The Allenstown Four

In Allenstown, New Hampshire, in 1985, a group of young boys found a 55-gallon metal drum near the local mobile home park, and rolled it around while playing. About 100 yards from where they found it, the drum broke open and the boys left it where it was (Landman 2018). Sometime later on November 10, 1985, a hunter came across the drum in Bear Brook State Park. Upon opening the drum, he found a horrific scene: two bodies, wrapped in plastic and decomposing in the drum. It was a horrific discovery that seemed to get worse as the years went on (Sweeney 2019).

            The bodies recovered from the drum were of an adult woman and a young girl, both determined to have died from blunt force trauma. The woman had wavy brown hair and extensive dental work, including both fillings and dental extractions. The girl was estimated to be between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. She was found with earrings and showed signs of having had pneumonia. The girl also had a gap in her teeth. It was determined that the two died between 1977 and 1985, but the exact year could not be pin pointed. After 18 months waiting for someone to identify the two victims, they were laid to rest in May of 1987. This seemed like it might be the end of the story, as no one had come forward and there seemed to be no leads. However, that changed 15 years later in the year 2000 when another 55-gallon drum was found (Sweeney 2019).

            A detective was examining the original crime scene in 2000, as the case was officially still open, and found the second barrel (Sweeney 2019). This drum had the remains of two young girls, one between one and three years old, and the other between two and four years old. The two were too badly decomposed for a cause of death to be determined (Landman 2018). Through DNA analysis it was determined that the woman was likely the mother of the oldest girl and the youngest girl, but the middle girl was not related to them. Investigators turned to the Bear Brooke Gardens Mobile Home Park near where the bodies were recovered, hoping leads would pop up. What they found was that 476 people had been through the 115-lot park during the years they believed the murders took place, and most of the residents were ex-convicts from the nearby New Hampshire State Prison or transient (Sweeney 2019). Any case with this many people involved becomes increasingly more difficult to solve.

            The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released new facial reconstructions of the victims in hope that someone would come forward with their identities (Sweeney 2019). Tests were performed on tissue that was able to be extracted from the victims, looking for signs of the environment they had been living in at the time of their deaths. Three of the four victims, the mother and her children, showed signs of living in the area around Allenstown, NH for approximately three months before their deaths, while the fourth victim, the middle girl, showed signs of living further north (Landman 2018) (Sweeney 2019). This was further confirmed in 2015, when Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati stated that it was believed they lived in the Allenstown area sometime before their deaths. That same year new sketches were made by forensic artists that better represented what they believed the victims looked like in life (Sweeney 2019).

            Laura Jenson connected the mysterious case to the disappearance of her mother in 1981, Denise Beaudin, in 2016. Her mother had been dating a man who went by Gordon Jenson. Jenson was abandoned in the mobile home park as a child but Gordon Jenson after her mother went missing (Boston 25 News 2019). Investigators reported a suspect, who went by Robert “Bob” Evans while in Allenstown, NH, and had once gone by the alias Gordon Jenson, in 2017. Evans/Jenson died in jail in 2010, after being sentenced for the murder of his wife at the time, chemist Eunsoon Jun. At the time, Evans/Jenson’s actual name was not known, but the renewed interest in the murders of the Allenstown Four eventually lead to his DNA being tested. Surprisingly, this led to the fourth victim being at least partially identified: Evans/Jenson was her biological father. Outside of the DNA, circumstantial evidence also connected him to the Allenstown area. As Robert Evans, he had worked as an electrician at the local mill at the time of the murders, for a man who owned property near where the drums were discovered. The drums could also have been sourced from that mill (Sweeney 2019).

 It was August of 2017 that investigators were able to release his real name: Terrance “Terry” Rasmussen (Sweeney 2019). Rasmussen is known to have used at least three aliases – Robert Evans, Gordon Jenson, and Curtis Mayo Kimball (Boston 25 News 2019). It is believed that Rasmussen killed at least six people – Beaudin, who is officially still missing, Jun, and the Allenstown Four.  Rasmussen is known to have had a disturbing pattern, and may have been a true serial killer. Rasmussen would pose as a single father to attract women, particularly women with children. He would start dating the women he would find, molest their children, then possibly murder them (Landman 2018).

There was a major break in the case in 2019. On June 6th, investigators announced that three of the four victims had been successfully identified. The woman and her daughters were identified as Marlyse Elizabeth Honeychurch and her daughters, Marie Elizabeth Vaughn and Sarah Lynn McWaters. The family was last seen alive at family Thanksgiving in 1978, in La Puenta, CA. At the time, Honeychurch had been reportedly dating Rasmussen and he had joined her and her children for the trip. That night Honeychurch got into an argument with her mother, and after leaving with Rasmussen and her children, none of them were seen again (Sweeney 2019).

