Police, Texas, true crime, YouTube

I just heard about Texas baby stealer, Taylor Parker…

One of the nice things about living in Europe is that I tend to be divorced from some of the more sordid and horrifying crimes that happen in the United States. But then I go and watch YouTube videos, and since I am a true crime buff who tends to be interested in deviant people, I sometimes stumble across videos about truly sickening cases of depravity. Because I’m in a bit of a mood today, I think I’ll write a little bit about Texas killer Taylor Parker, who is currently sitting on death row.

Now… I’m sure Parker’s case was big news in the States. I missed it entirely when it was hot news. But I was randomly watching videos the other day when one popped up that I hadn’t expected to see. It was titled “Killer Realizes She’s Been Caught After Cutting Baby Out of Victim’s Stomach”. Right off the bat I cringed a bit, not just because this is just an incredibly sad and grisly crime, but also because people don’t carry pregnancies in their stomachs. Stomachs are for digesting food. They’re full of enzymes and acids, which would digest a developing fetus.

Babies don’t belong in stomachs… I would expect someone with a fetus developing in a stomach to show up at a hospital.

I think EWU Bodycam, the uploader of the video I watched, means that the baby was cut from the victim’s womb, or more precisely, the victim’s uterus. But in fairness to the uploader, the police officer who interviewed Taylor Parker also referred to the womb as the “stomach”. Maybe he did it to be on Parker’s intelligence level, but I suspect that he’s not that well versed on anatomy. He’s pretty good at getting guilty people to confess, though. I know this may seem like a petty thing to comment on, but I tend to be kind of a stickler about word choice.

Anyway… the story goes that Parker had befriended 21 year old Reagan Simmons-Hancock of New Boston, Texas, who was, in October 2020, about 34 weeks pregnant and already the mother of a three year old child. Parker had taken engagement and wedding photos of Reagan Simmons-Hancock and her husband, and that might have been the pretense that allowed for her to visit the young woman on the day of the murder. The three year old was present on the day of the murder and was left alone with her mother after Parker committed her crimes.

Parker, who was 27 years old at the time of the crime, already had two children before she got a hysterectomy. She decided to fake a pregnancy, and went as far as producing false ultrasounds and having a gender reveal party. It was reported that before she attacked Simmons-Hancock, Parker researched how to convincingly fake a pregnancy. She also watched a video on an examination of a pre-term infant delivered at 35 weeks gestation.

After she viciously attacked Simmons-Hancock, Parker took off from the crime scene and was soon stopped by a Texas State Trooper in DeKalb, Texas because she was speeding. The police officer, noticing Parker’s bloody condition, asked her what happened. Parker claimed that she’d given birth on the side of the road and was heading to a hospital because the baby girl wasn’t breathing. Parker and the baby were then taken by ambulance to McCurtain Memorial Hospital in Idabel, Oklahoma, where the staff was immediately suspicious.

Parker refused to be examined by doctors, who were concerned that she might be hemorrhaging. She also didn’t have any Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that all pregnant women have until about six weeks after giving birth. Taylor Parker had also stuffed Reagan’s placenta into her pants in a bungled attempt to try to convince staff that she was the one who had given birth… Honestly, WTF? She must have been out of her mind if she really thought that would convince experienced medical professionals.

Sadly, the baby died at the hospital. Even sadder is that Parker apparently thought she could get away with her crime. She had blood all over her hands and clothes, but it was very obvious to medical staff that she hadn’t given birth. And there she was at a hospital, thinking she would be able to refuse a thorough medical examination by the staff without arousing suspicion. Parker was later arrested when her victim’s body was discovered.

I read that Parker had faked the pregnancy to keep her boyfriend interested. In the video I watched about this case, there’s a picture of Taylor Parker all made up, seemingly pregnant, with a serene look on her face and her boyfriend’s arms around her stomach. I don’t have any experience with pregnancy myself, but it seems like it would be hard to create a very realistic looking womb that people could touch and not be suspicious. Moreover, I wonder about the people in her life, some of whom must have been around when she had a hysterectomy. I wonder why none of them called her out for her duplicity.

