Filed under: historic true crime

Yet Another D. B. Cooper Suspect: William Pratt "Wolfgang" Gossett

William Pratt “Wolfgang” Gossett died of a stroke on September 1, 2003 in Lincoln City, Oregon. He’d led a long, fascinating life. Gossett had been an expert in military law, a teacher and assistant principal, a private investigator, a corrections officer and then administrator, a radio personality and a vicar general in the Old Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah. And if attorney Galen Cook is to be believed, Gossett was also Dan “D. B.” Cooper, the infamous skyjacker who ‘got away with it.’

The Depoe Bay Beacon is a little paper serving the folks of Depoe Bay, Oregon. It isn’t your average small-town paper; the Beacon consciously, perhaps a little cheekily, styles itself as a tabloid. Much of the paper’s content is straight-up small town news coverage, though — articles about local fishing and even the new postmaster, who began her job on April 21 this year.

But the issue that hit the local news stands and the Web on May 28 contained a big, big scoop for such a small paper, one any big tabloid specializing in celebrity scandals or stories about aliens might be proud to have — if the story ends up being true. Beacon editor Rick Beasley told the story of Wolf Gossett and how one of Gossett’s sons may have outed his father as the ultimate big one that got away.

From Beasley’s article, “Investigator Claims Depoe Bay Man Was Infamous ‘D. B. Cooper!‘” (link will take you to a rendering of the paper — the article is on pages 9 and 10):

In an exclusive interview with the Beacon, [Galen] Cook revealed how he became convinced that former Depoe Bay mystery man Wolfgang Gossett was, in fact, the infamous skyjacker D. B. Cooper.


[Cooper’s] trail seemed to go cold at every turn until a break in the case in late 2007, thanks to the national show Coast to Coast AM, the popular late night program for 2.5 million insomniacs and other night people founded by Art Bell and hosted now by George Nouri [sic: the host’s name is spelled Noory ~ S. H.] and on Saturday nights by Ian Punnett. Punnett was interviewing Cook when a caller — Gossett’s son, Greg, a corrections officer and one of his five children — said he believed his father was D. B. Cooper…

Cook began interviewing people about Gossett. Ex-wives — Gossett was married several times — family members, former colleagues from various professions and military buddies, just to name a few.

According to Galen Cook, Gossett allegedly told his last wife that he’d “write D. B. Cooper’s epitaph.” He often talked about Cooper to others, but they usually figured he was just fascinated with the case. Two people, however, said that Gossett actually confessed. One was a Salt Lake City judge for whom Gossett worked in the 70s. Galen Cook related his interview with the judge to the Beacon. The judge allegedly said, “In 1977 he [Gossett] walked into my office and closed the door and said he thought he might be in some trouble, that he was involved in a hijacking in Portland and Seattle a few years ago and he might have left prints behind. He said he was D. B. Cooper. I told him to keep his mouth shut and don’t do anything stupid, and not to bring it up again.”

Cook also told of a retired lawyer from Newport, OR who once traveled with Gossett to Vancouver, B. C., where some of the $200,000 from the Cooper skyjacking ‘may have been stashed in a lock box.’

Galen Cook is apparently now in Alaska, at work on a book about everything he’s discovered — even though he’s run into some roadblocks during his investigation. One big obstacle he’s encountered is the FBI. Even though Cook claims to have samples of hair from Gossett that could be used to match DNA from Cooper, the Bureau has been slow to cooperate. This may be because he has sued the agency in the past in order to acquire information under the Freedom of Information Act.


Gossett had documented connection with a horrifying crime that occurred in Ogden, Utah in 1974.

The “Hi-Fi Murders” were committed on April 22, 1974. Pierre Selby and William Andrews, two 19-year-old USAF Airmen, entered the Hi-Fi Shop at closing time and took five people hostage. What followed was too brutal for words; it involved torture, rape, and cold-blooded murder. In the end, three hostages were dead and two were fighting for their lives.

Selby and Andrews both received the death penalty for their crimes.

In August, 1989, William Andrews was before the Utah State Board of Pardons, trying to get his death sentence commuted to life in prison.

According to the Deseret News, Reverend Wolfgang Gossett, a “recently ordained a Roman Catholic priest,” was there to testify on Andrews’s behalf.

Gossett said, “It is I who failed to provide thorough and adequate investigation to this man.” From the Deseret News:

Andrews’ trial attorney, John Caine, had worked as a public defender less than a year when he was assigned the case. Only Andrews’ testimony was presented as mitigation in the penalty phase of the 1974 proceeding.

If Caine had been provided information from Gossett or others about Andrews’ dirt-poor upbringing in rural Louisiana, lack of formal education and broken family, he could have used the information in the sentencing phase of the capital murder case.

Gossett said Thursday he also bears the blame for not advising Caine to seek a jury instruction that they could find Andrews guilty of a lesser included offense if the state’s evidence did not warrant a capital homicide conviction…

Gossett went on to say that he knew “within a day or so” who had been the main actor in the Hi Fi Murders — Pierre Selby. About Andrews, Gossett said, “This man (Andrews) never killed anyone. He never raped anyone.”

Selby was put to death by lethal injection in 1987. Gossett’s efforts on Andrews’s behalf were futile; Andrews was executed in 1992.


