book reviews, true crime

Reviewing John Glatt’s The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder…

One good thing about Bill’s business trips is that they frequently allow me to get a lot of reading done. Instead of hanging out with Bill at our kitchen table, listening to music and enjoying libations, I tend to work on my big virtual pile of books to be read. Bill is coming home today, so it’s fitting that I would finish reading my latest book in time for his arrival. This morning, I finished British-American true crime author John Glatt’s 2020 book, The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chris Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder. I’ve had this book in my virtual “to be read” pile for well over a year, having downloaded it in 2021. I have other books waiting that have been queued up for even longer than that!

The Perfect Father is the shocking and tragic story of Chris Watts and his devastating choice to murder his pregnant wife, Shannan, and their two daughters, Bella and Celeste (CeCe), on August 13, 2018. Like so many people, I was absolutely shocked by the callousness of this brutal crime, which left two families shattered and a man’s life ruined. As it is with these kinds of horrific events, evidence shows that the Watts family was headed for disaster for years. It did not have to end in murder. But, unfortunately, this was a case of two incompatible people who desperately needed to admit that their marriage wasn’t working and avail themselves of divorce court. Instead, Chris Watts lost control of himself. Now, his wife, two daughters, and unborn son are gone forever, and he will never again see the light of day as a free man.

I want to make it perfectly clear. I do not, in ANY way, condone what Chris Watts did. He definitely belongs in prison for the rest of his life. However… I do want to state that based on Glatt’s book, I can’t conclude that Watts is a complete monster. His actions absolutely were monstrous. But I like to think that the vast majority of people are better than their worst actions. That’s how I feel about this case, at least with the information I have at this point in time. I can see that I’m not the only person who feels this way.

Todd Grande’s take on this case… He admits it was difficult for him, too. He actually sounds a little shaken as he talks about this. Grande is usually a lot more glib when he introduces the cases he analyzes.

Chris Watts and his family…

Chris Watts was born to his parents, Ronnie and Cindy Watts, in Spring Lake, North Carolina on May 16, 1985. He was a quiet young man who enjoyed cars and mechanics. From a young age, he showed an aptitude for fixing things, and he grew up loving race cars. When he was still quite young, he got a job working for the local Ford dealership, where he developed a reputation for doing great work on cars. He had aspired to work as an elite auto mechanic, but that wasn’t in the cards. For years, Chris settled for working at Ford dealerships in North Carolina and Colorado, and then later for Andarko Petroleum in Frederick, Colorado.

Shannan Rzucek Watts, named after the doo wop group, Sha Na Na, was born to her parents, Frank and Sandi Rzucek in Passaic County, New Jersey on January 10, 1984. She grew up in Moore County, North Carolina, and was known for being a real go getter who liked nice things and the sweet life. By the time she was 25 years old, she owned what some might call a “McMansion”, which she built and decorated herself. Shannan was well known for being very friendly and sales motivated. Besides her human resources job at Anschutz Children’s Hospital in Colorado, Shannan was also a very successful independent sales representative for a multi-level marketing company that sold a product called Thrive.

Chris and Shannan met in North Carolina in 2010. They married on November 3, 2012 in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. Not long after their wedding, the two decided to move to Frederick, Colorado. Their oldest child, Bella Marie, was born on December 17, 2013, and their second child, Celeste Cathryn (known as CeCe), was born on July 17, 2015. At the time of her death, Shannan was 15 weeks with the couple’s unborn son, whom they had planned to call Nico Lee.

The build up…

By most accounts, Chris and Shannan Watts appeared to be a very solid family. Chris was described as a very nice, hard working, decent man. Shannan was known as extremely successful, goal oriented, and a devoted mother. The couple had a lot of friends, and appeared to be living the sweet life, as they drove expensive cars and lived in a beautiful, spacious, five bedroom home. Most people who knew the Wattses believed they were happy and highly functional. But, underneath the beautiful facade of their family life, the couple’s marriage was crumbling.

According to Glatt, who admittedly wrote his book without assistance from the Rzucek family, Shannan was obsessed with promoting a very successful image. In her opinion, that image must be formed by the trappings of success– a beautiful home, expensive cars, beautiful clothes, and glowing health. Chris Watts, by contrast, was much more introverted and low key. He took pleasure in simpler things, like camping out, long drives, and living more within his means.

From the beginning, it didn’t appear that this couple was particularly well matched to each other. Still, they put forth an image of success and financial wealth, as Shannan developed her business with Thrive. She convinced family and friends to use the health and wellness company’s products, which included transdermal patches. Shannan had a very active social media presence. Although Chris was less comfortable with the spotlight than Shannan was, she would use him to promote Thrive. Indeed, Chris became a success story, transforming his “dad bod” to a much buffer version. Shannan constantly posted videos of Chris on Facebook, even though he wasn’t particularly comfortable with the exposure.

