The Iceman Lieth

Was Mafia assassin Richard Kuklinski full of sh**?

I’ve had Richard “Ice Man” Kuklinski’s claims on my mind for some time now, and with the FBI recently scouring Detroit for Jimmy Hoffa and a movie starring Michael Shannon as Kuklinski being released in May, this seems as good a time as any to examine what the notorious hitman had to say prior to his death in 2006.

Who was Richard Kuklinski? 

Born in 1935 to an alcoholic, abusive railroad brakeman and a fanatically Catholic mother who also administered beatings freely, Richard Leonard Kuklinski dropped out of the eighth grade to become a full-time hoodlum, stealing cars and robbing houses in Jersey City and Hoboken.

At 19 he became a serial killer, murdering homeless men in the alleys of New York, Newark and Hoboken. He claimed he killed at least 50 men just for the pleasure it gave him. He experimented with different killing techniques, as he would throughout his life. He was soon working as an enforcer and contract killer for New Jersey’s DeCavalcante crime family, which would later serve as the model for the fictional DiMeo crime family in The Sopranos.
At 6’4″ and 250 pounds, with a hair-trigger temper and an array of weapons, Kuklinski was an incredibly deadly force. He was such a skilled, trusted hitman by 1960 that he began doing work for the New York crime families, earning up to five figures per job. Yet he continued to live in low-income housing in Jersey City, thanks to his penchant for gambling.  (1)

He married a good Catholic girl, Barbara Pedrici, in 1962. This was his second marriage. He had two sons (the elder was Richard Jr.) with his first wife. He claims he sliced off his first wife’s nipples when he found her in bed with another man, but didn’t officially separate from her until the eve of his marriage to Barbara.  (1)

Though Barbara had three miscarriages and a difficult fourth pregnancy in 1962 and ’63, and the couple had no money, Kuklinski didn’t take a single contract during this period. He worked a series of low-paying, menial “straight” jobs. The closest he came to organized crime was bootlegging copies of cartoons and X-rated movies while working in a film lab. Then, with two other guys, he reverted to stealing truckloads of merchandise. He shot two men in a fit of road rage, killed four others when a buyer who tried to renegotiate the price of a stolen load of wristwatches, and tortured and killed two men who attempted to steal a load of stolen goods from his crew.
So far as his family knew, though, Kuklinski’s only job was copying cartoons in a Hell’s Kitchen lab. They weren’t aware that he was actually copying porn movies in a lab controlled by a member of the Gambino crime family. He worked long hours, often staying in the lab through the night. When a union representative confronted him about this, he killed the man and disguised his death as a hanging in a public park. In 1971, he murdered a bouncer at the Peppermint Lounge for showing him disrespect.
It was around this time that he quit his lab job and began distributing and financing porn. One Christmas, he killed a porn producer who refused to repay a $1500 loan, even though the man’s brother was a captain in the Gambino family.  (1)

In the early ’70s, Kuklinski got himself heavily into debt with a Gambino associate who was partners with Roy DeMeo, and DeMeo pistol-whipped him. But he ended up being so impressed by Kuklinski’s fearlessness – a quality they shared – that he began giving him jobs. Once again, he was a hitman and enforcer for the Mafia.


Roy DeMeo

DeMeo had worked his way up in the Gambino crime family. His headquarters was the Gemini Lounge, a seedy bar on Troy Avenue, Queens. DeMeo was involved in a broad range of criminal enterprises, notably stripping stolen cars, but in the ’70s he assembled a team of hitmen and made contract killings his specialty. His outfit became known as the Murder Machine. By the early ’80s, he had attracted the attention of the Organized Crime Task Force of the Queens D.A.’s office. Detectives Kenny McCabe, Joe Wendling, and John Murphy put the Gemini Lounge under unofficial surveillance, learning the faces and names of every frequent visitor to the lounge.  (2)

By 1969 the Kuklinskis had three children, two daughters and a son. In the mid-’70s Richard purchased a lovely three-bedroom split level in Dumont, New Jersey, where he and Barbara hosted neighbourhood barbecues and pool parties. They went to church every Sunday, and the kids were enrolled in private Catholic schools.
Meanwhile, Kuklinski killed one of his two partners in the porn distribution business on DeMeo’s orders. Immediately afterward, he shot a stranger in another fit of road rage.  (1)

Altogether, Kuklinski killed over 100 people in at least 18 states, including Hawaii.  (1, 3)
In the ’70s and ’80s, he was involved in some of the most infamous killings in Mafia history (more on those shortly). But it was his crew of relatively small-time cat burglars that brought him down; after killing no fewer than four of his associates between ’81 and ’83, Kuklinski finally caught the attention of New Jersey law enforcement. A sting operation resulted in his arrest in ’86, and in ’88 he was convicted of four murders (a fifth case against him was dropped for lack of evidence).

Between 1991 and his death in 2006, Kuklinski gave a series of chilling interviews to HBO. These were turned into three America Undercover documentaries. In the first, chewing gum and wearing a sweatshirt, he calmly ran down his crimes – the cyanide, the strangulation, the time he wore elevator shoes to infiltrate a disco. He showed a flicker of humanity just once, as he talked about his ex-wife and children.
In this first interview, he made no mention of his most dramatic claim – that he, along with three other men, had kidnapped and murdered Jimmy Hoffa.
In his second HBO interview, aired in 2001, he explicitly stated that he did not kill Hoffa (but knew who did).  (3, 4)
Then, just before his death in 2006, he supposedly gave a very different story to true crime writer Philip Carlo, who documented it in his book The Ice Man.



The task of making Hoffa “disappear forever” had been handed to a childhood acquaintance of Kuklinski, identified only as “Tony P.” or “Tony Pro” by Philip Carlo (obviously meant to be Anthony Provenanzo, a Genovese caporegime who was also  vice president for Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey).  (5)
Provenzano enlisted Richard and two other Jersey men to help him. Kuklinski was told only that a union guy in Detroit was making trouble for the Genovese family, and had to be killed. That was all he wanted, or needed, to know.
On the afternoon of July 30, 1975, the quartet drove to the Machus Red Fox restaurant outside Detroit, as arranged, and Tony P. conversed briefly with Hoffa in the parking lot. Then Hoffa got into the car, and Tony drove several miles before giving Kuklinski the signal to knock the mark unconscious with a “jawbreaker” and stab him to death with one powerful thrust of his hunting knife. They bundled the body into the trunk, and Kuklinski was left with the risky job of driving it back to Jersey while the other three guys caught a bus out of town.
Back in New Jersey, Kuklinski took Hoffa’s body to a Mafia-affiliated junkyard in Kearney and deposited it into a 50-gallon drum, which he then burned and buried on the property.
Kuklinski thought the man had looked familiar, but didn’t discover who he was until later.
Around 1978, one of the killers began to talk to the FBI. Kuklinski was hired to take him out. This man, according to Carlo’s book, was Salvatore Briguglio, an official in Union City’s Local 560. Prosecutors subpoenaed Briguglio and several other suspected conspirators to appear before a federal grand jury on December 4, 1975, but they could never pin Hoffa’s disappearance on them.  (1, 5)
In March 1978, Briguglio was shot to death near the Andrea Doria Social Club in New York’s Little Italy. This seemingly had nothing to do with Hoffa; Briguglio had been scheduled to appear in court with Anthony Provenzano and Harold Konigsberg for the 1961 murder of Anthony Castellito.  (5)
According to several people, including his wife, Hoffa had expected to meet with Anthony Giacalone of Detroit and Anthony Provenzano on the afternoon he vanished. But Provenzano wasn’t even in Detroit that day; he was in Union City. The car that picked up Hoffa was likely driven by a man Hoffa looked upon as a son, Charles O’Brien.  (5,6)

The following account is drawn from the work of Dan Moldea, author of The Hoffa Wars. He has pieced together what federal investigators believe is the closest we will ever get to the truth about Hoffa’s death. Some of the information came from Ralph Picardo, a former driver for Provenzano.
Hoffa had gotten on the wrong side of Provenzano and Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Bufalino. Hoffa and Provenzano even came to blows in prison. On the morning of July 30, O’Brien picked up three of Provenzano’s henchmen at a Detroit-area airport and drove them to a house where he was staying, not far from the Machus Red Fox restaurant. These three men were Sal Briguglio, his brother Gabriel, and and another New Jersey Teamster official named Thomas Andretta. All three would subsequently be named as the suspected assassins by the federal grand jury. Moldea suspects that Frank Sheeran of Teamsters Local 326 in Wilmington, Delaware, was another conspirator/witness.
In the afternoon, O’Brien picked Hoffa up at the restaurant and drove him to the house, where the men were waiting for him.  (5)
Picardo alleged that Hoffa’s killers stuffed him into a 55-gallon drum, loaded him onto a truck in Detroit, and shipped him to an unknown destination. His remains were later squashed in a car-compacting machine. This, too, was brought before the grand jury.  (6)

Kuklinski claimed that after Briguglio started talking in ’78, the barrel containing Hoffa’s scorched remains was dug up, squashed in a car-compacting machine, and shipped off to Japan as scrap metal.  (1, 4)

Though he had talked about his work at great length with the HBO crew years earlier, Kuklinski waited over 20 years to publicly confess his role in Hoffa’s disappearance. I don’t know how you feel about all this, but my response was basically


The thing with Hoffa’s disappearance is that isn’t as mysterious as the average person thinks it is. As you can see from the above passage, the feds had a pretty good idea who was involved, and who was connected to those guys. Kuklinski’s name did not come up once. Former FBI agent Robert Garrity, one of the investigators of Hoffa’s disappearance said, “I’ve never heard of him, and I’ve never heard of the writer [Carlo].” Bob Buccino, the former head of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice’s organized crime division and a member of the task force who ultimately brought Kuklinski down, was reportedly also skeptical of the claims in Carlo’s book.  (7)
In fact, you’re not going to find a single seasoned Hoffa or Mafia investigator who buys Kuklinski’s story. Yet Carlo would have us believe that this hulking maniac, who would literally murder other drivers just for looking at him funny, was so skillful and so meticulous in his work that he managed to slip past every Mafia-savvy federal agent, police officer, and investigative reporter in the nation for nearly 30 years, like Caspar on steroids.

Also, who would drive from Detroit to Jersey with a former Teamster boss in his trunk? They don’t have car-crushing machines in Detroit?

Now let’s look at three other infamous hits in which Kuklinski was supposedly involved: The murder of Bonanno family boss Carmine Galante; the assassination of the head of the Gambino crime family, Paul Castellano; and the death of Roy DeMeo.

Carmine “Lilo” Galante was a big-time narcotics trafficker, instrumental in the French Connection, and he took over control of the Bonanno family after Philip Rastelli went to prison in 1974. The other four New York families deeply resented Galante’s domination of the drug trade and its profits, so they began plotting to take him out.
On the afternoon of July 12, 1979, three men in ski masks burst onto the patio of Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant in Brooklyn and opened fire on Galante, his cousin, and three other members of the Bonanno family. Galante never saw it coming; the little man nicknamed for a cigar died with one clamped between his teeth. Only two of the men survived, and these two (Baldo Amato and Cesare Bonventre) were suspected of having some involvement in the hit.  (8)

galante crime scene

The Galante crime scene

Numerous men have been floated as suspects over the years, but Kuklinski has never been on the radar in relation to the murder of Carmine Galante; the only person to suggest he could have been one of the gunmen was Kuklinski himself. His version of the story is extremely detailed – right down to the restaurant decor and the “rubbery waves of heat” coming from the sidewalk that day – but it simply doesn’t match up with the event. Kuklinski’s claims are in bold, with the facts as they are told in Selwyn Raab’s Five Families following:

– He identified the owner of the restaurant as Galante’s cousin Mary. Joe and Mary’s was actually owned by Galante’s distant cousin, Giuseppe Turano, who was one of the three men killed that day.
– Galante entered the restaurant with two guys, one of whom – Bonventre – was in on the job (as DeMeo explained to Kuklinski). Galante showed up alone that day, dropped off by a nephew. Everyone who was on the patio during the shooting had joined Galante later. Clearly, Kuklinski and/or Carlo relied on popular accounts of the shooting, which indicated (erroneously) that Amato and Bonventre were acting as bodyguards for Galante that day and accompanied him into the restaurant.
– Kuklinski arrived before Galante and behaved like a regular customer until the other two gunmen appeared. Surely, Giuseppe’s son John – who was shot by one of the three men – would have noticed an unmasked gunman moving toward the patio. Everyone agrees that all three shooters entered and exited the restaurant at the same time, wearing masks.
– Kuklinski started toward the exit as soon as the other two assassins started firing, got into a car driven by DeMeo, and was gone by the time it was all over. Again, all three gunman left the restaurant together and got into the same getaway car.
– DeMeo told him that one of the guys with Galante – Bonventre – would leave the table at some point, giving the signal. Kuklinski watched him exit the restaurant. By all other accounts, Bonventre did not leave the patio. He remained there throughout the attack and exited the restaurant shortly after the shooters did. In fact, that’s what tipped people off that he could have been involved in the hit; he and and Amato were almost literally on the heels of the three assassins, yet made no effort to stop them.

This cockamamie story serves to expose other tales Kuklinski told as bogus. For instance, DeMeo and his boss Anthony “Nino” Gaggi were supposedly so impressed by his expert handling of the Galante murders that they cut him in on a huge cocaine deal, even sending him to Rio to negotiate a shipment. But if Kuklinski didn’t kill Galante, why would Gaggi reward him in this way?


Paul Castellano

Paul Castellano

Paul Castellano was made head of the Gambino family not so much because he earned it, but because he had married Carlo Gambino’s sister. This gave him a lot of pull, but by 1985 John Gotti was plotting to take him out and replace him. Kuklinski claims he was given the contract to shoot Castellano’s right-hand man and chauffeur, Tommy Bilotti, by Sammy Gravano. Someone else would take care of Castellano, he was told.  (1)
It would not be possible to overestimate the importance of this assassination in Mafia history. Gotti, a relative unknown, shot to gangland superstardom because of this hit. Ever see that A&E show Growing Up Gotti? Yeah, well, you wouldn’t have had to suffer through that if it wasn’t for this hit. It was a seismic event, and once the dust settled, the terrain of the Gambino family was never the same.
The plan was cooked up by Gotti, Robert DiBernardo, Joseph Armone, and Gravano. Their people allegedly broached the idea with three of the five New York families, and received unofficial sanction for their hostile takeover. Frank DeCicco provided vital inside information; Castellano would be meeting with a trusted group of capos – himself included – at Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan at 5:00 PM on December 16, 1985. Gotti chose eleven assassins for the job. Four of them would wait near the entrance to Sparks and take out Castellano and Bilotti as they approached.
The hit went off precisely as planned. The four gunmen swarmed Castellano’s Lincoln Town Car and fired a hail of bullets into the two men. All team members escaped in getaway cars.  (8)
Again, Kuklinski’s account deviates significantly from the known details of the event. His claims are in bold:

– Gravano told him straight out that Bilotti was his target. The eleven guys handpicked by Gotti were not given their targets until just hours before the hit.
– He walked to Sparks by himself, window-shopping along the way. He did not know who the other assassins were, or where they were. The assassins met in a nearby park for a “dress rehearsal” shortly before 5:00.
– He chose a spot across the street from Sparks. The gunmen had already selected their positions by the time they arrived. This would not have been left to chance; it was a tightly coordinated hit.
– He fled on foot and hailed a cab. The assassins had getaway cars waiting for them on Second Avenue. What kind of hitman hails a cab from a crime scene, anyway?

Gravano would later cut a deal and testify against Gotti, admitting to his role in the murder of Castellano. He did not mention Kuklinski. Even after Kuklinski fingered him for the murder of Peter Calabro, Gravano never explicitly stated that he knew him, though it certainly would have been to his advantage to finger Kuklinski for the Castelleno hit. “Yeah, I know that guy. I hired him to take out Bilotti.”

I will repeat that no one familiar with organized crime recognized Kuklinski after his arrest. In Selwyn Raab’s Five Families, his name is given as “Kukinski”. This might say more about Raab than it does about Kuklinski, but isn’t it curious that a journalist who followed Mafia affairs for the New York Times for a quarter of a century had never heard of the guy? Just how does a Polish hitman standing six and a half feet tall slip under the radar?


In Carlo’s book, Kuklinski never really respects Roy DeMeo. He’s grateful for the work DeMeo gives him, but he secretly nurses resentment over DeMeo’s bullying and plans to kill him someday.
In February 1983, he finally got his chance. DeMeo feared murder charges would soon be laid against him for the murders of “Jimmy Esposito” and his son (Nino Gaggi was already in jail for this crime). Kuklinski feared that DeMeo, desperate as he was, would roll over on him. So he shot DeMeo as they were parked in DeMeo’s car near Sheepshead Bay. He placed the body in the trunk and strolled away.
Even Carlo admits, in a postscript to his book, that Kuklinski probably wasn’t involved in DeMeo’s death. The generally held view is that Castellano ordered him killed because he couldn’t be trusted, and the hit was carried out by one or more of DeMeo’s own crew members. Again, several men have been named as strong suspects, and Kuklinski was never mentioned by anyone. Also, the motive he gives doesn’t make a lick of sense, and his details are again inconsistent with known facts. For instance, the Eppolito (not Esposito) murders had occurred four years earlier; Gaggi had already served his time, and the case was closed.

Anthony Bruno left the Castellano and DeMeo murders out of his 1994 biography of Kuklinski, The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer. He has explained that he simply couldn’t verify them.

Kuklinski also claimed he was in on the murder of John Favara, a neighbour of John Gotti. Favara accidentally struck and killed 12-year-old Frank Gotti, John’s youngest son, with his car in the spring of 1980. Kuklinski said Gotti’s brother Gene, a few other men and himself beat and tortured Favara to death. Several men have been named in relation to the case, and one of them was Gene Gotti, but Kuklinski has never been mentioned – except by himself and Carlo.  (1)

Some of Kuklinski’s other dramatic – and unprovable – claims:

  • When he was 5, his parents told him that his 10-year-old brother Florian had been struck and killed by a car, and he believed them. Years later, however, he claimed that Florian really died from one of their father’s beatings, and his parents told police Florian had tumbled down a staircase. How would he know this? It seems unlikely that either parent would ever admit to obscuring the cause of their child’s death, and Kuklinski obviously didn’t witness his brother’s demise.
  • He accidentally beat a neighbourhood bully named Charley Lane to death with a clothing rod from his closet when he was just 13 or 14 years old. He stole a car and drove the corpse two hours south to a swamp in the Pine Barrens, where he removed all the boy’s teeth and hacked off his fingers to delay identification of the body. (1)
    I can find no information on a Jersey City boy disappearing or being found dead in 1948 or 1949. There are at least two versions of the story; in Carlo’s book, young Kuklinski is already crime-savvy enough to steal a car, make a clean getaway, and dispose of a body, while in Bruno’s book he merely leaves the body in the courtyard of his apartment building. Carlo states the boy’s body was not found.
  • Between 1955 and 1960, he killed no fewer than three people after disputes in bars. His second murder was committed outside a Hoboken pool hall about 5 years after he killed Lane. A young Irish policeman who was getting on his nerves had fallen asleep in his car, so Kuklinski set it on fire. This man is known as “Doyle” in Carlo’s book. There may be at least two versions of this story, because elsewhere Kuklinski claimed he beat a man to death with a pool cue when he was 18. In 1959 he stabbed another man and beat a bouncer to death with a hammer.
  • In his late teens and early 20s, he headed a crime ring of 4 or 5 other young guys. They called themselves the Coming Up Roses. The gang was approached by a member of the DeCavalcante crime family and asked, point-blank, to “take care of” a man who was causing trouble. It was Kuklinski who walked up to the mark’s parked car outside a Hoboken bar one night and shot him in the head with a .32 revolver. Each member of the gang received $500. After that they were given many jobs, including stealing $3 million in cash and gold from an armoured-truck warehouse in North Bergen.
    This robbery would have been bigger than the Great Brink’s Robbery of 1950 (which was the nation’s largest robbery at that time), yet it didn’t even make the New Jersey papers. Huh.
    Later, under orders from the DeCavalantes, Kuklinski killed two of his own crew members. The names Philip Carlo gives for these two men are apparently pseudonyms.
    All of this supposedly occurred before Kuklinski was 19.
  • In February 1956, he killed three men who confronted him in Jersey City and dumped their bodies in a cave in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
  • He was the only hitman known to have worked for all five New York crime families (plus the two in New Jersey), according to Philip Carlo’s book.
  • One of the porn films he copied at the lab where he worked in the ’60s was Dogf**ker, starring Linda Lovelace. But that movie was made in the ’70s. This is just one of numerous examples of Kuklinski and/or Philip Carlo juicing up the narrative with BS details. Remember that bouncer he killed at the Peppermint Lounge in ’71? Well, that bar closed in 1965 and didn’t reopen until 1980.
  • In Florida, he killed a rapist (on DeMeo’s orders) by cutting off chunks of his flesh (including his penis) and setting him adrift in the ocean to be devoured by sharks. Immediately afterward, he killed three young men at a rest stop because they had taunted him on the road.
  • He blew off the head of a motorist stopped at a traffic light with a double-barreled shotgun, from a motorcycle.
  • Strictly as an experiment, he shot a random pedestrian in the head with a crossbow.
  • In Honolulu, he threw a man off the balcony at a five-star hotel.
  • After a robbery in New Jersey, he tired of the bickering of his four cohorts and decided to feed them cyanide-laced sandwiches. All four men died within minutes. He did not dispose of the bodies. The following day, he poisoned the man who had arranged the job.
    Four men being found dead in the same room would be a big deal, even in New Jersey. Yet this didn’t make the papers, either.
  • On more than one occasion, he took victims to a rat-infested cave in Pennsylvania, cocooned them with duct tape, and left them there to be devoured. These murders-by-rat were supposedly videotaped, with a motion sensor triggering a light as the rats moved in to feast, and Kuklinski says he gave the tapes to his clients to prove the “marks” had suffered.
  • He poisoned several people with cyanide in restaurants, while dining with his victims, yet managed to get out the door without being apprehended or questioned. Each and every one of these deaths, he claims, was attributed to heart attacks – meaning the EMTs and medical examiners somehow failed to detect any of the telltale signs of cyanide poisoning (cyanide rictus, the distinctive odour of almonds, etc.).
  • He poisoned more than one victim with cyanide merely by spilling it on their clothes. He would approach the mark in a bar, “accidentally” dump his cyanide-laced drink on the guy, then walk away. The cyanide, he explained, would gradually soak through the victims’ clothing and into their skin.