I have to wonder — if Gossett was Cooper after all, did he spend much of the rest of his life trying to atone for his actions? His career trajectory (fudging dates of service in the 40s notwithstanding) after the Cooper skyjacking (November 24, 1971) makes me wonder, especially his entrance into the priesthood. Gossett became a priest in the Old Catholic Church. Gossett’s chosen denominations split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1800s. There are many differences between the two: the Old Catholic Church rejects the idea that the Pope is infallible; Old Catholic priests like Gossett do not have to be celibate; and in general the Old Catholic Church has been more liberal, allowing women to be ordained and taking a less narrow view of homosexuality.

Wolf Gossett knew the law, too, and he’d worked on the right side of the law. His conscience seems to have plagued him where William Andrews was concerned; wouldn’t a man who testified in favor of commuting a death row inmate’s sentence to life have been scored by being the most well-known fugitive of the last 40 years or so? Or was that somehow different, to him?

So far, I have to admit there really isn’t a lot to convince me that this most recent in a long line of Cooper suspects might be the real deal. I mean, as much as I love Coast to Coast, it’s still… Coast to Coast. The show trades in barely believable (and frequently unbelievable) stories. I’ve been utterly fascinated with the show since 1996 or so and consider myself a fan, but I also take most of what I hear on Coast with a grain of salt.

Coast has, with Galen Cook’s cooperation, posted a number of images of Gossett on the show’s website. They show a man who fits Cooper’s description in many respects… but not as well as other disproven suspects. Duane Weber, for instance, looked a great deal like the sketches of Cooper. His wife says he confessed to being Cooper. DNA tests say he was just Duane Weber.

Also, on December 31, 2007, the FBI published new details about the Cooper case. Some of those revelations fly in the face of William “Wolfgang” Gossett being a good suspect.

Galen Cook says Wolf Gossett had some pretty advanced jump training. Gossett could be seen still wearing his “combat jump wings” in photos taken near the end of his life.

But here is what the FBI now says about Cooper’s supposed parachute training:

Cooper was no expert skydiver. “We originally thought Cooper was an experienced jumper, perhaps even a paratrooper,” says Special Agent [Larry] Carr. “We concluded after a few years this was simply not true. No experienced parachutist would have jumped in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile-an-hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat. It was simply too risky. He also missed that his reserve chute was only for training and had been sewn shut—something a skilled skydiver would have checked.”

A certain dismissive attitude towards the Bureau has been evident when Cook was interviewed on Coast to Coast and also in the article published by the Depoe Bay Beacon.

I hate to admit it, but when it comes to choosing between the FBI and a dude on Coast to Coast, I still tend to go with the Bureau for veracity.

I mean, we could even try and pin the Zodiac murders on Gossett while we’re at it. His obituary states that he was stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey Bay, CA in the late 60s. Most speculation about the Zodiac seems to agree that he was either military or ex-military, most likely an Air Force man. Fort Ord was less than 100 miles from the the Zodiac’s stalking grounds. Zodiac and Gossett were both between 5’8″ and 6’0″ and the most famous suspect sketch of the serial killer is a better fit for Gossett as he looked nearly 40 years ago than the Cooper sketches — in my opinion.

Talk about taking out two birds with one stone.

Of course, it won’t be that easy. If finding these faceless, mythical criminals decades after their crimes was so easy, it obviously would have been done already.

Galen Cook may churn up a publisher for his book with publicity about Gossett. He may already have a publisher. The finished book might even convince me.

But I must admit, I don’t convince so easily any more.

Dan Cooper’s Parachute

He said his name was Dan Cooper. Someone mistakenly reported the name as “D.B. Cooper” later and it stuck. But the name he gave was Dan. He said he had a bomb, and to the flight crew on the Northwest Orient flight from Portland to Seattle, it looked like he was telling the truth. Dan Cooper wanted $200,000 and a parachute or he’d set off the bomb.

Cooper got the ransom, got the parachutes, and on November 24, 1971 he jumped from the rear stairs of the 727 he’d hijacked, into the freezing night and into history.

Authorities think Cooper was killed that night. They say he was an inexperienced criminal who overreached, bit off more than he could chew. The conditions for the parachute jump were terrible, the terrain below was wild and unforgiving. Even a paratrooper would have been intimidated by the conditions surrounding Cooper’s jump.

Others are not so sure. After all, nearly $6000 of the ransom money was recovered in 1980. It was found by a kid playing on the banks of the Columbia River. Did Cooper bury the loot? If he did, what happened to the rest of it? The FBI recorded the serial numbers on the bills. They’ve never been put into circulation.

There may be a new clue. From the AP and FBI Agent Larry Carr: “Children playing outside their home near Amboy found the chute’s fabric sticking up from the ground in an area where their father had been grading a road […] They pulled it out as far as they could, then cut the parachute’s ropes with scissors.”

Agent Carr checked the site where the parachute was found against a map made during the early days of the investigation into Cooper’s crime. It was easily within Cooper’s likely “landing zone.”

No one can say that the buried parachute was Cooper’s. Not yet. But if it is, so many questions arise: did he bury it, or was the area where it was found wild in 1971? If it was wild, the parachute could have simply been buried by time, already invisible by the time developers started building in the area. The parachute could even mark the site of Cooper’s demise. But if he buried it, that means he got away. He may have even buried the $5800 found in 1980.

All of this again prompts a version question that has kept people interested in this case for 36 years — if Dan “D.B.” Cooper did make it safely to the ground with his money in hand, what happened after that?

