Filed under: disappearance

The Disappearance of Stacy Peterson: What Kathleen Savio Said

Stacy Peterson, age 23, has been missing since October 28. That Sunday night was the last time her husband, Drew Walter Peterson, said he spoke with Stacy. Since then, the strange alchemy that shoves some missing persons cases into the national spotlight and lets others fade has worked on this developing story, and many cable news networks do hourly updates on the case.

There are many reasons Stacy’s disappearance has attracted so much attention. Here are a few:

* Her husband Drew, from whom Stacy was estranged, is a police Sgt. with the Bolingbrook, Illinois PD, and he is a good 3 decades or so older than Stacy;
* Stacy sent foreboding e-mails to several people in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, and they pointed towards her husband should anything happen to her;
* Stacy was Drew’s fourth wife, and his third wife, Kathleen Savio, died under mysterious circumstances.

In 2004, shortly after her divorce from Drew Peterson, Kathleen was discovered dead in an empty tub in her home in Bolingbrook.

An investigation into Kathleen Savio’s death found no sign of foul play. There was a bit of blood in the tub, Savio’s hair was wet and there was blood in her hair, likely from a gash on her scalp. The inquest into her death concluded the gash had been from a fall in the tub.

Naturally, Stacy Peterson’s disappearance called Kathleen Savio’s death into question.

Kathleen Savio talked about her fear of her cop husband. Her family has said that she even wrote a letter to a State’s Attorney saying that if she died and it looked like suicide, her husband did it.

Kathleen also talked to friends and acquaintances about her troubled marriage.

Requesting anonymity, one such friend has corresponded with The True Crime Weblog.

Kathleen’s friend stated she knew Savio from a class they’d taken together in 2003. She wrote, “[Kathleen] started talking about her soon-to-be ex Drew [. . .] She stated that she thought that he’d hurt her. She told me that her marriage had broken up because of his ‘fooling around’ with ‘young girls’…”

Drew allegedly met the girls while working as some kind of mentor or teacher for the Bolingbrook Police Department’s police cadet program.

Kathleen’s friend continued: “Kathy stated that she’d called and told BPD about him with the girls, and, specifically one named Stacey, (that Drew had started fooling around with her when she was 16) but that they refused to do anything about it. She said that for awhile there would be a BPD car outside her house off and on, just parked across the street.”

Savio allegedly said these things to her friend in the fall of 2003.

After Drew Peterson moved into a home up the street from the place he’d shared with Kathleen Savio, Kathleen was asked how her soon-to-be-ex could possibly afford two $200,000-plus homes on a police Sergeant’s salary.

According to her friend, Kathleen smiled and said, “That’s a good question.” She wouldn’t elaborate any further on the question.

Kathleen’s former friend and colleague had a much more alarming story to relate about Drew Peterson — Kathleen Savio’s version of the story, at least:

She told me that he had told her that he could kill her and no one would ever know. I had to walk her to her car a couple of times after class because she was afraid, saying Drew was trying to intimidate her in their divorce settlement, and was stalking her. They owned a bar together in Montgomery, Il and were partners in a (printing) company in (I think) Lombard, Il. She knew that he’d try to do something to her. She told me that Stacy would come over to her house and ring the door bell, and want to ‘chat.’ We both felt like she was somehow trying to ‘become’ Kathy; almost like she wanted to take over her life, if that makes any sense. Stacey had enrolled at [Joliet Junior College] and was going to go into the nursing program as well…

According to the person who made the statement above, Drew Peterson was also investigated in the late 80s for “shaking down drug dealers for drugs” and money.

Those charges were dismissed, due to lack of evidence.

Drew Peterson’s late third wife allegedly had her own take on that: “Kathy said that no one would testify against him. Kathy told me that she knew a lot about him that could get him into trouble.” Kathleen Savio seemed to believe that Drew wasn’t the only one who’d been involved in the alleged illegal shakedowns.

Kathleen Savio’s friend stated later that she believed that Drew Peterson “collected quite a bit” of money from Kathleen’s life insurance settlement.

Had the information from Kathleen’s old classmate come out of the blue, it might not have been as compelling as it was.

However, conversations remembered from 2003 and 2004 with the dead woman dovetail well with a report published today in the Chicago Sun Times:

When Susan Savio got the news that her sister had drowned in her bathtub, she immediately wanted to know one thing: Did Drew Peterson kill her?

Kathleen Savio had told family “that if she would die, it may look like an accident, but it wasn’t,” Susan Savio said in a newly released transcript from a coroner’s inquest into the death of Kathleen Savio, Peterson’s third wife, who died in 2004 after they divorced.

“She was terrified of that — [of] him and him threatening her,” Susan Savio said.

The documents were released Thursday as Will County officials considered exhuming Kathleen Savio’s body. Her unusual death is getting a second look as teams search for Peterson’s current wife, Stacy, missing since Oct. 28…

Drew Peterson has recently spoken out about Stacy’s disappearance and all the suspicion against him. From NBC 5 in Chicago:

On Thursday, Peterson broke his silence with the media in front of his Bolingbrook home when he told reporters, “The media is terrorizing my children.”

