GUEST POST: More About CrimeJunkies.com

The webmaster/creator of CrimeJunkies.com prefers to remain anonymous. This person is a former Court TV producer whom I first ‘met’ (via phone, hence the quotes) when she was working for a popular legal talk show on that network. Our guest blogger has, in her own words, “covered all the major crime news and high-profile trials in the past few years including Natalee Holloway, Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson and Andrea Yates.” Now, a bit more about CrimeJunkies.com…

I never thought I would call myself a “Crime Junkie.” Growing up, I was involved in music, arts and sports and never could have imagined that I would become a crime news addict.

But, whenever the words “breaking news” are said by a reporter, I suddenly become a detective and a lawyer and want to search for the truth. I am glued to the TV for the mysterious “whodunits.” I create a laundry list of questions and want the answers.

Are there any suspects? Did cops find a murder weapon? Did the victim have any enemies?

I was lucky enough to make my hobby into a career. And now, I am proud to announce that I am continuing my contribution to our community with the launch of my new website, “www.crimejunkies.com.

“Crime Junkies” will take a daily look at the most fascinating crime and legal news, along with interviews from the people involved in present and past cases. When a high-profile case is before a judge, expect Crime Junkies to be blogging from the courtroom. A features section will allow those in search of justice to speak out. For instance, the website has an exclusive blog from the woman involved in the controversial “rape ban” case.

It is only in its infancy now but keep checking back for new updates and improvements. I look forward to receiving your input. I also want to thank Steve Huff for his incredible support and applaud him on his excellent work.

Please visit: www.crimejunkies.com

Dan Cooper’s Parachute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John List Dead at 82

Family annihilator John Emil List died on Friday. List was serving a life sentence for his crimes in the New Jersey State Prison. He’d been moved to a medical facility in Trenton, NJ shortly before his death at the age of 82.

John List spent Nov. 9, 1971 murdering his family. He started with his elderly mother and infirm wife, then shot each one of his 3 children as they came home from school. List, a staunch Lutheran and methodical accountant, wrote a letter confessing all to his pastor. Then he vanished. List managed to stay on the run for 18 years. He was only captured after his crimes were featured on America’s Most Wanted. List began serving his sentence in 1990.

It’s only happenstance, but it seems strange that the welcome news of List’s passing comes today, when there are reports of yet another family murder committed by another father who worked with money, this time in Iowa City, IA. The suspect in this case, Steven F. Sueppel (who may himself be dead at this point), was facing decades in prison on charges of bank fraud and money laundering.

Here are links to more info about List and his haunting crimes:

Shooter on the loose in Iowa City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This entry will be updated and revised.

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

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

Seattle John Doe: Who the Hell is this Guy?

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UPDATE, 3/24/08:

John Doe has been identified. He is Scott Andrew Shain, age 53. According to Seattle TV station KING 5, Shain was identified by his parents after they saw his photo on the FBI’s website. Thanks to commenter “WOW” for the update and the link. Further updates may follow.

ORIGINAL ENTRY:

The balding, blue-eyed man is medium height, weighs about 170. His age is a mystery. He could be 40, he could be in his early 50s. In every photo he wears the same expression, and it’s hard to dismiss the impression that he’s smirking. He is holding onto a secret, something he’ll never willingly tell another. He currently sits inside the SeaTac Detention Center in Seattle, Washington, facing a number of charges — charges that include aggravated identity theft.

No one knows who he is. To that end, he’s even tried to obliterate his own fingerprints.

The FBI started looking into John Doe more than 5 months ago. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police contacted the FBI, curious about Seattle resident Dwayne Spill. Spill had tried to get birth certificates from British Columbia and from Saskatchewan.

The Feds first talked to the man in late 2007. He called himself Robert Lowe, but the nameplate on his residence read “D. A. Spill.”

The investigation revealed more names. Photographs from Washington State driver’s licenses tied the names together. All the licenses bore photos of the same ageless, smirking man. In some he wore wigs, others he wore glasses. But his face was unmistakable. Beside that face were names like:

  • William Gregg;
  • a variation on Robert Lowe, spelling the last name “Loew”;
  • William Everett Gee;
  • Blake Matthew Desmond;
  • Bernard O’Daly;

Federal agents believe John Doe has used at least 32 identities over the years.