Then there’s the issue of the ice cream truck assassin…

Who was Robert “Mister Softee” Prongay? 

Kuklinski supposedly met Robert Prongay (spelled Pronge by Carlo) in the early ’80s, at a New Jersey hotel. He and Prongay were possibly stalking the same victim, and they quickly discovered they were fellow assassins. They enthusiastically traded techniques and war stories. Prongay claimed to be a former Special Forces member, trained in the use of explosives and poisons. Kuklinski said he was particularly impressed by Prongay’s use of a Mister Softee ice cream van as a surveillance vehicle, his ingenious use of cyanide in spray form, his remotely-controlled grenades, and his habit of freezing bodies before he dumped them to obscure the estimated time of death. Kuklinski began adopting some of Pronay’s methods in his own work. Prongay, in turn, was fascinated by Kuklinski’s use of rats.

Ice Cream Man

TV Tropes has an extensive list of killer ice cream men under the label “Bad Humor Truck”. Zero points for originality, Ice Man.

Their friendship came to an abrupt end in 1984. First, Prongay asked Kuklinski to kill his wife and young son for him. Then he told Kuklinski of his plan to poison a community reservoir just to kill members of a single family. Outraged, Kuklinski shot him.

What do we really know about Robert Prongay? Basically, nothing. We are told by Carlo that he was found shot to death in his ice cream truck in 1984, but his death didn’t make the papers. Other sources state that his body was discovered hanging in a warehouse on Tonnelle Avenue. There are no known photos of him. His background is a blank. No one in the world – other than Kuklinski – has ever talked about the guy. Carlo tells us Kuklinski pled guilty to his murder in 2004.
There are several possibilities here. One is that an ice cream assassin really was tooling the streets of North Bergen in the ’70s and ’80s, stashing bodies in his freezer. Another is that Kuklinski really did know a criminal ice cream man, and created a bullshit story around the guy, transforming him from a small-time hood into a crack military-trained assassin to obscure the unimpressive truth.

The Prongay conundrum turned out to be the tip of an iceberg. The more I delved into Kuklinski’s world, the less credible he became. Nagging doubts and unresolved issues multiplied, until I was finally faced with some deeply troubling questions.

Did Kuklinski really work for Roy DeMeo?

I began to realize that there isn’t a lot of concrete evidence actually connecting Kuklinski to DeMeo. The only person besides Kuklinski to publicly declare that Kuklinski was an associate of DeMeo is another highly questionable character by the name of Greg Bucceroni. This fellow crawled out of the woodwork a couple of years ago, telling Dr. Phil and any journalist who would listen that he was a Gambino associate at the same time as Kuklinski, that he had been a teenage prostitute for the Gambino family, that the Mafia tried to hire him to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal prior to his arrest, and that Philly businessman Ed Savitz once tried to pimp him out to disgraced Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. Bucceroni alleges that Kuklinski often traveled between Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York on behalf of DeMeo and Robert DiBernadino, trafficking in illegal porn, working as an enforcer, and of course murdering people.
To date, there is no solid evidence that supports any of Bucceroni’s stories. Not even the Philadelphia Daily News, a glorified tabloid, really bought into him. In fact, reporter William Bender essentially called him out as a liar. The Patriot-News reporter who broke the Sandusky story, Sara Ganim, said when she first spoke to Bucceroni, he presented her with fresh allegations against the coach and other members of what he said was a vast pedophile ring, but couldn’t or wouldn’t provide any details. He said he didn’t know the surnames of his abusers. Later, however, he gave a laundry list of prominent names to other media outlets. When Ganim decided not to run with his unverifiable accusations, Bucceroni resorted to sending her harassing emails and naming her in profanity-laced tweets. Other writers who have had dealings with Bucceroni report similar experiences. Check out Kyle Scott’s posts on Bucceroni at Crossing Broad for more info.
So what we seem to have here is one conman propping up the stories of another conman. Interesting stories? Sure. Convincing evidence? Nope.
Bucceroni is the one and only person who has ever named Kuklinski as a close associate of DeMeo, though several members of DeMeo’s crew became informants.

In their 1992 book Murder Machine, Jerry Capeci and Gerry Mustain didn’t mention Kuklinski at all. Capeci does not buy his stories about Hoffa, Castellano, and DeMeo, and refers to him  as “heretofore unknown”. In other words, while intensively researching DeMeo and his crew, Capeci and Mustain didn’t hear squat about a gigantic Polish hitman.

In The Ice Man, Carlo explains that informant Freddie DiNome tipped off investigators to Kuklinski’s work for DeMeo. I can find no evidence for this. If you come across some, kindly let me know.

On the other hand, the film lab where Kuklinski copied porn was linked to the Gambino family; it was owned by Robert DiBernardi, and one of the theatres he sold stolen porn to was owned by DeMeo. And Kenny McCabe of the NYPD allegedly confirmed to author Anthony Bruno that Kuklinski’s vehicle had been parked at the Gemini Lounge in Brooklyn on several occasions in the early ’80s, when DeMeo was under surveillance. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean he worked for DeMeo outside the film lab. 

Was he a hitman?

Six of the seven murders that can be linked to Kuklinski are those of his own associates, people who worked with him on relatively minor jobs involving theft, or people who owed money: Robert Prongay, George Malliband, Louis Masgay, Gary Smith, Paul Hoffman, and Daniel Deppner. Then there is the case of Peter Calabro, which is rather questionable. All seven murders were committed within a short timespan (198o-1984). Kuklinski was convicted of two of them in 1988, pled guilty to two others, and (according to Carlo) pled guilty to the murders of Pronge and Calabro in 2004.

The first murder that can be definitely linked to him was committed in 1981. Louis Masgay, 44, purchased a lot of stolen merchandise from Kuklinski’s buddy Phil Solimene to stock a little store he owned in Paterson, and one day Phil and Kuklinski decided to rob and kill him. Richard wrapped the body in plastic and tipped it into a cold-water well near a warehouse in North Bergen. He wanted to try freezing a body, as Mister Softee sometimes did.
George Malliband was killed in the first week of February, 1982. A small-time hustler from Pennsylvania, friendly with Kuklinski, Malliband supposedly owed DeMeo $35,000. He tried to weasel his way out of paying on time by hinting that he could harm Kuklinski’s family…and Kuklinski, though brutally abusive to his wife, was so protective of his daughters that he would actually spy on them during parties. He was instantly enraged. He shot Malliband five times, shoved his body into a barrel by removing one leg, and dumped the barrel on the grounds of a chemical plant.
The plant owner found the barrel almost immediately, and it didn’t take police long to learn that Richard Kuklinski was the last person to see Malliband alive.
Meanwhile, DeMeo had decided to switch coke suppliers, and had no intention of paying for the last shipment he received from his original suppliers, a pair of Brazilian brothers. He wanted Kuklinski to travel to Rio a second time and take out both brothers. That’s how Kuklinski became an international assassin. It would not be his last overseas job, he claimed.  (1)

One murder that has been linked to Kuklinski serves as the strongest evidence that he was, in fact, a Mafia-linked hitman. Yet this case is extremely problematic. The hit was allegedly ordered in 1980 by Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, and the mark was a crooked NYPD detective by the name of Peter Calabro. The exact reasons for the hit aren’t known, but it has been alleged that Calabro’s former in-laws suspected him in the 1977 drowning death of his wife, Carmella, and turned to Gravano for “help” (in the Carlo/Kuklinski version of the story, Calabro hired DeMeo himself to kill Carmella).


Sammy Gravano

Here’s how the murder went down, according to Kuklinski: He waited in his van near Calabro’s home in Saddle River, New Jersey, maintaining radio contact with Gravano, who was tailing Calabro. When Calabro attempted to drive around the van, Kuklinski fired the shotgun given to him by Gravano through the windshield of his Honda Civic, killing him with a single shot.  (1, 4)

The murder remained unsolved for over two decades. In 2003, Gravano was charged with soliciting Calabro’s murder. Why? Because Kuklinski took credit for the hit and told the feds it was Gravano who hired him. Beyond that, there is no evidence connecting Kuklinski to Calabro’s murder. Kuklinski had kept this murder under his hat until 2001, when he was interviewed by HBO for the second time.
He agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence (rather than a death sentence), and he also agreed to testify against Gravano. The young state police detectives who questioned Kuklinski claim he provided details that only the killer would know.  (1)  Just what those details are remains a mystery. And no one has answered  a rather obvious question: Why would Gravano, one of Mafiadom’s most prolific hitman himself, hire Kuklinski to do a job like this? He had to hire someone else for the Castellano hit because it was done on a street crawling with Christmas shoppers and steakhouse patrons who could recognize him, but he could easily have pulled off a covert nighttime hit like the Calabro shooting himself. It doesn’t make much sense. Several jailhouse informants have stated that Gravano bragged about killing Calabro himself, for whatever that’s worth.
At any rate, Kuklinski died before Gravano went to trial. The murder charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

The third and fourth murders for which Kuklinski was convicted in ’88 were those of Gary Smith and Daniel Deppner. In late 1981, Percy House, one of the members of a small burglary ring Richard ran, was arrested, and fingered Kuklinski as the boss, though he knew Kuklinski only as “Big Rich”.
Later, the ex-wife of missing crew member Danny Deppner provided state police detective Patrick Kane with Richard’s full name. This woman told Kane that Kuklinski was a hitman, and that he and Deppner had murdered crew member Gary Smith in December 1982 by giving him a poisoned hamburger, then strangling him. Sure enough, Detective Kane learned, Smith’s body had been found stuffed beneath a bed at the York Motel in North Bergen two days after Christmas in 1982. Several people had rented the room without noticing it.

York Motel

Worst housekeeping ever.

In May 1983, Deppner’s body was found near a reservoir in West Milford. He had been poisoned with cyanide, then shot. It would later emerge that he had been killed in the apartment of Richie Peterson, boyfriend of Kuklinski’s elder daughter, Merrick. Peterson had even helped Richard dispose of the body. Kuklinski told young Richie that Deppner had died of a drug overdose, and Richie believed him.
Then came the discovery that gave Kuklinski his nickname, the Ice Man. In August 1983, Louis Masgay’s partially defrosted corpse was found in Rockland County, New York (by other accounts, he was found in Palisades Interstate Park near Orangeburg, New Jersey). Though the corpse appeared fresh, an autopsy revealed shards of ice in his chest cavity, indicating he could have died much earlier.
It was Percy House who broke the case open, finally admitting to Detective Kane that he knew “Big Rich” had killed Masgay, Smith, and Paul Hoffman. Then Kane learned that a fourth guy, George Malliband, had an appointment with Kuklinski on the day he ended up in a barrel. Kukinski’s attorney would try to pin everything on House.
The Masgay case contains a mystery: How did Kuklinski freeze the body? Carlo claims it was kept in an ice-cold well, while the authorities seem to believe it was kept in an industrial freezer. So far as we, though, Kuklinski didn’t have access to a freezer large enough to hold a man’s body. 

Pat Kane worked obsessively on the Kuklinski cases for over four years. Initially, his bosses didn’t think there was anything to them because the MOs were so different in each murder: Strangulation, shooting, poisoning. How could they possibly be the work of one individual, a family man? Kuklinski was a “film distributor” on paper, and had a clean record (with just two complaints for road rage incidents).
Nonetheless, Kane was certain he was on to something. And he kept hearing rumours that Kuklinski was not only a killer, but  a hitman with Mafia ties. Given the body count, that wasn’t hard for Kane to believe. So he cooked up a plan to lure Kuklinski with a decoy client, an undercover cop. The man selected for this job was an enthusiastic ATF agent, Dominick Polifrone. In early 1985, Phil Solimene agreed to introduce him to Kuklinski as a weapons dealer.
It wasn’t until September 1986 that Polifrone finally met Kuklinski face-to-face. Kuklinski asked him to acquire some cyanide, and Polifrone asked for some firearms. Unaware that their phone conversation was being recorded, Kuklinski presented one of his associates (identified as “John Spasudo” in Carlo’s book) as an arms dealer who could get Dominick some “metal” for an IRA client. The two men then chatted about cyanide and all the interesting ways there are to kill people. Kuklinski was admitting, for the record, that he had murdered people.
They arranged to meet at a rest stop on October 2 so Kuklinski could hand over a “hit kit” consisting of a gun and silencer. As they hovered over the trunk of Kuklinski’s car, Dominick floated the idea of poisoning a wealthy young client by cutting his cocaine with cyanide. Kuklinski took the bait, telling Polifrone it could be done. Again, the conversation was recorded.
On Halloween, they arranged to meet up at the rest stop for a third time. This time, Dominick would bring the young coke buyer he supposedly wanted Richard to kill. Detective Paul Smith posed as the buyer. Kuklinski didn’t show. He was too busy conducting business in South Carolina and Zurich, according to Carlo’s book. The team waited tensely until another meeting was set up for December 6. This was a key meeting, because Kuklinski finally named two of the people he had killed: Deppner and Smith. During and after a fourth meeting, on December 12, he and Polifrone made arrangements to meet up again five days later and poison the coke buyer with a cyanide-laced sandwich; Dominick said he could supply the cyanide and the sandwich, which seemed to suit Kuklinski just fine.
On December 17, Polifrone handed Kuklinski a bagful of egg salad sandwiches and a tiny vial of white powder that looked like cyanide. He would pick up their mark and bring him back to the rest stop in about half an hour, he said. Kuklinski said he would swap his car for a van (a safe place to poison the buyer) and return to the rest stop in twenty minutes.
It didn’t take him long to realize the cyanide was fake. He pulled his car over and tested some of it on a stray dog – to absolutely no effect.  (1)

State police detectives were staking out his house in Dumont. They watched him return home around 10:00 AM with a load of groceries. Deputy Chief Bob Buccino gave the order for Kuklinski to be arrested there, and fifteen police vehicles rapidly converged on the scene. Oblivious, Kuklinski bundled a sick Barbara into the car, planning to take her out for breakfast, and drove directly into a solid line of cop cars. It took several men to subdue Richard once he was out of the car.

busted by a sammich

Busted by a sammich.

It seems clear, in hindsight, that Kuklinski at this point in his life was like a scared animal, frantically defending his small amount of turf by recklessly killing anyone who could conceivably pose a threat to it. But his own account of these last years of freedom paint a much different picture, of course; in his own mind, and in Carlo’s book, he was a jet-setting mastermind with his fingers in firearms, foreign currency, and Swiss bank fraud. He committed scores of contract murders, killed a few more people in fits of road rage, freed a dozen trafficked children from the dungeon of a pot dealer in New Jersey, and took down an Arab blackmailer in Zurich with a quick spray of cyanide.

In addition to the murders of Masgay, Malliband, Smith, and Deppner, Kuklinski was charged with the April 1982 murder of Paul Hoffman, a crooked pharmacist who supposedly supplied him with cyanide for many years. This was another profit-motivated killing; Hoffman was willing to pay a large sum of cash for a stolen load of Tagamet, and Kuklinski again conspired with his good buddy Solimene to simply bump him off and take the money. He shot and bludgeoned the man to death, stuffed his body into a 55-gallon drum, and brazenly deposited the drum near a Hackensack diner he frequented, Harry’s Luncheonette. He claimed that even though the barrel was in plain sight, no one discovered what was in it. One day when he dropped by for lunch, the barrel was gone.  (1, 3)
Hoffman’s body has never been found.
There is very little doubt that Kuklinski committed this murder, but the charges were ultimately dropped for lack of evidence.

In his second HBO interview, it is stated that Kuklinski became a hitman only after meeting Roy DeMeo. Prior to that time, he had never killed for money, and told DeMeo he thought he could do it. This story changed later, when Carlo interviewed Kuklinski. Suddenly, Kuklinski had been a teenage hitman, so proficient in the art of contract killing that he was already in demand at the age of 19. No one except Carlo accepts this. Even the makers of the movie The Iceman rejected it completely.

How accurate is the movie The Iceman?

The film makes no mention of Kuklinski’s more outrageous claims (Hoffa, DeMeo, etc.). This is because the script was based on Anthony Bruno’s book, rather than Carlo’s book. Even so, it relies on Kuklinski’s own accounts of his crimes, so it is probably not even remotely accurate. This is one of those films in which “inspired by a true story” is stretched to the outermost limits.

Son Dwight is left out of the picture. Barbara is “Deborah”. Murders of non-Mafia associates are transferred to powerful Mafia-linked figures. For instance, the Christmastime murder of Kuklinski’s associate “Bruno Latini” becomes the murder of a character based on Anthony Gaggi and Paul Castellano, Roy DeMeo’s bosses in the Gambino family. In reality, as we have seen, Kuklinski played no role in the assassination of Castellano.
The names of DeMeo’s closest associates are altered, and the name of “Mr. Freezy” (Mister Softee) isn’t given at all.
In The Iceman, Kuklinski is drawn into the Mafia through his work in the film lab, and Roy DeMeo essentially forces him to become a hitman. Kuklinski claimed just the opposite; he was an expert contract killer by the age of 19, and his stint at the labs was just a way to make ends meet. It was not DeMeo who introduced him to the Mafia.

The bizarre sneezing-in-the-disco scene in Iceman was actually even weirder in real life, according to Kuklinski. He had decided to kill a Bonanno family lieutenant inside a popular New York disco – a spectacularly risky move that doesn’t seem at all like his usual style. He had recently learned about poisons and acquired some cyanide from Paul Hoffman, and one night he showed up at the mark’s favourite disco in an absurd “gay” getup: elevator shoes (remember, he was 6’4″), a red hat, wildly coloured clothes. Instead of spraying cyanide on his mark, Kuklinski jabbed him with a syringe as he scooted past him on the dance floor.  The man was dead before Kuklinski left the club.
Kuklinski didn’t start using cyanide in spray form until the 1980s, after he befriended ex-military assassin Robert Prongay (Mr. Softee).  (3)

Kuklinski did not save a teenage girl from a sexual predator. That story, it seems, was created out of whole cloth just for the film.

In the film, Kuklinski is just as he described himself; a Jekyll and Hyde. But the dividing line between the upright family man and the raging sociopath was not clearly demarcated between his work and his home life, as it is in the movie. Michael Shannon’s Kuklinski controls his temper around his wife and daughters, for the most part. In reality, Kuklinski was physically abusive to Barbara, and so controlling with his three children that one daughter, Chris, claims she lost her virginity to a stranger at age 12 just to feel she finally had control over something – her own body. Kuklinski blackened Barbara’s eyes, caused her to miscarry, shattered furniture, destroyed mementos. He told his daughter Merrick that he would have to murder the entire family if he accidentally killed her mother, so she and her sister carefully packed a bag and worked out a plan to run for their lives, just in case.

Why I don’t believe Kuklinski, in a nutshell

1. He was a prolific liar. Even people who believe most of his story, like Bruno, acknowledge that not all of his stories are true.
2. There is simply no concrete evidence that he was a hitman.

Here’s what I think happened: Kuklinski was a minor-league criminal running a B&E gang, bootlegging porn, selling stolen merchandise, etc. In the early ’80s he lost control of his crew, and some members starting getting into trouble, so he began picking them off one by one, just like Jesse James did in the twilight of his criminal career.
He had long been telling people he was a hitman, and after his arrest he decided to pass himself off as a world-class Mafia hitman. An avid – but not very careful – reader of true crime lit since boyhood, he used famous crime scene photos and twice-told gangster tales to piece together an impressive life story, inserting himself into some of the Mafia’s most notorious murders. Many people bought it.

