Justice For Molly Bish

February 9, 2017

A few minutes before 10 o’clock on the morning of June 27, 2000, Magi Bish dropped her daughter Molly off at the local swimming hole, Comins Pond, in the town of Warren, Mass. The 16-year-old Molly, a high school junior, had just started a summer job as a lifeguard there the week before.

The parking lot was empty, except for a dump truck dropping off a load of sand. Magi, watched her daughter walk toward the beach. She then waited for the dump truck to drive out before driving away. But when swimmers arrived twenty minutes later, the only traces of Molly were her water-bottle, sandals, a police radio and an opened first aid kit. Molly had vanished, and for Magi and her husband John, a nightmare like no other began.

The only lead the police had to work with was a man Magi remembered having seen when she dropped Molly off the previous day. He had been sitting alone in a white vehicle in the parking lot. Nervous over his presence, Magi waited around for about 20 minutes until the man drove off.

The ensuing search for Molly became the most extensive in Massachusetts history.  Molly’s story was told on America’s Most Wanted, 48 Hours, Court TV, Unsolved Mysteries, Larry King, Nancy Grace and other national and local media outlets.

But in spite of everyone’s best efforts, Molly’s fate remained a mystery for three long years. And then in June 2003, the search for Molly came to a heartbreaking end when 26 of her bones were found scattered on the side of a mountain only five miles from her home. Molly was buried on her 20th Birthday.

Investigators believed Molly’s killer was probably a local with intimate knowledge of the area. However, no arrests were made and the case went cold.

And then in January, 2009, a suspect surfaced, 60-year-old Rodney Stanger. He was a longtime resident of Southbridge, Mass., located just a few miles from Warren. Stanger had moved to Florida the year after Molly disappeared. Neighbors say he was an outdoorsman who was known to hunt and fish in the area around Comins Pond. And he had access to his brother’s car, which was same type that Magi had seen the day before Molly disappeared. He also matched the composite sketch of the driver of that car.

Stanger was brought to the attention of the authorities when the Massachusetts State Police got a call from the sister of Stanger’s live-in girlfriend, Crystal Morrison. The sister told police that Crystal had hinted to her that Stanger was involved in Molly’s murder. On February 25, 2008, just days after the conversation between the sisters, Crystal was found stabbed to death in their mobile home. Rodney Stanger was charged with the murder.

On October 28, 2010, under a negotiated plea deal with prosecutors, the now 62-year-old Stanger was sentenced to serve 25 years in a Florida prison for second-degree murder of Crystal Morrison, and concurrent sentences for burglary of a dwelling and battery. The chances of Stanger ever breathing free air again are slim.

On the Molly Bish Foundation Website is this message from Molly’s parents, Magi and John Bish:

“We will find… the person that harmed her. It’s been a journey, a story of love and loss, but we are still hopeful and we want Molly to know we’ll never give up.”

If Rodney Stanger is in fact Molly’s murderer, let’s hope sufficient evidence can be developed to charge and convict him. The Bish family’s journey needs to come to an end. And Molly is entitled to justice.

 

 

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The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

February 6, 2017

The manuscript is at the publisher and is in the second of three phases of editing. When the editing is completed, the cover will be designed and we’ll go on the production schedule. I’m hoping the book will be released by early May.

Our current plan is to do a kickoff book signing at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

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Denny Griffin, true crime author

 

A Mother’s Resolve

February 2, 2017

The Debi Whitlock Case

On March 25, 1988, 32-year-old Debi Whitlock was murdered at her home in Modesto, California. Her throat was slit and her dead body sexually assaulted while her three-year-old daughter slept in a nearby bedroom. Initially, Harold Whitlock, Debi’s husband, was the chief suspect in his wife’s death. But he wasn’t charged and no arrests were made. For the next nine years Debi’s mother, Jacque MacDonald waged a determined but uphill battle to get justice for her daughter.