NBC5’s Kim Vatis said that authorities are considering exhuming Savio’s body for further investigation, after the Will County coroner cast doubt on the original findings of the 2004 autopsy results, saying that the death by “drowning” determination was inaccurate and that the autopsy results are, at least, “undetermined.”

“Do you want to comment on the coroner’s statement?” a reporter asked Peterson as he was going from his SUV to his front door Thursday night.

“I have no comments for the media because they did everything wrong,” he said, barely showing his face under a hooded sweatshirt…

As this post was being written, it was announced on MSNBC that Kathleen Savio’s body will indeed be exhumed.

Sergeant Peterson’s problems with the media may soon pale beside his problems with his fellow cops, if evidence of foul play is found on his third wife’s remains.

UPDATE, 4:10 p.m. ET

As is noted in the comments below, Drew Peterson is now officially a suspect in his ex-wife’s disappearance. From Fox News/The AP:

“Drew Peterson went to being a person of interest to clearly a suspect,” said Illinois State Police Capt. Carl Dobrich at a press conference, adding that the case has shifted to a potential homicide case…

(NOTE: For a quirky look at a very different kind of crime story, check out this post by me on RADAR Magazine’s “Fresh Intelligence.”)

Live Blogging MyCase.com

10:05 p.m. ET

Watch this space.

Between 10:30 and 11:30 Eastern Time I’ll be blogging about the Court TV premiere of MyCase.com [MyCaseDotCom.com]. I wrote about the show, which will feature me as a representative crime blogger/cybersleuth, in this entry.

I guess I’ve live-blogged before, but I never thought of it that way. For this event I’ll try and post something new at each break. I’ll make notes on the case itself, about my experience making my part of it, and my impressions of the end-product.

I welcome any questions from readers in the comments, and will try and answer them in this post.

So, stay tuned….

10:30 p.m. ET

I started just blogging about Taylor Behl’s disappearance in September, 2005, but it was that blogging that led to my first professional writing gig, and I think it’s only fair I link some of that work — my portion of the Taylor Behl articles published by the Crime Library can be read if you go here: Taylor Behl Murder — Full Case Coverage.

Most of my blog entries, just for reference, can be accessed by clicking this link. They were originally posted to the now non-existent PlanetHuff.com/DarkSide. OK, that site isn’t exactly defunct. You can still see The Dark Side via the Wayback Machine.

*****

I didn’t have much contact with Janet Pelasara (Taylor Behl’s mom), at all when she was in the news, talking about her daughter’s disappearance, but I’ve been in touch with her since, and she’s a truly impressive woman who has weathered an unimaginable blow. I was glad she was willing to participate in making MyCase.com — I only wish I’d had the chance to meet her in person.

In some respects I’m just as fascinated as anyone else would be with this show, so far — I can’t recall seeing Taylor’s friend Glynnis Keogh much before, and the cops who investigated this crime are awesome. To hear one of them say the information being blogged about was “incredibly accurate” is pretty damned satisfying.

10:45 PM

My wife, Dana: “Your beard looks really red on TV.”

In the comments OPI asks what I think of the show so far.

I’m surprised at just how much I like it. Not because I thought it’d be bad — having seen one other true crime-related production from some of the same people at Optomen, I knew this would be original, have a visual style that really set it apart from other true crime shows — but because I was nervous about my part in it.

I’m also happy the cops participated so much in the taping. The folks at Optomen did a fantastic job of weaving in the separate elements making up the investigation into what happened to Taylor. The re-enactments work well, too — I particularly liked the way they used projection of text in some scenes.

10:59 PM

I have never seen that shot of Ben Fawley appearing to cry as he enters his Alford plea.

Now it sticks with me, because it crystallizes just how psychopathic this guy was. He’d screwed up his face and was speaking in a hushed, strained voice. Any casual observer would think Ben was crying.

But there wasn’t a tear to be seen. I’m sure there never was.

What may have been hard to capture in 30 minutes — heck, even an hour — was how trawling through the kind of vast online presence created by a psycho like Ben will worm into your brain. I’ve investigated and written about two killers who had particularly complex online lives — Joseph Edward Duncan and Ben Fawley. With both, there were moments when I wanted to go peel the guys out of my brain. Even their most innocuous writings would leave me queasy.

Ben’s performance in that courtroom video only crystallized that feeling from him — that he was so profoundly soulless that even across the Web he left me feeling nauseated, seasick.

I still react badly to any website containing more than its fair share of skull images.

11:11 PM

Someone e-mailed to ask if it was weird to see myself on camera in that capacity — not as a talking head on a news show, but in documentary made with real flair, cinematic style.

In a word, yes.

A few things about some of the scenes where I was on the computer. I don’t want to break “the fourth wall” or anything, but I don’t own a fly Mac like the one I used during those shots and no office of mine anywhere has ever been that stylishly furnished or neat.

That said, after just using that Mac for footage, I’d go back to Macs again in a heartbeat.

