I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
10 Life Lessons I Learned From Reading True Crime was only a speck of the wisdom I've gained from my favorite genre as evidenced by this follow up list.
1. Money Can't Buy Sanity
Susie Sharp Newsom was reared in a family of fine repute. In fact, Susie's aunt (and namesake), Susie Marshall Sharp was one of the first women to be elected as a state Supreme Court Chief Justice. When Susie married Tom Lynch, it seemed she would carry on the family traditions of long-lasting marriages. But somewhere along the marital trail, Susie lost her ever-lovin' mind.
Susie divorced Tom and, in turn, realizing his ex-wife was absolutely insane, Tom sought custody of his two sons. The main contention between he and Susie was her incestuous affair with her cousin Fitz Kleener.
When Tom's mother and sister are found slain in their Kentucky home, Tom knows Susie and her kissing-cousin are behind it, but proving it is an all-together different matter. The following year, Susie's own parents, Bob and Florence Newsom, and paternal grandmother Hattie Newsom would also become victims of the murderous duo.
After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Newsom, police learn the couple, realizing the snowballing craziness in their own daughter, had agreed to testify for Tom in Court hearings regarding custody. It became all too clear to investigators that Susie and Fitz are knocking off witnesses, or anyone they deemed against them.
Just as police were ready to make their arrests on June 3, 1985, Fitz and Susie, loading her 9 and 10 year old sons into Fitz's car, took off,with police hot on their tails. When Fitz suddenly brings the vehicle to a halt in the middle of the street, police believe the couple may surrender.
Until an explosion rocked the street.
Fitz Kleener and Susie Newsom, in a final act of defiance, had rigged a bomb to the bottom of the car and when the end was near, went out in a blaze - taking Susie's young boys with them.
Tom Lynch had several times tried to make the Court understand his ex-wife was a danger to his children. The Court clung to the old belief that Mom is best.
I bet, if they could speak to us from beyond, John and Jim Lynch just might tell us Mom is not always best.
2. The Hotter the Girl, The Crazier She'll Be
Tying in with number one, this little life lesson was confirmed by the character Barney Stinson on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother; specifically, Barney said,
The problem is certain women’s increase in physical attractiveness has been disproportional to their increase in psychosis. Luckily for us, a chart exists where we can see just how out of balance the ratio between your hotness and craziness has become – knowledge that can prove to be invaluable over the course of your daily life.
And he wasn't kidding. Some of the craziest people I've read about in the past 20 plus years have been beauty queens. As a prime example, meet Rhonda Lee Glover.
Rhonda was a former rodeo star and holder of numerous beauty queen titles when she met Jimmy Joste. Jimmy was good-looking and very wealthy, exactly what Rhonda wanted in a man. Giving birth to his son, Rhonda tied herself to his money.
The relationship, however, was extremely volatile, helped along by the drugs and alcohol consumed by the couple on a regular basis. As the relationship spiraled downward, Jimmy threatened to fight Rhonda for custody of their son.
Acting as the pampered princess she believed she was, Rhonda refused to let Jimmy ever have custody and on July 25, 2004, she signed, sealed, and delivered herself a sole custody order when she emptied her 9mm Glock into Joste and killed him.
After several hours of interrogations, the beauty queen finally confessed but she had quite a story to tell. She used the worn out stories of domestic violence and child molestation, but added in her own mix of - are you sitting down? - conspiracy theories involving Cave X, former President George W. Bush, aquifers, pagan rituals, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, and fraudulent oil deals, that all tied in to a child pornography ring and clandestine homosexuality orgies.
Even famous lawyer Racehorse Haynes couldn't save this high-on-the-crazy scale beauty, but he did one heck of a job, in my opinion, when he managed to get her only 46 years behind bars versus life. Of course, the princess now whines from the inside at Mountain View women's prison in Gatesville, Texas, on various sites such as Jailhouse-babes.com and the Voice for Inmates site.
3. One Person CAN Change the World
Whether you're talking about the still-unsolved Chicago Tylenol Murders, believed to be actions of a lone individual, or its copycatters, it's proof that one person can, acting on their own and for their personal gain, can in fact make permanent changes.
One of those changers was Stella Maudine Stephenson Nickell of Auburn, Washington. In June 1986, her husband Bruce Nickell came home with headache, which Stella promptly treated with four Excedrin capsules. In just a short time, Bruce collapsed on the back porch of the couples' home and was pronounced dead; cause of death: emphysema, as Bruce was a heavy smoker and often suffered related illnesses.
