true crime

Remembering the case of Marc Evonitz…

The featured photo is a screenshot of Richard Marc Edward Evonitz, a rapist, murderer, and coward who is no longer around to hurt people.

In early summer 2002, I was newly graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Bill and I were engaged to be married. He was working at the Pentagon. I was looking for a job.

We had just moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia. Why Fredericksburg? Because it’s a cute town, and because it reasonably offered me the chance to access work in Richmond, Northern Virginia, or Fredericksburg, itself. Also, Bill found a two bedroom apartment owned by the same (slumlord) apartment company that owned the building where he had been living in a studio apartment in Alexandria, Virginia. I think the rent in Fredericksburg was only marginally higher, and the complex offered more amenities.

So there we were in the summer of 2002. We were broke, but excited about our upcoming wedding. We had a new dog, a blue-eyed beagle/husky mix named CuCullain (C.C.). I was hopeful about the future, even if living in that apartment made me miserable. I’m definitely not cut out for communal living.

As I wrote cover letters and printed resumes, which I would then circulate, I watched a lot of TV– especially the news. During that summer, there was a true crime case that really intrigued me. It involved a man named Richard Marc Edward Evonitz.

Richard Marc Edward Evonitz is now long dead. He died by his own hand on June 27, 2002, at 38 years old. Looking back on it, Evonitz was probably smart to kill himself. He was not destined to enjoy the rest of his life. He had finally been caught, and if he hadn’t committed suicide surrounded by cops, he might have wound up on death row.

A true crime documentary about Richard Marc Evonitz’s crimes.

I remember hearing about this case when it happened, thinking it was so surreal that Evonitz and I had basically been in the same places within weeks of each other. I don’t think I would have been the type of victim he was hunting for, since all of his victims were teenaged girls. Still, I remember being really freaked out by this story. I’ve never forgotten this case after all of these years, mainly because I lived in the same places Evonitz did within weeks of his final criminal act.

Richard Marc Edward Evonitz was born and raised near Columbia, South Carolina, which was where I had lived from August 1999 until May 2002. He was born at Providence Hospital, a Catholic owned hospital in a part of Columbia near where I had done an internship. I used to drive past that hospital when I went to my social work field placement during my last semester at the university.

Known as Marc to avoid confusion with an uncle named Richard, Evonitz grew up as the oldest sibling in his family. He had two younger sisters, Kristen and Jennifer. He graduated from Irmo High School in 1980. I know where Irmo High School is. It’s not far from the university, either.

After he finished high school, Evonitz worked for Jiffy Lube for a time, then went on to join the United States Navy. He spent eight honorable years serving in the Navy, then left military service. He married twice, first to a woman named Bonnie Lou Gower, from whom he was divorced in 1996. Then in 1999, he married Hope Marie Crowley, and they were still wed at the time of his death in 2002.

There I was, back in the summer of 2002, living in Fredericksburg, Virginia, having just moved from Columbia, South Carolina, hearing about Marc Evonitz’s last crime on the news. Evonitz was of special interest in the Fredericksburg area. It turned out that he had kidnapped and murdered at least three teenaged girls who lived in Spotsylvania County, very close to the Fredericksburg area, during the 1990s. He is also suspected of a 1994 rape and abduction and a 1995 rape in Massaponax, Virginia, which is also very close to Fredericksburg.

But as of June 2002, when Evonitz died by suicide, no one knew that he was guilty of those crimes that had taken place in Virginia. At that point in time, it wasn’t known who had abducted, raped, and murdered 16 year old Sofia Silva on September 9, 1996. The May 1, 1997 rapes, abductions, and murders of 15 year old Kristin and 12 year old Kati Lisk were also unsolved. Authorities had been searching for clues for years, but they kept coming up empty handed. It took the actions of a brave and clever 15 year old girl– Evonitz’s last victim– to finally solve those crimes.

On June 24, 2002, Evonitz abducted 15 year old Kara Robinson. She had been in her friend’s front yard, minding her own business, just as the girls Evonitz abducted and murdered in Virginia had been. Evonitz approached Kara, friendly at first, offering her magazines. Then he brandished a handgun and forced her into a Rubbermaid container in the trunk of his car. He bound her hands and feet and gagged her, warning her not to scream. The whole time, Kara was paying close attention to everything. She was hyperaware of everything she was seeing, hearing, and feeling as they traveled to the apartment where Evonitz lived.