Consider it an open thread from here on out. Please keep the discussion on-topic and civil. Also, please remember I reserve the right to delete comments for any reason.

The Ultimate True Crime Tale: Jack the Ripper

In May this year a major exhibition will open at the Museum in Docklands, London — “Jack the Ripper and the East End.” From the museum webpage about the exhibition:

From police files and photographs to letters from the public and the supposed Ripper himself, examine, for the first time, surviving documents and artefacts from the investigation and follow the crimes as they unfolded…

Few unsolved cases out there have sparked as much interest as the brief spree of prostitute murders committed by an unknown killer in London in 1888. A fictionalized account of the Ripper’s crimes once put this line in the killer’s mouth: “One day men will look back and say that I gave birth to the twentieth century.”

Though the words were a writer’s creation, they were true, in a way. There was something undeniably modern in the way this serial killer was covered by the media at the time. The fact that today there is still interest in an exhibition tells you how media exploitation of the fear generated by the Ripper’s crimes made a lasting impression all over the world. It’s not like there weren’t other sprees before and after the Ripper. Here in the Atlanta area we had our own “Ripper” between 1909 and 1911 (link goes to a blog post I wrote 4 years ago for the Atlanta Metroblog). A killer described as a “well-dressed” black man preyed on light-skinned black women. He may have killed as many as 20 young women before he was done.

The Atlanta killer was even called a “Ripper” by papers at the time. So just twenty some odd years after the fact, Jack’s legacy was alive and well in the Atlanta press, too. The “Ripper” appellation has been trotted out by reporters on a regular basis for 120 years now, thanks to Jack. Only the American Zodiac Killer even comes close to the Ripper for lasting interest in an unsolved series of murders. In addition to killing in a random, brutal manner, both Zodiac and the Ripper were media whores, taunting the public with letters, and in the case of the Zodiac, coded messages (there’s a lot of controversy over the Ripper’s letters — many Ripper messages were believed to be hoaxes at the time of the murders).

A trip to the Docklands museum would permit an unique look at the Ripper murders as they happened, and perhaps even provide some new insight. For those who know the case well, the documents on display might even raise new questions about who the killer really was. Countless theories have been floated, but none of them could ever truly be proven.

Whoever he was, Jack the Ripper crossed long ago from true crime history into legend. Today he’s more like a mythical monster, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster. The real police documents about the case might provide a look at the Ripper when he was just another blood-soaked shadow flitting around a corner in the fog-shrouded night. A window into the time before that shadow grew into something even more monstrous, the embodiment of a nightmare.

And for some, a sick inspiration.

Additional link: — the most comprehensive site on the Web about the Ripper.


(The following was originally published under the same title at on September 23, 2007. I decided to post it here to have a truly fascinating and old-school unsolved crime as the top story on the blog while I’m on hiatus.)

Cäzilia plucks.

Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen
(Do you know how many little stars there are)
An dem blauen Himmelszelt?
(In the wide blue sky?)

One tuft of hair, two tufts of hair.
Pluck. Sting, pain.
Grandfather to one side, mother on the other.
They are silent. They are still.

Weißt du, wieviel Mücklein spielen
(Do you know how many little flies play)
In der hellen Sommerglut?
(In the clear heat of Summer?)

Pluck. Sting, pain.

It is cold, the straw is sticky, and something warm is in her eyes.
She pulls her hair, it reminds her that she is alive.

Pluck. Sting…

Weißt du, wieviel Kinder frühe
Stehn aus ihren Bettchen auf,

(Do you know how many children,
Get up early from their bed,)

Daß sie ohne Sorg’ und Mühe
Fröhlich sind im Tageslauf?

(That they’re without worry and sorrow,
Happy all day long?)

Cäzilia dies.


In 1922, World War I had already brought Germany to its knees. War would come again in 1939. The Nazis would scourge the pages of history with their crimes. Horrors such as the massacre at Hinterkaifeck would seem minimal by comparison.

But the deaths at Hinterkaifeck were not forgotten. The mystery was never truly solved.

German true crime fans still puzzle over Hinterkaifeck. English-speaking true crime fans who hear of it can’t help but want to know more. And there isn’t much out there in English about this particular mass murder.

Few true tales of murder are as strange or chilling as this one.


Hinterkaifeck was the name of a little farm located in the forest, 43 miles or so north of Munich, not far from Ingolstadt.

Andreas Gruber, the 63-year-old owner, was not too well-known to his neighbors. An odd, taciturn man, he was not well-liked, either.

Living with Andreas at Hinterkaifeck were his 72-year-old wife, also named Cäzilia; his widowed daughter, Viktoria, age 35; the younger Cäzilia, Viktoria’s 7-year-old daughter; Viktoria’s young son Josef, age 2; and a servant, Maria Baumgartner, age 44.

On March 30, 1922, Maria Baumgartner was the newest resident of Hinterkaifeck. A servant named R. Kreszenz had quit the farm in 1921, claiming a “strained atmosphere.” Kreszenz even hinted that the farm might be haunted.

Strange things did seem to happen there. Equipment broke down. Crucial rings of keys went missing. At some point prior to March 30, old man Gruber found a newspaper in his house that wasn’t typically distributed in the area. The postman had no knowledge of the paper being delivered.

The day Maria Baumgartner arrived, Andreas Gruber noted something so odd that the usually retiring man told a few neighbors about it.

Gruber found tracks in the snow, leading from the forest to his house.