Stella knew cyanide-laced capsules were the real cause of death, but she couldn't tell anyone that. But she desperately needed it to be discovered so that the accidental death rider on Bruce's life insurance policies would be paid.
Venturing into another part of the Seattle area, Stella swapped a few more cyanide-laced Excedrin bottles with non-poisoned ones and then waited. On the morning of June 11, 1986, Sue Chapman Snow downed a couple of Excedrin capsules for a headache; within minutes she was lying dead on her bathroom floor.
Police, in an effort to prevent more deaths, quickly made a public announcement about the possible contamination. And there went Stella, be-bopping in saying Bruce had taken Excedrin shortly before his death. Investigations, however, grew suspicious of Stella and, to make a long story short, she's now serving a 90 year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California. She'll be eligible for parole in December 2017.
So the next time you're battling one of those child-proof caps or cursing one of those foil tamper-proof seals, say a word of thanks to Stella Nickells - one woman who made tamper-resistant packaging mandatory in the United States, but a practice commonly used as a precaution around the world.
4. Idle Hands Really Are The Devil's Workshop
I remember my parents and grandmothers using this phrase frequently; usually when they wanted me to do something and I wanted to keep sitting on my duff instead. And from what I understand, I wasn't the only kid being kicked off her can. If this applies to you, after you read the following story, say a short prayer of gratitude for every chore about which you grumbled about under your breath. Really, it was for your own good.
Allow me to present Lisa Connelly, an 18-year-old fat, dull-looking redhead living in Florida. She had no job, no boyfriend, and no parental guidance since her parents were divorced and she was allowed to come and go from her mother's as she pleased. On those all-hours excursions, Lisa was usually hanging out with her slutty friend Alice "Ali" Willis, smoking pot, trolling for guys, and just being the most unproductive citizens of society they possibly could be.
In 1993, Lisa and Ali met Martin "Marty" Joseph Puccio and Bobby Kent. While Marty seemed to have no more ambition than his little part-time job, Bobby was pushed by his successful father to make more of himself. Later described as sweet and charming in front of those who mattered, Kent was said to be a vicious, evil bully to his peers - especially his best friend Marty.
Before knowing the boys a full 24 hours, Ali and Lisa were getting it on with the two in Kent's sports car. And so it continued to go; sex and drugs, sex and drugs. Before long Lisa found herself pregnant with Marty's baby. Whether the pregnancy hormones or Puccio's constant whining (but inaction in resolving it) about Kent's bullying spurred it on, we may never really know, but what is for certain is that Lisa had decided it was time for Kent to go.
Lisa gathered up her idle-hands posse and plotted Kent's demise. On July 14, 1993, a group of seven "kids" that included Lisa, Puccio, Ali, Ali's current boyfriend Donald "Donny" Semenec, Heather Swallers, self-proclaimed hitman Derek Kaufman, and Lisa's cousin Derek Dzvirko, lured Bobby Kent to an isolated construction site under the guise of "hooking up" with Ali. When they arrived, Ali went along as planned and walked away with Kent.
Once they were "alone," Ali kept Kent's attention while Semenec sneaked up behind and stabbed Bobby in the neck with a knife. Reportedly, Kent yelled out, "Marty, whatever I've done to make you mad, I'm sorry!" and pleaded for Puccio's help. Instead Puccio stuck a knife in Bobby's stomach. Wracked with pain from the stabbings, Kent was defenseless when Kaufman delivered a fatal blow with a baseball bat.
When it was all said and done, the group, sans Heather who was curled up in the car's floor crying, dumped the body in a Florida everglades drainage ditch, certain the alligators would consume him before his body could be discovered.
They were wrong. Kent's body was discovered the next day and it wasn't much effort for investigators to figure out who was behind the murder because not only were these kids slackers, but they had big-mouths as well.
Unfortunately, the female teenage plagues of society have all been released while the guys, with the exception of Dzvirko, are all still mooching off taxpayers while doing time inside prison walls.
5..Lawyers Make Lousy Killers
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who are sworn to uphold the law that are willing to break the ultimate law: murder.
Cops who kill are the most despicable of this type, but lawyers have to be the most humorous. And the first two pathetic lawyers that come to mind are Seth Bader and Fred Tokars, of New Hampshire and Georgia respectively.
Neither of these defenders of the constitution were very bright when it came to their marriages, nor were they man enough to do their own dirty work when they wanted to end them.