In 2022, Taylor Parker was tried in Texas for the capital murder of Reagan Simmons-Hancock. She was also tried for the non capital murder of the baby, whom Simmons-Hancock had named Braxlynn Sage. Not surprisingly, she was sentenced to death. While I am generally no fan of the death penalty and would vote against it myself, I am not surprised that Parker was sentenced to death. This was an incredibly gruesome crime. I can’t even fathom the deep levels of desperation and depravity that led Taylor Parker to do this to another human being. Hearing about this case made me feel absolutely heartbroken for the victims and the family left behind.

Is Taylor Parker a sociopath? I don’t know. Her crime is almost indescribably horrific, and it’s hard to explain why someone would show such callous disregard for another human. I think I would have to know a lot more about this case before I could conclude that Taylor Parker is a sociopath. Based on her hospital video, I would definitely conclude that she has some pretty severe mental illness and delusional thinking going on.

I did find the video of the cop’s interview with Taylor interesting, as he appeared to be someone who was very good at putting people at ease. He was rather gentle in his approach to Parker and he maintained an impressive poker face, as he confronted her about what had really happened. I heard him tell her it didn’t mean she was a terrible person, as he expressed empathy to her. Of course, that may have all been an act. It probably was, as being very aggressive and honest with his feelings about the crime would just make Taylor clam up. When you are about to be arrested for capital murder, you may be looking for a friendly face. The detective who interviewed Taylor gave her what she sought and gently cajoled her into giving up some of the truth of what she did.

I read more of the details of this case, which indicated just how completely savage and barbaric Parker’s crime was. It makes me feel terrible for the victims… which includes Reagan’s family, friends, and loved ones. I don’t blame people for thinking she deserves the death penalty. Personally, I just oppose it in most cases, although I know a lot of people disagree with me and may either want to confront me on this, or try to change my mind. There was a time when I was in favor of capital punishment, but for many reasons that I’ve already written about in other posts, I’m just not anymore.

I just think that while it’s understandable that many people think some really horrible crimes are worthy of the death penalty, it should be reserved for the rare situations in which a person has killed many people and will certainly kill again. I think it should be for public safety as whole– meaning the condemned person is a danger to everyone. I’m not sure Taylor Parker fits that description. She’s not like– say– Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, or John Allen Muhammad (the Beltway Sniper). But, of course, I think Taylor Parker should stay locked up for the rest of her life.

And… while the cop interview was very interesting to watch (aside from his mistaking the womb for a stomach), I am kind of sorry I stumbled across the above video. It’s just such a tragic story on so many levels. So many young lives ended and/or ruined.

Anyway… that about does it for today’s post. Bill is coming home tonight. I look forward to seeing him.

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book reviews, true crime

Home again, and reviewing Rimaru – Butcher of Bucharest: A Serial Killer in Communist Romania…

We’re baaaaack. We had a pretty easy flight from Copenhagen this morning, and now we’re unpacked and doing laundry. Bill has just come home from a run to the commissary for some fresh food, and in a little while, he’ll go pick up Noyzi. Meanwhile, I have a shit ton of travel blogging to do. Not that many people read my travel blogs, but I do like to write them so I can preserve our adventures.

Before I get started with writing the tale of our epic Nordic trip, I would like to review a book I just finished reading a day or so ago. I don’t know how interesting my review of Rimaru – Butcher of Bucharest: A Serial Killer in Communist Romania will be to most of my regular readers. Nevertheless, I do like to review any book I read. Sometimes people’s interests surprise me.

So, how did I come to read a book about a serial killer in communist Romania? I read it because one of the authors is Stejarel Olaru, who is also a co-author of another book I recently read and reviewed titled Nadia Comaneci ad the Secret Police: A Cold War Escape. I find communist Romania’s history fascinating, plus I enjoy following women’s gymnastics. While I don’t remember thinking Stejarel Olaru’s co-authored book about Nadia Comaneci was that amazing, I was intrigued enough by it to read another book Olaru had a hand in writing. The other author of Rimaru – Butcher of Bucharest: A Serial Killer in Communist Romania is Mike Phillips, while Ramona Mitrica served as the editor. I suspect I also decided to download and read about Rimaru, because the Kindle version of this book is really inexpensive. At this writing, it’s priced at less than $4, and can be read for free by those who have Kindle Unlimited. A paperback version will run about $23.

The grisly story of Ion Rimaru… Romanian rapist and murderer.

