Filed under: serial killers

Peter Tobin’s Garden *UPDATED*


(The British media has been consumed with the murder of Meredith Kercher and picking apart the life of one of Meredith’s alleged assailants, American college student Amanda Knox. The unfolding story of the buried bodies and Peter Tobin may eclipse that case. No one is better equipped to introduce American true crime readers to Tobin than The True Crime Weblog’s British counterpart, True Crime Blog UK. ~ Steve Huff)

The unearthing of human remains in the back garden of a house once occupied by Peter Tobin (pictured) has sparked speculation that the house may yield clues to the fates of other missing women. The old “sandpit” the remains were found in may even turn out to be a mass grave.

Tobin worked as an odd-job man, a jack of all trades who went wherever the work was, regularly adopting different pseudonyms (two of which are known to be Peter Wilson and Pat McLoughlin) in order to conceal his true identity and nefarious past.

Investigations into Tobin’s life, movements and activities now stretch back over four decades and, due to his extensive work-related travelling, have taken on a nationwide dimension. It’s thought he may be involved in the disappearances and/or murders of 11 (some reports claim up to 15) women and young girls.

The following is a timeline* of murders and disappearances which, according to reports, Tobin may be linked to.

February 1968
Patricia Docker, 25, is murdered after a night out at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom.

August 1969
Jemima McDonald, 32, an unmarried mother-of-three, is found dead near her home in Bridgeton. She too had been to the Barrowland Ballroom.

October 1969
Helen Puttock, 29, is murdered. A witness had seen her at the Barrowland Ballroom with a man who called himself John and frequently quoted from The Bible. The murders of Patricia, Jemima and Helen are attributed to the same man, christened “Bible John”.

August 1978
Genette Tate, 13, disappears while out delivering newspapers on her bike near her home village of Aylesbeare, Devon.

May 1980
Jessie Earl, 22, disappears from her bedsit in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

October 1986
The bodies of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway, both 9, are found in Wild Park, Moulescoombe, Brighton. They had been raped and strangled. The killings become known as the second of two cases in the UK referred to as the “Babes in the Wood” murders.

June 1988
Louise Kay, 18, disappears from Eastbourne, East Sussex, after visiting a nightclub with friends.

Jessie Earl’s skeletal remains are found in bushes on The Downs at Beachy Head, East Sussex.

June 1990
Patsy Morris, 14, from Feltham is found strangled on Hounslow Heath, west London.

February 1991
Vicky Hamilton, 15, disappears from Bathgate, West Lothian, while travelling from her sister’s house in Livingston to her home near Falkirk.

August 1991
Dinah McNicol, 18, disappears while hitchhiking from a music festival in Liphook, Hampshire, towards her home in Tillingham, Essex.

November 2007
Police searching for the body of Dinah McNicol in the back garden of a house on Irvine Drive, Margate — a property once occupied by Peter Tobin — find the remains of Vicky Hamilton.

16th November 2007
Police uncover a second body at the house on Irvine Drive.

* This timeline will be updated and added to as necessary.

Looking through online information about the possible victims, one thing stands out: they are all brunettes. This may be a coincidence, or an illusion created by some of the black-and-white photographs, but it was immediately noticeable by me. If the above cases are linked, it would appear the killer had a liking for young, dark-haired women.

It remains to be seen whether Tobin deserves to be entered into the UK’s serial killer hall of shame, but the case is already reminiscent of the crimes of Fred West at the infamous 25 Cromwell Street. Tobin looks like he may fit into West’s mould (minus the familial aspects, as far as we know): a violent, sadistic sexual predator, the true extent of whose crimes remained hidden for years.

This post will be updated as necessary.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Argus, BBC News (1), (2), (3)

UPDATE 16-NOV-2007: BBC News reports that police have found another body at the house on Irvine Drive. Police believe the remains are those of Dinah McNicol.

Possible Confession in Egg Harbor NJ Prostitute Murders

(Post by Stephen McCaskill, Originally posted by Stephen at CrimeBlog.US.)

The remains of 4 prostitutes were discovered Nov. 20, 2006 in a trench close to the Golden Key Motel in Egg Harbor Township, NJ. Since that strange discovery, police have waded through tons of evidence and countless interviews.

A person of interest was eventually developed — Terry Oleson, age 35.

Word comes now from Terry Oleson’s attorney that another man who was already in jail called his office and confessed to the murders.

Leonard said the man called his office from the Atlantic County jail, where he was being held on unrelated charges, and said “he had some things he wanted to get off his chest.”

“He talks about strangulation, and mentions one of the women by name,” said Leonard, who recorded several phone conversation with the man.

“In the recording, he takes responsibility for the killings. He said one of the reasons he was coming forward was he didn’t want to see an innocent man go to jail.”

The man’s identity has not been released, since he has not been formally charged. James Leonard, Oleson’s attorney has turned over the recordings of the six phone conversations he had with the man over to prosecutors.


This evidently is the solid evidence that Leonard alluded to earlier this week when he abruptly cancelled the hearing that was scheduled to compel the prosecutor’s office to release the findings of the DNA sample that was given by Oleson.

UPDATE: 9/28/07 6:28 PM

The Press of Atlantic City states that the man who confessed is William “Bill” Schule (or Schlue). Schlue was considered a suspect early in the investigation.

Earlier reports stated that Schlue had admitted to picking up the women, but claims he did not have sex with them or hurt them.

William Schlue is also the man that Pam Cavelli told police, from her jail cell, may be responsible for the murders.