The true identity of Rasmussen’s daughter, the fourth victim, remains unknown. Her mother has not been found, and some speculate that she may be another of Rasmussen’s victims. If you or anyone you know believes you may know who this poor child was, or perhaps know who her mother may have been, please reach out to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or email the state cold case unit, coldcaseunit@dos.nh.gov (Sweeney 2019). Any credible information could help investigators finally have a name for the poor little girl likely murdered by her own father.

Landman, Hugh. “Mysterious Facts And Theories About The Allenstown Four.” Ranker. N.p., 2018. Web. 28 Nov. 2020 . <https://www.ranker.com/list/facts-and-theories-about-the-allenstown-four/hugh-landman&gt;.

Staff, Boston. “Allenstown, NH Murder Victims Identified After Nearly 40 Years.” WFXT. N.p., 2019. Web. 27 Nov. 2020 . <https://www.boston25news.com/news/allenstown-nh-murder-victims-identified-after-nearly-40-years/955952833/&gt;.

Sweeney, Gary. “Allenstown Four: The Decades-Long Mystery Of The Bear Brook Murders.” https://the-line-up.com. N.p., 2019. Web. 27 Nov. 2020 . <https://the-line-up.com/bear-brook-murders-allenstown-four&gt;.

The Mysterious Death of Amanda Tusing

            Amanda Tusing left her fiancé of three months (News 2007), Matt Ervin’s, house at 11:30 PM on Junge 14, 2000. It was storming outside, the night darkened by the clouds and rain on the road as the 20-year old drove from Jonesbro, AR towards her home in Dell, AR. When Tusing had not called Ervin to let him know she was home by 1:30 AM, the search for Amanda Tusing began (Jones 2017).

            Ervin contacted Tusing’s mother, Susan Tusing, hoping she had heard from her daughter. Upon finding out that Tusing had never made it home, Ervin left from his home heading the same way that Tusing would have headed. From Dell, AR, Tusing’s father, Ed, and twin brother, Andy, both headed in the direction leading to Ervin’s house in hopes that one of them would find Tusing (Jones 2017). Tusing was not found, but her car, a 1992 black Pontiac Grand Am (News 2007), was found west of Monette, AR, on highway 18 AR (Jones 2017), and five miles east of St. Francis Bridge (News 2007). Her keys were still in the ignition, her wallet and cell phone were on her seat (Jones 2017), the windshield wipers were half up and her favorite radio station was playing (News 2007).

            Tusing remained missing for a couple more days, until Father’s Day, June 18, 2000. In Big Bay Ditch, just north of Lake City, AR, off of AR Highway 135, Tusing’s remains were found (Jones 2017). She was found west of her car, despite the fact that she had been heading east (News 2007).  An investigation into her death was opened, lead by Sheriff Jack McCann and veteran officer Gary Etter. The case has been a frustration since day one, with the massive rains the night of her murder washing away crucial evidence. Ervin was questioned at the time, but was cleared after passing three polygraph tests. Frustration mounted, understandably, as there was no physical evidence and no obvious motives or suspects (Jones 2017).

            The autopsy of Tusing didn’t help much. The only injury found on her was a bruise on the back of her head, otherwise there were no injuries. There were no signs of sexual assault and the cause of death was sited as drowning (Jones 2017). However, investigators believe she was dead before ending up in Big Bay Ditch, as water was found in her nasal passages, but not in her lungs. Those that believe she died before ending up in the water believe she was suffocated, not drowned (News 2007).

            Evidence has come in over the years. Names were brought to investigators in 2003, though those names have not been made public (Kait8 2003). In 2007, an anonymous individual came to the sheriff’s department and reported a conversation they heard that pertained to the murder of Amanda Tusing. Etter believes that talking with known criminals could open the case up, as he believes criminals talk to each other and that the killer could have talked to someone. Susan Tusing, however, thinks differently. Susan believes that Tusing’s car was their best clue to what happened to her. She’s said before that she thinks it could have been a member of law enforcement, who pulled Tusing over, or someone pretending to be an officer (News 2007). When investigators were asked, in 2003, if the evidence that came with the names brought to them ruled out or implicated any members of law enforcement, the answer given was that they were almost certain the murderer is not an officer. That said, the possibility had not been entirely dismissed as of 2003 (Kait8 2003).

