Thursday, April 12, 2018

Yankee’s Worst Free Agent Signings

Ah, baseball is here again. And my Red Sox are at 8-2! Even better, the Evil Empire is at .500, and the Sox are beating ‘em up in their first meetup of 2018.

I gotta admit, though – I did not see that coming. With the Yanks winning the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes, I honestly thought it would all be over on Opening Day.

An interesting thing happened though, on the way to the World Series. Giancarlo is hitting .167, has had two 0-5 games, and has been booed at Yankee Stadium. 

Now, it’s early days yet, but there is a pretty storied history of Yankee free-agent signings not panning out – especially with players coming from smaller markets. Hey, not everybody can handle the Big Apple, you know.

Stanton's got some pretty, er, small shoes to fill though. Let's take a look at who else he might be competing with. 


So, here’s how I went about it:

  1. Snooped around the Internets a little to see who might be good candidates
  2. Took the player’s average WAR for the years he was with the Yanks
  3. Took the player’s best WAR scores for the same number of years with his previous teams and got an average for that (I figure that’s what the Yankees thought they were going to get)
  4. If applicable, took the player’s best WAR scores for the same number of years with his post-Yankee teams and got an average for that
  5. If applicable, averaged the pre- and post-Yankee averages
  6. Calculated the difference between the Yankee WAR and those elsewhere
  7. Ranked ‘em

NOTE:  I eliminated Kevin Youkilis and Nick Johnson as they only played 1 year with the Yankees, at the very end of their careers. I also eliminated Kei Igawa, who actually never pitched anywhere else in the majors other than New York.

The Rankings

#10 – Don Gullett (1.8)

Don Gullett was the second free agent the Yankees every signed. A star with the Big Red Machine of the ‘70s, he was also a God-fearing farmboy from Nowheresville, KY.

It wasn’t Babylon on the Hudson that did him in however. In fact, his first year in pinstripes wasn’t bad at all. He actually went 14-4, and led the AL in winning percentage.

Unfortunately, he also hurt his shoulder the year after, going just 44 innings, hanging up his spikes, and retiring to his tobacco farm.

#9 – Jacoby Ellsbury (2.4)

There’s a long history of Red Sox leaving Fenway for the Bronx (willingly or not). I mean, there’s that guy named Ruth, of course. But it also works the other way sometimes as well.  And here I’m thinking Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Kevin Youkilis, and this guy …

Though Ellsbury had 2 decent years with the Yanks (WARs of 3.6 and 2.8), he was unbelievable with the Sox. I’m talking leading the league in steals 3 times, all sorts of fielding crowns, and an AL Comeback Player of the Year Award as well. That’s nothing, though, compared to his 2011. And there I’m talking about an All-Star berth, a Golden Glove, a Silver Slugger award, and finishing 2nd in MVP voting.

With the Yankees? Not so much.

#8 – Dave LaPoint (2.6)

Dave LaPoint was a fairly average junkballer who came to the Yanks for 2 definitely sub-average seasons in the 1980s. They would release him with one year still left on his contract. And that’s about that.

#7 – Carl Pavano (2.63)

Hard to believe, but Carl Pavano was one of the most sough-after pitchers in the 2004 offseason. He had just come off an 18-win season and was just 28 years old. He had also outdueled Roger Clemens in Game 4 of the World Series, giving up just 1 run in 8 strong innings. 

And the Yankees love nothing more than signing the guy that just beat ‘em. I figure it’s always been a case of, if you can’t beat ‘em ... buy ‘em. 

Too bad it was then 4 years primarily on the DL. For their $40 million, the Bombers got 26 starts, 9 wins, and an ERA over 5.00. With some iffy injuries and some questioning of his toughness by the media, he was also not exactly a fan favorite.

He would later sign with the Indians, then play 4 final years with the Twins, going 17-11 for them in 2010.

#6 – Pascual Perez (3.0)

Here’s our first signing that got a GM fired. Yup, this was what was behind the swapping out of Harding Peterson for Gene Michael.

You gotta admit, though, it was a pretty risky move. Though with tons of talent, Perez was also incredibly inconsistent. I’m talking records of 12-8, 14-8, and 15-8, but also of 9-13 and 1-13. He would go 3-6 in the Bronx over 2 years, with under a 100 innings pitched.

Perez was also a major flake. His nickname was “Orbit,” and the stories are absolutely endless. Oh, he also had a nasty cocaine habit too. 

#5 – Steve Kemp (3.2)

Steve who? And, no, I do not mean the musician or the trade unionist (but thanks for disambiguating that for me, Wikipedia).

Steve Kemp (the baseball player) was the 1st player picked in the 1976 draft, by Detroit. He had a couple of good seasons for them, topping 20 homers and 100 RBIs twice, hitting .300 one season, and making it to one All-Star Game.

His 2 years with the Yanks were totally forgettable, though, with him finishing with season averages of less than 10 homers and less than 50 RBIs. I’m sure getting nailed by an errant fly ball in batting practice and needing reconstructive facial surgery didn’t exactly help any.

#4 – Kenny Rogers (3.53)

Kenny Rogers had a pretty decent baseball career. He played 20 years, won over 200 games, was a 5-time Gold Glover and a 4-time All Star, and also pitched a perfect game.

