Filed under: unsolved

Guede, Knox, Sollecito May Finally Face Charges in Kercher Murder

UPDATE, 7/14/08

I received a message from Chris Mellas that clarified the “Mr Anonymous” message below. Chris Mellas did not send the message — that much is clear from the message he did send tonight. He doesn’t seem to realize that I sometimes shed a journalistic stance in this blog and express subjective opinions, but overall his message was well-considered and clearly explained some things. In short, he had no idea I’d received such a note. As I surmised — and I could have made this even more clear than I did — someone who thought they were perhaps doing Amanda Knox and her family a favor did the opposite. I will make amendments to this post later today. I’d do it now, but it’s simply very late and I’m not at my best. I wanted Mr. Mellas and readers who followed this post to know that I’d received some clarification. I owe it to Mr. Mellas to acknowledge that, and I appreciate him taking the time to write to me. I’d write him back personally, but the same caveat about me being tired and not good for more than this paragraph applies there, too.

Original blog post

From The Seattle Times/AP: Prosecutors in Perugia, Italy are formally requesting that Ivory Coast native Rudy Hermann Guede, Seattleite Amanda Knox and Italian student Raffaele Sollecito be sent to trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher in November, 2007. The trio may also be formally charged with “sexual violence” and theft.

Now that these indictments have been requested, a judge will decide on granting the prosecutor’s request. If the decision is against the defense, the trio will be ordered to stand trial. Hearings may begin in September.

The Italian prosecutors believe Guede, Knox and Sollecito participated in strangling and stabbing Meredith Kercher. The Associated Press has reported that court documents state that Guede “engaged in sexual violence” against the victim, and was assisted by Knox and Sollecito.

Prosecutors believe Knox and Sollecito later tried to cover everyones’ tracks by making it look as though the residence Kercher shared with Knox and two other women was burglarized.

I dread writing any more about this case. But I feel somehow obligated, in spite of the fact that the people who want to talk about it online often seem to come a little unhinged about the whole thing. For example, Amanda Knox’s stepfather, Chris Mellas, owns his own ISP — it shows up in web statistics as “Chris Mellas.” Either Mellas or a co-worker, or both, have been all over blog comments and related message board discussions every day, sometimes all day long, for months. And while I’ve asked other commenters to be civil with Mr. Mellas in the past, they aren’t.

Then again, neither is he. For instance, I recently received this message, from “Mr Anonymous,” with a fake e-mail address:

I have seen several messages on your TC Message blog that covers the Meredith Kercher murder.

I intend to make more information available to the appropriate people that such slanderous remarks are being made and/or implied on your site in hopes that their on going action against other media outlets will include yours. Those who reside in specific locations who continue to make slanderous remarks apparently believe that they are protected based on the form of your blog. Apparently they find this to be an untruth.

I will further support any action taken against such remarks. Steve Huff has allowed this site to carry on without regard to proper oversight which he as well as his moderators will be held liable.

First, I have no idea what a “TC Message blog” is, but I’m pretty sure the writer meant the The True Crime Weblog Message Board, which in spite of its generic name really seems only devoted to discussion of the murder of Meredith Kercher. It’s also not a weblog at all, but a message board. The difference between a blog and a message board are pretty clear to anyone who has been using the Internet for a while. At least I thought so.

Second, the writer should have written “libelous” if they wanted to be clearly understood, not slanderous. That said, the very savvy admin of that board — I set it up and am still an administrator, but she handles the day-to-day, for which I am eternally grateful — Skeptical Bystander, is acutely aware of libelous language and what constitutes a libelous remark online, and she’s worked mighty hard to delete any posts that might be taken as libelous off that board. From what I’ve seen, she has succeeded. (I set the board up with the Kercher murder case in mind. I got really tired of open threads about it — you can’t “close” a Haloscan-hosted comment thread without hiding all the previous comments.)

Third, it’s rather pointless to try and be “Mr Anonymous” in a contact form submission if your IP address tracks back to this:

CustName: CHRIS MELLAS
Address: [Redacted] 108TH AVENUE NORTHEAST SUITE [Redacted]
City: BELLEVUE
StateProv: WA
PostalCode: 98004
Country: US
RegDate: 2005-11-30
Updated: 2005-11-30

Anonymous, vague threats just make you look sneaky, Mr. Mellas. If someone else sent that message without your knowledge, you should have a talk with them. If you or anyone else in Amanda Knox’s circle of family and friends are truly concerned about her plight (and I am sure you are), you might want to reconsider moves like that, in general. I think it’s loathsome that something like PR ever enters the equation in cases like this, but it does. Yammering, snarking, arguing, and threatening online is bad PR. The way that “anonymous” message was written in general was bad PR. I sure as hell would not want the IP address on something borderline incoherent like the message quoted above to track back to an ISP with my name on it.

Then again, I’m still flummoxed that people bother with online discussions at all, but I’m the blogger who generally doesn’t like blogs anymore and rarely takes them too seriously, so what do I know?

Here’s the funny thing about me calling out Mr. Mellas or one of his associates above: I haven’t been solidly plunked down in the “Amanda did it” camp for quite some time. When I wrote this article for Radar Magazine I wasn’t too sure about Amanda. By the time I was done with the article and the blog entries I wrote around the same time, I was pretty damned suspicious. The fact is, Amanda Knox does seem unbalanced, possibly mentally ill. Rudy Guede comes across as just plain nuts, and Sollecito, of the three, comes across as the most cold and calculating. But none of those things make them killers.