Pam also claimed in earlier reports that she had been picked up by a man named “John,” who police told her was a man named Bill. During her encounter with him, she also claims to have been with Barbara Briednor and later Tracy Ann Roberts and Kim Raffo, all of whom became victims of what police believe is a serial killer.

Zodiac: a Movie Review, and a Note.

Zodiac (2007)

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Edwards, etc.

Directed By: David Fincher


Zodiac is brilliant. Completely absorbing from beginning to end. Is it long? I guess so. I didn’t really notice.

Consider that in light of the fact that I know the Zodiac story. I’ve read Robert Graysmith’s books about this most mysterious of serial killers. I’ve tried my hand at solving one of the ciphers that’s never been cracked. Hell, I have my own kooky theory about who Zodiac might have been. The unsolved Zodiac murders have held my fascination since I was a teen — I read Graysmith’s first book just after it was first published in the 80s. I may not be a “Zodiacologist,” but I’m pretty close.

Zodiac is engrossing, for the most part, because of the incredible work done by director David Fincher and the people he assembled to make this masterful true-crime movie.

The late 60s and 70s are captured with so much attention to detail that it felt like a form of time-travel to watch events unfold. From Zodiac’s second attempt at double-murder on July 4, 1969 (one victim survived), through the early 1990s, every detail of time and place is re-created with immense care. The soundtrack, for instance — other reviewers have already made note of the clever use of Donovan’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man,” and I have to agree. I’ve always thought the song was pretty creepy-sounding, and the way it weaves into the fabric of this movie is a touch of dramatic genius.

The acting is top-notch all the way around. Robert Downey Jr., in my opinion, should get a best supporting actor nomination from the Academy for his vibrant portrayal of the witty but deeply troubled Paul Avery, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter who was actually threatened by the Zodiac at one point. Avery gets most of the limited moments of humor in the movie, and Downey plays them with perfect pitch — never over-the-top.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist-turned-true-crime scribe and wannabe detective, and it is hard to think anyone but Gyllenhaal could have played this role properly. He is entirely believable in the way he grows from the wide-eyed former Eagle Scout into the obsessed amateur sleuth. It’s some of the best work I’ve seen this actor do. I once thought that Gyllenhaal could be like Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks if he wasn’t careful — one of those actors who are easy to like, but you end up remembering them more than the roles they play.

In Zodiac, Jake Gyllenhaal succeeds in erasing that impression. His Graysmith is likable and sympathetic, but never quite the hero of the story. In doing this Gyllenhaal really seems to disappear inside the role, proving his intelligence and maturity as an actor.

I read at least one other review that implied that Mark Ruffalo was miscast as Inspector Dave Toschi, the famed San Francisco homicide detective who was the model for Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character — I disagree. Ruffalo’s portrayal humanizes the legendary Toschi, and that was necessary for this story.

Toschi’s little quirks come across in Ruffalo’s characterization — his cadging of food from his partners, his temper and sensitivity. Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, as Toschi’s partner Bill Armstrong, convey an easy rapport between their characters, professionals, yes, but camrades, too.

The secondary roles in this movie are equally well-played. John Carroll Lynch, as Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, simply doesn’t have enough screen time. Lynch’s Leigh Allen is full of understated menace, shaded with irony. Lynch, with a spooky dead-eyed stare, makes it easy to believe that Allen was, if nothing else, creepy enough to convince a number of people that he could be a serial killer.

Surviving Zodiac victim Bryan Hartnell is a small role in the context of this movie, but Patrick Scott Lewis makes the most of it, even in a short scene where Hartnell is brought in to identify a tape-recorded voice as the Zodiac. Lewis gets a chance with very little screen time to ably act an arc from carefree college kid on a weekend outing to limping survivor, shadowed and ghost-like.

Zodiac is a must-see for true crime fans, and anyone who loves well-made, well-acted cinema. If you want to see all the blood splatter and brain matter, this ain’t the movie for you (and frankly, this isn’t the blog for you, either). There are certainly graphic moments, but Zodiac is for the cerebral true crime fanatic — the puzzle solver, the crime historian.

Zodiac is a very rare kind of movie, in my experience — a thinking person’s crime drama. If only every movie in this genre were so finely wrought.

Go see it, and enjoy.

Notes about the source material for this movie

Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac books are controversial, and rightly so. Graysmith — and this becomes very clear in the movie — fell into a deep trap that is surely familiar to anyone who has ever done any armchair sleuthing. He became obsessed first with the crimes and finding the monster behind them, and then with his idea of who that criminal must have been.

Both books, Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked, ended up being devoted to the idea that Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac. Graysmith fell prey to the amateur sleuth’s big bugaboo: forming a theory and then trying to make it fit the facts. Real detectives, with access to as much real evidence as they can collect, are able to — hopefully — let the facts, the evidence, dictate the theory of the crime.

Evidence that would have made Leigh Allen a slam-dunk in a court of law for the Zodiac murders simply doesn’t seem to exist. No one ever conclusively matched any samples of Allen’s handwriting to Zodiac’s. Even a relatively uninformed look at samples side by side show almost no commonalities. Fingerprints associated with Zodiac did not match Allen’s prints. Ultimately, DNA didn’t match. All the evidence that points to Allen being the Zodiac Killer is either hearsay or circumstantial, at best.

Moreover, Allen was a convicted child molester. His known M.O., something no one really seemed to consider at the time, doesn’t sound like it fit with the Zodiac’s crimes, at all.