And none of that was with Yankees. With them for only 2 years, he finished barely over .500, and with an ERA over 5.00. It wasn’t pretty in the postseason either. I’m talking 3 starts, 7 innings, and an ERA of 14.14.

A genuine hot head and not terribly likable fellow, Rogers fought with the press, his teammates, and manager Joe Torre. "He was uncomfortable here," admitted Torre to The New York Times.

#3 – Andy Hawkins (3.7)

Hoo boy, talk about uncomfortable. Andy Hawkins grew up on a ranch in Texas, then began his career with a 7-year stint with the very small-market San Diego Padres. 

So, why not sign for a gazillion bucks with the biggest media market on the planet? No pressure, right?

You know where this is headed, don’t you? Yup, 20-29 record and an ERA over 5.00 over 3 years in pinstripes. And, because the Yanks kinda sucked during this period, no postseason outings either. In fact, the Yanks managed to once “support” Hawkins by committing 3 errors, scoring no runs, and making him take a 0-4 loss while he tossed an 8-inning no-hitter for them.

#2 – Dave Collins (3.9)

For the 1982 season, George Steinbrenner had a vision that the Bombers should ditch their homer-happy template of years past, and get themselves some speed. So, out with Reggie Jackson and in with this guy …

Dave Collins actually had some genuine wheels. Over his career, he would finish 5 SBs short of 400, and would steal 79 in a season two years before he came to the Yankees (with Cincinnati). 

His one year with New York, however, would see him struggle to get into double digits (13). Once out of the Big Apple and back safe in another small market (Toronto, this time), he would nab 60 in a single year.

The New York Daily News calls the Collins signing “a symbol of a George Steinbrenner at his manic worst.”

#1 – Ed Whitson (5.88)

The Yankees had actually had a fair amount of success stealing players from the lowly Pads. You remember Hall of Famers Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield now, don’t you?

That’s also, however, where Andy Hawkins came from (see above), as well as this guy. In fact, Hawkins and Whitson were kind of two peas in a pod. Whitson, was also a country boy (from Johnson City, TN), with extensive experience with small-market teams (Pittsburgh, in addition to San Diego).

And things went south for Whitson as well – in a New York minute. Whitson’s problem may have had less to do with New York, though, than with one New Yorker in particular – his manager, Billy Martin. Yankee fans would side with Martin, though, booing Whitson mercilessly, and regularly phoning in death threats (even when he went back to the NL and pitched at Shea!).

Whitson summed it all very well himself: “Some people can handle it, and some people can't. It can be pretty overwhelming for a guy coming out of a small hometown and smaller media markets.”

Whitson did, however, manage to break Martin’s arm in a fight

You may have some other names in mind – Tartabull, Contreras, the Big Unit, Irabu, Mel Hall, Jaret Wright, Burnett, Spike Owen, Giambi, Clemens – but those guys actually weren’t all that bad .. according to my calculations at least.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Most Cinderella Final Four

So, I don’t know about your bracket, but mine’s pretty trashed. In fact, the whole left side is pretty much all X’s.

I mean, a 16 beats a 1, an 11 beats a 3, a 9 a 1, another 11 over a 3 … This has to be the biggest upset tournament ever, right? Well, let’s just see about that.


Now, there’s a coupla ways to do this. The easiest, though, is just to focus on the Final Four. In particular, let’s just add up all the seeds for every team in the FF. You know, a 4 means 4 number 1’s. Four 16’s means a 64. So, what’s that give us?

NOTE:  I’m limiting myself to the open tournament era only. 64-game tournaments actually only go back to 1985, a mere 34 years. It just wouldn’t be apples to apples if I tried to extend it further back.


Least what? Er, least upset-y? Um, interesting? Why, cinderelly, of course!

Believe it or not, there was once a Final Four with 4 #1’s. Yup, 2008 – UNC, UCLA, Kansas, and Memphis. Zzzzzz …

The most interesting storyline that year was Steph Curry almost leading his #10 Davidson Wildcats to the FF.


So, what’s normal? What can we compare ourselves to? 

Well, that would be an 11. Oddly, only 2 tournaments out of 34 have hit that number on the nose. And those were:

  • 1996 – Massachusetts (1), Kentucky (1), Syracuse (4), Mississippi St. (5)
  • 2005 – UNC (1), Illinois (1), Louisville (4), Michigan St. (5)

2005 started out great, with Bucknell beating Kansas, and Vermont defeating Syracuse.


So, this one was actually closer to the average than I ever thought it would be. And, yes, even though 1 team – Loyola of Chicago, who last made it to the FF in 1963 – had 11 whole points itself. Unfortunately, the other 3 were a 3 (Michigan) and 2 1’s (Kansas and Villanova). Total: 16.

If only Florida State had won. That would have gotten us over 20. In fact, if all the right teams had won in the Elite 8, that would have given us 25. Interestingly, though, that would not have set the record.

Sister Jean!


2011 had something of a split personality. On the one hand, you had your usual suspects – Uconn at a 3, and Kentucky at a 4. On the other hand, you had a 8, Butler, and an 11, VCU. Only 3 Final Fours have not featured a #1 seed – 2011, 2006, and 1980. Total: 26.