I believe the intense focus on the pretty college girl from Seattle has been unbalanced and overheated. It started with the British tabs and Italian papers going bananas over her made-for-a true-crime TV movie web persona: Foxy Knoxy, Amanda’s own screen name, self-chosen, was like a gift to the tabloid editors in London. Saved them the trouble of coming up with something similar on their own (and make no mistake — given time, they would have come up with something very close to that nickname). Amanda’s strange, over-written short stories in her blog dug the hole deeper, even though taken in context there’s nothing really that strange about them.

Basically, in the 8 months since Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in her room in Perugia, all sense of direction in the media coverage of the case has been lost. Even a prominent newsmagazine I have worked with in the past did a piece about Knox that seemed heavily skewed in favor of the argument that Knox has been railroaded. The thing was, they made a pretty convincing case — enough for me to wonder.

So here’s where I stand: I have no idea what happened that night in Perugia. At the moment, I feel the possibilities are too many to list here. This is a reasonable question: has Amanda Knox been unfairly singled out in the coverage of this case? My answer is yes. Also reasonable: do the allegations of orgies, of sexual violence, play a role in the public interest in the Kercher murder? I certainly think so. To me, that automatically knocks all media coverage of the case off-balance. And it will never be balanced again (if that was even possible in the first place).

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating — I have no idea if I will write about this again. I don’t like the contentiousness that pops up in the comments (which is saying something, considering just how contentious comments can truly get on this blog in general), I don’t like the sneaky crap I detailed above. I’ll put it this way — I may not write more blog entries here about the still-mysterious and horrifying murder of Meredith Kercher. Frankly, it’s the kind of case that could consume both me and blog space — space I could devote to talking about other crimes of interest.

From here on out, I’ll consider doing paid writing about the case, but that will likely be it. I do admit I’d be interested in following events as they unfold if and when this goes to trial. “Circus” may be far too weak a word to describe that kind of media frenzy.

Comments are always welcome, but you can also just go register for the True Crime Weblog Message Board and post your thoughts, opinions, and ideas there — you have more room to format text and just pontificate in general, there.

And to Chris Mellas or his “friend” (quotes intended, since I don’t think any friend who would send such a note was actually doing Mellas a favor) — if you have a problem with any post on that message board, it’s really simple: send me a link, quote the offensive portion, and ask for it to be removed. If it meets the definition of libel, it will damn sure be gone. If any posters are repeat offenders, they will be banned. That goes for comments on this post as well.

Missing From Fort Bragg: 2nd Lieutenant Holley Lynn Wimunc

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The soldier currently missing from Fort Bragg has been identified as 2nd Lieutentant Holley Lynn Wimunc, age 24. Holley Wimunc was part of Charlie Company and assigned to Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Hospital. Wimunc vanished Thursday morning. Her apartment was burned; authorities have determined that the fire was set. Wimunc’s car was still in the complex parking lot.

She was known to be going through a divorce. Early Friday, Raleigh’s WRAL-TV reported that Wimunc had once filed papers with the court to protect her from her estranged husband, John Wimunc. On her Facebook account, accessible only to her friends, Wimunc had begun calling herself Holley James (presumably her maiden name).

Wimunc claimed that her Marine Corporal husband “held loaded 9mm to my head; choked me. Threw me around living room…” While her allegations certainly make her husband a good suspect, the Fayetteville Observer published an article that stated, in part:

Wimunc’s husband, Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, was questioned by police Thursday, according to a Marines spokesman.

Maj. Cliff W. Gilmore, spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division, said Cpl. Wimunc was released back to his battalion Thursday after the Marines made him available for interviews.

The Marine Corps is keeping tabs on Wimunc’s whereabouts, Gilmore said…

The Observer also reported that Holley Lynn Wimunc was educated in Iowa, at St. Ambrose University. She was in the Army Nurse Corps and had been at Fort Bragg for nearly a year.

There are some elements in this missing persons case that make it difficult to ignore any possible connection with the June, 2008 murder of Spc. Megan Lynn Touma:

  • Both Touma and Wimunc were in the Army, and both were medical specialists — Touma worked in dentistry.
  • Touma was from Kansas. Wimunc was from Lafayette, Louisiana, but was educated in Iowa — a tangential Midwest connection.
  • Holley Wimunc and Megan Touma shared the same middle name, Lynn.
  • Wimunc was just one year older than Touma.
  • Touma and Wimunc were in perilous situations where their personal lives were concerned. Megan Touma was divorced and pregnant by another man who was already in a relationship, and Holley Wimunc was estranged from husband John, whom she alleged to be abusive.

The map embedded below illustrates another interesting detail of the Wimunc disappearance — Google indicates just 1.4 miles between Cross Creek Mall and Wimunc’s apartment complex at 142 Wayah Creek Drive in Fayetteville.

View Larger Map

John Wimunc, based on the claims made by Holley when she filed for court-sanctioned protection, might be an excellent suspect in his wife’s disappearance. But he’s not in custody right now, simply under observation. That could show a lack of convincing, hard evidence pointing towards a domestic answer to the riddle of Holley Wimunc’s disappearance.

Does Fayetteville, North Carolina have a serial killer, after all?

If there is a calculating serial at work, targeting women of a certain age, appearance, and profession, did he send the mysterious, Zodiac-like letter to the Observer?

If he did, I expect another letter soon.

The Touma murder and Wimunc disappearance may only be connected by the singular motivation of men who think murder is the best way out of a relationship. A single serial killer would be easier to deal with, in a way — all the possibilities are focused in one phantom psycho. Take him off the street, and that particular deadly path is at an end. Domestic homicide, however, is a much larger problem, one as old as human relations. We can’t put it away and remove its power to wipe loved ones from the face of the Earth. A serial killer is, at the very least, a concrete answer to the huge question of why such things happen.

