The Bizarre Murder of Devon Epps

(11/05/07: This blog entry was originally published at CrimeBlog.US on August 20, 2007 at 2:14 p.m. ET. Normally it would have been transferred to this domain and the post back-dated to reflect the original publication date, but a huge new development in the case made me elect to make this post current. Amanda Smith, the woman you are about to learn about, has been arrested and charged with the murder of her son. Thanks to reader Reannan for the e-mail giving me the heads-up on this not particularly startling twist in the story.)

A mother named Smith. A mysterious attacker, and a dead little boy. In South Carolina.

Sound familiar?

The mother in this case isn’t named Susan, and the attack in question didn’t take place in October of 1994.

Amanda Reagan Smith’s son Devon Chad Epps was murdered on August 12, 2007, in Greenville, South Carolina.

Here is what Amanda, age 26, has been telling investigators in Greenville . . .

Amanda and Devon were stopped at Jacobs Road and Interstate 85 that Sunday night when a scruffy-looking white man carrying a knife ordered the mother from her car.

The man locked himself in the car with Devon. Then, inexplicably, he smothered the boy, holding a pillow over the child’s face. The boy was taken to a hospital, where he was declared deceased. Amanda Reagan Smith was injured as well. She was treated and released from the hospital that night.

The Greenville News reported that Devon’s death was caused by “asphyxia due to neck compression.”

A suspect sketch has been circulated, and some believe the sketch resembles Devon’s father, David Epps. Police have told local media that they’ve received more than 30 tips since the sketch was made public.

Greenville TV station WYFF published an online article on August 15 about Devon Epps’s funeral. Reactions from people living near the scene of the crime were mentioned:

Residents familiar with area where the crime occurred said they were surprised to hear that something like that happened there.
“There are several businesses in that area that have surveillance cameras so we’re trying to go to those businesses and meet with the managers to see where exactly those cameras point, and what areas they cover,” said Michael Hildebrand of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.

The same piece also stated that investigators didn’t “believe the sketch is that of a homeless person living in the area.”

What really happened to Devon Chad Epps?

A random attacker at night using a pillow from the crime scene is strange, given that the crime scene was a car stopped on the road. The attacker wielding a knife but using the pillow instead is stranger still.

Devon Epps was not abducted. He was not molested. He was simply asphyxiated. Why? Why did Devon’s mother get away with minor injuries? If Amanda Smith’s story about her son’s murder is true, it is the very definition of a random and senseless murder.

While local Greenville press has been careful to report “just the facts,” people posting comments on articles about Devon’s murder have voiced frank suspicion. One short example comes from the article accompanying the sketch of the suspect. A reader of that post using the screen name “chelly” wrote, “I hope I am wrong, but this sounds like another Susan Smith case to me. I pray I am wrong, because being a mother myself, I cant imagine why one could hurt their own child.”

An active discussion about this murder began at Websleuths.com shortly after the crime was reported. While some forum users there were hesitant to question the story of a mother who might be grieving a terrible loss, others cut to the chase. On August 16, Websleuther “Latteda” wrote, “I came to this thread to see if the mother had confessed yet. I just don’t believe her story.”

Early in the Websleuths discussion, “Taximom” posted links to Amanda Reagan Smith’s MySpace page — www.myspace.com/crazysexxyluv. [Mirrors down on 11/05/07.]

Amanda wrote the following under “About Me”:

Hey and welcome to my page! Im single mother of a hyper 7 year old boy named Devon (aka Devil lol), a full time nursing student, a home health assistant, and one CRAZY ASS CHICK!!!…. Hell, Ill try anything once!…twice if I like it ;)….. I can be that gurl that sticks by your side and always has your back OR I can be that bitch that you never turn your back on- its all in how u treat me….Ive been through alot of shit just like every one has. That stupid saying “what doesnt kill you will only make you stronger” is so sadly true. Everything happens so that something better can come along. We just have to be patient and see what the future brings!! Sometimes we have to lose every thing we have to see what really matters in life… and that is LIFE itself! So as hard at seems, pick up the pieces and superglue them back together, and be thankful for every breath.. life is short so handle with care!!!

Amanda went on, decribing herself:

I am not shy ~ I am way too outgoing ~ I care way too much how others feel ~ I am entirely too optimistic ~ I don’t smoke ~ I spend too much time working ~ I dont spend enough time studying ~ I find myself in trouble alot ~ I spend too much money on my son ~ I’ve never been, and never want to go to jail ~ I am all about joking around with people ~ I am often sarcastic, but dont mean any harm ~I appear to be a bitch ~If you’re selling something, I don’t wanna buy it ~ I have a weakness for big guys and men in uniform ~ I love guys with trucks ~ My favorite food place is Monterrey’s ~ I don’t eat boiled peanuts ~ I am always listening to music ~ I eat out too much ~ I am very laid back ~ I drive too fast ~ I am OCD about my alarm clock ~ I hate being late ~ I walk around without shoes ~ I always sleep with a fan on ~ I don’t like cats ~ I don’t like when people are fake ~ Im always myself – Like me or Leave ~ I like cars with loud mufflers ~ I love hot-tubs ~ I sleep with like 6 pillows ~ I only use 100 watt light bulbs ~ I get attached to people quickly. . .