By the way, 11 is the lowest seed to ever make it to the FF. In addition to VCU and Loyola-Chicago this year, LSU (1986) and George Mason (2006) also made it to the final weekend. None, though, ever made it past Saturday.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Best True Crime by State II

Last week, Alabama thru Massachusetts. This week, Michigan thru Wyoming, with a nod to Washington DC. Read on!

Michigan – Andrew Kehoe

Our first mad bomber. And also a reminder that crazies were targeting elementary schools long before the days of assault rifles.

Andrew Kehoe was a gentleman farmer and local politician in tiny Bath, MI. Always a bit on the odd side, Kehoe finally snapped when the mortgage on his farm was foreclosed. He wired up the local elementary school with hundreds of pounds of explosives then blew it all (including himself) to kingdom come. Final death toll: 44.

Minnesota – Carl Panzram

Carl Panzram was a small-time crook who was in and out of jails starting at age 11. His career in homicide came only after he burglarized the home of former president William Howard Taft. The proceeds of that crime allowed him to live large, even buying a yacht, which he would use to lure sailors to their death, then dump their bodies out at sea. 

With the money gone and the yacht wrecked, he then made his way to the African country of Angola, where he raped and killed young boys, feeding their corpses to the crocodiles. 

He then returned to the US, where he continued burglary and murder. He was finally caught and sent to Leavenworth, but managed to kill one of the workers there, finally prompting his execution. His only regret before his hanging was that he was “unable to murder the whole damned human race.” 

Mississippi – Jacqueline Levitz

Jacqueline Levitz (nee Broadway) grew up poor on a small cotton farm, one of 9 children. A former beauty queen, she married well and made some serious money in real estate. After her 3rd husband (a furniture tycoon) passed away, she left her life as a Palm Beach socialite to return to her roots in Vicksburg.

And then she just disappeared. The house she was living in and refurbishing did, however, have several clues – signs of a violent struggle, small random blood stains, and a major bloodstain on a mattress that had been subsequently turned over. Alas, however, no corpus delecti. The case remains unsolved to this day.

Missouri – Robert Berdella (“The Butcher of Kansas City” / “The Collector”)

Robert Berdella was kind of a KC version of Jeffrey Dahmer (see Wisconsin, below). Same young male victims. Same torture. Same sex slaves. Same dismemberment of the victims. Same escapee who lived to tell the tale and finger the perpetrator. 

The only differences were that cannibalism was out and Satanism was in. Like Dahmer, Berdella would also die in prison, but of a heart attack rather than at the hand of another prisoner.

Montana – The Unabomber

Undoubtedly America’s most famous mad bomber, Ted Kaczynski notched 3 kills and 23 maimings over 17 years. A Harvard grad, PhD, and former Berkeley professor, Kaczynski somehow went a little off the rails. The first manifestation of that was moving to the wilds of Montana to live as a recluse. 

The second came when he began his bombing career, targeting airlines, computer stores, universities, and companies and organization with anti-environmentalist records. This was all a manifestation of his deep misgivings (okay, paranoid delusions) about technology. 

In fact, he would ultimately be found out only when the NY Times agreed to publish a 35,000-word neo-Luddite manifesto of his. His brother, noting numerous similarities in ideas and writing style with letters Ted had sent him, was the one who turned him in. 

Nebraska – Charlie Starkweather

No spree murderer has ever caught the attention of America quite like Charlie Starkweather. 

A troubled and not-too-bright kid with a major chip on his shoulder, Starkweather dropped out of school and got a job as a garbage man (though he thought of himself as the next James Dean).

At the same time, he fell in love with a 13-year old, Caril Ann Fugate … whose family did not exactly encourage his attentions. His first killing came when he became enraged at a gas station owner who would not give him credit to buy her a stuffed animal. 

The real spree took off about a month later, starting with Caril’s parents and her 2-year-old stepsister. The two would then go on a multi-state, month-long homicidal road trip, with a final body count of 11.

The story would inspire the major movies Badlands, Kalifornia, and Natural Born Killers; music by Bruce Springsteen; and the writing career of Stephen King.

Nevada – Stephen Paddock

This one is a little too recent – and a lot too tragic – but it’ll have to do. Nothing in Nevada seems to come close.

I think we all know the story. A millionaire gambler and gun nut barricades himself in a swanky hotel room on the Strip then opens fire on concert goers, killing 58. Here are a few things you may not know about him though:

  • His father was on the FBI’s most wanted list
  • He habitually slept all day and was awake all night
  • He lived in a retirement community
  • He was a pilot and owned two planes
  • His home computer had hundreds of images of child pornography

New Hampshire – Pamela Smart

What could be more tabloid than a female high school teacher who seduces one of her students, then gets him and 3 of his buddies to off her hubby? Not too surprisingly, the trial for this one was very popular indeed. And Wikipedia lists almost 2 dozen books, TV shows, and movies dedicated to the case. 

Sentenced to life in prison without parole, Smart’s stint there has been almost as eventful as her trial. In particular, Smart has been the victim of a severe beating by other prisoners, an alleged rape by a prison guard, and the release of provocative photos by the National Enquirer.

New Jersey – Lindberg Kidnapping

The original “crime of the century,” this case had everything. The most famous man in America (if not the world), an adorable toddler, no arrest for over 6 months, an illegal immigrant perp with a sinister German accent, a sensational trial … 

The perp, Richard Hauptman, would die in the electric chair, though there are still questions about his guilt. Charles Lindbergh would go on to tarnish his fame in flying across the Atlantic solo with involvement in fascist causes. Anne Morrow Lindbergh would write 13 books, winning several awards, and garnering honorary degrees from a number of colleges. The ashes of Charles Lindbergh Jr., “Little Lindy,” would be scattered in the Atlantic.