I do believe that Kuklinski and his siblings were severely abused as children, because the Kuklinski clan spawned two remorseless killers. His younger brother, Joseph, served 33 years in Trenton State for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old neighbour.
I believe that he did work, in some capacity, for DeMeo (perhaps merely as a porn supplier).
I believe that he killed at least six of his associates. The fact that he was busted for nearly all of them indicates he was not a professional killer.
I believe that he was a career criminal. He had very few legit jobs in his lifetime, yet his income was steady and he was able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
In my opinion, the rest is bullshit.

How did Kuklinski pull off one of the biggest hoaxes in criminal history?

First of all, he chose the right profession. Hitmen often work alone, are crazy paranoid about surveillance, and kill people to whom they can’t be connected – usually without even knowing their names. If a Mafia hitman tells you he killed 100-200 people over three decades in two countries and at least 18 states, that’s a tough thing to refute. I cannot conclusively say that Kuklinski never worked as a contract killer. I can only cast doubt on his claims by pointing to the lack of corroborating evidence for them.
Kuklinski was a serial killer. There’s no question about that. His real killing experiences may have enabled him to spin plausible-sounding tales about contract murders.

Secondly, Kuklinski was a sociopath. He was a convincing liar, and a reasonably intelligent man. He knew how to fill the credibility gaps in some of his stories. He was smart enough to know that DeMeo’s Gemini Lounge was under surveillance, and to make up the story about always meeting DeMeo near the Tappan Zee Bridge. As DeMeo’s “secret weapon”, he supposedly didn’t have to rub elbows with the other killers in DeMeo’s crew very often. This would explain why he wasn’t known as a Gemini Lounge regular.
He was also smart enough to come up with an excuse for living in a nice, but hardly extravagant, 3-bedroom house in New Jersey when he was pulling in millions every year: Gambling. Sure, he could send his kids to private schools and buy lovely furniture for his wife, but he pissed away several grand on a regular basis in poker games and casinos. This lie unraveled when the man who prosecuted him, New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Bob Carroll, said to HBO, “He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t gamble.”  (3)

Thirdly, he stuck to a principle that liars and hoaxers throughout history have found extremely useful: Go big or go home. By seeding his stories with some of the biggest names in modern Mafia history, Kuklinski effectively armored himself against accusations of trickery. Who would pretend to kill people for Roy DeMeo, or finger Sammy Gravano for a murder, unless he was legit? No one would be so bold. No one would be so foolish.
Paradoxically, it was this name-dropping that made me start questioning Kuklinski in the first place. Like most everyone who watched the HBO interviews, I was mesmerized and appalled by Kuklinski, and had little reason to doubt he was a hardcore contract killer. Then his Hoffa story hit the news, and I suddenly realized that not all of his stories were necessarily true. This ultimately led me to what I believe today – that Kuklinski was not a contract killer and did not work for the Mafia outside of the porn-bootlegging business.

Maybe Iceman is the perfect name for him – he pulled off an amazing snowjob. In fact, he wins the second posthumous Pants Afire Award. Irony.



It’s nearly impossible to dig into any subject without bumping into conspiracy theories these days. Here’s one about Kuklinski, courtesy of Ed Chiarini (the Texan who believes John Stossel is Freddy Mercury, Winston Churchill was also Lionel Barrymore, etc.): Richard Kuklinski did not die in prison in 2006, but became the chief medical examiner of the state of Connecticut, Dr. H. Wayne Carver. In Chiarini’s view, Kuklinski/Carver was a key player in the Sandy Hook massacre hoax.
Chiarini is losing his touch. Sure, I could believe that Robert Blake was the Pope, but the resemblance between Kuklinski and Carver is extremely slight (they’re both large and bald, basically).


1. The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer by Philip Carlo (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)
2. Roy DeMeo episode of Mobsters (originally aired on the Biography Channel October 24, 2008)
3. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)
4. The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman (2001)
5. The Hoffa Wars by Dan E. Moldea (Paddington Press, 1978)
6.My Afternoon With Jimmy Hoffa’s Alleged Killer” (1999) by Dan E. Moldea,
7.Man’s claim that he killed Hoffa is dismissed as a hoax“. Detroit Free Press. April 18, 2006.
8. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab (Thomas Dunne Books, 2005)

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup


  • Leah Haley was by far one of the most interesting alien abductees on the scene today. She has a couple of firsts to her credit: She was the first to write a children’s book designed to help kids view their alien abductions as positive, edifying experiences, and she was the first to claim she was inside an alien spacecraft when it was shot down by the U.S. military. Now, however, Haley believes that every last one of her “alien” encounters was actually a military abduction, or MILAB. In March, she told UFO blogger Jack Brewer that none of it was real; it was all a cover for government mind control experimentation. Farewell, Ceto.
  • In related news, Charles Hickson passed away on September 9. Hickson was involved in one of the strangest UFO encounters ever reported, the Pascagoula incident of 1973. He and his 19-year-old fishing buddy, Calvin Parker, were supposedly levitated into a spaceship and examined by eyeless, carrot-nosed aliens.
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government leaders are proof positive that once you deny the Holocaust (or any major, well-documented historical event, for that matter), you no longer have to live in reality. In June, he declared that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to stoning for adultery in 2006, wasn’t really given a death sentence – that was all a media hoax. An Iranian official had already tried to stifle the worldwide outcry against Ashtiani’s sentence by stating, in contradiction to all previous statements, that Ashtiani was also convicted of murdering her husband (she was actually acquitted). And Youcef Nedarkhani, the Christian minister sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam? He’s really on trial for rape and extortion, even though the court documents only mention blasphemy.
  • Face discovered in testicular tumour“. Stay classy, Telegraph.
  • Who is the artist known as the Philadelphia Wireman? His or her enigmatic metal sculptures were salvaged from the trash in the early ’80s, and since that time there have been murmurs that they’re a hoax perpetrated by John Ollman of the Fleischer/Ollman Gallery. The Wireman’s pieces are currently on display there.

What’s the Deal with Troy Davis?

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the case of Troy Davis, the Georgia man convicted of killing off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. Davis received a death sentence, which was carried out late on the night of September 21, after the Supreme Court denied a stay of execution. Many are convinced of his guilt or innocence, but those unfamiliar with the case find themselves trying to gain any footing in a propaganda slipstream, inundated from all sides by conflicting accounts and contradictory “facts”. Ann Coulter tells us there were “dozens of witnesses” to the shooting of MacPhail (as shown below, there were about a dozen eyewitnesses), and that “Several eyewitnesses, both acquaintances and strangers, specifically identified Davis as the one who shot Officer MacPhail” (only one eyewitness was acquainted with the suspects, and he named Sylvester Coles as the killer). Ed Pilkington of The Guardian informs us the jury was “shown no physical evidence” against Troy Davis (though most of the physical evidence can’t be tied to Davis, it was presented at trial).
Unfortunately, even many of the news reports, blogs and websites that attempted to stay neutral in reporting this event have left us with a jumble of mixed information: Some accurate, some questionable, some flat-out wrong. And documents that could make the picture much clearer, such as the trial transcript, are not readily available (to date, I have not even been able to ascertain some basic details, like Davis’s exact height/weight at the time of the murder).
Just what are the facts in the Davis case? Was he, as he and his supporters contended, a falsely convicted man? Did most of the key witnesses at Davis’s 1991 trial (7 out of 9 is the number most commonly given) really recant their testimony? Has the ballistics evidence presented at his trial since been discredited? Did Troy Davis deserve a new trial?

You may not be able to decide, after reading this post, if Troy Davis was truly guilty or not. But you should be able to reach three conclusions about the case:

1. There were only two viable suspects in the murder of Mark MacPhail. One of them was treated like a suspect, and the other was treated like a witness.
2. Physical evidence in the case does not point unequivocally to either suspect.
3. If Troy Davis had been granted a new trial, it is highly unlikely the state could have obtained a conviction.

Troy Davis

In 1989, Troy Davis was 20, unemployed, and living in his mother’s brick house on Sylvester Drive in the Cloverdale section of Savannah. Cloverdale is almost universally described in news stories of the time as a “mostly black, middle-class” area of the city, a tidy and quiet neighbourhood. But Davis hung out in rougher areas, and like some of his friends was known to carry a gun. In July 1988, he pled guilty to carrying a concealed weapon (a charge of possession of a gun with altered serial numbers was dropped). Outside his neighbourhood, he tried to project a tough image. Coworkers at National Electric Gate, where he worked for brief spurts in ’88 and early ’89, nicknamed him “Rough as Hell”.
One Savannah Evening Press story from August ’89, citing an unknown source, claimed Davis was involved in a high-speed police chase just two months before the murder of Mark MacPhail.

Nothing else in Davis’s background hints at a violent nature. On the contrary, neighbours noted that he was the “man in the family”, helping Virginia Davis care for his three younger siblings after his dad left and his older sister Tina joined the Army. When his sister Kimberly became confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, he quit high school to drive her to and from therapy and doctor appointments, and earned a GED at the same time.
According to Tina, Troy took exquisite care of Kimberly: He catheterized her, bathed her and did her hair, even encouraged her to walk by hanging on to her wheelchair.
He also became a big brother to kids in the neighborhood, fixing their bikes and setting up a basketball hoop for them.
He was neither bright nor ambitious (one teacher called him a “dumb kid and a worse student”). He rarely showed up for his shifts at National Electric Gate. His boss said he was a good worker when he did bother to show up, though, and Davis struck him as a kid who “wanted to stay out of trouble and get somewhere.” He was reportedly planning to join the Marines at the time of Mark MacPhail’s murder.

The Crimes: August 18 – 19, 1989

August 18, 1989 was a Friday. That night, Troy Davis put on a white T-shirt with a Batman logo on it, dark shorts, and a baseball cap. He began walking to a pool party on Cloverdale Drive, hosted by another teenager named Tonya Johnson, and was picked up on the way there by Eric Ellison and his 16-year-old friend, Darrell “D.D.” Collins. (1, 20)

Sometime before 11:30, as Davis and Darrell Collins were leaving the party, Davis and a few other young men began exchanging insults with a carload of guys on Cloverdale Drive. Early reports stated there were three people in the car, but there were actually five: Mark Wilds (the driver), Joseph Blige, Benjamin Gordon, Lamar Brown, and Michael Cooper. (1, 16)
Just before 11:30 (a 911 call was made at 11:29), someone fired a handgun into the vehicle, shattering the back window. Michael Cooper, 20, was struck by a bullet that lodged in his jaw. (1, 3)
Wilds took him to Candler General Hospital. Questioned there by police, Cooper said he didn’t recognize the person who shot him, a black man in a white Batman T-shirt, black hat, and shorts. (1,3)
Cooper was treated and released.

Sylvester “Redd” Coles, a 20-year-old friend of Troy Davis, was also at the pool party, according to the trial testimony of Tonya Johnson. This contradicts the assertion (made by the Atlanta Conservative Examiner and others) that no one has alleged Sylvester Coles was present at the party. (2, 24)
Coles told police, and later testified on cross-examination, that he was in possession of a .38 pistol on the night of the shootings. At first he claimed he had given it to Jeffrey Sapp while he was playing pool. (1, 26) Later he said he gave it to another Jeffrey, Jeffrey Sams (which Sams denied). (1, 50) Darrell Collins testified at trial that Coles placed the gun on the front seat of Ellison’s vehicle while they were at the pool hall, and he (Collins) hid it in some shrubbery. Whomever supposedly took care of this gun for Coles, the weapon was never found.
would be one of the witnesses against Davis (see “The Confession Witnesses”, below). (1, 26)
Throughout the night, Coles was allegedly wearing a yellow T-shirt with a record store logo on it. This has led some people to break the case down to a “white shirt vs. yellow shirt” affair. Tonya Johnson (see “The Shooting of Michael Cooper”, below) appears to be the only trial witness who testified that Coles was wearing a white shirt that night.
The yellow shirt wasn’t introduced as evidence.

There was another shooting in Cloverdale about an hour later. Sherman Coleman, 17, was shot in the leg from a passing vehicle in front of a house on Wilder Drive. It is believed this vehicle contained Mark Wilds, Joseph Blige, Benjamin Gordon, and Lamar Brown.

By this time, Troy Davis, Darrell Collins, and Sylvester Coles were at a pool hall called Charlie Brown’s on Oglethorpe Avenue. Davis and Collins had been driven there by Eric Ellison shortly after the Cooper shooting (Davis had been leaving the area on foot when Ellison once again picked him up in his vehicle).
They were now in a distinctly seedy part of town known as Yamacraw. As one of Davis’s lawyers, Jason Ewart, would later comment, “Yamacraw was the Wild West back then — everyone had a gun.”
Sometime before 1:00 AM, Red Coles noticed a homeless man (Larry Young) walking from the nearby convenience store with a container of beer, and decided to harass him. He, Davis and Collins followed Young to the parking lot of the Burger King attached to a bus station, on the corner of Oglethorpe Avenue and Fahm Street. You can view the scene on Google maps; the parking lot, the bus station with adjoining restaurant, and the Thunderbird Inn across the street are still in place.
Coles demanded some of Young’s beer, Young refused, and the altercation turned violent. Coles warned Young, “You don’t know me, I’ll shoot you.” Either Davis or Coles struck the homeless man on the back of the head with a pistol, hard enough to make him bleed (Coles said it was Davis, Davis said it was Coles, and Darell Collins testified at trial that it was Davis, but recanted that portion of his testimony later). Young, clutching his bleeding head, staggered over to a van full of military officers that was parked in the Burger King drive-through and asked for the driver’s help. The driver ignored him. So did the Burger King employee working at the drive-through window. Young made his way to the men’s room of the bus station. (1, 5)

It was at this point, around 1:00 AM, that the Burger King security guard intervened. Mark MacPhail, 27, was an off-duty police officer. A father of two, he had served six years as an Army Ranger before becoming a patrolman.
He was armed with a nightstick and a pistol for his job as a security guard. No evidence suggests that he drew his gun at any time during the altercation (it was still snapped into its holster when his body was found), but witnesses indicate he was brandishing his nightstick when he approached the men in the parking lot.

Larry Young and Darrell Collins left the scene in opposite directions as MacPhail approached, Young heading to the drive-through, and Collins fleeing across the street in the direction of a bank. Both claim they did not witness the shooting. Collins returned to the pool hall and caught a ride with Eric Ellison, who was just leaving. (1, 21)

MacPhail was shot twice, from the front. One bullet entered the left side of his face and exited the back of his neck. The other passed through the left armhole of his bulletproof vest, entering his chest. It pierced a lung and the aorta, lodging between the third and fourth vertebrae. Blood loss from the chest wound was fatal. It’s possible that a third bullet grazed his leg.

Davis and Coles admittedly fled the scene. At 1:09, a Thunderbird Inn employee called 911 to report that someone had been shot. (1, 3) At 1:16, she called back to report that she had watched two black men fleeing the scene. She couldn’t give a description of either man, though she observed that both were wearing shorts, one wore a T-shirt, and the other was in a tank top. (1, 4)

Minutes later, Savannah police officer David Owens found Mark MacPhail lying facedown in the parking lot.

The Eyewitnesses

At least 12 people witnessed these events, including the vanful of soldiers, but I include in this list only those eyewitnesses who testified at Troy Davis’s 1991 murder trial. We’ll deal with the witnesses who didn’t testify later.

Troy Davis himself is excluded from the eyewitness list. It should be noted, though, that he did not implicate Sylvester Coles. Rather, he claimed he didn’t see the shooting of MacPhail.

I exclude Larry Young and D.D. Collins as eyewitnesses (even though they implicated Davis in their testimony) because they also claimed they did not witness the shooting of MacPhail.

Larry Young, who was intoxicated at the time of his assault, gave a statement to police at 3:10 AM. According to this statement, the young man hassling him for beer wore a yellow tank top and “jam pants”. He was about 5’9″, 158 lbs, 20 or 21 years old. This person was joined by two more young men, and it was one of these two (either Davis or Collins) who struck him on the head from behind. Young said the assailant was wearing a white shirt with “some kind of print on it” and a white hat. He was 21-24 years old, 178 lbs., 5’11”. (1, 8)
At trial, Young testified that the man with whom he was arguing was definitely wearing a yellow shirt, and this was not the same individual who struck him on the head. He wasn’t precisely sure who hit him; he just knew it wasn’t the man in the yellow shirt, because that man was still standing in front of him when he was hit. (1, 43)
After MacPhail came to his rescue, Young went to the drive-through window. His back was turned when the first shot was fired. He entered the bus depot and went to the washroom to clean up before the second shot was fired. At trial, he implicated Davis by testifying that his assailant wore a white shirt.
As Detective Ramsey testified at the 2010 evidentiary hearing (see “The Appeals” section, below), Young was shown a photo array that included Davis (but not Coles) and asked to identify the man with whom he argued on the night of his assault. Young selected Davis. However, a short time later, Ramsey and Young saw Sylvester Coles in the waiting area of the police station. Young immediately recognized him as the person who argued with him. (1, 43)
In a 2002 affidavit, Young stated
he was drunk that
night and the attack was a blur. He didn’t know who assaulted him or what anyone was wearing.

Darrell Collins testified that he left the scene before Mark MacPhail arrived, and did not witness the shooting. (His testimony is particularly complicated, so we’ll deal with it in the “Shooting of Michael Cooper” section below.)

This leaves seven eyewitnesses. Four of them have retracted their trial testimony.

1. Sylvester Coles

Sylvester “Red” Coles is the only other viable suspect in the death of Mark MacPhail. As previously noted, the .38 pistol he admittedly possessed on the night of the shooting has never been found. Why was Coles not a strong suspect? Because, as explained in the “What Happened After the Murder” section below, he was the first to go to the police and finger the other guy, Troy Davis.

What he said at trial: Coles claimed he arrived at Charlie Brown’s pool hall around 8:00 PM and did not attend the Cloverdale party where Michael Cooper was shot. (1, 50) At some point that night, he gave his pistol to Jeffrey Sams for safekeeping. He admitted that he was the one who verbally threatened Larry Young, but said it was Davis who pistol-whipped Young and shot MacPhail. He stated the gun Davis used was short-barreled, with a brown handle (his own .38, he had told police, was chrome with a long barrel). (1, 28)
He has not retracted his testimony.

2. Joseph Washington

Joseph Washington, like Darrell Collins, was 16 years old at the time of the murder. He was the only eyewitness who actually knew Davis and Coles.

What he said at trial:
He followed Davis, Collins, and Coles from the pool party to Frahm Street. For some reason, he ended up standing in a warehouse parking lot across the street from the Burger King, watching events unfold. (3, 19) He unequivocally stated that Sylvester Coles shot the security guard, but Washington only witnessed the first shot. He fled the warehouse parking lot before the second shot was fired. (3, 15)
What he stated in an affidavit: Washington has not retracted his testimony, but he did try to add to it. In 1996, he signed an affidavit stating that no one had ever asked him to describe what Coles was wearing when he shot Mark MacPhail. According to Washington, Coles was the one wearing a white Batman T-shirt.

3. Dorothy Ferrell

Dorothy Ferrell was a guest at the Thunderbird Inn, located across the street from the bus depot. She watched the shooting from the outside the motel. In a statement taken at 4:14 AM, she described watching the gunman shoot at a “police officer” (MacPhail) four times. The gunman wore a white T-shirt with writing on it, a white hat, and dark shorts. She was certain she had seen the same officer chasing the same young man off the property earlier in the day, during the afternoon, but later decided this must have been a different kid (it must have been a different guard, as well, because MacPhail was only on the overnight shift). (1, 10)
She picked Davis out of a photo lineup and identified him as the shooter three weeks after the murder, but admitted she had seen Davis on TV. (1, 29)

What she said at trial: At around 1:00 AM, as she descended a flight of stairs at the motel, she heard screaming from the Burger King parking lot. She ran to the sidewalk to see what was happening. One man (Young) was injured, and three men were standing in the Burger King parking lot. One of them (Collins) ran away, toward the Trust Company Bank. A “police officer” entered the parking lot. As he approached the two men, the one who was wearing a yellow T-shirt moved backwards, away from the officer. The third man, wearing a white T-shirt and dark shorts, then shot the officer. After the officer fell to the ground, the gunman stepped forward, stood over him, and fired again three times.
She believed the gunman was in his twenties, about 6′ tall. She never saw his face straight-on, but did get profile views of it. (1, 56-59)
What she stated in an affidavit: In a 2002 affidavit, Ferrell stated, “I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter, even though the truth was that I didn’t see who shot the officer.” (5, 30)

4. Antoine Williams

Antoine Williams, a Burger King employee, was sitting in his car in the parking during the shooting. Williams had just entered the parking lot when, according to a police statement taken at 3:22 AM, he saw three men following Larry Young. He heard the four men arguing. One of the men “slapped” the back of Young’s head with a gun. When MacPhail arrived, two of the men fled and a third – the man with the gun – remained behind, frantically trying to tuck the gun into his pants. This person shot the security guard four times. He described him as a black male, early twenties, tall (6′ 2” to 6’4″), about 180 lbs. The revolver was rusty. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt that was either blue or white. (1, 8-10)
He picked Davis out of a photo lineup after seeing his face on a wanted poster, saying he was 60% certain he was the gunman. (1, 27)
Williams later admitted he was illiterate and did not read the police statement he signed, and has retracted his trial testimony. (5, 32)

What he said at trial: He said the shooter wore a white or yellow T-shirt and was not wearing a hat. (1, 52-53) Williams pointed out Davis in the courtroom as the shooter.
What he stated in an affidavit: He stated he did not know who shot MacPhail and did not see anything because his car was facing in the opposite direction and the windows were too tinted. Of his courtroom identification of Davis as the shooter, he stated, “I felt pressured to point at him because he was the one who was sitting in the courtroom. I have no idea what the person who shot the officer looks like.” (5, 32) In other words, he is now 0% certain he can identify the gunman.