It seems like every society has its share of deviants within it. Communist era Romania was no different, even in Ceausescu’s era, with its police force and Securitate. Ion Rimaru was something of a loser. He was studying veterinary medicine in Bucharest, living in a dormitory, and, from the time of his adolescence, suffering from an insatiable appetite for sexual intercourse. Rimaru was a terrible student, and barely showed up for his classes. He had to repeat both his second and third years of veterinary school. He wasn’t well liked or regarded, and a lot of people thought of him as a loser. And yet, the people who looked down on Rimaru for being so mediocre didn’t know that he was the Butcher or the Vampire of Bucharest.

From May 1970 until May 1971, Rimaru stalked and sexually assaulted 23 women. Although his prime motivation seemed to be sexual gratification, Rimaru murdered several of his victims and attempted to murder six more. His assaults often involved blunt force trauma to the head. In four cases, he engaged in bestiality, sadism, and torture. In a few other cases, he committed theft. All the while, he was living right under the noses of the people of Bucharest, continuing his reign of terror for a year before he was finally apprehended, tried, and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Authorities made over 2500 arrests and asked over 8000 people for their identification before they finally got the right man.

Stefjarel Olaru and Mike Phillips have pieced together Ion Rimaru’s story, using actual witness and victim statements. Some of the stories are pretty horrifying, as there seemed to be no limit to the depths of Rimaru’s depravity and insatiable appetite for victims. Sometimes, he had sex with women who were willing, but when they said no to him, he usually responded by just hitting them in their heads with a heavy pipe and taking what he wanted. Then, he’d usually leave them for dead, sometimes helping himself to their money or valuables. Rimaru gave his mother a pair of earrings he stole from one victim.

Romania, like most other civilized nations of the world, has done away with capital punishment. But, back in the early 70s, some criminals were sentenced to death. In Rimaru’s case, the day he paid the ultimate price for his crimes was October 23, 1971. He had just turned 25 years old less than two weeks prior to meeting the firing squad. Rimaru was a coward when he was told he was going to be executed. He begged to live, tried to throw his father under the bus, and on the day the sentence was carried out, he dodged and moved around, making it harder for the marksmen to shoot him. They ended up shooting him in the backside, which still did the trick.

I appreciated the details Phillips and Olaru gave about how Romania used to do capital punishments. Before Rimaru’s date with the firing squad, it was customary for condemned inmates to be put barefoot in a chilly, windowless, black room, where there was cold water on the floor. The inmates typically would get so hopeless and depressed in that room that they actually looked forward to being executed and resigned themselves to their fates. Rimaru was spared the black room.

My thoughts…

Some people who read this book found it very engrossing and hard to put down. I struggled to finish it. Rimaru’s case is very interesting and the authors put together a coherent story about what happened. However, they often use very dull statements from witnesses and victims that can be tough going to get through. Their writing style is very matter-of-fact and kind of dry, almost academic. I did notice that the authors usually styled names like they were styled in the communist era, with the last name first. That sort of lent an air of authenticity.

I do think Rimaru – Butcher of Bucharest is well worth reading if you are interested in Romanian true crime or communism. The authors have explained how things were done in the communist era, when the secret police were still terrorizing Romanians. They were so feared, and yet it took them so long to figure out who was raping and killing women in Bucharest for an entire year. It must have been terrifying for women living there at that time. I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia when the Beltway Snipers were on the loose in 2002 or so. That was scary enough. I’m sure it was much worse in 70s era Romania.

Anyway… I don’t usually support the death penalty, but I don’t think I can muster up much sympathy for Ion Rimaru. He was probably one of those folks who just needs killing, for the safety and wellbeing of everyone else. I think I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of 5, and my recommendation.

Now, I think I’ll start gathering my thoughts on cheerier matters, as I prepare to write about our great big trip up north. Ciao!

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complaints, condescending twatbags, healthcare, law, politicians, politics, rants, social welfare, stupid people, YouTube

Matters of life and death…

The featured photo is of Bill wearing a t-shirt that says in German, “Life is too short to drink shitty beer…” If only that was our biggest problem!

Last night, I had a rather strained chat with Bill. I was feeling kind of fed up and put out, as he told me when his next week long business trip is planned. After twenty years of this, you’d think I’d be used to hanging out alone in big houses. But, to be honest, the older I get, the harder it seems to be for me. I think Arran’s cancer and COVID-19 have made me more eager to get out and do things. I used to be quite content to do things by myself. Not anymore.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I should take some solo trips. I hate the idea of wasting all this time in Europe, sitting at home with my proverbial thumb up my ass, waiting until we can do stuff together. Sometimes, it really feels like life is passing me by. I was trying to have this conversation with Bill. I could tell he was conflicted. He says he’d worry about my “safety”. Never mind that for thirty years, I pretty much did most things on my own. My own parents didn’t worry very much about my safety.