New Mexico – David Parker Ray (“The Toy Box Killer”)

The “toy box” was a truck trailer that Ray equipped with instruments of torture. Somehow, one of his would-be victims escaped, ending his run of almost 50 years and possibly 60 women. 

Oddly, that run involved several accomplices, including 2 women, one of whom was his daughter. In addition, 4 different women agreed to marry him.

Ray is currently serving a 224-year prison sentence.

New York – Son of Sam

There’s no shortage of famous murders and murderers in the Empire State. Jack Henry Abbott, Ronald DeFeo (of Amityville Horror fame), Albert Fish, Joel Rifkin, Arthur Shawcross, Harry Thaw (who murdered architect Stanford White), Joel Steinberg …

It’s pretty hard to top David Berkowitz though. For a long summer in 1976, he kept the Big Apple in a constant state of tension. His MO was to sneak up on couples parking, then blow them away. This was compounded by taunting, rambling, deranged and very sinister letters he would send in to the papers. 

When caught, he claimed that his landlord’s dog had been telling him to kill (hence his self-given moniker “Son of Sam”). He would be judged competent, however, and is now spending the rest of his life behind bars. Interestingly, he now claims to be a born-again Christian, and prefers to go by the nickname “Son of Hope.”

North Carolina – Jeffrey McDonald

Imagine it …  The year is 1970. A Princeton grad, doctor, and Green Beret, currently stationed at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, awakens to find his family being slaughtered by a gang of crazy hippies, seemingly patterning themselves after the Manson family. Somehow, he survives, though is knocked unconscious. When he awakens, he calls the base police, who rush over to the scene of slaughter.

Pretty horrific and sensational, right? Now, imagine that it was the good doctor himself who did it. Wow! 

Next, imagine a sensational trial, where the guy actually gets off. Finally, imagine a second trial, held 5 years later, in which he is convicted.

Hard to believe, huh? And this is why true crime is always better than any crime fiction.

North Dakota – The Wolf Family

It all started over a dog biting somebody’s cow. 

Henry Layer had come over to talk to neighbor Jacob Wolf about the incident. Wolf, however, met him with a shotgun. A struggle then ensued, with Layer wrestling the gun away from Wolf, but with Wolf’s wife and an errand boy getting shot in the process. Layer would then shoot Wolf and hunt down the remaining 5 members of the family, all children. 
The only survivor was a 9-month old in her crib. I guess she was just too young to be a reliable witness.

Ohio – Sam Sheppard

Sam Sheppard was kind of like a 50s version of Jeffrey McDonald. 

In Sheppard’s case, though, we’ve got a neurosurgeon, who blamed a shadowy “bushy-haired man,” and stopped his killing with his wife (leaving their 7-year-old sleeping in the next room). 

What’s most interesting about the Shepherd case, however, was what happened after he was convicted. First, F. Lee Bailey got the conviction overturned, after Sheppard had spent 6 years in prison. Next, Sheppard was declared innocent after a retrial. Finally, he ended his days rather ignominiously, including a stint as a professional wrestler and then drinking himself to death at age 43.

Oklahoma – Nannie Doss (“The Giggling Grandma”)

As you can tell from her nickname, Nannie Doss was an unlikely candidate for a serial killer. She did, however, fit the classic profile of a “black widow,” poisoning relatives (including 4 husbands, 2 of her own children, and a grandchild) to collect insurance. She was also definitely a “lonely hearts” killer as well, finding 3 of her husbands that way.

Though she had moved all around the South and Plains, Nannie was only caught when she poisoned husband number four, in Tulsa, where she would be tried and convicted as well. She became very popular with the press for her sunny disposition, constant smile, great quotes, and – yes – giggling.

Oregon – Diane Downs

People in Oregon seem to behave themselves better than their neighbors to the North. I really had to dig to find this one.

Diane Downs was basically Susan Smith (see South Carolina, below) 10 years ahead of time. Downs was a bible college dropout, mail carrier, divorced mother of 3, and pretty darn attractive (also helpful for a female murderer). Hoping to get rid of the kids so she could make herself more attractive to her married lover, she staged a carjacking, shooting all of her children but only killing one. 

She shot herself as well, but her calm demeanor, strange story, odd behavior, and inept staging gave her away almost immediately. Her story would be later make it into an Anne Rule book.

Pennsylvania – Ira Einhorn (“The Unicorn Killer”)

Ira Einhorn was a ‘60s activist who claimed to have created Earth Day. When his beautiful live-in girlfriend of 4 years left him for someone else, he lured her back to his apartment, where he killed her and stuffed her body in a trunk. Eighteen months later, police found her. 

Out on bail courtesy of the Bronfman family (who own Seagram’s), Einhoen skipped out and escaped to Europe, where he hid successfully for 16 years.  He was finally traced to France, where his extradition was a major cause celebre.

The nickname? “Einhorn” is German for “unicorn.”