5. Harriet Murray

Larry Young’s girlfriend, Harriet Murray, was waiting for Larry in the Burger King parking lot with two men who remain unidentified. She told detective Dean Fagerstrom, in a statement given at 2:27 AM, that the shooter was a black male between 24 and 30 years of age, wearing a white shirt. He had a narrow face with high cheekbones and a “fade away” haircut. She also gave an approximate weight and height (130 lbs and “four inches taller than the officer”). (1, 4-6) On August 24, 1991, she supposedly picked Davis out a photo lineup, identifying Coles as the person who harrassed Larry Young, and Davis as the one who assaulted Young and shot MacPhail. (1, 25). However, it came out at the 2010 evidentiary hearing that this was not the case. According to detective Gregory Ramsey, the lead investigator on the MacPhail case, Murray told him on August 24 that she could not “put a face” to any of the young men in the parking lot. (7, 29-30)
Murray died in 2006.

What she said at trial: She described the man in the yellow shirt harassing and threatening Larry Young. She testified that the shooter wore a white shirt, implicating Troy Davis. (1, 35)
What she stated in an affidavit: In 2002 she signed an affidavit recanting her trial testimony, reaffirming her initial statements that the shooter was the same person who verbally threatened Young – Sylvester Coles. (5, 18) This affidavit was not notarized, however, so it remains valueless as evidence. (3, 7)

6. Steven Sanders

Stephen Sanders, a USAF officer, was in the Burger King drive-through lane with seven other military officers who were attending a training exercise in Savannah, seated in the front passenger’s seat of the van. He told police he could recall only one detail of the gunman’s appearance: He was wearing a white shirt. He admitted he would not be able to recognize anyone at the scene except by their clothing. (1, 15) Needless to say, he could not pick Davis’s picture out of a photo lineup.

What he said at trial: Though Sanders was unable to pick Troy Davis out of a photo lineup, he somehow was able to recognize Davis in the courtroom. Hmm. (1, 54)
At this time, he has made no statements regarding his trial testimony.

7. Robert Grizzard

Robert Grizzard, a USAF sergeant, was in the same vehicle with Sanders. Like Sanders, he told police he was unable to identify the shooter by his face or build. In fact, all he could say was that the gunman wore a hat. (1, 16)

What he said at trial: The shooter was a black male wearing a “light-colored shirt”, and that’s all he could say about him. Yet he pointed out Davis as that person. (1, 56)
What he said in an affidavit: In a 2003 affidavit, Grizzard re-stated that he could not identify the shooter. “The truth is that I don’t recall now and I didn’t recall then what the shooter was wearing, as I said in my initial statement.” (5, 32-33)

What Happened After the Murder

The actions of Troy Davis and Sylvester Coles in the aftermath of the murder determined which one of them would become the prime suspect.

Both fled the scene. Coles went to the nearby home of his sister, Valerie Gordon, at 634 Yamacraw and changed his shirt. Coles and his sister later told police a rather bizarre story: Troy Davis showed up at his Gordon’s house about half an hour after the murder, shirtless, and asked Coles if he could wear Coles’s yellow T-shirt. Unless there was blood on Davis’s shirt, this doesn’t make a great deal of sense. If Davis did shoot Michael Cooper earlier in the night and feared that his white shirt would tie him to both shootings, why would he swap shirts with the other suspect in one of those shootings? That wouldn’t make him any safer on his walk home, would it? At any rate, Davis changed his mind about the shirt. He took it off and left it in the Gordon house, according to Valerie. It was not seized as evidence.

Both young men had some time to think about what they would tell the police. Not that the police were looking for them. They had no suspects.

Coles did the smart thing. He lawyered up, went to the police on the night of August 19, and accused Davis of being the killer. He admitted only to harassing and verbally threatening Larry Young; it was Troy, he said, who bashed Young on the head with his gun and shot MacPhail.

Davis did the stupidest thing possible. On the evening of August 19, he had his sister drive him to Atlanta. His family claimed this was for his own safety, as area drug dealers had reportedly become very annoyed about the police presence in his neighborhood, but of course it’s true, too, that Troy Davis simply didn’t want to talk to the police. If he talked to them, he faced three grim choices: Confess to murder, accuse his friend Coles of murder, or clam up and hope for the best.

The Davis family pastor persuaded Troy to return to Savannah on August 23 and turn himself in to the police. As we know, he basically clammed up, insisting he didn’t see the shooting. He saw Coles bash Larry Young on the head, and nothing more.
His murder trial began almost exactly two years later, in August 1991.

The state’s case was that Davis shot Michael Cooper, fled the scene, and later shot Mark MacPhail because he thought MacPhail was going to arrest him for shooting Cooper.

The Confession Witnesses

Amnesty International and many other sources state that 7 of the 9 key witnesses against Troy Davis have recanted, without specifying who these key witnesses are.
They are the six eyewitnesses who testified for the prosecution (Joseph Washington testified for the defense), Larry Young, Darrell Collins, and three men who testified that Troy Davis confessed to them. It must be noted that one of these three “confession” witnesses did not testify at the murder trial, only at Davis’s pre-trial hearing.
These three witnesses were:

1. Kevin McQueen, a jailhouse snitch who testified that Davis admitted shooting Cooper and MacPhail while the two were detained together. (7, 16-17) In 1996, he stated in an affidavit, “The truth is that Troy never confessed to me or talked to me about the shooting of the police officer. I made up the confession from information I had heard on T.V. and from other inmates about the crimes.” (5, 27)
2. Jeffrey Sapp, a friend of Davis and Coles, testified that Davis confessed to him the afternoon after the murder, while riding his bicycle. In an affidavit he stated of the police, “I got tired of them harassing me, and they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear. I told them that Troy told me he did it, but it wasn’t true.” (5, 28-29)

Monty Holmes, a friend of Davis, told police that around noon on August 19, 1991, Davis visited his home on a bicycle and confessed to shooting Mark MacPhail. (1, 40-41)
Though he was not called as a trial witness, he retracted his police statement and his hearing testimony in a 2003 affidavit, in which he stated, “I told them I didn’t know anything about who shot the officer, but they kept questioning me. I was real young at that time and here they were questioning me about the murder of a police officer like I was in trouble or something. I was scared… [I]t seemed like they wouldn’t stop questioning me until I told them what they wanted to hear. So I did. I signed a statement saying that Troy told me that he shot the cop.” (5, 28)

No one else claims that Davis confessed directly to them.
Nine people now claim that Sylvester Coles confessed to them (see “People Who Came Foward Long After the Fact to Implicate Red Coles”, below).

Other Prosecution Witnesses

Those who are convinced of Davis’s guilt, like Ann Coulter, have tried to downplay the recantations by pointing out that the prosecution called 34 witnesses, not just 9.
Those convinced of Davis’s innocence, on the other hand, have exaggerated the number of recantations. For instance, Amnesty International claims that “all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.
These are absurd statements, because (as in most trials) many of the witnesses were put on the stand to establish facts of the case, not to present evidence of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The first officer on the scene was called to testify about finding MacPhail’s body to establish that he was fatally injured in the parking lot, the medical examiner was questioned about MacPhail’s autopsy to establish cause of death, etc. These people have not recanted their testimony.
It’s not the number of trial witnesses, but the quantity and quality of the evidence, that points to innocence or guilt.

The Shooting of Michael Cooper

At Davis’s murder trial, the prosecution contended that Troy was the only viable suspect in this case, because the ballistics evidence (see below) indicated that Michael Cooper and Mark MacPhail were shot with the same gun. And Sylvester Coles, they argued, wasn’t even at the Cloverdale party that evening. Tonya Davis testified for the defense that Coles was at her party, and in 2007 she signed an affidavit stating that she witnessed Coles hiding two weapons just after MacPhail was gunned down (see “Witnesses Who Came Forward Long After the Fact to Implicate Sylvester Coles”).

Darrell Collins should have been a key prosecution witness, since he was the only person who identified Troy Davis as the pool party gunman. He told police he watched Davis shoot at Wilds’s car with a short-barreled gun with a brown handle. (1, 20)
Collins also placed a gun in the hand of Sylvester Coles, however. In his second statement to police, he claimed that when Eric Ellison parked his vehicle near the pool hall, Sylvester Coles took a gun from his pants and placed it on the seat. Collins himself concealed the weapon in some bushes near the pool hall. (1, 26)
Collins didn’t behave quite as expected on the stand. He retracted his police statement, declaring that the police had pressured him into naming Davis by threatening to charge him as an accessory to murder. He hadn’t actually seen the shooter. He now claimed he hadn’t even seen Troy Davis with a weapon that night at all. (1, 60)

Jeffrey Sams, who was also in Ellison’s vehicle with Collins and Davis at the pool hall, corroborated Collins’s account of Coles carrying a gun that night. He told police he watched Collins take a gun from his pants and place it on the seat. Then he saw Collins pick it up and exit the car with it. (1-II, 16)

Kevin McQueen testified that Troy Davis confessed to shooting into the car, but later retracted his trial testimony.

Mark Wilds, the driver of the car, initially told police he didn’t get a good look at the shooter, but believed he was firing a .38. At 8:45 PM on August 19, after being questioned again, he amended his statement to include another detail – he had seen Troy Davis at the party. (1, 16)
Lamar Brown also saw the gunman, and told police he was wearing a white Batman shirt, black pants, and a black hat. (1, 18)

Police officer Ann Sosbe questioned Cooper in hospital after he was shot. He told her he didn’t recognize the shooter, who said the man was possibly firing a .38 caliber gun, and wearing a white T-shirt, black hat and shorts. He gave an approximate height and weight for the gunman. (1, 18)
Michael Cooper gave a statement to police on June 25, 1991, containing the same information. Years later, in a 2002 affidavit, he declared he didn’t know what the shooter looked like. “What is written in that statement is a lie.” (6)

Now we come to Benjamin Gordon. Gordon is a highly problematic witness, because his story has changed and changed again in bizarre ways over the years.
Gordon was a relative (by marriage) of Red Coles who was present at the Cloverdale pool party. On the morning after the shootings, he gave police a more detailed description of the Cooper shooting suspect than any of the other four guys who had been in Mark Wilds’s car. He said the person who fired into the car was wearing a white Batman shirt and jeans. He had seen this person at the party earlier in the night (keep in mind that Red Coles had not yet come forward at this time; the police didn’t have names or faces for their suspects). He also mentioned that he had gone to the Burger King on Oglethorpe after hearing that someone had been shot there. (1, 17-18)
When called to the stand at Troy Davis’s murder trial two years later, Benjamin Gordon denied everything. He denied even seeing the Cloverdale shooter. (5,10)
Nineteen years later, at Davis’s June 2010 evidentiary hearing, he suddenly declared that Sylvester Coles was the party shooter, and that he had been an eyewitness to the shooting of Mark MacPhail (more on this in the section “People Who Came Forward Long After the Fact to Implicate Red Coles”).

The Ballistics Evidence

Roger Parian, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime lab, examined bullets from all both the Cooper and MacPhail shootings, and concluded they could have come from the same gun, either a .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolver. He also examined shells found at the scenes of the Cooper and MacPhail shootings and concluded they were probably fired by the same weapon, a .38. At the trial, he stated, “In this particular case, I couldn’t unequivocally say it was the same gun.”

So ballistics evidence tied the shooting of Michael Cooper to the shooting of Mark MacPhail. But aside from the dodgy eyewitness testimony, where is the evidence tying a gun – any gun – to Troy Davis? Quite simply, there isn’t any. We don’t know if Davis possessed a gun in August ’89. When he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon in 1988, that gun was confiscated and not returned to him.
We do know that Sylvester Coles owned a .38 pistol and was carrying it on August 18, 1989.

In 2003, at the request of Davis’s attorneys, Parian’s findings were examined by retired GBI ballistics expert Kelly Fite. Fite referred to Parian’s analyses as “shoddy and questionable at best and patently wrong at worst” and “wholly lacking in reliability”. But Fite’s reasons for reaching this conclusion are unknown, as his report has not been made readily available.

The only other physical evidence in the case was a pair of shorts Troy Davis may have been wearing, seized from his mother’s house. They were spattered with a dark substance that could have been blood (by the time DNA testing became available, the substance was too decayed for analysis). But these shorts were not submitted as evidence at trial. Judge James W. Head barred them, ruling that Virginia Davis had not assented to a search of her home.
The shorts would pop up later, however. The blood evidence is discussed in a section below, “The Appeals”.
Sylvester Coles’s clothing was not seized.

Eyewitnesses Who Were Not Called to the Stand at Davis’s Murder Trial

Two men were with Harriet Murray in the parking lot just before MacPhail arrived. They reportedly left the scene during Coles’s attack on Young, and they remain unidentified.

Of the seven soldiers in the van, only two (Sanders and Grizzard) were called as trial witnesses. This would seem to indicate that the other five soldiers didn’t see anything important. However, USAF Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Lolas told police that as was lying on the backseat of the van, he heard someone banging on the side of the vehicle (this would be Larry Young, seeking help). Then he heard three gunshots. Looking out the window, he saw a black man in a white T-shirt and dark pants standing in the parking lot, his arm “surrounded by smoke”. He was about 6′ tall, 170 lbs. (1, 11-12)
Matthew Hughes, seated behind the driver, heard three “popping sounds” and saw he saw a black male in a light-coloured T-shirt standing over the body of a white individual. After the shooting, the this person ran toward the Trust Company Bank building. He had a slender to medium build and was approximately five’ 7″ to five’ 9″ tall. He wore dark shorts, a light-coloured baseball cap, and a light coloured t-shirt with either short or no sleeves. Mr. Hughes also saw a second individual running toward the Trust Company Bank building. This person was skinny, dressed in all dark clothes, and appeared to be carrying a gym bag. (1, 12-13)
Eric Riggins, seated beside Hughes, observed MacPhail falling to the ground. He described the shooter as a slim black man, 5’10, 160 lbs., wearing a light-coloured shirt, dark shorts, and a baseball cap. Beyond the shooter, Riggins saw a second, taller male running towards the Trust Company Bank building. (1, 13-15)
Daniel Kinsman, another soldier in the van, told police that although he couldn’t identify the shooter due to the dim lighting and chaotic conditions of the scene, he was certain the shooter was firing with his left hand. Kinsman’s police statement has been cited by supporters of Troy Davis because Davis was right-handed. (5, 26)

The Appeals

In his first appeal, Davis’s attorneys predictably cited ineffective counsel and prejudicial pretrial publicity, but also tried to argue that Savannah (population over 137,000 at the time) was prone to “small town syndrome” and that the prosecution had dismissed too many black jurors – even though the jury that decided the case contained 7 black people.

Later appeals were more sophisticated, but some were marred by ridiculous statements from unreliable “witnesses” (see the section below this one).

Troy Davis’s appeals process spanned nearly 20 years, so I can’t even begin to detail it here (the Atlanta Journal Constitution has posted a helpful timeline, if you want to familiarize yourself with the basics). I’ll focus on the 2010 evidentiary hearing, because this was the ultimate – and final – opportunity for Davis’s attorneys to bring forth new evidence and secure a new trial. On June 23 – 25, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr. heard the new evidence collected by Davis’s team, including recantations and the contents of a 2008 report on the “blood evidence”.

The Blood Evidence

The matter of Troy Davis’s “bloody shorts” is still confusing to commenators on the Davis case. A writer, Erick Erickson, recently had to ammend his statement that Mark MacPhail’s blood was found on the shorts Davis was wearing on August 18 – 19, because it simply isn’t true.

First of all, we don’t know if the shorts seized by the police were actually the same pair worn by Davis on the night of the murder. No one identified them as such. They were taken from the washing machine in Virginia Davis’s home.
Secondly, we don’t know if the substance on the shorts was blood.
The state submitted to the evidentiary hearing a 2008 Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) report concluding that the substance on the shorts was blood. They also submitted a report of DNA typing of the item, according to a Savannah Morning News story.
Davis’s attorneys tried to block the GBI report, as they possessed their own report by DNA and serology expert Dr. Charlotte Word. Word had reviewed the GBI report and made two conclusions: Human DNA was present on the shorts and “it is not possible to conclude or determine . . . that blood was present on the shorts”.
Many sources (including the Savannah Morning News) didn’t mention Word’s report, but both analyses were submitted at the evidentiary hearing.
After reviewing them, Judge Moore concluded that “the shorts in no way linked Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer MacPhail,” and found that “it is not even clear that the substance was blood.”

Judge Moore heard recantations from Dorothy Ferrell, Antoine Williams, Kevin McQueen, and Jeffrey Sapp. Moore also heard testimony from Darrell Collins, who repeated his allegations that police had pressured him into naming his friend Troy as the gunman.

And he heard from witnesses who claimed Red Coles confessed…

People Who Came Foward Long After the Trial to Implicate Sylvester Coles

In 1996, Tonya Johnson came forward to reveal additional information about the night MacPhail was killed. At trial, she had merely presented testimony that Sylvester Coles had been at her party in Cloverdale that evening, but now she claimed that Coles and another man identified only as Terry showed up at her house sometime after 1:00 AM on August 19, carrying two handguns. Coles first asked Johnson to take possession of them, then stashed them in the doorway of a nearby vacant house. After concealing the weapons, Johnson stated, Coles warned her not to tell anyone about what he had done. (5, 35)

Anthony Hargrove, a career criminal, came forward in 2000 to inform Troy Davis that Red Coles had confessed to him around 1990.
When Hargrove was called to testify at the evidentiary hearing, Judge Moore agreed to allow his hearsay testimony, but warned the defense that unless Red Coles was called to the stand, he might give such testimony “no weight whatsoever.” And that’s essentially what ended up happening. (6)

Gary Hargrove came up with an even better story: He was in the parking lot, directly facing Coles, and actually saw Coles shoot Mark MacPhail both times. He just didn’t tell anyone he was there until 2001, and no one else noticed his presence at all. Sure thing. Sadly, Davis’s lawyers embraced Hargrove’s story. Georgia Superior Court Judge Penny Freeman decided Hargrove’s testimony did not constitute new evidence; it was cumulutive of existing evidence (the trial testimony of eyewitness Joseph Washington). (3)

Benjamin Gordon muddied the waters, too. Gordon was the relative of Red Coles who was present at the Cloverdale pool party, told the police the gunman wore a white T-shirt, then testified that he didn’t even see the Cloverdale shooter. In 2003, he signed an affidavit stating that he did not see Troy Davis at the Cloverdale party, and that he did not read his police statement before signing it. (5, 34) This affidavit cannot be considered new evidence, because it contains information that could have been uncovered by Davis’s attorneys during the appeals process. Rather, it is a 2008 affidavit signed by Gordon that could have been used at a new trial. In it, Gordon stated that Red Coles had indicated to him that he might have been the Cloverdale shooter, and that Gordon intentionally withheld this information in 2003. (3)

But Gordon destroyed whatever was left of his marginal credibility at the evidentiary hearing, when he suddenly declared that he had been an eyewitness to the shooting of Mark MacPhail. He couldn’t adequately explain why he supposedly withheld this information for nearly 20 years. He had overcome his reluctance to implicate a relative-by-marriage in the Cooper shooting two years earlier, so why didn’t he mention MacPhail at that time, too? We’re dealing with pure manure, here.

Amnesty International has posted excerpts from the affidavits of nine people who implicated Sylvester Coles after the murder trial. (5, 34-38)

Did New Evidence Warrant a New Trial?

Were the retractions valid?