Evonitz took Kara inside his apartment, raped her, and tied her to his bed. She noticed the names on his mail, the red hair in his wife’s hairbrush, and the magnets on the refrigerator. She even thought to talk to Evonitz, and later described him as “cordial”. Prior to going to bed, Evonitz made Kara smoke marijuana with him, and gave her a Valium. While Evonitz slept, Kara managed to free herself, using her teeth. She fled the apartment in bare feet, still wearing fuzzy blue handcuffs, and went to the police, where she was able to identify Evonitz. Kara says that the police were initially kind of skeptical, but they finally called her mother. The deputies took Kara back to the scene of the crime before they took her to the hospital.

Upon discovering that his captive had escaped, Evonitz took off, eventually ending up in Sarasota, Florida, where his dash for freedom was ended by the police. As the cops surrounded him, demanding that he surrender, Evonitz cowardly opted to end his life. He put his handgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Police searched Evonitz’s apartment, and soon found “trophies” that Evonitz had collected– evidence that Kara had not been his first and only victim. Richland County police officers discovered clues that would finally shed light on crimes Evonitz had perpetrated in Spotsylvania, Virginia in the 1990s… crimes that, in June 2002, had not been solved.

After Evonitz died, the police analyzed what was left of his life. In the course of their investigation, police found that Richard Marc Edward Evonitz’s hair matched hair that was found on the bodies of Sofia Silva and Kristin and Kati Lisk. They also found blue acrylic fibers from the “fuzzy handcuffs” that Evonitz owned, that matched fibers found on the three victims from Virginia. And then, five years after Kristin Lisk’s death, investigators found her fingerprints and a palm print in the trunk of Evonitz’s car. Finally, the families of those young victims could rest assured that the man who killed their daughters would never have the chance to hurt anyone else.

I remember seeing a news report about this case soon after Evonitz killed himself. Kara Robinson was interviewed at the time, and I remember hearing her say something along the lines of “Picking me was the dumbest thing Marc Evonitz ever did.” She sounded so tough and defiant. I was astonished by her bravery and ability to keep her wits about her. She was just fifteen years old at the time. I remember what I was like at that age… and I am just flabbergasted by how amazingly brave and strong she was… and apparently still is. YouTube tells me that Kara now thrives in a law enforcement career.

Here’s a somewhat recent interview of Kara Robinson Chamberlain. She is interviewed by Elizabeth Smart, who was also famously kidnapped in June of 2002, and also managed to survive her ordeal.

Actually now that I think about it, 2002 was a terrible year for abductions. I remember there was a lot of news about girls being abducted and murdered all across the country. Elizabeth Smart probably had the highest profile case, as she was abducted in June 2002, at just 14 years old. That summer, there were so many tragic and horrifying cases of girls being victimized.

That was also around the time of the Beltway Sniper case, which also had strong ties to Fredericksburg, as a couple of people were murdered there. I remember how Bill would never let me walk behind him during that scary time in October 2002, as the snipers had been randomly shooting people at gas stations up and down the I-95 corridor, seemingly without any rhyme or reason. We actually lived a couple of miles from a mall and a gas station where people were shot on different occasions. It was terrifying, and went on for a couple of weeks before the killers were finally captured.

Looking back on our brief time in Fredericksburg– a town that is about 90 miles from where I had grown up, and had always regarded as a really cute place– now makes me think of criminal behavior. That area is also near where Erin McCay George committed murder when she shot her husband for insurance money in 2001. I went to college with Erin, and was there when she embezzled money from our alma mater.

We also lived in Fredericksburg at around the time Erika and Benjamin Sifrit committed their crimes in Ocean City, Maryland. The Sifrits had ties to Fredericksburg, because Erika had gone to college at Mary Washington College (now known was the University of Mary Washington). They committed two very bloody murders just fifteen days after Bill and I moved to Fredericksburg, and their story was all over the news in Fredericksburg at that time.

Kara Robinson Chamberlain went on to become a police officer in Columbia, South Carolina. Below is a video of Kara speaking in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a community that is no doubt so grateful to her for helping to solve the cases of Sofia Silvia and Kristin and Kati Lisk. She truly is a heroine in every sense of the word.