An investigator with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, Joseph Velling, spoke to the Seattle Times about Doe. The Feds may know who the man is now, but they aren’t sure. “He is a little bit of a savant, to tell you the truth,” said Velling. He continued, “It’s hard to remember anything quite like this.”

Doe was clever. In Massachusetts he was Bernard O’Daly (only one man with this name from Massachusetts shows up on the Social Security Death Index — he died in April, 1979). When he moved west, he had that name legally changed to Blake Matthew Desmond.

Special Agent Velling told the Times that Doe has lived in Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. Doe has a criminal record as well — under some of his aliases.

His most recent arrest wasn’t Doe’s first encounter with Federal agents. Doe was interviewed 15 years ago by the Secret Service after he allegedly threatened Bill Clinton. They confiscated a homemade flamethrower from the man at the time.

Velling also indicated that Doe may have had some involvement in what he called a “sort of eBay or Craigslist for criminals.”

Though Doe is facing charges of mail fraud and identity theft, investigators haven’t found much evidence of the mystery man using his various identities to commit any other crimes. He may be hiding from something, he may simply be paranoid.

Doe hasn’t helped anyone. He simply sits in jail, no doubt with the same mysterious half-smile on his face much of the time, waiting for his next court date.

Sources:

True Crime Sites of Interest

In spite of the abiding interest in the subject matter, new true crime-related sites don’t pop up all that often — at least in my experience. And believe me, I look for them.

Generally, the ones I hear about come through my e-mail or a random link from another site. Here’s a few for you to peruse at your leisure.

CRIMEBLOG.IT

The site’s name would be pretty clever in English, but fair warning — CrimeBlog.it is not a clever use of a foreign domain extension like Trench Reynolds’s CrimeNe.ws — it’s an Italian language true crime blog. The focus is on crime in Italy, but the blogger also covers unusual and bizarre crimes from the US and elsewhere. Entries are short and punchy and the subject matter is a little more varied than you’d find here.

I can read Italian but I do have to use online translation sites at times. Based on the knowledge I do have of the language, Google’s may be the most accurate, but you can also try Babelfish, the venerable online translator run by Altavista.

I decided to point you to this site in part because I know this blog has Italian readers and readers who speak the language, and also because some hair-rising true crime tales come from the land that also gave us opera and yummy, yummy pasta. Don’t believe me? Just look up the Monster of Florence.

CRIMEJUNKIES.COM

I’m not going to say a whole lot about CrimeJunkies.com here, because I’ve asked the site owner to do a guest blog post. I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say the site looks like it will live up to its name. It’s brand new, but CrimeJunkies.com has (or will have) just about everything the most hard-core true crime fan wants from a website focusing on their addiction.

WOMENINCRIMEINK.BLOGSPOT.COM

Before I wrote about crime I was a fan of the genre. And as a fan, I always knew I was in the minority, for it seems that women are the most active consumers of true crime related literature (and the best-selling author in the genre is a woman). It was, after all, my mother’s interest in the subject that got me started. If you saw a copy of Helter Skelter laying around our house, or even True Detective magazines, they were my mom’s. My alpha male military Dad was apparently a little skeeved out by the whole thing.

Plenty of men write about crime, of course, but the number of female readers of this blog and other sites I’m familiar with has recently had me wondering why someone didn’t think up a blog like WomeninCrimeInk a long time ago. The high-powered roster of blog authors includes award-winning true crime authors, broadcasters, attorneys, journalists, even a homicide detective.

The result so far is a well-written and engaging blog that never veers into the tabloid or lurid — hopefully a nice complement to the one you’re reading now (though I fully admit that some ready-for-the-tabloids stories can’t help but make it onto my site, from time to time). A recommended read, for sure.

ADDED LATER: 320SYCAMORE.COM

320Sycamore.com seeks to be a “destination for Crime Interested Individuals! Explore and engage in activities, research, and talk that matters to you.”