Let’s face it: Most of the eyewitness testimony was poor in the first place. Steven Sanders inexplicably went from saying “the shooter wore a light shirt, that’s all I know” to “that’s the guy right there, sitting at the defense table.” Joseph Washington never adequately explained why he was standing in a warehouse lot across the street, rather than with his friends in the parking lot. Larry Young visually identified both suspects as the person who cracked him over the head, and now says he was too drunk to identify anyone. You would be hard pressed to find less reliable witnesses than these.
Nonetheless, there is no objective reason to reject the recantations offered in the sworn affidavits (which excludes Harriet Murray’s, of course). There is no evidence that any of these people were badgered, coerced, or bribed into recanting their testimony. We have to accept the fact that of the six eyewitnesses who implicated Troy Davis, four of them would not give the same testimony today. Of the two “confession” witnesses, 0 would give the same testimony today.
Judge Moore’s decision that the recantations were not convincing seems to have been a subjective one.

Cumulative evidence vs. new evidence, and due diligence

For evidence to legally qualify as “new”, it has to consist of things that didn’t come out at trial and were not available to the defense at the time. In other words, it can’t be just cumulative evidence that adds to evidence already presented.
This is the problem with much of the “new” evidence used by Davis’s team during the appeals process. For instance, Tonya Johnson’s affidavit was rejected as new evidence because she had been a defense witness at the murder trial; therefore, Davis’s counsel knew of her, and could conceivably have obtained the additional information from her years earlier, with “due diligence”.
Davis’s attorneys expended a great deal of effort trying to convince judges that their evidence couldn’t possibly have been uncovered at the time of trial. Examples of this are the affidavit signed by Benjamin Gordon in 2008 and the “eyewitness testimony” of Gary Hargrove, both of which were deemed as cumulative of trial testimony. In Hargrove’s case, Judge Moore determined that what he allegedly saw (Sylvester Coles shooting MacPhail) wasn’t any different from what defense witness Joseph Washington saw (Sylvester Coles shooting MacPhail). Davis’s attorneys argued that the testimony of these two men was very different, Hargrove supposedly having a much better vantage point – he was in the parking lot, while Washington was across the street behind some trees. This argument failed. A judge ruled that this was simply more evidence that Coles could have been the gunman, not new evidence.
The conditions for a new trial in the Davis case were clearly laid out in a 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court of Georgia. In the eyes of the law, they were not met.

In my opinion, though, Davis should have received a new trial, and I believe he would have been acquitted. Not because he was necessarily innocent, but because the key witnesses who got him convicted in the first place wouldn’t have done so a second time, because the physical evidence doesn’t point to anyone, and because numerous new witnesses could have presented evidence that Sylvester Coles admitted to the murder of Mark MacPhail.
Do I believe all these new witnesses, all these recantations? No. Yet despite the fact that I don’t buy all the trial testimony, either (particularly Sanders’s miraculous feat of identifying a man he barely saw in the first place), I feel that Davis was properly convicted with the evidence available at that time.


1. decision of the United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, Judge William T. Moore, in the case In re Troy Davis, No. CV409-130, August 24, 2010
Part I
Part II
2.Brief in support of application for permission to file a second petition for writ of habeas corpus in the district court” (redacted)
3.Brief Amicus Curiae of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
4. “Application for Leave to File a Second or Successive Habeas Corpus Petition, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)
5.Where is the Justice for Me?: The Case of Troy Davis, Facing Execution in Georgia” Amnesty International, February 2007. Amnesty International Index: AMR 51/023/2007
6.#TooMuchDoubt: The Story of Troy Davis” by “SwedishJewfish” @ Daily, posted September 19/11.
7.Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under O.C.G.A. §§ 9-14-41 ET SEQ

Ghostbusters: Ed and Lorraine Warren Part II

The Arne Johnson Case

In February, 1981 Arne Cheyenne Johnson of Connecticut was charged with murdering his girlfriend’s employer. His attorneys presented the novel defense that while Arne physically committed the murder, he wasn’t ultimately responsible for it because he had been possessed by the same demons that plagued his girlfriend’s little brother.

Ed and Lorraine Warren had investigated this possession shortly after it began, and concluded it was initiated by “a devil of a very high order”.

This account comes from Gerald Brittle’s 1983 book The Devil in Connecticut, reprinted three years ago.

The Beast and the Waterbed

The Johnsons came from the Warrens’ hometown, Brookfield, Connecticut.
In the summer of 1980 Mary Johnson, 42, was a divorcee raising two daughters and a niece while working as a motel housekeeper and battling cancer. Her son Arne, 18, had been the man since he dropped of out tenth grade to help support the family. He was planning to marry his girlfriend, Debbie, that autumn. Debbie was a dog-groomer who had been renting a room in the Johnson home for four years, with her 7-year-old son from a brief teenage marriage. Arne was just 14 when they met.

On July 2, Arne and Debbie began moving the whole family into a rented country house in Newtown. The kids and their sheepdog, George, could romp safely in the yard. Arne, aspiring to be a tree surgeon, looked for landscaping work. Money would be tight, but Arne and Debbie seemed prepared for the challenge; both were mature, hardworking, and responsible. Yet Debbie’s parents, the Glatzels, thought it was a potentially disastrous move: A lot of time, money, and effort had to go into such a large family.

Brittle hints that the old ranch house itself held a disturbing presence. George the dog began barking as soon as he reached the threshold (just as the Lutzes’ dog behaved strangely at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville). Debbie felt a sudden chill in the stifling-hot hallway, and moments later had an uncharacteristically angry outburst at Arne. Such outbursts were also reported by George Lutz.
Debbie’s mother pronounced the house “creepy” and “not a happy home”, complaining of odd feelings when she was in it. A storage room in the basement was locked; the owner’s daughter explained that no one was allowed in there. Again, this “secret room” has a counterpart in the “red room” in the basement of the Amityville house, and such rooms will show up again in other cases investigated by the Warrens, notably the “haunting in Connecticut”.

Debbie’s three little brothers, ranging in age from 11 to 14, pitched in to clean up the house on that afternoon. 11-year-old David, a chubby and cheerful boy, was actually assaulted by the transparent apparition of an old man while he was alone in one of the bedrooms. The man shoved him backwards onto a waterbed left behind by the previous tenant, pointed at David, said, “Beware”, then faded into invisibility. David immediately fled the house and refused to re-enter it. A short time later, his brothers were momentarily trapped in the same bedroom after the door slammed shut by itself and refused to open.

The Johnsons didn’t say in the house that night, but George was left there to guard it. David told everyone about the ghost-man, and made the unnerving claim that he could still “see” events occurring in the house from a distance. He said the man had sprouted horns and was chasing George, causing the dog to scratch frantically at the front door and the door to the locked room in the basement where the old man “lived”. David was also receiving telepathic orders from the ghost-devil to remove all Catholic paraphernalia from the Glatzel home. Debbie was spooked enough by her brother’s story to announce that she had changed her mind about moving the Johnsons into it.

David next received a telepathic warning that no one was to tell Mrs. Johnson about the ghost. The boy announced, “Mary is his, he says. He’s been ‘interfering in her affairs’ for a long time …he’s going to break her down; he wants her to do his work.” (1, 29) Then he made two predictions: The waterbed would burst by 3:00 in the afternoon of the next day, and Judy Glatzel (his mother) would be blinded by midnight if anyone told Mary Johnson that her home was already occupied by…something.
“And if there’s any more impertinence…there’s going to be unrelenting pandemonium…” David was in special ed classes at school, and had never used big words like these. The family didn’t know what to think. They were certain the boy hadn’t taken any drugs or watched any scary movies, and mental illness or trickery apparently didn’t cross their minds.

As it turned out, George had scratched up the doors in the rental house.

Ghost Chickens and other Horrors

When the Johnsons returned to the Newtown house, they found the landlady had lied to them; her daughter was still living on the property, and utilities would not be included in the rent as originally agreed. The daughter calmly informed Debbie that the man-devil was merely the ghost of her granddad, a harmless old man. Despite this and David’s warnings, Mary Johnson moved in immediately. But Arne and Debbie packed to their stuff and moved in with the Glatzels. Mary was upset that her son and his fiancee had backed out of their arrangement, especially on such a flimsy and bizarre pretext. Because of this, Arne became estranged from his mom and sisters.

At the Glatzel house, David was giving forth a new string of prophecies and warnings. Among other misfortunes, his own hand would be burned, and he would also be stabbed. Then he announced, hysterically, that the ghost was coming to get him at that moment. He charted the spirit’s progress as it floated over trees, houses, and roads, finally landing in the next-door neighbors’ yard. Mrs. Glatzel ran to fetch her holy water, splashing it across every door and window in the house to bar the devil-man’s entrance. This repelled him for a little while. According to David, the spirit returned to the Johnson house.

On July 14th, Debbie recorded in her journal, David was “stabbed” twice by an invisible knife wielded by an invisible entity. A few hours later, he was “shot” in the stomach by an invisible gun loaded with invisible bullets. Since he wasn’t injured in any way, the family merely doused him with holy water and recited the 23rd Psalm, as recommended by their priest.

Judy was “blinded” at 11:45 PM when her son accidentally poked his finger in her eye, scratching the cornea. David burned his hand at a 4th of July picnic. And the ghost that David now called The Beast finally penetrated the holy-water-saturated Glatzel house via an attic window. David told his mother The Beast was molesting the Johnson girls, and had ordered David to begin praying to him as his new “Father”. The boy received slaps from an invisible hand for talking about these things, he said. At night, the Beast demanded David’s soul, but David, being a good Catholic boy, held onto it.

Amazingly, nearly everyone in the Glatzel family (four adults and four boys under 14) bought into David’s weird stories, as did Debbie, and to a slightly lesser degree, Arne. They began hearing thumps, scratches, and footsteps from the attic. They swore that the Beast threw David around the room, banged on walls, and caused all other kinds of chaos in the household. They began sleeping in the living room out of fear. Only David’s dad, Carl, didn’t believe they were being haunted. He thought his son needed help. Carl Jr., 14, didn’t believe any of it either. He became angry, foul-mouthed, and confrontational, mocking everyone else for believing David’s stories. At one point he called his mom a bitch who deserved to be killed. He insisted the whole family had gone crazy, and needed mental help rather than a priest.

After The Devil in Connecticut was reissued in 2006, Carl Jr. filed a lawsuit against Brittle and the Warrens for defamation. Ed Warren had said of him, as quoted by Brittle: “Denial of the truth is the way of the devil, and young Carl’s behaviour was a classic illustration of that fact” (1, 164). Carl says the demonic possession of his brother was a hoax cooked up by the Warrens, and accused the Warrens and Brittle of invading his privacy with the publication of the book. In self-defense, Lorraine Warren declared the possession had been judged genuine by six priests, “the cream of the Catholic Church.”

When she arrived to collect her waterbed (which had indeed sprung a leak), the previous tenant of the Newtown house told Arne and Debbie of poltergeist activity in the house, including cold drafts and the clucking of ghostly chickens. For some reason, she believed the locked room held a “profane altar used by witches”.

Enter the Warrens

The Johnsons and Glatzels were all devout Christians. Mary had even spent four years in an Episcopalian convent prior to her marriage. She had reared all her children as Baptists, attending church and Sunday school every week. Sadly, this devotion had primed them to believe in some strange things, and they were all very concerned about the haunting. On July 6, a fellow dog-groomer told Debbie about the Warrens, who had helped her friend deal with a ghost. The following night, Debbie saw the Beast crawling across the living room ceiling in the Glatzel home.

The Warrens agreed to take the case. They would later call it the worst they ever saw.

They arrived with a Bridgeport physician, Dr. Anthony Giangrasso. Carl Sr. tried to dissuade them from entering the house, saying his family had gone crazy, but Judy welcomed them with relief. Dr. Giangrasso examined David. David was the only member of the household who could hear and see the Beast and the 43 demons, which he said had materialized from balls of light in his bedroom one night. The Beast claimed to be Satan, and said it had no soul. It liked to sit in a rocking chair in the living room (rocking chairs played prominent roles in the Amityville case and the story of the Ocean Born Mary House), while the other entities flocked to the attic to bask in the heat.

The Diagnosis

Lorraine could sense the Beast’s presence, and the fact that David could see and hear the Beast from the very beginning indicated to them that it was an unusually powerful entity. They were alarmed by the speed with which the phenomena had progressed; barely two weeks had elapsed since David’s first encounter with the “ghost”.
David, they concluded, was a victim of “transient possession”.

The Warrens quickly pinpointed the cause, though it would later be replaced by a more sinister explanation: In the early ’70s, Debbie had taken an elective high school course on witchcraft and the occult. (It seems unlikely to me that a Bridgeport high school would offer something like this, but I’ll let it slide. It’s not exactly the most problematic aspect of this case.) Debbie had also used a ouija board, receiving messages from entities the Warrens identified as incubi and ghosts. Even though she had disposed of the board, the “law of invitation” left the entire, extended family vulnerable to the entities that dwelt in Mary Johnson’s rented house.
Weirdly, the demon horde commuted between the Glatzel home and the Johnson house, but the latter manifestations were limited to strange noises heard by Mary’s youngest girls, ages 9 and 12. Mary would later move her family out of the Newtown house because the girls were afraid to live in it.

There were other factors, too: Carl, Sr., had never been baptized, Carl Jr. was non-religious, and Debbie and Arne were living in sin.

Possession x 2

For a couple of weeks, David’s possession worsened. He became hateful and vulgar, pulled a knife on one of his brothers, showed an aversion to holy water, and tried to strangle Arne. The family summoned the Warrens, Dr. Giangrasso, or John Kenyhercz (one of Ed’s assistants) whenever he got out of control.

Then, in the latter half of July, all was relatively quiet. Until David and his brother Alan reported hearing strange noises: a girl calling out for help, a snake hissing, disembodied whispers. The Glatzel house, like the Amityville house, became thick with flies. Activity resumed full-force when Father Dennis, the family priest, departed for a vacation in Ireland. Objects levitated and struck people, apparitions appeared, a humming or vibration permeated the house. The Beast returned to tell David there be death in the family, and no one would be able to help them. The physical attacks on David increased in frequency and violence. Judy kept him indoors at all times, and watched him continuously. She also refused to be left alone with him.

Fathers William Millea and Steve DiGiovanni, filling in for Father Dennis, were summoned to the house by Judy. They urged a superior, Father Grosso, to help the family. He was skeptical until he witnessed David being levitated, strangled by an invisible force, and speaking in a strange voice.

Meanwhile, Arne took matters into his own hands. As the demons demanded David’s soul and threatened to kill someone, he splashed holy water in the directions indicated by David and commanded them all to begone. “Without realizing it,” Brittle writes, “Arne was violating the essential precept that man can command such spirits only in the name of God… one of many sincere but tragic mistakes Arne would make in the case.” (144)
Arne even begged the demons to leave David’s body and possess him instead. Soon, Arne was able to see the Beast as clearly as David saw it.

David’s possession continued to escalate. He spoke backwards and in tongues, and his body swelled to such enormous proportions that his skin cracked. On August 5th, his head rotated 180 degrees. On August 6th he woke from a nap to find he had undergone a physical transformation: bloated, nose like a pig’s snout, limbs limp. He spoke and laughed only in a throaty growl. Such dramatic and horrifying transformations are rarely reported in poltergeist cases, but they pop up again and again in the Warrens’ cases. Recall that Kathleen Lutz saw a floating demon-pig, and took on the appearance of a hideous hag while sleeping. The Smurl haunting, which will be discussed later, included a demonic pig-monster and a physical transformation.

The entity that possessed David’s body attacked Alan and Arne, called Judy a “strutting harlot”, and made sexual overtures to Judy and Debbie. David could merely point at an object to make it fly across the room. Despite continuous observation, David was able to get his hands on knives, fireplace pokers, and other dangerous items with which he tried to kill members of the family. Throughout this period, it was Arne who protected the family from assault. Certain her son was now fully possessed, Judy summoned the Warrens.
Ed Warren told the family that if Arne hadn’t been present, someone would surely have been killed. This statement will become important later.

The family sought, and was denied, an official Catholic exorcism, but a Father Virulak agreed to perform a cleansing and perhaps an exorcism in the Glatzel home. He had worked with the Warrens in 1972, exorcising a house on Hartford’s Beelzebub Avenue.
Later, the bishop gave the go-ahead for a deliverance (not a full exorcism) to be performed in the chapel at St. Joseph’s on September 2nd. David had to be tied to a chair for transport to the church, where four priests performed the deliverance under the Warrens’ supervision. At the ritual’s conclusion, Lorraine announced that the lesser of the 43 demons had been successfully expelled, leaving only Gluttony, Lust, a demon named “Gaytois”, and one murderous devil that raged, spit, and blasphamed. Overall, in other words, the deliverance was unsuccessful.

FYI: There isn’t a “Beelzebub Avenue” in Hartford, but there is a Beelzebub Road in South Windsor, which is in Hartford County. And don’t bother Googling “Gaytois” unless you’re looking for a sale on buttplugs.

Ed Warren later described seeing a devil during David’s deliverance. “The room grew cold, and a dark form materialized. Normally, the features of the entity are not discernible, but I saw a face…changed from human to inhuman to Satanic to snakelike to lizard…I never want to see anything like that again.” (2)

The Case Continues, Unfortunately

The following Sunday, Arne cursed loudly and blacked out in the middle of a church service. He said he had seen a black entity standing at the altar, mimicking all the priest’s movements.

Later that week, David predicted someone would be stabbed to death and Arne would end up in prison. He then rattled off a string of unfamiliar names that would turn out to belong to judges, lawyers, and court officials involved in the murder trial of Arne Johnson. None of these names are given.

A psychiatric examination of David found no mental abnormalities, and family therapy was recommended. This angered Judy Glatzel and the Warrens. How dare qualified professionals suggest that people who are afraid to be alone in their own homes with their demon-infested children might be in need of professional help!

On September 8th, a second deliverance was conducted on David in a convent. Again, the boy broke out of his restraints and had to be held down on the floor by the priests. At one point he stopped breathing for over a minute, yet no one thought to summon medical help. This would be a good time to point out that there have been many fatal exorcisms performed on women and children in the past several decades. Exorcists, professional and amateur, have strangled, starved, suffocated, and beaten people to death in their efforts to roust demons.

This second deliverance, too, was only partially successful. Ed complained bitterly that this was because the Church had refused to allow the ancient rite of exorcism, the Rituale Romanum. Without it, the demons couldn’t be banished fully. Judy shared this view. “The church abandoned us,” she said. She claimed that a monk had visited them in a chauffeur-driven limo just to tell them that demons don’t exist.

The family’s troubles were not at an end. The Warrens believed there was still potential for danger in the Glatzel/Johnson household as late as October 1980, and broke their confidentiality agreement with the family to warn local police. Their fears were not unfounded. Carl Jr. allegedly stabbed his brother Alan, beat his mother, and harassed and tormented Arne by destroying his belongings. Police were called to the house up to two times per week, until the incidents died down in November.

Also in November, Debbie and Arne moved into a nearby apartment so that Debbie could manage a kennel for her new boss, 39-year-old Alan Bono. Having delayed their wedding, she and Arnie now planned to marry in the spring of ’81. Other than experiencing a few fleeting “posessions” that transformed his features into a demonic visage, Arne was a perfectly normal guy.

The Murder of Alan Bono

On Sunday, February 5th, Arne and Debbie picked up his little sisters at Mary’s house for an overnight stay at the kennels.

The following day, Arne felt flu-ish. He called in sick to work. Around 11:00 AM, Alan Bono invited the whole family out for burgers. He was already drunk, being (according to Debbie), an alcoholic. Alan drank wine throughout lunch, then continued to drink wine throughout the afternoon and evening while Debbie and the girls groomed dogs. Arne took a nap. Theyall planned to go to the Glatzels’ house for dinner at 6:00. Debbie later said she had felt uneasy throughout the day for no obvious reason, and Judy claimed she could feel tragedy closing in on the family. She phoned her daughter that evening with pleas to come over ASAP, before anything bad could happen.

Around 5:00, Alan Bono asked Arne if he could fix a stereo speaker in his office. Then he implored Debbie and Arne to have dinner with him. Debbie relented. She ordered pizzas. Rather than eating, Alan became belligerent; banging on his TV set, playing loud music. Debbie decided to go to her parents’ house, after all. But Alan refused to let the three Johnson girls leave his apartment.

At this point, Arne experienced one of his transitory demonic possessions. Without provocation, he knocked Debbie to the floor and began kicking her viciously in the stomach and head.

Alan and Arne soon got into a fight in the yard. Suddenly, Alan collapsed to the ground. He had been stabbed four or five times by a knife that Debbie and the girls claimed they hadn’t seen until they found it on the ground nearby, covered in blood. By that time, Arne had left the yard. He was found wandering on the side of a road in a daze.

The Defense

Charged with murder, Arne Johnson claimed to have no memory of the evening’s events, and insisted he would never have killed his friend unless (you guessed it) he was possessed by demons. And the Warrens backed him up. Brittle: “There was no intent or premeditation on Arne Johnson’s part to harm anyone; his body was simply siezed and used as instrument to kill.” (1, 239)

The Warrens’ take on the story was, essentially, that because Debbie dabbled in the occult as a teenager, she left her family susceptible to demonic attack. Years later, her little brother David wandered into a house owned by a “witch” and encountered a powerful demon which summoned dozens more demons to possess the boy. By challenging the demons without invoking God, Arne inadvertently left himself open to possession. Then, six months later, the demons made him go batsh** insane and stab his landlord to death.