Under the section of the page titled, “Who I’d Like to Meet,” Amanda wrote, “Well lets see… Ive given up on MEN! lol so just friends to hang out with and chat with would be great. You can never have too many friends!”

She had 45 friends attached to her profile, but well over 400 comments, indicating a lot of chatting back and forth, along with the usual MySpace spam messages and “Happy Monday” greetings. The Google-cached version of Amanda Smith’s “crazysexxyluv” page captured her photos, as well. She mentioned Devon in her “About me,” but Amanda Reagan Smith’s photos were all about her social life and partying.

If she was a single mother seeking someone new in her life, her profile as it appeared in mid-July made some sense. She wanted to emphasize the fact that she was fun, sociable, easy to know. Yet she also was apparently tired of men.

According to the posters from Websleuths, Amanda made marked changes to her profile before taking it offline altogether. Those are either not yet available, or were never cached.

Police initially made statements that indicated there was evidence at the scene of the crime to support Amanda’s story. For several days, she was not named in the media, and at least one statement was made declaring that she was not a suspect.

But unfortunately for Amanda Smith, she is named Smith and her son was murdered under very strange circumstances in South Carolina, allegedly by a random, mysterious stranger. Even if she is telling the gospel truth, comparisons between her situation and the Susan Smith case from 13 years ago are unavoidable.

Susan Smith claimed that she was carjacked by a stranger. Her sons, Michael and Alexander, vanished for a time. Smith and her estranged husband ended up on national TV pleading for the boys’ return.

In the end, Michael and Alexander were found, still strapped into their carseats, in Susan Smith’s car. She’d rolled the Mazda in John D. Long Lake, drowning the boys.

Susan Smith confessed her actions, and her motivation was apparently her desire for a relationship with a man who’d told her he wasn’t interested in a single mom with 2 young boys in tow. Smith later claimed that her madness was also sparked by sexual abuse she’d suffered as a child. She grew into a woman who got attached very easily, a dependent, narcissistic personality.

It may be that there is a scruffy stranger lurking in the woods around I-85 and Jordan Road in Greenville even now, waiting for the next opportunity to smother some hapless child traveling with his mother. Stranger things have happened.

Every now and then.

But none come to mind, at the moment.

(For more blog-based coverage of this story, check out Rapid Eye Reality.)

Tips!

The True Crime Weblog wants your tips.

I don’t meant donations this time (though those are always welcome), I mean information. On any story blogged about here, or related to crime stories you’d like me to cover.

I can’t guarantee that I will cover every story sent my way, but I can guarantee that I’ll take each message I receive seriously and may respond in depth if needed.

If you have a tip for something covered by RADAR Magazine, they do have their own address to use, but I’ll welcome a tip you might think RADAR-worthy as well, and pass it on, if needed. Sometimes writing for the Crime Library was hard because I couldn’t decide whether to pitch a story to my editor there or blog about it. RADAR’s crime/scandal coverage is pretty specific, so I don’t worry about any conflicts in content between this blog and paid work for them.

This post is to reiterate something I’ve told tipsters via e-mail in the past, but rarely touched on in the blog: In addition to referencing traditional media stories, this blog also contains original research and reporting.

That may explain to you to some degree why I’ve also been fortunate enough to do professional true crime writing since I began this endeavor in late 2004. The True Crime Weblog isn’t about regurgitating news you can get from Reuters or the AP, unlike many other news-related weblogs. Here, I seek always to add to what those sources have already told you. I don’t hesitate to use traditional media sources to check my work, to validate it, and I don’t mind using mainstream media reports as starting points. But I don’t see any point in crime blogging most of the time unless I have something new to add to the story.

All tips and story ideas are welcome, but I really prize original information. If it is already being reported on your local TV stations or in the newspapers, it is more akin to background on a story, or perhaps an idea for a story. If you send me something you think may not be public knowledge save to you, that is a tip. And those are pretty damned important.

When we’re dealing with original reporting, information sent from a reader that may first see light of day on this weblog, I need to know these things as well: Whether or not you want me to use your name or screen name; Your source for the information, preferably with a URL if you have one; Why you think it’s a worthwhile tidbit.

If these things aren’t included, I need a real e-mail address to which I can respond. I may have to write you and ask where you found your information, and I will ask if it’s already been published.

It occurred to me to make this post after I received several requests and suggestions in relation to the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, in the Chicago area. The 23-year-old woman vanished last Sunday and national media quickly picked up on the story, mainly because her much-older cop husband Drew had several previous marriages and his wife before Stacy died under mysterious circumstances.

The cable news nets or major papers picking up on a story like that will not always stay my hand from doing an entry — I’ve proven to myself that I can take on big stories and still break news in the past. You just have to watch MyCase.com Wednesday night at 10:30 ET on Court TV to see one big example of what I’m talking about.