Again, based solely on appearances, the couple appeared to be extremely well off and happy. But there were many problems. Shannan didn’t get along with Chris’s parents, especially his mother, to whom Chris was very close. They both had huge credit card debts. Shannan suffered from lupus, and their two daughters both had health problems that ran up huge medical bills. Yes, they looked like they were on top of the world, but the reality was that they were barely keeping afloat.

Chris and Shannan were drifting apart, never really stopping to be honest with each other to determine what would make the other happy. Shannan seemed to want Chris to take her side in all matters, including those involving his parents– and especially his mom, whom Shannan reportedly didn’t like at all. Chris’s response to his wife was to withdraw from her, rather than have a discussion about their failing marriage. Shannan responded by becoming angry, and involving a lot of unrelated and uninvolved people in their personal issues. Throughout the book, Glatt includes actual text messages, many of which Shannan sent to her friends, as if she was circling the wagons.

In the midst of all of this alienation, Chris met another woman. Nichol Kessinger also worked for Andarko Petroleum, and Chris was instantly attracted to her. He told her he and Shannan were separated, and the two commenced a torrid affair. Meanwhile, Shannan was obsessed with her business with Thrive and her third pregnancy, this time with a son. The couple was drowning in debt and had no love for each other. Chris Watts had moved on, but Shannan wanted to stay together… if only until their son was born.

Murder…

Shannan had handled all of the finances in the Watts marriage, so Chris would usually use a work credit card to pay for dates with Nichol Kessinger. One time, he used his joint card, and Shannan noticed the unusually high charge at a restaurant. Chris had been reticent about his unhappiness for a long time. In the early hours of August 13, 2018, the day Chris strangled his wife, the two had sex. Then she confronted him, and he told her he wanted a divorce.

Shannan’s angry response was the Chris would never see her or their daughters again. Then, Chris strangled her with his bare hands. As her mother lay lifeless, four year old Bella asked what was wrong with her mommy. It must have been then that Chris decided he would kill his daughters, too. Coldly and methodically, he loaded Shannan into his truck, as well as his daughters. It took 45 minutes for him to drive to his family’s final destination in a remote mine field. He buried Shannan in a shallow grave. Then, he smothered CeCe and Bella and dumped both of their bodies into separate oil tanks, where he hoped they’d never be found.

I might explain Chris’s decision to murder Shannan as motivated by rage. But he still had 45 minutes to calm down before he decided to kill his innocent daughters. I read in another source that Chris thought he might commit suicide, but ultimately changed his mind because– crazily enough– he was concerned about workers being hurt in the aftermath.

My thoughts

John Glatt usually does a pretty good job on his books. I think The Perfect Father is a good example of his typical work. This book is well written and researched, for the most part. Of course, it would have been better if he had gotten statements from Shannan’s family, who would have probably balanced out what some readers might think is a fairly sympathetic treatment of Chris Watts. Because the Rzuceks did not participate, this book may seem somewhat one-sided, and possibly unfair to Shannan. She is, quite frankly, portrayed as an abrasive, difficult, money and status hungry person who drove her husband to snap.

Now… God knows I know that such people exist in the world. I write about them all the time in this blog. However, as I mentioned up post, I don’t believe that most people are as bad as their worst actions. Surely, Shannan Watts had a lot going for her that may have been more appealing to a different man. She was legitimately successful as a Thrive representative, even though the couple’s finances were a disaster. And she was a conscientious mother, even if she was portrayed as a potential alienator.

I suspect that if Shannan and Chris had divorced, Shannan might have made things very difficult for him… but I don’t know that for sure. I can only go by Glatt’s description of her behaviors. By Glatt’s account, Shannan Watts comes off as very materialistic, controlling, and potentially narcissistic. If his account is accurate, I can understand how Chris Watts came to be enraged by her behavior. He probably felt despondent, like there was no hope for the future.

None of this means that Chris Watts had ANY right to murder his wife and children. The way he killed them and disposed of their remains was particularly cold hearted and cruel. But, up until he committed his crimes, he hadn’t seemed like a terrible person, at least not by Glatt’s account. Chris Watts apparently didn’t have a history of operating outside of the law. To me, it really does look like he was desperately unhappy, feeling trapped, and simply snapped. He had gone from being a supposedly solid, dependable guy to a cold-hearted, lying, psychopath, completely lacking in empathy and overcome with impulsiveness. I’m sure using Thrive– of which he was using two patches instead of the recommended one– wasn’t helpful, either. He was living an artificial life, that wasn’t the one he’d envisioned for himself. It seemed like there was a perfect storm of many horrific elements from both sides that came together at the worst time.

This is a heartbreaking story on many levels. I see some parallels to the Scott and Laci Peterson case, although unlike Scott Peterson, Chris Watts seems to have some remorse for what he did. And, I’m sorry to say, Shannan Watts did not seem to be as sympathetic a victim as Laci Peterson was. However, many components are similar… murder of a pregnant woman, infidelity, and an outwardly successful and happy appearance before tragedy struck.