Violence between two people who once pledged their love to one another is far more widespread, and ultimately, a problem that seems to elude any easy answers.

Links:

Holley’s MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/hollister024. Not much there anymore, if there ever was. Her “About Me”: “Hey, i’m your all american girl. funny bitchy and crazy. I’m 24, in the army…and hoping to get deployed soon :)”

This post will be updated and revised as needed.

Something is Going On in Fayetteville, NC…

Something strange and disturbing may be afoot in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Either a killer who harkens back to Northern California and the late 60s is truly at work, or a number of men have decided now is the prime time to rid themselves of troublesome women. Both possibilities are pretty damned spooky, in their ways. WRAL in Raleigh is reporting today that a Fort Bragg-based female soldier is missing and her apartment was burned.

Spc. Megan Touma, the pregnant soldier found murdered in a Fayetteville motel on June 21, was associated with a medical specialty. The newly-missing soldier’s name and rank have not been released, but according to WRAL, “she was believed to be assigned to Womack Army Medical Center.”

The missing soldier didn’t show up for work on Wednesday, and members of her unit went to check on her. They discovered a burned-out apartment. The fire was determined to be arson. In fact, cops were already processing the scene when the apartment building was evacuated for fear a new fire might break out, perhaps from accelerants still on the scene.

This missing soldier was going through a divorce, and authorities are seeking her husband for questioning.

The immediate question that may come to mind if you’ve read about the Zodiac Killer-like letter that accompanied the murder of Megan Touma is whether or not this is perhaps a second salvo in a serial killer’s war on the public in general and young military women, in particular.

Logically, though, another possibility presents itself: another psychopathic male has been following events in the Touma case and found himself “inspired” to take a novel and homicidal approach to his own problems with a woman in his life, perhaps hoping that the drama surrounding the Touma investigation might serve to help cover his tracks.

At the moment, my money’s on the latter explanation for this new Fort Bragg female soldier in peril. If another letter arrives in the mailroom at the Fayetteville Observer, I may change my mind. I’ll update and revise this post as needed.

[Hat-tip to Mysteriew at Websleuths.com.]

Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders Movie

First things first: HAPPY 4th OF JULY, Y’ALL!

Okay, now that’s out of the way.

This blog receives a ton of hits from people searching for information about the Keddie Murders. Lately that’s been because there was a claim that the movie The Strangers was partly inspired by the massacre in Cabin 28, but I think that was a load of bullshit cooked up by some viral marketing idiot.

You can click this link to read the blog entries I’ve written about Keddie, but my stronger recommendation is for you to visit KeddieMurdersMovie.com and watch Josh Hancock’s documentary about this chilling unsolved crime. He’s posted it in 6 parts on this page.

I’ve embedded part 1 above to encourage reader interest, because part 1 hooked me right away, and I know a good deal of the story. This post will be short for now because I’m going back to watch the rest of it.

I’m already wondering why Hancock’s documentary hasn’t seen wider distribution — part 1 was professionally-rendered and compelling. The documentarian’s art is in letting the subject speak for itself. It’s clear to me just 7 minutes in that Josh Hancock knows how to do that.

I will update this post after I finish watching Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders.

UPDATE

Josh Hancock’s documentary is stripped-down, straightforward, and it hits home. Make no mistake — if your interest in true crime documentaries or anything else true crime-related is more towards the macabre, gory end of the spectrum, you will be disappointed by Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders. Actually, if you’re that sort of true crime fan (you should see some of the disgusting search strings that somehow bring people here), you can just get the hell off my blog right now.

I digress.

Anyone who appreciates a respectful, measured approach to telling such a terrifying story, a human approach, will be impressed by this documentary. I certainly was.

I truly hope more attention comes to Mr. Hancock’s work, as he managed to use minimal resources to create a full, living portrait of the people and the place impacted by this unsolved family murder. Bare-bones as it is, Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders still manages to leave the kind of lasting impression true-crime centric shows with massive budgets (48 Hours, Dateline) strive to make. Those shows go for broke with sonorous voice-overs, graphics and editing. Hancock’s cleverness is in his minimalist approach: simple, understated music and well-framed shots of key people in natural light. Sometimes, that’s all you need. The story then tells itself.

If the Keddie case is one of those unsolved mysteries that plagues you, this account will leave you truly unsettled, haunted, and perhaps a bit sad. Peaceful pine forests and remote, quiet mountain retreats will never look the same again.

One more plug for the site:

KeddieMurdersMovie.com.

See also:

http://www.youtube.com/user/keddiemurdersmovie.

UPDATE: Josh Hancock notes in the comments left on this entry that there’s a new website for this film:

http://www.keddiemurdersfilm.com/

Take a look, and watch the movie. Great work on the site(s) and the film, Josh.

The Megan Touma Murder: Look, it ain’t the REAL Zodiac

People are free to talk about whatever they want on a message board, but let me make it clear that I reject one idea out-of-hand: the person who killed Spc. Megan Touma sometime around June 17, 2008 in Fayetteville, NC was not the actual Zodiac Killer.