            As of 2020, the murder of Amanda Tusing has not been solved. Suspects have not been named, little evidence has been found, and her official cause of death has been placed as drowning. Matt Ervin was cleared back in 2000, and has not been brought back in as a suspect. The Tusing family has not gotten answers in the 20 years since Amanda Tusing died. They have laid her to rest, but no answers have been found. All the evidence available, thanks in part to the storm raging the night of the murder, is the water in her nasal passages, the bruise on the back of her head, and the state her car was left in. Hopefully, someday soon, the Tusing family will have answers and finally be able to find some level of peace.

Jones, J., 2017. Why Mandy? A Case Of A Murder Without Motive Part II – AY Magazine. [online] AY Magazine. Available at: <https://www.aymag.com/why-mandy-the-case-of-a-murder-without-motive-part-2/&gt; [Accessed 13 November 2020].

News, A., 2007. New Clue In Unsolved Midwest Murder. [online] ABC News. Available at: <https://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3288735&page=1&gt; [Accessed 14 November 2020].

 https://www.kait8.com. 2003. New Details In Tusing Murder Case. [online] Available at: <https://www.kait8.com/story/1374330/new-details-in-tusing-murder-case/&gt; [Accessed 15 November 2020].

Ronald Clark O’Bryan: The Man Who Killed Halloween

            We’ve all heard the old something being in our Halloween candy growing up. Razor blades and needles were the regular fears of parents and children, but poison has had its place as well. It is perhaps this urban legend that inspired Ronald Clark O’Bryan in 1974. His actions shook the nation and the ripple effects are still being felt in 2020.

            On October 31, 1974, an emergency call was answered to the O’Bryan residence in Deer Park, TX for a young boy, Timothy, having strange symptoms. The young boy, only 8-years old, had begun complaining about stomach pains just as he was going to bed before vomiting and collapsing, beginning to convulse. Timothy passed away on the way to the hospital, and the investigation into what happened began (Ponti, 2020). What had happened to this young boy? Why had he gone from totally healthy to dying within moments? It didn’t take long for investigators to find out.

            The day had already seen something unusual: O’Bryan was uncharacteristically excited for Halloween, which he historically had little-to-no interest in. He insisted on taking his kids out trick-or-treating, despite the slight rain, with family friends Jim Bates and his two children. While the group was out, one house didn’t open their door, likely because the family was not home. O’Bryan stayed behind while the rest of the group moved on, seemingly to wait and see if the people in the house would answer. He rejoined the group not longer after with five giant Pixie Stix that he claimed the house had been giving out. After returning home, he handed four of the large candies to the kids that had joined them trick-or-treating and gave the fifth away to a trick-or-treater at their door (Ponti 2020). The first sign that something was wrong was when Bates’ son went to eat his giant Pixie Stix and O’Bryan reportedly leaped across the table to stop him from eating the tainted treat (Glenn and RENDON, 2020).

            That night, O’Bryan let his kids choose one piece of candy each to have before bed time. Timothy chose, under the urging of his father, his giant Pixie Stix (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). Timothy didn’t eat much of the Pixie Stix, complaining that it tasted strange, to which O’Bryan gave him some Kool-Aid to wash the treat down. It was within moments that Timothy began to complain about severe stomach pains, soon enough vomiting and convulsing. Timothy O’Bryan died on the way to the hospital, less than an hour after ingesting merely a portion of the Pixie Stix. Before the autopsy even began, the coroner knew that Timothy had somehow ingested a deadly poison – specifically cyanide. The coroner noted the smell of almonds from Timothy’s mouth, a scent associated with the poison. It was revealed in the actual autopsy that poor Timothy had ingested enough potassium cyanide to kill two-to-three adults (Ponti 2020).

            The police jumped into action, quickly collecting the other Pixie Stix from the other children. Horrifyingly, one of the young boys who had received the Pixie Stix was found asleep in bed, curled up with the unopened treat. Luckily for the young boy, he had not had the strength to get through the staples on the Pixie Stix (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). After the offending candy was retrieved, investigators found that the first two inches of each Pixie Stix was replaced with potassium cyanide. Had that young boy been able to get through those staples, he would have died just as quickly as Timothy O’Bryan did (Ponti 2020). It is believed that his initial plan had been to poison other children as well as his son, possibly to disguise what he had done (Blanco, n.d).