It seems to me that the pursuit of the elusive “American Dream” has led to great sorrow for many who never quite get there. Those who are lucky only lose out financially. In this case, there was devastation on every level, affecting so many people. Chris Watts absolutely belongs in prison for the rest of his life for what he did. But I can’t help but wish that he had simply realized that there’s life after divorce and gotten one of those– long before Shannan got pregnant a third time. Or, better yet, held out for marriage to a woman with whom he was truly compatible. I’m sure he wishes that, too.

Amazingly enough, Glatt reports that there’s no shortage of fan mail to Chris Watts from admiring women… He also became friends with Jake Patterson, who kidnapped Jayme Closs after killing her parents, and help her captive for 88 days. Jake Patterson has since been transferred, but they used to be “neighbors” in prison and struck up a companionship. The mind boggles.

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true crime, wingnuts

Repost: Couple shocked when they are arrested after their baby dies of starvation…

Most of this post originally appeared on my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife on August 9, 2018. I am reposting it today, because I just don’t feel like writing anything fresh right now. I’m a little depressed today. This case has been updated, so I will offer what details I uncover about it, as of the present.

Shocked!  Shocked!  I tell you!

Meet Seth Welch and his wife, Tatiana Fusari of Solon Township, Kent County, Michigan.  Together, they are the 27 year old parents of three children, with a fourth evidently on the way.  Seth and Tatiana are currently sitting in jail.  Why?  Because one week ago, their ten month old daughter, Mary Welch, died of malnutrition and dehydration.  On August 2nd, Mary’s parents found her dead in her bed.

Mary was their third child and she had been failing to thrive.  Seth and Tatiana had noticed her “skinny” appearance and low weight for at least a month prior to Mary’s death.  Instead of taking her to a doctor, Seth and Tatiana decided to avoid seeking competent medical help for Mary.  They claim they did so for “religious reasons”, although Tatiana Fusari also said that they feared that child protective services would take their kids.  Their worst fears have come to pass.  The couple’s two older children are now in the care of their maternal grandparents and Seth and Tatiana are now charged with felony murder and first degree child abuse.

I first read about this couple on a site called LADbible.  I don’t generally like to use sites with obvious agendas as my primary sources, although it seems that author Mike Wood did a fair enough job reporting about this case.  The Washington Post has also printed an article about this couple who feared CPS more than losing their daughter to malnutrition and dehydration. 

Someone in the Duggar Family News: Life is not all pickles and hairspray group wrote that this couple is from their hometown.  Seth Welch is a farmer who also posted a number of video sermons against vaccines, “bad medicine”, and doctors whom he described as “priesthoods of the medical cult”.  He also has an 8 year old child from an earlier relationship and, according to his public Facebook page, his wife may be pregnant again.  ETA: As of 2023, that page is not working anymore.

Most damningly, Welch explains why he didn’t vaccinate his kids:

“It didn’t seem smart to me that you would be saving people who weren’t the fittest. If evolution believes in survival of the fittest, well then why are we vaccinating everybody? Shouldn’t we just let the weak die off and let the strong survive?”

It’s hard for me to read that comment and reconcile that with the look of utter shock on Welch’s face as the charges against him and his wife are read.  On his Facebook page, he writes of Mary’s death:

Heart is about shattered right now. 

Woke up to Mary dead in her bed this morning – this evening had our children removed and placed on “no contact” because Tati and I are the worst parents ever – Thankfully they are with grandma and grandpa

Just numb inside right now. And I’m really enjoying the loving embrace of an isolation cell from the cops and government employees who keep assuring me “they are only here to help”.

Really?  I would say that if your helpless infant daughter is clearly not thriving and you do absolutely nothing to help her, you would rank as among the “worst parents ever”.  According to his Facebook page, Seth prefers eating a “natural diet”.  Well, Seth, good luck with that while you’re in the jug.  I suspect you will be carb loading from now on…  

People are understandably horrified about Mary Welch’s untimely death.  Lots of folks have posted hateful and profane diatribes on Seth Welch’s Facebook page.  I’m not going to follow suit because I don’t think calling him and his wife “pieces of shit” is very constructive, even if I understand the sentiment.  I have noticed that a lot of men have gone off the rails, though, and become hyper-religious.  One of my friends is originally from Sweden but now lives in Texas.  He’s very intelligent and extremely well-educated.  His comment was:

Steven Weinberg the Nobel Prize winning physicist from Texas said “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

I wonder though if religious fanatics/fundamentalist like these people, really are good from the beginning?

Personally, I think a lot of the extreme religious wackos tend to be very narcissistic men who have a lot of charisma and use religion as a means of satisfying their needs for adoration and attention.  They prey on empathetic people and use them, often hoodwinking them into their diabolical schemes.  Religion probably makes these deeds more palatable.  I shouldn’t say it’s always men who do this.  For example, my husband’s narcissistic ex-wife similarly used religion to satisfy her narcissism.  However, she chose a patriarchal religion to do it.  Most western religions are pretty patriarchal.  