Jacque knew that the best chance to develop new investigative leads required keeping the case alive in the minds of the public. In order to do that she had to get the media involved. She reached out to programs such as America’s Most Wanted again and again without success. The frustration Jacque experienced could have caused her to give up, to accept that her daughter’s murder might never be solved. It could have, but it didn’t. If anything, she became even more determined.

As she fought to get Debi’s case the attention it deserved, Jacque realized there were probably other parents—she prefers to call them “walking wounded” rather than victims—who were going through the same things she was. To help others she created her own local radio and TV shows called The Victim’s Voice (http://www.mercedcountysmostwanted.org/victimsvoice.html). The show profiled unsolved homicide cases and included interviews with police officials and members of the victim’s family. Jacque felt it was very important to have a family member involved to give a face and voice to their deceased loved one.

Setting up and running her show took a lot of time. But Jacque didn’t let that interfere with her efforts to track down Debi’s killer. She learned what resources were available to her in the community. Among them were the Merced County Victim/Witness Program and Citizens Against Homicide (http://www.citizensagainsthomicide.org). Both proved invaluable to her in her struggle.

Not long afterward Jacque had something she’d long desired. A billboard was put up with Debi’s photo and a plea for help in finding her murderer. Eventually that billboard would pay huge dividends. After that America’s Most Wanted and other national shows picked up the story.

In 1997 Scott Avery Fizzell was arrested for Debi’s murder. The friend of Fizzell who gave the police the information that led to the arrest explained why he finally came forward. Debi’s photo on the billboard haunted him to the point he felt compelled to name the killer. On May 26, 1999 Fizzell pled guilty to the murder.

In addition to accomplishing what she’d set out to do, Jacque’s tenacity earned her the National Crime Victim’s Service Award from the United States attorney general. And in 2009 the story of Debi’s murder and Jacque’s quest was released in a book authored by Debi’s step-daughter, Angela Dove, titled No Room For Doubt (http://www.angeladove.com).

Crime Wire Consultants

February 2, 2017

The people listed below have volunteered to serve as consultants to Crime Wire and to review cold case murders on a pro bono basis. I can’t thank them enough for their willingness to apply their expertise to help bring resolution or a sense of peace to the survivors of murder victims.

Pat Caristo

Pat is the Executive Director of the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death (http://bridgesforvictimsofviolentdeath.org). She has been a licensed, working private investigator since 1985, specializing in the area of unsolved homicide investigations. Her many years of investigative experience include the Philadelphia Police Department (which commended her for heroism), the UNM Police Department and the NM Organized Crime Prevention Commission. Pat is trained and experienced as an intelligence analyst and crime-prevention specialist. She has taught sex crimes investigation/crime prevention classes at the NM Law Enforcement Academy and the UNM Law and Medical Schools. She currently teaches investigative-related classes for the UNM Continuing Education Department.

William “BILL” Sullivan

Bill was born and raised in Marengo, Illinois. He attended Southern Illinois University and graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science in 1969. He was elected Coroner in Dekalb County in 1975.

In 1979 he was chosen as the only Coroner in the U. S. to assist nine other experts in compiling a manual for the correct way to investigate deaths —a project of the US Justice Dept.

In 1984 Bill became the Director of Operations for the Onondaga County (New York) Medical Examiner’s Office, a position that made him the office administrator and chief investigator.

In 1988, he formed Forensic Consulting Specialties (FCS) and became licensed by the State of New York as a Private Investigator. FCS (www.f-c-s.com) performs specialty investigations such as murder and suspicious death cases, autopsy and second autopsies, as well as regular civil and criminal investigations.

Peter Hyatt

Peter is a Statement Analyst and instructor who teaches statement analysis and analytical interviewing to law enforcement and corporate America. He has authored the investigator training manual for the DHHS and the State of Maine, as well as the book Wise As a Serpent; Gentle as a Dove. He has been interviewed extensively on radio and television, including the nationally televised program, “Crime Watch Daily” and “Taken Too Soon: The Katelyn Markham Story” documentary.