Allen’s pedophilia became known when he was working as an elementary school teacher. It was classic, for a pedophile — Arthur Leigh Allen worked his way into a job that would provide him constant access to his prey. He was, by many accounts, a well-liked teacher by his peers and students… until his groping of a few kids came to light. In high school, Allen was sociable, popular, and a star athlete. He had a time in his life when he was the golden boy. Right up until the fact that he was a pedophile became known, Arthur Leigh Allen seemed to lead a successful, charmed life, with a network of good friends and supportive family.

Arthur Leigh Allen was probably the type of pedophile who groomed his victims, ingratiated himself with them and their families. I base this assumption on two things: Allen’s first choice of job would have required him to appear to be ‘good’ with kids; Allen never served much time for molestation convictions, at least not by today’s standards. Had he been overtly violent or sadistic in his attacks on children, he surely would have eventually done much more time in lockup.

While the molestation of a child is inherently sadistic, there are, broadly speaking, two types of pedophile. One type insinuates himself into a chosen victim’s life. This pedophile develops what he thinks of as a relationship with the child. Many of them seem appalled at the idea that they might do what they perceive as harm to a kid. If they murder, it is a twisted act of desperation.

The second type of pedophile appears to be less common. Sometimes called a mysoped, the second type of pedophile is sadistic. They have poor social skills. They will travel great distances, stalk, and kidnap children. The mysoped typically tortures victims, and beyond murder, may even become cannibalistic if not caught early in their horrific career. The source webpage I’ve linked has a good quote about mysopeds: “There is a sense of something inherently ‘evil’ about their existence. They evoke a reaction of contempt that is beyond what society normally reserves for the criminal element.”

In many ways, Zodiac seemed to be the first killer of his kind (he wasn’t, but that’s for another blog entry). That said, there have certainly been killers in the decades since who seem to have some notable similarities.

David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer, murdered couples parking on sidestreets, just like Zodiac. He sent taunting letters to the press, like Zodiac. When he was arrested, Berkowitz turned out to be a weird, psychopathic loner with mother issues.

BTK, Dennis Rader, had a lot in common with Zodiac, and may have even modeled some of his behavior after the Zodiac Killer. Rader was more socially competent than Berkowitz, and on the surface he lived a perfectly presentable middle-class life. Rader, unlike Berkowitz or Zodiac (with one exception, in Zodiac’s case), was a much more hands-on killer, one whose sexual psychopathy was obvious to anyone examining the crime scenes he left behind. While Rader used guns and knives to subdue those he attacked, he preferred to strangle his victims.

However, Rader loved to play with the police, and taunt the public by using the press to get his creepy letters out. When Rader decided to “come out of retirement” as BTK in 2004, having been silent for nearly 20 years as far as letters went, he even sent a puzzle to the Wichita (KS) authorities. He shared Zodiac’s love of the limelight, and his domestic terrorist’s inclination to try and spook the populace.

David Berkowitz had no known tendency towards pedophilia, and while Dennis Rader did have some inclination towards children, his primary victims were adult women in his general age-group.

Pedophile serial killers usually kill children, based on the research I’ve done. They often seem to be mysopeds. The best example from recent years is Joseph Edward Duncan III, who sounds like the definition of a sadistic pedophile. When Joseph Edward Duncan did kill two adults in May of 2005, it was to get them out of the way and eliminate witnesses. As brutal and bloody as the deaths of Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie were, they were also, in a sense, utilitarian, for Duncan’s purposes.

It’s simple. Had Arthur Leigh Allen been a killer, many of his victims would surely have been kids. No murder definitively linked to the Zodiac Killer involved a child. One person who survived an apparent encounter with Zodiac had a baby with her, and she said Zodiac threatened to throw the baby out the window of the car in which they were riding, but that was it. Zodiac threatened to kill children — but then he jeered at the police when it became apparent they believed his threat.

Zodiac was more interested in killing women. Two male victims surviving his attacks may have even goaded Zodiac into killing cabbie Paul Stine. Stine was the last victim to be definitively linked to Zodiac. Stine’s murder seemed at the time like a bizarre deviation from Zodiac’s pattern.

But when the killer phoned in the knife attacks on Cecilia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell at Lake Berryessa, he specifically referred to a “double murder.” By the time Stine was murdered on October 11, 1969, it was all over the press, how another male had survived a Zodiac attack. Zodiac wanted to prove he could kill anyone he chose, at the time he chose.

Because the movie Zodiac is based on Graysmith’s books, Arthur Leigh Allen is the suspect who receives the most focus. Only one other likely candidate, Rick Marshall, is discussed at any length. Marshall is among the many one-time suspects who, like Allen, have been cleared by police.

My point is this — Zodiac is a fantastic movie based on real events, but it is not a documentary. Robert Graysmith’s books contain a lot of good information about the murders and likely suspects other than Marshall or Allen, but Graysmith’s books also contain truckloads of bias, more than you can find today in 50 crime blogs. There are many suppositions and theories presented as fact, not to mention all the hearsay from people who may have had major axes to grind with guys like Arthur Leigh Allen. By the time I finished the second book, Zodiac Unmasked, I had the distinct feeling I was reading the work of a man trying too hard to prove a point he could not actually prove.

I have much more sympathy for Robert Graysmith than many who talk about these crimes online, because I understand something about the sort of obsession under which he labored for so long. I do believe that when the man began to try and find out everything he could about The Zodiac, he did it for perfectly understandable reasons, reasons familiar to many people reading this blog or writing their own crime blog. I am certain that Robert Graysmith went to lengths to gather all the info he needed to write both books that might awe the average crime blogger.