So far, though, I can’t add anything to the unfolding story of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance. At the moment, anything I post here about Stacy or her husband would be information already published or broadcast elsewhere. Most of the time, I just don’t work that way. I’ve made some exceptions — the open threads for readers interested in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are the most recent ones that come to mind. But those exceptions are few and far between.

Hopefully I’ve illustrated why I don’t always write about what seem like crime stories ripe for true crime blogging, and I’ve clarified what it is I’m doing here.

Any questions, just like tips, can be sent via my contact form.

(Unrelated note: I made it into my hometown newspaper today! Along with Keith Urban, Brooks & Dunn, and the Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few. Yes, I’m originally from Nashville, and the last time I recall being in the Tennessean was more than twenty years ago, in a review of some theater thing I did.)

The Disappearance of Trevor McGinty and Wendy Dusza *UPDATED*

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Wendy Dusza, 34, and her 30-year-old boyfriend Trevor McGinty have been missing for more than a week.

There is now a major search for the pair going on in Tampa, Florida, including dives into Old Tampa Bay.

Wendy and Trevor were reported missing on November 2 by Wendy’s relatives. Their families believe neither Trevor nor Wendy would leave without contacting loved ones.

The couple probably worked from home much of the time, as Wendy and Trevor were both self-employed.

There was no sign of ‘forced entry’ into Wendy’s and Trevor’s apartment in Bayside Village. Their pets — a dog and cat — had been alone for a week, since October 27 or 28. They reportedly would never leave their beloved pets alone for a week or more.

McGinty has a criminal history in Hernando County, FL. As recently as early 2007, he was charged with “repeat violence” [link 1, link 2]. In the past he’d also been charged with DUI and resisting an officer [link], discharging a firearm in public, under the influence [link], and misdemeanor domestic battery [link].

McGinty and Wendy Dusza were both named in this Hernando County Probate case. It was a foreclosure sought by LaSalle Bank. A default judgment was entered against Trevor and Wendy and 3 other defendants on October 19.

A search of MySpace.com for Trevor McGinty yielded this page:

http://www.myspace.com/tmac1377.

As of 11 p.m. ET on November 3, the last login date on the profile was October 22, 2007. The photographs, or “pics” attached to the profile (accessible only if you have your own MySpace account) showed several shots of a pretty, thirty-something woman whom “TMac1377” referred to as “Wendy” in photo captions.

Other than the photos there wasn’t much to see on the profile.

But a Google search for the screen name “TMac1377” yields a handful of results from the Tampa Craig’s List.

Some of the Craig’s List ads are in line with Ms. Dusza’s and Mr. McGinty’s reported business interests, such as this ad from October 14 for a rental property.

This ad, however, is different. A person using the e-mail address TMac1377@yahoo.com posted ad #459595739 on October 25, 2007. They embedded two photos of a dog with a blue bandanna around it’s neck and wrote the following text:

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MOVING TO CHICAGO CANT [sic] TAKE OUR WONDERFUL DOG WITH US. SHE NEEDS TO HAVE A FENCED YARD AND NEEDS TO BE THE ONLY DOG. GREAT WITH KIDS AND CATS. NEEDS HOME IMMIEDIATLY [sic]!!

Emphasis was added.

A phone number was included with several of the Craigslist.org rental/real estate listings from TMac1377 — 727-967-5855. Searching that number yielded results like this. On October 6 someone with the same number as TMac1377 put bedroom furniture for sale on Craig’s List. The seller wrote:

YEP I KNOW YOU ASK WHAT 2 MONTHS OLD I HEAR YAH. MOVING BACK TO CHICAGO AND SELLING EVERYTHING UNFORTUNATLY [sic]. SET INCLUDES 2 NIGHTSTANDS QUEEN SIZE FRAME HEADBOARD AND FOOTBOARD SLIEGH [sic] STYLE PLUS MATTRESSES. ALSO INCLUDEDS 2 PIECE ARMOIRE WE PUT OUR 37 INCH WIDESCREEN TV IN. OH YEAH CINDY CRAWFORD ADDITION FROM ROOMS TO GO WHICH IS THERE MORE EXPENSIVE FURNITURE. 727-967-5955 OR 727-967-5855

The same number was used in a couple of ads posted on TampaBay.com on October 21 — one ad was for $1350 worth of living room furniture.

Searching for the e-mail address TMac1377@yahoo.com on MySpace yields only one profile — the same TMac1377 profile found when searching for Trevor McGinty.

So — are Wendy Dusza and her boyfriend Trevor McGinty truly missing, possibly from foul play, or are they simply “in Chicago?”

Seems like a question some folks with the traditional media sources reporting this story should have asked by now.

This entry will be revised and updated as needed.

UPDATE, 1:44 p.m. ET, 11/04/07

If Wendy Dusza and Trevor McGinty are in Illinois, then some of Trevor’s relatives don’t seem to know anything about it. From the Tampa Tribune:

[Neighbors] told detectives that Dusza and McGinty, both mortgage brokers, were talking about moving to the Chicago area, but that hadn’t been confirmed.