            O’Bryan was immediately under suspicion. He and Bates were asked to retrace their steps by investigators, and O’Bryan seemed to have a hard time remembering which house he claimed to get the Pixie Stix from. O’Bryan’s conflicting accounts were suspicious, and even worse, when he finally chose a house, the occupants proved they hadn’t been giving out giant Pixie Stix. It didn’t take the investigators long to find out what the possible motive for hurting the young boy was, and it wasn’t a stranger as O’Bryan wanted them to believe. While Ronald O’Bryan was described by others as a “good Christian man” and “an above-average father.” He was a deacon at the local Baptist Church and sang in the choir. Socially, O’Bryan seemed to be a good man. Looks, however, are not always as they seem. It turned out O’Bryan, who took home approximately $150 a week in pay, was over $100,000 in debt. The pay he received barely made covered his bills and food for this family as it was, but the debt undoubtedly made this worse for him (Ponti 2020).

            In the 10 years leading up to the murder of Timothy O’Bryan, Ronald O’Bryan held and was fired from 21 jobs. Each job fired him for either negligence or fraud, and the job he was working at the time was almost over as well. Texas State Optical was on the verge of firing O’Bryan on suspicion that he was stealing from the company. It seems O’Bryan may have been at the end of his rope when he chose to kill his son, after taking out several life insurance policies on his children (Ponti 2020). In the days leading up to Halloween, O’Bryan had been practically bragging to coworkers that his financial situation was going to improve soon (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). Regular customers whom he knew worked with chemicals said he had been asking them about buying cyanide and making jokes about how much it would take to kill someone (Ponti 2020).

            The O’Bryan house was soon being searched for evidence. The tape from an adding machine, which was a precursor to the calculator usually used for bookkeeping, was found in the house with all of the bills O’Bryan owed totaled on it. The total just so happened to be exactly the amount he was going to get from the life insurance policies he had taken out on Timothy. A pocket knife was found in the home that had candy residue on it, believed to be the knife O’Bryan used to open the Pixie Stix before replacing the candy with the potassium cyanide. These pieces of evidence combined with the testimony of the coworkers and customers previously mentioned, lead to the arrest of Ronald Clark O’Bryan on November 5, 1974. O’Bryan was subject to, and failed, a polygraph test, which at the time was considered more telling than it is today. Before his arrest, O’Bryan had played the grieving father as best as he could for those around him, despite knowing the true horror he had committed (Ponti 2020).

            The prosecutors for the O’Bryan trial were Victor and Hinton Discroll, who relied mostly on physical evidence as well as testimony from coworkers and others who knew O’Bryan. During their investigation they learned that O’Bryan had taken classes at the local college, Harris County Community College, and had asked one of his professors about poison on animals. There were also pieces of plastic found in the O’Bryan house that were from the Pixie Stix, likely from when he replaced some of the candy with the potassium cyanide (Blanco, n.d.). On June 5, 1975, Ronald Clark O’Bryan was found guilty of the murder of 8-year old Timothy O’Bryan and sentenced to death (Ponti 2020). It took the jury less than an hour to find him guilty, and just a little over an hour to sentence him to death (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). Ronald Clark O’Bryan may be long passed now, but the memories of what he did remain alive in the urban legends that may have inspired him decades ago.

            O’Bryan, dubbed “Candy Man,” filed appeals over the years, including one instance that made it to the Supreme Court. His appeals were all lost, and on March 31, 1984, Ronald O’Bryan’s death sentence was carried out via lethal injection (Glenn and RENDON, 2020). His time of death was called at 12:48 AM (Blanco, n.d.).

Ponti, C., 2020. A+E Networks UK. [online] A+E Networks UK. Available at: <https://www.aetv.com/real-crime/the-man-who-killed-halloween&gt; [Accessed 31 October 2020]. October 31, 1974

Glenn, M. and RENDON, R., 2020. ‘Man Who Killed Halloween’ Still Haunts Holiday. [online] Chron. Available at: <https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Man-Who-Killed-Halloween-still-haunts-holiday-1971811.php&gt; [Accessed 31 October 2020].

Blanco, J., n.d. Ronald Clark O’bryan | Murderpedia, The Encyclopedia Of Murderers. [online] Murderpedia.org. Available at: <http://murderpedia.org/male.O/o1/obryan-ronald-clark.htm&gt; [Accessed 30 October 2020].

The Snapchat Murders

            In 2017, teenagers Liberty German, 14, and Abigail Williams, 13, best of friends, met an unexpected and horrific end in Delphi, Indiana. German was able to catch their possible killer on video on her Snapchat, including possible audio of him, yet the case remains unsolved. What happened to two young girls that night in 2017?

