Filed under: possible homicide

The Lost Girl, by Larkin Vonalt

(True Crime Weblog contributor Larkin Vonalt is a writer living in Ohio.)

The woman is screaming into the television camera. There are words coming out of her mouth, but all you really hear is rage. Rage, and despair. The pain is writ so large upon her face that even at a distance one cannot help turning away out of respect. The camera pans from the shattered woman back to a twenty-something television reporter. The reporter smiles, embarrassed, and with a tilt of her head, brightly offers her reprise to the night’s top story.

Hours before, Tammy Walker trod the hallways of the city morgue, her own green mile, to identify the body of her daughter. Seventy-seven days earlier she and her husband filed a missing person report for Heather Nicole Walker, age 18. The police, by their own admission, never looked for her. Heather’s family and friends ran off flyers of the missing girl, posting them everywhere they could think of. Now it was all for nothing. When they’d turned out the lights the night before, there had still been hope, dangling on a string. There was still a chance that Heather would come banging through the door of the house on Gummer Street. Today, with the rising of the sun, that string snapped.

This evening Tammy Walker has returned to the alley where her daughter was found in a trashcan. Surely screaming can be the only reasonable response.

Dayton, Ohio is a city of 157,000 people. The crime rate falls somewhere between that of Baton Rouge and Rochester, though violent crime in Dayton is significantly less than both those cities. Last year the Chief of Police was pleased to tell the media that Dayton had enjoyed its second straight year of diminishing crime.

In the days following the discovery of Heather Walker’s body, the police defended their lack of action.

“Many adults go missing throughout the year,” Sgt. Chris Williams told the Dayton Daily News. He added that “very few” turn out to be victims of foul play. They offer this information without apology. They are just cogs in a slowly grinding machine, one with no capacity to look for the needle in a haystack that is a girl lost in the streets.

Heather wasn’t the high school valedictorian. She wasn’t an accomplished coed at a prestigious university. When the media speaks of her they don’t use words like “gifted” or “promising” or “popular.” As if death wasn’t insult enough, they drop labels on her like stones: Troubled. Habitual. Runaway.

Heather’s parents had reported her missing six times before. This time Robert and Tammy Walker were emphatic with the police: she had not taken her cell phone, or her wallet. In the past she had always called to let them know she was okay. Not this time. It didn’t matter that Heather’s absence was more sinister this February than on past occasions. She had passed that magic age, 18 — you can’t buy a beer, but you can be tried as an adult, serve your country and be liable for your own debts.

And the police won’t look for you anymore.

Mary McCarty, a Dayton Daily News columnist, chastised the police in a May 1 editorial for arbitrarily dismissing reports for missing individuals over 18, citing her own son, a 19-year old High School senior, as evidence of how childlike we still can be at that tender age, suggesting that the “cutoff” might be a little later. McCarty quoted Kettering, Ohio Police Sgt. Craig Moore as he deftly sidestepped the issue: “That’s a societal thing; we’re simply following state law as it is written,” Moore said. “That would be a change for the state of Ohio to make.”

Early on, the Walkers’ coltish daughter had seized the privileges usually reserved for adults, and did not bridle easily to the very adult responsibilities of raising her young son. She began running away when she was pregnant. After Devin was born, this problem reached epic proportions . The sixth time the police brought Heather home, just over a year ago, she left again ten minutes later. There would not be a seventh time.

Though suburbanites fear the predominantly black west side of Dayton, these blocks — east of Keowee, north of US 35 — these are really Dayton’s mean streets. But like the natives of South Boston and the Bronx, the residents of East Dayton take pride in their gritty neighborhood, wearing survival like a badge of honor.

The largely white area is plagued with vandalism, theft, prostitution, homelessness, drug abuse and murder. Kids there ape black culture, posing on their MySpace pages and in YouTube videos with rolls of cash, guns, and bottles of Jagermeister. They imitate the speech, the dress, the swagger of the ‘hood. It would be funny if it wasn’t so deadly. They’ve got the rims, the grills, they throw the signs, pose for photos at the gravesites of their friends.

It isn’t just Heather they mourn. Andy Rush died Easter Sunday last year, accidentally shot in the head by his best friend, Tommy. His “Moms” died just a few days before that, of cancer. Younger brother Mikey eulogizes all of them on his My Space profile. A few days ago there was a reference there to Heather, he called her his “future wife;” but to look at the profile now you’d never know they were friends. A guy’s got pressures, you know.

