Live at the Library

Hello again, fellow darklings! Sorry about the long wait between posts – I’ve been busy working on new projects and preparing for my upcoming live author talk. If you’re in the Northwest Arkansas area, come on out and see me Sunday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m. at the Fayetteville Public Library. I’ll be talking about why everything ’80s is hot right now (especially in horror). Afterwards, I’ll have copies of my book available for purchase and signing.

If you can’t make it out to see me in person, you can livestream it. I hope to see you there!

 

Advertisements

Kitty Genovese: the Unluckiest Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th has long been associated with bad luck. No one is really sure why, other than the number 13 and the day Friday are both considered somewhat unlucky, and so Friday the 13th is doubly so. But statistically, it is no more deadly than the other 364 days of the year. Not that it hasn’t had its fair share of catastrophes: freak floods, cyclones, blizzards, and plane crashes – including the infamous 1972 crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571.

However, one Friday the 13th tragedy stands out as a legendary perfect storm of murder and apathy: on March 13, 1964, bar manager Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was raped and stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Kew Gardens, Queens, in New York City. According to a New York Times article written soon after the crime, 38 people saw or heard the attack, but did nothing. The nation was rightfully shocked, and the phenomenon was studied intensely by psychologists and sociologists, who coined the term the “bystander effect.” For decades, her case was a staple of psychology classes.

But as the case got more scrutiny, researchers began to see that maybe the story we’d all been told wasn’t quite the whole truth.

Kitty Genovese grew up in an Italian- and Irish-American working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. She was known by friends and classmates as a “chatterbox,” popular, and charming. After graduation, she worked several jobs before becoming the manager of a bar in Queens. She was reliable and hard-working, often working double shifts to save money for her dream: to open an Italian restaurant.

On March 13, 1963, she met Mary Ann Zielonko, and they quickly fell in love. They moved into a second-floor apartment near the railway station in Kew Gardens.

On their first anniversary, Kitty got off work around 3 a.m. She parked her car at the railway station and began walking home through the frigid winter night. Businesses were closed, streets were empty, and apartment windows dark: the perfect hunting grounds for a killer.

Winston Moseley had snuck out of his home earlier that night, leaving his wife and two sons sleeping while he prowled for his latest victim.

Kitty was close to her apartment when she heard him approach her. She tried to run, but he caught her and stabbed her. She yelled out. A neighbor heard her cries and yelled, “Leave that girl alone!” Frightened, Winston retreated to his car. Kitty, bloody but still alive, limped toward her apartment.

After a few minutes, hearing no sirens, Winston decided to finish what he started. He found Kitty collapsed in the entryway to her apartment building. He stabbed her repeatedly and raped her there, then took the money from her wallet and left her to die (the coroner later found 13 stab wounds and a number of defensive wounds on her body).

Neighbor and friend Sophie Farrar heard the noises and rushed down the stairs to Kitty’s aid, holding her and comforting her. More than a half-hour after the attack, another neighbor finally called the cops. They arrived quickly, along with an ambulance, but she succumbed to her wounds at Queens General Hospital.

Six days later, Winston Moseley confessed to the murder of Kitty Genovese and two other women: Annie Mae Johnson and Barbara Kralik, as well as a number of burglaries and rapes. He was sentenced to death, but later his sentence was commuted to 20 years to life. (An interesting aside is that this did not put an end to his violence. While in prison, he purposefully injured himself in order to get transferred to a hospital. He then escaped transport, found an empty house, and holed up there. When the cleaning lady arrived, he raped her. After escaping, she called the owners of the house, and they called the police. The police told her they were only one and a half hours to shift change, so she should call back later. When the owners came home, Winston tied the man up, raped the woman, then stole their car and went to another house where he held a mother and daughter hostage. Later he released them and was arrested.) He died in prison on March 28, 2016.

The story that was written about the attack made national headlines and sparked a widespread debate about supposed urban apathy and indifference. Kitty Genovese’s case – and the story of the 38 bystanders – helped pass Good Samaritan laws and sparked the creation of the 911 system.

Though the Kitty Genovese murder sparked such debate and ultimately positive changes, after some digging it was shown that the story was not as bad as it had been reported. First of all, the number of witnesses had been inflated, and most of the witnesses only caught brief glimpses of the attack and didn’t realize what they were seeing or hearing.

The fact remains that many people did hear her screaming and did not call the cops. But the neighborhood was near a bar, and residents said that screaming and yelling late at night weren’t uncommon. It is also important to remember that domestic violence was perfectly legal in 1964, so hearing a woman’s screams may have not alerted neighbors to a crime, necessarily – just a husband exercising his God-given right to control his wife.