I don’t know what Seth Welch’s beliefs are, other than what I read in the couple of articles I’ve seen about his case.  He does have a Facebook page for his “ministry” (ETA: as of 2023, it is still up and functional. People have left awful comments on it.), but it doesn’t appear to be very popular.  There must be a reason why he turned out the way he did.  Maybe there will be more information as the case proceeds.  I’m already seeing some indication that perhaps the other two children aren’t Tatiana’s.  An article from a news station indicates that she was wrongly identified as the mother of the two living children. 

I see that he’s also a Trump fan…  or, at least he liked Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal

Maybe a little less time spent reading Trump’s drivel and a little more time spent tending to your children is in order, Seth.  Don’t you think?

And he has pictures of his farm and garden on his page, indicating that he does know how to nurture plants.  It’s a pity he didn’t nurture his baby daughter.  He also has a couple of Nubian goats whom he says probably would be turned into meat.  Perhaps their lives will be spared, now that Farmer Seth is cooling his heels in the county lockup.

I know this isn’t funny, so I probably shouldn’t make subtle jokes…  It’s just hard to fathom the ridiculousness of this situation.  It’s truly a very sad case.  I feel horrible for the other children whose lives are going to be upended by all of this.

On another note…  I wonder when this photo will be turned into a meme…

Maybe by tomorrow?  Hell, maybe I’ll make a meme out of it myself.  

As of 2023…

Seth Welch and Tatiana Fusari are now divorced. In 2020, Seth Welch was convicted of murder and first degree child abuse in the death of Mary Welch. In October 2021, Tatiana Fusari was also convicted of murder and child abuse. Fusari claimed that she was abused and tortured by her ex husband, Seth Welch, and that made her unable to take care of their ten month old daughter, Mary. During her testimony, Tatiana recalled waking Seth up to feel Mary kick:

“He got mad at me because I wouldn’t let him sleep,” Fusari said. “So…he asked me ‘what the (expletive) was wrong with me’, and he rolled over to face me, and he started punching me in the face. And then I tried to roll over onto my right side, to face the wall, so he would just leave the front side of me alone, but he put his weight on me.”

The next day, Tatiana went into labor. She thought Mary was small because she was born prematurely. She didn’t think anything was wrong with the baby. When she was arrested in 2018, Tatiana Fusari didn’t disclose that she had been abused by Seth Welch. In October 2021, her story was very different. She claimed that she “needed to tell the truth” and that Seth raped her “day after day”. She also stated that Seth controlled her phone and timed her to see how long it took for her to get to and from her job. He printed out a master schedule and demanded that Tatiana stick to it to the minute.

Tatiana Fusari testifies…

Tatiana’s mother-in-law, Judy had mentioned that Mary didn’t look well, and asked Tatiana when she was going to take her to see a doctor. Tatiana stated that Seth thought Mary was fine. He didn’t trust doctors and didn’t want the “government involved in the family’s business.” When Tatiana brought up taking the baby to see a doctor:

“He smacked me across the face,” Fusari said. “He said ‘you know what the (expletive) I think about doctors. Do you want to keep bringing these people into our home?’ And I dropped it.”

Tatiana Fusari also alleged that Seth only wanted Mary fed with food grown on their farm. He would not allow her to be fed with store bought formula. Anytime she questioned him, he would beat her.

Prosecutors argued that Mary’s autopsy showed that she wasn’t feeding Mary. At the time of her death, Mary weighed just 8 pounds. Both Seth and Tatiana were sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for murdering Mary Welch.

Tatiana Fusari’s sentencing.

This is a really sad case. It didn’t have to end the way it did. I hate to think of people rotting in prison for the rest of their lives, but in this case, it’s probably warranted. I would definitely say Seth Welch is where he needs to be. Tatiana Fusari may have very well been his victim, but she had a responsibility to act. It’s tragic that she didn’t ask for the help she obviously needed, for herself, and for her helpless, innocent baby girl.

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first world problems, movies, technology, true crime

The big meltdown…

I thought we were going to get more snow yesterday. A few days ago, the weather gurus were calling for it. I keep the shutters pulled down in my office, so I didn’t pay attention to the weather. It obviously warmed up a lot during the afternoon, because by the early evening, a lot of the snow had melted. That means that when the sun is up, and I go dog poop hunting, there will be a lot to collect.

I kind of hate this part of a snow event. When it all melts, everything becomes really sloppy and wet. But, the alternative is that it stays really cold, and the snow sticks around for ages. It gets all dirty and dog piss stained. I like to watch snow fall, and I enjoy seeing it on the trees and covering the ground, but it can be messy when it melts. It’s doubly bad when it melts and freezes, causing sheets of ice. I’m getting too old to fall on my ass and not worry about injuries!

