Charlie’s Storms

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

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

Ice Storm

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

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

Carl didn’t take this well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rainmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Jones was dead in her bedroom.

Carl and Charlie

“It was like I was sort of programmed…”

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

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

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

“It was like I was forced to do it…”

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

Investigators felt it was a practiced move.

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

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

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

“I couldn’t really control myself…”

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

“…Such antisocial conduct…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe that isn’t always true.

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

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


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

The “White-Collar Predator” — Guest Blog by Chris McDonough

(A lot of crime bloggers or websleuths could be accused of being wannabe cops.

Chris McDonough is the real deal, and I’m proud to present the guest post he’s contributed to The True Crime Blog.

Chris is a national child safety expert who is called upon by the police when they need insight and expertise on understanding and catching sexual predators. As a retired homicide detective with more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, he trains homicide detectives with the Institute Of Investigative Science (www.iois.net) in analyzing criminal behavior. Chris’s media appearances are numerous and include The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is dedicated to protecting children and just launched a new website — www.predatorsafety.com — as a one-stop resource for parents and the community to help keep kids safe.)

I appreciate this opportunity Steve has given me to post here on truecrimeblog.com.

Here we go. I want to talk about a new phenomenon that I’ve coined the “White-Collar Predator.”

It’s been said that behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image. Criminals are masters of projecting the image they want you to see.

To better understand criminal behavior and the “White-Collar Predator,” you first have to look at the three types of lives that we all live. The first is our public life, the second is our private life and the third is our secret life. In our secret life, this is where secret thoughts can begin then build into fantasies which can give birth to sexual deviant behavior.

Our public life is what we want to show the world; our best behavior. And from this, this is how we want to be judged by others. Our private life is seen only by those closest to us and is how we actually behave. In our secret life, we consciously decide to conceal our behavior. All deviant criminal behavior occurs in the secret life.

Deviant criminals learn to master their secret life within their private life through years of learned behavior. Let me give you an example. The BTK killer, Dennis Rader, had a public and private persona of being a Boy Scout leader, a church leader and the community dog catcher. Yet all the while he was driven by his sexual fantasies in his hunt for a new victim. His secret life was never turned off and neither were his sexual fantasies. That’s what made him and guys like him so dangerous.

With the popularity of the internet, I’ve noticed an alarming new trend. We’re seeing professionals, white-collar folks, who are driven by their sexual fantasies which are readily fueled by pornography available on the internet. Pornography has always been a common denominator in criminals’ behavior in every sexual homicide case I’ve ever worked.

In the past, secret sexual behavior was, for the most part, contained to bathrooms with dirty magazines or in the black books of madams. That’s as far as it usually went. There may have been further sexual fantasies but the fuel was limited and thus they were not acted upon. Most individuals went to great lengths to protect their public and private personas.

Now the internet has allowed people in private to develop a virtual secret life where sexual fantasy has no limit masked by a public persona. The floodgates have been opened. It should no longer surprise us when we see doctors, lawyers and computer engineers being arrested for soliciting sex in chat rooms with our children. It’s no longer contained to the bathroom; it’s meeting a 13-year-old in a motel room. This is the “White-Collar Predator.”

The flip side to this disturbing new trend is now we’re seeing a distinction among predators; the “White-Collar Predator” and those who cannot compete intellectually. I’m going on the record saying this is a shift in criminal behavior unlike anything we’ve seen before.

In cyberspace, there’s sexual-fantasy jockeying going on for our children. White- Collar Predators have the intellectual advantage in chat rooms. Fueled by the same sexual fantasies, a white-collar predator may get a hook up while the other guy is forced into a voyeurism-only role watching the chat exchange. They are also driven to satisfy their fantasies so they take their hunt out into our neighborhoods and playgrounds.

Because of this phenomenon, we must consistently educate our children of the dangers that can lurk on the streets and of the dangers that may not be readily seen online. Times are changing and the criminal mind is adapting.

(Be sure to check out my guest blog entry at Chris’s PredatorSafety.com Weblog as well. ~ S.H.)

A Fire in Fishkill (Developing Story out of New York)…

The fire was reported just after 3 in the morning. Someone passing 203 Route 82 in Fishkill, New York spotted flames leaping from the 21/2-story dwelling and phoned emergency services.