What an amazing, brave, young lady she was, and still is.

I still think it’s so weird, how close I’ve been to some pretty horrifying true crime cases. After my car was broken into at our crappy apartment complex in Fredericksburg, and we had a brush with a creepy guy who was going door to door, casing the area, I started paying a lot more attention to the crime statistics in Fredericksburg. I discovered that the apartment complex where we lived was a hotbed of criminal activity ranging from drug busts to rapes.

I feel pretty fortunate that I managed to escape living there having only had my window busted in my car, as some lowlife thieves tried and failed to steal my aftermarket CD player. We moved not long after that happened. I see that now, the Fredericksburg Police Department has an office next to the complex where we used to live. It’s probably a good place for them to be, given the historically high crime rate in that neighborhood. Looking on Google Maps, I can see that where there used to a big field where I walked C.C., there’s now a landscaped road leading to the police station. The boulevard running past the complex is now a four lane highway. It had been a two lane road when we were there.

I’ve often thought that in another life, I might have been a true crime writer… and now I’m so grateful to live in Germany, which has its crime issues, but none as dramatic as those in Fredericksburg. I’ll never again think of it as a quaint, picturesque town.

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healthcare, law, true crime, YouTube

Mama Doctor Jones posted a video that made me cry…

A few weeks ago, I somehow discovered Dr. Danielle Jones, an OB-GYN from Texas who has a super cool YouTube channel. I really appreciated her video about the abortion ban in Texas, and why it will put so many women at risk. I shared that video multiple times, and it’s important enough that I’m going to share it again.

I read yesterday that Dr. Jones and her family are moving to New Zealand. I can hardly blame them! Texas is becoming a true hellhole for women.

Yesterday, as our bathrooms were getting repairs, I found myself watching more of her videos. I initially really tried to resist the lure of Mama Doctor Jones, but she’s adorable, funny, and warm. Hell, I haven’t seen a doctor in about eleven years, but if I found one like her, I might make a change. She really seems personable. That impression was especially strong when I watched a video she made, reacting to a video done by a woman who was forced to give birth while she was in prison.

This video broke my heart.

A few months ago, Mama Doctor Jones shared a reaction video she produced after a bunch of her followers sent her a video made by Jessica Kent, a popular YouTuber. I watched this video yesterday, not expecting that I would end it feeling so emotional. I’ve never made it a secret that I am generally uncomfortable with the way many people tend to view prison inmates as “less than human”. This video, which isn’t even the original, really drives home that point. Yes, prisoners deserve punishment, but not at the expense of decency and humanity.

This is the original video.

In October 2011, Ms. Kent, who is originally from New York, was arrested in Fort Smith, Arkansas for drug and gun charges. When I heard she had lived in Fort Smith, I was immediately interested. Bill and Ex lived in Fort Smith at the time of their divorce. It was the location of a lot of trauma for Bill, too.

Anyway, Jessica was high at the time of her arrest, and had no idea that she was pregnant by her then Laotian drug dealing boyfriend. But she was feeling sick and it wasn’t getting better, so she visited medical staff at the jail. Since she was detoxing from hard drugs that she was using intravenously, Jessica thought that was the issue. She was wrong. A very busy nurse, who had a lot of other inmates waiting to be seen, bluntly broke the news to Jessica that she was expecting. She was sent back to her cell.

Two hours later, Jessica was loudly told she had to be moved from her cell because she was pregnant. Dr. Jones is shocked by that treatment, correctly pointing out that Jessica’s pregnancy would put her at risk in a prison environment. It’s also no one else’s business. Jessica then explains why it was dangerous for the guard to let people she was pregnant. During her three month stay at the county jail, Jessica was not given any prenatal vitamins, nor was she taken to a doctor. It wasn’t until the guards realized she wasn’t going anywhere that they needed to have her examined.

Jessica explains that she realizes that she broke the law and deserved to be punished, but the doctors’ visits were completely humiliating. She was dressed in her orange garb, completely shackled and cuffed, and forced to sit in the waiting room of a free clinic with everyone staring at her, whispering, and taking pictures. And while I don’t necessarily think that someone in jail should necessarily expect private accommodations in medical facilities, I do think this scenario is a reminder to people that inmates are human beings. If you wouldn’t point, whisper, and take photos of a regular person, you shouldn’t do it to an inmate, either. Besides being tacky and rude, it’s also potentially dangerous. Jessica says the nurses also had no respect for her privacy, and were not respecting her patient’s rights.