The site is structured like an online town. Knowing the way a little community can develop over a single subject here at The True Crime Weblog, this is a model that makes a lot of sense to me. The best way to approach 320Sycamore.com is simply to do as you might in any new place and take a little ramble around. The site is laid out fairly well and seems much more amenable to community discussion than many straight-up just plain weblogs.

If you have any suggestions for new sites similar to the ones listed above, put them in the comments.

A note of warning, though — don’t come here and just spam me with a blurb for your site in a comment. I will delete it as quickly as possible, and I may ban your IP as well. Let me be specific about this — I never mind links to other sites — ever. But I do mind it if you have some sort of cut & paste boilerplate you’re simply posting willy-nilly all over the Web on any site with, let’s say, “crime” in the URL. I’ve only ever received a handful of those comments, but they never fail to make me angry. To me, that’s the height of real rudeness on the Web. If you want to promote your own site by posting it in a comment, it better be relevant and acknowledge the subject at hand. Otherwise, you might as well be a spam link for Viagra.

Maine Gothic: A Boy and His Mother

Even Maine’s most famous horror novelist couldn’t make this up. Well… he could, but it’d probably be too disturbing, depressing, and tawdry for him to bother.

Just before midnight on Sunday, Matthew Audet, age 22, called police in Lewiston, Maine. He told them his 47-year-old mother Debra wasn’t breathing. According to police reports, Matthew Audet said his mother might have attempted suicide. She’d “grabbed her own larynx” and “might have choked herself out.”

Police found Audet in the apartment he shared with his mom, kneeling on a mattress beside her body. Debra Audet was unresponsive and had no pulse.

Matthew Audet was sticking to the suicide story. His mom had tried it before, he told police. Audet demonstrated what he meant to the officers on the scene by grabbing his own throat with both hands and making gagging noises.

Cops naturally wanted Audet to come down to the police department, but they made it clear that he wasn’t under arrest. Audet’s response was odd — he stuck out his arms and pressed his wrists together, saying, “I’m ready.”

The cops didn’t handcuff Audet. He persisted, walking to the police cruiser with his arms behind his back, wrists touching.

Also living in the apartment with Audet and his mother were Matthew’s wife, Kayla, age 19, and a man named Jaime Arsenault, age 30.

Once police talked with Kayla Audet, a different story came to light.

Debra Audet didn’t commit suicide.

Everyone in Apt. 4 had been drinking that night, according to Kayla. She and Matthew were tossing back 40s, but Debra Audet’s drinks of choice were “Night Train” and “Mad Dog 20/20.”

Mother and son were drinking together in Debra’s room. Kayla wasn’t with them. She and Matthew had been having problems. Matthew drank too much for Kayla’s taste, among other things. She told Matthew that she wanted to leave him. An intense argument ensued, culminating in both dashing their wedding rings against the wall.

Kayla took a shower after the fight, then went to her room to gather her belongings. She heard Matthew calling for her.

She ignored his calls at first, but finally she went to Debra’s room to see what he wanted. That was when she saw Debra’s pale form, the dead woman’s tongue protruding from her mouth.

Kayla Audet was scared. She went to the bathroom to grab a few things, and Matthew followed her, saying, “I killed my mom.”

Matthew made a half-hearted attempt to keep his wife from leaving, but she did leave. Kayla went to a friend’s house, where she told her friend what had just occurred in the Audets’ apartment. Shortly after Kayla arrived, they heard the police cars going to the Audet residence, so Kayla went back to talk with the cops.

The most bizarre aspect of the story would come from the friend with whom Kayla sought refuge, identified in police reports as Regan Tims.

Tims told investigators that Debra Audet had a sexual relationship with her son. Tims said the relationship may have begun when Matthew was a boy, 8 or 9 years old. Regan Tims’s story grew even stranger. She’d talked with Debra earlier that Sunday, she said, and the elder Audet had recounted an argument she’d had with Matthew over a separate relationship.