Authorities determined that the fire was the result of arson. The dead people inside the house had not simply succumbed to the smoke or the heat, either — they’d been murdered.

At the moment, it appears that the toll in this dawning nightmare is three kids, two adults.

New York State Police have not identified any suspects and they are not releasing the names of the people found in the home.

In press conference held close to the burned-out home, Major William Carey, State Police Troop K, said that a vehicle fire had been reported about 20 minutes after the fire at 203 Route 82. Carey told reporters that the car fire “appeared to be related.” 1.

Someone posting a comment on the article that provided the info for this blog entry wrote the following about the house on Route 82:

This house on Route 82 caught my attention yesterday as I drove past about 2:45 pm. I thought the place looked neglected and their was garbage scattered all over the yard. This was not the way this house usually looked. This is such a terrible thing, and now they are saying it was a homicide…

I will update this blog entry as more news becomes available. Anytime 5 people die at once under such mysterious circumstances, it’s news worth following — especially if you live in the neighborhood. Obviously I don’t… and at the moment, I’m glad.

UPDATE, 9:32 p.m. ET

From the Hudson Valley News, the names of the victims:

Police Friday evening identified the five people killed in a house that was torched in the Town of Fishkill that morning as a mother, father and their three sons.

The Dutchess County Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled the deaths as homicide.

Dead are Manual Morey, 33, Tina Morey, 30, and their children, Manuel Morey, 13, Adam Morey, 10, and six-year-old Ryan Morey…

Other articles indicated that the 10-year-old boy had been stabbed to death, the youngest boy, Ryan, was bludgeoned.

A family vehicle was found torched on Lomala Lane, about a mile-and-a-half from the home on Route 82.

This horrific story is still developing…

1.Police: ‘Multiple homicides’ at site of Fishkill fire,” The Poughkeepsie Journal, January 19, 2007.

More Indictments for Joseph Edward Duncan III

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

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

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

The Dark Side: The Groene Murders.

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

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

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

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

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

(…)

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

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

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

The best link on the Web for information about Joseph Edward Duncan III is Jules Hammer’s jetd63.blogspot.com, The Cellar. Jules is one of the finest amateur sleuths I’ve ever met, and her weblog (begun by the pseudonymous “Mickey Rat” shortly after Duncan’s arrest and later turned over to Jules) is both a one-stop online shop for information about this particular serial killer and his crimes and the essence of what a crime blog should be. Blogs began as link lists and personal journals, and Jules has managed to stay true to the spirit of blogging and blend the personal with the factual at The Cellar in a seamless and engaging manner.

Also of interest:

  • Blogging the Fifth NailJoseph Edward Duncan III’s own weblog, kept between 2004 and 2005. Duncan’s blog should not be read in one sitting. Though there is nothing overt there as to what kind of animal he truly was, this is a weblog that works its way into your psyche until you think you hear his soft, chilling voice in your head. Read when it’s light outside.
  • 5nrevelations.blogspot.com — Blog begun by proxy while Duncan was awaiting his first trial — which ultimately didn’t happen because he pled guilty. In one entry in this weblog, Duncan practically admits he is a serial killer.
  • Video made by Duncan while he was a college student titled “Reality.” The video itself is strange, somehow haunting, but safe to view. However, the site I used to upload the video (this was pre-YouTube) has since taken on a lot of adult advertising. So that fact renders the link potentially not work-safe. It was pretty barebones when I first uploaded that video over a year ago.

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

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

Where is Wade Steffey?

From the Indy Channel:

Purdue University on Wednesday released information about a student who has been missing since early Saturday morning.

Wade S. Steffey, 19, has not had any contact with his friends or his father since Saturday.

Steffey, a freshman from Bloomington, has short, brown hair and brown eyes. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds…

Last time anyone saw Wade Steffey, he was at a fraternity house on the Purdue campus. He used his ATM card around 1 a.m… and he hasn’t used it since.

In the Indianapolis Star, Sopia Voravong wrote about the worry and dismay expressed by Wade’s family and friends. Wade Steffey wasn’t the kind of guy who would just up and disappear:

Steffey, an aviation technology major from Bloomington, is a straight-A student on a full-ride, academic scholarship, Cox said.

He has no known health problems.

The FBI in Lafayette, the West Lafayette Police Department and the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department all are assisting in the search.