A likelier story: The somewhat religious, heavily superstitious Glatzel and Johnson families interpreted the theatrics of David as actual demonic possession, and the story became more elaborate and more dramatic after the Warrens got involved.

Months later, Arne Johnson was beating the hell out of his girlfriend in front of his sisters and his landlord. Alan Bono tried to intervene, and Arne stabbed him to death.

Afterwards, Debbie and the Johnson girls wanted to keep Arne out of jail. So they crafted a story about him being possessed by the same demons that supposedly exited David months earlier, and painted the victim as a belligerent drunk.

The “Real” Explanation

A priest from Quebec, Father Deschamps, later examined David Glatzel. He informed the family that David’s possession stemmed not from his sister’s academic interest in the occult, but from a Satanic curse placed upon Carl Jr. and David by a family they joined every year in Old Forge, New York, for a snowmobiling vacation. These people were practicing Satanists who had pledged the souls of the two boys to the Devil in exchange for some unknown benefit. This was why the Glatzels suffered misfortunes like broken bones and sciatica after every trip. Judy and Carl Sr. confirmed that this middle-aged, married couple with two kids had a houseful of “occult paraphernalia” such as black velvet furniture, chalices and daggers, an altar, even a skull.

Hence, by the end of this awful story, every iota of blame has been removed from the Johnsons and the Glatzels. According to the Warrens and Father Deschamps, there was nothing they could have done to prevent the crazed, violent behaviour of David or Arne’s murder of Alan Bono.

In October 1981, Father Deschamps performed a Charismatic deliverance on David inside an old stone church in Quebec City. At the conclusion of the ritual, the spirit identified itself as Beelzebub. David didn’t speak throughout the deliverance. His voice was projected from the mouth of one of the priests, instead. Uh-huh.

Also in October, Arne went on trial for murder. His demonic possession defense – the first in U.S. criminal history – was quickly squashed, thanks to Judge Robert Callahan’s ruling that David Glatzel’s behaviour was not relevant to Arne Johnson’s state of mind.
Arne refused to accept a plea baragain for the lesser charge of manslaughter, was convicted of manslaughter anyway, and was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison. His lawyers declined to appeal the decision. He was released in 2001.

The Warrens continued to defend Arne Johnson, and they would go on to defend several other criminals whom they declared weren’t really responsible for their own actions due to possession by devils, demons, ghosts, and werewolves.


1. Brittle, Gerald. The Devil in Connecticut. iUniverse, 2006.
2. Stanley, John. “A Strange Dinner with ‘Amityville’ Demonologists”. San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 26, 1982.

More ZZZZs

I’m getting sooooo bored with the Bush in Calgary story. He gave his little talk, he’s gone, he’s prob’ly not going to be charged with war crimes anytime soon.

Get over it.

Free Gary! He can save the world! Or not.

Helpful Hint: Before trying to fight extradition to the U.S., first make sure you do not look exactly like Richard Ramirez.

Free Gary! He can save the world!
Or not.
British national Gary McKinnon , 42, perpetrated what one U.S. prosecutor called “the biggest military computer hack of all time”. (1)
Between February 2000 and March 2002, he hacked into 97 systems belonging to NASA, the US Army, the US Navy, and The Department of Defense, allegedly causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The government alleges he altered and deleted files on a U.S. Naval Air Station computer shortly before 9/11, and that the combination of the attacks and his vandalism rendered some crucial systems inoperable on the day of the attacks. He also took down a network of 2000 Army computers.
While the Crown decided not to charge McKinnon, he was indicted by the U.S. government. Until June 2005 he remained a completely free man. Then a new U.K.-U.S. extradition treaty placed him under bail conditions (he had to check in with police and remain at home each night).
In July 2006, a British court ruled he could be extradited to the U.S. This judgement was upheld on appeal last year. The European Court of Human Rights also rejected his appeal. In short, almost everyone is in agreement that McKinnon can and will be extradited to the U.S. for hacking into U.S. computers.
Yet groups around the world are trying to help him fight extradition. Why?
Because he’s the Daniel Ellsberg of the UFO community.
Once a hairdresser, Gary McKinnon took a computer course in the late ’90s and began doing contract work. In 2000 he read a book put out by Dr. Steven Greer’s Disclosure Project, which – along with Project Camelot – is basically a clearinghouse for the nuttiest of UFO nuttiness.
Anxious to learn more, he forayed into recreational hacking, entering U.S. government databases from the basement of his North London flat in search of secret UFO data. McKinnon said the hacking became an obsession. He lost his job, his girlfriend, his appetite, and his hygiene habits while hacking late into the night. By the time he was caught, in 2002, he actually wanted to be caught just so the insanity could end. (3)

McKinnon insists he didn’t do any damage to the systems he hacked; he simply wanted to find suppressed information on UFOs, antigravity, and free energy. He also left one message on a government computer, in 2002: “US foreign policy is askin to government-sponsored terrorism these days…It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year…I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.” (1)

Now he swears he never wanted to disrupt at the highest levels, or disrupt at all, for that matter. McKinnon’s excuses for his behaviour and reasons for why he should not be extradited are, well, freaking weird. They include:
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I was high on beer and pot.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I’m not even a good hacker.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because the systems were too easy too hack.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because the government should be thanking me for exposing their crap security.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I hacked for humanitarian reasons.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I was only looking for goofity-ass UFO/free energy shit.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I actually found goofity-ass UFO/free energy shit.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because a few other hackers haven’t been extradited.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because I have Asperger’s. That’s got nothing to do with hacking, but I shouldn’t be extradited anyway.
– I shouldn’t be extradited because lots of people hack into U.S. government computers.
Thus far, McKinnon’s lawyers have not resorted to the “beer ‘n pot” or “but everybody else hacks into high-level foreign government databases!” defenses.
McKinnon’s right about at least one thing: He isn’t much of a hacker. He was working with commercial software, had a dial-up modem, and simply found computers that had default passwords. But the notion that “everybody does it” is absurd. Your average, unemployed, potsmoking basement-dweller doesn’t have even these rudimentary skills.
As mentioned, McKinnon has remained at liberty in the UK. He has given numerous TV and press interviews (to Channel 4’s Richard and Judy, the BBC’s Click, and of course Project Camelot). He was part of a hacker panel at the 2006 Infosecurity Europe conference. He presents himself well, giving lie to the notion that Asperger’s hampers his social interactions in any way.

His attorneys have claimed that U.S. authorities made threats during a 2003 plea bargain attempt which violated his family and private life rights under Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically, New Jersey prosecutors allegedly told McKinnon he “would fry”. McKinnon’s counsel interpreted this as “chilling and intimidating” reference to capital punishment. (2)

Virginia does have the death penalty and tough anti-cyberterrorism laws, but is it even necessary to remark that cyber-terrorism is not a capital offense? Or that Virginia doesn’t even have an electric chair?
This month, McKinnon signed a statement acknowledging his violation of the U.K. Computer Misuse Act of 1990, and was granted a Judicial Review of his case, slated for March. This raises the question: If it’s this simple, why in the hell did it take so long? Why have British taxpayers been forced to foot the bills for this farce for a large part of the decade?
The fact that the extradition proceedings have dragged on so slowly for so many years is due, in part, to the groundswell of support McKinnon is receiving. His emotional pleas have hit a nerve with many people, and his ridiculous claims have piqued the interest of fringe-science believers. He has complained that he could end up in Gitmo, and that he faces up to 70 years in a U.S. prison (he actually faces as little as 3 if he cooperates).
McKinnon and his supporters contend that he found evidence of secret, reverse-engineered antigravity technology as well as secret space programs (including a “space cadet force”), and that the U.S. hadn’t provided sufficient evidence of the damage McKinnon allegedly caused. Not that they have to; the hacking itself constitutes a crime, whether there was damage or not.
However, it’s not just certifiable nutbars and gullible ufologists who are arguing against Gary’s extradition. London mayor Boris Johnson, in one of his Daily Telegraph columns (4), urged the U.S. Justice Department to drop its “demented quest” to extradict McKinnon. Numerous MPs have protested the extradition. Writer/TV presenter Jon Ronson has declared that McKinnon shouldn’t be extradicted because he poses no threat to American defense. DJ Ron Hemsworth says he’s trying to organize an all-star benefit concert. Last November, 20 MPs (including McKinnon’s own) 20 UK MPs signed a motion which calls for any sentence imposed by a US court to be served in a British jail.
And the National Autistic Society has sent out a mass email asking its supporters to help fight the extradition, because Asperger’s Syndrome people often develop “single-minded, obsessional interests.” (6) Having met a few Asperger folks, I have no trouble accepting this. But the NAS doesn’t bother to mention that these particular obsessional interests are illegal, and that McKinnon knows perfectly well they are illegal. Remember, he has said he wanted to get caught. The NAS also expresses concerns that McKinnon will be incarcerated in a supermax facility, which is vanishingly unlikely. I would really like to know where McKinnon supporters get their information about the U.S. justice system, because their concerns are more reminiscent of Kafka than of any recent court decisions.
The bottom line for supporters, however, is not the specific crime of Gary McKinnon. It’s the extradiction treaty between the U.S. and Britain, which is considered lopsided and unfair to British citizens. If not for the treaty, I sincerely doubt that McKinnon’s case would have drawn any more attention than blurbs in a few UK tabloid magazines. His only supporters would have been UFO enthusiasts.
But do people really know much about the treaty issue? An expose of the U.K.-U.S. extradition treaty at identifies that U.S. Attorney General as “Tom Ashcroft”. (5) It claims the U.S. doesn’t have to provide prima facie evidence to extradite someone from the U.K., but the U.K. must provide “reasonable” evidence when extraditing someone from the U.S. What Statewatch doesn’t mention: The U.K., unlike the U.S., has no constitutional protection against extradition on the say-so of a foreign government. Also not mentioned: The U.K. can refuse extradition if the U.S. state seeking prosecution refuses to guarantee that the death pentaly will not be sought.
The Bottom Line
So does McKinnon possess any, you know, proof that the government is suppressing UFO information and free-energy devices? Nope. Not a shred. He says he found some interesting photos of cigar-shaped UFOs on a computer stored in Building 8 at Johnson Space Center, but they were too large to download. He didn’t write down any of the anti-gravity stuff. So even if he isn’t extradited, there’s zilch he can do for ufology. A FOIA request turned up a whole lot of nothin’.
The idea that McKinnon is being “silenced” is hilarious. How silenced can he can be if he’s sitting on conference panels and chatting with Richard and Judy, for crying out loud? Besides, why silence someone if he has absolutely no evidence of all this wonderful stuff he supposedly found?
Sorry, Dr. Greer. You’ll have to ask the space people for help if you want free energy anytime soon.
Sources Cited

1. Boyd, Clark (30 July 2008). “Profile: Gary McKinnon”. BBC News. Retrieved Feb. 2/09.
2. “UK hacker loses extradition fight”. BBC News. 3 April 2007.
3. BBC Click‘s McKinnon interview by presenter Spencer Kelly, posted on YouTube.
4.Quest to Extradite Harmless Hacker, Gary McKinnon” by Boris Johnson, on Boris Johnson’s blog. Posted 29 January 2009.
6. National Autism Society (UK) statement on the McKinnon case.
Other sources:

Pants Afire Award: Casey Anthony

The year’s first Pants Afire Award goes to Casey Anthony, the mother of murdered 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, for telling the most (and most easily discovered) lies in the shortest amount of time.
I don’t usually pay attention to these high-profile missing child cases, because they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Every year, thousands of children go missing. Some are never found. Others, like Caylee, are found dead.
However, the Anthony case is worthy of mention because Casey Anthony – whether she’s guilty of harming her daughter or not – seems to be a whole new kind of stupid. I’m talking her-mother-should-have-kept-the-placenta-and-used-her-for-stem-cell-research stupid. I don’t mean that literally, of course. But Casey Anthony is stupid.

The following is gleaned from police interviews and a timeline of the Anthony case, available at the Investigation Discovery website.

On the afternoon of June 16, 2008, 22-year-old Casey left her parents’ house in Orlando, Florida, where she usually lived with her daughter, to go “to work” at Universal Studios. She planned to drop off Caylee at a nanny’s house. She told her parents she would be working late and spending the night at “the nanny’s house”, and would be home the following night. Later, over the phone, Casey told her mother a complex story about having to go to Tampa for a work event. While there, she said, the nanny had a car accident. Her injuries were supposedly being treated at Tampa General.

Casey didn’t return to her parents’ home for a month, at least not for long. In late June, she did sneak home long enough to borrow her mother’s truck and steal some gas from her father. She told her dad that Caylee was staying with the nanny, in Tampa.
This did not comfort Cindy Anthony at all; by July 3, she was so concerned about the lack of communication with Caylee that she posted this message on her MySpace page: “My Caylee is missing.” She suspected that Casey had been jealous of her closeness with the little girl, and took her away out of spite.

Casey’s car was found abandoned on June 30. The Anthonys learned about this on July 12. When the worried Anthonys finally located their daughter on July 15, Caylee was not with her. Cindy Anthony demanded to be taken to the little girl. At first Casey insisted that Caylee was safe in the care of her nanny, but she refused to take her mother to the nanny’s house even after Cindy threatened to call the police. Finally, after repeated confrontations with her older brother and Cindy, Casey revealed that Caylee was missing. The nanny had disappeared with her on June 9. Clearly, Casey couldn’t even remember when she left her parents’ home with Caylee for the last time, because the date she gave for Caylee’s supposed abduction was a full week before Caylee’s disappearance. This is the calibre of duuuuuh we’re dealing with, here.
Casey begged her mother not to report Caylee’s abduction to the police. Cindy, in one of the last smart moves she would make, did so anyway. Then the lies really began…

– Casey told Orange County detectives she was making every possible effort to find her daughter, though she had never even mentioned Caylee’s abduction to her boyfriend, friends, parents, or anyone else for a full month. She was not in Tampa at any time during that month. She had spent much of June and July living and partying with friends as though nothing was wrong, flashing a toothy grin while she posed for photos at nightclubs and get-togethers. She told detectives she hung out in bars to “get information” about her daughter’s abduction.
Casey also got a tattoo and bought lingerie while Caylee was missing, paying for them with checks stolen from a friend and money stolen from her mother. She seemed completely unaware that surveillance videos, receipts, photos, and eyewitnesses could reveal her activities.

Casey’s mother and father have also tried to make excuses for Casey’s partying. George Anthony said the photos were taken at least a year prior to Caylee’s disappearance, even though Casey’s current boyfriend (whom she met in early ’08) appears in some of the party photos. Cindy Anthony says the photos taken at Fusion nightclub were promotional photos for which Casey was paid. There is no evidence to support this. Friends of Casey told police she made numerous trips to nightclubs, bars, and parties between mid-June and mid-July, and that she drank heavily and enjoyed herself during these outings.

– She told Orange County detectives she was employed as an events planner at Universal Studios, with her own office. She was actually unemployed. She had been let go from Kodak, which had a contract with Universal, in 2006. Yet she went so far as to give detectives a bogus phone extension number, and named a fictional supervisor. She even agreed to lead detectives to her office. Partway down a hallway, she admitted she was no longer employed at Universal, but insisted she really wanted to check out Universal because it was one of the places Caylee had visited with her. Why would Caylee’s abductors take the child to Universal Studios? Casey had no explanation for her bizarre statement.

George Anthony had suspected for two years that his daughter wasn’t really working. The route she supposedly took to work every day wasn’t the easiest one.

– Casey said the only people who knew about Caylee’s disappearance were her former co-workers Jeff Hopkins and Juliette Lewis. She said Hopkins introduced her to Caylee’s nanny, Zenaida Gonzales. But Hopkins denied knowing the nanny, and made it clear that Casey mentioned nothing about a missing daughter when he bumped into her on July 2. There is no evidence that “Juliette Lewis” even exists.

– For two years Casey had been telling her parents, friends, and everyone else that she still worked at Universal. During May and early June she slept overnight at friends’ houses on several occasions, telling her parents she was staying late at work.

– She claimed she last saw her daughter on the morning of June 9, when she dropped her off at the babysitter’s home (apartment 210 at Sawgrass Apartments). The babysitter was Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, a woman who also babysat for Jeff Hopkins. “Zanny” had also worked at Universal for a time, Casey said.
Casey obviously forgot that she had taken her daughter to visit numerous relatives on July 15, Father’s Day. Her parents had last seen Caylee on the morning of July 16.
A woman named Zenaida Gonzalez had checked out an apartment at the Sawgrass complex earlier in the summer and signed a guestbook that was visible to other visitors, but never lived there. 210 had been unoccupied and under renovation since February. The woman apparently has no connection to Casey, and says she has never worked as a babysitter. Nor did she ever work at Universal. It seems Casey didn’t have a nanny at all. She lifted a name at random from the guest register of a friend’s apartment complex, without making sure that person actually lived in the complex.

The Anthony family says police questioned the wrong Zenaida Gonzalez. Cindy Anthony, Casey’s mother, claims she first heard Casey mention Zenaida two years ago, but never met nor even saw the woman.

– When the Sawgrass story started to unravel, Casey supplied an entirely different one: Caylee had actually been abducted from a park by Zenaida and Zenaida’s sister. They gave Casey instructions on what she should tell the police if she wanted her daughter to remain safe, then drove away in an SUV.

– Told a friend that her father had suffered a stroke during the summer. George Anthony had suffered a stroke… years earlier.

– When first questioned on July 15, Casey said she had received a brief phone call from Caylee earlier in the day. The little girl happily talked about books and toys. Casey says she immediately dialed the number from which Caylee had called, only to find that the phone had already been disconnected.

It is now known that Caylee’s body had been in the woods since August, at the latest.
– She searched for “how to make chloroform” on her personal computer.

– She stole checks from the friend with whoms she was living, a credit card from her mother, and gas from her father.

– Casey abandoned her car (actually owned by her parents) in a conspicuous spot. The towtruck driver who removed it detected a corpse-like odour in the car, as did Casey’s mother, father, and brother when they reclaimed the car. The Anthonys feared their daughter or granddaughter had been killed and left in the trunk.
Casey said she ditched the car only because it ran out of gas.
On December 11, 2008, Caylee’s body was found half a mile from her grandparents’ home.
Casey Anthony had a month in which to craft a convincing explanation for her daughter’s disappearance. This was the best she could do.

The Real Stories Behind The Changeling

Swallowing the Camel has moved! We’re now at Please join us! 

The Wineville Chicken Murders, the impersonation of Walter Collins, LAPD corruption, and the secrets of Canada’s Northcott family

The case of serial killer Gordon Stewart Northcott and little Walter Collins is so surpassingly bizarre, so full of incredible twists, that even a full-length feature film from one of Hollywood’s premiere directors couldn’t properly do it justice. It is, in fact, one of the strangest cases in the history of American justice. Yet this nearly-forgotten story of abuse of power, family dysfunction, and deception remains deeply revelent today, in a time when unlawful detainment, official malfeasance, and extralegal measures like “extraordinary rendition” are common.

By the time the events of the “Wineville chicken coop murders” reached their tragic conclusion, a police force had been disgraced, a town had decided to change its name, and at least five people were dead.

Our story begins on March 10, 1928, the day 9-year-old Walter Collins disappeared from Los Angeles on his way to a movie matinee. At this time the LAPD was rife with corruption. A “gun squad” practiced its own strange brand of urban Western justice under the leadership of Police Chief James “Two Guns” Davis, mowing down suspected criminals and inconvenient persons alike under the force’s shoot to kill policy; bodies were routinely found in alleys, warehouses, and other dark corners of the city. The LAPD also had its fingers in an array of criminal enterprises (bootlegging, prostitution, extortion, bribery), and was frantically trying to cleanse its image as public outcry against the corruption grew louder and more strident every day. In this maelstrom, the Collins investigation went absolutely nowhere. Police breezily assured Walter’s mother Christine, whose husband was serving a sentence in Folsom Prison, that her son might have run away from home and would probably return on his own, even after 12-year-old Lewis Winslow and his 10-year-old brother, Nelson, vanished from Pomona on May 16th. They left the Model Yacht Club that evening after working on some arts and crafts, and never returned home.


That July, 21-year-old chicken rancher Gordon Stewart Northcott was having family trouble. Northcott and his parents had moved illegally to California from their native Canada four years earlier. The Northcotts had purchased the three-acre chicken ranch near the town of Wineville, Riverside County, for their son when he was 19 years old. Stewart, as he was known in the family, had lived there by himself only a few months before he drove to Saskatoon to fetch a housemate: his 13-year-old nephew, Sanford Clark. Stewart’s older sister, Winnifred, was separated from her husband and working to support her children, so having Stewart and her parents look after the boy might have eased her burden somewhat.
With Sanford as unpaid labour, Gordon and his father Cyrus (known as George) built a house, a garage, six chicken coops, and numerous outbuildings on the ranch.
Sanford rose every day at 5:30 to make breakfast, then did farm chores while Stewart “ran errands”. At various times Northcott told neighbors and school officials that Sanford was studying to enter the priesthood, attending a Catholic school, or recuperating from an illness. Sometimes he said Sanford was old enough to quit school. These were all lies. Sanford hadn’t attended a single day of classes since his arrival in the U.S.