The cyber cafe was in Manhattan, and if I lived in Manhattan, I can guarantee you I would indeed be parked in that place on a regular basis doing my writing.

The day we taped there I kept getting refills on my coffee, and after a while I was holding up shooting because I kept having to use the restroom.

TV. It’s all about the glamor.

My verdict on MyCase.com?

After finally getting to see the whole thing, I’m enormously proud to have been any part of it at all. I know it may seem like I’m supposed to say such a thing, but I’ve never been the kind of guy who would just say what he’s supposed to if I didn’t feel it. If I’d thought the show stank, I wouldn’t be writing about it after that last update.

Instead, I think documentary-style shows that fall into the true crime genre need to be more like MyCase.com. The show took a truly unique angle of the story and told it with style and with incredible pacing. They managed to find a way to tape me that I didn’t wince as I watched my part of the show tonight. And I was ready to wince.

If there were a series like this I’d watch it every time it was on, and wouldn’t care whether I was a part of it or not.

NOTES

Answering some comments…

What was this like for me? Well, you’d never know by watching that half-hour that this show was pretty much nearly 2 years in the making. My part was done 10-11 months ago, too — I’m not shaving my head anymore, I wear a full beard now. I look different, so there’s something peculiar in seeing myself captured at a particular point in time.

On the whole, it was exciting and humbling. Exciting to travel and talk about this thing I do with smart people who got it (they obviously did, based on the way they presented my portions of the show). Humbling in part because you’d never know that while I was in NYC to tape MyCase.com my back kept trying to go out, and I had to navigate around that the entire time. That was my body reminding me I was an out-of-shape dude nearing 40 and didn’t have any reason to start getting cocky now.

Would I do more? In a heartbeat. But I’d also want some other folks who do what I do to be a part of it. Frankly, I love the idea of being the person who talks to them, something like that. Generally, though — if I could do something like this show and also continue writing — I’d be a pretty happy blogger, indeed.

Will I be on every week?

At the moment I don’t know of any plans for such a thing. If you want that, just write Court TV and tell them you loved the show and want to see more.

If there do end up being plans for some more shows, I’ll let readers know as soon as I’m able.

OPI asked in the comments if this case changed my life. Here’s my answer (which is also in the comments section):

Yes. It did change my life. Internally, as much as anything. It really brought home to me how truly complex people can be — young people like Taylor, psychos like Ben.

My writing about Taylor got me my first paid freelance writing work, and I’d not even tried to get the gig — it fell in my lap. That was life-changing. As popular as my blog was becoming at that time, I’d still only considered writing for a living in passing.

I think my understanding of what I was doing changed. I realized just how serious it was, for one thing. Taylor’s youth and the pain in her mother’s eyes whenever I saw Janet on TV brought that home. I also realized that there might be times I was the first to come up with something. That was a responsibility I’d been aware of, but Taylor’s disappearance and the blogging I did in relation to it really slammed the point home. One has to really think about the information they’ve discovered and use some judgment when you make it public.

A New Open Thread For Madeleine McCann: Six Months Later

Madeleine McCann disappeared from the Mark Warner resort on Praia da Luz in Portugal six months ago today. And half a year later, it seems as though no one is any closer than they were on May 3, 2007 to finding the girl.

Madeleine is perhaps the most widely-discussed missing child since the Lindbergh baby. At this point the McCann disappearance may be more infamous than that crime from the early 1930s.

Few blog commentators are as dedicated as commentators who chat about Madeleine McCann.

The previous open thread here at The True Crime Weblog has 1,239 comments and counting (the first link will permit you to comment on the weblog proper; the second link takes you directly to the haloscan-hosted thread). Many comments are left by European readers and readers in the UK, but plenty of Americans are discussing the British toddler, too. Another crime-centered site, Websleuths.com, has a huge number of U.S. readers, and there is an entire forum there devoted to Madeleine.

Currently, a Google search yields nearly 2 million hits on the little girl’s name.

Commentators who have followed the discussion: You should no longer post to the previous open thread. Please continue below. If you wish to reference comments left on the previous post, each comment has a number sign beneath it. Click that to directly link a particular comment.

Please, as always, keep the discussion civilized and on-topic.

NOTE, 12/13/07

LINK TO THE HALOSCAN HOSTED COMMENT THREAD. You may use that for reference, or you may wish to continue leaving comments using the new threaded, more forum-like system.

By Popular Demand: Open Thread for Madeleine McCann

There is no end to public fascination with the disappearance of the little British girl from Praia da Luz early last May.

Because several requests have been received, the purpose of this post is to simply start the discussion and let readers go.

To give some focus to the discussion, this article could be considered suggested reading.

The piece relates the news that Portuguese police may be looking for DNA and fingerprints the Britons who were at the Mark Warner-owned resort when Madeleine disappeared.

Apparently there were samples found there that investigators would still like to identify.

Detectives may be chasing signs of a kidnapper, after all.

If they are… well, what the hell happened to pointing the finger at Madeleine’s parents, physicians Kate and Gerry McCann?