K9 units from the Tippecanoe County and Porter County sheriff’s departments tried to track Steffey’s scent Wednesday from the fraternity to an ATM in the Ford Dining Hall at 1122 W. Stadium Ave., where his bank card was last used, then to his nearby residence hall.

All locations are within a half-mile on the northern edge of campus.

Investigators do not know whether Steffey was the person who withdrew $50 from the walk-up ATM at 1:11 a.m. Saturday because the machine’s camera was broken, Cox said.

Police also found no activity on Steffey’s student identification card, which he would need to swipe to get into Cary Quad after hours…

In short, Wade Steffey’s disappearance is completely at odds with his past.

That’s the conundrum when a missing persons case comes up for me as a crime blogger — this may not be a crime. It may be misadventure, it may be a personal choice.

So I have to go with expressions of suspicion by police, and such an expression is present here: “This is suspicious because it’s completely out of character…” ~ Capt. John Cox of the Purdue University Police Department.

Wade Steffey’s MySpace has already begun to receive worried comments. Early this morning, a young woman with the screen name “Spicoli” wrote, “Wade, we all love you and miss you. Come home, safely.”

Wade wrote a few blog entries in the weblog attached to his personal profile. On September 29, 2005, Wade wrote about getting into Purdue:

woo soo i got into purdue. no big surprise there. they are giving me 9500 dollars in merit based scholarships just cuz im smart. im not positive im going there but i think i might be able to go for freeee and thats quite tempting…

Apparently the temptation took.

While the National Honor Society member and graduate of Bloomington High School South was obviously smart, as evidenced by his academic achievements and scholarships, he was also an athlete and an Eagle Scout.

Do achievers walk out on life? Sometimes. But a lifelong pattern of responsibility rarely breaks one day at 19.

And as evidenced by “Spicoli’s” comment, Wade would not do that sort of thing.

In her MySpace weblog, another friend of Wade’s, Laura, was clear on that point:

His name is Wade Steffey, he’s 19 years old and has been missing since early Saturday morning. He was last seen at a party on Purdue’s campus Friday night or early Saturday morning. His ATM card was last used at 1:11am on Saturday morning. His roomate returned to campus on Monday and found the lights on, his computer on, but no Wade. Nothing was gone, so he hadn’t packed anything for a trip. It’s not like him to just pick up and leave without telling anyone where he is going. He’s a straight “A” student and has always been a great kid…

Wade Steffey’s cell phone goes to voice mail, and that 1 a.m. transaction on Saturday, January 13, there’s been no other activity on his account. He’s vanished into thin air.

Stories of missing young men, regardless of their skin color or station, do not often receive the attention given to stories about missing young women. That’s because there’s a perception, frequently true, that young men may often be the ones responsible somehow for their vanishing.

I read about a developing story like the disappearance of Wade Steffey and vividly recall something that happened when I was in college.

I was pulling into the parking lot across from the on-campus apartment where I lived with three other guys. It was 11 at night, and early spring.

A tall guy wearing a leather coat was walking down the sidewalk that bordered the lot. He was nice-looking, clean-shaven, and his dark clothes looked more expensive than mine. He could have been a student. But the moment my headlights crossed him, he cut his eyes towards me and slowed his pace. I didn’t know the guy, and up until that moment, he’d been walking off-campus, towards the main road. Immediately, I became suspicious.

He angled towards me, and I could tell by the direction of his gaze and his pace that he was coming around to talk to me.

It was raw instinct, but I backed out of the space and drove off, exiting the parking lot on the opposite side from where I’d entered. I circled campus for 15 minutes, feeling anxious and cowardly and stupid. Until I saw the same guy stalking down a main boulevard out of town, glaring at every car that passed. That was when I realized my instincts, raw as they were, had probably been correct — I’d spotted a predator spotting me. Likely just to mug me, maybe take the car — something I’d survive, physically. But still, I have wondered ever since who might have encountered the guy later and not felt that sense of alarm, or if they were alarmed, ignore the feeling out of self-doubt or guilt.

In Wade Steffey’s disappearance, the last transaction at the ATM with the broken camera… was that the beginning of a tragedy? Was Wade perhaps approached while his guard was down?

Let’s hope not, for Wade’s sake.

UPDATE 1, 1/19/07

From the Purdue Exponent, the University newspaper, an article just published this afternoon:

Dale Steffey and Dawn Adams, parents of missing freshman Wade Steffey, are hoping to drive the case to a national scope. After a community search Thursday afternoon, police are looking to expand the search to include a larger area.

