Archive for the ‘Cold Cases’ Category
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
Eugène Vidocq, the father of modern criminology and the inspiration for the Vidocq Society
Sherlock Holmes may claim to be the world’s first “consulting detective,” but he’s not the only one any longer. Enter the Vidocq Society.
Born in France in 1775, Eugène Vidocq, noted criminal-turned-detective, fell in and out of trouble (and prison) from the age of thirteen until thirty-four, when he offered up his services as an informant to the French police. After a couple years working undercover, Vidocq created France’s first undercover detective bureau, the Sûreté Nationale, the inspiration for both Scotland Yard and the F.B.I. Vidocq himself inspired several characters in works by Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Edgar Allen Poe.
The founders: William Fleisher, Richard Walter, and Frank Bender
Named in honor of Vidocq, the Society, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, consists of retired and current members of forensic and law enforcement professions. The founding members include former FBI and U.S. Customs Special Agent William Fleisher, pseudo-psychic forensic sculptor Frank Bender, and forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter. The three friends wanted to create a place where “like-minded persons, in and out of forensics, could gather to discuss and debate crimes and mysteries.” Since their first meeting in 1990, the organization has mushroomed into one hundred and fifty members, and found its final resting place in the Union League of Philadelphia, a Victorian brownstone built in the mid-1800s.
The Union League of Philadelphia, the current home of the Vidocq Society
A society of distinguished criminologists, the Vidocq Society offers its detective services free of charge, and even pays for the travel expenses of those who come to plead their case in Philadelphia. There are qualifications, though. The Vidocq Society will only consider unsolved murder cases more than two years old (and therefore a “cold case”) with non-criminal victims presented to them by the appropriate law enforcement agency. If a case is selected, the appropriate official will travel to Philadelphia to present their case at one of the Society’s monthly lunches. If one or more of the members are interested in the case, they can form a subcommittee for further investigation.
“When you bring
all this expertise together…it’s
one stop shopping.”
The Vidocq Society has an excellent track record when it comes to the cases it takes on–as one local police chief they helped enthused, “When you bring all this expertise together…it’s one stop shopping.” They’ve helped solve several high-profile cold cases, including that of the infamous John List. The religious List methodically murdered his mother, wife, daughter, and two sons in 1971 in New Jersey, explaining in a note that he was sending them to heaven, and disappeared without a trace. Eighteen years later, in 1989, Bender and Walter aided America’s Most Wanted in capturing List. Walter created a profile for him, claiming he would be remarried, wearing a suit, involved with the Lutheran Church, and within 300 miles of the crime scene. Using this information, Bender sculpted an “aged” bust of List. Police caught and arrested List almost immediately.
Recently, the society helped the miniscule town of Coquille, Oregon solve the decade-old murder of fifteen year old Leah Freeman. In 2010, Walter helped Coquille Police Chief Mark Dannels discover more evidence in the murder case, and Leah’s then-boyfriend, Nick McGuffin, was arrested for murder.
The Vidocq Society has been covered comprehensively in crime journalist Michael Capuzzo’s book, The Murder Room. Interspersing their most famous cases with in-depth character studies of the three enigmatic founders, Capuzzo brings the society to light almost as well as the Vidocq Society brings criminals to justice. Read an excerpt here.
Tuesday, June 12th, 2012
Today marks the 49th Anniversary of the Assassination of Medgar Evers in the driveway outside of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. Medgar Evers was an African American civil rights activist involved in helping to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. Evers was a volunteer for the US Army and an active participant in the Normandy invasion. When he returned home from overseas he completed his secondary education and was elected as the field secretary for the NAACP. He was instrumental in educating poor African Americans on the value of voting and the importance of the civil rights movement. He was also the primary reason that witnesses came forward in the Emmitt Till murder case, which was crucial in shedding light on the true nature of the struggle that African Americans were facing in the South.
On June 12, 1963, only hours after a speech given by President John F. Kennedy on civil rights, Medgar Evers pulled into his driveway after having a meeting with some lawyers from the NAACP. Evers was shot in the back of the head by a bullet fired from a rifle. He collapsed in his driveway and was pronounced dead at an area hospital 50 minutes later. Many of the nation’s leaders spoke out about what a terrible tragedy this was to the civil rights movement and to the future of the country. Medgar Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The man convicted of killing Evers was Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Two trials were held and both of them were comprised of solely white jurors. They were not able to make a decision about De La Beckwith’s guilt. The main piece of evidence that was presented was the Enfield rifle that killed Evers with De La Beckwith’s fingerprints on the scope. To the Prosecution’s dismay, the defense offered testimony from two police officers who swore under oath that they had seen De La Beckwith at a gas station two hours away from Jackson, shortly before the shooting. With an alibi provided by these officers and the testimony of De La Beckwith stating that his rifle had been stolen before it was used in the shooting, a mistrial occurred after the jury could not reach a verdict.
For 25 years the case was closed and De La Beckwith was a free man, until new evidence was discovered. In 1989, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger acquired access to previously sealed records that indicated how dysfunctional the trial was due to certain affiliations of the appointed jurors. Medgar Ever’s wife, Myrlie asked the district attorney to re-open the case, but her request was denied due to lack of surviving evidence. Myrlie unwilling to give up found a court transcript from the original trial in her personal collection. In addition, the murder weapon was discovered in the home of the former judge that presided over the case. In the spring of 1990, investigators found two new witnesses, including a black minister who testified that he saw De La Beckwith at the Jackson rally that Evers spoke at that night and a former Ku Klux Klan member who said that De La Beckwith confessed to him that he in fact did kill Evers. In February 1994, a racially mixed jury of De La Beckwith’s peers found him guilty of murder. De La Beckwith, 73 years old was sentence to life in prison.