On a November night in 1992, Fred dispatched one of his pathetic, low life clients to kill his wife in what was to appear as a robbery gone bad. While Eddie Lawrence tried to play the part of a tough Atlanta punk, fact of the matter was, he wasn't anything other than a weasel. So he, in turn, sought out a crackhead to do the job for him. But meth addicts aren't known for their smart decision making, and the plan went fantastically off course.
The lawyer and his thugs joined the ranks of thousands of Georgia inmates. But even behind bars, Fred was a pathetic yellow-backed coward and became a jailhouse snitch to gain favor. After entering the Federal Witness Protection Program, it's questionable if Fred is even still behind bars.
While Fred Tokars disgusts me, Seth Bader makes me sick and my skin crawl all at the same time. This low-rent, sorry-excuse-for-a-man used his son to kill his wife, but not before he used his legal teachings to drive Vicki Lynn Buzby Bader to the brink of insanity.
After using every divorce-lawyer trick in the book, Seth ruined Vicki financially and used her deep depression as a means to keep their biological son and two adopted sons out of her life. And he moved in a trashy, low-class, gold-digging princess-wannabe Mary Jean Martin to add insult to the emotional injury. Martin is a man-eater, if I ever saw one, who participated in the psychological warfare against Vicki (and got away with participating in a murder, if you ask me).
Despite all of the hardships, it seemed that the Courts had finally began to see through the law games and Vicki was going to win. Instead of just manning-up and accepting his bag of tricks was empty, Seth took his and Vicki's oldest (adopted) son, Joseph "Joe" Bader, to Maine and had him dig a grave for Vicki. Then on August 24, 1996, while Joe kept his young brothers busy outside the home, Seth shot Vicki to death after she entered the Bader home; having been lured inside under the guise of Seth wanting to discuss a possible settlement.
But the man who'd played such a nasty little game in the Courtroom was a complete moron when it came to forensics. And, in a most humorous twist, Seth's cell phone records were the icing on the evidence cake. (Come on, dude, didn't you watch a single episode of CSI?) Now Seth plays prison lawyer while serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.
6. Dr. Phil Was Right
And, oh, does it pain me to say that because I am probably the fake doc's biggest not-a-fan. But when he said, "Over-indulgence is one of the most insidious forms of child abuse," he couldn't have been more right on target.
Don't agree? Give me a moment of your time to prove his point:
- Joseph Lyle Menendez and Erik Galen Menendez of California who murdered their parents to inherit the family fortune.
- Dana Ewell convinced his best friend to murder his parents and sister in 1992 so he could have the family money all to himself; even took almost $400,000 from his maternal grandmother's account that was reserved for her extended nursing home care.
- David Brian Legg, killed his wealthy parents in June 1996 so that he could spend freely on his new, under-age Mexican bride.
- Patty Columbo of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, who, with the help of her married boyfriend, murdered her parents and little brother because they didn't like her choice of men and refused to support her lifestyle.
- Cindy Campbell Ray of Harris County, Texas, was too fat, lazy, and psychotic to bother with a job but she was ambitious enough to convince her boyfriend, David Duvall West, to murder her parents. She raised a few eyebrows when, just hours after the murders, she began removing items from the couples' home and demanding her portion of the inheritance.
- Despite his parents' best efforts, James "Jimmy" Robertson was a spoiled brat who wanted to get his hands on his family's estimated $2 million estate and felt murdering them, with the aid of his girlfriend, was the quickest way to get it.
- Sugar Land, Texas, resident Bart Whitaker was too busy partying and deceiving to finish his college education. Instead of using his ambition to earn a degree, he used it to convince a pathetic hanger-on pal to kill his parents and brother in a fake robbery.
...just to name a few. And, no, I don't think it's only wealthy children who are over-indulged, they just seem to be the ones to make the big headlines.
7. Thou Shalt Not Kill Unless Divorce Is Against Your Religion
Last time I checked, my version of the Bible says in Exodus 20:13, "Thou shalt not kill." (KJV) It's listed among "the big 10," but I don't think my book is the same as others. It seems there is a popular version floating around out there that reads something like, "Thou shalt not divorce, but thou can murder and invoke the name of thine religious affiliation as a defense."
The most recent example of someone using religion as a defense of murder instead of divorce is Mary Carol Freeman Winkler of Selmer, Tennessee. She married to Matthew Brian Winkler, a much loved preacher with the Church of Christ.