Police haven’t ruled out alcohol as a factor, but several students’ stories are weakening the lead. Sources from the fraternity party and friends said that Steffey was not intoxicated. Police believe it is unlikely Steffey was drunk and wandered off, as some speculated.

A prayer service is being held Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Purdue Bell Tower.

Fliers are available on the Exponent Web site, and police and Steffey’s family are encouraging people to post them around town…

I added the link in the last paragraph of the quote.

I made some media contacts aware of Wade’s disappearance yesterday, so let’s hope his parents are able to do what they wish and make this case national. He was 19, but at this point in my life, that makes him a kid to me. Pray his family is able to bring the kid home safely.

Note, 1/18/07 (Comments)

Please note: I’ve installed a new commenting system that is much more to my liking. I hope readers agree. If you were a regular poster at my weblogs in the past, you should be much happier with this new system than the blogger commenting system that comes with all blogspot weblogs. Just click comments, enter the info requested, and comment away!

Incidentally — for the moment, comments made on this weblog’s entries in the past 5 days have disappeared — I may be able to retrieve them in the next day or so. Long-time readers and friends in the media with questions should know that I still have access to comments left on my weblogs in the past, as well.

Suspect named in the Lentz Family Murders

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A reader in Wisconsin sent me the following information from a press conference given by police in Janesville, WI, about the murders of Danyetta Lentz, age 38, and her children Nicole, age 17, and Scott, 14. Thanks to Shelly T. for the following:

Suspect arrested after high speed chase. Search warrant was executed. Suspect is James C. Koepp who resides on lot 39. 1/29/59 birthdate, male white.

He is on the WI sex offender registry, 2nd degree sexual assault. He has other traffic violations…

That’s right. Another damned registered sex offender in the neighborhood, and a mother and two children murdered by “complex homicidal violence.”

Koepp’s registry record with the State of Wisconsin says he lived on lot 69, not 39, but otherwise, all the info dovetails with what Shelly gleaned from the press conference about this break in the case.

Koepp’s conviction was in 1984. He was required to register for life, but his supervision (probation presumably) had terminated.

Koepp filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 1997. The decision in that case was published online: No. 96-3561-CR, State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. James C. Koepp, Defendant-Appellant.

The following quotes are from that document, I’ve added emphasis here and there:

In 1984, Koepp was convicted on four counts of second-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to concurrent five- and ten-year prison terms on two counts and was given concurrent ten-year terms of probation on the remaining counts, to be served consecutive to the prison terms. He was released from prison in 1993 and began serving probation. In September 1995, the Department of Corrections revoked Koepp’s probation. Koepp waived his probation revocation hearing and on December 8, 1995, the trial court sentenced him to concurrent six-year prison terms. On September 9, 1996, Koepp filed a pro se motion for sentence reduction or resentencing. The trial court denied this motion. Koepp appeals.

First, Koepp argues that his mental health problems (e.g., his depression, alcohol abuse and suicide attempts) led to the aberrant behavior that resulted in probation revocation. Because the Department of Corrections and the trial court did not consider these problems, Koepp argues that he was improperly denied alternatives to revocation.

(…)

Koepp contends that his serious mental problems caused the aberrant behavior that resulted in his probation revocation. Had his attorney investigated and explained this to the trial court at sentencing, Koepp argues that alternatives to revocation or a reduced sentence may have resulted. Therefore, Koepp argues that these mental problems are a “new factor” that warrant sentence modification. We disagree.

The sentencing record shows that counsel did bring to the court’s attention Koepp’s problems with attempted suicide, depression and alcohol. The court acknowledged that in spite of Koepp’s rehabilitation efforts, these same problems were present when probation was originally imposed and had now resurfaced. Accordingly, probation was revoked and Koepp was sentenced because these same problems occurred again. There was nothing new about these facts, even if counsel had failed to bring them to the court’s attention. Because Koepp’s mental problems were not a “new factor,” the trial court appropriately denied his motion for sentence reduction…

In short, Koepp blamed his previous crimes on alcohol and depression.

Whatever those crimes were, specifically, they were not triple murder.

If the charges against him are true, what will Mr. Koepp’s excuse be now?