Heather wasn’t much of a diarist; she started four or five MySpace pages, but was never a regular presence there. Even so, the media noted that those pages were “laced with obscenities.” On both the pages that she got off the ground, she fusses about Devin’s father, Justin James Holbrook. “And for those bitches who want my baby daddy, go ahead and have him. He may look good to you and everything, but the thing is he has nothing to offer you, he don’t even have anything to offer his own son.”

On one of Heather’s abandoned profiles, Justin commented “hey if u ever get on here n check ur shit delete me from ur friends cause i dont want u to know nething bout wat i do so do me a favor n delete me k.” Their son, Devin, was about three months old then, and Heather was out the door as often as not.

The pictures on Heather’s profile finally provide a real glimpse of the girl behind the pose. Heather, laughing. Heather scowling, and yes, Heather (and a friend) stacking gang signs. Heather vibrant, her arms bare and smooth, a curtain of shiny hair, a wide, wide grin, goofing for the camera. Heather alive.

As a juvenile, Heather Walker had brushes with the law; shoplifting a pair of shoes, joyriding in a stolen car. The details were carefully spelled out in the local newspaper days after her body was discovered. There is no record for her as an adult. She dropped out of Belmont High, but four out of every ten students there don’t make it to graduation. On “academic watch,” the Dayton public high school features a “computer technology theme,” but has no school website. Ninety-three percent of its students are considered “economically disadvantaged.”

On Wednesday, February 6, Heather is thought to have been on her way to a birthday party for her older brother, Rob. She is seen about 7:30 in the parking lot of Sam’s Market, a down-at-the-heels corner grocery on East Third Street, two miles from home, three blocks from where her body will be found. By Saturday morning, she has still not come home and her parents turn to the police. The police follow procedure as for any missing adult, other than those considered “endangered.” They issue a 72-hour alert, and when it expires, they forget about her.

Eleven weeks later, on a warm April morning, three passersby wend their way down an alley half a block off East Third. One of them spots a pair of shoes hanging out of a city-issued trash bin. Deciding to take the shoes, they cross thirty feet from the alley to the edge of the abandoned building where the green plastic can rests. Reaching for the shoes, they make a horrible discovery. The shoes are still on Heather’s feet.

Heather’s friends bring balloons to the site. Balloons, and stuffed toys. Letters, poems, photographs of their lost friend. It is raining, the notes run, the photos smear, the candles flicker. In the rain, in an alley in a gin-soaked neighborhood, her friends weep, stunned with grief. A photograph of Devin visiting Heather’s shrine shows a beautiful and bewildered little boy.

Heather’s father has mapped his grief upon his chest, an image of Heather; peaceful, contemplative, is newly tattooed there. Two dozen of his Mixed Martial Arts students file past, their heads bowed. Bushi Combat, where he teaches, honors Heather on their website. All that combat training, and no one to save her. Robert Walker does not rage into the television camera as his wife does, but it is clear that the death of his baby girl has broken him.

The coroner issues a statement that Heather Nicole Walker had been dead “for a while,” yet her parents identify her in the hours immediately following her discovery. While her father concedes there was decomposition, he ventures that “her head hadn’t been bashed in or anything.” It’s unlikely Heather spent eleven weeks in the trash can, as the mild Ohio spring would have rendered her to state that no one would ask a parent to contemplate.

On the box that houses her ashes, the date of death is March 1, 2008; an estimate arrived at with the help of the medical examiner.

Where was Heather for the 23 nights between February 6 and March 1? Was she captive? Was she frightened? Was she cold?

No cause or manner of death has been established. There were no signs of trauma on her body. She was not stabbed or shot or strangled. There was no blunt force trauma. Determining asphyxiation after a certain point of decomposition is very difficult. Life isn’t like CSI: lab tests take weeks, sometimes longer, to complete. Sometimes the answers never come.

As if rushing to pre-empt the media’s speculation, Robert Walker muses to a Dayton Daily News reporter that his daughter might have died of a drug overdose. Without the toxicology reports, the Montgomery County Coroner is not willing to make that leap yet.

The Coroner’s office director Ken Betz told the paper that he “cannot support that, because pathologists have not officially determined when and how Heather Walker died.”

If the cause of death is revealed in the toxicology report, it may well put an end to any homicide investigation. Without evidence of having been dosed against her will, the best the D.A. can offer her parents in that circumstance is the possible charge of “abuse of a corpse.” That is, if they ever find anyone to charge.