I hadn’t meant to repost two blog entries yesterday. In fact, I’d had every intention of writing something fresh. Somehow, I just never managed to get around to it. I couldn’t think of a good topic, and then Bill and I watched several movies on our “good” TV. Usually, I watch the TV in our bedroom, which is fine. We also have a really nice television in our “entertainment/Noyzi’s room”. Until Christmas 2022, we only had one chair in there, plus the rugs were full of Noyzi’s hair. But then I got a new office chair (which I put back in the entertainment room) and a new vacuum, so I could clean up the tons of dog hair in there. The room is more comfortable now.

Yesterday, we watched Airplane!, Arthur (1981 version), and International Falls. Of course, we’ve both seen the first two films many times, but neither of us had seen International Falls. I downloaded it some time ago and completely forgot about it, never having watched it. It’s an interesting, quirky, and slightly depressing film. Bill liked it a lot. I didn’t mind it. Watching the 80s era movies in high definition was a weird experience. I was inspired to buy more tech gadgets so we can have better sound in that room. I’d like to get a couch for in there, but I’m put off by the prospect of getting it up the stairs to the room.

I’m also thinking about getting a new TV for the bedroom, now that I’m reminded of how nice our “good TV” is. I’d move it to the bedroom, but it’s too big to fit on my dresser, and we have sloped walls. We have an old TV in our guest room that we bought in 2007, when flatscreen TVs were new. I remember we spent $900 on it. Now, you can get a really nice TV for a third of that price. I think I’d like to buy a new TV; then I realize that buying one will mean more electronic waste. We already need to dispose of several old computers and a broken freezer. And… it’s also about time to get a new desktop, since the one I currently use is starting to have problems.

Sigh… such boring first world problems. I could be writing about the depressing news of the world today. Maybe that would be the more socially responsible thing to do. I didn’t sleep well last night, though. I woke up at 2:00 am to pee, and Arran got up. He wanted food. Then I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I started reading more of my latest book. Reading the book ultimately lead to seeing the news, which led to reading the moronic comments.

Seriously… it’s so frustrating to see how people always have complaints about everything, especially regarding politics. Nothing ever gets done, especially when it comes to gun violence. The end result is that more people died, thanks to some unhinged idiot with a weapon. 72 year old Huu Can Tran got a bee in his bonnet, for some reason, and took it out on people at a dance hall he used to frequent. Now, ten more innocent people have died, and more are in the hospital. At least Huu Can Tran is also dead. He took a coward’s way out, but at least he won’t be killing anyone else. Sadder still is that, once again, I find myself more apathetic than shocked. Shootings in the USA are much too common these days.

I also found out from my friend, aunt of Abby Zwerner, that some jerk made a Facebook page pretending to be her. The person was probably hoping to scam money from well wishers. It’s too bad that people can’t get fucking jobs, so they might earn money the honest way, rather than trying to steal it.

These things, along with being tired, make me cranky on a Monday morning. But things can always be worse. We have much to be grateful for, in spite of the bad news. Younger daughter sent me a nice email this morning, which was really great. I love getting emails that have nothing to do with business or spending money. 😉 Plus, it’s just nice to get to know her, at long last. She’s a lovely person, in spite of everything. She wanted to know more about my days riding horses, of all things.

Anyway… I think I’ll sign off and play my guitar. Then, I think I’ll go back to bed and see if I can catch an hour or two of sleep… or maybe read more of my latest book.

Toodles.

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book reviews, law, true crime, Virginia

Reviewing Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas, by Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson…

Recently, I mentioned that I would be reviewing an honest to God book, rather than a Kindle download. Thanks to a snowstorm and concerted effort, I’ve just finished reading that book, Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas. It wasn’t easy to read this well-researched 2009 book, written by Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson. Not only was the subject matter difficult and depressing, but the print was also very small for my 50 year old eyes. I ended up investing in a book light to help me with the process. Even with multifocal contact lenses, I still have some trouble with fine print!

In any case, I did finish the book this afternoon, and I’ve been very eager to review it. Based on hits on previous true crime blog posts about Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas, I know people are still interested in reading about this 1990 murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. On December 17, 2022, this blog received a huge influx of hits. Someone linked an earlier blog post mentioning Jessica Wiseman on Reddit. The post in question wasn’t even just about Jessica Wiseman. It only mentioned her case in relation to another true crime case out of Wisconsin.

I decided to seek out more information about the murders and, sure enough, discovered Peppers’ and Anderson’s book. Anatomy of an Execution is not available on Kindle, although the printed version is available through Amazon Prime for $29.95. I don’t often read actual books anymore. Kindle makes reading after lights out easier, plus the print is larger and more adjustable. I also like Kindle books because it’s easy to share passages and make notes. Nevertheless, I was so intrigued by this murder case that I decided to order the physical book, even though it meant temporarily being a Luddite. It arrived a few days ago and I quickly devoured it.

Who are Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas? Why is there a book about them?