That relationship, according to Regan Tims, was between Debra Audet and Matthew’s wife, Kayla. Tims said that Ms. Audet’s relationship with Kayla began while Matthew was doing a stint in the military.

Police reports indicate that investigators got Kayla Audet to confirm her relationship with her mother-in-law. Kayla said she had no ‘specific knowledge’ of a sexual relationship between Debra and Matthew.

In the end, Matthew Audet seemed to come clean about what happened in his mother’s room. He told of the drinking and hanging out with his mom, and of how she’d begun to harangue him. He wasn’t working enough, she had cancer and they’d be sorry when she was gone, and… Kayla was cheating on him.

That was it, for Matthew Audet. The police report states that he grabbed his mother, thinking he’d just “calm her down.” In the end, ‘calm down’ allegedly meant Audet’s hand on his mother’s throat for at least 30 seconds.

An autopsy on Debra Audet confirmed that she’d been strangled.

Sources and links:

Accused Rapist Shawn Wuertley: Background Check, Anyone?

Some people can’t get jobs if they have bad credit. Then there’s accused rapist Shawn Wuertley, age 29 (link goes to his MySpace page).

Wuertley was arrested today in Panama City Beach, Florida for false imprisonment, rape and attempted felony murder.

According to multiple media sources, Wuertley was working as a security guard at the Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort when he dragged an 18-year-old resort guest from Tuscaloosa, Alabama into an unoccupied room on the 6th floor at the resort and raped her. They struggled after the assault as the girl tried to get away. In the process, Wuertley allegedly shoved the victim off a balcony.

The girl fell onto a 2nd floor stairwell. Her injuries were said to be serious but not fatal. Wuertley was questioned by police and allowed to go. He fled, only to be arrested sometime today in Bay County, Florida.

The Panama City News-Herald reports:

[Maj. Dave Humphreys of the Panama City Beach Police Department] said police at the scene began to suspect that Wuertley might have been involved and took him to the police station, where they photographed and questioned him.

“There was not enough information at that point to charge him,” Humphreys said.

He said investigators did not run a criminal history check on Wuertley until after he was released. That’s when investigators discovered the Indiana arrest warrant on a burglary charge.

“We’re certainly checking into why that wasn’t done,” Humphreys said. “It should have been done.”

Wuertley has been running afoul of the law for some time now, you see. He had a long rap sheet from his home state of Indiana, and as recently as 2006 was in a Mooresville, IN correctional facility.

Yes, the police should have run a check on Wuertley as he sat with detectives answering questions — but let’s admit it: the real pressing question is how a guy with Wuertley’s record got a job working security at a beach resort. The real scrutiny should be on hiring practices here, now that police in Bay County (FL) have Wuertley safely behind bars.

There are plenty of jobs, particularly positions involving any kind of security work, that require full, exhaustive background checks. Even bad credit or bankruptcy can torpedo an applicant.

Even if Shawn Wuertley’s prior criminal history was non-violent, the News-Herald reported that it included “burglary, escape, auto theft,” as well as shoplifting and possession of marijuana. There was also an outstanding warrant for burglary in Indiana. How was that missed during the hiring process? No one can convince me that there are that many Shawn Wuertleys from Mooresville, Indiana out there.

Investigators have indicated that Wuertley may have simply lied on his application for the position at the resort.

That’s all it took for him to snag a job? Amazing.

A double failure, and for the family of a young woman from Tuscaloosa, a tragedy. Even though the victim survived the attack, she now may face a lifetime of physical and emotional trauma, the likes of which few of us can imagine.

This post may be revised and updated.

Additional links:

Shawn Wuertley’s Yahoo 360 profile

Discussion of this crime at Websleuths.com

OPEN THREAD: Continuing Discussion of the Murder of Meredith Kercher

I must admit I’m not fond of open threads. Essentially, it’s like letting a bunch of strangers take over a blog post, and I guess I’m territorial enough to be bothered by that. But I can’t deny that some readers love them. I’ll never be able to put up with the anarchy of a generalized open thread, where people can theoretically discuss whatever is on their minds, but certain subjects covered by this blog tend to demand open threads.