            German and Williams did everything together – volleyball, softball, saxophone, social media. Everything, they were seemingly inseparable. On February 13, 2017, they once again were doing something together: taking a walk on the Delphi Historic Trail and posting on Snapchat. German’s older sister, Kelsi, had dropped the two off at the trail, which they were familiar with and was not far from home, around 1:30 PM and her father, Derrick, was to pick them up around 3:15 PM. Shortly before their estimated time of death, they posted pictures of a bridge on Snapchat. The same bridge, the Monon Bridge (Shapiro 2020) appears in a video found on German’s phone. The video features a man walking towards them, wearing a blue jacket, jeans, a brown hoodie, and a hat, with his head down. He speaks in the video, in a manner that reportedly sounds like an order,

            “Guys, down the hill” (Harding 2019).

            When German’s father arrived to pick the girls up, he attempted to call German’s phone. When there was no answer and no contact by 4 PM, he attempted to contact other friends and relatives that the girls could have gone to. By 5: 30 PM, the Carroll County Sheriff’s department was alerted to the missing teenagers. The initial worry was they had gotten lost or hurt, or perhaps both, and couldn’t find their way out. To family and friends, that seemed the most likely explanation for their sudden disappearance. Neither girl was known to be anything but good kids, and they wouldn’t have just taken off without notice. During the search of the area the ensued, when police began to search the river with flashlights, Williams’s mother, Anna, remembers telling them “We are not looking for bodies, we are looking for two grounded little girls” (Harding 2019). The search was officially suspended at midnight, due to the apparent lack of evidence of foul play, but the families continued searching through the night (Townsend 2019).

            Unfortunately for the German and Williams families, Valentine’s Day 2017 was not an occasion full of love. It was the day they received the worst possible news – the girls had been found, dead, by the trail (Harding 2019). A single shoe had been found, and not far from the shoe, the girls were found as well (Townsend 2019). The area their remains were recovered from was a significant distance, several hundred yards, from the Monon Bridge, where they had posted their Snapchats from the day before. The details of how the girls were found have not been released, as well as what their cause of death is. Why? One simple reason – if no one knows how they died, then only the killer knows (Shapiro 2020). Investigators can use this information to their advantage in cases of possible false-confessions.

            Soon after the girls were found, the grainy images of the main suspect, the man on the bridge, were released to the public. Along with the images, the audio clip of the man talking was released as well. Hopefully, if this man is the killer, someone recognizes him from either the photos or his voice. Since it has been three long years since the images and the audio were released, some believe that someone out there absolutely knows who the killer is and is staying quiet for some reason. It’s possible that someone knows and is too scared to come forward, or has been threatened by the killer. In 2019, a sketch of another suspect was released as well (Shapiro 2020).  That January the arrest of a sex offender, who’s social media evidently seemed to be a chronicle of his crime, caught the attention of people interested in the case. The new sketch was released a few months later along with more audio from German’s phone that could help lead to the killer. In an interview, Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter seemingly spoke directly to the killer. He believes the killer must be nearby – perhaps living or working there, or perhaps someone who regularly visits the small town. Carter believes it is likely that the killer or someone close to them has been interviewed at some point in relation to the murders – they just need to be found (Townsend 2019).

            Three years and over 40,000 tips that lead nowhere later, the girls have been laid to rest while their families still search for answers. The audio and images are available online for people to view, and hopefully someday, someone who knows something will come forward. Hopefully, someday the families can at least get the comfort of knowing whoever did this is not out there, possibly hurting other children. Until then, the case will remain unsolved, and the evidence is out there that could lead to the killer’s arrest.

Harding, N. (2019, September 29). Why have police not found man who teens filmed before their murder? Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/10008017/snapchat-murder-mystery-teens-girls/

Shapiro, E. (2020, February 13). ‘Epitome of evil’: Delphi double murder still a mystery 3 years later. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/US/epitome-evil-delphi-double-murder-mystery-years/story?id=68297146

Townsend, C. (2019, May 30). The Delphi Snapchat Murders: Who Killed Abby Williams & Libby German? Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/crimefeed/id-shows/still-a-mystery/still-a-mystery-delphi-snapchat-murders-abby-williams-libby-german

The Bender Family Murders

            After the Homestead Act of 1862, the Osage were forced to move from their land, now known as Labette County, Oklahoma, and settlers from Europe came to live where the displaced tribe was forced from. Years later, in 1870, the Bender family were one of five families that settled in the area. The Benders settled specifically in a 160-acre plot of land that faced the Osage Trail (Cappello 2019).