There was also another factor at work: back then, being gay was illegal. Kitty and many of her neighbors feared police persecution daily, and so would not have seen the police as a force for help. In fact, her partner, Mary, was grilled extensively about her sexuality after Kitty’s death and was herself accused of killing her.

But most importantly, several people actually did call the cops. Her friend Sophie took a great risk to come to Kitty’s aid, and held her in her arms while she breathed her last. She showed great courage and kindness, and I think that story deserves as much attention as the false claim that “no one wanted to get involved.”

“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” Shines a Light on the Golden State Killer

The incredible backstory of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is well-known: Michelle McNamara spent years researching and tracking down a serial rapist and murderer, but died suddenly (from a combination of prescription drugs and an undiagnosed heart condition) without ever having found him. Later, using her notes and research materials, her lead researcher, Paul Haynes, and an investigative journalist friend, Billy Jensen, finished the manuscript for her.

The book is about her search for the criminal, still as yet unknown, that McNamara dubs the Golden State Killer, a man responsible for 50 rapes and at least 10 murders in Central and Southern California in the 1970s and 80s. He was known previously by different monikers in different jurisdictions: the East Area Rapist, the Visalia Ransacker, the Original Night Stalker.

The book itself, with a forward by the amazing thriller author Gillian Flynn, jumps right into it, describing the crime scene of Manuela Witthuhn’s rape and murder from the point of view of her brother-in-law, Drew. But this is no tedious catalog of gore. McNamara only features the cases that provide some vital clue or context to the case, always paying attention to the details – the crime scene details, of course, but also the human details: the responses of the friends and family who found the bodies, the thoughts of the investigators. Each scene is so rich in detail, it reads like a novel.

She also gives us glimpses into her own thoughts and motivations, like how she became obsessed with true crime at age 14, after learning of an unsolved murder where the young woman’s body was dumped mere blocks from her home.

The overall structure of the book is non-chronological, jumping back and forth in time from the crime scenes to the investigations to the present day. But it works, mostly, to build the narrative. Which brings me to my only (very mild) criticism: some of the chapters that are adapted or excerpts from previously published articles repeated some things, so it seemed like you were going over ground already covered.

The biggest thing about this book is, unlike most true-crime books, the killer is never identified. She does look into a trio of likely suspects, but all are excluded by the evidence. Profiles are built, but with no workable pool of suspects, they are as insubstantial as tissue paper. There is DNA evidence, but no suspect to match it to.

And with his last murder committed in 1986, this case may indeed stay cold. Cold cases involving serial killers are rarely solved after so many years. The longest a serial killer has gotten away with his crimes was 48 years: in 2016, Edwin Dean Richardson was identified through DNA as the murderer of Wendy Jo Halison in 1968. By then, Richardson was four years in his grave. But in the Golden State Killer case, all relevant police departments have had his DNA for years, and it has been run through CODIS multiple times without a hit. Until he messes up and gets arrested, it won’t do them any good.

Odds are, by now the Golden State Killer is dead. Brutal sexual attackers don’t stop until they are stopped. But even that theory isn’t iron-clad. The suspect called one of his victims in 2001, asking, “Remember when we played?” This suggests that he may indeed have enough self-control to quit for 30 years.

There a numerous theories floating around about the Golden State Killer. In addition to law enforcement, regular citizens discuss and research his crimes and try to find that crucial lead. This just shows the strength of this book: it takes a decades-old, little-known cold case and brings it to life. Hopefully it will bring it to justice as well.

Accessories to Murder

If studying killers has taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of ways to kill people. Sure, there are the reliable standards: shooting, strangling, stabbing, bludgeoning, poisoning, and pushing (as in, off a cliff or down a flight of stairs).

But in the name of self-defense, people have invented some very creative ways to commit each of those. Mostly, they come in the form of jewelry or other accessories for women, the thinking being that packing heat was just unbecoming for a lady. So we’ll begin with the oldest, and probably still most popular, accessory to murder:

The Poison Ring

Poison Ring

One of the oldest and most recognizable accessories to murder, the poison ring.

These have been around since at least the 1400s, and the infamous poisoner and aristocrat Lucrezia Borgia is rumored to have had one. Their use is simple: a hinged lid hides a small compartment to store poison, preferably in powder form. The wearer can surreptitiously open the compartment and dump the poison into their victim’s (or their own) food or drink.

To be fair, most poison rings were actually more like lockets, designed to hold small portraits or locks of hair. However, this medieval poison ring unearthed in Bulgaria leaves no doubt what its intended use was: the tiny hole was meant to be hidden by the wearer’s finger, and the deadly dose simply tipped into the victim’s drink. In fact, archaeologists believe the ring belonged to the nobleman Dobrotitsa, and would explain the rash of mysterious deaths of other nobles close to him.