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Gloucester County, in the Middle Peninsula of Virginia. Gloucester is adjacent to rural Middlesex County, which is just north. On November 10, 1990, I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University). It was just before Thanksgiving break. On that night, a horrific murder took place in Middlesex. A 14 year old girl named Jessica Wiseman, and her 17 year old boyfriend, Chris Thomas, murdered Jessica’s parents, James Baxter and Kathy Wiseman. The two thought they were in love, and Jessica’s parents– specifically her father– had forbidden them to be together. Chris took a shotgun from his uncle’s house and snuck over to Jessica’s house in the middle of the night. Then, together, the two made the worst decision of their lives.

Jessica had greased the window in her bedroom, to make sure it didn’t squeak as Chris climbed through it on that fateful November night. Even as he entered Jessica’s bedroom, Chris didn’t think he’d actually go through with the plan to commit murder. Jessica was determined. She had spread drug paraphernalia on the floor, to make it look like a drug deal gone bad.

As Chris stood by, Jessica warned him to shoot her daddy before he woke up, lest he kill Chris. Chris fired, and J.B. Wiseman died instantly. Then he shot Kathy Wiseman, but she got out of bed and staggered into Jessica’s bedroom. That time, Jessica fired, and Kathy Wiseman died. In a tragic display of misguided chivalry, Chris Thomas confessed to killing both parents. Because he confessed to firing the shot that killed Kathy Wiseman, Chris Thomas was charged with capital murder, which made him eligible for the death penalty.

I’m not sure if I was aware of the Wiseman murders when they happened. That was before everyone was online, and I was busy with college. I read the local newspapers a lot in those days, and I do remember that Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas were frequently reported about in the newspapers. The case had caused quite a scandal because, at that time in Virginia, no one under the age of 15 could be tried as an adult, regardless of how serious their crimes were. Jessica Wiseman was fourteen years old when she convinced Chris Thomas to murder her parents. She spent just under seven years in juvenile hall, and was released on July 26, 1997, which was her 21st birthday. Chris Thomas, by contrast, was tried as an adult. He was executed on January 10, 2000. He was 26 years old when he died.

Who are Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson?

At this writing, author Todd C. Peppers is a lawyer and a visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He is also on the faculty of the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia. He’s written several books besides Anatomy of an Execution, and specializes in the Death Penalty, Judicial Behavior, Supreme Court History, and Torts.

Co-author Laura Trevvett Anderson taught special education at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian, Virginia, part of Chesterfield County. For two years, Chris Thomas was one of her students. Anderson formed a special bond with her former student. She served as his spiritual advisor before he was executed on January 10, 2000.

Chris’s tragic story…

Chris was born to Margaret and Billy Thomas, a couple who met in 1972 at Donk’s, a pool hall and concert venue in nearby Mathews County. Donk’s is another name that everyone living near Gloucester knew of, back in the day. Sadly, although the two got married, they were not a love match. Billy was abusive to Margaret. She was also a lesbian. The two got divorced in the months following Chris’s May 29, 1973 birth.

Because of Margaret’s lesbian lifestyle, and the fact that she worked as a prison guard, she decided to have her parents adopt Chris. Then, she moved to Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. Consequently, for the earliest years of his life, Chris Thomas was raised by his grandparents, Herbert and Virginia Marshall. Peppers writes that Margaret was jealous of her son, because her parents provided better for him that they had her when she was coming of age. Margaret also had siblings nearby who helped raise Chris in his early years.

In 1985, when Chris Thomas was about eleven years old, he experienced a trifecta of tragedies. His grandfather, Herbert, died of a brain tumor. A few months after that, his grandmother died of ovarian cancer. He also lost his favorite uncle, Winfrey. Chris went to live with Margaret and her lover, and her lover’s children, in Chesterfield. He hated Chesterfield because it was too urban for him. Chris loved to hunt and take solitary walks. He couldn’t do that in Chesterfield, which is much more populated. Chris also resented his mother’s lifestyle, and the fact that she helped raise her lover’s children, but hadn’t been raising him. Chris found a friend in Laura Anderson, a very dedicated special education teacher. With her help, his grades in school improved. But he was still miserable in Chesterfield, and eventually went back to Middlesex.

Chris went to live with his Uncle Herbert and Aunt Brenda Marshall. Herbert had been abusive to Chris when he was younger. He’d even told Chris that he was the reason his parents had died. Nevertheless, Herbert and Brenda provided him with a home in Piankatank Shores, a housing subdivision in Middlesex. Jessica Wiseman also lived there with her parents, along with her grandparents and great-grandparents. Jessica was reportedly a spoiled girl, whose grandparents and great grandparents provided her with everything she could want. She even had her own golf cart for getting around the subdivision. When she wrecked it, they bought her a new one. She had her own bedroom in each of their homes, too.