My previous blog entries about the Lentz family:

Charges in the Jodi Sanderholm Murder

“I don’t care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
You’re so [very] special
I wish I was special

“But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here…”

Creep” by Radiohead.

Charges have been filed by the Kansas Attorney General against Arkansas City, (KS) resident Justin E. Thurber in the murder of Jodi Sanderholm.

As you can read in the following blog entries, Jodi vanished from Ark City on January 5, 2007, sparking fear in the town of 10,000, setting off extensive searches throughout the southeastern part of Kansas, searches that reached into Oklahoma to the south. The previous entries:

Thurber, 23, has been charged with aggravated kidnapping, rape, and capital murder. He has been held in the Cowley County Jail since shortly after Jodi disappeared on $1 million bond.

Jodi Sanderholm vanished after going to a Subway Sandwich Shop on January 5. On January 9, Jodi’s body and car were both recovered.

According to authorities, Jodi had been raped and murdered within 3 hours of being kidnapped on the 5th.

Since he’s charged with capital murder, a conviction could put Justin Thurber on death row.

Justin Thurber’s name was mentioned in my weblog shortly after he was charged with impersonation and disorderly conduct. Posters from Ark City named him in the comments as the “stalker” or “groupie” known to members of the Cowley College Tigerettes, Jodi Sanderholm’s dance team. Some posters even gave out nasty nicknames that dogged Thurber throughout his youth in Ark City, like “ape boy.”

It sounds like Justin was known to be a creep and a weirdo, the kind of guy that might send a girl running out again. He was known to be trouble, in Ark City. But does anyone ever know when the creep will decide to stop the girls from running?

And the Thurber family appeared to live fairly close to the Sanderholms there in that Southeastern Kansas town. How long had Justin noticed Jodi? How long did he think about that moment when he might have her in his control?

These are just a few of the chilling questions that come to mind about this tragedy.

Source: Wichita Eagle.

UPDATE 1

A young lady from Ark City sent along the following account of Justin Thurber’s past behavior. She asked to remain anonymous. I’ve added emphasis to the following:

I knew justin thurber. I attended cowley from 2001-2003. “Thurber,” as we called him, was an odd person from the beginning.

I met him through Jared Moore, [a] young man who died of an overdose in Ark City a while back.

Justin was a stalker. He used to call my cell phone and tell me exactly what I was wearing, exactly who I was hanging out with or what I was doing, and exactly what was going on. He was always on campus, day and night.

“Thurber” did drugs and tried to give girls these drugs so that they didn’t know what was going on. I can remember my friend and I taking him places by ourselves, at night even. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that I could have been another one of his victims. I feel for the Sanderholm family and I wish that this man never been seen outside a prison.

He is finally where he belongs…

In the comments on this entry, Melissa also left a link to an article in the Ark City Traveler that gives more insight into Justin Thurber’s troubled past. A strongly recommended read.

What did you do to your wives, Roger Sweet?

(Laura James is the author of CLEWS, The Historic True Crime Blog, and one of the most gifted bloggers covering true crime online.)

Roger Sweet’s wife of seven years is missing. Things look bleak for her. And with her disappearance and the burning of her home come a whole new set of questions about the death of the first Mrs. Sweet years ago.

The mystery unfolding in suburban Detroit began with the disappearance of Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet on January 8. That was the day the Sweet’s house burned down. The small home is in Brownstown Township, a working-class suburb south of Detroit, where many auto factory workers live.

The police are citing many reasons for concern:

  • The Sweet’s marriage was disintegrating and they were estranged.
  • Police were called to the home in December on a domestic violence call.
  • Liz’s friends told police that Mr. Sweet threatened her with a handgun in November, and that Liz bought a 12-gauge shotgun to protect herself.
  • In her diary, Liz wrote of her fear of her husband and wrote that she started keeping a hammer under her couch. Police found the hammer in her burned-out home just where she said she kept it.
  • Her dentures were found in the home, and she wouldn’t have willingly left home without them.
  • She hasn’t used her credit cards or cashed her last paycheck, and her Lincoln was still in the driveway.

Liz’s diary also revealed that she believed her husband was having sex with a woman who is mentally disabled. Now Mr. Sweet is in the county jail, not held on suspicion of murder, but on rape charges. He denies any wrongdoing and says his wife must have burned down the house and committed suicide elsewhere. Cadaver dogs and police search teams continue to look for Liz Sweet.