If you prefer to read comments in-line — beneath the entry, on the blog itself, do the following once you’ve entered your comment:

* Instead of clicking “comment”, click the title of the post (“By Popular Demand…”), then scroll down and enter your comment in the box. Some people seem to find the pop-out box that comes when you simply click “comment” from the blog’s main page confusing;

* After you press “publish”, press “F5” on your computer keyboard. You may also click the “refresh” button on your browser — usually a looped arrow
.

Comments have a 3,000 character limit, and the Haloscan format doesn’t like overly-long URLs.

I am considering opening a thread to discuss the murder of Chicago-area pharmaceutical sales rep Nailah Franklin, but there were a few trolls following those entries before. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but while I’m adding old entries to this site and making other improvements I don’t have the time or patience to mess with that sort of nonsense.

As always, please keep the discussion civil and on-topic. Any off-topic, offensive, or frankly, just plain stupid posts may deleted and the user banned.

The way you close comments with Haloscan doesn’t really close them. The previous thread at this blog (TrueCrimeWeblog.com) can be reached here.

Paige Birgfeld Update

(This entry was authored by Eyes for Lies, NOT Steve Huff. Click the link to address the author of this post. And get your fact straight the next time you make a pissy post to a message board.)

Three months ago Paige Birgfeld disappeared and it didn’t take long for her secrets to come to the surface. Now, it is her secret life that may unravel the mystery to her disappearance and perhaps as horrible as it may be, her death — though no body has been found to date.

Birgfeld had tumultuous relationships, and two failed marriages. She intertwined herself with danger when she secretly ran an escort service, and the night she was last seen, she was tempting fate again by rekindling a volatile relationship with her first husband.

While many people commented that Birgfeld was not a caring mother, I think it would be more poignant to say that Birgfeld didn’t think through her choices in life. Birgfeld was a woman who was driven by desire. She was a woman who was driven by her emotions, and threw logic and reasoning out the door. When the reality of her choices came to mind, Birgfeld would push them away and deny them so she could continue to moved forward in the world she wanted to create. In many respects, Birgfeld wanted to live in a fantasy.

She didn’t realize that her fantasy life might cost her everything.

Colorado authorities were quick in naming three persons-of-interest not long after Birgfeld’s disappearance. The first two people were her ex-husbands, and shortly thereafter came a man with little mention: Lester Ralph Jones. It was not immediately known how Jones was connected to Birgfeld, but speculators were quick to guess he was a client of Birgfeld — and it appears that assumption was correct.

Apparently, Jones knew Birgfeld intimately, but Birgfeld did not know Jones’s past nearly as well. For if she did, I suspect she wouldn’t have had such a desire to be with him. Jones has a history that includes a slew of domestic disputes as well as second-degree kidnapping charges for which he was sentenced to serve five years.

This week, police have now named Lester Ralph Jones as a formal suspect, and media reports are now saying that both of Birgfeld’s ex-husbands are no longer persons-of-interest — that they have been cleared (source).

While Rob Dixon didn’t make any media statements from what I could find, I did see Ron (Howard) Beigler, Birgfeld’s first husband speak on ABC’s Family Secrets series back in July (click on the videos on the right to see a snippet of the show).

This interview with Beigler was quite interesting because he spoke about Birgfeld’s secret life. He was quite adamant that Birgfeld didn’t sleep with any of her clients. He believed she merely sold topless massages. Obviously, Birgfeld knew if she wanted Beigler in her life again, she had to clean up her act when she told him about it — or else he wouldn’t have approved. I suspect Birgfeld lied to Beigler.

It was also during this interview that John Quinones and Beigler talked about him being a the last person to see Birgfeld. The pressure was clearly on Beigler yet his response and reaction during the interview made me confident he was being honest when he said, “I’m not the least bit worried about them coming after me for this.” I believed Beigler then that he was not involved in Birgfeld’s disappearance.

If only Ralph Lester Jones would speak publicly. I would like to see what he has to say. I’d like to listen to his words, and watch him as he says them. From what the media reports, it looks like the police are closing in on Jones.

Imagine if your biggest secret is what defines you in your last moments. Is that how you would like to be remembered? Surely Birgfeld never thought this would happen, or she wouldn’t have acted like she did. Making choices based on desire and emotions without weighing in the logical outcome of our decisions can have devastating consequences.

Wade Steffey: Found?

I first wrote about missing Purdue (IN) University freshman Wade Steffey in this entry. Wade vanished after attending a party on January 13, 2007. Since then, there have been numerous searches, a website has been created, and many other bloggers have weighed in.

Now it appears that Wade’s body has been found on the Purdue campus. The discovery was made on March 19:

Purdue spokesman Phillip Fiorini said the body was removed this afternoon from the high-voltage utility room in Owen Hall a few hours after it was discovered.The coed residence hall, which houses about 700 students, is near the last reported location of missing Purdue freshman Wade Steffey, 19, who vanished Jan. 13.