Gruber saw no evidence that the owner of the tracks ever returned from house to wood.

Strange as this was, Gruber apparently saw no need to tell the local authorities.

Four days after Gruber spoke of the tracks in the snow, some concerned citizens headed out to his farm. The young Cäzilia had been inexplicably absent from school.

There they found a scene from a nightmare.

Everyone, the 5 members of the Gruber family and Maria Baumgartner, had been hacked to death.

Autopsies were done in the barn, where Gruber, his daughter, wife and little Cäzilia were killed (possibly NSFW). Maria Baumgartner was murdered in her room. Josef was hacked to death in his bassinet (link is safe for viewing).

The murder weapon was determined to have been a Kreuzhacke, or pickaxe.

It may have taken little Cäzilia two hours to die as she lay on the straw, pulling out handfuls of her hair.

Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller removed all the heads of the dead, as the worst damage had been done there. The 6 victims were buried headless.

The skulls were ultimately lost during confusion and chaos at the end of World War II.

The following year, the farm was torn down. Today all that remains is a field and a monument reminding any passers-by of the crime.


The local police were overtaxed at the time, but they worked hard to solve the murders at Hinterkaifeck. Still, hysterical residents near the farm tried to take matters into their own hands, hunting for wild-eyed tramps, starting for some time at every rustle in the forest. Any stranger on the road was considered suspicious.

Police established a reward, and questioned some solid suspects. No arrests were ever made.

One logical suspect was the man who was listed on little Josef’s birth certificate as his father, a nearby farmer named Lorenz. Viktoria, who was said to be beautiful, had been briefly involved with the man.

The motive? Josef was believed by most familiar with the Grubers to be Andreas’s child.

In 1919, both Andreas Gruber and his daughter Viktoria were imprisoned for the crime of incest. After all, the old man had publicly declared after his son-in-law’s death in the trenches during World War I that his daughter didn’t need another man — she had him.

Other suspects included Viktoria’s husband, Karl Gabriel. He’d supposedly been killed in France, but his corpse was never found. The theory was that Gabriel had found out about the incest and committed the murders in revenge. Police even attempted to find some trace of Karl Gabriel in the French Foreign Legion.

The investigators into the massacre did, over time, come to some concrete conclusions about the killer or killers of the Grubers and Ms. Baumgartner. These conclusions only added to the eerie aura that has always enveloped this crime.

The killer(s) of the Grubers did not intend to rob the family. The Grubers had money — a good deal of cash was found in the farmhouse. It was untouched.

The killer(s) stalked the family. There was some evidence of someone hiding out in the attic of the house, in addition to Andreas Gruber’s haunting report of a one-way set of tracks leading from forest to dwelling.

A truly strange determination was made about events immediately following the murders. As six people lay dead or dying in the barn and in the farmhouse, the killers ate a meal. Then they fed the cattle.


Some sources say that the last investigations into the murders at Hinterkaifeck took place in 1986.

However, an article was published in several U.S. papers in June of 1955 indicating that the authorities in Germany had closed the case.

MUNICH, Germany, June 13. The state prosecutor has closed the records without a conviction on one of the most gruesome crimes in Bavarian history — the pick-ax slaying of six persons 33 years ago.

One of two suspected slayers is dead. The other cannot be brought to trial under the German statute of limitations…

In 1941, in the middle of World War II, a woman made a deathbed confession to a priest. She said that her two brothers committed the murders at Hinterkaifeck. A Bavarian-based newspaper published a story about this admission in 1952, but it gave no source.

The priest was questioned, but he only confirmed the names of the brothers, nothing more.

One brother had died in France in 1944. In the early ’50s the remaining brother was an elderly man living on a pension. He spent several weeks in custody, but his story as to what had transpired that night in 1922 changed each time he told it. He was released without charge.

Motive? Again, it was allegedly the incestuous relationship between Viktoria and her father. The 1955 English language article stated that one of the brothers had been enraged by this, and his rage drove him to kill the family.

In 1978, author Peter Leuschner published (in German) a book about Hinterkaifeck.

In his book, Leuschner apparently mentioned a man named Friedrich Haarmann, a criminal who certainly had it in him to kill 6 people.

Haarmann became known to history as Fritz Haarmann, a truly vampire-like serial killer who terrorized Hanover (5 hours from Ingolstadt) in the early 1920s.

But Haarmann tended to kill a very specific type of victim, and none of the victims at Hinterkaifeck fit the bill. Fritz Haarmann killed male prostitutes and vagrants. He apparently got a sexual thrill from drinking the blood from his victims’ throats. It was even alleged that Haarmann (he was dubbed “The Butcher of Hanover”) made some of his victims into sausages that he sold on the black market.

While Haarmann’s preferred victims were young, good-looking men, he was nothing if not a versatile criminal. He cheated other criminals, informed on them to the police, and generally did what the most complete psychopaths usually do — anything evil that comes to mind.

Something about the idea that Haarmann might have killed the Grubers and Maria Baumgartner just doesn’t make much sense.

Then again, nothing about such crimes ever makes much sense.


Ultimately, Hinterkaifeck is one of those crimes that will remain unsolved and maintain its mystery and ability to chill as a result. It is the stuff of horror films, after all. The scene could have been scripted by Poe. Many reports indicated that it was storming the night of the murders. Theories of the crime state that those killed outside were lured by the sound of an untethered farm animal, perhaps a cow with a bell on its neck.