            The family were thought to be German immigrants, as the first to arrive at the homestead, John Bender Sr., and John Bender Jr., both had accents. John Sr., approximately 60, had a thicker accent and spoke broken English, while John Jr., approximately 25, spoke English fairly well and had less of an accent. The two built up a cabin and barn and the women of the family arrived in 1871. Elvira “Ma” Bender, John Sr.’s wife, was estimated to be 55-years old and, like her husband, spoke broken English and was apparently rather unpleasant. She earned herself the nickname, “she-devil.” It was the daughter of the family, Kate Bender, approximately 23, that brought people to the property. She was reportedly beautiful and a talented psychic. She spoke fluent English and worked as a healer, though she was self-proclaimed and not trained. Spiritualism was popular at the time, and she would do seminars at the home about it. Kate notably advocated for free love, which was part of the major draw to her and the family (Cappello 2019). The family even took out an ad in Kansas papers, touting “Professor Miss Kate Bender can heal disease, cure blindness, fits and deafness. Residence, 14 miles east of Independence, on the road to Osage Mission. June 18, 1872” (historicalcrimedetective). A curtain was used to split the single room of the cabin to create an area for a general store, kitchen, and dining area. They could sell dry goods to travelers as well as serve meals and offer somewhere to stay for a night. The home became known as the Bender Inn (Cappello 2019).

              The first body as found in May 1871, a man with his skull crushed and his throat slashed, in Drum Creek. The Bender home was not far, just Northwest of the location of the body. More remains were recovered in February 1872, two more men with their skulls crushed and throats slashed. It didn’t take long for the disappearances of travelers on the Osage Trail came to the attention of others and soon the trail was being avoided whenever possible by those looking to pass the area. There were even some groups looking to find who was responsible, often arresting innocent men on suspicion before releasing them later (Cappello 2019).

            The beginning of the end for the Bender family came when Dr. William Henry York was alerted to the discovery of the horses and carriage he lent to a neighbor who was moving from Kansas to Iowa, without the neighbor present. The neighbor in question was George Newton Longcor, who was moving to Iowa with his 18-month old daughter, Mary Ann, after the death of his wife. It appeared that the man and daughter had not even made it out of Kansas, as the horses and carriage were found near Fort Scott, Kansas. In spring of 1873, Dr. York began his search for the Longcor’s. At Fort Scott, he was able to positively identify the horses and the carriage as the ones he lent to the Longcor’s, as well as clothing as being items he knew to belong to them (Cappello 2019). On March 9, 1873, Dr. York left for his home in Independence, Kansas, but unfortunately, he made the fatal mistake on his way home of stopping at the Bender Inn. His friends were sure he would not have disappeared and were certain he must have fallen afoul of some bad folk (historicalcrimedetective). Unfortunately for the Benders, Dr. York was from a prominent family and his brothers, Colonel Ed York and Alexander M. York of the Kansas State Senate, quickly organized a search when they learned their brother was missing (Cappello 2019).

            The search party, which consisted of 75 men, were able to track Dr. York to the Bender Inn in March of 1873. The Benders denied having ever met Dr. York and suggested that he may have met with danger near Drum Creek, where previous victims had been found. John Jr. even claimed that he had been shot at down in the creek around the time of Dr. York’s disappearance. With no evidence to prove that the Benders were involved, the York brothers left the Inn. However, Colonel York found some evidence that lead him back to the Bender Inn, in the form of a woman who had escaped the Inn. Reportedly, Elvira had threatened the woman with pistols and knives while she was staying there and the woman had fled the Inn. When confronted with this information on April 3rd, Elvira pretended she didn’t understand English before she began to yell about the woman cursing her coffee. Elvira was quick to kick Colonel York and his men out, but she had already made a grave mistake: they now knew she spoke English and her true nature (Cappello 2019).

            The communities surrounding the Osage Trail began to grow suspicious that the area was where those responsible for the disappearances were. A public meeting was called in the Harmony Grove schoolhouse, where the community agreed to get search warrants for the properties between Drum Creek and Big Hill Creek. It didn’t take long for the Bender Inn to come under scrutiny, but not from the search warrants. Just a few days later, it came to the attention of the Bender’s neighbors that their farm animals were all dead or starving, and it became obvious after some investigation that the farm had been abandoned (Cappello 2019). It was a search party traveling nearby on April 9 that alerted others to the state of the Bender Inn (historicalcrimedetective). The investigator, Officer Leroy Dick, discovered a disturbing odor coming from a trap door in under the bed that was strangely nailed shut. He sent out a call for a search party and soon enough, hundreds of local arrived ready to search the Bender Inn with pick axes and shovels (Cappello 2019). Other reports claim that the Bender’s took off right after Colonel York and his men left (historicalcrimedetective).