Fiorini said the Tippecanoe County coroner’s office expects to identify the body on Tuesday. He said investigators have not described the body as either male or female, or released any other details…

According to Fox News, there will be a press conference held this morning about the body found Monday.

Until that presser it won’t be clear as to how the body came to be in that room — foul play? Bizarre misadventure? The latter has certainly happened before.

Nearly a year ago Army specialist Robert Hornbeck died in a utility room at the Hilton Savannah (GA) DeSoto. For reasons that are likely still unclear (aside from his having been intoxicated), Hornbeck somehow got inside a huge air-conditioning unit at the Hilton where he was struck by fan blades. He bled to death. Hornbeck’s body wasn’t found until the hotel’s staff began receiving complaints about an odor.

One thing is probably certain — no amount of explanation will truly help Wade Steffey’s family right now, if the body found at Purdue is indeed the missing man.

UPDATE

Wade Steffey, according to information given out at the press conference, was seeking a way into the residence hall where he was found. He’d left behind a coat. Apparently, Steffey began trying various doors around the building. He found the door to this extremely dangerous high-voltage utility room. Wade stepped in and tripped and fell on a transformer.

Wade was electrocuted. He died instantly.

The reason Wade Steffey’s body wasn’t found sooner was simply because due to the dangerous nature of the room in question, searchers never advanced too far into the room. Add to that the fact that Wade fell behind a power unit that was just large enough to hide Wade’s body completely from anyone doing a cursory search.

So, on the one hand, Wade’s death seems to have been very straightforward. On the other, as his father said pointedly at the press conference, the investigation is not yet over.

In a way, it seems to have been a virtual repeat of the death of Robert Hornbeck in Savannah last year.

Who Murdered Professor Haataja?

Steve Haataja (Hah-dee-ya) vanished 8 days before fall exams were to begin at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska. The last time anyone saw the 6’4″ 46-year-old was after 4 p.m. on December 4, 2006. Someone accessed Haataja’s school e-mail account later that night, but no one knew if it was actually the professor signing on.

The newly-minted math professor had only been at the college since August, 2006. Prior to taking a teaching position at Chadron, Haataja studied for his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and also worked at that University as a teaching assistant. One student saw fit to comment about Haataja at Ratemyprofessor.com: “Knows his math very well but is often nervous and unclear during class. Overall he is a nice guy who is better suited to research over teaching.”

That was only one assessment. An article published on March 10, 2007 — after it was determined that Haataja was dead — was commented on by one person who also claimed to be a former student of Steve Haataja’s: “Dr. Haataja was my College Algebra teacher here in Chadron. He was an excellent teacher who cared deeply about how each and every one of his students were doing. You’re missed more than you could ever know Dr.H. I too am glad that they found him. At last closure can be brought about…”

The anonymous commenter’s optimism about closure was probably misplaced. On March 14, 2007, it became clear that finding Dr. Haataja’s remains only deepened the mystery that began with his disappearance: “Professor’s death investigated as homicide.”

On “Pi Day” — 3.14.07 — Dawes County Nebraska Attorney Vance Haug issued a statement about the investigation into Steve Haataja’s disappearance and death. In part, Haug said, “Due to unusual circumstances and the condition in which the body was found, law enforcement is treating this case with an abundance of caution and is investigating it as a homicide.”

The concern during the months between Haataja’s vanishing and his remains being found March 9 was not that he’d been murdered, but more that he’d either met with misadventure or perhaps committed suicide.

Steve Haataja was still single, at 46, and in early 2006 he’d had major surgery to correct hip injuries. He’d battled depression, but Haataja told family members before his disappearance that he’d “weaned” himself off antidepressants.

In his apartment in Chadron Haataja had over 1,000 books, and though he had 3 computers, he didn’t have an Internet connection at home. The math professor had a car, but it was in disrepair, didn’t run. To top things off, he was new at Chadron after establishing a life active enough to socialize at the University of Nebraska, and likely still getting to know his fellow faculty members, the town, and the students.

A history of depression and working a new job in a new place — circumstances that could certainly trigger a cataclysmic depression.

Because the circumstances as they are now publicly known simply beg the question — who could possibly find a reason to murder Professor Haataja?

If Steve Haataja’s death truly was foul play after all, it is likely that investigators might find any failing grades in classes the professor was teaching when he vanished of great interest. Chadron exams being just a week and a day away when Haataja disappeared might be very significant if Steve Haataja was indeed murdered.

Then again, sometimes people are simply picked at random, or caught in an awful moment where another’s desperation and the victim’s very presence collide — a terrible equation that equals murder.

Just a few days after Steve Haataja’s remains were found, his family endured a second blow. Haataja’s father Esaja, age 74, died Monday, March 12.

Sometimes crime scenes are searched by investigators establishing a perimeter then walking inwards towards the center of the scene in a spiral pattern. The spiral also can embody one of the other great numbers in higher math besides Pi, Phi, or 1.618…, the “golden section.” Hopefully the weaving of these elements around the death of the professor bode well for answers one day being found.