Peter has analyzed statements made in many high-profile crimes and missing person cases, such as Jon Benet Ramsey, Hailey Dunn, Darlie Routier, and Santa Claus on his blog at http://statement-analysis.blogspot.com.

Lyle Sharman

Lyle is the owner/operator of Arizona-based United Private Investigations (www.unitedprivateinvestigations.com). Prior to opening his own business, Lyle entered law enforcement and became a Tactical Trainer. During that time he was offered a position to be a bodyguard for the CEO of Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He spent the next 21 years as an expert in Executive Personal Protection, and Director of Security and Surveillance with Mandalay Bay.

Lyle is a nationally known expert in missing person cases, having worked and solved over 35 of them. He has appeared in several television shows and has regularly appeared in the nationally recognized crime show Crime Watch Daily.

Gene Cervantes

Gene is retired from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where he served as Classification Staff Representative. His previous positions include Classification and Parole Representative, Correctional Counselor, Parole Agent and Group Supervisor. He is Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) certified. In the fall of 2005, following the murders of his cousin and her husband, he joined Citizens Against Homicide (http://www.citizensagainsthomicide.org) and currently serves as a Board Member and Victim Advocate. You can reach Gene at 209 743-7033.

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The Suspicious Death of Heath Miller

January 31, 2017

At approximately 3:50 a.m. on July 15, 2009, the Fauquier County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Department dispatched units to investigate a reported motor vehicle accident on Bristerburg Road.

According to the official report, upon arrival the deputies located a deceased male subject in a ditch on the west side of the road. The individual was laying on his back, clad in a T-shirt and boxer shorts which were down around his ankles. There was trauma to his entire body. The deputies also reported that a Miller Lite beer can was lying on top of the dead man. Blue jeans found near the body contained a driver’s license identifying the deceased as 19-year-old Heath Miller.

Further investigation led to a spot where Miller’s vehicle, a 2002 Saturn, had left the road and struck a tree. The engine compartment separated from the car and remained by the tree. The rest of the vehicle had continued on, struck a fence and came to rest in an open field. A thorough search of the area by responders found no other victims.

Based on those observations, the officers determined that the car was traveling at a high rate of speed. When Miller tried to negotiate a curve the vehicle went into a skid and he lost control, resulting in the deadly chain of events.

Subsequent analysis of the Saturn’s operational control module by the police showed that the car’s speed was 101 miles per hour five seconds before the crash, and that the brakes were activated approximately two seconds prior to impact.

On the surface, Heath Miller’s death appeared to be a tragic accident with human error as the main contributing factor.

But Sharon Miller, Heath’s mother, isn’t convinced of that. On the contrary, based on the results of her ongoing investigation she believes there was another vehicle on the scene that night. And that her son may have been fleeing from that other car.

Among her concerns about the accuracy of the police findings is the Miller Lite beer can. Her son did not drink and was anal about not drinking. That fact aside, if no one else was at the scene, how could that can have possibly ended sitting upright on his abdomen? In Sharon’s mind, the can had to have been placed there by another person.

And what about Heath’s boots? He was wearing a pair of Dickie Classic Boots that night. In spite of the thorough search of the scene, they were never found. But the boots weren’t all that was missing. A white sock and his teeth disappeared, too. Approximately 20 of Heath’s teeth were removed below the gum line and never accounted for.

On top of that, an accident reconstruction specialist who examined the evidence said that some of the results cited by the police would have been impossible to have happened.

Sharon Miller is seeking answers that may never come. However, there will be no resolution for her until all the outstanding issues are explained to her satisfaction.

 

 

Changes Needed

January 30, 2017

Before my retirement in 1994 I spent 20 years in law enforcement and investigations. As you might guess, I was and still am very much pro law enforcement.