Drug overdose or not, no one is buying that Heather climbed into a trashcan on her own. Why would someone go to such lengths to conceal an accidental death? Or was their means of disposing of the body some kind of cruel joke? Though the house near the site is empty, the grass is mowed. Heather’s father said he talked to the people who had cut the grass just a few weeks before his daughter’s body was found. “They said that trash can was not there when they mowed,” he told the Dayton paper. “Someone killed Heather. I am staying on this.”

Heather Walker: daughter, mother, sister, friend. Not just lost, but stolen.

*****

Heather’s June 2007 MySpace Profile

http://www.myspace.com/188737285

Heather’s October 2007 MySpace Profile

http://www.myspace.com/265791001

Heather’s Memorial MySpace Profile

http://www.myspace.com/374370762

Mikey Rush’s MySpace Profile

http://www.myspace.com/184211666

Justin Holbrook’s MySpace Profile

http://www.myspace.com/112129717

Bushi Combat Site

http://www.bushicombat.com/

DC Madam: Let’s Just Cut the Crap, Shall We?

Deborah Jeane Palfrey probably had every intention of killing herself. She may have actively planned her exit from at least April 15 onwards. In an earlier post I noted arguments for Palfrey having been murdered, and attempted to remain neutral. I can no longer do so.

There is a concerted effort afoot to re-cast Palfrey’s death as a homicide. I wouldn’t normally bother addressing this, but even a site as high-profile as the Huffington Post has given it some play, which is a bad sign. This conspiracy theory is going — has probably gone — viral.

On April 30, 2007, I wrote about the DC Madam scandal for the site then known as CrimeBlog.US. I titled my post, “D.C. Madam Madness: Just say, Anal sex!

I noted some reasons why Palfrey seemed less than truthful when she said through her lawyer that her escort service, Pamela Martin & Associates, was an “adult sexual fantasy [service] which stayed within legality, much like going to a strip club.”

For Palfrey, it seemed a crucial argument to make — she had no knowledge of sexual activities between her employees and their clients. If it happened, she contended, it was between the customer and the escort.

When she was convicted of racketeering and money laundering last month, Jeane Palfrey officially lost her argument. But in my post made in April, 2007, I cited easily-found statements on the Web, statements made years ago, that clearly described the nature of Palfrey’s business from a customer’s point of view:

Please don’t ask Ms. Julia [Palfrey’s pseudonym when booking appointments by phone — Ed.] if she has anyone who speaks Greek. Some of them do, and you just have to ask them when they are with you! Funny thing, if you use the terminology “Greek”, most of them don’t know what you are talking about. Just say: “Anal sex”. I am sorry the one I used to see which offered Greek, is no longer there. And, some of the Ladies are there only for a short time (few months!).

Message board posts from dudes calling themselves “Capt. Fred” were not used in court. They were interesting, though, because Jeane Palfrey began to paint herself as some sort of martyr soon after the government shut her down, maintaining a pained and studied pose of complete innocence at all times. It was a pretty hard act to buy when it looked as though the nature of her business was an open secret to the guys reading USASexGuide.info 5 years ago.

After this story first broke, Palfrey worked to re-direct attention back to the men who partook of the services she offered. This made sense — prostitutes aren’t prostitutes unless they have customers, and it’s illegal to purchase sexual favors in many states — but it was self-defeating; if Jeane Palfrey’s services were legal, as she insisted, then why would anyone care about the numbers found in her “42 pounds of customer phone records?” Such information might be valuable gossip, of course — but it wouldn’t always end a politician’s career.

Of course Pamela Martin & Associates was a high-class call girl service. Yes, the service had some high-profile customers. Jeane Palfrey was inadvertently admitting this by making her phone records an issue in the first place. She may have believed that some names behind that list of numbers would come forward and defend her, say, ‘of course it was on the up-and-up’ — even though such a notion would run contrary to the typical behavior of most politicians.

Given that Palfrey was running an escort service aimed at DC power players, another question comes to mind. Were any of those power players motivated enough to kill her?