Taken in with the evidence of someone stalking the family, possibly peering down on them from the attic, and you have a scenario that may never lose its power to raise gooseflesh.

And then there is the coda to the murders. A little girl laying on a gory bed of straw between two dead bodies, snatching out clumps of her hair as she bleeds to death. The power inherent in the story of this particular long-unsolved multiple murder may be there, in that imagined swing of little Cäzilia’s hand through the dark.

Pluck. Sting, pain.

Such a detail conducts a chill from the the skin into the bones.

The bones, where memories of evil so often abide.

Sources not otherwise linked:;;;; ;
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Michael Newton;
As is stated in the English Wikipedia article, there does appear to be a new movie about the murders currently in production (link goes to German-language site).

"Reformed" Child Killer Richard Dobeski Arrested

(This entry has been cross-posted to In Cold Blog.)

Richard Allen Dobeski, age 59, has spent most of his life in prison. When he was just 16, Dobeski murdered a 6-year-old girl and her little brother, age 3.

On August 31, 2007, the 59-year-old Westville, Indiana resident was arrested again. His alleged crimes again involved children.

Police in Monterey, IN believe Dobeski offered two children age 11 and under up to fifty bucks to ‘pose’ for photos. Dobeski allegedly wanted to take the photos at a beach. Now the ex-con faces felony charges for enticing a child and “attempted criminal confinement.” His bail has been set at $100,000.

The Pulaski County (IN) prosecutor told the LaPorte County Herald-Argus that Dobeski asked the children he approached in Monterey if they wanted “to be models.”

The murders that saw the teen Dobeski supposedly jailed for life occurred on August 31, 1964. Dobeski’s arrest in Indiana occurred exactly 43 years to the day after he killed Shawn Johnston and her brother Cary.

If you’ve never heard of Joseph Edward Duncan III, the story of Richard Dobeski might sound new to you. If you’ve been through the archives related to Duncan at or even better, Jules Hammer’s The Cellar, (, then Richard Dobeski will be familiar. Too familiar…


Michigan State Police arrested Richard Dobeski on September 1, 1964 in New Buffalo, Michigan.
Troopers Darrell Wellman and Herbert Kuipers found the boy on the beach by Lake Michigan, in the Michiana Shores resort area. After authorities in Michigan and Northern Indiana hunted all night for Dobeski, someone tipped the State cops to a sighting of a boy walking on the beach. Wellman and Kuipers simply followed Dobeski’s tracks in the sand.

The tracks led to a tall, slender boy with a blond crewcut hiding in the dunes.

“Are you Richard Dobeski?”


Dobeski was arrested without incident.

The Dobeski family lived in Long Beach, IN, just south of the Michigan/Indiana state line. Their next door neighbors were Jack Johnston, an advertising executive, his wife Judy, and their children, Shawn and Cary.

Shawn and Cary didn’t come home on the night of August 31, 1964. By 8 p.m., an alarm was raised.

Richard Dobeski’s mother Lucille found the brother and sister around 10 that night. She opened a trap door covering a crawlspace beneath the Dobeski home. There, in a place Richard Dobeski called “The Pit,” were the brutalized bodies of the Johnston children.

Tightly knotted cords were around the siblings’ throats. Shawn Johnston’s hands were bound behind her back. An autopsy later showed that Shawn’s brother Cary died of multiple stab wounds to his neck and chest. Shawn was strangled to death.

Near the small bodies police found a blood-stained length of pipe, a pocket knife, and part of a brick.


He’d once been a “handsome teenage boy,” a “mathematics whiz and a regular churchgoer.”

In 2003 Richard Allen Dobeski was a fifty-something male with decades of prison behind him. A free man finally, he wanted a college education.

Allyn West, then a senior journalism major at Ball State University, believed that Dobeski deserved the chance.

Writing in a column titled “Charmingly Disheveled,” West briefly sketched Dobeski’s situation:

Dobeski was released from a Michigan City prison on Sept. 18 after serving half of his 80-year sentence.

People are trusting (or perhaps naive) to think that after 40 years in prison, Dobeski has been rehabilitated and changed. The weight of his crimes has sparred with his conscience since he was a teen-ager. Surely four decades of faithful, lonely incarceration have eliminated his threat…

West supported his argument:

Without a doubt, Dobeski has a dark, violent and frightening history, but that does not mean he will always be a dark, violent and frightening criminal.

The Indiana Department of Corrections thinks similarly. It has approved his release, and prison psychiatrists, with whom Dobeski spent years, have pronounced him “cured.”

The collegiate columnist took a preemptive strike at his school:

[Dobeski], and his application, will also be ridiculously (but rightly) scrutinized by the admissions office, the Muncie and Ball State news media and the city and university governance.

His leash is short enough that, if he gives authorities the slightest reason, he’ll be jerked right back into prison, probably for the rest of his life.

Dobeski poses no more threat to Ball State’s students and the surrounding neighborhoods’ children than rush-hour traffic, poisonous household chemicals or freak accidents. He is (and always will be) a convicted murderer. But the state’s professionals believe he is rehabilitated…

West’s faith in “the state’s professionals” was probably misplaced. “Professionals” had been wrong about Richard Dobeski before.


Richard Allen Dobeski’s need to molest, to harm children was already a problem when he lured the Johnston children into what Dobeski referred to as his “pit.”