Soon after retiring I began writing fiction and true crime books, and a few years ago created the Crime Wire Internet radio show with Susan Murphy Milano. We dealt with topics that included missing persons, domestic violence and unsolved murders. The show went on hiatus after Susan passed, but is now back and in full swing. It has been while doing Crime Wire that I really started looking at unsolved murders from the standpoint of the victim’s survivors, and there are a few things that I find bothersome. I’ll talk about two of them here.

One is the lack of options available to the survivors if they find reason to believe the police investigation was lacking in some respect; and the handling agency won’t address the situation in a manner satisfactory to the survivor. What can be done?

Many people think they can simply take their concerns to another agency with jurisdiction and that agency will take over the investigation. For example, the county sheriff can intervene over a town or village department, and a state agency can replace the sheriff. In reality, however, the odds of that happening are slim to none. The agency you are looking to for help won’t get involved unless there is evidence of malfeasance in the initial investigation, or the handling agency or the district attorney “invites” them in. The request of the survivor by itself is not sufficient.

The second thing, which is my main peeve, is the difficulty in obtaining police records and reports and/or coroner reports and photos. My comments will be general in nature because every jurisdiction has its own rules and regulations that will vary from place to place.

There are many perfectly valid reasons for the police not to release information that could compromise an active investigation. I have no issue with withholding information to protect the integrity of the investigation.

I do have concerns, though, when talking about cold cases that have been inactive for many years or decades. In all too many of the cases I’ve heard of, the police agency refuses to release any information, citing the open case exemption to complying with the FOIA or Sunshine Laws in the specific state.

Suppose the survivor has the resources to hire a private investigator to pursue the 30-year-old murder case the police haven’t updated her on in ten years. She’d like to see what the police have done to perhaps give her investigator some ideas or save him a few steps. I submit that the reports could be released, even if partially redacted. Or at a minimum, a synopsis of the case could be made available.

How about the survivor who bumps into some friends of her husband who was murdered eight years ago? These friends were the last known people to have seen her husband alive. They ask her how the investigation is coming and wonder why the police never interviewed them. Concerned about the quality and depth of the investigation she wants to look at the records to see what was actually done. “Sorry Ma’am, it’s an open case and we’re prohibited from allowing you access to the file.”

In this example the open case status can be used to conceal sloppy police work under the guise of protecting the integrity of the investigation. Because only the police can see the file, how will the survivor ever know if the investigation was a sincere effort to find the truth? Where is the transparency?

I believe there needs to be a mechanism for survivors to have access to open-case police files under certain circumstances. Such as: the case has been inactive for a specific number of years or there is credible reason to believe the initial investigation was incompetently conducted or corrupt.

Getting changes made will be a very tough uphill battle and will require the support of as many groups and individuals who are interested in helping survivors as possible. Still, it would be a worthwhile fight.

Unsolved Murders

January 29, 2017

Up until this morning if anyone asked me how many unsolved murders there were in the United States, I would have had no idea. My guess would have been a few thousand and probably been on the high side. But due to a project I’m working on I did some research on that question. What I learned shocked me and I’m going to share it with you.

A January 2015 article by Thomas Hargrove of Scripps News (you can read the entire article at http://www.thedenverchannel.com/decodedc/how-many-unsolved-murders-are-there-its-greater-than-the-population-of-des-moines) begins with: “Think about this. More than 211,000 homicides committed since 1980 remain unsolved – a body count greater than the population of Des Moines, Iowa.”

Hargrove goes on to say: “Truth is homicides are less likely to be solved today than they were 40 years ago. Police fail to make an arrest in more than a third of the nation’s murders, resulting in an ever-increasing accumulation of cold cases.”

And an NPR piece by Martin Kaste on March 30 of that year explains in part: “If you’re murdered in America, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that the police won’t identify your killer.

“To use the FBI’s terminology, the national ‘clearance rate’ for homicide today is 64.1 percent. Fifty years ago, it was more than 90 percent.

“And that’s worse than it sounds, because ‘clearance’ doesn’t equal conviction: It’s just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.”