Hatpins of Peril

Hatpin-733x1024In the early 20th Century, women were subjected to much the same kinds of street harassment and groping that we’re still dealing with. Then as now, many women began to fight back, using a makeshift weapon most of them had on hand, er, head: the humble hatpin.

The style at the time was for women to wear huge, elaborate hats perched atop equally huge hairstyles. In order to hold all this construction in place, women used hatpins made of sturdy metal and 9 inches long – or longer. News stories began to appear featuring plucky women stabbing and slashing at “mashers,” or in modern terms, creeps, who attempted to grope or otherwise harrass women in public. At first the tone seemed to be positive.

But it wasn’t long before stories began to be told about innocent men being victimized by crazed, hatpin-wielding women. In fact, in Connecticut in 1906, one woman murdered her husband by drugging him, then piercing his skull through the corner of his eye orbit with her hatpin – a stealthy wound that was difficult for the medical examiner to find.

By 1909, hatpins were considered enough of a threat that the Chicago city council voted to ban hatpins longer than 9 inches. Violators faced arrest and a $50 fine. Soon other cities like Kansas City, Hamburg, Paris, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans all passed ordinances that limited hatpins’ length and/or required the pointed ends to be sheathed in public.

Women were outraged, and many refused to obey the law or pay the fines. It was quite the international controversy for a while…until the big gaudy hats went out of style, making the hatpin obsolete – at least for fashion purposes.

The Ring Gun

indexApparently these “little protectors” were primarily sold to gamblers in the 1800s. Not much is known about them, but according to Guns.com, they started appearing around the same time as other types of creative firearms like the pen gun and the cane gun. The French-made Le Petit Protector was the first documented example of this type of firearm, a tiny six-shooter mounted on a ring.

Typically, a ring gun would be worn on the index finger and the thumb used to fire the hammer. There was no barrel; each round fired simply from its individual cylinder. The revolver had to be manually rotated, and to load, unload, or reload, the wearer had to take a small, slotted jeweler’s screwdriver and remove the cylinder from the ring base.

They were sold with five-, six-, or seven-round cylinders in either 2mm or 4mm pinfire. The 4mm guns had a cylinder about as wide as a nickel, while the 2mm had one closer in size to a dime. The 2mm guns were typically marked “Femme Fatal” and sold in small, oval-shaped jewelry boxes, while the larger 4mm guns were more likely meant for men. You could also buy them as a matching his and hers set.

Despite how cool they might look, they weren’t very effective as a murder weapon. The tiny rounds, propelled by minuscule amounts of gunpowder, packed less force than a pellet gun. At best, they served at a deterrent. However, due to their rarity, they are quite collectible, with one set fetching $13,000 at auction.

Pepper Spray Sparkles

3978dcf8-52cc-4eae-b90f-d93e135cba95_1.719226c6f82f1d6c70e14c0ab2a6f74dOK, so it probably can’t kill anyone (unless they’ve got a condition like asthma), but I couldn’t leave out this newest fashion/self-defense accessory: glitter pepper spray. It’s just like regular pepper spray, but with glitter. And that’s pretty much it.

The company that sells it, blingsting, also makes bedazzled tazers and shiny personal alarms. So you can look cute while fending off a rapist, or something.

I don’t mean to hate on blingsting. Their cutsey self-defense products aren’t so different than those fancy hatpins our great-grandmothers used to fend off creepers. And that’s the really sad part – that it’s been over a century, and we’re still having to carry ever-more creative weapons just to go out in public.

Senior Citizen Serial Killers: Ray and Faye Copeland

We’ll end the month of killer couples with the oldest serial killers: Ray and Faye Copeland.

The Con Man and the Church Lady

Ray Copeland was born Dec. 30, 1914, in Oklahoma. His family moved around a lot, and eventually settled in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Like many who suffered through the Great Depression, Ray had to drop out of school in the fourth grade to support his family. This left him functionally illiterate for the rest of his life.

From early on, friends and family described him as spoiled and demanding. He committed his first known crime at the age of 20, stealing two hogs and selling them in another town. His father covered for him, and no charges were filed. He continued stealing and selling livestock, then in 1930, he was caught forging government checks in Harrison, Arkansas, and sentenced to a year in county jail.

In 1940, he meant 19-year-led Faye Della Wilson, seven years his junior. Faye had been raised in a dirt-floor cabin in Harrison in a very religious family. The two got married six months later. In 1944 they moved, along with their oldest two kids, to California, where they had another child. They eventually ended up with five children. Ray was violently abusive to all of them, beating them with anything he could lay his hands on, including cattle kickers and cast-iron skillets. Faye, raised a Christian fundamentalist, believed the husband was the head of the household and divorce was a sin, so she wouldn’t leave him. As she said, she bowed her head and took it.