But this was not the worst thing happening at Stewart’s ranch. At least twice a week, Stewart would rape his nephew. He flew into rages without provocation, beating the boy frequently. He also brought about a dozen young boys to the ranch to be sexually assaulted. He released them with threats to find and kill them if they told anyone. He had tried to molest his mechanic’s teen son on several occasions. In August of 1927 a father caught Stewart trying to lure his son from Pickering Park, and chased him away with a knife. Two years before that, he had been arrested for inappropriate behaviour toward a friend’s little brother. Stewart would mourn his loss of this boy for years, playing the child’s favourite song (Song of Songs) on the piano as he sat on a stool the boy had made. Awaiting execution, he played a recording of the song over and over on a phonograph.

There was much more. Between February 1st and the end of May, 1928, Stewart had carried out and covered up four murders – with Sanford’s unwilling help.

Now, at the end of July, Sanford’s 19-year-old sister Jessie was planning a trip to California. Though the family had no reason to think Sanford was being mistreated in any way, they suspected he wasn’t attending school; his cheery letters home hadn’t improved much in quality over the two years he had been in Stewart’s care.
Jessie arrived from Vancouver by boat on July 26th, to her uncle’s extreme displeasure. She found her little brother work-hardened, “peaked”, and fearful, but he insisted he was still attending school and enjoying himself on the farm – at least when Stewart was around. When he wasn’t, Sanford gave Jessie details of the horrors he had survived at the ranch.

The Mexican

On February 1st, Sanford told his sister, their Uncle Stewart had returned to the ranch from one of his mysterious “errands” and announced that he had just murdered a young Mexican man. He had the man’s severed head in a bucket, and showed it to Sanford before he burned it in a bonfire and disposed of the charred remains. He said he had dumped the man’s body near Puente.
In a later account, Stewart admitted to this murder but wildly embellished the story, claiming he had to shoot the man nine times in the heard before he would die. Then Louise mopped up the bloodstain.
Whatever the circumstances of the murder, the entire family was complicit in covering it up. They agreed not to tell the authorities anything unless asked. Stewart had forced Sanford to tell his parents, George and Louise, that Stewart had hired the Mexican to do some chores at the ranch, caught him stealing, and was threatened with a knife. So Sanford shot him.
The following day, the headless body of a Mexican man roughly 18 years old, covered by a burlap sack, was found by the side of a road near Puente. The remains were never identified. Stewart, when referring to the man, would use either the fictitious name “Alvin Gothea” or the generic name “Jose Gonzales”. At times he claimed that he had to kill the Mexican because he “knew too much”.


Walter Collins was taken to the ranch the same day he disappeared. By all accounts, Louise was there helping with chores for the week, and she knew that a young boy was staying at the ranch. She admittedly fed him meals.
Here, the accounts diverge. At different times, both Louise and Stewart admitted to killing Walter Collins with an axe. By the time of his trial in January 1929, Stewart was still more or less admitting that he did it, but only because Walter supposedly saw him shoot and kill a miner who was trying to rob another miner near a little shack Stewart had rented that month.

Once, Stewart confessed to overdosing Walter with ether as he slept on his cot, then shooting him when he said he felt “fine and dandy” and fell unconscious. But he insisted it was Louise who struck the fatal blow. At other times, he denied ever laying eyes on Walter Collins.

At her trial, Louise testified that Walter just showed up at the ranch one night and asked to stay, so she set up a cot for him in one of the chicken coops. The next day, the boy waited around while Stewart fixed up his car. That night, Louise said, she went out to the coop to fetch something and found the boy on his cot with his head “crushed in”, but still alive. “I took the ax and hit him on the temple and finished him up to keep him out of his suffering.” She hinted that Sanford had injured the boy; he was just exiting the coop when Louise approached it, while Stewart was presumably still tinkering with his car. (3, 56)

Sanford’s account was much different. He knew exactly what his uncle liked to do with young boys. And it seems Louise was also aware of her son’s pedophilia. She suggested to Sanford and her son that Walter must be killed; he would talk if allowed to leave the ranch alive. (Today, this seems like an eerie foreshadowing of the Pickton family. In 1967 Louise Pickton allegedly drowned a 14-year-old boy her son had struck with his vehicle, rolling him into a water-filled ditch to hide the accident. Years later, her other son – Robert – was convicted of killing numerous women and burying their bodies on his pig farm.)
Louise said each of them would have to participate in the murder so they would be equally culpable if caught. They would each strike the boy once with an axe.
Two years later, at the foot of the gallows, three men would approach the death of Stewart Northcott with the same logic. Each man would step forward and slice one of three cords, only one them actually attached to the trapdoor through which the prisoner’s body would plummet. That way, the men would never know which one of them caused the man’s death.

The Northcotts entered the coop where Walter lay asleep, and by the light of a flashlight struck the boy repeatedly with an axe. He was buried in an adjoining coop. Later, Stewart moved the body and reburied it with lime.

The three accounts agreed on only one point: Walter Collins was dead.

The Winslow Brothers

Around 10:00 on the night of May 16th, Stewart arrived at the ranch with Lewis and Nelson Winslow. Sanford was ordered to set up the hen house for them, then nail the door shut with the boys and Stewart inside (Stewart would open the door from the inside when he was ready to get out). The boys were held in the hen house for about a week. This time, Louise wasn’t present. It was Sanford who brought the boys food and water, and emptied their chamberpot. He said the brothers drew pictures and played cards.
Stewart made the boys write two letters to their parents, telling them they had run away to Mexico “to make a lot of money making yachts and airplanes” and were “having a wonderful adventure”, a ploy he probably picked up from another child-killer (see the section on Stewart, below).

On the 25th or 26th, Stewart announced it was time to kill the boys. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill the older boy, Lewis, with ether, Stewart sent him to the house. He and Sanford then killed Nelson, and later Lewis, by striking him over the head and burying him alive.

Stewart didn’t always explicitly deny the murders during his trial, but he did try to heap as much blame as possible onto his nephew. At one point, he claimed Sanford had beaten Nelson to death and concealed the body from Lewis for three days. Finally, Lewis’ questions about his brother became so persistent that Stewart killed him. Representing himself, he grilled Sanford on the witness stand as to why he hadn’t protested killing the Winslow brothers, or run to the neighbors for help. Surely this was one of the most surreal moments in an already bizarre trial: Stewart actually mocking the boy for overestimating his ability to control the situation.

The Lucky Ones

With four murders behind them, the Northcott family embarked on a demented family project engineered by Stewart. In late June, Stewart posed as the personal secretary of a fabulously wealthy “Mrs. Rowan” and presented himself at the Salvation Army in L.A., seeking a laborer/cook for one of Mrs. Rowan’s numerous ranches. He selected Jacob Dahl, a married father of four sons ranging in age from 8 to 15.
Louise was to pose as Stewart’s aunt, and Sanford was to be her son. Stewart introduced himself to Mr. and Mrs. Dahl as “Mr. Craig”. He drove them out to the ranch and served them a light supper, including peaches that seemed to have some sort of capsules sprinkled over them. Mrs. Dahl found this this, and the family’s nervous behavior, rather odd – but it seemed like a good position for her husband, so she said nothing. At the end of the evening, Stewart returned the Dahls to their home. Shortly afterward, he informed them that Mrs. Rowan’s husband had died and the cook was no longer needed.
Sanford explained that Stewart scrapped his plan to murder the Dahls and abduct their sons because he was afraid of being caught.


Stewart had threatened to hunt him down and kill him if he ever ran away, Sanford told his sister.
Jessie didn’t challenge her uncle during the week she stayed at the ranch. She played her cards slowly and carefully, aware that any misstep could be fatal. Two bullet holes in the wall of the bedroom she slept in served as reminders of Stewart’s volatility.
Though he didn’t trust her entirely, Stewart confided in his niece at least once. He told her he wanted to make his mechanic’s son his “new darling” because Sanford’s voice was beginning to change.
On August 2nd, Jessie left the ranch to spend her last two weeks in California with George and Louise in L.A. She took Sanford with her and sent him to the home of a friend. George assisted them in the secret escape plot. He clearly didn’t approve of what was going on at the ranch, but was afraid to openly defy his own deranged son and wife. When Stewart and Lewis headed off to the ranch with a large load of firewood, he commented to Jessie that they were going to “destroy their evidence….I told them they could do their own dirty work.” (3, 81)
The very next day, when Stewart learned his nephew was gone, he was angry enough to brandish a gun at his father. George broke down and revealed Sanford’s location.
Sanford was immediately driven back to the ranch by his uncle.

Escape #2

One week later, on a Sunday, George and Jessie made another attempt to spring Sanford. Stewart had said he was going to be in San Diego for the day, and Louise was out of the house, so they seized this chance to drive out to the ranch.
Louise had beaten them there. Stewart was there, as well. They had apparently laid a trap. During the ensuing confrontation, Jessie announced her intention to take Sanford home to Canada. Stewart punched her in the face. Later, he explained to her that Sanford couldn’t leave because he had shot a miner who was robbing another miner. A little boy had witnessed this, and he and Sanford had been forced to eliminate the witness.

Escape #3

The day she was scheduled to return to Canada, Jessie made one last attempt to free her brother. Stewart had ordered Sanford to take a cab from their grandparents’ house back to the ranch, but Jessie secretly instructed him to go a nearby fruit market instead, and she would try to pony up the money for a bus ticket out of the city. George assured Jessie he could come up with the money. She left the U.S. believing – hoping – that Sanford would soon be on his way home, too.

He wasn’t. At the end of August, Jessie received a telegram from George, saying he would bring Sanford to Canada in six weeks. It turned out that he had taken Sanford to the bus station, only to encounter Stewart there. Furious, Stewart again reclaimed his nephew and hauled him to the ranch.


Why did everyone bow to Stewart Northcott’s wishes? He was like the boy in the Twilight Zone episode who threatens to send his family “out to the cornfield” with his paranormal powers unless they go out of their way to amuse and placate him.
Sanford, George, and Jessie were fearful of Stewart, with good reason. Louise’s motive for cooperating with her son’s plans might have been quite different, though. At her son’s trial, she declared he was the only person in the world who had ever shown her any love. In return, she offered an almost slavish devotion to his whims.

George and Louise married in their native Ontario in 1886, when they were both very young. A few years later they had Winnifred. Five other children didn’t survive, including a 5-year-old boy named Willie. Stewart was born in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, in 1906 or 1907, the same year Winnifred married John Clark and settled on a farm in the area.

Years later, reporters covering Stewart’s murder trial would make much of his “effeminate” traits, and there were rumours that Louise had dressed and treated him as a girl until he was 12 years old. No evidence bears this out. The descriptions of Stewart as both a hairy “Ape Man” and a “broad-shouldered coquettish girl” seem to stem from the abhorrence for his same-sex orientation. The prosecution actually made note of this more often than the fact that Stewart was a pedophile and a sexual predator.

At this time, George was probably considered the ne’er-do-well of his family. He toiled on small farms or did construction work while two of his brothers ran successful medical practices. Then, in 1919, Ephraim Northcott accidentally killed a young nurse during a backroom abortion and was sentenced to prison, where he passed away in July 1928. He died without learning that he wasn’t the only killer in the family.

In 1913, after living in Edmonton for a time, the Northcotts settled in Vancouver. They would reside there until illegally immigrating to California in 1924.

In the winter of 1918, according to family members, Stewart slipped on some ice and cracked his head, resulting in minor hemorrhaging and a period of delusion (for weeks he believed Louise was dead, even though she was right in front of his eyes). He was never quite the same. Louise stated at his trial that a family doctor in Edmonton told her his mind had never been “just right”.
But he retained an average or even above-average intellect. He appreciated classical music, and as a teenager in Vancouver he played piano in a movie house and conducted a small jazz orchestra at a cafe.

At Stewart’s trial, George Northcott admitted he was terrified of his own son, who abused him after years of being not simply spoiled but ruined by Louise. Louise always encouraged his behaviour, bringing him up to treat his father like an “old fool”. George described himself as “the family football”, and that was exactly the impression he left on everyone – a meek old man, disgusted by his son’s tyranny but far too cowed to do anything about it.

Stewart was a pathological liar. When he rented the shack in Mint Valley, near Saugus, the same month Walter Collins was killed, he told the owners he was a journalist. They were made extremely nervous by this strange man who toted around two pistols and a box he wouldn’t allow anyone to touch. He spoke knowingly about a gruesome child murder that had taken place in L.A. the previous December. William Edward Hickman, 19 years old, abducted the 12-year-old daughter of a former employer and had the girl, Marion Parker, write letters to her father to assure him she was safe. These were accompanied by dramatic ransom demands from Hickman, signed “The Fox”. Mr. Parker arranged to meet The Fox in an isolated spot to hand over the money. Hickman pulled up alongside Parker in his car, grabbed the money, then drove a short distance before dumping Marion’s limp body beside the road. Her arms and legs had been removed, her eyelids stitched open.
One month before Walter Collins disappeared, Hickman was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Stewart commented to the cabin owner’s wife that Hickman “didn’t know how to put over a first-class murder.” (3, 59)


With her husband serving a sentence for robbery in Folsom Prison, Christine Collins was essentially a single mother, renting rooms in a modest home in the Mount Washington area, working as a phone operator.
Convinced that her son could be alive, she paid close attention to sightings of Walter that were reported from all over California throughout the summer of 1928. There were numerous reports that an “Italian-looking” man and woman had been seen loitering in the Collins’ neighborhood in the days before Walter disappeared, and a few people claimed to have seen Walter in the presence of a similar “foreign” couple. A particularly chilling sighting was reported by a gas station attendant in Glendale who was quite certain he had seen Walter’s limp, possibly lifeless, body in the backseat of a car that pulled into his station.

There was also a promising sighting of the Winslow brothers: A traveling salesman in New Braunfels, Texas, believed he had given a ride to the two boys sometime in June. Later events proved this to be a false sighting. The boys’ father had also received the letters Stewart had forced Lewis and Nelson to write, informing him they were heading for Mexico. Incidents like these fed Christine Collins’ belief that Walter was still alive.

Walter Collins Sr. and some police officers, on the other hand, suspected that former inmates had killed his boy in retaliation for something he had done, and a Los Angeles Times article darkly hinted that Mrs. Collins might have gotten on the wrong side of some criminals while trying to “negotiate her husband’s release”. This was an ominous foreshadowing to the scapegoating of Mrs. Collins, but no one could possibly have foreseen what was about to occur.

In August, a young boy was brought into the police station in Dekalb, Illinois, after he was found wandering alone. He gave his name as Arthur Kent, and told police his father had abandoned him. He hinted that he had lived in Hollywood and Los Angeles, but refused to betray his father by providing any further details.
Authorities placed him temporarily with a farmer. Illinois State Police officer O.N. Larson grew convinced that the boy was really Walter Collins, and his suspicions seemed to be borne out when the boy finally admitted it. In the excitement of finding Walter, no one dwelt too heavily on the question of why the boy would deny his own identity for several weeks.
Mrs. Collins immediately sent $70 of her own money to Dekalb for train fare, while the LAPD stage-managed a publicized reunion that could finally redeem the police in the public’s eye. Photographers mobbed the platform as Walter, looking remarkably healthy after his long ordeal, stepped off the train and was guided to his anxiously waiting mother.
But there was to be no joyful reunion. Christine Collins knew at once that this boy was not her son, though he somewhat resembled Walter in age, build, and colouring. She informed LAPD Captian J.J. Jones of this immediately. Utterly unwilling to see his golden PR coup destroyed, Captain Jones firmly assured Mrs. Collins the boy was Walter; he just looked a bit different after all he’d been through, that was all. Over her objections, he urged her to take the boy home with her. Ten days later, Mrs. Collins returned “Walter” to the police, even more adamant that he was not her child. For one thing, his teeth didn’t match Walter’s dental records – and the dentist had signed a statement to that effect. Captain Jones continued to insist the boy had to be Walter. Perhaps his abductor had brainwashed him into behaving differently and forgetting certain details about his life, he suggested.
Rather than admit the mistake and forfeit all that good publicity the police had received for “solving” the case, they maintained that Walter had passed tests to confirm his identity. To get rid of the evidence that the official LAPD position was crumbling, on September 8th Captain Jones had Mrs. Collins involuntarily committed to the county psychiatric ward under a “Code 12” designation reserved for bothersome people. She was told that she was either mentally ill, or a bad mother trying to unload her son onto the state. She would not be allowed to leave until she admitted that the boy from Illinois was her child. Mrs. Collins bravely refused to bow to police pressure.
However, the police did question “Walter” more thoroughly once he was in state custody. He confessed he wasn’t really Walter, but Billy Fields. Then he admitted he was really Arthur Hutchens, a 12-year-old runaway from Iowa. He didn’t like living with his stepmother, Violet Hutchens, and his resemblance to Walter Collins had presented him with a golden opportunity to travel to California, where he hoped to meet movie cowboy Tom Mix. Arthur’s family had a connection to California; his father, J.S. Hutchens, had recently served time in San Quentin for sexual offenses against boys.
Christine Collins was quietly released from the psych hospital on September 15th.

Strangely, the clues to “Walter’s” real identity had been in plain sight all along. As reported by the Los Angeles Times on August 5, 1928, while Arthur was still staying at the farm near DeKalb, a man with bullet scars on his face had shown up while the boy was out. He appeared to be searching for someone, but merely asked for some food. He was soon identified as J.S. Hutchens. Told of the man’s visit, Arthur burst out, “That’s my daddy!”. Mr. Hutchens never reappeared. Police speculated that J.S. Hutchens had abducted Walter Collins upon his release from San Quentin, but were unable to locate him.

Then there was the fact that Sandford Clark had identified one of his uncle’s victims as Walter Collins. The juvenile officers who questioned Sanford accepted this story at first, but when Walter turned up alive in Illinois they concluded that Sanford must be mistaken…or lying. The Los Angeles Times noted this “perplexing paradox” on September 16th, even adding that Jessie Clark corroborated her brother’s account of the murders. He had told her all about the murder of Walter Collins when she visited the ranch in July.

Escape #4

With Jessie back in Canada, Stewart knew he was on borrowed time. He began selling off his possessions as though preparing for flight.

He didn’t know that it was already too late. Jessie had promptly reported her brother’s abuse to the American consulate in Vancouver. She may have mentioned the murders, but if so that information was not imparted to the two LAPD officers and the two immigration officials dispatched to the ranch. They believed they were just checking on a couple of young Canadian men who were living in the country illegally.
On August 31st, as Stewart, Sanford, and the mechanic’s son were loading furniture at the ranch, the two immigration inspectors arrived. Stewart immediately ran off into the desert, leaving Sanford to be taken to Juvenile Hall for questioning.

Within two days of being taken into custody, Sanford told investigators that Stewart had removed him from his parents’ home in Canada two years earlier, when he was 13, and had been abusing him physically and sexually since that time. He also made the startling revelation that Stewart had murdered several young boys with an axe and buried their bodies on the ranch. He also claimed Gordon had killed a man on the highway near Saugus on March 10, two days before the St. Francis Dam disaster. (The murder of the young Mexican man, as we’ve seen, actually took place on the first day of February. Whether Sanford was referring to this murder or to a second, unverified, crime is unclear).
Sanford picked the Winslow boys and Walter Collins out of a stack of 30 photographs. Walter, he said, had been killed about a week after his abduction. The Winslow boys had been killed with blows from an axe, and Sanford himself was forced to kill the younger boy, Nelson, on threat of death.

Incredibly, Stewart evaded authorities with the aid of a city judge, H.S. Farrell of Alhambra. He simply showed up at the man’s office on August 31st and gave him a long story about how he was trying to bring up his nephew with Catholic principles, while his immoral sister was trying to pry the boy away from him. The judge refused to intervene directly in the matter, but he obligingly drove Stewart to the home of a lawyer, then to George and Louise’s house.

Stewart fled to Vancouver, beyond the reach of immigration officials, on his attorney’s advice. A few days later, Louise quit her job as a laundress at L.A. General Hospital and followed, leaving George alone in California. One has to wonder if he was relieved to finally be free of these two insane people for a while.

In a room of the ranch house, investigators found a book that had been checked out of the Pomona public library by one of the Winslow brothers. Some of their Boy Scout badges and a hat belonging to Lewis were also found on the ranch, along with a bloodstained mattress and axes encrusted with blood and human hair.