Dobeski molested other children as early as 1961. He would have only been 12 or 13. Even though he was a highly intelligent, eminently presentable boy, his mother was finally convinced in 1963 that he needed to be institutionalized. She’d resisted for quite some time. An episode where Dobeski allegedly tied a young girl to a tree may have been the catalyst for Lucille’s acquiescence.

Dobeski spent 11 months being treated at the LaRue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis between mid-1963 and August, 1964. He was “on leave” from the Hospital when he murdered the Johnston children. After so much time under in-patient care, “professionals” at LaRue Carter believed their charge was making some headway.

Dobeski’s prosecution stretched through 1965. Interesting testimony was reported in October of that year. That was when three psychiatrists testified that Dobeski had a “character disorder.” The boy in the courtroom that day was not, in their estimation, psychotic.

It was not stated outright, but it seemed like these practitioners were talking about a psychopath.

A brief article published on September 4, 1964 supported such an inference. From UPI, by way of the Anderson, Indiana Herald — emphasis has been added:

Authorities Thursday questioned Richard Dobeski, 16, Long Beach, in connection with the slaying of two small children, while he laughed and smiled and showed no signs of remorse.

Richard Dobeski started early in life. Inside him two primal impulses were irrevocably fused. He was what he was, and he couldn’t change that. He could behave outwardly like any other kid, even while his own mother was trying to deal with the grisly scene she’d found beneath her pantry.

Dobeski was sentenced to life in prison in October, 1965.

Prison, if anything, may have made him an expert at seeming human.


From a thread in the Indianapolis forum at, part of a post made on April 25, 2007:

The prison system and the philosophies it operates under is also a couple centuries old. It too needs an in-debth [sic] examination.

How can a state government think it is fair, proper, and conducive to rehabilitation to send its prisoner citizens 2000 miles away from their families — as in the case of the Arizona inmates being housed at the New Castle facility. And remember that Arizona is there because California backed out of a deal.

Indiana has also sent its inmates to New Mexico and Tennessee.

Maybe this is a warning call to get people questioning how their tax dollars are being spent.

From the arrest process (example: Chicago torturing confessions from suspects) through the trial process (example: this case only on “eyewitness” identification) and the subsequent incarceration after: The system need to be redesigned. There are just too many mistakes.

We may not be able to change the past, but do we have to continue doing the same old things into the future? Isn’t it time to bring “criminal justice” into conformity with the 21 st century?

The poster signed off:

Richard Dobeski
Executive Director
Indiana C.U.R.E.
Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants

It was a weirdly familiar refrain from an ex-con who had served time for violent, sexually-motivated crime. Read the following from a blog entry by Joseph Edward Duncan III, convicted serial killer of children:

I have been very patient with this whole injustice, telling myself that everyone suffers injustice of some kind. But I can feel it now starting to approach the limits of my tolerance. I can’t afford an attorney, and even if I could I don’t know if it would do any good. It seems the Law is dictated by popular opinion (and we all know how reliable that is) with no rationality. I feel close to cracking, and I don’t even know what that means. I keep feeling like I want to cry, I have not felt this stressed in a long time.

The message from both men seemed to be “I am an intelligent ex-con, and I know how to fix things for my brothers still behind bars.”

Viewed on the surface, Duncan and Dobeski might appear to share a sense of being called to assist others who have been in prison. A deeper look might reveal their pontificating on how best to reform “the system” as simply another expression of each man’s true self — the supremely arrogant, all-knowing stance of the psychopath, eternally a legend in his own mind.

Unlike Duncan, Dobeski seemed at first enough of a success that even the Indiana Department of Corrections saw fit to quote him in a press release. In the release written by Java Ahmed in 2006, Dobeski touched on the theme he later covered in his Topix post:

Richard Dobeski served 40 years in the state prison system. When he got out, he says, he got “$75 and a pat on the back.”

Dobeski was a teenager when he murdered a 6-year-old girl and her 3-year-old brother in the crawl space of his home in the affluent Lake Michigan community of Long Beach. He says he paid the price the state set.

“The prisons system in this state was about punishment and housing prisoners. There was no rehabilitation, no re-entry,” he said.

Dobeski was fortunate to have a network of friends and family members to support him when he was released in 2003. Now living in Michigan City, he’s staying out of trouble, but said other inmates who gain their release often have little support in finding jobs, a place to live, and counseling.

Was Dobeski really staying out of trouble?

That’s the question to ask.

Joseph Edward Duncan III certainly seemed like he was staying out of trouble. Right up to the moment he absconded from his address in Fargo, ND and went on to massacre the Groene family in Coeur d’Alene, ID.

After Duncan was arrested, it became clear that he might have been killing children since the mid-’90s.

Duncan got started early. He entered prison at age 17. He spent 20 years learning how to become an even better manipulator, a better criminal, and exited his incarceration ready to pick up exactly where he left off.

Arthur Shawcross and Ed Kemper followed similar patterns. Both committed violent crimes when they were young, and when they got out of lockup — or in Kemper’s case, “treatment” not unlike the treatment given to Dobeski — they simply started killing again. Profilers underestimated Shawcross’s age when he was still an unknown subject by nearly the same number of years he was incarcerated.