This portion of the entry may be updated as needed.

(Invaluable information for this blog entry also came from “Math professor still missing,” an article published December 12, 2006 on the Chadron State website.)

Steve Haataja’s website from his time at UN-Lincoln:

http://www.math.unl.edu/~s-shaataj1/
.

************************

I wanted to take this opportunity to give a fellow blogger a shout-out.

The British love their true crime tales, and some of the greatest crime stories of all time came out of the United Kingdom (Jack the Ripper — ’nuff said). True crime blogging, a small niche in the blogosphere in general, still seems to be more often an American and occasionally Canadian interest.

But if you are not reading The True Crime Blog UK, you are missing out on some of the more well-written and interesting crime-blogging to be found online at the moment. Neill, the blogger running the show there, puts in a good deal of work on every entry, both in developing his own crisp writing style and in researching each story he covers. He has a few more hurdles to leap, too — the laws governing what one can and cannot write about a crime still under investigation appear to be more draconian in the UK than they are in the U.S. or Canada.

If my weblog (the one you’re reading right now) has a true counterpart in style and spirit outside the U.S., that counterpart is most certainly to be found at:

http://truecrimebloguk.blogspot.com.

Americans can be terribly insular about the news we like to read — I’m certainly prey to that sort of thing. If Anna Nicole truly was a murder victim, why that’s all we’ll know about for the next few days.

If you are a fan of reading true crime tales online in particular and you become frustrated with that sort of journalistic jingoism, do yourself a favor and check out what the malefactors are up to in the United Kingdom, with Neill’s able help. Then bookmark the site so you can go back, and be among the most well-informed of true crime aficionados in two countries.

The Fire, The Professor’s Wife, The Mystery…

When the mainstream media seizes on a story like the circus surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith and proceeds to chew away like an elderly dog trying to rend a rawhide chewtoy, other potentially fascinating and troubling news stories are overlooked. The following story is definitely in that category, in my opinion

The house at 19 French Road in South Kingstown, Rhode Island was going up in flames. More than 50 firefighters answered the call to fight the conflagration on the night of February 22, 2007. They were responding to a 911 call from neighbors of the address who heard the University of Rhode Island professor who lived there, Joseph Matoney, calling out, “Help, fire!”

First responders had been told there might be two people in the house, but it was empty. However, Kingston (RI) Fire Chief Nathan Barrington told reporters that there were three different fires set in the Matoney residence. Chainsaws were used to cut holes in the walls as the firefighters waged war on the inferno. In the end, the $300,000+ home was a complete loss.

As the fire died away and snow began to fall, people began to realize that Joseph Matoney’s wife, Adrianne Lynn Matoney, age 58, was missing. 1.

Joseph Matoney, a professor of Business Administration at the university, had apparently arrived home around 9 p.m. on the 22nd, having taught a late class at URI. He tried to enter the house, worried that his wife and 28-year-old son, also named Joseph, were inside. The smoke was too heavy, and he was nearly overcome. As he retreated from the fire he saw that his son’s and wife’s cars were gone.

Around 3 that morning, on a bridge connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton, Rhode Island, Lynn Matoney’s Toyota Camry was found. The Camry was locked, and Lynn Matoney nowhere in sight.

On February 23, Lynn Matoney was officially declared missing.

The announcement that Lynn Matoney was a missing person came even as arson investigators were combing through the ruins at 19 French Road. The sheer scope of the fire had clued them in to the possibility that it might have been intentionally set. On the 23rd, representatives of the Rhode Island state fire marshal’s office, the Union Fire District, and the University of Rhode Island crime lab were on the scene.

Earlier that day the U.S. Coast Guard and a pair of local fire departments had searched the waters around Portsmouth and Tiverton, spurred by the tell-tale location of Lynn Matoney’s vehicle. They’d called off the search, begun before dawn, around 10 in the morning. 2.

The Matoneys were a pretty classic All-American family, according to friends and neighbors. Lynn Matoney went to swim meets with her children, worked with the Girl Scouts. The elder Joseph Matoney taught at URI and also ran an accounting business out of the Cape Cod-style home on French Road. Lynn, according to one neighbor, was great with kids.

A URI spokesperson told reporters that Lynn had also worked at the University between 1973 and 2000. In fact, a cursory search online shows that Lynn Matoney co-authored papers on various subjects, like this one that appeared to be related to toxicology, one of the areas in which she worked. Both Lynn and husband Joe were active, participating in 10k runs and road races, and sponsoring events like the 2004 URI AAR Golf Scholarship Tournament.

Joe Matoney also began teaching at URI in 1973, and he apparently has been a popular professor with media seeking information, quotes, punditry related to his specialty. Evidence from RateMyProfessors.com indicates he is not popular with students, however. In January, 2005, one student wrote the following about Matoney after taking his ACC311 accounting course: “He is evil!!!! Very, Very EVIL. He is absolutely no help at all and gets mad when you ask questions.”