When he was “done,” though, he had to have a conclusion. A very good true crime writer once advised me that you shouldn’t try a book about an unsolved crime unless you think you can solve it. He knew what he was saying, because in the business of book-selling, that’s the kind of true crime tome that gets attention, and makes money. Robert Graysmith’s second marriage ended because of his pursuit of the Zodiac (according to the movie, anyway), and Graysmith put in untold amounts of time pursuing the case. It seems like a conclusion of some sort would be mandatory in that case, and Graysmith’s conclusion was that Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac.

Real evidence and what we know now about criminal psychology just don’t agree. I’d love for Allen to have been the guy — he was already a creep of the worst sort.

I think Zodiac got away. He either died shortly after the last known letter from him or got put away for another crime entirely. It could be that he basically retired, as Dennis Rader did for many years. The kind of person I think he might have been I will save for another blog entry. Perhaps Zodiac found another route to satisfy his jones for power and control, a route that wouldn’t put him on a collision course with the police.

Is he still out there? Anything is possible. Seems like this movie would bring some word from him if he was, though.

Tom Voigt has compiled one of the best resources on or offline for anyone wanting to study the Zodiac murders, the suspects, the theories as to who he was, what he was like. I’ve already linked several pages in this entry, but here’s the main URL, which is old news many regular readers of this blog:

To start working on your own ideas or just get an idea of what really happened, start with The new movie and Robert Graysmith’s books are worthwhile reference points, but Tom Voigt’s site is where you should begin if you want to get a much more balanced view of this infamous series of unsolved murders.

Whatever you do, be warned: you will get hooked. And once you see Jake Gyllenhaal as Graysmith near the end of Zodiac, you will understand the fevered, slightly mad gleam in his eye.

Zodiac, Resurrected, Part 1.

(On March 2, 2007, the David Fincher-helmed movie Zodiac premieres nationwide. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. and tells one version of the story that is about to follow. Early reviews of the movie indicate that it may be a masterful piece of film-making on Fincher’s part. I know I’ll be going to see it.

Tomorrow night, Saturday, February 24, 2007, America’s Most Wanted will feature the case of the Zodiac Killer. The story of the Zodiac and his unsolved series of murders is one of the most fascinating you may ever encounter. The following is told using police reports and other resources available at Tom Voigt’s comprehensive, and newspaper reports found via Though I have read Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac books, they were not used as sources for this blog entry or the one to follow.)

Prelude, June 4, 1963

President John F. Kennedy had 5 months to live. In the next couple of days the President would be in San Diego.

The coming presidential elections in 1964 were already being discussed by pundits in Washington. A Governor Romney from Michigan was talked about as a dark horse for the Republicans, striding the political line between Goldwater on the right and Rockefeller on the left.

In New York, Mickey Mantle slammed a homer to score the Yankees’ only run in a game against the Orioles. Across the Atlantic, the BBC broadcast a show about a popular rock band out of Liverpool, titled, “Pop Go the Beatles.” In the Middle Eastern country of Iraq, the besieged Communist Party pleaded to Kurdistan for refuge, to no avail. The Communists were being destroyed by the surging Baath Party.

Catholics worldwide, including President Kennedy, were mourning the passing the day before of Pope John XXIII.

A singer named Lesley Gore had a big radio hit nationwide in the U.S. with “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want to.”

At the Alpha Beta Grocery Stores in California, you could get 8 cantaloupes for a dollar, a half-gallon of ice cream for 49 cents. Women could get signature haircuts at Magic Mirror beauty salons for as little as three dollars.

For seniors at Lompoc High School, it was “Ditch Day.” The unscheduled day off was a tradition, often marked by a party.

Robert Domingos, 18, and Linda Edwards, 17, wanted to be alone that day. The handsome couple drove south out of Lompoc towards Gaviota, just over 20 miles. Robert was a handsome dark-haired athlete, Linda his long-time sweetheart.

They chose a secluded spot on the beach off Highway 101. Robert and Linda made their way down from the legendary highway, passing over railroad tracks, picking their way along a path towards the sea. The couple spread a blanket on the sand at a point where the brush on the hillside ended and smooth stones leading to the water began.

At some point that day, a third person crossed the tracks and came down the hillside towards Robert and Linda. He was armed with a .22 caliber weapon, perhaps a rifle, which was loaded with Winchester Western Super X copper-coated long rifle shells. The visitor also carried rope.

Robert and Linda didn’t come home that night. They never made it to graduation.

George Domingos, Robert’s father, grew worried when he didn’t hear from the pair. Domingos called the police and joined them as they searched for Robert and Linda.

Newspaper accounts from the time indicated that George Domingos and a patrolman found the murdered sweethearts.

Robert and Linda were not too far from where they’d laid their blanket. Robert was wearing swimtrunks. Though Linda’s swimsuit had been cut open with a sharp-edged instrument, there had been no sexual assault.

Robert Domingos had been shot 11 times, Linda Edwards 9 times. Robert, a former varsity lineman for the Lompoc High Braves, had tried to fight their attacker.

The attacker stacked the bodies in a seaside shack about 30 feet from the site where the two were first accosted, Linda face-up on top of Robert. The killer apparently tried to set the shack on fire.

The killer forced Linda to tie Robert, and it was while this was being done that the couple tried to flee. The killer knew how to shoot to kill, though.