McGinty’s stepmother, Barbara McGinty, who lives in Illinois, said a sheriff’s detective called her Friday with the news. “We’re shocked,” she said. “We’re just waiting to hear more.”

Wendy or Trevor would have called someone by now. It’s hard to think of a logical scenario at this point for them being gone and so out-of-touch with family, as well.

UPDATE 2, 7:33 a.m. ET, 11/5/07

Trevor McGinty committed suicide in Gainesville over the weekend.

From ABC Action News:

Gainesville police say before responding to the hotel, Hillsborough deputies told them McGinty had fled a murder scene in Tampa. His vehicle was spotted at the Holiday Inn in Gainesville, which led authorities to McGinty.

McGinty and his girlfriend, Wendy Dusza, 34, had been reported missing on Friday. Family members say they hadn’t heard from the couple in a week.

[. . .]

Investigators are still trying to determine what happened to Dusza…

It seems like the chances are better than 99% that Wendy Dusza is dead.

Was Trevor McGinty planning this weeks ago? The Craig’s List ads beg the question. It seems like debts and past bad behaviors were piling up on the man. He already had a history of violence.

Some folks claiming to know McGinty and Dusza have left comments on this post. One person who said they’d lived next to the couple noted both that the pair may have had drug problems and that Wendy had a daughter. Another commentator then posted as “dad” and stated that the daughter was OK. She was in her father’s custody and that custody had been won in part because of Trevor McGinty’s violence in the past.

It has been reported by local Tampa media that the dog and cat found in the apartment shared by Trevor and Wendy were in good shape and at an animal shelter in Tampa.

UPDATE 3, 8:57 a.m. ET

MyFox Tampa Bay has published a report online indicating that police were trying to serve Trevor McGinty with a warrant for murder when he committed suicide.

Sheriff’s deputies from Hillsborough County said Wendy was murdered sometime this weekend.

In a comment left on this post, “Ex-Employee” added some new layers to this story and more detail as to what may have happened to Wendy Dusza:

As former employee of Trevor, I find it interesting that no one has mentioned his past in the restaurant business. Trevor was the general manager at a popular St. Petersburg restaurant for quite some time, and was actually the person who fired me (so he could re-hire his cocaine dealer!!).

Trevor was known for his erratic, violent behaviour, and I’m very glad his girlfriend at the time left him, because she could have ended up like Wendy.

UPDATE: Trevor comitted suicide after a standoff with Gainesville Police, and Wendy’s body was found in the storage shed of their Tampa apartment.

This story is so, so tragic. My heart goes out to their families.

So, if “Ex-Employee” is correct, Wendy is no longer missing.

Murder-suicides are crime stories with well-defined lives. They typically end shortly after the acts. But questions remain, here. Were Wendy and Trevor actually planning to move? Or was it all a ruse on Trevor’s part? Did he think he could kill Wendy and go to ground, only to find he couldn’t? It might explain his belated suicide — Trevor thought he could get away, but when cornered he took the controlling psycho’s way out. Not a suicide born of remorse, but a final act of control.

Sources:

A New Open Thread For Madeleine McCann: Six Months Later

Madeleine McCann disappeared from the Mark Warner resort on Praia da Luz in Portugal six months ago today. And half a year later, it seems as though no one is any closer than they were on May 3, 2007 to finding the girl.

Madeleine is perhaps the most widely-discussed missing child since the Lindbergh baby. At this point the McCann disappearance may be more infamous than that crime from the early 1930s.

Few blog commentators are as dedicated as commentators who chat about Madeleine McCann.

The previous open thread here at The True Crime Weblog has 1,239 comments and counting (the first link will permit you to comment on the weblog proper; the second link takes you directly to the haloscan-hosted thread). Many comments are left by European readers and readers in the UK, but plenty of Americans are discussing the British toddler, too. Another crime-centered site, Websleuths.com, has a huge number of U.S. readers, and there is an entire forum there devoted to Madeleine.

Currently, a Google search yields nearly 2 million hits on the little girl’s name.

Commentators who have followed the discussion: You should no longer post to the previous open thread. Please continue below. If you wish to reference comments left on the previous post, each comment has a number sign beneath it. Click that to directly link a particular comment.

Please, as always, keep the discussion civilized and on-topic.

NOTE, 12/13/07

LINK TO THE HALOSCAN HOSTED COMMENT THREAD. You may use that for reference, or you may wish to continue leaving comments using the new threaded, more forum-like system.

MyCaseDotCom.com

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Back to your regularly scheduled crime blogging shortly…

But first — I did want to be sure readers knew that the Court TV special I’m a part of (wrote about it here) now has an associated website:

MyCaseDotCom.com.

There’s a page on the case being covered in the special: the disappearance of Taylor Behl. There’s also a page about me, the contradictory guy: Cyber Detective Steve Huff (I’ve never referred to myself as such, but I’m certainly cool with it).

Go check it out!