Rhode Island – Craig Price (“The Slasher of Warwick”)

Known as America’s youngest serial killer, Craig Price committed his first murder when he was only 13. He waited until he was 15 before he killed again, slaying a family of 3. All were neighbors. Overkill seemed to be a prominent MO, with victims being stabbed 30, 57, 58, and 60 times.

He was arrested right before his 16th birthday and, subsequently, tried as a minor. Unfortunately, that also meant he would get out when he turned 21. Not exactly a model prisoner, however, Price wracked up multiple assaults and also shanked a guard – pretty much guaranteeing he won’t be seeing daylight again until his 40s.

South Carolina – Susan Smith

I remember this one like it was yesterday. It didn’t happen too far from where I live, so it was constantly in the news.

It also had “true crime” written all over it. A young, attractive mother of 2 boys from a two-bit Southern town falls in love with the son of the local mill owner, a man who happened to have no interest in a woman with children. Concocting one of the most evil schemes ever, she drove to a nearby lake, strapped the boys into their car seats, drove the car into a lake, and then claimed a “black man” had carjacked them. The nation waited anxiously for a little over a week for news of the victims before Smith confessed.

South Dakota – Daphne Wright

I’m not sure there’s enough people in this state to even have a murder, let alone a famous one.

Well, then, how about a love triangle between some deaf lesbians? Heck, that would be unusual even for California.

Now, let’s add a little chain saw action in there. Et voila! South Dakota all of a sudden is up there with the big boys.

Tennessee – Holly Bobo

Holly Bobo was a particularly cute 20-year-old who one day went missing from her small hometown of Darden. Her remains were found 5 months later, complete with a gunshot wound to the back of the skull.

As horrific as the crime was, it was nothing compared to the investigation and trial. Though an agreement was made with one suspect and another copped an Alford plea, the ineptitude and heavy-handedness of the investigators and prosecuting team led many to believe that both were innocent.

Texas – Charles Whitman

Charles Whitman is our first real sniper killer. On August 1, 1966, he ascended the University of Texas tower with a small arsenal and opened fire. Well barricaded inside, his onslaught went on for an hour and a half. And let’s not forget his mother, wife, and 3 people he met on the way to the top of the tower. Total: 17 dead, 31 wounded.

Since the ol’ US of A wasn’t quite used to this sort of thing way back then, this incident had considerable punch, and was even compared to the JFK assassination (what is it about you Texans?). Give it a couple of years, though, and this sort of thing would be old hat.

Whitman was particularly interesting in that he had a genius level IQ, had been an altar boy, was an Eagle Scout, and served in the Marines. A popular figure, he was the inspiration for works by such leading lights as John Berryman, Peter Bogdanovich, Harry Chapin, Tom Waits, Kinky Friedman, and Insane Clown Posse.

Utah – Gary Gilmore

This one is courtesy of Norman Mailer. If it wasn’t for his book The Executioner’s Song (which won a Pulitzer), nobody would have heard of this guy.

So, what did Gilmore actually do? It actually wasn’t all that much. During two C-store robberies, he gratuitously shot the employees in charge in the head after he had them lie down on the floor. Prior to that, he had been a petty criminal and in and out of various institutions since he was 15.

His main claim to fame seemed to be his desire to be executed. Seeing as there had not been an execution in the US in almost 10 years, his turned out to be quite a big deal. His last words were, “Let’s do it.” Gilmore elected to be executed by firing squad.

Vermont – Emeline Meaker (“The Duxbury Murderess”)

Even from that nickname, you can tell this is going to be a Victorian one. Sure enough, this crime dates from 1883. 

Turns out Emeline’s husband had agreed to take in a niece of his so that the niece wouldn’t have to go into an orphanage. It also turns out that Emeline was not too crazy about the idea – and not too crazy about the niece either. 

After beating and starving the poor thing, Emeline finally decided to do away with her altogether. Enlisting her own son in the plot, the two took the niece to a secluded spot and then forcibly fed her strychnine.

I’m afraid that’s it. Vermont is just too small, peaceful (and probably cold) for much more action than that. In fact, Emeline is one of only two women (and the first) to have been executed by the state.

Virginia – Seung-Hui Cho

It’s hard to believe this was 10 years ago. I guess with all the school shootings these days, 
they just all kind of blend together.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, Cho perpetrated the “Virginia Tech Massacre.” In particular, he took out 32 students and staff in the space of two and a half hours, firing 170 shots.

Here are a few interesting facts, though, that you may not remember, or have even heard of before. In particular, did you know that Cho was:

  • A South Korean national
  • A Christian
  • An English major
  • Kicked out of a poetry class by well-known poet Nikki Giovanni because of his “menacing” behavior

Washington –  Ted Bundy / Gary Ridgway

Our first tie. 

In the Bundy camp, we’ve got the epitome of the slick, handsome psychopath. There are also the attractive victims, the multiple escapes, and Ted’s gig as his own lawyer (yup, he was a law student – oh, for about a semester). On the downside, there is the fact that most of his murders occurred outside the state (as well as his execution). Yup, ol’ Ted spread the 
love around – WA, ID, CO, UT, and FL. 

As for Ridgway, we’ve got more victims, with all of them in the Evergreen State. We’ve also got quite the manhunt – one that lasted almost 20 years. Charisma-wise, though, poor Garry was pretty much a non-starter.

Yup, definitely a tie.