Chris was a good looking kid, who’d had a number of “girlfriends” younger than he was. Jessica caught his eye, and it wasn’t long before they were spending all of their time together. Chris was also getting in trouble with the law– committing petty, non-violent crimes. Without Laura Anderson’s committed mentorship, Chris’s school performance plummeted. He didn’t care. Neither did Jessica, whose family members didn’t seem interested in instilling a sense of responsibility within her. She and Chris were sexually active, and Jessica worried about pregnancy. She wanted Chris to marry her, but her father, who worked as a truck driver, forbade it. That was when she came up with her plan to murder her parents. Sadly, Chris Thomas let her talk him into helping her with her plan. He paid for that mistake with his life.

My thoughts on the book

I found Anatomy of an Execution a fascinating read on so many levels. Again, I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia, and some of the judges and lawyers involved in the Wiseman murders were from my hometown. Although I was never unfortunate enough to meet any judges or lawyers from Gloucester in an official capacity, it was impossible to read our local newspaper in the 80s and 90s and not see the names of the people who worked on this case. Peppers does a great job of telling Chris Thomas’s story, starting from the tragic beginning.

This book is extremely well-written and researched. There are some typos in the book, as well as a few very minor fractured facts. Peppers refers to Clover Hill as being in Richmond, for instance, when it’s not. I used to drive past Clover Hill on my way to Longwood and had a roommate who graduated from there. Richmond is its own city. However, this is a very minor quibble, in my view. Peppers has jam packed Anatomy of an Execution with information, as well as notes for further research. Chris Thomas’s case is also very poignant. Peppers and Anderson do a fine job of humanizing Chris Thomas and other people on death row.

There was a time when I was in favor of the death penalty. Gloucester County and its environs are chock full of political conservatives, so it’s hard not to go with the locals, especially when you’re a teenager. I have since become more of a (GASP) liberal, and for the most part, I disagree with capital punishment. It was amazing to me when Virginia abolished capital punishment in 2021. I never thought I would see the day.

Anatomy of an Execution was published in 2009, when the death penalty was still legal in Virginia. I’m sure Peppers was as surprised as I was when it was outlawed, as Peppers makes it very clear how very eager Virginia politicians and lawmakers were to maintain it. Peppers is very thorough as he explains the history of capital punishment in Virginia and the many injustices defendants faced in capital murder cases. I found it all fascinating and even wound up looking up a lot of the people involved in this case. Many of the main players are now deceased.

Thomas’s defense lawyer, Damian T. Horne, and his now wife and then co-counsel, Sydney West, are still living and have moved to New Mexico. Peppers doesn’t seem to think much of Horne or West, neither of whom were experienced enough for the case. But he also points out that back in the early 90s, Virginia only paid $600 total to criminal defense lawyers who represented indigent clients.

Chris Thomas’s original lawyer, the late Benton Pollok, was very experienced and had a passion for criminal law, but he had to be replaced due to a conflicting case he was handling involving a private client willing to pay him for his time. The late Judge John Folkes (from Gloucester) apparently didn’t like Pollok, and would not work with him to reschedule the court appointments. Consequently, Pollok was forced to withdraw from the case. Ironically, Pollok had to sue the his “paying client”, who wasn’t so eager to pay him, after all. If Chris had been able to keep Pollok as his lawyer, it’s likely he’d still be alive today.

I also shook my head as I read some of the letters exchanged between Chris Thomas and Jessica Wiseman. It’s pretty plain that Jessica manipulated the hell out of Chris. No, he shouldn’t have committed murder and he absolutely deserved punishment. But he was just a kid when he committed his crimes, and he did not have good counsel. His story is tragic and poignant. It’s a good reminder of how young people can get caught up in terrible situations that lead to their destruction. It’s crazy to me that Jessica spent less than seven years locked up in juvenile hall. She’s out now, has changed her name, and is free to live her life. Meanwhile, her former boyfriend is long dead, and people are haunted by his memory.

Final thoughts

I highly recommend Anatomy of an Execution to anyone who wants to know the whole story behind the Wiseman murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. I only wish the type in this book were a bit larger and/or it could be downloaded on Kindle. I’m definitely not sorry I took the time to read this book. I especially enjoyed reading about the former Virginia State Penitentiary. He also writes about the former death row in Mecklenburg, where Chris spent most of his years on death row (and where a different former college roommate’s father used to work). Chris was later moved to Sussex I Prison in Waverly, Virginia, where death row was moved in 1998 and remained until the death penalty in Virginia was abolished in 2021.

Peppers writes about how local eighth graders were allowed to visit the Virginia State Penitentiary when it was empty in 1991. I wonder if Peppers knows that other schools took students there to visit it before it closed. I have mentioned before that my government teacher took our class to the Virginia State Penitentiary in the spring of 1990, before all of the inmates were moved. We saw one of the cell blocks, as well as the death house. The electric chair was still in use at the time. Some of my classmates even sat on it! I think that’s when I started to change my mind about capital punishment. I’m glad I changed my mind.

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law, true crime

How quickly things can change…

It’s 9:16 am as I write this. I’m having some trouble coming up with today’s topic. I could write about the death of David Crosby, who just died at age 81 after a long illness. But if I did that, I wouldn’t have much to say… because although I enjoyed his music, I wasn’t a super fan. I need more exposure to his work.