The Scams of a Livestock Rustler

The year their youngest child was born, Ray was accused of stealing horses from a nearby farmer. No charges were filed, but he figured he needed to move on, and moved the family back to Arkansas. Less than a month after his return, he was arrested for stealing cattle and served a year in the State Penitentiary.

When he got out, he moved to Missouri. Again he was arrested for cattle theft. He kept moving the family around and getting arrested for writing forged checks pretty regularly. Finally, they bought a 40-acre farm in Mooresville, outside Chillicothe, Missouri. Faye supported the farm by working in a factory, and later, being a motel maid.

This is where Ray hatched the scam to use drifters to pass forged checks at cattle auctions. By the time the checks would bounce, Ray would have sold the ill-gotten livestock, and the drifter would be long gone. He was able to get away with it dozens of times until one of the drifters was caught and confessed to the police. Ray was again arrested and sentenced to jail for forgery.

From Scam Artist to Serial Killer

When Ray got out of jail this time, he knew he had to be smarter. Here is how the new, improved scam would go down: Ray would recruit homeless men from the missions and shelters in nearby towns, offering them $50 a week plus room and board to help out around the farm. For many, it seemed like a deal that was too good to be true. And it was. Ray in fact hated transients, and often stated they didn’t deserve to live.

He would then have his victim open a checking account in their own name with $200 that Ray would front them, using a P.O. box as an address. They would then go together to various cattle auctions, and Ray would signal the man which cattle to bid on and how much. When they purchased the cattle, the man would pay with his check, which would clear – at first. They would sell the cattle and come back and do it again – only this time, the checks would not clear. In the meantime, Ray would have sold the cattle and murdered the homeless man before anyone was the wiser.

Dennis Murphy was one of these men. In 1986, he was wanted for writing bad checks at cattle auctions. Police had discovered that the cattle had been taken away in a trailer owned by Ray Copeland. The police questioned the Copelands about Murphy. The couple claimed that Murphy also written them bad checks, and that one day he just up and left. Since Murphy was known to be a drifter, the sheriff took the Copelands’ story at face value.

Then a deputy from a different county came looking for another man, Wayne Warner. The Copelands gave him the same story about Warner. In all, there were seven men who were wanted for these forged checks at cattle auctions throughout central Missouri, and and all of them were missing.

It wasn’t until in 1989 that a tip cracked the case open, when a man named Jack McCormick called the Missouri authorities from Nebraska. He told them that he thought he had seen human bones on the Copelands’ farm. The authorities searched the farm, including using cadaver dogs, but they found nothing. McCormick, who was taken into custody and questioned, recanted his statement about finding the bones, but he did reveal something else. He told them all about the check cashing scam that Ray had drafted him into.

He also told them that he was very afraid of Ray. He recounted that one night, Ray had asked him to come out to a neighbor’s barn under the pretense of shooting a raccoon that had gotten into the barn. Ray had his .22 bolt-action Marlin rifle, and he and McCormick went to the barn. But McCormick felt very wary of Ray, and kept his eye on him. When he went to poke a stick and get the raccoon out, as Ray had directed him to, he turned around and saw Ray had that .22 pointed right at his head.

He told police that he talked Ray out of shooting him with the promise that he would leave town and never come back. He told Ray that before he left, he wanted to make good the hot check that he had written, and convinced Ray to take him to the bank where he would deposit his earnings to cover it. Ray actually did this, and McCormick slipped out the back of the bank and over to a used car lot nearby. There, he convinced the salesperson that he wanted to take one of the cars for a test drive. Well, that “test drive” was his way out. McCormick waited until he was safely in Nebraska before he made his call to the police.

Though they did not find any remains on the Copeland farm, the police begin to piece it together: seven missing men, all wanted for writing forged checks at cattle auctions. All seven traced to the Copelands.

They got a tip from a local that Ray had often worked on a neighboring farm, and one of those barns had a smell like a dead animal. So they searched that property, and in that barn, they found a shallow grave containing the skeletal remains of three men, all killed by a .22 bullet to the head. In another barn on the same property, they found another body, then another in a well. This last man had been wearing a belt that said “Dennis.”

Searching the Copelands’ home, they found many of the missing men’s clothes, and, hidden in a camera case, a list of men’s names. Some of the names had X’s next to them. Nearly all of them had been wanted in connection with the hot check scam.