There was a time when this would be a non-issue. Twenty-one years ago, Bill put me on a plane to Jamaica so I could sing at my sister’s wedding. I got around just fine on my own, and came back safe and sound. But, since we became an official couple, it’s been a rare thing for me to do stuff alone. I know I’m capable and have the time, and we have the money. Maybe he’d like it more if I traveled with a friend, but I don’t have any local friends I want to travel with. The older I get, the more set in my ways I am.

So, we ended the chat without resolving anything. As I was about to fall asleep, I noticed a former co-worker had shared disturbing news out of South Carolina. I looked at the familiar photo of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, where I had once jogged regularly. Twenty-one representatives have sponsored a bill in South Carolina that would classify abortion as murder and make anyone who has an abortion eligible for the death penalty.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people who are supposedly “pro-life” would want to execute other people for having abortions. It’s absolutely batshit nuts to me. Even more crazy is the fact that this bill was authored by Rep. Rob Harris, who is a fucking registered NURSE!!!!! Mr. Harris is also a member of the so-called “Freedom Caucus”– freedom for whom? Probably white, Southern, Protestant Christian, men who aren’t poor.

According to Rolling Stone:

The “South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act of 2023” would amend the state’s code of laws, redefining “person” to include a fertilized egg at the point of conception, affording that zygote “equal protection under the homicide laws of the state” — up to and including the ultimate punishment: death.  

I went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina. I earned master’s degrees in public health and social work at that university, and worked for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as a graduate assistant, both in healthcare policy and maternal and child health, and for the Bureau of Epidemiology. Twenty-two years ago, I didn’t get the impression that politics in South Carolina were that batshit crazy. I mean, yes, in the first job I had as a G.A., it was my job to track healthcare legislation.

I remember the controversies being about abstinence education, kangaroo meat (as in it was illegal), and chelation therapy. South Carolina had a big problem with teen pregnancy, as well as child abuse. One of my internships was working with Healthy Families South Carolina, part of Prevent Child Abuse. Because there were a lot of young people having babies they weren’t ready for, there was a big problem with child abuse, and other social ills.

And yet, this idiot Republican Representative Harris wants to put women to death for exercising dominion over their own bodies! It defies logic! And do we really need to imprison more Americans? Will that help them be able to stand on their own feet and pay their own bills in the long run? Will it be helpful for their children? And the answer, of course, is a resounding “NO”!

I don’t think Mr. Harris has a fucking clue about his constituents and what they face, his nursing degree notwithstanding. Not to mention the fact that making people who have abortions eligible for the death penalty will cost a lot of taxpayer money and back up the court system. We don’t even put disgusting child predators like Josh Duggar and Jared Fogle to death for their crimes, but Harris wants to execute women who might want an abortion because of rape or incest or some other, totally private reason? What a sick, misogynistic bastard he is! How in the hell did he go into nursing? ETA: I see that Mr. Harris has just an Associate’s degree. Well, that explains a lot.

I am glad to see that at least Rep. Nancy Mace, who is a Republican, is intelligent enough to speak out against this disturbing trend of criminalizing women for seeking abortion care. I lived in South Carolina, and I know of some of the issues there that its children face. I think Rob Harris needs his head examined and his ass kicked out of politics… and maybe the nursing profession, too. What a colossal anti-woman asshole he is!

I pondered those thoughts as I drifted off to sleep for a couple of hours. Then, this morning, I woke up and watched a video by Jessica Kent, who has a very popular YouTube channel. Jessica Kent famously had a baby while she was incarcerated in an Arkansas prison. She now makes a living producing videos on YouTube, Tik Tok, and the like about her experiences as a prisoner.

This morning, I listened to Jessica talk about a new idea that was proposed within a recent bill in Massachusetts. Lawmakers there have evidently determined that one way to deal with the shortage of donated organs, bone marrow, and human tissues is to offer prison inmates the opportunity to donate theirs in exchange for time off their prison sentences.

On the surface, maybe this seems like a good idea… until you realize that people in prison are already exploited and basically enslaved. And some of those people are also innocent. Should we really be encouraging/coercing them to be living organ donors? Especially since they may not have the best environments for recovering from donating?