I’m not going to try and make anyone feel good about themselves on that score. I’m amazed I even feel the need to write this, but I do. To suggest that the real Zodiac killed Touma and then wrote the letter is patently ludicrous, as far as I’m concerned. If I’m somehow proved wrong, believe me — I’ll admit it in this space and apologize. If Zodiac is still alive — a big if — he is in his late 60s or 70s. As a killer like Gary Michael Hilton proved, age doesn’t bar people from being active serial killers, but in general, it doesn’t help. Even psychopaths become settled, less violent over time. If Zodiac went on killing after 1969, he only got better at it, and learned one lesson — not to call any attention to himself, any more. At least not in a way that might lead to his capture.

But yes, there are a few people making that very argument in comments and on some message boards, and as open-minded as I can be about various theories regarding a wide range of mysteries, I’m not that open-minded. So don’t bother at this blog, because I’ll either shoot you down or delete your comment if I’m really annoyed.

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A poster using the nick “TheForeigner” on the message board associated with the best Zodiac resource on the Web, ZodiacKiller.com, noticed a fascinating and chilling coincidence. Tom Voigt, the site’s webmaster, posted the image created by “TheForeigner” to make note this coincidence. I took my cue from him and created the image you see on the left in Photoshop. I used the image the Zodiac imitator drew on the letter he sent to the Fayetteville Observer, claiming credit for Touma’s murder and calling it a “master piece,” and laid it over the cross-in-circle design of the Cross Creek Mall. The motel in which Spc. Touma was murdered is marked by a smaller version of the same symbol.

The investigation into Touma’s death — officially a homicide — is ongoing. Police have yet to publicly name a suspect, but they have been interested in another Fort Bragg soldier who may have been the father of Touma’s child — the Dental specialist was 7 months pregnant when she was murdered. The soldier in question was said to be at a Special Forces school studying psychological operations. As I noted here, that’s one good reason alone to suspect him in Touma’s murder. That the deaths of pregnant women usually come at the hands of the men they live with only adds to logical reasons to question this unnamed man and either arrest him or eliminate him as a suspect.

Here are a few of my ideas as to what may have happened, in order of most logical to most unlikley:

  • Megan Lynn Touma’s baby-daddy, whoever he was, was terrified of the financial burden that might be placed on him by the impending birth. He planned the scenario well in advance, right down to the location. The Zodiac-like letter is nothing but a ruse designed to confuse the investigation.
  • A real serial killer did it. He spotted the young, pregnant woman staying by herself and knew he had — in his book — an excellent target. He did some planning in advance, used a ruse to enter Megan Touma’s room, and then created his awful “master piece.” In this scenario the killer may be basically telling the truth in the letter to the Fayetteville paper — he has killed many times before, and he envies and wants to imitate the fact that the Zodiac was never caught. If this is what actually happened, the killer will write to another media outlet soon. He may even go further towards imitating Zodiac and include code of some sort. This killer’s code, unlike Zodiac’s, may be relatively simple and easy to solve — that, or it will be utterly senseless and never solved, because there will be no solution.
  • A woman who knew Touma was the killer. The Fayetteville Observer has reported that the Zodiac symbol found in the death room was drawn on the mirror with lipstick. The female killer may not have realized that Touma was only 7 months along and was intent on taking the baby. A variation on that scenario: Touma was killed out of jealousy.
  • The real Zodiac having committed the murder is easily the most outlandish choice. He would be older, possibly elderly now, and have no logical reason for re-announcing his presence. It is more logical to think he came out of ‘retirement’ to kill Christian camp counselors Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen in Sonoma County, CA in 2004. Cutshall and Allen were in Zodiac’s old stomping grounds and in a situation that seemed to trigger him in the past — a young couple alone in an isolated spot. I don’t actually think the Zodiac Killer committed that double murder, either, but it would be more logical than thinking he’s alive and well in North Carolina and killing pregnant young Army Specialists.

Of course there are other possibilities, but the ones above seem most prevalent in discussions on the Web.

I have no reason to think this, no tip to go on, but I feel some new developments in the Touma investigation will be announced tomorrow. I don’t know if they will be major, but I do feel strongly that the investigation into this case is intense and relentless. No matter what or who he is, Megan Touma’s killer is dangerous.

Bad Headline of the Day: Fox News Implies the Real Zodiac is Back

Previously, on The True Crime Weblog:

Zodiac’s Ghost: Letter citing infamous serial killer as inspiration claims kill in N.C.

I guess I’m off hiatus, now. It’s a little like being Michael Corleone — every time I think I’m out and ready to do something else, some psycho does something that pulls me back in.

So here ya go. Dumbest damned headline of the day, courtesy of the fabulous folks at Fox News:

Zodiac Ties Probed in Slain Pregnant Soldier Case

What do you think when you read that? I think — if I look at it as if I were someone with very little knowledge of this story — “oh, has the real Zodiac come back?”

A quote from the article:

A symbol similar to one often left by the nefarious Zodiac killer of the 1960s was scrawled in lipstick on a mirror in the North Carolina hotel room where Army Spc. Megan Touma was found June 21, police said.

A letter sent to a local newspaper and published last week also contained the symbol, a circle with a cross through it…

The rest of the article is pretty straightforward and gives us ‘the case so far.’ The worst thing is the headline, because it is misleading. At the moment, it is much easier to be skeptical of the letter sent to the Fayetteville Observer than anything else. Cleverly written as the letter was — the writer managed to ape the Zodiac Killer’s tone and attitude pretty well in just a couple of paragraphs — it beggars common sense to think a true, anonymous, serial-killing inheritor to the California killer from the late 60s has made himself known. The only “tie” I can see at the moment between the real deal and the writer of the letter in NC is the current unknown criminal’s co-opting of Zodiac’s symbol and his writing style.