When she was six months pregnant, Jessica was sent to prison. She was taken in a van, completely shackled. And even though her condition made her need to pee every twenty minutes or so, she was not allowed to use the bathroom. I wonder how she managed to deal with that. Poor thing… and yes I say that, even though I know she broke the law and was being punished.

At the prison, Jessica was required to squat and cough. But she was six months pregnant, so it was physically impossible for her. The guards screamed at her, then made her sit on the floor cross-legged for six hours. I have never been pregnant myself, but I can imagine how difficult it must have been for her to move at that stage of her pregnancy. I can’t believe the guards wouldn’t understand that. But maybe a lot of them are not much better people than some of the folks they’re guarding. I understand the need for strict security, but it disturbs me that the guards seem to lose their humanity and common sense. At least in some places…

Jessica was repeatedly told she would lose custody of her baby forever. She was totally despondent and upset hearing that. Even if it was true, and in her case, it wasn’t, that kind of stress, along with all of the other stresses of being locked up, could not have been good for the baby. Jessica was so freaked out about the prospect of losing her baby that she tried to deny being in labor. She wasn’t ready to lose her child.

Another inmate noticed Jessica’s condition, so she alerted the guards, who made her walk to the infirmary in full blown labor. When she gets to the door, she had to be buzzed through three doors. She’s in agony, but the nurses told her they had to wait until “shift change” before she could go to the hospital. It makes me wonder what happens in that prison facility when someone is having a life threatening emergency.

Jessica was bleeding, so the nurses put her in a wheelchair with a pad on it. She sat alone in that chair for about three hours, bleeding. It was her first baby, so she was terrified and in extreme agony. The ambulance shows up, takes her to the hospital, and was fortunately sent with a somewhat kind correctional officer. But the nurses at the hospital were rude and condescending to Jessica. They didn’t speak directly to Jessica; they only spoke to the guard. Then, when the baby was born, Jessica didn’t want to look at her, because she was afraid she would fall in love with her and that would break her heart.

The correctional officer, much to her credit, ordered her to look at the baby. Jessica looked at the baby and fell in love with her… and, in fact, I think that may have saved Jessica’s life. I think it gave her a reason to straighten out her life. That baby girl gave Jessica some hope. This was the bittersweet point in the story at which I got really choked up. It also made me feel sad that I never got to experience that for myself.

A couple of hours later, a guard noticed that Jessica’s leg wasn’t chained to the bed. The guard stated it was “policy” as she chained Jessica, even though Jessica couldn’t walk anyway. A doctor told the guard that it would do Jessica some good to be able to walk, but the guard restated that chaining her was “policy”. They completely ignored Jessica’s rights as a patient, which she maintained, even though she was incarcerated. Jessica was not allowed out of the bed unless she was going to the bathroom. And given the atmosphere, Jessica was actually afraid to ask to use the toilet.

A doctor later tried to give Jessica some Percocet for her pain. Jessica asked for ibuprofen and strong coffee, because she thought she was going to get just 24 hours to see her baby. But the doctor very kindly told Jessica she was going to give her another 24 hours to bond with her daughter. That time passed very quickly. Two big guards showed up to take Jessica back to prison. Naturally, the “mama bear” instincts came out… the guards basically threatened her and Jessica came to her senses. And Jessica said to the baby, “I’ll be back for you…”

Heartbreaking… and again, perhaps the point at which, deep down, she decided she needed to get straight. It must have seemed like an insurmountable challenge, and yet she still managed to do it. I am very impressed by Jessica’s fortitude. So many other people would never have been able to make that climb.

When it came time for Jessica’s release, the guards handled her roughly and took her back to the prison. Her milk came in, which was physically very painful, and she became despondent. But Jessica was smart enough not to express the suicidal thoughts that were in her head, because she knew it would mean being stripped, put in a “pickle” suit, and thrown into a dark, horrible cell, where she would sit for 72 hours, alone, but observed. Jessica had to wrap tight ACE bandages around her breasts to make the milk go away.