Though Joe Matoney’s overall rating was poor quality, there were also comments like this one, made in 2004:

Awesome guy. Gets very excited in class, so you’ll never be bored. As long as you go to class and do the work, the class is easy and so are the exams. Plus, he scales grades, but doesn’t tell anyone about it.

Of course, college students can use the RateMyProfessors.com site to excoriate professors who are actually perfectly decent — yet Matoney’s ratings across 3 years were consistently low.

That may have nothing whatsoever to do with a housefire and his wife’s disappearance, however.

Yet the Matoney family spokesperson on February 23 was a former Rhode Island State attorney general, James O’Neil. And read one way, a statement made by the URI Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Beverly Swan, seems a little defensive: “Professor Joe Matoney is a longtime, valued member of the university community. He is a wonderful person, well liked by students and faculty. He has many friends at the university, and they have been reaching out to support him in any way possible (…) This is a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.” 3.

At the moment, authorities are still seeking information to help them determine Adrianne Lynn Matoney’s whereabouts. Though authorities have mentioned “collecting evidence” and cordoned off the burned-out Matoney home as a crime scene, they are not making public statements, yet. It is interesting to note that searches of the waters off Portsmouth will not continue, either. 4.

Interesting because the impression developed from the bare bones of the story is that Lynn Matoney might have set the fire, driven to the Sakhonet Bridge, and jumped off. Or someone else entered the home, abducted her, then set the fire to cover their tracks. Either way, the abandoned Camry on the bridge might lead one to think that whether she was thrown off or jumped, Lynn Matoney went into the water.

At least, that is what someone might want people to think.

Where is Lynn Matoney? What happened the night of the fire on French Road?

It’s the kind of thing you wonder about whether you want to or not.

UPDATE

In the interest of balance, I wanted to quote a blogger who knew the Matoneys. I won’t link her weblog to preserve some privacy. On February 25 this blogger posted about Lynn’s disappearance, and she wrote the following:

One of my mother’s best friends from Rhode Island has officially been declared missing after her house burned down on Friday night. Her car was found locked and abandoned near the top of a bridge and there has been no sign of a struggle. I know Lynn has been battling depression for a long time and, due to various health complications, is unable to take medication for it. Mom’s scared that Lynn committed suicide, though a search of the water hasn’t found anything to support that yet…

I felt this was worth noting because it was the first mention of depression I’d seen in connection with Lynn Matoney. Suspicion naturally falls on the next of kin in cases like this, and it wouldn’t be fair to them — Lynn Matoney’s husband and adult children — if I didn’t note this blog entry by someone who was aware of some problem with depression on Lynn’s part.

1. “Fire rages at house of URI professor,” The Good 5-cent Cigar, the University of Rhode Island student newspaper, February 23, 2007.
2. “Wife of URI professor missing after fire,” The Providence-Journal, February 23, 2007.
3. “Fire sparks a mystery,” The Providence-Journal, February 24, 2007.
4. “Still no lead on missing woman,” The Providence-Journal, February 27, 2007.

The Disappearance of Veronica Guzman

Veronica Guzman, age 19, is missing.

The sophomore at the California State University in Chico, CA was last seen leaving class on February 19, 2007. Neither Veronica nor her vehicle, a green 1999 Honda CRV, have been seen since then.

Veronica lived with her family in Biggs, over 25 miles from Chico State. When she didn’t call the evening of the 19th and calls to her own phone went to voice mail, the Guzmans were alarmed.

A task force has been created to look into the nearly-week-old disappearance. The task force is made up of investigators from the Gridley-Biggs police, California State University, Chico Police Department and the Butte County District Attorney’s office. Additionally, a website has been created to help in the search for the 5’4″ sociology major, and her family is offering a $15,000 reward.

Police have said that they consider the circumstances surrounding Veronica’s disappearance “very suspicious.”

Typically, that sort of talk from cops is code for suspicion that Veronica was not the cause of her disappearance.

Veronica Guzman’s MySpace page reveals an energetic personality and a quirky sense of humor. A portion of what she posted in the “About Me” section:

I’m a stubborn chick, with a wack sense of humor. I like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain… sometimes. Except in Mexico during the summer, cause that rain will kill you! they’re like granades or something. You best run for cover from that…

…I was born in Penjamo,Guanajuato,Mexico(Google that and get familiar),raised in Biggs, California to my great luck. ‘Cause this is where it’s at. If you’re in some other state, well I’m sorry. Your state probably sucks, and you wish you were in California.

…I like to make people laugh. I love it when people make me laugh. So tell me a joke. Or fall on your face, that’s always funny, sorry but it is. You’d laugh if it wasn’t you.or let’s watch Reno 911 together…

In her blog attached to her MySpace profile, Veronica once made a list of things she liked. Some of them showed a cheery, silly side:

38-things in black and white: like movies and pictures and dreams
39-ooo dreams are sometimes good
40-things and people that are good
41- Doing things that are bad, just because WATEVER, I DO WT I WANT! Joke, jk
42-i love Lucy… Bewitched was good too. But I don’t really love bewitched…

MySpace has become in many missing persons cases a place where people express their worries for the friend or loved one who has vanished. That is certainly the case where Veronica Guzman’s profile is concerned. On February 21st the messages began. A friend named Carrie expressed the most typical concerns: “Where did you go? Everyone is worried about you. I’m worried about you. I hope you get home safely and that you are o.k.. I love you Veronica!”