A lot of people think of incarcerated as less than human and deserving of whatever inhumane treatment they get… This seems a bridge too far for me.

Besides the potential health risks and ethical dilemmas of such an idea, there’s also a side that I didn’t hear Jessica talk so much about. She says most people in prison aren’t absolutely terrible humans… but there are incarcerated people who are, in fact, very dangerous and belong behind bars. Is it really a good idea to make such a person the reason why another person lives? Can you just imagine what might happen in such a situation? A very manipulative person with no scruples gives up an organ for someone, and then, once they are released, proceeds to find them and manipulate, threaten, and harass them for personal gain. I can see it.

But I think it’s more likely that the opposite will more frequently happen. Someone who is desperate to get out of prison will donate just so they can get out and go home. And there may be significant repercussions for making that decision. I don’t have a problem with allowing inmates to donate organs if it’s their idea, and it’s something they sincerely want to do for humanitarian reasons. Politicians offering a carrot on a stick to them to fix organ shortages and overcrowded prison conditions is something else altogether, and decidedly not right, in my opinion. I think that idea could potentially lead to disaster.

Besides… it appears that the time off the sentence isn’t enough to warrant the donation. There would be no financial incentive, of course, since that’s illegal. And the time off would be at least 60 days, but no more than a year. I think someone’s kidney or part of their liver is worth much more than that. Especially when we consider that, in the future, the people who donate may be very sorry they did so. What happens if the person’s other kidney, for instance, fails or is injured in an accident? What if they get shot or stabbed in the healthy kidney? It’s America, folks. That could really happen.

Then… after I watched Jessica’s video, I realized that my problems are pretty small and not very earth shattering. Yes, I hate sitting here alone for weeks on end, but at least I don’t have to worry about needing an abortion in South Carolina. And I am not, nor are any of my loved ones or friends, sitting in a prison cell anywhere… Even in liberal Massachusetts, prisoners are treated as less than human. And, even though my dog has cancer, and I watch him nervously every day to see if he’s suffering, at this point, he’s still happy to be with us. I don’t have any matters of life or death facing me, at this point in time. Bill will be home tomorrow, too.

So… I guess I’ll end this rant and get on with the day. Practicing guitar is less disturbing than reading the news is.

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controversies, law, true crime

Alex Murdaugh is now officially a murderer…

I haven’t really been keeping up with Alex Murdaugh’s murder trial, which has been going on for the past six weeks. I don’t know why I haven’t been following it. I spent three years in South Carolina, and he’s a descendent of a legal dynasty in the Low Country. Today’s featured photo is a screen grab from the moment when Murdaugh heard the verdict. Below is a video I listened to a few days ago, about Murdaugh’s life in jail. He’s in for more of the same for the rest of his life.

Good luck, Mr. Murdaugh… lots of people are going to want to buy your sneakers in prison, too.

I did happen to catch some of Murdaugh’s attorney’s closing statements yesterday. I was really grateful not to be on the jury, because the lawyer just kept yammering on about reasonable doubt. Those poor folks had to take six weeks out of their lives to attend Alex Murdaugh’s trial. As I was listening to a few minutes of this man’s closing speech, I suddenly felt like I used to feel as a kid when I was forced to go to church.

I mean, it was good that the lawyer thanked the jury for their service. He mentioned that they’d had to leave their homes, their families, their jobs, and some even missed out on vacations for the duration of the murder trial. You’d think he’d have a little more respect for the jurors’ time. Yes, he needed to impress upon them the importance of being absolutely sure that the man was guilty before they cast a guilty vote. But I think most of those people are smart enough to hear him say that without endless pontificating.

I’m not surprised that Mr. Murdaugh was convicted of murdering his wife and son. He faces sentencing today. That means at least thirty years in prison, or the rest of his life. Given that he’s 54 years old, I’d say he won’t be getting out of prison regardless of what the sentence is. That’s not enough for some people. I read that Mr. Murdaugh will not be facing the death penalty, and that really pisses off some folks. I read some rather appalling comments about how Murdaugh won’t get death because he’s a rich, white man. That might be true, but I don’t really think racism is a reason to promote capital punishment.