Jessica didn’t see her baby for six months. The foster baby kindly sent photos of the baby, but they were sent back, since inmates were only permitted to have five photos in their possession.

Much to her credit, Jessica worked very hard to keep the promise she made to her baby, once she got out of prison. It took a couple of years, but Jessica eventually did succeed in getting full custody of her daughter, Micah. She is now a very popular YouTuber. I haven’t had a chance to watch a lot of her videos yet, since I only discovered her yesterday, but I think she’s going to be yet another YouTube personality I follow. I’m impressed by how bright and articulate she is, and how she’s managed to turn her life around, against all odds. I’m also interested in prison reform and true crime.

Isn’t it interesting how one thing leads to another? I only recently discovered Mama Doctor Jones, and now I’ve discovered Jessica Kent through Mama Doctor Jones and her followers. I enjoyed hearing what an actual doctor has to say about Jessica’s case. I, myself, have had just one encounter with an OB-GYN and it was a horrific nightmare. What would have happened if I’d had a compassionate doctor like Dr. Jones when I had my first “female” exam? Anyway… I appreciated watching this video. I also enjoyed watching Dr. Jones’s video about giving birth to her fourth baby, which really gave an interesting perspective of her experience as a patient.

Also worth watching…

YouTube is an amazing vehicle. So many talented people, who otherwise never would have had a chance to blossom, now have this incredible medium in which to get their voices heard. If I weren’t so camera shy, maybe I would try it myself. But I don’t like feeling like I have to be camera ready, so I stick to blogging… and sometimes I think I don’t come across in my blog the way I really am.

Any readers who know me offline can tell me what they think about that. I probably come off as dumber in person. ūüėČ You can take that as you wish.

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narcissists, psychology, true crime, videos, YouTube

Should we have all seen it coming?

Although she’s been all over the news all week, I’ve been cautiously waiting to write more about Gabrielle Petito. Even though I kind of knew deep down that the dead body found in Wyoming would probably end up belonging to her, I hesitated to state outright that she was deceased. I didn’t want to get on the bandwagon of assumptions that people often get on in cases like hers.

This is so sad. She was such a lovely young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

I also initially couldn’t bring myself to comment much on this case. So many people were offering opinions that they were very certain about. I still didn’t feel like I had enough information, although the signs were certainly there that Gabrielle Petito was a victim of abuse perpetrated by her boyfriend. Even now, in spite of the many creepy and disturbing signs that Gabby’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, is an abuser and potentially a murderer, I don’t want to make that statement outright. Because, in spite of all of the damning signs, I still don’t know for sure. I can only strongly assume, and I feel like there’s enough assuming going on right now. The truth is, a lot of this story is still pretty mysterious, especially since Mr. Laundrie is still missing. At this point, he’s still just a “person of interest”.

What I do know is that abusers come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and flavors. So, I also hesitate to be among my friends who have been posting things like this…

While I totally agree about trying to teach children not to be abusive, I also know from personal experience that this is a lesson that EVERYONE needs to learn. And sometimes even when you try to teach it, the lesson still gets lost.

Also, sadly, I don’t think this is a lesson that can always be taught. Sometimes a parent can do their very best to teach their children right from wrong, and the kid still grows up to be an abuser. I think some people are just naturally prone to have bad intentions. I can think of a lot of families I’ve known… good, hardworking, decent folks… who have one or two people in their ranks that aren’t quite as upstanding as the rest of the family. So I don’t automatically put the actions of an abuser on the parents. It’s not always their fault.

I don’t know a thing about Brian Laundrie or his parents, so at this point, I really can’t judge the parents for what their son might have done to his girlfriend. But, the other day, I did watch the entire body cam video of the traffic stop involving Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito in Moab, Utah. The video was over an hour in length, so I can’t say I was watching it very intently. I do remember hearing how friendly and at ease Brian seemed to be with the police, even as Gabrielle was crying and clearly upset.