West Virginia – Harry Powers (“The Killer from Quiet Dell”)

“Lonely heart” killers are usually female. There are, however, some males as well, typically called “bluebeards.” As for them, Harry Powers undoubtedly takes the prize. 

He was convicted of the murder of 2 women and 3 children, but may have been responsible for many more. Or, as Powers put it, “You've got me on five, what good would fifty more do?" 

Power’s operation came with a “laboratory,” where he gassed his victims then beat them with a hammer. All in the lovely little town of Quiet Dell, WV.

A few more Powers factoids:

  • He was actually from the Netherlands, and was born Herman Drenth.
  • He came very close to being lynched
  • His story was the basis of the Robert Mitchum flick The Night of the Hunter

Wisconsin – Ed Gein / Jeffrey Dahner

Another tie. In fact, these two might be the top duo out there.

In this corner, we’ve got Ed Gein, the “Plainfield Ghoul.” Gein was only convicted of two murders, but may have exhumed dozens of bodies. With them, he fashioned all sorts of arts and crafts – bowls made out of human skulls, nipple belts, lampshades and wastebaskets made from human skin, and – the piece de resistance – a body suit made out of a skinned female, which Gein would put on and prance around in. Judged insane, he would die in the local loony bin at age 77. He was, of course, the source of the Norman Bates character in Psycho.

And in the other corner, we’ve got the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” Jeffrey Dahmer. He was responsible for 17 murders, almost all of young, gay men. Dahmer’s MO included dismemberment, necrophilia, and  cannibalism. He was famous for storing heads in his refrigerator. Judged sane (?!?!), he was given 15 life sentences, but was murdered in prison 2 years later. 

Must be something in the cheese.


Wyoming – Polly Bartlett (“The Murderess of Slaughterhouse Gulch”)

The Bartlett family were quite the entrepreneurs. Moving from Ohio, they opened an inn on the Oregon Trail, at South Pass. In addition to taking in lodgers, the family also fed them strychnine-laced steaks, then buried them in the back and cashed in their savings. 

Polly and her father seemed to be heart of the operation. Forced to go on the lam, Pop was shot and Polly was jailed. Her days ended when someone blasted a shotgun through her cell window.

DC – John Allen Muhammad & Lee Boyd Malvo 

It was an ingenious setup. The sniper would sit in a nest made out of the trunk of a Chevy Caprice (with a little loophole right above the license plate). The spotter would ID a victim, watch to make sure they were hit, then jump in the front and get the hell outta Dodge.

The targets were people just going about their business – pumping gas, loading groceries into their cars, waiting at the bus stop. In other words, easy pickins for a well-concealed marksman with a Bushmaster rifle.

The spotter was one John Allen Muhammad, a former Army sharpshooter and convert to Islam. The sniper was Lee Boyd Malvo, a 17-year-old Muhammad had picked up in the Caribbean. The two had an odd father-son, perhaps Svengali-Trilby, -like relationship.

Needless to say, the two had the DC area (and the nation) on edge for a good 3 weeks. Malvo would, however, leave clues that would eventually lead the police to the two, sleeping in their Caprice at a Maryland rest stop.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Best True Crime by State I

True crime is one of my guilty pleasures. I love the page-turner aspect, the lurid details, the drama of the investigation and trial, and even the assurance that, in the end, crime doesn’t pay and the bad guy gets his just deserts.

I’ve also found that it shines a rather surprising light on a particular time and place. I always wanted to put together my own take on “crimes of the decades.” Since I’m such a geography nerd, though, I thought I’d start by taking a look at the best murders and murderers out there by state. 

By the way, I am excluding political assassinations, mob hits, and terrorist attacks. Those are kind of their own genres.

Alabama – Amy Bishop

Amy Bishop is probably the only Harvard PhD on this list. This assistant professor at the Univ. of Alabama Huntsville calmly opened fire at a biology department meeting after having been previously denied tenure. 3 dead, 3 wounded.

In addition to some odd behavior that let to her being denied tenure in the first place, a look at Dr. Bishop’s past revealed her killing a younger brother with a shotgun while in her 20s, being questioned in a pipe bomb case, and assaulting a patron in an IHoP over a booster seat while yelling, “I am Dr. Amy Bishop!”

Reacting to the victims’ families’ request that she not be executed, Bishop pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment. She currently resides at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama (where she has gained some notoriety for attacking guards and other inmates).

Alaska – Robert Hansen (the “Butcher Baker”)

Ever read the story “The Most Dangerous Game”? It’s about a mad Russian aristocrat who hunts humans on his private island in the Caribbean.

And that’s what Ronald Hansen did … but in the Alaska wilderness, with prostitutes. He was responsible for 17 deaths overall. 

Hansen was one of profiler Roy Hazlewood’s major coups. He described Hansen to a T – an experienced hunter, who had been rejected by women, and – get this! – had a stutter. After one of Hansen’s victims escaped, it was easy to tie him to the rest of his crimes. 

The nickname? Hansen was indeed a baker.

Arizona – Jodi Arias

Apologies to Jared Lee Loughner (and his super creepy booking photo), but Jodi Arias is pretty hard to beat. A drop-dead gorgeous babe who also happened to be an obvious psychopath, Arias brutally murdered her boyfriend in a jealous rage. Though she claimed self-defense, the overkill aspect of the murder – as well as previous stalking behavior, lots of circumstantial evidence, and tons of convoluted lies on her part – were very hard to overcome. Nonetheless, the nation was glued to the TV for the whole circus of trial and nightly analysis.