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
Pedro Hernandez has made a full confession in regards to the murder of six year old Etan Patz, which occurred in 1979. Mr. Hernandez, 19 at the time of the murder, stated that he put the body in a bag, stuck it in a box and put the box in a freezer at a store that he was employed at. After a few days, Mr. Hernandez removed the body and put it out for trash pickup. The body was taken away by the sanitation department and it could have gone to several different locations, one of them being an incinerator in the Meatpacking district.
The court system will have an upward battle trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hernandez is guilty for several reasons. First, due to the time elapsed since the crime was committed, it will be extremely difficult to find any physical evidence for trial. Second, although Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is trying to charge Mr. Hernandez with Second-Degree Murder, the attorney for the defense is asserting that Mr. Hernandez is suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and that his signed confession occurred because of these mental illnesses. In addition, there is already a man in jail that was suspected of killing Etan Patz. His name is Jose Ramos; he is already serving a life sentence for sexually abusing an 8 year old and according to civil court records was held responsible for Etan’s death in 2004. The police could find no evidence that he was involved in the little boy’s disappearance and/or death to bring on criminal charges but Mr. Ramos told the detectives that he saw Patz the day that he disappeared.
With no physical or DNA evidence, the only piece of evidence that the prosecution has to rely on is the testimony of Mr. Hernandez himself, who is currently being held in the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital.
For more information on the case please click here.
Tuesday, May 8th, 2012
by Sarah Rosenstein
On May 25, 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared while walking to a bus stop two blocks from his home in lower Manhattan, New York. Etan’s body was never recovered and no one was ever officially convicted of the crime.
Many people might remember Etan as the first child to be pictured on the side of a milk carton. This was one of the first methods used to stimulate public awareness and would later set the Missing Children Movement in motion. In addition to Etan’s disappearance, other incidents during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s mobilized the missing child movement, including the Atlanta Child Murders and the murder of six-year old Adam Walsh.
The movement focused on improving the spread of information throughout the nation and community to spread awareness and help locate the child. Broadcasting alerts through an Emergency Alert System notified the public of a missing or abducted child and was at risk of serious injury or death. This method was strongly advocated and further developed into the AMBER alert, after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered in 1996.
In addition, the introduction of new legislation, such as the Missing Children Act (1982) and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (2006), also improve child protections and inform the public about these types of crimes and how they could be prevented. Specialized agencies and units within police departments were also developed to focus on the specific nature of these crimes so response was quick. A notable agency created is the National center for Missing and Exploited Children (1984) which helped spread information and protection through methods such as creating a registry of known sex offenders.
Etan Patz was legally declared dead in 2001. The case was reopened in 2010 by the New York District Attorney’s office. In April of 2012, FBI excavated the basement floor of a nearby home in the Patz neighborhood after cadaver dogs detected human remains. At the time of Patz’s disappearance, the owner put in new concrete floors. There was some evidence retrieved after the excavation, including a stain, some possible hairs, and a piece of paper that are currently being analyzed at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, VA.
Friday, December 9th, 2011
by Ashling Gabig
John Wayne Gacy’s
On the night of December 22nd 1978, the police made a grisly discovery in the crawl space of John Wayne Gacy’s Chicago home. Twenty nine bodies in all were excavated from the property of the “Killer Clown,” with four others found discarded at a nearby river. Gacy admitted to raping and murdering local males over a period of about six years, with the most recent victim being killed just ten days prior to Gacy’s arrest. For his horrific crimes, Gacy was sentenced to death and finally executed in May of 1994. The man who once dressed up as a clown for children’s parties, violently took the lives of thirty-three young men and boys. While Gacy was ultimately brought to justice, at least eight of his victims had yet to be identified, thus leaving cases unsolved. Many families and friends of local missing persons in Chicago have been left wondering if their loved one has fallen prey to Gacy’s murderous rampage. For excavated Victim #19, one such family has finally found their closure.
On October 27th 1976, nineteen year old William George Bundy was reported missing by his family in the Chicago area. William never returned home, and his body was never officially found. According to his family, missing person cases during that time were not aggressively pursued. Two years later, the Gacy murder case was blown wide open, and given worldwide notoriety. The Bundy family suspected that William was a victim of Gacy’s, but had no way to identify the body. DNA technology was not available as it is today, and all dental records had been unfortunately destroyed by William’s dentist. Once involved in construction, William’s family surmised that he must have had contact with Gacy, who was also a construction worker.
Fueled by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s renewed effort to identify the remaining eight victims in the Gacy murders, William’s sister, Laura, recently supplied her DNA sample to authorities. Laura had no proof of her brother’s link to the infamous murder case, but she could not shake the feeling that Gacy was involved in William’s disappearance. Thanks to improvements in DNA technology, genetic testing was able to confirm that Victim #19 was indeed her long missing brother. William disappeared when Laura was only fifteen, and over thirty years later, she has found the brother she loved and missed.
Currently, there are still seven unidentified victims that were found on John Wayne Gacy’s property. While William Bundy’s missing persons case can now be closed, Sheriff Tom Dart wants to bring that same closure to other families. Whether some families have simply moved on, or never thought to link their missing loved one to Gacy, the authorities are asking people to still come forward and provide DNA samples anyway. In the case of William Bundy, his mother never came forward to provide a DNA sample prior to her death because, as Laura said, she was in denial of that possibility. Sheriff Dart acknowledges that it is not a comfortable situation to be associated with the infamous Gacy murders, but believes it will ultimately bring closure to friends and families of any missing persons. More importantly, it will allow people to lay their loved ones to rest, and finally close the chapter on John Wayne Gacy for good.
For more on the story, go here, and stay tuned for news on the Crime Museum’s upcoming exhibit on John Wayne Gacy!
Read all our entries about John Wayne Gacy