Even though Richard Dobeski began abusing children when he was still a child himself, even though he committed a truly horrific double murder at age 16, there is still a chance he was a perfectly upstanding citizen between his release in 2003 and his arrest on August 31, 2007. If he did attempt to take two children to the beach for “modeling,” it might have been a momentary aberration. Stress from elsewhere in his life might have sent Dobeski spiralling back into an inner place he tried to leave in his youth. Even the suggestion of the beach (again, if the charges are true) smacks of this.

I imagine, though, that authorities in Michigan and Indiana, perhaps nearby states like Illinois, are taking a hard look at any missing childrens’ cases, any unsolved murders of young people from the last 4 years.

A person who would laugh and talk normally with cops hours after he murdered two small children can’t really grow a conscience. They can, at best, only learn to restrain their predatory impulses, impulses as natural to them as breathing.

The state psychiatrists apparently considered Dobeski cured.

Maybe the state needs to cure itself of those psychiatrists, and any laws still on the books that might ever put another vicious double-murderer back on the street again.

Any updates will be added below.


Death on Paradise Ridge — Historic True Crime

Justice Simpson just wanted a drink of water. He stood in the dark at the well, the ladle paused at his lips. The sun had been down for hours, and he was likely dog-tired and long past ready for bed.

In the distance Justice saw a flickering, a wavering red-orange light. Over around Farmer Ade’s house something was burning. The flames rose and punched holes in the cloaking night. The late March cold fell away as Justice turned from the well and went to saddle up, heart thumping in his chest. If the fire was as big as it seemed from this distance, the old German would need some help right away.

Jacob Ade was not a young man, anymore.

It probably didn’t hurt that most folks living along Paradise Ridge figured Mr. Ade for a man of means. If Justice Simpson helped Old Jacob with this fire, surely there would be some gratitude from the old man in the future.

Through the whispering dark of the Tennessee night Justice Simpson rode, ready to help however he could.


Paradise Ridge, Tennessee is today called Joelton, and it sits about 20 miles northwest of downtown Nashville. While northern Davidson County is beautiful with its densely wooded hills and green fields nestled between the hills, it also has some of the most winding, dangerous roads in the county — like the Devil’s Elbow, seen here.

Paradise Ridge was named for a pair of North Carolina-born brothers who settled there in the early 1800s, but in late March of 1897, it probably was the kind of place that seemed like paradise to many who lived there. Even today, the character of the land feels very different from the rest of Metropolitan Davidson County.

I spent many summers in that part of the county as a child, staying with my Uncle Phil. His sons were close to my age, and rambunctious, wild. They pulled me out of my bookish shell and we walked the winding roads and splashed through the shaded creeks, always on the lookout for cottonmouths, on the hunt for crawdads. Even in a sweltering Tennessee summer shade came early, and the flickering firefly nights seemed generous with cool breezes that came down from higher elevations, breezes that blew over Paradise Ridge.


Jacob Ade was born in Prussia (now part of modern-day Germany) sometime around 1840. I could find no records of when Ade made his passage to America, but by the 1880 census he was established on Paradise Ridge. Wife Pauline was also Prussian-born, and 7 years Jacob’s junior.

By 1880 the Ade family was growing at a pace: daughter Emma had been born in 1870, Rose in ’72, Anna in the year of the American Centennial, 1876, and Lizzie in 1879. Four years later Pauline would give birth to a son, Henry. In 1880 Ade was already doing well enough farming on Paradise Ridge to have a hired man, 22-year-old Italian-born Aleck Gholma.

Germans in general were apparently drawn to that part of Davidson County — today the business district of Joelton is still called Germantown Hill.

Ade was locally well-known on March 20, 1897, even though the area was remote, sparsely populated.

In the next week or so, Ade’s name would be found in newspapers all across the United States.


Justice Simpson found the Ade home collapsing, flames arcing and smoke billowing. The fire had either spread to or been set in the smokehouse and other outbuildings as well. Simpson immediately set about trying to save meat from the smokehouse. He called out, thinking surely the Ades were somewhere close by.

Other than the snapping of burning timber, there was no response.

Justice made his way up to the main house.

The fire must have been guttering when Justice Simpson got there, for he apparently saw enough of the scene inside the Ade home to know that this was no regular house fire.

Simpson turned away, shocked. The fire was incidental now, and Jacob Ade was in no position to show anyone any gratitude, anymore.

Again, Simpson rode off into the night, to raise a different kind of alarm.

Perhaps the chill of the March night that would have vanished with a rush of adrenaline and then being close to the fire returned then. Simpson had seen evidence of ice-cold evil among the embers.


From The Galveston (TX) Daily News, March 25, 1897:

Last night about 10 o’clock, on Paradise Ridge, in this city, where [there] is quite a settlement of thrifty Germans, the house of Jacob Ade was discovered to be on fire by Justice Simpson, living half a mile from Ade’s house. Simpson immediately ran over and found the house in ruins. In the debris he found the almost entirely consumed bodies of Jacob Ade, Mrs. Jacob Ade, Lizzie Ade, aged 20 years, Henry Ade, aged 13, Rosa Moirer, aged 10 years. The bodies of all except Rosa Moirer were burned to a crisp, her body not being so badly burned, and part of her clothing was intact…

Rosa Moirer was the daughter of a neighbor, Henry Moirer.

A crowd gathered on the Ade family’s property. This was long before even the most minimal police force might know about securing a crime scene, or have a clue about anything like contaminating a crime scene. Neighbors, residents of Paradise Ridge, law enforcement milled around the ruins. In the words of the newspaper article, they were “investigating, consulting, surmising.”