So, since folks have remained relatively — and I mean relatively — civil, here’s a new open thread for discussion of the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy last November. You can click the tags at the bottom of this post to find past entries in this blog about this case.

Please maintain a civil dialogue, and please do NOT bring arguments from other blogs to this one. In that respect, I remain apologetically protective of this space. If you started an argument elsewhere, finish it there, or forget about it. Please be courteous to any new posters, and if you express suspicion of who they really are, what their purpose is, please have a grounded, rational reason.

This post is yours, now — have at it.

NYC Crane Collapse: Criminal Negligence?

After monitoring the news for a bit, I decided to address this disaster in this blog. I am, in part, plagiarizing myself, as some of this post will mirror an update I appended to the entry about twisters near Atlanta (I live in the Atlanta area) at Random Lunatic News.

According to the New York Times, a massive crane has crashed down onto several buildings in Manhattan. At least 4 people were killed, maybe more. The Times gave the location as “303 East 51st Street, near Second Avenue.” The link in the preceding quote takes you to a webpage that appears to advertise the condo under construction at that address.

Fox News has reported that a number of people at FUBAR (alternate link, in case the page is removed or deleted), a bar located at 305 E. 50th St., were killed in this collapse.

Fox has mentioned quotes from people living in the area around the collapse about the building where the crane was in use being built “way too fast.” There are reports of multiple violations at the construction site. Someone may end up in prison over this.

Google’s Street View pointed towards FUBAR’s location is embedded at the bottom of this post. You can click on the image to travel up and down the street or get a 360-degree view of various locations.

This entry will be revised and expanded.

UPDATE

WNBC in New York notes that there were 9 ‘open violations’ against the building site in question. One interesting complaint was filed against the site on March 4, but inspection two days after the filing seemed to indicate there was no violation:

1) CALLER STATES, CRANE DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE BRACED TO THE BUILDING. THERE ONLY TIE BACKS ON 5 OR 6 FLOOR BUT UPPER PART WHICH IS 100 FT UP IS UNSECURED

Filed 3/4/2008 Inspection: 03/06/2008 – – I2 – NO VIOLATION WARRANTED FOR COMPLAINT AT TIME OF INSPECTION Comments: CRANE IS ERECTED ACCORDING TO APPROVED CN. #39/08, CD#3774

UPDATE 2

Thanks to reader KatK for pointing this out.

On March 7, a reader using the screen name “stuyguy” posted the following question on the StraightDope.com message boards:

My city is having a building boom like never before. All over the place there are cranes in the sky, perched atop these slender pipe-frame towers. They are casually moving what seem like enormous loads over the heads of workers and pedestrians while all around the worksite busy urban life goes on.

I have no formal knowledge about how these machines work, but I assume that when an airborne crane picks up a load, some counterwieght mechanism is tugging on the other side of it, keeping the center of gravity of the whole package squarely on top of the tower. (If this is wrong, please correct me and I’ll be quiet and go on my merry way.)

So, what would happen if the hoist cable (or one of the chains or straps around the load*) snapped? Suddenly there would be no counterforce to balance the crane’s lopsided weight. Are those framework towers anchored sufficiently to withstand such a “shove”?

Today, “stuyguy” started a new thread:

The crane that prompted me to ask the question was one that was being used on a construction site down the block from where I live, here in Manhattan. There was nothing in particular about this crane that made me think it was unsafe. It’s just that seeing it every day made me speculate if it could ever fall.

Well, today it did! Not one just like it. Not one nearby. The very same crane!

[…]

I was sitting in my apt when I heard the rumble outside. I looked out the window to see what made the noise, but I found nothing out of the ordinary. I went on the roof, and there was a huge cloud of dust looming in the east. Police cars and fire trucks were soon converging on the scene. I went to the street and spent most of the afternoon at the disaster site. Sadly, there were at least 4 deaths, and my favorite bar, Fubar, was totally destroyed.

What a freaky coincidence!

No kidding. Freaky may be too mild a word, at that.

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