It was very difficult to identify the bodies of these victims. Since they were transients, any medical or dental records they had were very old or non-existent, and many had gone decades without dental care. Dennis Murphy was identified by the odd shape of his mandibular condyle, the joint of the jawbone. Forensic scientists were able to identify the other bodies: Paul Cowart, James Harvey, John Freeman, and Wayne Warner. All of them had X’s next to their names on the list.

In 1989, Ray Copeland was charged with five murders, as was Faye. They were tried separately, Faye first.

Faye was convicted on all five counts and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Ray was found guilty of the same, and given the same sentence. At 69 and 76 years old, they were the oldest couple ever sentenced to death in American history.

Was Faye Really Guilty?

Her son doesn’t think so. Her court-appointed psychologist didn’t think so. She was convicted on only two pieces of evidence: the list in the camera case that was in her handwriting, and the quilt she made of the dead men’s clothes. Neither of which actually proves her knowledge of the murders.

She was a battered wife, the victim of years of abuse and control. Her court-appointed psychologist stated that she suffered from textbook battered woman’s syndrome, a kind of learned helplessness where the victim becomes unquestioningly compliant. Faye stated time and again that whatever Ray did or said, she did not ask questions for fear of being beaten. She was offered a plea deal by the prosecution, but she didn’t take it because she swore she had no information to give them – she didn’t know where any bodies were because she didn’t know about the murders. On a technicality, her psychologist’s statement that she suffered from battered women’s syndrome was excluded from her trial. So no testimony or evidence about the abuse she suffered from Ray or how he controlled her was allowed in her defense. Subsequently, she was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence: the list and the quilt.

Most likely, Ray told her to write the list (throughout their marriage, Faye had to take care of any tasks that required reading or writing). Ray told her to put X’s next to men’s names. This could have simply meant the men left or were no longer willing to participate in the cattle scam. The fact that she made a quilt out of their clothes doesn’t point to her knowledge of their deaths, either, only that many of these transients would leave clothing behind, and she, like any thrifty country woman, found a way to recycle them into something useful.

Ray, who had controlled her and made her life miserable for decades, continued to do so even after his death in jail in 1993. Faye was never exonerated. In 1999, her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She suffered a stroke in 2002 and was released into a nursing home, where she died a year later. To this day, many still believe she was his willing accomplice, a cold-hearted killer rather than a beaten-down wife.

Besides the five known victims, the Copelands were also suspected in the deaths of seven other men. If Faye knew anything about them, she took that knowledge with her to the grave.

Thrill Kill Couple: Benjamin and Erika Sifrit

The Sifrits aren’t technically serial killers, but only because their stupidity got them caught before they could claim more victims.

They Seemed Like an All-American Couple

Erika Grace, perhaps the more controlling of the two, was born into privilege, the only child of a successful contractor. Throughout high school and college she was an excellent student and athlete. She played basketball and graduated cum laude from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Her friends knew her as a normal, level-headed person, active and outgoing. She didn’t seem to have a dark side.

Not much is known about Benjamin (or BJ), other than he was raised in Minnesota and was a poor student in high school. But after enlisting in the Navy, he seemed to find his calling in life. In 1997, he finished first in his elite SEALs class.

Two years later, he met Erika, then a student at Mary Washington, at a bar with friends. Though he apparently tried to dissuade her from getting into a relationship with him due to his demanding training schedule, she was relentless. Three weeks later, he spontaneously asked her to marry him, and they eloped to Las Vegas.

According to BJ’s mother, Elizabeth, her son changed after getting involved with Erika. Once close with the rest of his family, he stopped calling and visiting. “I just wanted to make [Erika] happy,” he explained at his trial. “It was extreme.” This isolation from family is also a common red flag for abusive and controlling relationships.

The relationship also seemed to affect his Navy career. Erika didn’t like that BJ would be gone for long stretches during training, and would call and harass him frequently. She claimed to have anxiety attacks and bouts of depression while he was gone. Once, while he was in Alaska for training, she flew up to visit him, a violation of the rules. They both were sent home.

BJ’s response to the stress of being torn between his wife and career was to “torpedo” his career. He became unruly and insubordinate, and even got a large swastika tattoo. Finally he was court-martialed for a variety of offenses, including going AWOL. One Navy prosecutor said BJ seemed to have developed “utter disregard for authority.” Ultimately he was drummed out of the service on a bad-conduct discharge.

So they moved back to Erika’s hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania, and her dad set them up with a scrapbooking store – a hobby that Erika was obsessed with (though not very good at, if the examples on Crime Watch Daily are any indication).