But it remained an awful mystery. Someone had murdered 5 people in cold blood and set the fire to hide the crime. Only small portions of the bodies had escaped the consuming flames.

What was the motive? Robbery was the first thing that came to anyone’s mind. Apparently the rumor among locals was that Ade had money on hand, maybe several hundred dollars.

Yet the robber or robbers had failed, if that indeed had been their goal — a tin can was found in the ashes, and inside the can was a considerable amount of cash for the day, at least $300. Later investigation determined that Ade had withdrawn that money from his bank in Nashville, intending to make a loan to one of his neighbors.

Jacob Ade had also been in a dispute with a neighbor named Ed Anderson, having accused Anderson of stealing some of Ade’s hogs. Had Anderson decided to end things the hard way?

Ed Anderson did a smart thing when he realized the suspicion that might be cast upon him. Almost immediately he turned himself in to Sheriff John D. Sharp, offering cooperation and an air-tight alibi for his whereabouts the night the Ades and little Rosa Moirer died. Ed Anderson was clean.

Perhaps the robbers were after Ade’s large stores of meat, for it appeared that there was a considerable amount missing.

Yet why slaughter a family just for some meat?

One rumor from the time was that the mass murder had been the work of “tramps,” who had “lately been numerous in the locality.” Could the Ades have been beset by vicious “tramps” on the verge of starving?

Whatever the motive was, one thing was clear as the Nashville Banner continued reporting on the murders, while the press in other states moved on to more immediate and local matters; the Ades and their neighbor’s daughter had met up with a truly psychopathic, vicious killer or killers that night.


Everyone was gathered in the parlor. Supper had been eaten. It was probably a hearty meal worthy of hardy Germans like the Ades, perhaps ham or steak, certainly potatoes, and afterwards they may have been coffee, or tea.

The light from candles, kerosene lanterns or gas jets would have been mellow and golden, softening features, and the talk was probably lively but not loud. The hearth was burning, a warm glow pushing heat along the wooden floor. Everyone still wore their clothes from the day, woolen trousers on the males, the women in layered crinolines that hung down to the tops of the ankles, where the sober tops of button-up boots took over.

Was there a knock at the door? Breaking glass?

Reconstructions of the crime as related in the Banner seemed to indicate that Jacob Ade was struck first as he sat by the fire, possibly by an ax. Others whirled in shock and alarm, looking for an exit, and they made for a window.

Only one person made it through, though. The others were felled by the same weapon used on Jacob — Pauline, Henry, Lizzie, all down.

Little Rosa made it out. How far she got, no one could tell. The killer followed.

Rosa’s hand was missing when she was found, as was a portion of her head. Someone had taken an ax to a 10-year-old girl, and then thrown her body back in to the fire.

The night after the Ades and the Moirer girl were found, cold rain blackened the ruins of the home and obliterated any tracks that might have been left in mud on the Ade property. Later, authorities emptied a cistern on the property, perhaps thinking there was evidence at the bottom. Their efforts yielded nothing.

The murders remained unsolved.

Or did they?


From The Dubuque (IA) Telegraph-Herald, May 12, 1902:

Nashville, Tenn., May 12,– The last chapter of the famous Jacob Ade family murder case was enacted this afternoon at the county Jail, when the murderer, George Newland, died in the presence of his wife, whom he married four days before the commission of the crime.

Intent on robbery, Newland broke into the home of Ade, a wealthy man, murdered him and four other members of the family and then set fire to the building, consuming the bodies.

Many arrests were made following the crime, but it was only a year ago Newland was arrested…

The few reports that are readily available today about the murders on Paradise Ridge state that they were unsolved. The quote above was the entire story, and the only mention of Newland I could find in relation to the Ade family.

In the 1880 census George Newland was listed as living in Cheatham County, and was at the time only 6. He would have been 23 or so in 1897. This proximity was interesting because the Ade family lived near the Cheatham-Davidson County line.

But really, Newland’s family being across the county line tells us very little. By 1900 Newland lived in Davidson County, but he did not appear to live too close to where the Ade homestead once stood. The article didn’t state that he confessed, either, yet the assurance with which it was written might make one think he did.

However, anyone familiar with news reporting over 100 years ago knows that it was often, at best, barely reliable. It could be that Newland was simply the best candidate the Davidson County authorities had in 1902. Perhaps someone simply wanted the occasional questions that surely came about the Ades to cease. As Newland (still a young man) had just died in jail, he made a pretty easy scapegoat.

Other Tennessee legends and stories have easily eclipsed the Ade murders as time passed. The Bell Witch, a Tennessee fable from the early 1800s, is still alive and being re-told in the 21st Century — a major movie was made about the haunting of the Bells in 2005.

Southeast of Paradise Ridge, Nashville continues to extend its glittering fingers through the hills and hollows. The “semi-rural” nature of Joelton diminishes as traffic increases, as strip malls replace oak trees and hickories. Were the ghost of Justice Simpson to stand one night on Paradise Ridge he would be bewildered by the dimming of the stars above and the brilliant glow of Nashville clamoring below the Ridge, now not so far away.

The city lights would remind him of another night, a night when he stood in the dark at the well, just wanting a simple drink of water. Justice would see the orange glow in the distance, and remember.

A Nashville Unsolved Murder Mystery from 1897,” About: Nashville.
1880 and 1900 census records,
Wikipedia: Joelton, TN.