After absorbing those stats I no longer wondered why Crime Wire was getting so many requests to profile or review cold cases. With a killer being identified in only a third of the murders and less than two thirds of cases being “cleared,” there are an awful lot of people out there wondering why their loved ones are dead and at whose hand.

What’s the reason for these disappointing numbers? I don’t think killers are any smarter. And, after all, the police are better trained; technology has seen great advancements over the years;  security cameras are everywhere and DNA evidence is pretty much accepted as indisputable. You’d think the bad guys should be taking it on the chin, but obviously they aren’t.

When you compare those 211,000 unsolved murders to our overall population of over 300,000,000, they may sound insignificant. However, I suspect the families of the dead who are still seeking answers and justice would beg to differ.

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Denny Griffin, Crime Wire

 

Where Is Randy Leach?

January 27, 2017

Randy Wayne Leach and his car, a 1985 gray Dodge 600, disappeared from Linwood, Kansas on the night of April 15/16, 1988, following a pre-graduation party at the home of Kim Erwin in rural Linwood. He was 17 years old.

According to his family, Randy, an only child, wasn’t selfish or self-centered. He was always willing to help others and do what he could for neighbors, friends and family. He was an upbeat, clean-cut and normal boy.

Although Randy never acted like he cared for school, his grades didn’t show it. He was always an honor student, or honorable mention as a B-student. He never had to study much to keep up.

His senior year could have been finished with an early out in January, but his parents, Harold and Alberta, talked to him and he decided to enjoy his last semester of the senior year. For a graduation present, his parents bought him the car of his dreams—a restored 1966, cherry-red Mustang.

Randy planned to earn some money mowing grass the next summer and help around the home doing odd jobs and possibly going to a trade school of some kind. He made no long-range plans, just wanting to enjoy the summer.

The day before Randy disappeared; he and his dad purchased a brand new John Deere lawn tractor for Randy’s summer jobs. Randy took the new mower and mowed four and a half hours on a contracted job in the afternoon. He came home then and mowed the family’s front lawn.

When Randy got ready to go out on April 15, 1988, his dad asked him if he had enough money. He said he did, but if he dropped by Wal-Mart or K-Mart, he would like to get a bottle of water glass wax to put on his new tractor to hold the paint. The cost was around $15. Harold gave him a twenty. That gave Randy a total of approximately $50 to $60. He left in the family car, a gray 1985 Dodge 600, four-door sedan with license plate number LVJ 8721. The time was approximately 6:45 p.m.

Randy eventually went to Linwood and rode around town with Steve Daughtery. When later interviewed, Steve said he bought a six-pack of beer, but Randy declined to have any. The two drove to DeSoto at about 8:30 p.m. They went to the body shop where Randy’s Mustang was being restored. Randy took Steve to show off his car. The man at the body shop said that they were drinking beer and offered some to Randy, but Randy turned it down again.

By 9:30, Randy and Steve were back in Linwood, where Randy dropped Steve off. Randy went to Stout’s Corner, a convenience store. Four or five people reported having talked to Randy there. They all said he was joking and acting normal. He bought two candy bars, two Pepsis, and $3.00 worth of gas. It was Randy’s habit of putting back into the vehicle the gas that he thought he would use in an evening. Therefore, the family didn’t think he planned to travel very far.

Randy went to the party between 9:45 and 10:00. Randy’s cousin and others who were at the party said Randy could hardly walk. The cousin later stated that Randy didn’t smell of alcohol and he didn’t think Randy was drunk.

So what happened to Randy in the 30 or so minutes from when he was acting normal at the convenience store and when he was observed at the party barely to walk? One story that subsequently circulated is that someone put a drug called Thorazine in Randy’s drink at the party. However, it turned out that the person suspected of spiking Randy’s drink wasn’t at the party.

A friend of Randy, who arrived at the party at midnight, later said he was around Randy off and on. He didn’t see him drink anything, but Randy wasn’t acting right. At one point, he said, “Randy, what’s wrong?” Randy said, “Man, I don’t know what’s wrong.”