Like Gasoline and a Match

The couple thrived on excitement; many of Erika’s high-school friends said they didn’t recognize her anymore. She got tattoos, including a cross on her hip inspired by the movie Natural Born Killers. BJ, who already owned two handguns, bought Erika a .357 Magnum as a present. The couple collected pet snakes they named “Bonnie” and “Clyde,” “Hitler,” and “HIV.” They began doing drugs heavily. Before long, they started stealing from nearby stores and Hooters restaurants (another odd obsession of Erika’s), and selling the items on Ebay.

But that was not enough for the thrill-seekers. So in 2002, the couple headed for Ocean City, Maryland, for their first vacation. But they had more on the itinerary then just sunbathing and bar-hopping.

The Murders

The couple met Martha “Geney” Crutchley and Joshua Ford on a shuttle bus to the club Seacrets. The Sifrits didn’t have exact change, so Joshua offered to pay for them in exchange for the Sifrits buying him a drink at the club. The two couples seemed to hit it off, chatting and drinking through the night.

Afterwards, the Sifrits invited them to their condo for nightcap. What happened next, no one but the Sifrits know for sure, but statements and evidence paint a scene that went something like this: At some point, Erika claimed her purse was missing and accused Geney and Josh of stealing it. BJ then threatened them with his gun. The terrified couple blockaded themselves in the bathroom. Someone – it’s still not known for sure which one – shot Joshua twice through the door. Then BJ kicked the door down and shot him twice more while Geney cowered under the sink. Erika then turned on Geney, stabbing her multiple times.

BJ dismembered their bodies. At one point, he held up their severed heads and told Erika to take a picture, but she refused. They also discussed eating some of their victims’ flesh, but Erika said they didn’t go through with it.

They cleaned up the bathroom, which had so much blood on the floor, it would splash when you stepped in it, according to Erika. They put Geney and Josh’s body parts in trash bags and tossed them into dumpsters across the state line in Delaware. They replaced the bullet-riddled bathroom door and went on with their vacation. They played mini-golf, ate crab, and swam in the ocean, all smiles and happy faces. Erika wore Josh’s bloody ring on a necklace and got a tattoo on her side in the exact spot where she first stabbed Geney.

Still not satisfied, the thrill-kill couple tried it again. For a second time, they befriended a couple, Melissa Seling and Justin Wright, and invited them to their condo for a nightcap. Again, Erika claimed her purse was missing. Again, BJ brandished a gun. But one thing went differently for this couple: BJ didn’t think he and Erika had time to clean up another double homicide. So Melissa and Justin lived.

Meanwhile, when Josh and Geney didn’t return to work, their worried friends and coworkers filed a missing persons report. Ocean City PD searched their condo, but found nothing out of place. Their car was still in the lot, where it had been sitting for a while. The police put out flyers, issued BOLOs, and investigated, but found nothing.

Busted (Pun Intended)

So far, the Sifrits had committed the perfect crime. No one had connected them to the missing couple, and no bodies had been found.

But Erika’s weird addiction to Hooters merch did them in. Almost a week after the murders, the extremely drunk Sifrits broke into a Hooters, setting off a silent alarm. Police arrived on the scene and caught them red-handed. They were so drunk, BJ asked the cops if they could just put it all back and “we’ll be cool.”

Erika, however, began having a panic attack. She asked one of the cops to get her anti-anxiety pills from her purse. While going through her purse to get the medication, the cop found some very suspicious items: IDs belonging to the missing couple … and five spent rounds of ammunition.

Erika had her .357 Magnum in her waistband. They searched the Jeep and found two more handguns: BJ’s Sig Sauer 9mm and .45, along with flex cuffs, gloves, and ski masks. It was obvious there was more going on here than a simple robbery.

So the police searched the Sifrits’ condo. There they found more souveniers “Little Miss Scrapbook” had kept: two spent bullets, one of them with Josh’s blood still on it, and a stack of pictures, including pictures of Josh and Geney, and a key to their condo.

Then they searched the bathroom. Despite the Sifrits’ cleaning, there were traces of blood in the grout. In a sink stopper, they found hair and tissue. Under the sink, a bullet hole. On the window, Josh’s palm print.

Erika confessed soon after their arrest, claiming it was all BJ’s idea, and that she was a frightened, abused victim forced to play along. BJ, of course, blamed it all on Erika.

Erika tried to cop a plea deal by telling them where the bodies were, but one condition of the deal was that she had to pass a lie detector test. She didn’t. She was more involved in the murders then she had claimed.

After an extensive search of the Delaware landfill, only parts of Josh and Geney’s remains were found, so they couldn’t determine cause of death for Geney. Regardless, BJ was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 38 years. Erika was convicted of both murders and sentenced to life plus 20 years. BJ will be eligible for parole in 2021, and Erika in 2024.