Or maybe I could write about the awful story I read out of San Francisco, California. It involved an art gallery owner who sprayed a homeless woman with a hose. The story is extremely sad and infuriating. Here’s a link to the article, unlocked. Yes, I could write about that. But I’m not in the mood to tackle homeless people being abused by mean spirited jerks. I’m not even in the mood to write about the comments on this event.

Most people commenting seem to think the water sprayer, Shannon Collier Gwin, should go to jail for what he did. But there are also some people who think he was justified, as the homeless woman had parked herself in front of his business and was relieving herself on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what homeless people should do. It’s not like we have many places for them to go when they fall on hard times. San Francisco probably has more resources than most areas, but it’s also a very expensive place to be.

Maybe I’ll write about that situation later, if more comes out about what happened, or if something else about it inspires me. Perhaps if my comment section heats up, I’ll blog about it. I guess I can understand why Jacinda Ardern, soon to be the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, is resigning her post. Burnout is a real thing. It can strike even if all you do is write blog posts.

I know I wrote that Prince Harry’s Spare inspired me, and it did. But I can’t think of anything right now that is begging for a blog post. Maybe I need to watch some more of H.G. Tudor’s narcissism videos. I’m also getting tired of addressing narcissism, though. I feel like I’m in a rut.

I think I’ll write about the death penalty in Virginia. It’s a timely subject for me right now, because I am reading a book titled Anatomy of an Execution. The book– and it’s an honest to God book, not a Kindle download– was written in 2009. It’s about a 1990 double murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. The perpetrators were teenagers– Chris Thomas, then aged 17, and his girlfriend, Jessica Wiseman, who was 14. They killed Jessica’s parents, J.B. and Kathy Wiseman, because Jessica’s parents had forbidden them to see each other. I previously mentioned them in this post.

This “real” book is worth squinting for…

Because she was so young when the murders occurred, Jessica Wiseman spent about seven years in juvenile hall. The authorities released Jessica on her 21st birthday. The state chose to try Chris Thomas as an adult for capital murder, first degree murder, and illegal use of a firearm during a felony. Virginia ultimately executed Thomas when he was just 26 years old. The case was controversial because of the differences in sentences, especially since Jessica reportedly talked Chris into carrying out the murders. Chris took responsibility for the crimes out of a misguided decision to protect his girlfriend. That poor judgment cost him his life.

You can expect a review of the book very soon. I anticipate getting through it quickly, even though it’s not easy to read due to the small print. The reading is fascinating to me on many levels. I grew up in neighboring Gloucester County. Many familiar local lawyers and judges were involved in this case. The death penalty also interests me. Capital punishment has been abolished in Virginia since 2021. Frankly, I never thought I’d see the day.

Anatomy of an Execution is well-written and researched. 2009 doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, either. However, a lot of things have changed since then, especially regarding Virginia’s death penalty. For many years, Virginia was a top death penalty state. Virginia is far and away the state that has executed the most people, dating back to the Colonial Era. The “modern” capital punishment era commenced after 1976, when the death penalty was once again legalized. After 1976, Virginia’s rate of executions was topped only by Texas, which is a much larger state with many more condemned people awaiting execution. How crazy is it, then, than as of 2021, Virginia became the first southern state to abolish executions? It is the 23rd state in the nation to abolish capital punishment.

My home state has evolved so much! It’s too bad that Chris Thomas was unable to benefit from the more enlightened attitudes of today’s Virginia. Of course, much of what the authors have written about Virginia’s death penalty in 2009 is now obsolete.

I was eager to leave Virginia in 2007, when I finally permanently moved away from there after years of trying. Now, I think I might be proud to move back “home” again, when the time comes. I don’t know when that will be, or even if I’ll live to see the day. As I mention in today’s title, things can change quickly.

There’s one other thing I’d like to mention before I review Anatomy of an Execution. Reading that book caused me to realize that I have a very curious mind. Yesterday, I found myself looking up the people involved in the Wiseman’s murder case. I was really into it. It just made me realize that maybe in a different life, I would have been a true crime writer. Maybe I would have studied law or criminal justice instead of English. Perhaps I wouldn’t be an “overeducated housewife” if I had done that.

I am excited about the prospect of reviewing Anatomy of an Execution. I hope some folks will want to read it. Jessica Wiseman is proving to be an interesting topic, even 32 years after she helped murder her parents.

I do find true crime stories very intriguing. The real stories surrounding crimes are often more interesting than any story dreamed up by a novelist. The case involving Chris Thomas and Jessica Wiseman is especially tragic on so many levels. I don’t believe Chris Thomas ever had a fair shot at life. He was failed and abandoned by so many people when he was a young boy. I’ll get more into my thoughts on that when I review the book.

Well, I suppose I should end this post so I can get back to reading my book and ending my writer’s block. Hope you have a fine Friday.

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