Arkansas – Ronald Gene Simmons

Our first spree killer, Ronald Gene Simmons went a little crazy one week back in 1987. Starting out with 14 members of his own family, he then went on to kill a former colleague and a stranger.

In the military for 20 years, Simmons earned a Bronze Star and a medal from the Republic of Vietnam. After his military career was over, though, things didn’t go quite so well. After being investigated for fathering a child with one of his own daughters, he fled to the woods of Arkansas, where he built a ramshackle compound for his family. Not sure exactly what made him snap.

Fulfilling his express wishes, the state of Arkansas put him to death by lethal injection.

California – Manson Family

You know you’ve got to really be on top of your game to make #1 in this state. I mean, I’m talking the Zodiac Killer, the Hillside Strangler, the Menendez brothers, OJ, James Huberty … 

No one’s gonna top ol’ Charlie though. Probably the creepiest set of murders around, these nasties combine cult aspects, hippies, Hollywood, massive pop culture references, and one of the most purely evil people ever. Overall, Manson was responsible for 10 deaths. Rest in Hell, amigo.

Colorado – JonBenet Ramsay

Colorado has a surprising number of famous killings – Colombine, James Holmes, the Donner Party, the Adolph Coors III kidnapping, the United Airlines bombing …

This one, though, has true crime written all over it. A rich family, some genuine mystery, the super-creepy pedophile overtones, hints of an inside job and a cover up … It’s still officially unsolved. I definitely have my own theory though.

Connecticut – Adam Lanza

This one is so sad (and so recent), I really debated including it. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot going on in the Nutmeg State otherwise.

You probably know the story … First, he shot his mother, with one of her own weapons from a considerable home armory. He then headed to his former elementary school, where he killed 20 1st graders and 6 adults. He then killed himself.

One thing that I’m not sure that really came out when all this went down was how deeply disturbed Lanza was:
  • He may have had autism, sensory-integration disorder, obsessive-compulsive order, depression, anorexia, and schizophrenia
  • No one was allowed into his room, whose windows were covered with black trash bags
  • He communicated with his mother, who he lived with, only through email
  • Just prior to the shooting, his whole life basically centered around violent video games and chat rooms dedicated to mass shootings

Delaware – Thomas Capano

Finally, someone who is far away from recent national news. Of course, Delaware is home to only, like, 25 people, so that’s not too surprising. 

It is a good one though. Capano came from a wealthy, well-connected family. A lawyer, he was also a rising political star, having served as Wilmington’s city attorney, a counsel to the governor, and deputy attorney general for the state.

He also had a mistress, Anne Marie Fahey, who worked as appointments director for the governor, and came from a prominent family herself. When she wanted to ditch him for someone else, Capano killed her and then dumped her body (which was never found) in the Atlantic. Two of Capano’s brothers helped him dispose of the body and additional incriminating evidence.

The story’s the theme of several books, including one by Ann Rule, and a number of TV shows, movies, and documentaries as well.

Florida – Aileen Wuornos

The Sunshine State is full of famous killers. Murderpedia lists more than 500 of them.

Aileen, though, is pretty darn unique. First of all, there’s just not that many female serial killers out there. Second, her tale of offing her johns (she was a prostitute) is just too lurid. 

Finally, her upbringing was truly horrific. The daughter of a schizophrenic pedophile who she never met and his 15-year-old bride, Wuornos would be abandoned at age 4. Raised by grandparents, she was subsequently sexually abused by her grandfather and brother. She started turning tricks at age 11, gave up a baby for adoption at 14, and was turned out of her grandparents’ home at age 15. 

Needless to say, all of this was ripe for some major story-telling. In fact, Charlize Theron actually won an Oscar for her portrayal of Wuornos in the film Monster.

Georgia – Wayne Williams

The Atlanta Child Murders involved the deaths of 28 African-American children, adolescents, and young adults in the span of 2 years, from 1979 to 1981. It was mostly known for the amount of controversy surrounding it, from the murders, through Williams’ trial, to his subsequent conviction. Williams was actually convicted of only 2 of the murders.  “It’s 10:00 pm.  Do you know where your children are?”

And, yes, I was torn between this one and the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil killing.

Hawaii – Grace Fortescue

Yup, there’s murder even in paradise. 

Grace Hubbard Bell Fortescue was a wealth socialite related to the Roosevelts and to the family of Alexander Graham Bell. She moved to Hawaii after her husband, one Major Granville Fortescue, retired from the Army. 

There, her daughter Thalia got into a DUI incident with some locals (she was the drunk), who she later claimed had raped her. The trial, complete with juicy rumors about degenerate aristocrats (and lots of racism), resulted in a mistrial.

Taking matters into her own hands, Grace arranged to have some sailors rough up several of the defendants. Things got a little carried away, though, and one of them ended up dead. The subsequent trial for that killing was nearly as sensational, but did result in charges of manslaughter. These were later commuted to 1-hour sentences.

Idaho – Lyda Trueblood

People in Idaho must behave themselves. Well, it’s either that or there just aren’t that many people there. I had to really dig to come up with this one.