No rape, no robbery. There seemed to be no discernible motive for the assault. Ten days after the double murder there was a report that police were seeking a teen they referred to as the “laughing killer,” but nothing came from that.

Linda Edwards would have turned 18 later that same week.

December 20, 1968

John Steinbeck had just passed away at 66 from a heart attack. Apollo 8 was soaring through the heavens towards a Christmas rendezvous with the Moon. The spacecraft would end up orbiting the Moon for 20 hours before making the journey home. On TV, a sci-fi series of middling popularity, Star Trek, was in the middle of its final season.

In Southern California and elsewhere people were tuning in, turning on, dropping out. A band called The Grateful Dead played a gig on December 20 at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. The Beatles, now a worldwide phenomenon, released their 1968 Christmas record that day.

And Christmas was coming. At the import store Atwood Ltd. in Oakland, California you could buy hollow-stem champagne glasses for $1.10 a piece and Molly O’Rourke’s Irish Whiskey Fruitcake for $1.98 a tin.

At 1930 Sereno Drive in Vallejo, California, a 17-year-old Vallejo High School senior named David Faraday got ready to go out with 16-year-old Betty Lou Jensen, a student at Hogan High.

David put on a light blue long-sleeved shirt and brown corduroys. He rolled black socks over his ankles and slipped on his low-cut tan chukker-style boots. David tucked a black comb in his pocket, a white handkerchief, and a small bottle of Binaca breath drops. He grabbed the keys to his ’61 Rambler and headed out for the night.

When he picked up Betty Lou at 123 Ridgewood Court, she was wearing a purple dress with a white collar and cuffs, black saddle shoes and a white fur coat. It would be very cold that night.

Did he lay in wait there at the pumping station, or was he roaming the town that night? Was there a kind of unbearable itching in his psyche?

Perhaps the car simply caught his attention, perhaps a glimpse of Betty Lou, a fleeting look captured as the sun set. He needed to go hunting again.

Sometime around 8:30 that night Betty Lou and David went to see Betty Lou’s best friend, Sharon. They were only at Sharon’s home for about a half-hour. Maybe they talked about the concert at Hogan High. Perhaps they gossiped about Ricky, the guy Betty Lou had been friendly with earlier in December, before she hooked up with David.

David and Betty Lou left at 9, and Sharon went to a party. She didn’t know where her friend and her friend’s new beau were going.

Later that night David and Betty Lou were parking at the Benicia Water Pumping Station on Lake Herman Road when a strange man pulled up beside them.

The tape made a crisp ripping sound. He made one more round, tested his work, and was satisfied. He then thumbed the switch on the light. A pool of yellow bloomed on the wall in front of him. He knew that if he opened fire at that moment the bullets would punch holes in the middle of that light. So simple, so clever.

In his stomach he felt that giddy sensation again, that too-many-cups of joe feeling he always got when he was ready to hunt. It was as if the world became brighter, everything more keen. Light was sharper, cold more intense. And the quiet in his room, or in his car, it burned into him. This was the best. He was in control.

The man crossed the distance between his car and David’s Rambler, gun extended, light on. He saw the looks on the young faces and it was as if something had spun up inside him. A lathe was turning within, sculpting evil.

The man moved quickly, smoothly, little wasted motion. He fired into the car to let them know that this was serious. The girl scrambled out of the passenger side, screaming, her voice a wavering theremin sound against the cold night.

Rounding the vehicle he pumped a few more bullets into the boy, and David lay still. Betty was off and running, though.

He raised the gun. The penlight attached to the barrel pooled in the middle of her back, pale yellow light on purple. Her white cuffs flashed in the dark as she ran. Not thinking, he fired, his pace implacable, aim steady.

The girl went down, 5 bullet holes in her back.

The silence now was profound. He allowed himself a moment, let out a breath. He clicked the penlight off and walked back to his car.

July 31, 1969

The letter was addressed to the editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. The printing was slanted towards the right and each line of text seemed to drop towards the end of the page. The writer began:

Dear Editor

This is the murderer of the 2 teenagers last Christmass [sic] at Lake Herman…

No one knew it on July 31st, but a strangely creative killer was firing his first “public relations” salvo across the bow. The killer sent the letter above and two others to other publications in the San Francisco area. Contained in the 3 letters were portions of a cipher created by the killer. His first of several to come.

The Zodiac was speaking…

(part II will be posted tomorrow.)

Charlie’s Storms

I am re-posting this because CBS 48 Hours re-aired their special on Charlie Brandt tonight.

This blog entry was originally published by me at another weblog I began when having problems with a previous independently-hosted domain. I posted the original entry on October 4, 2005. Portions of the following story have been fashioned into narrative form, using known facts of the case. I’ve edited the following for this re-post.

Ice Storm

It was January of 1971. Ilse Brandt relaxed in a hot bath as the world turned to ice outside. Ilse’s husband Herbert was shaving at the basin nearby. Ilse was pregnant, and perhaps the hot bath helped with the various aches and pains that strike most women later in pregnancy. The Brandt family, Herbert, Ilse, three daughters and a son, had just returned from their yearly trip to Florida.

While there Brandt and his son Carl had hunted game, but the trip had been marred by the death of a family dog. The animal was old and ailing, so in what was perhaps an act of mercy Herbert Brandt shot the dog — putting it out of its misery.

Carl didn’t take this well.

Most 13-year-old boys wouldn’t. The relationship between a boy and his dog is part of pop culture, it is a core component in some classic movies and TV series, like Lassie.