A note — any readers who catch the promo being run on Court TV for this special, please let me know if you happen to get it with your DVR.

Remember: MyCase.com airs at 10:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 7, 2007, on Court TV.

I’ll be live-blogging the event from the start of the show through 11:30 as well, so stick around the site for that.

NOTE, NOVEMBER 3

Yes, it is my birthday and I am taking it easy. I did want to show you this, though — it’s a raw clip from MyCase.com:

Huge thanks to Lynne Hoppe for letting me know it was available! The same clip can be seen here.

By the way — Lynne has posted a question in the comments below. Respond with your thoughts on the matter if you’re inclined.

Radar Magazine!!

This feels like a killer birthday present (no pun intended, seeing as how this is a crime blog).

It looks like I’ll be writing for Radar Magazine.

Not only that, I recently discovered that fellow Crime Library alum Seamus McGraw is writing for Radar, and there may even be opportunities for Seamus and I to tag-team some stories that will be of interest to any reader of this blog. Seamus occasionally gave me great advice about this kind of writing when we both were publishing for CL, so it will be awesome to share either online or print space with him again — because not only does Radar have an excellent website, you can find it on the shelves at your local bookstore, too. I will be submitting both web exclusives to the mag as well as print pieces.

I’m serious about the birthday feeling.

This blog isn’t going anywhere, of course, in case that question popped into your head. The sorts of stories Radar might like and what makes it to print here are not always the same, so there will be no overlapping of content, though I will certainly point you towards anything I publish online for Radar.

I’ve had two professional goals since I realized what I was doing with this whole crime writing thing. One is writing a book. Hopefully more than one. The other goal is writing for a publication like Radar.

More later, I’m off to float around a bit.

Crime and Craig’s List: The Murder of Katherine Olson *UPDATED*

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(This post’s date and time have been changed to place it at the top of the weblog. Revisions and updates have been made since the original post date of 10/28/07, including the addition of links to two ads placed by Anderson on Craig’s List under his own name and e-mail, workindew2@aol.com. Some of these links are listed at the bottom of the entry.)

Michael John Anderson (photo above) may have a baby face. Anderson may not look his age — 19. Michael John Anderson, at first glance, looks pretty harmless.

But he sits in the Scott County, Minnesota jail tonight, accused of a strange, senseless murder.

His alleged victim: 24-year-old Katherine Ann Olson.

On Thursday morning, Katherine decided to meet someone in Savage, MN about a babysitting job. She’d found the ad for the job on Craigslist. The people posting the position were supposedly a married couple who’d relocated to the Twin Cities area. Katherine Olson, a well-educated and experienced nanny, headed out to 12649 Kipling Avenue in downtown Savage.

She wasn’t seen again until late Friday night. That was when Katherine’s car was found in a park in Burnsville, MN. Her body was in the trunk.

Investigators think Michael Anderson placed the ad (a link to his MySpace profile is at the bottom of this entry).

Katherine Olson majored in theater and Hispanic studies at St. Olaf College. After graduating from St. Olaf in 2006, Katherine took a number of nanny jobs, and she’d found those through online listings.

Katherine had also performed leading roles in musicals — parts like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Maria in The Sound of Music.

She was a woman of faith, too. In 2006 Katherine participated in St. Olaf’s Lilly Program for Lives of Worth and Service. She wrote about the experience, and the college posted her testimonial online. Some excerpts:

When I arrived in Montana on May 31, I hoped this summer would help clarify for me my future plans in the theatre. As a Theatre and Hispanic Studies major with a strong social conscience, I often wonder how I can best serve. Will I live a life in the theatre? Will I go on to graduate school, conducting studies in Latin American theatre? Or will I do something completely different; yet call upon the training I’ve learned from my language studies and the theatre? While this summer didn’t make clear to me the specific plans I will follow, it did set up three things I need in my life in order to live a life of service: a solid Christian community, time to rest, and faith that God has blessed me with the gifts to complete a task.

[. . .]

in order to live a life of service, I must allow myself to rest. Sometimes this summer it felt like I never had a moment to breathe or to evaluate how the week was going. Instead I ran from one activity to the next, barely able to catch my bearings. Yet I found that I worked best when I was well rested and fed, intellectually and emotionally. It was a challenge on weekends to assert my need to sleep and have some alone time, but the weekends that I did that, I was more fully equipped to serve the children the following week. That rest and time for myself was essential.

[. . .]

While this summer didn’t necessarily clarify for me what my life of service will entail, it did help me establish what I need in order to live a life of service: a strong Christian community, time to rest, and faith that the tasks set for me are attainable.

Katherine may have inherited that faith from her parents. In an open letter to the Facebook group begun to memorialize Katherine Olson, Rolf and Nancy Olson wrote:

We got a phone call on Friday that Savage police had her purse– found in a garbage can in a Savage park. Katherine’s housemate called around on Friday after she didn’t return home on Thursday night. We traced her route to this house, and police moved quickly to arrest a suspect andfind her abandoned car– with her in it.