Palfrey made the 42 lbs of phone records available more than a year ago. Ever since the day DCPhoneList.com went live, reporters and bloggers have been eagerly plugging every possible combination of numbers they could find into the thing. At one point I found a list of politicians’ phone numbers on a Usenet post made in 1995 or 1996 and systematically entered each one into the site — I had no significant results at all. I can’t recall a story since April, 2007 about another blockbuster phone number in Palfrey’s phone records. There have been hints and allegations about politicians as prominent as current VP Dick Cheney, but no one has produced conclusive proof.

Politicians in the U.S. don’t usually have someone covertly killed over rumors that can’t be substantiated through hard evidence. If they did, a lot of political bloggers and a goodly number of print and broadcast journalists would be dead right now.

Considering how high profile the DC Madam story was in the Spring of 2007, the fact that Palfrey’s conviction in April this year was a page 2 item at best in most papers made one thing clear — the story didn’t really have legs anymore. Jeane Palfrey’s phone records have yet to really yield a killer set of digits. In the grand scheme of things in Washington, she was a minor, faceless player at best, without much to offer the news outlets that initially seized her story with gusto.

To anyone in power in Washington, Jeane Palfrey wasn’t important enough to kill.

Alex Jones doesn’t believe that. Jones is a conspiracy theorist. He believes that 9/11 was an inside job, that a globalist cabal used Al Qaeda to ram the planes into the towers in order to decimate the old world order and bring about a new one, where national boundaries were erased, among other things. Everything that points back to Jones’s worldview — or the one that he is selling to his audience — is grist for his mill. To that end, he’d interviewed Ms. Palfrey quite a bit in the past year or so, and considered her a friend of his radio show.

For it seems like it might make perfect sense to Alex Jones that the monolithic, evil government might have some sort of Kafkaesque plan afoot to off poor ole Deborah Jeane. Conspiracy theorists are egosyntonic in nature — their beliefs are often in complete harmony with their outlook, and to question what they believe is anathema to them. Conspiracy theorists are bent towards justifying and defending their theories, not questioning them. (The HuffPo post about this tragedy gave surprisingly uncritical play to Jones’s site in reference to the then-developing “homicide” angle.)

Today, writer Paul Joseph Watson published this article on Jones’s PrisonPlanet.com:

Overwhelming Evidence Points To Murder Of DC Madam.”

That’s right — overwhelming evidence. More evidence than mere mortals can truly comprehend.

Read the article’s subtitle: “‘She insinuated that there is a contract out for her and I fully believe they succeeded,’ says Condo manager…”

Yep. Watson’s (and presumably Jones’s) overwhelming evidence comes in part from statements made by Palfrey’s condo manager.

Quotes from the article, emphasis added:

The manager said that Palfrey had told him of her fears that a contract hit was out on her life.

“She insinuated that there is a contract out for her and I fully believe they succeeded,” he stated.

[…]

Palfrey is on record as warning that any “suicide” would just be a cover-story for murder as far back as 1991.

“If taken into custody, my physical safety and most probably my very life would be jeopardized,” she wrote in August 1991 following an attempt to bring her to trial, “Rape, beating, maiming, disfigurement and more than likely murder disguised in the form of just another jailhouse accident or suicide would await me,” said Palfrey in a handwritten letter to the judge accusing the San Diego police vice squad of having a vendetta against her…

Watson doesn’t linger over this point, yet it is crucial. Jeane Palfrey was specifically referring to what she feared might happen if she were jailed for the charges she was facing in 1991. She wasn’t playing Pretty Woman meets Nostradamus, referencing a possible conviction 17 years in the future. Palfrey feared that the San Diego police were out to get her and that they could do it while she was incarcerated. Her assertions from 1991 are meaningless when referenced now. They’re irrelevant to her suicide on May 1, because Jeane Palfrey didn’t know what would happen to her in 2007 and 2008.

And even though her time in prison surely wasn’t a picnic, Palfrey did indeed serve 18 months on the California charges. No suicide, no homicide. She got out, and went right back to doing what she’d done before.

Jeane Palfrey probably found a kindred spirit in Jones and those who might agree with him, like Mr. Watson, who ended his article with this:

The knowledge that Palfrey had about members of Washington’s elite being involved in and using her escort service for the purposes of hiring prostitutes would have been enough to end scores of careers and wreck the lives of countless influential power brokers. This alone, allied with Palfrey’s on the record statements, demand an immediate and thorough investigation in an attempt to bring to justice the murderers of Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Palfrey was in her fifties and facing decades in prison. She was probably indigent, or nearly so — the government surely confiscated any assets she acquired through her business. Her conviction told the world that the court believed she was lying all along. She wasn’t an innocent businesswoman, she was a madam running an illegal prostitution service.