 

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, serial rapists and killers

The Ken and Barbie Killers: Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were the perfect 80s power couple: they enjoyed every privilege, every benefit of the doubt, because they were pretty, white, and blonde. But there was no humanity behind their sparkling blue eyes. Together they were far more terrifying and psychotic than anything in a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

Paul was born August 27, 1964, into a deeply dysfunctional family. His father, Kenneth, was himself a rapist who even molested his own daughter. He also regularly abused his wife, Paul’s mother, verbally and physically. He often called her a “bitch” and a “fat cow,” terms Paul would later call his own victims. She became deeply depressed and gained a lot of weight, eventually isolating herself in the basement.

Despite that, Paul was known by friends and neighbors as a sweet, happy child with dimpled cheeks and curly blond hair.

When Paul was 16, he discovered that Kenneth was not his biological father. From that point on he hated his family, and once he moved out, he severed all contact with them.

After graduation he went on to attend the University of Toronto. It was there that his sadism began to bloom, and he began abusing his girlfriends. In fact, one of his ex-girlfriends went to the police several times to report him for abuse, rape, and threats, but nothing was ever done about it.

He began raping women in the Scarborough area in 1987. He would abduct them from bus stops and brutally rape them, often punching them, strangling them, cutting and penetrating them with a knife. The media dubbed him “The Scarborough Rapist.”

The Deadly Duo Meet

It was right around this time when he met Karla at a pet food convention; she was 17 and he was 23. It was instant attraction.

Karla was born May 4, 1970. The oldest of three girls, she was pretty and popular. She had normal, loving parents. She wanted to be a veterinarian and went to work for a vet clinic when she was a teenager.

Paul and Karla found they shared the same sadomasochistic desires – they fell into the role of master and slave right off the bat. As time went on, their relationship intensified, as did their sexual crimes. Meanwhile, Paul, with Karla’s full knowledge, continued raping women.

In May 1990, one victim described Paul to the police, who generated a sketch that was sent out to the public. A former coworker of Paul’s called the police after seeing the sketch, but it wasn’t followed up. Months later, the wife of an old neighbor of Paul’s also called, and this time the police finally questioned Paul. But his good looks and charm led them to believe he was innocent. Even though they collected a DNA sample from him, it wasn’t compared to the victims for another two years – time enough for him to murder three girls and rape many more.

They Take Their First Victim

Paul’s entitled attitude led him to believe he deserved to take Karla’s virginity, but since he couldn’t do that, Karla, ever the faithful slave, arranged the next best thing. Karla knew Paul had been looking at her 15-year-old sister, Tammy. He would peep into her window and masturbate to her while she slept – all with Karla’s knowledge and approval.

So Karla hatched a plan to give him what he wanted. On December 23, 1990, at a family Christmas party, Karla and Paul gave Tammy cocktails laced with a sedative. Once everyone else had gone to bed, the couple took Tammy to the basement. There Karla held a rag soaked in the anesthetic Halothane – stolen from the vet clinic where she worked – over Tammy’s nose and mouth. Once the girl was unconscious, the couple began raping her and recording it with the video recorder Paul had gotten as a Christmas gift.

Sometime during the assault, the heavily drugged Tammy vomited and aspirated it, choking to death. After carefully cleaning up the evidence of what they had done, they called the EMTs. Despite the large, unexplained burns on Tammy’s face (a result of the Halothane), the police accepted the pretty young couple’s explanation that Tammy had simply had too much to drink and had choked on her own vomit.

This brutal psychotic act seems to have only brought the two closer. Soon after Tammy’s murder, the couple moved in together. At one point, Karla dressed up in Tammy’s clothes and pretended to be her while she and Paul had sex in her bed. Again, they recorded it – something they would do for every assault they committed.

But Paul still wasn’t satisfied; he blamed Karla for Tammy’s death – which was only a problem for him because she wasn’t available for him to use her anymore.

More Victims

So they decided to get another toy for Paul, a young teenager known only as “Jane Doe.” Jane knew Karla from the pet store where they had worked together, and she idolized the pretty older woman. So Karla invited her out to dinner, and just like she had done to her sister, laced her drinks with sedatives, took her home, and administered the Halothane. Again, both of them brutally raped and tortured her and recorded it. Unlike Tammy, however, Jane survived. She woke up the next day, sore and sick, but with no memory of what had been done to her.

Meanwhile, less than six months since her sister’s death, the couple (mostly Paul) was planning their wedding, a lavish affair including a horse-drawn carriage, an expensive bridal gown, and a sit-down meal of veal-stuffed pheasant. Oddly, Paul bragged to friends that the wedding was really a moneymaking affair, and that he expected to bring in $50,000 in gifts. Even more oddly, rather then Karla taking Paul’s last name, or even keeping her own, the couple both unofficially renamed themselves Teale after the fictional serial killer Martin Thiel from the movie Criminal Law.