Carl didn’t collapse in grief — he did something about it.

News reports from 1971 indicate that Carl Eric Brandt used a German Luger that icy day in Indiana to shoot both of his parents. Ilse Brandt died in the tub. Herbert Brandt was found nearby, barely alive. He survived.

Carl also tried to kill one of his sisters. The gun was out of bullets, so he tried to strangle her.

Carl stopped when his sister told him that she loved him.

Though detectives at the time latched on to Carl’s rage and grief at the death of his dog, Carl said the following to a judge during a hearing about the crime, “I didn’t really want to(…) It was like I was sort of programmed. I hesitated, but the next thing I knew I had shot them(…)It was like I was forced to do it,” Carl said. “I couldn’t really control myself.”

In May, 1971 a grand jury determined the boy was not “criminally responsible” for the act.

Carl Eric Brandt spent about a year in psychiatric treatment. Then he was returned, remarkably, to his father’s care.

The grand jury that found Carl not criminally responsible did look ahead, though. A warning was made to the future; “It is possible that such antisocial conduct could repeat itself…”

The Rainmaker

At one time Sherry Perisho had been a beauty queen. By age 38 Perisho lived in a boat near Big Pine Key, Florida, and she called herself the Rainmaker.

On July 19, 1989, the Rainmaker was discovered floating, dead, in the ocean.

Sherri Perisho wasn’t the only woman found dead in the area whose manner of death was so mysterious and gruesome. The following article by Barry Klein was published in the St. Petersburg Times on August 12, 1989, titled, “Killings shake town: 2 brutal murders are talk of Big Pine Key.” From the article:

About the only thing the two women had in common was that neither had a heart when residents of this small island community found their bodies.

Investigators say someone cut out the heart of 38-year-old Sherry Perisho, a transient who lived in a 6-foot rowboat not far from where a shocked fisherman found her body floating in a channel on the evening of July 19.

They are less certain about what happened to the heart of 20-year-old Lisa Sanders, a Michigan native who had courageously battled leukemia for most of her life…

Sherry Perisho had lived in Big Pine Key for just over a year. Nightly she would pack her things in her little rowboat, then sleep there as the boat drifted in shallow waters.

The night Sherri was murdered, a man carrying a serrated knife waded into the water near the sleeping woman. The moon was still nearly full. If there were no clouds that night, the moon likely shed a silver light on the water. The killer slit the Rainmaker’s throat and made an incision between her pelvis and breastbone. He removed her heart.

Leukemia victim Lisa Sanders may have suffered an even more horrific end. She was stabbed in the head, then a rope tied to her neck. Her killer attached the rope to the bumper of his vehicle and dragged her at least a half-mile. Then as her corpse lay on a dirt road on No Name Key, it was ravaged by carrion eaters.

For various reasons, including the tenor of the times (the term “satanic panic,” a phrase created to describe alleged instances of satanic ritual abuse, was coined in the 1980s to describe a slew of unfounded news stories about supposed instances of satan-worship-inspired murders) it was at first feared that both women had fallen afoul of some sort of satanic rite. The moon had been full the night before Sherry Perisho was killed, and some sort of devilish “markings” were found near the site of Lisa Sanders’s death.

That theory was refuted 15 years later, when it was discovered that a quiet, polite, unassuming man named Charlie Brandt lived near both murder scenes.

Charlie Brandt, who had been born to Herbert and the late Ilse Brandt, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, as Carl Eric Brandt.

Hurricane Ivan

On August 31, 2004, a large tropical wave flowed off the west coast of Africa. At first it wasn’t well-organized, and didn’t register on the radar of forecasters at the National Hurricane Center as a system to watch.

By September 1, that had changed. Upper level wind shear decreased and allowed the cloud tops of the loose confederation of storms to swell. Bands of clouds began to aggregate around a central core of low pressure. By September 2 a tropical depression formed. Soon the storm acquired a name: Ivan.

On September 11, Ivan was a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale of intensity — the deadliest of all storms. At that point it was unclear as to whether Ivan was a danger to the Florida Keys. As the Keys can become completely inaccessible during such storms, they are often evacuated purely as a precaution.

Among the residents of the Keys driving north around that time were Teri Brandt, age 46, and her husband, 47-year-old Carl “Charlie” Brandt.

They were heading for Maitland, Florida, and 390 Hickory Drive in a suburb named Druid Hills Park. There they would be riding out the storm with Teri’s niece, Michelle Jones, age 37. Jones, a sales executive for the Golf Channel, a sports network based in Florida, had a 1,908 square foot home complete with a pool.

Charlie Brandt was fond of his niece. In fact, a co-worker of Brandt’s said the man spoke often of his beautiful niece. Charlie had a nickname for Michelle — “Victoria’s Secret.”

No one, including Michelle Jones and Teri Brandt, seemed to have any idea that they were in any danger from Charlie Brandt. It seems that no one knew of Carl Brandt, and an ice storm some 33 years before in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Everyone knew Charlie. Charlie was polite, a bit shy, friendly, well-liked.

By September 14, it was clear that Ivan was no longer a danger to the Florida Keys, or to central Florida. Ivan made landfall just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama, on September 16, a still-deadly category 3 hurricane.

Though the Florida Keys had been out of harm’s way for days, Teri and Charlie Brandt were still at Michelle Jones’s home at 390 Hickory Drive in Maitland, Florida.