FindVeronicaGuzman.com
has details about what Veronica was wearing when she vanished as well as info about her vehicle. If you think you know anything about her disappearance, the contact page is here.

With wall-to-wall coverage of the Anna Nicole story continuing unabated, it seems unlikely that this particular missing young woman’s case will get the exposure it really should receive in the mainstream media.

I sometimes have to remind myself that cases like this are part of the reason I do this kind of blogging. There appears to be no logical reason for Veronica Guzman to have disappeared. It’s obvious that law enforcement in the area where she lived and attended school think so.

If you’re a crime blogger, consider mentioning Veronica and linking the website set up to help find her. Either way, think about her and her family, and hope they have some answers, some resolution to their mystery soon.

UPDATE, 2/27/07

Sadly, it appears that Veronica Guzman’s vehicle and her body were found early today.

The article is short, but it certainly does not give the impression that Veronica was the victim of foul play. It looks more like she had a wreck in a remote area. Her CRV was found upside down in water, and she was still inside.

Kaitlin Aydell, age 13, is Missing…

A grim search is underway tonight in French Settlement, Louisiana for 13-year-old Kaitlin Marie Aydell. Kaitlin disappeared from the small community that sits between Baton Rouge and New Orleans on Thursday, February 1. She apparently vanished just after getting off her school bus.

Around 3 a.m. Friday, the Livingston Parish (La) sheriff’s department arrested Mark Sterling Lewis, age 39. The ex-con is related to Kaitlin Aydell by marriage and lives with his wife in a mobile home behind the girl’s family residence. According to this article in WBRZ’s The Advocate, Lewis allegedly lied to detectives who were searching for Kaitlin. Lewis has been charged with one count of obstruction of justice.

Kaitlin Aydell had a MySpace page. Though the Advocate states that Kaitlin is a 7th grader and only 13, she gave her age as 16 in her profile. No link will be given for the profile now due to Kaitlin’s actual age and the probable age of her friends.

Kaitlin had obviously done some work on her profile. She’d “pimped” it with a white, pink and black-striped background, and established a unique URL, something MySpace users can choose to do if they don’t want to keep the membership number issued when a user first registers to use the site.

In her “About Me” section, Kaitlin wrote:

I’m really cute* I have blond hair with blue eyes* I love to play basketball and softball and football . . .

Under “Who I’d Like to Meet,” Kaitlin’s answer was, in a way, touching:

I would like to meet the boy of my dreams* He should be super hot* not too trashy* sweet* really nice to my friends*

Kaitlin’s “general interests” were boys, shopping, basketball, and softball.

Comments left no question that this was the missing Kaitlin Aydell’s MySpace page. A girl named Megan B. posted a poem she’d written for her friend:

Prayers are said,
for you alone.
We’ll stand in silence,
til’ you come home.
We miss you much.
You know it true.
But no matter what happens,
We’ll ALWAYS love you!

Mark Sterling Lewis’s arrest early Friday was not his first brush with the law.

It was late September, 1995, and a 22-year-old woman was leaving a shopping mall in East Baton Rouge. About the time she noticed she had a flat, a man approached her and offered to fix it.

The man fixed the flat and then asked the woman for a ride.

Perhaps understandably, the woman was willing to return a favor, but as she and the good samaritan drove she realized he didn’t seem to have any place to go. When the young woman refused to drive any further, the man held a screwdriver to her throat.

Luckily, she escaped and was able to flag down another motorist. The abductor took off in the woman’s car.

The good samaritan turned screwdriver-wielding kidnapper was Mark Sterling Lewis.

Lewis was was convicted of aggravated kidnapping, auto theft, and felony theft. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison, but 5 years were suspended.

In the end, Mark Sterling Lewis got a grand total of two years for his seemingly calculated but ultimately unsuccessful attack on the woman in Baton Rouge.

Tonight the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab is in possession of Mark Lewis’s 2006 Chevy pickup, and they are combing it for evidence that might link the convicted kidnapper and thief to Kaitlin Aydell.

And late in the night, Kaitlin’s friends and relatives are looking at her profile, and leaving messages, young voices echoing in the ether:

. . . i love and miss you so much. i just want you to come home safely. although it may be distant, you’re my little cousin and i love you so much darling. . .

Anyone with pertinent information concerning Kaitlin Aydell or her location can call the Detective Division of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office at (225) 686-2241 ext. 345 or (225) 686-2241 ext. 501.

UPDATE, 6:36 p.m. ET

Sadly, Baton Rouge TV station WAFB is reporting that a body has been found.

Thanks to Savvy for posting the link in the comments.

Mainstream media sources for this blog entry:

(This entry has been cross-posted at the Blogger News Network.)