Only two weeks before their wedding, on June 15, 1991, the couple stepped up their sick game. Up until now, they hadn’t meant to kill anyone. Tammy’s death had been unintentional, and Paul was actually angry with Karla for causing it.

But with 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, there was no anesthetic. Paul kidnapped her, and the couple held her captive for several days, raping and torturing her – and, of course, videotaping it. Once they tired of her, they killed her, dismembered her body, and encased the pieces in cement. Karla dumped them in nearby Lake Gibson.

On June 29, as the killer couple was making their vows surrounded by friends and family, anglers and boaters on the lake discovered the blocks of concrete containing Leslie’s legs, feet, and head. The next day, another boater saw her torso floating on the water. While the police were investigating the murder, Paul and Karla were honeymooning in Hawaii.

Nearly a year went by, and the couple apparently abducted and raped at least two more women, though they survived. As an interesting side note, Karla may not have had a conscience, but something kept her up at night. Sometime after Kristen’s murder, Karla went to a psychic for advice on how to exorcise the noises she kept hearing from the basement where Leslie had been dismembered.

In April 1992, the couple abducted Kristen French from a church parking lot. For Kristen, there were no drugs, no blindfold, and no hope of survival. They subjected her to the same brutality and rape as they had Leslie before killing her. Immediately after killing her, Karla left the room to do her hair for Easter dinner with her family. Her body, they simply dumped in a ditch.

The Beginning of the End

Paul’s viciousness would be his downfall. It was around this same time that Paul began turning his abuse onto Karla, and in early 1993 her parents convinced her to leave him and press charges.

After arresting him on the abuse charges, the Green Ribbon Task Force, formed in 1992 to solve the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, wanted to question Karla more about Paul – and about a Mickey Mouse watch she was wearing that looked a lot like Kristen’s.

They questioned her for about five hours, but she didn’t divulge anything – yet. She got herself a lawyer, and he portrayed her as an abuse victim herself, forced to participate in Paul’s brutal crimes for fear of her life. They asked for a plea deal: in exchange for her testimony against Paul, she would plead guilty to manslaughter, and only be given 12 years. That deal, later called “the deal with the devil,” was quickly accepted.

The police searched Paul’s house for 71 days, but they could not find the alleged rape videos. However, Paul had told his lawyer that the videotapes were hidden in a ceiling light fixture in the upstairs bathroom. His lawyer found the tapes, but did not hand them over for evidence. Over a year later, his lawyer resigned, and a new lawyer, John Rosen, stepped in. Rosen did turn the tapes over to police – but too late. The prosecutors had already made the infamous plea bargain with Karla.

When law enforcement saw the horrific scenes on the tapes, it was obvious that Karla wasn’t the innocent bystander she pretended to be to get her plea deal. What they showed was so brutal that even seasoned detectives and reporters couldn’t hold back their emotion as the transcripts were read in court – and Karla had been a willing, and even eager, participant.

In September 1995, Paul was convicted of several offenses, including two first-degree murders and two aggravated sexual assaults. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 25 years in Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s toughest maximum-security prison. He was designated a dangerous offender, making him unlikely to ever be released.

He was never tried for the Scarborough rapes, of which there are 19 known victims. There may be dozens more; some put the total figure at 43 victims.

Where is Karla Now?

Karla, meanwhile, finished her sentence in July 2005. She remarried and has three children. In an effort to hide from the public, she’s gone by several names, including Leanne Teale. The conditions of her parole were dropped in 2015, and in May 2017, she was outed for volunteering at a religious school in Montreal where her children attend, to great public outrage. That was the same year Paul came up for day parole and was denied.

The media and people in general continue to be fascinated with her – the question, “Where is Karla Homolka Now?” has generated countless headlines, and numerous social media groups have been created to answer that very question.

Why is everyone so obsessed with Karla, but not Paul, who was at least 50 percent of this deadly duo? I think for one, she is out walking around free, so there’s a lot of anger and resentment toward her.

But also, women who kill – especially when they kill with such cruelty and violence – are considered somehow worse than men who do the same. It upends the old Victorian notions of “feminine nature,” that women aren’t capable of such extreme acts of violence. Indeed it is rare; only 15 percent of serial killers are female and most of them kill quietly and domestically. The few female serial killers who kill along with men usually do so out of a dependent personality disorder: they are vulnerable, have a deep fear of abandonment, have suffered abuse, and are typically not well educated. Karla fits none of these characteristics.

She is an enigma, a psychopath and sexual sadist, a serial killer who is walking around free.