            The smell was coming from clotted blood that had seeped through the floor and trap door and into the soil under the house. No bodies were discovered under the house, so the search expanded to the land. Elvira and Kate had a vegetable garden, and there was where Dr. York’s remains were found. Ten bodies were found in the garden and the well, all killed in the same manner – their heads were all crushed, likely with a hammer, and their throats had been slashed. Unfortunately, 18-month old Mary Ann was also found, and had been buried alive. Several victims had been mutilated, apparently in an indecent manner that suggests possible genital mutilation (Cappello 2019).

            Thanks to survivors of the Bender Inn, we believe we know how they committed their murders. When guests were at the Inn, they would be given the seat of honor at the table. The seat of honor set them with their back right against the curtain that separated the front room from the living area, and right over the trapdoor. While the guest was distracted one of the men would hit them over the head and the women would then slash their throats. After the victim died, they would be dropped through the trapdoor before they were stripped and buried or dismembered. Bullet holes found in the cabin suggested that some victims tried to fight back. The way the Bender’s chose their victims, which seemed indiscriminate, also suggests that they were not after valuables, but simply the thrill they got from killing (Cappello 2019).

            A Bible was found in the cabin with notes in German that named John Jr as one John Gebhardt. The combination of reports from the Bender’s neighbors and the notes in the Bible lead to the theory that John Jr and Kate were not siblings, but actually a couple. Now it is believed that only Elvira and Kate were actually related and that Elvira was from the Adirondack Mountains, born Almira Mark. Almira Mark had multiple children and husbands, who some say died of head injuries. John Sr was probably actually John Flickinger, who immigrated from either Germany or the Netherlands, and Kate was probably actually Eliza Griffith, Elvira’s fifth child (Cappello 2019).

            The Bender’s disappeared, it seems. Senator York and Kansas Governor Thomas A. Osborn offered a reward for the apprehension of the Bender family. While they were able to track wagon tracks from the house to where the horses were abandoned 12 miles from the Bender Inn. Officially, no one from the family was ever seen again. However, rumors and speculation flowed forth. One detective claimed he had followed John Jr. down to the border of Mexico and found that he had died. Another rumor spread that John Jr. and Kate had gone to an outlaw colony near the Texas/New Mexico border, traveling by railroad. Women traveling in pairs were frequently accused of being Elvira and Kate and there were several vigilante groups that claimed, without proof, they had managed to capture and kill the Bender family. In the 1880s an elderly man was arrested for a murder that was committed with a hammer. He reportedly fit the description of John Sr, but died after attempting to escape by cutting his foot off while they waited for information to arrive from Kansas. He was too decomposed by the time the information arrived for an identification to be made. A mother named Elvira was arrested with her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, in 1889 for larceny and accused of being Elvira and Kate, but the committee from Labette was not able to confidently identify them and they were released (Cappello 2019).

            In the aftermath of the Bender family running, people who knew them were put in danger by those who wanted vengeance for the many deaths that occurred at the Inn. A local grocer who had worked with John Sr and was also a German immigrant. The man was taken by a group of locals from his grocery store and brought into the woods. There, the group tried to force him to tell them what he knew, but he actually knew nothing. Still, they hanged him nearly to death before reviving him to question him again. This continued until they were satisfied that he really didn’t know anything and they left him nearly unconscious in the woods. He did manage to recover (historicalcrimedetective).

            The Bender Family was never found again. To this day, no one knows where they went after they disappeared. No evidence has ever been found. It is unlikely that we will ever have an answer as to where they went. For now, the tale of the Bloody Benders remains one without a true ending.

Cappello, N. (2019, August 22). The Bloody Benders: America’s First Family of Serial Killers. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://crimereads.com/the-bloody-benders-americas-first-family-of-serial-killers/

The Family That Murders Together. (n.d.). Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.historicalcrimedetective.com/the-family-that-murders-together/

The Murder of Jeannette DePalma

            On August 7, 1972, Jeanette DePalma, who had turned 16 just days prior, was reported missing by her parents (Muscavage 2019). DePalma reportedly told her mother she was going to a friend’s house, but she never arrived (Lamare 2019). Six weeks later a dog brought a decomposing arm to an apartment complex on Wilson Road in Springfield, NJ. The arm would be linked to DePalma, and her remains were recovered on top of a rock formation in the Houdaille Quarry (Muscavage 2019). The rock formation she was found on was notably known as Devil’s Teeth (Lamare 2019).