Forget what she told Alex Jones about not committing suicide or what Palfrey may have said to author Dan Moldea about doing the deed — look at her circumstances, and what little we know about her past and personality. She had previous convictions for similar crimes. Even after suffering what must have seemed the worst to her at the time, a prison sentence, Jeane Palfrey went back to running an escort service. When the authorities moved in on her for this, she became, for a time, one of the most high-profile accused criminals in the news. Always self-contained, poised and articulate, she spoke to major news magazines, to print journalists. In addition to Alex Jones’s radio show, Palfrey even went on Coast to Coast AM, the internationally popular paranormal-themed radio show made famous by Art Bell, currently hosted by George Noory.

Then it all fell away, as she was pronounced guilty on April 15. She’d do no more guest spots on Coast to Coast about being bullied by the feds; probably no more newsmagazine segments would be devoted to her. Jeane Palfrey would face a prison cell and a number. It’d be a grim prospect for anyone, and drive the most sturdy personality to the edge. To a vain personality, someone who believed herself to be so important that the government might even bring its covert forces to bear against her because she might know a dirty secret, or be some kind of threat — to someone like that a slow fade from the public eye to gray obscurity behind prison walls would be worse than hell on earth.

I think Jeane Palfrey just couldn’t face it. Though I’m not aware at this writing of them being made public, notes she left behind probably said something to that effect. It is difficult to give much credence to those who say she ‘seemed fine’ prior to May1. The psychological mechanisms that influence suicides are still hard to figure out, but a few common patterns have turned up over the years.

With people who make a decision to take themselves out and then begin to plan for the day, something unusual frequently happens — they seem much happier. In a way, someone who commits this kind of suicide is happier than before. Frequently, they put their affairs in order — sell things, give items away, write wills, etc. This kind of suicide can be particularly cruel to the loved ones left behind — they have been lulled by the change in demeanor into thinking things are improving. Jeane Palfrey’s behavior may have matched this type of suicidal pattern. Nothing seemed wrong to others because in her mind, nothing was wrong. She knew what would happen next. Her organizing, cleaning, putting affairs in order was easily interpreted as Palfrey getting ready to go to prison, when it is just as likely that she was doing what someone resigned to self-slaughter often does — take care of business to minimize the mess they left behind.

No, this was most likely a straightforward tragedy, born out of a personality disorder, frank mental illness or a combination of both. And Palfrey mostly created her own circumstances. There are select places, after all, where prostitution is legal. Palfrey never went to those places. She chose to try and run under the radar and trade where the feds were thicker than any other place on this continent — Washington DC. She played with fire and ended up badly burned. So this self-made woman stayed true to form. Rather than go to prison, she left on her own terms.

It won’t happen, but I say let Deborah Jeane Palfrey and her damn phone records lie. It’s over.

Additional link/resource: ::Hopeline:Suicide::

(NOTE: It’s inevitable that some people may think they know my politics after reading a post like this. Be assured the chances are you don’t. In some respects, in fact, my politics may be closer to Alex Jones’s — who appears to be a libertarian — than to your own. On an unrelated note, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point readers to a recent guest post by new contributor Larkin Vonalt. If you’d rather not deal with the politically-charged nature of this post, check out Larkin’s achingly well-rendered portrait of a modern American tragedy.)

DC Madam Suicide… or not?

In the previous post I took a skeptical view of the so-called Smiley Face Gang, a hypothetical cabal of serial killers supposedly taking out fine young men all over the country by dunking them in local bodies of water.

This time I’m not going to give an opinion. I’m just going to present what’s out there, and see what you think.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called DC Madam, was found guilty of racketeering and money laundering on April 15 of this year. She faced serious prison time. [Be sure to follow the links for back-story.]

Palfrey apparently committed suicide on or about May 1, 2008. Her body was found in a shed next to her mother’s residence in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Using nylon rope, Palfrey hanged herself from the ceiling of the shed. The Associated Press reported that Palfrey left at least two suicide notes for family members. The wire service also quoted a Tarpon Springs PD spokesperson who indicated that Palfrey’s mother saw “no sign that her daughter was suicidal, and there was no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were involved.”

I am not the first to notice the following, or think it was worth noting.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey said in the early 1990s that she feared for her physical safety if incarcerated.