About the case so far — one of Megan Touma’s fellow soldiers is under investigation. The soldier may have once been stationed with Touma in Bamberg, Germany and is now at the Fort Bragg-based U.S. Army Special Operations Command. NBC 17 in Raleigh, NC reports that the suspect was studying — wait for it — psychological operations (this won’t be news to anyone who followed comments on the previous post about this case — neither will the fact that NBC 17’s website loads slower than your teenager’s pimped-out social networking profile).

I don’t have a source to support this contention, but I am fairly sure that anyone learning U.S. Military psy ops studies killers like the Zodiac, BTK Strangler, and Son of Sam (David Berkowitz) at some point. Why? Because these letter-writing, taunting serials were individuals who used their acts and their communications with the police, press and public at large to commit a kind of domestic terrorism.

Dennis Rader (BTK) killed 10 people — that we know of. That’s bad enough, but he also became, for 3 decades, the boogeyman of Wichita, Kansas. Parents used BTK to caution their kids. Rader was a nebbishy, anal-retentive minor public official, but as BTK he cast a long, terrifying shadow.

David Berkowitz managed to terrify everyone in New York City and capture the attention of the nation one hot summer in the 1970s. Berkowitz was a lowly, withdrawn postal worker living in a shabby little apartment. But he was a monster in the mind of anyone reading newspapers or watching the nightly news broadcast.

And the real Zodiac Killer? We don’t know who he was, even today. Some people claim they’ve solved the case, others have their pet theories, sure — including me. But Zodiac remains a cipher. He was probably like Rader and Berkowitz — a small man in a small, nothing job. A nowhere man. But he had big plans. And when he put them into action, he cast a far more terrifying and monstrous shadow over the public than he ever truly cast standing on the street corner late at night, smiling as the sirens wailed in the distance.

Killers such as these performed psychological operations on the public. The men themselves were small, nobodies. Their homicidal creations, promoted to everyone through strange, mad letters, codes, threats, warnings — they intimidated thousands, even millions.

Isn’t that a key goal of offensive psy ops? I’m pretty sure it is. There are positive uses for psychological operations, of course — positive in the sense that they do not involve attempting to scare others. But if you have an enemy you’re trying to rattle before the bombs start to drop, you need to know how to push peoples’ buttons.

At the moment, it makes much more sense to me to suspect someone being trained in psychological operations of even thinking to write a fake “Zodiac is my hero” letter to the press than it does to think some blank-faced, prolific serial killer has finally announced himself to the public.

If the latter ends up being the case, it’ll be a hell of a story, and probably have me parked at this blog posting updates daily. But I’m doubtful. The explanation for the tragedy of this pregnant young soldier’s murder is likely to be much more prosaic, in the end.

Zodiac’s Ghost: Letter citing infamous serial killer as inspiration claims kill in N.C.

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UPDATES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.

If there was ever a good reason to break my hiatus from updating this blog, this is it.

From FayObserver.com:

“‘I’m killer’ of Spc. Touma.

A quote from the article — bold emphasis has been added:

A person claiming to be the killer of the pregnant soldier found dead in a motel has written an anonymous letter calling the murder a “master piece” and threatening to kill again.

On Friday, sources requesting anonymity told The Fayetteville Observer that a symbol used in the letter is identical to one found written in lipstick on a mirror in the Fairfield Inn room where Spc. Megan Lynn Touma’s body was discovered June 21…

The Observer apparently received the letter Wednesday. It was dated June 17 (the symbols beside the date on the letter — @))* — seen if you click the image above to enlarge it, are the symbols over the numbers 2008 on a typewriter or computer keyboard) and postmarked June 24. You can read the full text of the letter by clicking on the screen capture, but I’ll make it easier by quoting — formatting, spelling and punctuation mistakes have been left intact:

To whom it may concern. The following is to inform that I am responsible for the dead body that was found on Saturday, June 21 @ 1130 in room 143 at Fairfield INN by Marriott off Skibo RD. It was a master piece. I confess, that I have killed many times before in several states, but now I will start using my role-model’s signature. There will be many more to come.

Fayetteville law enforcement are very incompetent. I basically, sat there and watch while investigaters were on site.

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The writer signed off with the mysterious, 60s-era serial killer’s chosen symbol — a circle quartered by a cross. The Zodiac sign has been interpreted in many ways. Zodiacologists all know that one likely source was the Zodiac brand watch, which was sold in the 60s and 70s. Other possible inspirations were a scaled back representation of a typical chart showing the 12 houses of the Zodiac — Scorpio, Sagittarius, etc — or the cross-hairs seen through a rifle scope.

Lt. David Sportsman of the Fayetteville PD said that investigators think the letter is “valuable evidence.” He also said that it might be an attempt to misdirect not only the investigation into the death of Megan Touma, but the publics’ perception of the investigation.

Clearly trying to forestall any public outcry about a serial killer in their midst, Sportsman said “There is absolutely no reason to believe” that other killings related to the confessional letter have actually occurred.

Specialist Touma’s death has not been officially declared a homicide. Her cause of death won’t be clear until an autopsy is completed. According to the search warrant application filed by investigators, Touma was in “an advanced state of decomposition” when she was found. A clear cause of death may not be easily established.

According to the Observer, 23-year-old Megan Lynn Touma arrived in Fayetteville on June 12. She had been re-assigned to Fort Bragg, having previously been stationed at the U.S. Army Dental Clinic in Bamberg, Germany as a dental specialist. Touma didn’t show up for formation with the 19th Replacement Company on June 16. She was found on the 21st, and a “Do not disturb” sign had been on the door to the room she rented since at least June 17 — the date on the letter from the Zodiac admirer.