I wonder how the officers involved in this case feel now…

I do want to commend the cops for treating Petito and Laundrie professionally. They were especially kind to Gabby, letting her sit in air conditioning and giving her water. On the other hand, I heard the main cop, who was primarily in charge, repeatedly talking about Gabby to Brian as if they were buddies. He related his story about his own wife, who has “anxiety issues” and needs medication. I don’t think the cop’s wife’s mental health issues are necessarily relevant to this situation. It sounded to me like the officer was making some assumptions without knowing all of the facts. I can’t blame him too much for that. We all do it to some extent. I also think he truly was trying to help, which is commendable, although I think maybe he got a little too friendly with Laundrie. I wonder if the cop would have been as friendly if Laundrie and Petito weren’t young, attractive, white people.

In the wake of the video and the news about Petito’s remains being found, more people have come out to say that they saw Brian mistreating Gabby in public. But even if those people had come forward sooner, I’m not sure what could have been done. I do remember reading one account of a park ranger who told Gabby that her relationship with Brian appeared to be “toxic”. Melissa Hulls, a visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park in Utah, was among the officers who dealt with the couple when they were stopped in Utah. We don’t see much of what was said to Gabby during the stop, although I do remember hearing the officers discuss whether or not they were going to arrest her for domestic violence against Brian Laundrie. According to the link:

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Hulls said of Petito, who was living with Laundrie and his parents in Florida prior to the trip.

“She had a lot of anxiety about being away from him, I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida,” Hulls added.

I remember all too well crying like Gabby in the calm, assured faces of abusers. They made it seem like I was the “crazy” one. For a long time, I felt like I was crazy. And then, when no one else was watching– or the only other witness was a “flying monkey”– the abusers would go off on a rage. I can also see a red flag in Melissa Hulls’ statement about how Gabby was afraid to be away from Brian. Abusive people like to isolate their victims. They get to the point at which they don’t think they can function on their own. That’s how the abuser wants it to be, because then the victim will always be there to take more abuse.

In the end, the cops decided not to file charges against Petito. Even if they had arrested her, I’m not sure if the outcome would have been any different in the long run. But the fact that Gabby might have been arrested is another wrinkle in this situation. Oftentimes, people who are being abused don’t want to ask for help because if they do fight back, there is a chance that they will be the ones who end up in cuffs. My husband was abused by his ex wife in just about every possible way. He never reported her behavior to the police because he knew that it was just as likely that he’d wind up in trouble. She also had him convinced that everything was his fault. In the above police body cam video, you can hear Gabby talking about how she’d made Brian angry.

Hulls adds that when the stop was made, the police officers really did think it was a mental health situation caused by the two of them being together for too long, living in austere conditions. They had no reason to believe at the time that either party was truly in any danger. More than once, I heard the police refer to Gabrielle’s diminutive size compared to Brian’s, although Brian was the one with visible injuries. And Brian was very calm and friendly, while Gabby was crying and distraught. I think it’s important for people to remember that police officers aren’t necessarily mental health experts. Their job is to assess whether or not crimes are committed and enforce the laws. But clearly, Melissa Hulls got a bad feeling about Brian Laundrie.

Another couple from Louisiana, who happened to be vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming when Gabby and Brian were passing through, remember witnessing a “commotion” at a restaurant. Nina Angelo, and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw Gabby and Brian leaving The Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant on August 27th. Brian was reportedly clearly agitated and angry, going in and out of the restaurant and being abusive toward the wait staff and hostess. The waitress who took care of Gabby and Brian also experienced abuse from Brian and was very shaken. Later that same day, Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, received a strange text that supposedly came from Gabby. It was the last communication she got from her daughter.

Later, on August 29th, a couple in Wyoming gave Brian a ride. They said he offered to pay $200 for the ride, even before he got in their car. The couple said Brian told them Gabby was at the van, working on her blog. But when it turned out the couple was going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, rather than Jackson, Brian allegedly became “very agitated” and asked them to stop the car. He got out of the vehicle near Jackson Dam, less than 30 minutes after they’d picked him up.

These signs that are surfacing now tell us that maybe people should have done more. I think it’s hard to take action in a case that doesn’t seem cut and dry. We’re taught to mind our own business and give people the benefit of the doubt… and there’s also the very real risk that the abuser will turn on those who intervene. There were a few people who did try to do something.

On August 12, someone called the police to report a domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie. In the 911 call, the caller says “We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl… Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.” Another bystander named Chris reported to the police that he saw Gabby and Brian fighting in Utah. He heard Gabby say something along the lines of “Why do you have to be so mean?” He also saw Gabby punching Brian in the arm and the face, trying to take a cell phone from him. He described their interaction as “aggressive.” Below is a video by the Body Language Guy, who analyzes Laundrie’s body language.