I wouldn’t cheer for anyone to get a death sentence, no matter who they are, or what their race is. I think capital punishment should be reserved for truly guilty people who are extremely dangerous to other human beings and would definitely kill again if they were ever free. When I think of people who should be put to death, I think of folks like Timothy McVeigh, who blew up a building and likely wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Or John Allen Muhammad, the Beltway Sniper, who coerced a 17 year old kid to help him murder random people across multiple states. I’m thinking of people who are truly hateful monsters who kill indiscriminately.

The vast majority of murderers don’t randomly kill people simply for sport. There’s usually some connection to the victim. It’s not like they just go out and kill someone because they feel like it. They have a more specific “reason” to kill. I think people who get off on killing are much more dangerous than those who feel like they somehow had to do it. I’m not saying those who somehow felt like they had to commit murder are better or more moral… just that they’re probably less dangerous. I think most executions should be done purely for public safety. They should be reserved for the most callous, irredeemable, monstrous criminals.

Not long ago, I read and reviewed a book about a murder case in my home state of Virginia. It involved two teenagers who decided they wanted to know what it was like to kill someone. They had a list of people who were candidates for killing. If someone crossed them, even if the potential victim was unaware that they had done so, they were at risk of being murdered. But if the victim made amends somehow, before the deed was done, they’d be crossed off the list. That kind of random thinking, to me, makes someone more dangerous and worthier of capital punishment. Crazily enough, the subjects of that book have both been paroled.

I really don’t like the death penalty, though. Even for truly dangerous people, I get skeeved out by the idea of people deliberately executing other people. I was very happy when Virginia outlawed capital punishment two years ago, particularly since Virginia had some pretty wacko rules regarding evidence. In another book I recently read, I learned about how if evidence wasn’t presented in a very short timeframe, it couldn’t be considered, even if the evidence might exonerate someone. That, to me, is sheer craziness. If there is the slightest chance a person might be innocent, he or she should not be a candidate for execution. That’s my opinion, anyway.

The longer I live outside of the United States, the more weirded out I get by the bizarre opinions of some of my compatriots. Some of them are absolutely gleeful when a person gets sentenced to death, or sent away to rot in prison for the rest of their lives. Personally, I find the idea of lifetime imprisonment or execution sad, even if the person really deserves the punishment. I don’t like to see lives wasted. Likewise, some people get angry when a person doesn’t get the death penalty. It never occurs to them how easy it is to get arrested in the United States, nor do they seem to care that sometimes innocent people end up on death row. Once someone is executed, they can’t be brought back to life.

Of course, a lot of these folks also conflate the death penalty with abortion. They are all for executing already born people who have a concept of life and death, and they are all for forcing women to be pregnant. Both ideas strike me as brutal and barbaric. But then, to me there’s a big difference between someone who has already been born and someone who is still in utero.

Those are just my opinions. After I saw the death house at the Virginia State Penitentiary, my mind was forever changed about capital punishment. I used to be all for it, because I was so divorced from the people who might face it. Then I actually saw Virginia’s electric chair, and realized that a lot of people died in that chair. Most of them had friends and family who once cared about them in some way. Executions don’t just punish offenders. They also punish people who love the offenders.

I’ll admit, though, that I likely have this level of compassion because I haven’t been victimized by a violent criminal. Maybe being a victim would make me feel differently about this subject. It’s not like I haven’t changed my mind before… and I will admit that reading some stories about violent crimes make me angry enough to wish death on the perpetrators. I remember reading a horrifying story a few years ago about a lovely elderly North Carolina couple who were robbed, tied up, and left to die when the perpetrators set their house on fire. The husband escaped, but the wife succumbed in the fire. I was pretty enraged by that story. I don’t think I would shed any tears if the men who did that were executed… but I also don’t think I would vote for them to get the death penalty… if that makes any sense.

I’m grateful to live in a country that, for the most part, is pretty safe and clean. Violent crime is fairly rare in Germany, at least when compared to my homeland. And there’s no death penalty here, so violent criminals don’t get a platform. I’m sure some of my relatives would say I’ve gone “soft” and liberal on them… But, to me, capital punishment is just another way of promoting loss.

Anyway, I do think it would be appropriate for Mr. Murdaugh to spend the rest of his days in confinement. I don’t think he has a hope in hell of ever being free again, and I think that’s a fitting punishment for him. I don’t need to see him strapped to a gurney and given an overdose of drugs. I can understand, though, that a lot of people will disagree with me. We’ll see what happens today, when he gets sentenced.

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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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