Teri lay dead from stab wounds on the sofa. Charlie hung from a bedsheet in the garage.

Michelle Jones was dead in her bedroom.

Carl and Charlie

“It was like I was sort of programmed…”

In the bedroom of the Brandt home in Big Pine Key, investigators found a poster on the back of a door. It depicted the female anatomy; the skeletal system was exposed on the left side of the body. Elsewhere in the same house they found Victoria’s Secret catalogues, all addressed to Charlie Brandt.

On Charlie Brandt’s computer, police found evidence that Brandt had visited websites that addressed fetishes with death, and “erotic horror.”

Unassuming Charlie Brandt was a mask. Behind that mask another man lay in wait. A man who eroticized violence, who enjoyed gore, death, dismemberment. A monster. One that apparently was truly born many years before in an ice storm, in Indiana.

“It was like I was forced to do it…”

Charlie Brandt killed Michelle Jones with a single stab wound to the chest. He had stabbed his wife Teri repeatedly, viciously, but one single jab to Michelle Jones’s heart with a kitchen knife was all he needed to take her life.

Investigators felt it was a practiced move.

Then Charlie removed Michelle’s head. He placed her head on the bed so it faced her body. He brushed his niece’s hair from her face.

Charlie’s work took some time. He removed Michelle’s breasts and her left leg. He cut her chest cavity open and removed internal organs, including her heart. According to police, all this was done with a skill that indicated Charlie had past experience.

Before he killed himself, Charlie Brandt cut apart Victoria’s Secret bras and underwear, and left them scattered around Michelle’s bedroom.

“I couldn’t really control myself…”

The first law enforcement officers to arrive were physically sick upon finding the horrific scene.

“…Such antisocial conduct…”

Perhaps 26 women over the span of 30+ years. That’s how many victims authorities believe could have fallen prey to the man behind the mask that was Carl “Charlie” Brandt, including Sherry Perisho and possibly Lisa Sanders. As of October 1, 2005, authorities had constructed a 35-page timeline of Brandt’s movements across the years. They were examining whether or not Brandt could be linked to crimes as far away as northern Europe. His signature? Dismemberment, the removal of the head and/or the heart.

If Carl “Charlie” Brandt did commit that many murders, he would rank among the more prolific serial killers of all time. He would also be in the relatively small group of mass killers who never actually got caught. His toll of victims would be nearly 5 times that of another famous serial killer whose real name is not known for sure to this very day — the Zodiac Killer.

Who was Charlie Brandt? Obviously not the man people thought they knew. Maybe he wasn’t entirely sure. Maybe Charlie Brandt was telling the truth to the judge after he murdered his mother — he didn’t want to do it, he just felt compelled.

At 13, Carl Brandt was not yet “Charlie” — that came after his stay in the psychiatric institution — and he killed his nude, pregnant mother in the bathtub. Brandt didn’t succeed in killing his Dad, nominally the target of his rage due to the elder Brandt “putting down” the family dog while in Florida, yet he was so determined to kill his sister that he went after her with his bare hands.

The evidence of Brandt’s merging of violent, destructive impulses with his sexuality was found on his computer, and in the connection between his nickname for Michelle Jones and the Victoria’s Secret underwear and catalogues.

Such a connection was being made inside Brandt before January, 1971. And as ice encrusted the powerlines and trees outside his family’s home in Fort Wayne, that synthesis of the most potentially savage human impulses occurred inside Carl “Charlie” Brandt’s mind. As surely as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa 33 years later transformed into a huge category 5 hurricane named Ivan, around the empty center of Carl Eric Brandt was formed the mask named Charlie.

Even as Ivan roared ashore a deadly-enough category 3 storm in Alabama and the western part of the Florida panhandle, a perfect storm finally spun itself out at 390 Hickory Drive, in Maitland, Florida.

If it were the first time such a thing happened, perhaps it could be considered an anomaly.

In 1980, teenaged Joseph Edward Duncan III was put in prison for 20 years. He committed a sexually violent crime against a younger boy, raping him while holding a gun to his head, among other things. The highly intelligent Duncan began to acquire computer skills while in prison, and by the time he was released in 2000, he brought the finished mask of “Happy Joe,” or “Jet” into play, attending the University of North Dakota in Fargo as a computer science major. There he built websites, designed programs, went scuba-diving with pals from his workplace, Invie Consulting, and even wrote at least one weblog, Blogging the Fifth Nail.

In early July of 2005, Duncan was arrested with 8-year-old Shasta Groene in his company. He had allegedly killed her family in Coeur d’Alene after stalking them with nightvision equipment, then kidnapped Shasta and her brother Dylan. He took them to the woods of northern Montana, and there is alleged to have committed some of the most horribly cruel acts imaginable against the children, before killing Dylan.

Since Duncan’s arrest there has been speculation, and in one case evidence, linking him to other unsolved murders of children that occurred while he was a free man. Duncan may have considered these acts “getting even” with society. Or, more likely, he just liked to torture, mutilate, rape, and kill boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 10.

A few years before Ilse Brandt lay bleeding in her bathtub, a very tall teenaged boy named Ed killed his grandparents on their California farm.

Like the 13-year-old Carl “Charlie” Brandt, Big Ed Kemper [ link] was declared mentally ill and sent to an institution. There Ed learned how to make nice, after a fashion, and when the 6’9″ Kemper finally returned home, his psychiatrists were sure he was no threat to society. Ed set about perfecting his ‘gentle giant’ persona, and by the time he murdered, mutilated, and raped his mother and her best friend, he’d already been practicing on coeds in his hometown of Santa Cruz, California. Ed had more in common with Charlie Brandt, it seems: both were fond of combining decapitation and dismemberment with their killing. The day two doctors declared Big Ed officially no longer a threat to anyone, he had body parts in the trunk of his car.