At first the Fayetteville paper honored a police request to not publish the letter. The authorities felt that it might cause a panic. Then the Observer received a tip that connected the letter to a “symbol at the death scene.” Observer Executive Editor Brian Tolley said, “We wanted to be responsible stewards of the information, to weigh our obligation to inform the public with the possibility of the damage we could do […] In the end, we just wanted to do what we believe was the right thing.”

What about the letter-writer’s claims?

I believe he is telling the truth about being an admirer of the Zodiac Killer. If you visit Tom Voigt’s comprehensive ZodiacKiller.com, you can find good copies of every letter the Zodiac wrote to the press in his years-long campaign of terror. Though the still-unknown San Francisco-area serial killer killed 5 and injured 2 between 1968 and ’69, he was sending letters to the press as late as 1974. The Zodiac was a publicity-seeking and savvy killer. His campaign of letter-writing and sending cryptic codes to newspapers showed a bent towards domestic terrorism, a tendency fully expressed in later years by The Unabomber and Wichita’s BTK Strangler, Dennis Rader.

The Fayetteville Zodiac admirer’s letter reveals his inspiration in some subtle ways. While Zodiac did use the word “masterpiece” in one letter without splitting it in two, that kind of mistake would have been classic Zodiac. An example of that sort of mistake from the Zodiac: he wrote the word “Christmas” as “Christmass” — possibly just an error, possibly his way of revealing that he understood the origins of the word.

Zodiac may have been a bit of an Anglophile — a lover of all things British. He quoted from the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Mikado in his letters, and his letter-writing mirrored the first publicity-seeking thrill killer, London’s Jack the Ripper. Zodiac misspelled numerous words in every message, but his use of grammar was as precise as an over-achieving British schoolboy’s. The Fayetteville Z-fan’s letter is too short to analyze his use of grammar with any degree of accuracy (and I’m not the world’s greatest grammarian), but the overall tone is clearly reminiscent of the killer the letter-writer claims to admire. Even the date on the letter, “17 June” is a British construction. Americans typically write “June 17” or “6/17”.

The person who wrote the letter to the Observer knew his role-model’s style, too.

From the Zodiac’s letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, dated October 13, 1969: “The S. F. Police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motor cicles (sic) seeing who could make the most noise.”

Fayetteville, 2008: “Fayetteville law enforcement are very incompetent. I basically, sat there and watch while investigaters were on site.”

Zodiac to the San Francisco Examiner on July 31, 1969: “I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmass (sic) at Lake Herman & the girl last 4th of July. To prove this I shall state some facts which only I & the police know…”

Fayetteville, NC, 2008: “The following is to inform that I am responsible for the dead body that was found on Saturday, June 21 @ 1130 in room 143 at Fairfield INN by Marriott off Skibo RD.”

The letter smacks of someone who has read the Zodiac’s letters over and over and made it a point to digest both the attitude and the style of the California killer.

It is peculiar that the letter appears to have been composed on a typewriter (I’m not so convinced that you can’t get a typewriter-like product from a word processor and a printer, but I’ll save that argument for later). The killer may be trying to evade forensic detection by doing so, but typewriters are pretty rare nowadays, and perhaps even easier to trace than they were 30 or 40 years ago.

Also strange, and potentially chilling — the letter-writer’s claim that he has”killed many times before in several states.” On true crime message boards, people are already posting links to stories of other unsolved murders that might fit this killer’s m. o.

I’m not ready to buy into that claim. Here, the Fayetteville police may be correct — claims of many other murders in other states may be a lie intended to obfuscate the investigation into Spc. Touma’s death. Nationwide attention to this mysterious death in Fayetteville, NC could distract the public from potential clues to solving this crime right there in Fayetteville. The letter-writer could by trying to imply that he’s already moved on, isn’t even in that city anymore.

Chris, a fellow crime blogger and a poster on the message board associated with ZodiacKiller.com, made a succinct point about this in a thread discussing the Fayetteville letter. Chris wrote: “There is always the possibility that this is just an attempt at a cover-up. The fact that this woman was pregnant when she was killed raises that likelihood. Also, she was killed in a hotel room, indicating that she very likely knew her killer. This could just be a distraction from the obvious suspect –the would-be father of the child Touma was carrying.”

Chris may be right. After all, when you hear hoofbeats, you don’t typically think a herd of zebras is on its way to trample you. You hear hoofbeats, you think horses. Killers like the Zodiac are zebras. Panicky, psychopathic baby-daddies are, sadly, a dime a dozen — horses — when it comes to dead, pregnant women.

This post may be updated and revised.

Extra link: WRAL’s copy of the inventory of items seized in the search of Megan Touma’s motel room.

UPDATE 1.

Fayetteville police say they have a suspect. The NBC affiliate in Raleigh, NC reports that the Touma murder is being treated as a homicide, and police have begun analyzing evidence taken from an unnamed suspect’s residence.

Having someone under investigation may indicate that the letter was indeed a “red herring,” as suggested by fellow crime blogger Chris in a quote above.

You can read the article about the search of a suspect’s home on NBC 17’s website here, but be warned: the site is so heavily loaded with ads, flash videos and pop-ups it might as well be some teenager’s overly-pimped MySpace profile. Click at your peril, if you have a slow connection.

UPDATE 2.