            In the 1970s, the Jesus Movement was spreading across the country. Known also as Jesus Freaks, those in the Jesus Movement were evangelists urging people to follow Jesus and forsake what was essentially the elements of the Summer of Love (Eskridge 2019). DePalma was known to have been a devout Christian. With the lack of answer for her murder, theories began to quickly emerge that she was sacrificed in an occult ritual (Muscavage 2019). There have been reports that DePalma was found on what looked like a makeshift altar, surrounded by various occult symbols. Theories abound that there was a Satanic cult worshipping in the area at the time (Lamare 2019), which shouldn’t surprise as the Satanic Panic came about just a decade later. Another rumor that began to spread was that a cult known as The Witches was responsible. Kids were hearing stories just a couple years before DePalma was found that the cult was planning on killing a child on and by Halloween that year. The rumors differed on how the cult planned on killing a child – usually either ritual sacrifice or by poisoning (Lamare 2019).

            No official cause of death was ever determined for DePalma. By the time her remains were found, she had already decomposed a significant amount (Njspotlight 2015). Her clothes were examined by the FBI in 1973 and found that there were no foreign hairs in her clothing. It was noted that there were stains blouse, underwear, bra, and pants that could not be positively identified, though some think they could be blood or semen (Deak 2019).

 The case is filled with contradictions as well, even down to the officers who were at the scene not agreeing on what they saw there. While the rumors persist that there were signs of occult activity at the scene, only one of the responding officers said he saw those things. The other officer says the opposite – there was nothing occult at the scene at all. Another conflicting account was on the evidence. While the writers of the Weird United States series were initially told that they couldn’t see the case files of an active case. Another clerk told them that the files had gone missing after a flood from Hurricane Floyd in 1995. An investigator with the homicide unit, however, says the files were missing already when he was assigned to the unit in 1984. This has lead to some people believing that there is some kind of cover up occurring on this case (Njspotlight 2015).

            In 2019, the Union County Prosecutor’s office was sued by Ed Salzano in an effort to have the clothing DePalma was wearing at the time of her death tested for DNA. The lawsuit was lost however, as Salzano has no connection to the DePalma’s or the case outside of his own interest in the case. Salzano claims to have filed the lawsuit to open the case back up, not necessarily to actually get the investigation to test for DNA. According to him, there are people who were around when the death occurred that knew what had actually happened to DePalma, but are too scared to come forward (Deak 2019).

            It’s possible that we may never get answers as to what really happened to Jeannette DePalma. Could it have been a ritual sacrifice by Satanist? Anyone who knows the first thing about actual Satanism will tell you that’s not the case. Actual Satanists don’t actually have the crazy rituals mainstream media likes to act like they do. The same can be said for witchcraft practitioners. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone would want people to belief these things, or that someone thought they were practicing these things at the time of DePalma’s death. What matters is that a young girl died unexpectedly and with no explanation nearly fifty years later.

Muscavage, N. (2019, August 26). What happened to Springfield teen found dead near Watchung Reservation in 1972? Retrieved September 12, 2020, from https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/crime/jersey-mayhem/cold-cases/2019/08/23/nj-cold-case-jeannette-depalma-springfield-1972-watchung-reservation/1889140001/

Eskridge, L. (2019, October 31). ‘Jesus People’ – a movement born from the ‘Summer of Love’. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/jesus-people-a-movement-born-from-the-summer-of-love-82421

Lamare, A. (2019, May 06). Who Killed Jeannette DePalma? New Details On The 1972 Unsolved Murder And The Satanic Rituals Surrounding Her Death. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.yourtango.com/2019324197/who-killed-jeanette-depalma-1972-unsolved-murder-satanic-rituals-surrounding-her-death

‘Death on the Devil’s Teeth’: Unsolved 1972 Murder of Teenage Girl: Video. (2015, July 20). Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.njspotlight.com/news/video/death-on-the-devils-teeth-unsolved-1972-murder-of-teenage-girl/

Deak, M. (2019, September 11). NJ unsolved murder: Judge denies DNA test on Jeannette DePalma’s clothes. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/courts/2019/09/09/nj-unsolved-murder-judge-denies-dna-test-jeannette-depalmas-clothes/2265134001/

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/