Ironically, I was at a conference in Burnsville on Friday on “non-violent understanding of the atonement’ [what God did in Jesus to reconcile the broken relationship between God and humanity]. This was a blessing since the whole day was wrapped in resurrection thinking. I am fortunate to still have that mindset in the face of this crushing loss. One of my favorite quotes about this comes from Robert Schuller. He wrote a condolence note to a man after the man’s wife died. Schuller said he would pray for the widower ‘in his loss.’ The grieving husband replied:”My wife is not lost. I know exactly where to find her.” I hold onto this promise now with a vengeance…

Katherine Olson’s body was found after someone spotted her purse in a park garbage can. Cops thought they were dealing with stolen property. They didn’t know that no one had seen the young woman since Thursday morning. Police called Katherine’s residence to let her know they’d found the purse.

Her roommate called back and let them know that she might be missing.

A return trip to the garbage can where Katherine’s purse was found yielded a piece of significant, troubling evidence — a bloody towel.

In the meantime, police helicopters had been engaged to search for some sign of Katherine. They spotted her vehicle at the Kraemer Nature Preserve in Burnsville, MN, not far from the park where the purse and bloody towel were recovered. This led to the recovery of Katherine’s remains.

Police arrested Michael Anderson at his workplace, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Speaking to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Savage (MN) police Captain David Muelken said that authorities were “confident [they] have the suspect in custody.”

Michael Anderson apparently did not know Katherine Olson. It may be that he posted the ad as a lure, that he was a predator attempting to jump-start a new career in homicide. If so, he was no different from a number of killers in years past who simply posted their ads in newspapers.

Katherine’s family told the media that they did worry sometimes about her answering job ads. She was, by all accounts, a bright, trusting and open young woman. She no doubt had faith in her own instincts and in her personality, which comes across in photos and in the words she had published on St. Olaf’s website. And she’d traveled as far away as Turkey and South America both as a performer and as a caregiver. Katherine probably felt perfectly confident in her ability to handle unexpected situations, and justifiably so.

Others can repeat the necessary admonitions about being wary any time you answer an ad posted anywhere. People have been aware of such precautions since ads were first published in newspapers.

Here there is only the reminder that even the best and brightest among us will sometimes fall victim to evil, and evil can wear the most innocuous expression.

It can come packaged behind a blandly staring baby-face, looking like a guy anyone could handle.

No one is ever truly prepared for that.

UPDATE 1, 4:30 p.m. ET, 10/29/07

In this thread discussing Katherine Olson’s murder at Websleuths.com, websleuther “filly” posted a link to an online dating profile that may have been created by Michael John Anderson.

Using the screen name “Cutlass350” (see below: Anderson’s MySpace profile nick was 84Cutlass350), the dating profile owner gave his birthdate as October 16, 1987. He further indicated that he lived in Savage, MN and that he was a brown-haired, brown-eyed hetero male seeking friendship. “Cutlass350’s” occupation was listed as “painter,” and his education was “A level/High School.”

For his ‘personal description,’ “Cutlass350” wrote this alluring bit of prose:

I enjoy being outdoors I like doing everything outdoors from camping to wildlife and im looking for someone who shares the enjoyment of the outdoors.

“Cutlass350’s” profile was created in July of 2006.

UPDATE 2, 3:15 p.m. ET, 10/30/07

Michael John Anderson has been charged with second-degree murder. His bail is $1 million.

Investigators found Katherine Olson’s blood in Anderson’s home. They also uncovered a gun in Anderson’s bedroom. A witness said Olson’s car was parked in front of the Anderson Residence on Kipling Ave. for a few hours the day she disappeared.

One of the bloody towels found in a garbage can that along with Katherine Olson’s purse had Michael John Anderson’s name on it.

The ad answered Katherine Olson was attached to Anderson’s e-mail address. Anderson claimed he’d not used the account in several months, and that his mom and a handful of friends could also use the same account.

When police confronted Anderson with some of the damning evidence, he claimed he witnessed Olson’s murder. Michael Anderson said a friend of his did it.

Court documents referenced by the Associated Press indicated that Anderson said his “friend” thought the murder “would be funny.”

The complaint against Michael Anderson, published online as a .pdf by TwinCities.com, is difficult reading in some respects. If you’re squeamish, don’t read it.

It does reveal a detail about Katherine Olson’s murder that may create as much outrage as Anderson’s statement about the murder potentially “being funny.”

Katherine Olson’s killer shot her in the back.

Links, notes:

Anthony Merino, Alleged Creep of Halloween Week

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(This entry has been cross-posted to The True Crime Weblog on MySpace. Check out the new profile and add it to your friends list, if you like.)

He may not look like it, but 24-year-old Anthony Merino and Ed Gein might have a lot to talk about if the allegations against Merino are true.

Anthony Merino is in a lot of trouble.

I work hard, so I party hard, that’s my motto…

The semi-pro quarterback and full-time lab tech at Overlook Hospital in Summit, NJ has been accused of committing one of the most creepy acts imaginable.