Jesus Enrique Rosas is convinced that Gabby was a victim of abuse.

And yet, even though all of this was going on, no one was willing or able to intervene in time to stop Gabrielle Petito’s murder. The autopsy does confirm that she was killed in a homicide. It certainly looks very much like Brian Laundrie had something to do with it. In fact, it looks like he had everything to do with it. I will be very surprised if it turns out he’s innocent. But until I know that for sure, I hesitate to say he’s asbolutely guilty of murder, because we haven’t heard the whole story yet. What I do think is clear is that he regularly abused his girlfriend and, whether or not she “gave as good as she got”, she’s the one who is definitely dead.

Of course, at this point, it looks like Brian might possibly also be deceased. He has somehow disappeared in Florida, and officials there have brought in deep divers and special equipment to see if he’s somewhere at the bottom of an alligator and snake infested swamp or something. The mystery continues.

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psychology, true crime

True crime bonanza… Gabrielle Petito, Brian Laundrie, and Alex Murdaugh…

The featured photo is an idyllic spot in Germany… I posted it because both of these cases involve idyllic places where crimes were committed.

This morning, I woke up to the news that it looks like the authorities might have found the body of 22 year old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito in a “remote, but popular” camping spot in Wyoming. I will admit, I haven’t been following this case very closely, but I would have to be living under a rock not to have seen her young, hopeful, smiling face on the Internet, as worried friends, family, and authorities have been searching for her.

At this point, it looks like her fiance, Brian Laundrie, could have done something terrible to the pretty young woman. She was known for driving around in a tricked out van and vlogging about her experiences, seeing the country. Gabby and Brian were traveling across the United States, documenting their experiences on social media. At one point, they were stopped by the police near Moab, Utah. Gabby was almost cited for domestic violence because Brian had visible injuries, but police ultimately decided to just separate the couple for the night.

Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, says that she and her daughter last communicated by FaceTime on August 23rd or 24th, and there were a few texts after that. Petito and Laundrie were visiting the Grand Teton National Park when Petito disappeared. And now, a body matching her description has been found. Laundrie has evidently lawyered up and isn’t speaking to the police. He’s now back home in Florida. His family members have offered “thoughts and prayers”.

Bill and I were talking a little bit about this case yesterday. While it’s very suspicious that Mr. Laundrie has lawyered up and doesn’t want to talk to the police, we both came to the conclusion that getting a lawyer is probably the smartest thing Laundrie can do, even if he’s innocent. But it sure doesn’t look good for him. He’s now a “person of interest” in a potential murder. It does look pretty certain that the body found in Wyoming might very well be that of Petito’s.

Gabrielle Petito’s case is a compelling story, and one that I would probably avidly follow, if not for the other stuff in the media. Also tracking in the news right now is the very weird story about prominent South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh. Mr. Murdaugh, who is 53 years old, comes from a long line of lawyers in the Low Country of South Carolina. A few months ago, he came home to find his wife and son, Paul, murdered. Or, at least that’s the story he was telling.

Recently Murdaugh was sitting in jail, having turned himself in after he admitted to hiring a hit on himself. He allegedly paid a client to kill him, so his older son, Buster, might get a $10 million insurance payout. Murdaugh recently resigned from the law firm that bears his surname because he allegedly embezzled money to pay for his supposed addiction to opiates. Younger son Paul, who was found dead with his mother, had been facing criminal charges at the time of his death. In 2019, Paul Murdaugh caused a drunk boating accident that left a young woman dead.

It’s possible that the drunk boating accident and subsequent murders are related to the senior Murdaugh’s legal troubles. One day after Alex Murdaugh resigned from the law firm, he was shot in the head. He claimed that he was changing a tired when someone opened fire on him. Later, it turned out that Murdaugh had hired a former client named Curtis Edward Smith to kill him for insurance money. Murdaugh mistakenly believed that his son, Buster, would not be able to get the insurance money if Murdaugh took his own life.