Both Brandt and Kemper first killed relatives, authority figures, both of them used firearms the first time.

Both men ended with killing family members or people known to them — Kemper his mother and her best friend, Brandt his wife and niece. Kemper turned himself into police, Brandt committed suicide.

If authorities are even partially right about the time between Charlie Brandt’s killing of his mother and his final slaughter of his niece and wife, Teri, then Charlie, just like Ed Kemper, had a lot of practice by the time he was done.

We have been able for many years to see storms coming via satellite and radar. Predicting where they will land is still an imperfect science, but it improves every year. Many times, when nightmarish crimes like those committed by Charlie Brandt occur, everyone says they just didn’t see it coming.

Maybe that isn’t always true.

As surely as someone at the National Hurricane Center issued a notice to all concerned once Ivan officially became a hurricane, a grand jury gave the future a warning about Carl Eric “Charlie” Brant in 1971. Much like the most violent storms, he was a void himself, empty of humanity inside his center, hollow and unnaturally still, but violent and deadly when a victim was in his sights.

Like the storm that was coating the trees, cars, and houses of Fort Wayne, Indiana with cold that January in 1971, he was made of ice.

The following articles and websites were invaluable in constructing this entry:

More Indictments for Joseph Edward Duncan III


My experience as a blogger who crosses over into the mainstream media from time to time began with the arrest of Joseph Edward Duncan III in July, 2005. Blogging I did in relation to that complex, haunting, and truly scary story eventually brought me the first invitation to appear on a news program, and also the first contacts I ever had from anyone in law enforcement.

In some ways, it’s a story that keeps on giving, when it comes to true crime news.

I’m still moving entries over to this blog, but below is a link to the Wayback Machine’s records of The Dark Side of Planet Huff, my original crime blog, as it appeared in the summer of 2005:

The Dark Side: The Groene Murders.

In August of 2005, a number of bloggers — I was one of the first, but not the first (link goes to the first blogger to spot this) — made note of Duncan’s resemblance to the suspect who abducted Anthony Michael Martinez from the front yard of his home in Beaumont, California on April 4, 1997.

Duncan was absconded from parole at the time, and by his own account he was in California while on the lam. This time on the run in ’97 sent Duncan back to prison to complete the rest of the 20 year sentence for rape that he’d begun serving in 1980.

It turned out that Riverside police were thinking along the same lines as the bloggers. It turned out that Duncan may have even made incriminating statements about Anthony Martinez. And a partial fingerprint found on tape binding Anthony’s body when it was discovered, bludgeoned to death and buried in the desert, matched Duncan’s prints.

There’s major news about Duncan again today, even though he’s already serving life in Idaho for murdering four members of the Groene family: “Joseph Duncan indicted by federal grand jury.” From KNDO/KNDU:

A federal grand jury in Boise, Idaho, this afternoon indicted Joseph Edward Duncan in the kidnapping of two children near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2005.
The indictment charges Duncan with kidnapping 9-year-old Dylan Groene (GROH-nee) for the purpose of sexual assault, and for intentionally killing the boy after torturing him.


Federal prosecutors have already said they intend to seek the death penalty for the registered sex offender.

Earlier today, prosecutors in Riverside, California, said they will charge Duncan with the murder of a ten-year-old boy near Indio, California, a decade ago. Prosecutors say they also intend to seek the death penalty…

So the monster may finally get the chair or the needle one day, after all. Maybe Anthony will finally see some justice, after all.

The best link on the Web for information about Joseph Edward Duncan III is Jules Hammer’s, The Cellar. Jules is one of the finest amateur sleuths I’ve ever met, and her weblog (begun by the pseudonymous “Mickey Rat” shortly after Duncan’s arrest and later turned over to Jules) is both a one-stop online shop for information about this particular serial killer and his crimes and the essence of what a crime blog should be. Blogs began as link lists and personal journals, and Jules has managed to stay true to the spirit of blogging and blend the personal with the factual at The Cellar in a seamless and engaging manner.

Also of interest:

  • Blogging the Fifth NailJoseph Edward Duncan III’s own weblog, kept between 2004 and 2005. Duncan’s blog should not be read in one sitting. Though there is nothing overt there as to what kind of animal he truly was, this is a weblog that works its way into your psyche until you think you hear his soft, chilling voice in your head. Read when it’s light outside.
  • — Blog begun by proxy while Duncan was awaiting his first trial — which ultimately didn’t happen because he pled guilty. In one entry in this weblog, Duncan practically admits he is a serial killer.
  • Video made by Duncan while he was a college student titled “Reality.” The video itself is strange, somehow haunting, but safe to view. However, the site I used to upload the video (this was pre-YouTube) has since taken on a lot of adult advertising. So that fact renders the link potentially not work-safe. It was pretty barebones when I first uploaded that video over a year ago.

I’ll continue moving those original entries over to this weblog, and whenever there’s a new development in Duncan’s case I’ll cover it. Maybe one day he’ll grow tired of his game and just reveal once and for all what his “demons” have driven him to do over the years.

(Tip of the old crimeblogger’s fedora to true crime writer M. William Phelps, one-half of the blogging team at, for the heads-up on this story.)