In 1991 Palfrey was facing trial in San Diego, charged with pimping, pandering and extortion. She didn’t show for her trial and sent the judge a letter that read in part, “If taken into custody, my physical safety and most probably my very life would be jeopardized […] rape, beating, maiming, disfigurement and more than likely murder disguised in the form of just another jailhouse accident or suicide would await me.”

Jeane Palfrey felt that the San Diego vice squad responsible for her arrest had “a vendetta” against her.

In that case, she was eventually sentenced to 18 months in jail anyway, and she survived.

And anyway — her “prediction” of being suicided was in relation to the pending charges in San Diego. It was based on her apparent fear of the San Diego PD vice squad. It wasn’t some mystical forecast of her death today, made some 17 years in advance. That much seems obvious.

Since Palfrey’s suicide was reported earlier today, PrisonPlanet.com has claimed that Palfrey pointedly said she would not commit suicide after the racketeering trial in April. The site posted mp3s to that effect. PrisonPlanet says the mp3s are of Palfrey “clearly” stating “she would not commit suicide.”

As PrisonPlanet notes in the article linked above, no less than Time magazine has published an article online in which author Dan Moldea stated that Palfrey told him “wasn’t going to jail, she told [Moldea] that very clearly.” Moldea said that Palfrey said “she would commit suicide.”

I can’t vouch for the veracity or the accuracy of what is published on PrisonPlanet.com. It’s quite popular, but it is also run by Alex Jones, who is a noted conspiracy theorist. One of Jones’s pet obsessions is the idea that 9/11 was part of a globalist effort to establish a new world order. Jones has also worked to repeal the Patriot Act, a worthy cause to anyone who believes in the freedom of speech. Still, I do think that you should take everything published by Jones with a grain of salt.

Was Deborah Jeane Palfrey a paranoiac and narcissist with an antisocial streak? Her efforts to avoid jail in the early 90s might support such an assessment. While cops can certainly have a vendetta against an accused criminal, Palfrey seemed to believe a large portion of the SDPD was against her. That would be a pretty paranoid yet vain view of things, since there were surely plenty of other, more serious lawbreakers to be found in San Diego at the time.

Or could Palfrey perhaps have something in common with Russian journalists and whistleblowers like Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko? Many felt that Palfrey had more dirt on high rollers in DC than anyone truly knew — even though a lot of sleuthing has been done in her phone records for quite some time now with no truly stunning results. It is widely believed that the Putin regime has been behind the murders of several journalists, especially investigative reporters seeking the truth behind Putin’s policies and goals.

Even though Deborah Jeane Palfrey was certainly not a journalist, she still was in a position to know the secrets of some truly powerful people. Did one of those powerful people seek to shut her down once and for all?

Or is that exactly what she might want us to think?

Post your thoughts below. Please keep it civil, sane, and on-topic. Personal attacks and verbal abuse will not be tolerated.

Additional links:

‘D.C. Madam’ Is Found Dead, Apparently in a Suicide.” [NYT]
DC Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey Dead in Suicide.” [HuffPo]
Added on 5/02/08 — Many thanks to Willoughby Mariano at the Orlando Sentinel for linking this post from her Orlando Homicide Report.

Shooter on the loose in Iowa City

The University of Iowa in Iowa City has put out the following text message for students and faculty on campus:

An active shooter is reported to be in the Iowa City Area. He is a white male in his mid 40s driving a 1998 Tan Toyota Sienna Minivan, Iowa License plate 501-BLO. If you see it call 911 from a safe location to report shooter sighting…

KGAN, a CBS affiliate in Iowa City, www.kgan.com.shtml” target=”_blank”>has relayed a report from KCCI Television in Des Moines, IA, that the man being sought is named Steve Sueppel.

Sueppel, age 42, lived with his 41-year-old wife Sheryl and their children at 629 Barrington Road in Iowa City. According to the Des Moines Register, police were called to the Sueppel residence before 7 a.m. this morning. The Cedar Rapids Gazette has reported that an adult woman — most likely Sheryl Sueppel — and 4 children were found dead inside the home.