Meanwhile, police in another Detroit suburb, Farmington Hills, have questions of their own for Roger Sweet. In 1990, Mr. Sweet’s then-wife Marlene, 38, was found dead in their home. The funeral home that handled her burial contacted the medical examiner to report dark suspicions. But Marlene’s death was ruled accidental – a head injury brought on by a fall down the stairs. An autopsy report that is now being broadcast on local TV shows a diagram of multiple bruises and abrasions on the woman’s body, dozens from head to toe.

Did Roger Sweet push his luck?

For more:

  • Detroit Free Press 1,
  • Detroit News 2, 3, 4.

The Lentz Family Murders — Investigators Look at MySpace

My first entry about the murders of Danyetta, Nicole, and Scott Lentz, written January 14, 2007:

A Triple Murder You May Have Missed.”

The Lentzes were found dead in their mobile home in Janesville, Wisconsin on January 12. They were victims of “complex homicidal violence,” according to investigators working the case.

Danyetta, 38, was a long-time employee of a local daycare there in Janesville. Nicole, 17, and brother Scott, 14, were high-school students.

My original blog entry broke the news about Nicole’s presence on MySpace.com, and how there were interesting variations between a Google cache of her page made on November 15, 2006, and the page as it currently appears: www.myspace.com/nickibaby16. Namely, the presence of Nicole’s one-time boyfriend, James Warner, on the page captured by Google in November, and his notable absence from the page and MySpace in general when I first found the profile on January 15, 2006. A blog entry Nicole wrote in mid-December, 2006 about her “bf” (boyfriend) being untruthful seemed to indicate the couple had broken up, seemed to indicate she and James were on the outs.

Yet it has been reported at least once that James Warner called a neighbor of the Lentzes on the night of January 12, a person he would call when he couldn’t reach Nicole.

Now there’s this piece:

Investigators Look At Teen’s Internet Activity For Clues In Triple Slaying.”

It’s published on WISC-TV’s Channel3000.com. A quote:

Nicole Lentz, 17, had a MySpace.com Web page, and someone was logged into her account as late as the day the bodies were found, WISC-TV reported.

“(We want) to find out who these contacts were that they may have had on the Internet at the MySpace, and they might be able to offer us information as to the last 24 to 48 hours of these victims lives,” said Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden…

Could it be that someone was actually logged-in to Nicole’s page after she was murdered? If so, why? Or was she murdered while her computer was still on, perhaps the page still up and her account open?

I developed other questions after comparing the cached and current pages. The most persistent question in my mind was whether or not Nicole and James were still broken up when the family was slain.

Nicole’s screen name is now “james&nicki2gether4ever,” and she still has a marquee scrolling across one portion of her profile that proclaims, “I love James Warner.”

Had the couple gotten back together?

If not, then I’m sure Mr. Warner is feeling some heat.

Then again, it could be that James Warner truly was worried that night and calling the Lentz’s neighbor because he truly was puzzled at not being able to reach Nicole. He deserves every benefit of the doubt, since he could be a deeply grieving young man right now, and not a suspect in any fashion.

That investigators may have focused on Nicole’s online presence for any reason though is not a surprise to me. Thing is, if there is some evidence there that they find significant, it is doubtful we will know what that is until someone has been brought to trial.

Let’s hope that we will have trial of some sort to wait through sooner rather than later.

UPDATE 1, 1/17/07

There may be a suspect in custody in the Lentz murders. It is not James Warner or Danyetta Lentz’s ex-husband, both men have been cleared of involvement in these murders. From Channel3000.com, WISC-TV:

Unidentified sources say a suspect is in police custody in connection with the killing of a family near Janesville last week, WISC-TV reported.

According to those sources, the suspect is a resident in or near the mobile-home park where the Lentz family — Danyetta Lentz, 38, her 17-year-old daughter, Nicole, and 14-year-old son, Scott — were found last Friday.

The Rock County sheriff is scheduled to hold a news conference about the case on Wednesday at 5 p.m…

So, a neighbor may have done it. That’s everyone’s nightmare, isn’t it? That the guy across the way or the person next door is harboring a homicidal animal in their minds.

If you’re in Wisconsin and you’ve been watching this blog entry, please post about the press conference when it airs, in particular if they’ve named the suspect.