The “hit” didn’t go off as planned; the bullet merely grazed the attorney. Smith has admitted to shooting the lawyer for money, and he’s now in trouble. He faces a number of criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, assault and battery, assisted suicide and possession of drugs.

Murdaugh did go into rehab for his drug problem, prior to turning himself in to the authorities. I would be very surprised if Alex Murdaugh doesn’t go to prison very soon. At this writing, after posting $20,000 bond, Murdaugh has been allowed out of jail temporarily, as he continues drug rehab and awaits his legal fate.

If I were the type of person to write true crime– and maybe in another life I would have been– either of these stories would make for compelling subjects. I think I’d probably be more interested in Murdaugh’s story. It sounds like there’s a fascinating family dynasty history behind the perfect storm that led to where he is right now. I would guess he has had a privileged life up until this point, but for some reason, that wasn’t enough. Next thing you know, he’s hooked on powerful opiates which have ruined his life. How does a high-powered attorney from a long line of high-powered attorneys wind up facing prison? I’m sure greed, a thirst for power, and succumbing to basic instincts have a lot to do with it.

I would also be interested in knowing if his son, Paul’s, troubles were related. They probably were, in some way. Obviously, boating while drunk is irresponsible… but driving a boat when you’re as young as he was indicates a privileged lifestyle… and perhaps an attitude that one is above the law. Of course, I’m speculating. It could be that that the truth is a lot weirder. I’m sure some ambitious writer will eagerly take on researching this case. I’d also be interested in the Murdaugh case because I used to live in South Carolina. I can pretty much picture the type of people the Murdaughs are, having worked in a country club near Columbia.

Adding to the intrigue, of course, is the death of Murdaugh’s long-time housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, back in 2018. Satterfield was 57 years old when her life ended. Murdaugh had said at the time that the housekeeper died after tripping over Murdaugh’s dogs and falling down some stairs. An autopsy did not conclude that Satterfield died due to injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident. And Satterfield’s sons have complained that Mr. Murdaugh never paid them damages after their mother’s death.

Ever since the Murdaugh story broke, I’ve been watching with interest. From the beginning, I thought it sounded like a story that would make for a good true crime book. But now, it seems that everyone’s talking about Gabrielle Petito’s tragic story. I think that story will also end up being covered by a true crime author.

True crime is an interesting genre. It’s based on tragedies that come about from the worst impulses and instincts of humans. It seems immoral to be “entertained” by stories about crimes perpetrated against other humans. And yet, true crime is interesting, because in incorporates so many fields within it. The stories are also true, which means they weren’t necessarily dreamed up by someone with a vivid imagination. I usually find myself drawn to them because I’m interested in psychology, and true crime stories almost always have an element of psychology within them. I’m always intrigued as to how people, often folks who were previously law abiding, end up in so much trouble. And I always wonder what makes them think they will get away with their crimes.

But as I have found out, having blogged about other stories I’ve read about in the news, there’s always a family or friends behind every story. And those people read about their loved ones and are hurt anew. I’ve written innocuous posts about news articles I’ve read on people I don’t know. More than once, someone has contacted me. Sometimes, they’re angry because they think I’m “insensitive”, even if all I’ve done is report what was in the news and offered speculation on what *might* have happened. Other times, people have contacted me, asking me to write more about their loved one’s story. I don’t mind doing that, for the most part. I’m sure it’s frustrating to read what’s in the press with no way to add to it.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of these stories. I’m sure there are writers lining up to research these stories and write best selling books about them. I may even read and review them, although I’m finding it harder to read things as quickly as I used to, so I’m more selective about my reading material than I was in the past. I do think Mr. Murdaugh’s story will be one I’ll want to read. Hell, if it were 30 years ago, I would expect Murdaugh’s story to become a televised miniseries. Isn’t it interesting how we in America turn tragedies into televised entertainment for the masses? As my Italian friend Vittorio would put it– weird-o-rama.

Either way… it’s nice not to be writing about the usual 2021 topics today… and now I have to stop writing, because the dogs are bugging me for a walk.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder. ¬†In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia. ¬†She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her. ¬†Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars. ¬†In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds. ¬†She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012. ¬†She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about¬†They Always Call Us Ladies¬†was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too.¬†

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on¬†They Always Call Us Ladies¬†so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed. ¬†For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books.¬†

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading¬†They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

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