At one time Sueppel was vice-president and controller of the Hills Bank & Trust. Authorities say Sueppel was accused of moving money around for his own use. The Des Moines Register published the following about Sueppel’s legal troubles:

Police have not confirmed whether the suspect is the same Steven Francis Sueppel indicted Feb. 12 on charges of embezzling and laundering almost $560,000 from Hills Bank & Trust […] Sueppel had pleaded not guilty and a trial was set for April 21…

However the Iowa City Press Citizen published slightly different info about the charges against Sueppel in February:

The court has alleged that during a seven-year period, Sueppel embezzled $599,040 from Hills Bank. He also allegedly laundered a total of $13,500 from Aug. 23, 2007, to Sept. 17, 2007, according to the indictment…

Search warrants related to the money-laundering charges alleged that Sueppel “told bank officials he used most of the $219,000 he took over a three-year period to purchase cocaine.”

Sueppel was slated to go to trial on April 21. A conviction would have brought 30 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

In an interview with MSNBC, an Iowa City investigator said that Suppel was a potential danger to the community because he wasn’t “in his right mind.”

Several of the Iowa City papers quoted in this entry have also published reports that a van on Interstate 80 matching the description of the suspect’s vehicle crashed and was in flames. The fire is hindering confirmation as to whether Sueppel was inside the vehicle or not.

This entry will be updated and revised.

NOTE 1: I’ve begun a thread at the message board associated with the brand new true crime site, CrimeJunkies.com. Check it out — register your own screen name there and start posting, if you like.

NOTE 2: The only man with the same name found on MySpace so far is a 26-year-old Californian. Please don’t try posting a link to the guy’s page in the comments. It will be deleted. Every time a case like this hits the news, someone mistakenly fingers a guy with an identical name. I won’t let that happen here if I can help it.

A Murder Missed: The Arrest of Judy Gough

(SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES.)

Nearly 3 decades ago, a woman named Judy Gough may have killed someone at 4705 Clark St. in Boise, Idaho. At least that’s what the police in Boise think. They’ve been at the small red-brick ranch home for days now, gathering evidence.

Gough was arrested near her current residence in Nampa on Friday. She was taken to Boise over the weekend.

The 61-year-old Gough faces charges of first-degree murder and felony use of a firearm.
Cops in Boise are playing their cards close to the vest about this case, but here is what they’ve said so far:

— Law enforcement only learned of the murder this year. It allegedly occurred in 1980.

— Therefore this investigation is new, not an old case that went cold.

— Police haven’t revealed how they heard of the murder, much less why a homicide went unreported for at least 27 years.

Boise Police Department spokesperson Lynn Hightower made the following statement to the press about this investigation: “There is a story here, but detectives are doing their best to piece it all together. We’re still in that process now.”

Judy Gough may have been part owner of a showhorse at one point in recent years. A newspaper article from the Idaho Statesman in 2000 indicated that a woman with the same name from the same city (Nampa, by then) ran an animal grooming business. A Thomas Gough was listed as the owner of 4705 Clark as recently as 2006. Other databases show that in 2004 a 40-year-old woman named Gough was listed at the same residence — she had the same name as a well-known anti-abortion activist from Boise.

How could a murder go unknown for 27 years? Was the victim listed as missing? And if Judy Gough lived an otherwise normal life, how did she end up holding a firearm on someone in 1980? How did she become an accused killer?

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This entry will be updated below.

UPDATE 1, 3:56 p.m. ET, 10/01/07

(Please see this blog entry at StevenHuff.net for information that may explain things if updates or new entries to this blog are slow in coming this week.)

The Idaho Press-Tribune is reporting that human bones have been found at 4705 Clark St. in Boise, the former residence of alleged killer Judy Gough. Officials specifically referenced small bones from a human hand and foot. Other “fragments” were found, but they have not yet been determined to be of human origin.

The investigation at the address appears to be complete, at this time. One of the items that was reportedly removed from the home was rather ominous in light of human remains having been discovered — a large and functional electric table saw of some sort, covered in black plastic when investigators removed it from the residence.

The name of the alleged murder victim still hasn’t been released.

UPDATE 2, 9:45 p.m. ET

Thanks to “rockymtnmom” in the comments below this entry we have more info from the Idaho Statesman about this crime.

And the story is suburban gothic to its very core.

Judy Gough allegedly drugged and murdered her first husband, Lloyd Ford, in 1980. She is accused of shooting Ford with a deer rifle. Her daughter, who is now 40, witnessed the crime. She was 12 at the time.

The Boise PD taped a phone conversation last Thursday between Gough and her daughter in which Gough both admitted to the crime and said she would kill herself if the police were told. Gough was arrested the following day.