As “PoorPaula” noted in the comments on this entry, someone using the name “Anibal” left an interesting comment on a post at Bonnie’s Blog of Crime about the Touma murder. This is most of “Anibal’s” comment, dated June 28 and time-stamped 4:46 a.m.:

This is regarding the murder of SPC Megan Lynn Touma….her boyfreind name was Sgt Edgar Patino..He is station in Fort Brag. He is aslo marry to Heileen Patino. He was also station he in Bamberg, Germany. I spoke to her the day before she left and she told me that was his baby and she was seven months pregnant. He was a buddy of mind. We were both assigned to 54th Egineer Batallion…

Keep in mind that Patino has not been mentioned in any other reports about this crime. As far as anyone knows right now, neither he nor anyone associated with him is a suspect or person of interest in the murder of Megan Lynn Touma. [Edited to add: “nursebeeme,” a trusted long-time reader of this blog, has indicated that Patino’s full name is actually Edgar Patino Lopez. The same tipster confirmed that Patino was at one time stationed in Bamberg, Germany.]

UPDATE 3.

I’ve gotten to where I think bloggers shouldn’t talk about what they see in their web statistics unless the blogger feels threatened and wants to make that public. But I did feel that it was worth it in this instance to note that this blog post has received several hits from servers owned by various Fayetteville-area publications since Edgar Patino Lopez’s name was added in update 2. That makes me believe that he may indeed be the person of interest in this case.

But at the moment that’s only a guess.

ETA: Nurse pointed out a new comment on Bonnie’s Blog of Crime — reporter Greg Barnes from the Fayetteville Observer asking Anibal to speak with him about Sgt. Patino. I can think of a lot of reasons why Barnes would want to talk about Patino, but right now, it’s pretty obvious what the main reason might be.

Jerome Sydney Barrett Indicted in Trimble Case

Click here see my previous entries about the unsolved murder of Marcia Trimble.

Today, Nashville District Attorney Torry Johnson finally announced charges against convicted sexual predator Jerome Sidney Barrett for the murder of the Green Hills school girl on Feb. 25, 1975. A grand jury handed down the indictment on Tuesday.

Barrett is currently locked up on another charge connected to the 1975 murder of college student Sarah Des Prez. He previously served several years in prison for rape. During that time he fought against being labeled the kind of predator who targeted children, even though he wasn’t connected to the Trimble case until 2007.

The story of Marcia’s murder , which haunted my hometown and my generation of Nashville natives in particular (since Marcia was a member of that generation), may now be on its final chapters after all. It really may have been a stranger all along — the very thing no one believed about the Trimble case when it first hit the news 33 years ago.

Also see this detailed article in the Nashville Post: “Arrest made in Trimble case.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about taking out two birds with one stone.

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

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

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

Unsolved: The Keddie Murders

NOTE: In the coming weeks I will be re-visiting some crime stories I’ve covered on this and other blogs in the past. I will sometimes re-post old entries from old sites with updates, and will write new posts as well. This post is, in a loose way, part of that effort. When I first referenced the horrific Keddie Murders some 3 years ago, it was really just in passing; the murders of the Groene family in May, 2005 by serial killer Joseph Edward Duncan III (see the best resource on the Web relevant to Duncan and his crimes here) resembled the Keddie Murders in many respects. There was ultimately a huge difference between the two crimes — Duncan was arrested and admitted to what he did. The Keddie Murders remain unsolved.

I decided to write a post about that horrific night in Cabin 28 because this blog has recently seen a spate of search referrals about the Keddie case. I imagine this is due to the fact that a movie titled The Strangers premieres on May 30. It stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman and according to Wikipedia, may be based in part on the Keddie Murders. I doubt the movie was actually inspired by any one crime. The ‘inspired by real events’ tag is usually more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. Still — any new attention to this unsolved case is a good thing. You’re about to see why.

*****

Cabin 28 is gone now. It’s probably better that way.

According to Wikipedia, the cabin was razed in 2006. Another source indicates the cabin was destroyed in 2004. Either way, it was torn down to keep away the weirdos, the ghost hunters, and the teens testing each others’ bravery.

Cabin 28 in the Keddie Resort in Plumas County, CA was destroyed to try and make way for some new memories. Anything, perhaps, to finally put the old horrors to rest.

*****

Built in 1910, the idyllic Keddie Resort offered a lodge surrounded by 33 cabins. There were hiking trails winding through the pines and great trout-fishing in the mountain streams. Customers came from miles away to dine in the restaurant at the lodge.

In the late 60s, you could buy a “Feather River Canyon Holiday [and] Keddie All-Expense Week-End (sic)” for $32 per person. The junket included “a buffet dinner and overnight accomodations at Keddie Resort.”

Crime was almost unknown. Sure, in 1955 Richard Moffett and Earl Jones had an auto accident near Keddie, and the wreckage revealed that the men had stolen kitchenware from the Resort restaurant. But their injuries from the accident were probably as good a punishment as any.

Then one night in April, 1981, 15-year-old John Sharp and 17-year-old Dana Wingate hitchhiked to Keddie and Cabin 28 from nearby Quincy. John and his mom Glenna had been living in the cabin for months.

Police believe that the horrors that took place on the night of April 11 began right around the time John and Dana entered the cabin.

No one seems to know for sure if the killers entered with the boys or if they were already there. Either way, the next 10 hours or so were an orgy of violence and bloodshed.

The killers bound Glenna Sharp, John, and Dana with wire and duct tape. Tina Sharp, age 13, entered after the horrors began. She too was restrained.

The killers used knives. They used a hammer. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001, Plumas County Sheriff’s Patrol Commander Rod DeCrona said that the victims were stabbed “so violently they bent one knife totally double from the force.” DeCrona continued, “They stabbed and pounded on everything in sight — the walls, the people, the furniture. Everything.”