Jessie and her family had no idea what was happening until September 8th. On that day, Jessie and a friend were walking in Vancouver, en route to a job interview. Suddenly they ran into her grandmother and Uncle Stewart, who informed her that Sanford was about to be deported back to Canada. Jessie quickly summoned her mother to Vancouver, but soon after Winnifred’s arrival, the news broke that Stewart was wanted on suspicion of murder.

Even though Sanford had told his story to the authorities two days after he was taken into custody, they were initially skeptical. He wasn’t questioned fully until September 14th.
He led police to two gravesites near his uncle’s chicken coop, where the partial skeletonized remains of three children were found on September 17th. These proved to be the remains of the Winslow brothers and parts of the unidentified Mexican man. In all, 51 human body parts were found on the ranch.
Sanford implicated his grandmother in Walter’s murder. He said she neither participated in nor witnessed the Winslow murders, but knew all about them.

On September 19th, Louise Northcott was taken into custody on a train in Calgary. Stewart was arrested on a train in Vernon, B.C. (interestingly, the final destination of two California boys who briefly fooled authorities into believing they had been raised in the wilderness). On the train ride back to California, Stewart initiated a pattern that would become familiar to everyone who encountered him in the next two years: He alternated between indignantly protesting his innocence and sanity, and making bizarre confessions to Riverside County deputy district attorney Earl Redwine.
Three days later a grand jury in Riverside County returned five indictments against Stewart: four counts of murder, and one of sodomy. Louise was named in an indictment for the murder of Walter Collins.

On September 23rd, Christine Collins threw a 10th birthday party for her missing son.

In Riverside County Jail, Stewart alternated between declaring total innocence and implicating everyone in his family. He was allowed to meet with Sanford, who was in hospital, and demanded the boy confess. When that didn’t work, he tried to sweet-talk him into confessing. Sanford stood his ground. So did George. Louise was still in Canada, fighting extradition.
Stewart continued to make sporadic confessions. At one point he said he had killed 9 people, and would “play crazy” in court – only he would keep it up longer than Edward Hickman, who had been caught feigning insanity when he wrote letters about his ruse to another prisoner. Stewart even said he had once had a brother named Richard, whom George had killed when he was 9 or 10 years old. There was no such brother.
In addition to fake confessions, Stewart took great delight in leading the police on wild goose chases all over the desert, pointing out “graves” that turned out to be nonexistent. The full remains of his victims were never located.
There are indications that Stewart savored his infamy. For all his bitter complaints about the media, he never declined an interview. He talked at length about his love of music, his chickens, his philosophy of life.

In October, William Hickman was executed for the murder of Marian Parker. Knowing that his role model died at the end of a rope couldn’t have been a comfort to Stewart.

In December, as Stewart’s trial date neared, Louise Northcott made two very strange confessions that remain rather baffling. First, she confessed to police that she had murdered all of the boys, including Walter Collins. She said she had killed the Mexican in self-defense. Later, she altered her confession to minimize her own participation in the crimes. She claimed that Sanford had killed Lewis Winslow and severely beaten Nelson, so Louise shot him merely to end his misery. Sanford also bashed in Walter’s head, and she had to put him out of his misery as well. Then Sanford and Jessie, who despised her son, framed Stewart for everything. Louise was perfectly willing to sacrifice her grandchildren to save her beloved boy. Unluckily for her, Redwine didn’t buy much of the story. While the entire family had some involvement in what had become known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, this was obviously just Louise’s desperate attempt to keep Stewart from being convicted.
Whether authentic or not, however, her confession to the murder of Walter Collins stood up in court because it was corroborated by Sanford’s testimony. She pled guilty and was handed a life sentence.

The second confession was far stranger, and as it couldn’t possibly have helped Stewart in any way, Louise’s reasons for giving it remain unclear. She may have been trying to feign insanity, or she may actually have been insane.
Louise had summoned Earl Redwine to her cell to “confess” that she wasn’t Stewart’s real mother. She explained that at 17 she met and secretly married an English lord. The same day, she realized that the marriage would be a “detriment to his career” and urged him to go home and fulfill his obligations. Two years later, she bigamously wed George Northcott. Then, in 1906, the lord unexpectedly returned to Canada and swept Louise away to live with him. Three days later he died of heart failure. She returned to George only to learn that he had impregnated their daughter in her brief absence. She stuck to this story throughout Stewart’s trial.

Stewart showed no gratitude for his mother’s efforts to save him. Reading an overwrought letter from her, he commented that he didn’t like her and had always considered her crazy.


Stewart Gordon Northcott stood trial in Riverside County in January 1929 for the murders of the Winslow brothers and the unidentified Mexican man, whom he referred to at that time as “Alvin Gothea”. Despite his signed confessions, he pled not guilty to all three murders, then proceeded to put on an extremely weird defense, firing three attorneys before deciding to represent himself. He accused the sheriff of plotting to kill him, swore at the prosecutor, talked at great length about a disease that had stricken his chickens, and questioned himself on the witness stand.
Things got even stranger when Louise was summoned to testify on her son’s behalf. On the witness stand, she publicly declared for the first time that Gordon was not her son, but her grandson. If she and Stewart thought this would provoke sympathy for him, they were wrong. It actually made Stewart’s sexual abuse of Sanford even more appalling, because Sanford was now not just a family member, but his half-brother. Oddly, Stewart had freely admitted to sodomizing his nephew. He said he didn’t know it was inappropriate to have sexual relations with his nephew/brother until authorities explained it to him, despite his supposedly devout Catholicism and the fact that he had brought a Bible with him from Canada.

There were also allegations, from Stewart, that George had repeatedly raped him when he was a child. “I could not help it I was brought into the world. I did not ask to be brought in. I was not responsible for the sins of these people before me.” (3, 199)
George Northcott denied it all. In fact, though he was testifying on behalf of his son, his testimony was extraordinarily damaging to Stewart. George admitted he had seen some of the bodies before Stewart destroyed them with lime, lye, fire, and an axe. He had even bragged about the murders to his father. Only a few months earlier, George had insisted that Stewart had always been a “good boy” who displayed no “abnormal tendencies”.
On the stand, he explained that Louise would say anything to defend her son. He was “her god”.

Louise demonstrated this amply in court. During questioning, she told Stewart, “You are the only one that has ever brought any joy or happiness to my old gray life and has used me right and given me any love.” (3, 202)

The most damaging testimony came, of course, from Sanford Clark. Combined with the physical evidence, it convinced a jury that Stewart Northcott was guilty after just a few hours of deliberation. Stewart was convicted of all counts.

After his conviction, Stewart wrote George out of his personal history by telling prison officials that his father died in an insane asylum before his trial. This, despite the fact that George had pled for leniency on his son’s behalf, arguing that Stewart shouldn’t be executed because he was obviously “of unsound mind.”

Mr. Winslow knew he had a limited amount of time in which to get Stewart to reveal where his boys were buried. On February 10th, he assembled a posse of about 100 men. They drove caravan-style to to Riverside County Jail and surrounded the building while Winslow demanded they be allowed to remove Stewart from his cell and force him to reveal the location of the bodies. The sheriff and his men managed to calm Winslow and send him away; the other men dispersed on their own.

On February 13, 1929, Judge George R. Freeman sentenced Northcott to execution by hanging. He was then transferred to San Quentin’s death row, where he continued to make sporadic confessions. Just before his transfer, he admitted to 11 murders and hinted he was responsible for many more – but he wasn’t the only one responsible. “There are others whom I could expose, if anything could be gained by that.” (3, 226) Months later, believing he was going to die from appendicitis, he confessed in “revolting” detail to the warden’s assistant, Clinton Duffy (destined to become a famous prison reformer). Stewart added unlikely new details: That he had trafficked and killed up to 20 young boys, holding them at his ranch for prominent citizens to abuse. He said he was assisted by two ranch hands that he had never mentioned before.
He provided some names, and an investigation was launched, but no evidence of a child sex ring was found. Sanford hadn’t seen any strangers at the ranch; the only child molester there was his uncle. Neighbours knew that Sanford was being beaten and kept out of school, so they probably would have noticed the continuous comings and goings of well-heeled strangers. They hadn’t. And the two ranch hands didn’t exist – no one had seen them, no one knew of them.
As he had done so many times before, Stewart later recanted these confessions and insisted that he had killed no one.

Meanwhile, the LAPD had not heard the last of Christine Collins. With the help of social crusader and beloved Presbyterian minister Gustav Briegleb and a prominent attorney who was willing to work pro bono, Sammy “S.S.” Hahn, she sued Captain J.J. Jones for unlawful confinement, and was awarded a large settlement.
The case brought police abuse of the Code 12 designation to public attention, but it didn’t result in any real changes to the force. Captain Jones quietly retired without being censured in any way by his superiors, still a captain.
Mrs. Collins continued to fight for payment of her settlement into the 1940s. She wished to put the money into her search for Walter.

Stewart also gained at least one supporter. A preacher known as Larry “Cyclone Evangelist” Newgent became Stewart’s spiritual mentor at San Quentin, and argued to California governor C.C. Young that Stewart deserved a new trial because the first one had been “absolutely unfair”. Stewart had evidently convinced him that he hadn’t been allowed to retain a lawyer.

Stewart was originally scheduled to be executed in April, 1929, but a sickly lawyer delayed the appeals process into 1930. The execution date was moved to October 2, 1930.

In a September 29th interview with the press, Louise claimed she had been very ill with flu when she confessed to Walter’s murder. She declared that no one was ever killed at the ranch.
Stewart showed no such familial loyalty. Around the time his mother gave her interview, he wrote to Christine Collins and to the Winslows, promising them that if they visited him at San Quentin, he could tell them everything about the murders of their children.
Mrs. Collins visited on September 30th, just before Stewart was moved to a small holding cell reserved for inmates in the days before their executions. Questioned by Mrs. Collins and warden James Holohan, Stewart said Sanford had killed the boys. Asked where the bodies were buried, he replied, “Ask Mother.”
Yet in a letter to his parents penned on the day of his execution, Stewart assured them he knew they were innocent – Sanford was the sole killer in the family. He signed himself, “Your frightened lonely little boy.”

Mrs. Collins was not discouraged by Stewart’s revelations. She said that until her boy’s body was found, “I’ll cling to hope.” (3, 249)

On October 1st, Mrs. Winslow arrived at the prison. For four hours Stewart refused to see her. He spent this part of his last full day of life in a seemingly jocular, relaxed mood, telling jokes to the guards on suicide watch and continuously playing “Song of Songs” on a phonograph. When he finally agreed to meet with Mrs. Winslow, he said the boys were buried in a ravine about 100 years from his ranch house. But he still insisted they had been killed by Sanford and buried by Louise.
After the meeting, he lapsed into a strange daze, staring into space and utterly ignoring everyone.

The next morning, after writing the letter to his parents (in which he denied all confessions), Stewart staged a dramatic “suicide attempt”, pretending he had swallowed some poison capsules. No one thought he had actually poisoned himself, but his stomach was pumped anyway. So close to the end of his life, he couldn’t resist taking another jab at the man who had tried to save him: He said his father had given him the pills during a prison visit.
The final jab came a few hours later. Stewart gave one last “confession”, this time admitting that he and Sanford buried the bodies… but George had killed Walter. Louise had helped them clean up evidence after all four murders.

He went to the gallows that evening still maintaining his innocence. He asked to be blindfolded before ascending the steps (the first condemned man to do so at San Quentin, according to news reports of the time). His jovial mood of the previous day had vanished completely. He asked, “Will it hurt?”, and pled for his life until the very second the cord was cut to spring the trapdoor.


Some of the other figures in the case didn’t fare much better than Gordon Stewart Northcott. Christine Collins’ attorney, Sammy Hahn, committed suicide in 1957 by tying concrete blocks around his neck and jumping into the pool at his cabin in Tick Canyon.
In his heyday he had been one of California’s most prominent attorneys, defending the famous evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson when she was under investigation for allegedly staging her own abduction in 1926, as well as representing Louise Peete, a conwoman and former prostitute who left a string of suicides, suspicious deaths, and murders in her wake for over 40 years before becoming one of only three women ever executed in the state of California.

Sanford Clark was released from the State Industrial School for Boys in Whittier, California, in January 1931. He was deported to Canada, and settled in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
In 1935 he married. He and wife June later adopted two little boys. During WWII he served with the 21st Battery, 6th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. He worked for the postal service until suffering a major heart attack in the ’70s. He died in 1991, leaving behind numerous grandchildren and a lifetime of quiet community service. Those closest to him say he rarely discussed his experiences on the ranch.

After Stewart Northcott’s execution, the town of Wineville officially changed its name to Mira Loma in an effort to erase the infamy created by the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. Only a few streets and one park retain the original name. The ranch itself was dismantled and the land redeveloped.

George Northcott moved to the little town of Parsonsburg, Maryland, where he lobbied for his wife to be paroled. In November 1935 he wrote to prison authorities that there wasn’t any evidence the boys had even been murdered. “In the last year, one of the alleged victims has turned up.” The only evidence was the testimony of an “alleged accomplice, who was of low mentality and a dime magazine, wild-west-reading-fiend.” (3, 252) It’s impossible to know if George believed this crap or if he was simply adopting the family line that Sanford and Jessie cooked up a crazy story out of jealousy and spite . What is clear is that George, for some reason, still loved the wife who had defamed him on the witness stand. He wrote, “I want her, I need her – no better wife ever lived than Louise Northcott.” (3, 253) Even after seeing bodies at the ranch, even after being accused of raping his own son and impregnating his own daughter, even after being told about his son’s final confession, George declared he would always consider his son innocent. Stewart was “simply batty”, his mind “warped, unbalanced”. (3, 249)
In June 1940, having served just 11 years of her life sentence, 71-year-old Louise Northcott joined her husband on his Maryland farm. For the next four years, until their deaths, the Northcotts argued that Louise’s sentence should be overturned due to the “lack of evidence” against her. This was denied. In fact, some of the principals in the case, including prosecutor Earl Redwine and Judge O.K. Morton, who had said to her after passing down a life sentence, “It is only because you are a woman that I do not sentence you to be hanged”, were outraged that Louise had been paroled. (3, 140)

Arthur Hutchens, despite his troubled past, led a more stable life after his California excursion. Confined to Iowa’s State Training School for Boys until he reached the age of 14, he worked as a carnival concessioneer before settlling down in California to train horses and be a jockey – his lifelong passion. He married, fathering a daughter who grew up idolizing her adventurous dad. He died in 1954.

Contrary to the media hype surrounding The Changeling, the Collins/Code 12 scandal did not leave any significant mark on the LAPD. It didn’t even result in signficant changes to the force. The only result of the case was validation of citizen’s complaints about the lawlessness of the LAPD, which had been minimized or ignored by the city’s establishment for years. The gun squad was disbanded in the early ’30s, but official corruption flourished throughout the ’30s under Mayor Frank Shaw – notable for being the first U.S. mayor recalled from public office.
In the ’40s, the spirit of the gun squad was resurrected in an equally lawless Gangster Squad.
In the ’50s, a Red Squad charged with targeting suspected Communists behaved exactly like the gun squad of the Prohibition era. As one police commissioner said of the Red Squad, “The more the police beat them up and wreck their headquarters, the better. Communists have no Constitutional rights and I won’t listen to anyone who defends them.” (1)
The 1990s saw an avalanche of LAPD scandals. First there was the beating of Rodney King and the ensuing riots, then the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) incidents in which more than 70 officers were implicated in “unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting of evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury, and covering up evidence of these activities”. (2)

In the film The Changeling, Mrs. Collins’ hope of finding her son alive is buoyed by the discovery that “David Clay”, a would-be victim of Northcott, managed to escape from the ranch and remain in hiding for years, fearful that he would be blamed for the possible murders of the boys who were confined with him – including Walter Collins. This character is apparently based on a young man who surfaced sometime in 1933 or 1934, a runaway presumed to be a victim of Northcott. I have been unable to find the name of this person, but we do know that he was not one of the Winslow brothers. It’s likely that any young boy who disappeared from the L.A. region during the late 1920s was considered a possible victim of Stewart Northcott.

Christine Collins remarried, but she had no more children and continued to believe that Walter could be alive somewhere. She rejected the confessions of Mrs. Northcott, Stewart Northcott, and Sanford Clark as too contradictory. Curiously, there is no mention of Louise in The Changeling.
While the film admirably highlights the tenacity of a mother’s love, its hopeful conclusion belies the much grimmer facts of the case.

A note on sources:
– Larry Harnisch, a blogger at the L.A. Times online, has posted copies of some of the original Times news stories on the Collins case (including the train station photo recreated in The Changeling). This article is drawn primarily from these articles and James Jeffrey Paul’s exhaustively researched book on the Northcott murders, Nothing Is Strange With You. Many other details were drawn from sources cited in the Wikipedia entry for the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. The details of S.S. Hahn’s death come from an article in the June 26, 1957 L.A. Times (available on this page of Harnisch’s blog).

Other sources:
1. official LAPD website history page, 1926-1950 (link)
2. Wikipedia entry on the Rampart scandal (link)
3. Paul, James Jeffrey. Nothing Is Strange With You. Xlibris, 2008.

Holy Blood, Holy Crap: The Da Vinci Code Lawsuit and Michael Baigent’s The Jesus Papers

“You stole my ideas! Even though they’re not mine!”

The Da Vinci Code lawsuit was a prime example of wanton, greedy litigiousness. Two of the three “historians” who wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) sued Dan Brown over alleged theft of intellectual property, even though Brown’s book is a work of fiction and theirs was supposedly nonfiction. If the stuff in Holy Blood, Holy Grail is truly factual (and I doubt it), how can Brown be accused of stealing the “ideas” in it? You can’t steal facts. The questionable documents and standard historical sources on which the authors based their weirdo premise (“Christ faked his crucifixion and eloped to France”) are available to anyone with a library card.
The third Holy Grail author, Henry Lincoln, was smart enough to capitalize on DV Code‘s success by appearing in related documentaries and whatnot. The other two guys, Baigent and Leigh, are just freakin’ lazy. And calling them “historians” is an insult to real historians. It would be like calling Anna Nicole Smith a nutritionist.

In March, Dateline NBC aired a story about Michael Baigent’s new book ,The Jesus Papers, exploring Baigent’s “startling new theory” that Christ survived the crucifixion. I guess no one remembered that Holy Blood, Holy Grail briefly went into this idea over 20 years ago. From the 1983 Corgi edition of Holy Blood, Holy Grail:

“Is there any evidence that Jesus did indeed survive the Crucifixion – or that the Crucifixion was in some way a fraud?” (371)

“There is, quite simply, no reason why his Crucifixion, as the Gospels depict it, should have been fatal.” (372)

“He should have survived…for a good two or three days. And yet he is on the cross for no more than a few hours before being pronounced dead.” (372)

“In the Gospels Jesus’s death occurs at a moment that is almost too convenient, too felicitously opportune. It occurs just intime to prevent his executioners breaking his legs…Modern authorities agree that Jesus, quite unabashedly, modelled and perhaps contrived his life in accordance with…prophecies, which heralded the coming of a Messiah…And the details of the Crucifixion seem likewise engineered to enact the prophecies of the Old Testament.”

Baigent speculates that the sponge soaked in vinegar offered to Christ might have been soaked in opium or belladonna. “But why proffer a soporific drug? Unless the act of doing so, along with all the other components of the Crucifixion, were elements of a complex and ingenious strategem – a strategem designed to produce a semblance of death when the victim, in fact, was still alive.” (374)

“According to Roman law at the time, a crucified man was denied all burial…Yet Pilate, in a flagrant breach of procedure, readily granted Christ’s boy to Joseph of Arimathea…In the Greek version [of Mark] when Joseph asks for Jesus’s body, he uses the word soma – a word applied only to a living body.” (376)

“the priest-king would seem to have had friends in high places; and these friends, working in collusion with a corrupt, easily bribed Roman Procurator, appear to have engineered a mock crucifixion…an execution was then staged – in which a substitute took the priest-king’s place on the cross, or in which the priest-king himself did not actually die. Towards dusk..a ‘body’ was removed to an opportunely adjacent tomb, from which, a day or two later, it ‘miraculously’ disappeared.” (377)

On Dateline, Baigent rehashed his “Jesus faked the Crucifixion” theory, then discussed new evidence that Christ was writing letters to his followers years after his supposed death. He admitted he has only seen two such letters; the others he “knows” about haven’t been photographed, copied, nor even seen. He’s not actually certain they exist. The letters he did see are squirreled away in the basement of a wealthy European collector who prefers not to be named, Baigent says. So that’s it! That’s the evidence for his book The Jesus Papers. A bit underwhelming, isn’t it?

Significantly, it was pointed out that Baigent’s new book is nearly identical to one written some 40 years ago: The Passover Plot, by Hugh J. Schonfield.

Dan Brown won the lawsuit.

BTW, if you’re interested in messages concealed in artwork, check out my post on a new documentary that claims that the blame for the Catholic abuse scandals lies in subliminal sexual/occult imagery hidden in religious paintings…