A commentator who later asked for their comment to be removed wrote the following about Judy Gough’s current husband Tom Gough in a post below this blog entry:

[. . .] In fact, Tom and Judy have been married for 27 years, so maybe this happened right before they met. [. . .] Tom, her husband, is in total shock and does not believe she could have done the murder. She is a vet assistant and, I think, does breed horses. [Her] husband came home, and found Judy’s car in the middle of the driveway with things scattered around, like she had been going to get in the car but was stopped. Apparently Tom is a pilot, and had just come home from flying his plane . . .

There is much more of a story here. Indeed, it may be just as a police spokesperson from Boise said, one of the more unique tales of murder you will ever encounter.

As for anyone who might judge the daughter — until you’ve been in those shoes, don’t. She was only 12 at the time. I was the same age in 1980. I have no idea how I would have processed such a thing. Very few people do.

Sources:

Mystery Plagues Indiana Town

(This entry was authored by Eyes for Lies. The author can be contacted at her site.)

There is an interesting story brewing in the heartland in a town called Centerville, an hour east of Indianapolis. On September 1, 2007, Erin Stanley, 19, was found dead in her parent’s home. How she died or what happened to her has not been forthcoming. Police have kept a tight lip on the details, and residents only found out about Erin’s death when her obituary appeared in the local papers.

Chatter soon started on the internet and speculation began that Erin was, in fact, murdered. Police have since confirmed that Erin’s death was a homicide, with unconfirmed reports she died by strangulation.

Erin was a mother and her daughter, Alexis MacFarland, was approximately four-months-old.

But that is only half the story. Less than six days later, Centerville police get call from Erin’s mom, Lonny Stanley. Lonny reports that her 18-year-old daughter, Kelly, is unresponsive. Yet when police arrived, it was clear Kelly was deceased. Kelly’s cause of death has yet to be determined and police are awaiting toxicology reports.

Police have little to say about the case:

“I have declined to name a suspect for a very good reason — the investigations have not been completed,” read a statement from Shipman (a Wayne County Prosecutor). “A suspect will only be named if I have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime.

Shipman said his office is staying tight-lipped about their investigation for fear of tipping off anyone involved in the case about evidence they have collected.”

One commenter, Pacesetter, wrote the following on the Palladium-Item forum:

My children knew both girls and through the myspace [sic] grapevine [sic] they knew of the strangulation of the older sister and that they thought it was the boyfriend who was the suspect who did it. They also heard he left town and could not be found. It is so sad for the family who has to endure two tragedies. I heard the second death on the police scanner this morning and could hardly believe it. No one is sure yet whether this death was a suicide or murder. My prayers go out to the family. Why the first death was not put in the paper a long time ago [sic] who knows!?!?

Like me, you may be wondering — who was the father of Alexis? Where is he? Is Pacesetter accurate when she says the boyfriend skipped town and cannot be found?

Was Kelly depressed over her sister’s death and capable of suicide?

Another poster at the Palladium-Item, dqqueen83, wrote the following:

ok [sic] i [sic] knew both girls personally and NO it was no suicide [sic] this “botfriend” [sic] knew what he was doing both times. He needs to go to hell for this!! Please pray for this family.

WTHR-TV in Indianapolis reports:

Friends and co-workers of the younger sister (Kelly) say she was a happy girl who was crushed by her sister’s death, but was not one to take drugs.

“She was never the one to talk about or take drugs or even take pills when she had a headache,” said Rachel May, who worked with Kelly Stanley at a Dairy Queen in Richmond. “Never heard of her drinking alcohol. Nothing at all.”

Katie Tompkins was one of Stanley’s best friends, and a co-worker at the restaurant where Kelly had worked for about a year. They worked together the night before Kelly died.

“I talked to her around 8:30 and she was fine and then we heard everything on Friday morning,” Tompkins said.

Kelly’s co-workers believe someone was involved in her death.

Finally, what do we know about Lonny and Dale Stanley — the girl’s parents? Where were they when these crimes occurred?

As always, if any videos become available of any suspect or potential suspect, let me know.

Erin’s MySpace Pages:

* http://www.myspace.com/15077183
* http://www.myspace.com/12143375

Kelly’s MySpace page:

* http://www.myspace.com/12042210

Resources:

* http://www.theindychannel.com/
* http://www.msnbc.msn.com/
* http://www.pal-item.com/
* http://www.crimelibrary.com/

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.