I love playing all types of sports(football, basketball, track, baseball, and some soccer). I specialize in football and track. I now play semi-pro football, and I also studied various forms of Martial Arts, from Shotokan Karate, to Ninjitsu, and Lak Sao Chuan Fa Gung-Fu…

Anthony has been accused by authorities in Bergen County, NJ of desecrating human remains. He could get a six-figure fine and 10 years in prison. He was being held in Teaneck on $400,000 bail Monday night.

Sunday night Merino was working at Holy Name. The histotechnician hadn’t worked at that particular facility in months.

A hospital security guard allegedly saw Anthony Merino raping the corpse of a dead woman.

A woman who was 92 when she died.

I’m currently in college studing Engineering/Business Admin. also working. Time is my enemy, I never seem to have enough time to do all the things that I would like to do. ~ this and two preceding quotes from Anthony’s PlayboyGTR MySpace profile.

Teaneck police were called, Merino was hauled off to jail.

One published statement from hospital officials (naturally) declared Merino’s alleged act a “heinous crime” and “a travesty.”

Anthony Merino will likely be subject to psychiatric evaluation while in custody.

He’ll probably be found sane.

And that’s what makes this story pretty damned scary.

That, and if convicted, Merino will only get 10 years, at most.

This entry will be updated and revised.

NOTE:

The following link is not related to this story. At least not directly. But it does help to underscore just how truly appalling Anthony Merino’s alleged crime may have been. The article linked is not for the squeamish:

The Remains of Dr. Bass” (DamnInteresting.com — a site that truly lives up to its name.)

Sources:

North Jersey Media Group;
MyFoxNY.com.

The Lineup Tonight

I’ll be on The Lineup tonight on Fox News10:00 p.m. ET.

I’d reported 10:30 as the airtime before, but that was a goof. MyCase.com (link takes you to previous entry about this show) airs at 10:30 on November 7, 2007 — hence the mixup.

Additionally, the other guest on the panel will be Dr. William July, who has a great name and is a very interesting guy — his website:

http://WilliamJuly.com/.

Reading his “About” page, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of Dr. July on bookshelves and on television in the future.

We taped the show yesterday, and to my surprise, the good doctor and I were on for the hour. I appreciated this not only because host Kimberly Guilfoyle was nice enough to mention MyCase.com, but also because personally, I had the time to relax a little. I sometimes think I’m too serious and serious-looking on TV, and yesterday gave me an opportunity to laugh about a few things.

The discussion was about crime stories from the not-too-distant past. In particular:

* The Manson Family Murders — When I was still pretty much a kid I read two books that ultimately influenced my interest in crime writing — In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, and Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Both gave me nightmares. Both showed me that there is such a thing as true evil. Helter Skelter had photos from the crime scenes in the center of the book, but fortunately the actual bodies of murder victims were cut out. They sat there on the page, ghostly white outlines in the center of an otherwise bloody scene, somehow more haunting for their absence.

* Andrew Cunanan — Cunanan was a little bit of everything: brilliant gay hustler; sadomasochistic rent boy; enraged spree killer; serial killer; assassin. I think there are still people out there trying to make sense of this man and what he did. We’ll never know what was in his mind, as he committed suicide when all was said and done. I do think he was, as some have suggested, as close to Bret Easton Ellis’s fictional American Psycho as we’ve seen. Suggested reading about Cunanan: Vulgar Favors, by Maureen Orth.

* The Chowchilla Kidnapping — Damn, I’d almost forgotten this tale of terror, survival, and really stupid criminals. In 1976, brothers Rick and Jim Schoenfeld and their buddy Fred Woods had this bright idea — ‘let’s kidnap a school bus full of kids, ask for ransom from the state, and go live the high life elsewhere.’ It didn’t work out too well for the guys, all of them upper-middle-class products of good families. Reading up on the abduction for the first time in years, I realized that if someone ever made another movie about the Chowchilla event, they’d be wise to take a Coen Brothers approach, a la Fargo. The dark comedy in Fargo comes from the bland stupidity of the criminals, and the Schoenfelds and Fred Woods were certainly stupid. Many major pieces of evidence in the case could be traced straight back to one of the men. The kidnapped kids and their bus driver (who all survived) were held on property owned by Woods’s father, inside a buried truck purchased in Fred Woods’s name. What struck me as funny was the reason the trio could never get their ransom demand to the cops — every time they tried to call the police to make the demand, the phone lines were flooded by parents calling to check and see if the cops had found their kids yet. Had the young victims of the Chowchilla school bus abduction not been so traumatized, more people would have noticed just how inept these ‘criminal masterminds’ truly were.

The cases above are not the only ones featured on the show tonight, so you’ll have to watch to see what else is covered. I may watch, too, but I’m still getting used to seeing myself on TV, and it isn’t always easy. Videos of operatic performances are always made from a distance and I’m usually in makeup, so they’re much easier to handle. That, and I probably worry more about my voice than how I look. TV appearances are a different animal. At least my mom likes them, but I suspect she’s biased.

One final note — I’ve made a MySpace just for this blog:

http://www.myspace.com/truecrimeweblog.