Lyda Trueblood was a classic “black widow” killer. These are women who poison multiple spouses and family members to collect on insurance claims. In Lyda’s case, she accounted for 4 husbands, 1 brother-in-law, and 1 child. 

She also managed to escape from prison, get married, and stay on the lam for over a year before the jilted former lover who had helped her escape subsequently turned her in.

Illinois – John Wayne Gacy 

Illinois is a pretty big state. So, it’s not too surprising that they’ve got their fair shar of the big ones -Leopold and Loeb, HH Holmes, Richard Speck …

It’s pretty hard to compete with the Killer Clown himself though. John Wayne Gacy is one of the creepiest killers out there, and also serves as the perfect template of the upstanding member of the community who has some skeletons buried in the basement. In Gacy’s case, there were 29 of them, all teenaged boys that he lured to his home for gay sex, then tortured and killed.

On the upstanding side, Gacy was married with 3 children, managed 3 KFCs, was an award-winning Jaycee, organized Chicago’s Polish parade, and was a Democratic precinct captain. 

And then, of course, there’s his career as a clown (at children’s parties, no less):

Indiana – Belle Gunness

Harold Schechter, one of my favorite true crime authors, has just penned a book about Belle. I’m #8 on the reserve list for it at my local library.

Belle Gunness was that very rare animal – a violent female serial killer. Further, she was active in the early 1900s, when most female murderers were much more apt to be putting strychnine in their relatives’ tea (though she did her share of that as well).

On the other hand, Belle was one of the well-known “lonely hearts” types, luring in men through lonely hearts ads, doing them in, then cashing in on their funds. Oh, and by the way, that “doing in” involved splitting their heads open with a meat cleaver, then chopping them up and feeding them to the hogs.

She supposedly left town before her farm was burned down by a disgruntled former farmhand (though she may have also been one of his victims). “Sightings” were made of her for years after – she was something of the Elvis of her day.

Yup, she killed all 3

Iowa – Villisca

Hey, our first unsolved one. Well, unless you accept Bill James’ argument in The Man from the Train that is.

Villisca is a tiny burg in the middle of absolute nowhere. There, in the middle of the night of June 10, 1912, someone hacked to death the 6-member Moore family and 2 of their house guests. There were several suspects, but none of them very convincing.

By the way, you can stay the night in the house. In fact, you can have the whole place to yourself, for a mere $428.

Kansas – Dennis Rader 

I really wanted to put the In Cold Blood murders here (I mean, Truman Capote did a pretty good job on that one, didn’t he?). And then there’s the fascinating case of the Bender family (look ‘em up, if you’ve never heard of them).

But ol’ BTK (for “bind, torture, kill,” of course) is pretty hard to beat. I mean, you’ve got your upstanding citizen type, you’ve got your taunting letters to the police, you’ve got unsolved crimes in the news for over 30 years. Both Thomas Harris and Stephen King based characters on him.

Kentucky – Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey is our first “angel of death.” This is one of those health care workers who you really don’t want caring for you, one who is as likely to kill you as to cure you.

Harvey held a number of different position (orderly, tech, nurse’s aide, diener) at several hospitals in Kentucky and Ohio. Over 17 years, he claimed to have killed 87. He poisoned his victims, suffocated them, and tampered with their equipment. Numbers-wise, he is the top killer in all of US history.

Louisiana – Delphine LaLaurie

Are you familiar with Elizabeth Bathory? She was a 16th Century Hungarian countess who got her jollies torturing and killing her serfs. She was known as the “Blood Countess.”

200-some years later, Delphine LaLaurie tried something very similar with her slaves. Though there had been plenty of rumors beforehand, the true extent of her crimes only came up when a fire broke out in her French Quarter mansion. LaLaurie would subsequently flee a mob of locals after her head, spending the rest of her days in Paris.

Maine – Isle of Shoals Murders

These are also known as the Smuttynose murders, after the particular island where the murders actually took place. The perpetrator was one Louis Wagner, a Prussian immigrant. The victims were a Norwegian family who had previously employed him. 

Wagner stole a rowboat on the mainland, rowed to the island, and then axed two of the family to death. Unable to find the hidden cache of loot he expected, he rowed back. The sole survivor hid all night in her nightgown and bare feet (it’s cold there in March), signaling a passing fishing boat at dawn, and then fingering Wagner.

The murder was the theme of the novel The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve. The Hurt Locker’s Katherine Bigelow also used it as the basis of a modern-day film with the same name.

Maryland – Erika & Benjamin Sifrit

Our first killer couple were an ex Navy SEAL and a former scholar athlete at a tony women’s college. They met up with another couple in Ocean City, invited them back to their condo, then shot and stabbed them – pretty much for the thrill of it and then with the added bonus of seeing if they could get away with it. They very well may have, if they hadn’t brought the other couple’s drivers licenses to an after-hours robbery at a Hooter’s (where they were caught). 

Massachusetts – Lizzie Borden

This one’s so famous it’s been made into a nursery rhyme. “And when she what she had done …”

What we need to remember about this one was that Lizzie was actually acquitted of the axe murder of her parents. She would remain in Fall River for the rest of her life (in pretty comfy circumstances). The trial was pretty much the 19th Century equivalent of OJ’s. 

The story has generated multiple books, novels, movies, songs, plays, and even an opera and a ballet.

Michigan through Wyoming and Washington DC next week.