Another friend, James Burns, reported helping Randy to his car at 1:30 a.m. Unable to find the car keys, Randy laid down in the front seat. James went with his brother, John Burns, to give a girl a ride home who’d had too much to drink. When they returned between 2:00 and 2:10 a.m., Randy and his car were gone.

However, two other people said they saw Randy at the Erwin house as late as 2:15, waiting in line to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Erwin said she told him to go outside, claiming she didn’t want him to fall in the house and hurt himself.

At 6:00 a.m., Randy’s mom awoke to find Randy missing. The panicked parents were barefoot in the driveway, when Harold spotted Steve Daugherty drive by their house on Highway 32. Harold later said that it seemed odd because it was so early Saturday and Daugherty was only driving, “about 10 miles per hour,’” where the posted speed limit was 55 mph.

After Harold and Alberta reported Randy missing, a massive air, river and ground search was launched. But neither Randy nor the car was ever found.

Following Randy’s disappearance, rumors swirled. According to one of them, there was another young man with Randy when he stopped at the convenience store at 9:30 p.m. The man was identified by witnesses as Jim Hadle – possibly spelled Hadley – who was Steve Daugherty’s roommate. Hadle was reportedly seen sitting in Randy’s car. Word got back to the Leach family that both Daugherty and Hadle were drug users who had spent time in jail. Harold Leach contends that investigators never talked to Hadle, and that when Hadle later came to their house, he denied even knowing Daugherty. Both Hadle and Daugherty subsequently passed away, supposedly of natural causes.

As time went by, internal police reports about Randy’s case began showing up in the Leaches’ mailbox. Harold says he doesn’t know the source of the documents, but believes they were from sympathetic officers who were convinced the investigation was botched.

In 1993, a man purporting to be a “research journalist” offered his assistance to the Leaches and spent several months without pay interviewing partygoers and others who might have known something about the case. The man went by the names of Terry Martin and Lee Harper. Martin and Harper pooled information with Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Detective Dawn Weston, whom had been assigned to review the case.

Executing warrants issued by the assistant Leavenworth County Attorney, Weston arrested three men for the alleged kidnapping and murder of Randy Leach. The men were quickly released. The sheriff explained, “She was a new investigator and overzealous, so to speak. It didn’t pan out when the evidence was double-checked by the county attorney.”

As of this writing, Randy Wayne Leach remains missing and the case is cold. Someone still alive knows what happened to him on the night of April 15/16, 1988. If you are that person or know who is, it’s time to step forward and help bring resolution to the Leach family.

 

 

Survivors of Murder Victims

January 26, 2017
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Denny Griffin, Crime Wire

Over the past several years Crime Wire has profiled a large number of unsolved murder cases. Many of them are “cold” and have been inactive for years or sometimes decades. The survivors we deal with often believe the police did a poor investigation that contributed to a solvable case going unsolved and cold.

Our new Crime Wire Case Review Service (CWCRS) was formed to help survivors resolve their doubts about the quality of the investigation. Our panel of investigators, analysts and advocates will examine the case documents and render an opinion as to whether the initial investigation was adequate and appropriate; things were missed or not followed-up on; or that advances in technology (particularly DNA) that weren’t available at the time of the murder may now prove beneficial. This service is provided pro bono.

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle a survivor is likely to face when preparing their submission is a lack of police reports. Because unsolved murder cases remain open (even if inactive) most police agencies tend to refuse to release any information at all, or  at least nothing relating to their investigation. The inability to be able to see those important documents obviously limits the effectiveness of the review.

However, all submissions, even those without police reports, will be given consideration for review.

 

 

 

The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

January 26, 2017

The manuscript is currently undergoing Phase I editing with the publisher. There will be two more phases of editing followed by formatting and cover design. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get on the production schedule by spring.

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Denny Griffin, true crime author