It is a work in progress. I’m not taking down my other profile, either — I’m just going to focus on the new one as a way to promote the blog you’re reading and network with others who have similar interests. If you’re on MySpace, go check it out and add me, if you’re inclined.

True Crime Genre News: MyCase.com

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On November 7, 2007 at 10:30 p.m. ET, Court TV will air a fascinating new true crime special :

MyCase.com (link: MyCaseDotCom.com).

I will be your guide for some portions of the show. We’ll explore how the clues to a crime can sometimes be found on the Web. We’ll follow a digital pathway littered with broken relationships, obsessions, lies, and alibis. We will follow a cyber-trail of evidence that led to a tragic conclusion: murder.

Check out this link: “Upcoming Series on Court TV.

At the bottom of that page is the following:

MyCase.com – NEW!

Premieres Wednesday, November 7 at 10:30pm E/P

The internet provides a startling new look into the mind of a criminal. Profiles are posted on personal web sites, motives revealed in online blogs, and premeditated plans detailed on email. There’s a new type of investigator following the trail: the Cyber-sleuth. They will show us that, online, we are closer than we realize to clues and insight into criminal minds. TV-14

Optomen’s blurb for the show (working title: Crime.com) says it well: “The clues to crimes of passion are embedded in a vast digital matrix.” (Emphasis added.)

I can’t be cool about this anymore.

I’m as excited as I’ve been about anything I’ve done since I began crime-blogging! (Yes, that’s an exclamation point, and I meant it. Here’s another –>!)

I first chatted with folks from Optomen’s home office in the United Kingdom back in 2005, but only learned of the concept for this show in 2006. I’ve been sitting on it and everything to do with it ever since. Funny enough, when it was finally cool for me tell everyone, I was initially stuck as to what to say.

The best thing to say is watch it. I turn 40 just 4 days before the special airs, so if you watch it and get the word out, you can consider that your “Lordy, lordy, Steve is 40” b-day present.

I don’t want to give too much away, but these links might give you a few hints about the story explored in the premiere of MyCase.com: link 1, link 2.

And yes, I will be posting reminders, and perhaps more links, in days to come.

*****

One of Optomen’s recent true-crime-related productions was Most Evil.

Most Evil is one of the most original, visually stunning documentary-style productions I’ve ever seen. It explores Dr. Michael Stone’s “Scale of Evil,” and killers Stone felt ranked near the top of his scale.

When I realized I was working with the same company and some of the same people responsible for a series as brilliant as Most Evil, it became harder than ever to keep quiet about MyCase.com. But for a blabbermouth like me, I did OK. Close friends and family knew, but that was about it.

*****

While I’m at it, I have to refer you to some awesome news for a fellow crime blogger, Laura James of CLEWS, The Historic True Crime Blog.

Sarah Weinman mentions Laura’s news here at her own site, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. Laura has been too modest to say much about it outside of telling fellow bloggers and authors. Just go read.

It was early 2005 when this lawyer-lady from Michigan e-mailed me wondering if we were the only two people on the Web calling ourselves crime bloggers, and I wrote back saying I didn’t know, but she was the first person to write me with a clue as to what “crime-blogging” was. The Trenchcoat was actually doing it well ahead of the rest of us, but he wasn’t calling it a “crime blog.”

Since then, Laura’s blog has become a favorite for anyone with a deep and intellectual interest in the history of crime. It remains one of the classiest destinations on the Web for true crime aficionados. Congratulations, Laura.

*****

I’m now a contributor (along with Jules Hammer and Michelle Gray) at The True Crime Blogroll. If you want regular updates about events involving true crime authors who also blog, like Gregg Olsen, Ron Franscell, and Corey Mitchell, owner of In Cold Blog (where some of your favorite crime bloggers are contributors along with some the brightest stars in the genre as a whole), then you need to check out The True Crime Blogroll every chance you get.

*****

I’m recording a segment today that will be aired Sunday night, October 27, 2007 at 10:00 p.m. ET on The Lineup on Fox News, hosted by Kimberly Guilfoyle. We’ll be talking about signal true crime cases from the past, like the Manson Family murders. Also on the panel will be Dr. William July. Be sure to check it out.

*****

One more time, with gusto:

  • WHAT: MyCase.com
  • WHEN: 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time, November 7, 2007
  • WHERE: Court TV
  • WHO: produced by Optomen TV (USA)

Thank you in advance for watching, setting your DVRs, sending a link to this entry out to friends. Thanks also for reading this entry even if you already received a MySpace bulletin about this or got an e-mail I sent out to a number of people.

And seriously — thanks for reading my various blog incarnations over the last 2+ years and sticking around even when blog A went kerflooey and blog B didn’t get an update for months. I’m never able to adequately express my gratitude to people who read my writing, especially the many screen names that pop up in comments over and over with their own insights, ideas, tips, and tricks. I’ve been this close to not doing this anymore many times, and you all have always kept me at it. Your patience with your peripatetic host is greatly appreciated.