DeCrona said that there was “blood sprayed absolutely everywhere.”

Sheila Sharp had stayed with a friend that night in a nearby cabin. She came home the next morning to discover that her home had been turned into an abbatoir. She was only 14.

But nothing in the Keddie case has ever been straightforward.

For example, Tina Sharp wasn’t among the dead. She was missing.

And Tina’s younger brothers — Ricky and Greg — were unharmed. They’d slept throughout the night in another room in the cabin, along with another boy who was there for a sleepover.

Neighbors in nearby cabins didn’t hear anything that night.

At least 8 investigators were on the case in the weeks just after the massacre. Speaking to a Sacramento paper in 1984, then-Plumas Sheriff Steve Wright stated that his office had put in at least 4,000 man-hours of investigation.

They couldn’t find a motive. For 3 years, they couldn’t find Tina.

Just over 3 years after the murders, someone was hunting for bottles near Feather Falls, some 50 miles from Keddie, when they discovered bones.

A state lab analyzed the bones, and in June of 1984, authorities made the announcement: they’d found what was left of Tina Sharp.

*****

There have been at least two websites devoted to this nightmarish unsolved crime. One was published in conjunction with a 2005 documentary about the murders, Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders. That site has been offline for a while, and is difficult to access via the Wayback Machine. The other site is Cabin28.com.

A look at information published by Cabin28.com gives a rough sketch of some other events in the case.

Some time after April 14, 1981, police questioned two men in connection with the murders, Martin “Marty” Smartt and John “Bo” Boubede. According to the website, the Plumas County Sheriff’s Dept. searched Smartt’s cabin and a nearby “outbuilding.” A jacket, “believed to belong to Tina [Sharp]” was found beneath the house. There may have been blood on the jacket.

[EDIT: A commenter signing off only as “Smartt” posted the following on May 28: “Please edit your blog to indicate that Marty Smartt was questioned by PCSD, the California State Police, and the FBI and was found to have no involvement with these murders and was subsequently released.“]

Apparently, the investigation never went anywhere after that. John Boubede may have been dead since 1982, and Marty Smartt since 2002.

The same website states that Tina Sharp did not receive any kind of memorial or headstone until 2002.

The owner of AsylumEclectica.com took a trip to Cabin 28 in 2001. “Comtesse” made photos and wrote a short narrative. Quote:

So, we drove up Highway 70, through the beautiful Feather River Canyon, up to Keddie Resort. A short drive down Keddie Resort Road and we were in the midst of a large number of cabins, most in disrepair and featuring ‘Condemned’ signs on the front door. We were a bit disappointed – and surprised – to find that cabin #28 is actually located right in the middle of a group of cabins, several of which seemed to be occupied. I was expecting it to be tucked away in some dark, deep secret place where we could snoop in peace, but that was not to be. I also couldn’t help but wonder how such savagery could be inflicted on several people for several hours right in the middle of this inhabited area and nobody outside heard a thing? Pretty strange…

The photos at Asylum Eclectica hold no hint of the aura of menace that must have hung over Cabin 28 in the two-plus decades following the murders there. They simply show a boarded-up, dilapidated structure that looks like nothing more than a shed, really.

Based on some discussions on a message board related to Cabin28.com, it appears as though the conflating of the mystery of Cabin 28 with The Strangers has caused some to believe that the two are one and the same, and that the story of the murders of Glenna Sharp, John Sharp, Dana Wingate, and Tina Sharp are all part of some “viral” fiction. They are not. The Keddie Murders were real, and there are newspaper articles about the murders going back to 1981, if you know where to find them. The massacre in Cabin 28 left a stain on that part of Plumas County that has pained residents ever since. While many in Plumas County would surely love for the Keddie Resort to one day be equated with something other than this bloody crime, I can’t imagine they or any surviving Sharp relatives would be anything but furious to think that some folks now believe this tragedy is nothing but a marketing tool.

But you know, the Keddie Murders may remain a mystery. That’s the sad fact about many long-unsolved crimes; they simply stay unsolved. In my own mental encyclopedia of unsolved mysteries, the Keddie Murders are closely related to the Groene murders in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — which were, of course, solved — the murders of the Bennetts in Aurora, CO in 1984, and more recently, the murder of the Short family in Virginia in 2002. The last family murder also involved an abducted child who was only found later, miles away.

The sheer enormity of these tragedies connects them. But I sometimes think they are also connected by virtue of being examples of what happens when humans unleash their most monstrous selves. Because Joseph Edward Duncan III had a blog, we know that he was giving himself over to his psychopathic demons in the weeks before he killed the Groenes, Mark McKenzie, and took away Shasta and Dylan Groene to brutalize them for weeks on end. He was giving up and letting his mask of sanity crack and fall away.

Duncan is in prison, trying to keep the needle out of his arm. The world is now safe from him. The thing that scares people about the other crimes, the ones that haven’t been solved, is the idea that the killers who committed them gave free rein to their demons — and then put the mask on again. Such things can spook you in a spiritual way, really. That’s why I find myself automatically linking such crimes, even when there is absolutely no reason to think the same killer did them all. That particular breed of serial murder is actually pretty rare.

Different hands wield the knives and the hammers. But even in my most secular, agnostic moments, I still wonder if the same sort of inhuman, timeless evil is present behind the eyes of the monsters shedding the blood.

Selected sources:

  • Sacramento Bee;
  • San Francisco Chronicle;
  • Oakland Tribune.