times occurred through the separation of the limbs. Most of the heads of the victims have not been recovered, possibly having been dumped somewhere else or kept somewhere by the killer. This made identification that much harder, along with the fact that victims would sometimes go undiscovered for more than a year. In this era, forensic science was barely a thing. Identifying a victim through just a few of their bones was much harder than now, where we can extract DNA from bone marrow and test it (Wikipedia).

            The bodies began to be discovered in September 1935. At the base of Jackass Hill, where 49th street ends, two teenage boys found the decapitated body of Edward Andrassy, referred to also as victim #2. Andrassy was nude with the exception a pair of socks, had rope burns around his wrists, and had been drained of his blood. Due to his criminal record, Andrassy was identified through his fingerprints. He was known to have frequented the Roaring Third, an area of town near Kingsbury Run where gambling dens, flophouses, brothels, and bars were common, and it was rumored that Andrassy was gay as well. After an autopsy was done, it was determined that he had died from decapitation and had been dead for likely some time by the time his remains were found (Badal 2016). Near Andrassy, the remains of another young man were found. Like Andrassy, he was decapitated, but he was also fully castrated. His skin, like other victims, showed signs of having been treated with some form of chemical (Casalé 2016). A few months later, in January 1936, half of the body of a young woman was found dismembered and wrapped in newspaper in two baskets near the Hart Manufacturing building on Central Avenue by East 20th street. 10 days later, in a vacant lot by Orange Avenue, the head of the victim was found. Decapitation was once again the cause of death, but the body had not been dismembered until after rigor mortis had already set in for some reason. Just like Andrassy, this victim, Florence Polillo, was identified through her fingerprints. She worked as a waitress and sex worker at the time and lived on the edge of the Roaring Third (Badal 2016).

            Bodies continued to be found throughout 1936. In June the decapitated head of a white male was found by two young boys, wrapped up in men’s pants. The body of the victim was found the next day in front of the Nickel Plate Railroad police station, drained of blood just as Andrassy was and with the same cause of death: decapitation. The man, now known as The Tattooed Man, was heavily tattooed and a death mask was made of his face; he remains unidentified. A teenage girl found the body of a white man in his 40s in July, not far from where his head and bloody clothes were found. It is likely, based on the amount of blood found at the scene, that his victim was killed at the scene. The body of the next victim was found when the torso was tripped over, at East 37th street in Kingsbury Run. Police found his legs and the lower half of his torso nearby in a pool that was actually a sewer and sent down a diver. It was noted that this victim, victim #6, had no marks that showed hesitation. The person who killed this victim was confident in what they were doing and had knowledge of the human anatomy (Badal 2016).           

            During the time of the investigation, thousands of people were interviewed in relation to the case. The two detective that worked it full time, Peter Merylo and Martin Selewski, went undercover through Kingsbury Run and the Roaring Third.  In November of 1936, a new coroner took over. Pierce was replaced with Dr. Sam Geber, who would later find fame working on the case of Marilyn Reese Sheppard (Badal 2016).

            Through the years, the victim count continued to rise. In 1937, victims were found along shorelines, under the Loraine-Carnegie bridge, and in the Cuyahoga River. Through 1938, more victims were found in the river and at a dump site at East 9th and Lakeside. A raid took place as well in 1938, ran by Eliot Ness, on the shanty towns where the Torso Murderer seemed to frequent. On Ness’s orders, the shanty town was burned down (Badal 2016). While the media criticized the unnecessary aggression shown in the act of burning the shanty town down, it is true that the attacks seemed to cease afterwards (Casalé 2016).

            As we see with the Jack the Ripper case, there are canonical victims, who are ratified as true victims, and those victims that are theorized to be Cleveland Torso victims. One of these victims has been named the Lady of the Lake, and was found not far from where victim #7 was found on the shore of Lake Eerie. She is sometimes referred to as Victim #1or Victim #0 by some researchers. Another victim thought to be done by the Cleveland Torso Murderer was found in a boxcar in New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1936, and three more in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania in 1940. Each victim bore injuries with a striking resemblance to the canonical victims of the Cleveland Torso Murderer. From the years 1921 to 1934, and again from 1939 to 1942, dismembered bodies were being found in the swamps located near New Castle, Pennsylvania. The New Castle Swamp killer, as dubbed by the media, committed eerily similar murders to the ones committed in Cleveland. Some believe that the two killers are the same person, likely traveling along the Baltimore and Ohio rail that connected the two very similar areas. The train along that route ran twice a day, and there are those convinced that the killer used that train to commit the murders in both areas. In 1950, a badly decomposed body was found in Cleveland belonging to Robert Robertson. Like the Torso Murderer’s victims, Robertson appeared to be decapitated. Unfortunately, at the time police investigated the crime as a separate case and it is unknown if the case is connected (Wikipedia).

            While no arrests have been made in the case and it is officially unsolved, there have been suspects in the case. Frank Dolezal, 52, was taken in under suspicion related to the murder of victim #3, Florence Polillo (Wikipedia). However, Dolezal’s confession was incoherent and was found to be unreliable, and he was found hanged in his cell before he could clear his name or be charged. This hanging, however, is suspicious as a suicide, as the rope was longer than Dolezal’s height and he had broken ribs at the time. Dolezal’s name was officially cleared in 2010, decades after his death (Casalé 2016).  Dr. Francis Sweeney, a veteran of the first world war, was also under suspicion for the crimes. He worked in a medical unit during the war and was involved in amputations. Reportedly, Sweeney failed two polygraph tests, but was never actually arrested as Eliot Ness, who was in charge during the investigation, felt they had little chance of a successful prosecution. On top of that, Sweeney was related to one of Ness’s major political opponents. Beyond the suspects, another theory has emerged: there was no single Torso Murderer. Instead, mistakes were made during the investigation and the murders were not connected (Wikipedia).

  “Cleveland Torso Murderer.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 June 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_Torso_Murderer.

Badal, James J. “Torso Murders.” Cleveland Police Museum, 2 Dec. 2016, www.clevelandpolicemuseum.org/collections/torso-murders/.

Casale, Steven. “The Ghoulishly True (And Still Unsolved!) Tale of the Cleveland Torso Murderer.” Gizmodo, Gizmodo, 6 Jan. 2016, gizmodo.com/the-ghoulishly-true-and-still-unsolved-tale-of-the-c-1724192826.