On the morning of March 22, 2006, Mary killed Matthew with a shotgun as he lay sleeping in their marital bed then gathered up the couples' three daughters and fled the home. She made it as far as Orange Beach, Alabama, before cops located the family following a nationwide Amber Alert.
Once in custody, Mary confessed to killing her husband. Although she refused to give a reason why, she repeatedly said Matthew was a good man and she was sorry for what she had done.
Then her Daddy hired one of the state's best criminal defense attorneys and her story suddenly changed.
Detectives had confronted Mary with evidence of a check-kiting scheme she'd been running, and that they knew bank officials had insisted on seeing her and Matthew together at the bank the morning of his death. Mary admitted this, but said it was Matthew who had forced her to open the accounts in her name only, write the checks, and had told her she would be the one to do any jail time over it. She also began telling investigators that Matthew was verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive.
When asked why she didn't just seek a divorce from such a terrible man, Mary said that divorce wasn't accepted among the Church of Christ. When that answer wasn't readily accepted among cops and the public, Mary's attorney, in a press conference, claimed that Matthew Winkler had told his wife he would kill her if she ever left.
The claims of abuse riled domestic violence advocacy groups, Church of Christ members spoke out about the restrictions of their religion, and the remainder shook their heads at the excuses used to get away with murder.
During Mary's trial, she took the stand in a tacky dress and thin white sweater, no doubt put together to give her a plain-Jane appearance and, eyes downcast and speaking in such low tones she had to be repeatedly asked to speak up, told the Judge, jurors, and courtroom spectators of the abuse she had suffered. In a dramatic (oft made fun of) show, Mary was presented with a wig and a single stiletto heel, which she claimed Matthew forced her to wear during kinky sex sessions at his demand.
Apparently it worked, because the jury returned a verdict of voluntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to serve only 210 days behind bars. After receiving credit for time served (part of that time in a mental health facility), Mary Winkler was released back into society.
Mary now lives with her daughters in McMinnville, Tenessee, and is Court-ordered to make her daughters available for visits with their paternal grandparents Dan and Diane Winkler who live in Huntingdon, Tennessee.
8. There's A Fancy Name for Attention Whores
Marybeth Tinning of New York and Diana Lumbrera of Texas. Both of these woman loved the attention they received from doctors, nurses, families, and friends when their children died, that they did it over and over and over. Marybeth killed all of her 9 children, including an adopted son. Diana murdered her five children, plus the six-week-old baby of her cousin.
The making sick of one's own child(ren) (or others in one's charge) for the purpose of gain personal attention is considered somewhat rare, but happens relatively often enough for it to have a name: Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP). And, sadly, it isn't limited to mothers.
Take a look at Genene Jones of Texas who worked as a pediatric nurse. She relished the praise she received when she brought babies back from the brink of death and enjoyed the sympathy she received when she was unable to save a baby. She's believed to have murdered as many as 50 babies in the San Antonio area.
And the victim's aren't always children. For example, Kristen Strickland Gilbert of Massachusetts, who worked at the Northampton Veteran's Administration Medical Center. This angel of death frequently injected her patients with medication to cause them to go into cardiac arrest so that she could see her boyfriend James Perrault, a campus security guard (an officer was required to attend code blues per hospital policy).
While there have been a few (very, very few) cases of MSBP cases by men, it is, by and far, a women's "disease." So while some would say it would be "nicer" to call them "deadly drama queens," I'll stick with calling these cold-blood killers what they are: attention whores.
9. Avoid Naming Your Son Wayne or Lee
Chuck Sheppard, writer of the weekly news column News of the Weird, informed readers in 2008 that Wayne is the most common middle name on death row, while Lee is the most popular among inmates as a whole.
No one is really sure why these two names are associated with so many criminals, other than just being popular names in general. Some folks have speculated that names like Wayne and Lee have a nice ring to them when calling for troublemakers (think, "Henry Lee, put that knife away!" or "John Wayne, take off that clown suit!").
Some examples of both names include: John Wayne Gacy of Illinois, Henry Lee Lucas of Texas, David Wayne Crews of Tennessee, Scott Lee Peterson of California, John Wayne Peck of Virginia, Scott Lee Kimball of Colorado, John Wayne Hearn of South Carolina... just to name a few.
I realize there are plenty of fine young men out there sporting these jinxed names (my stepson has one of those names and seems to be doing just fine) but, for me personally, I'm going to avoid attaching these names to any of my kids like the plague!
10. Don't Do The Crime If Can't Do The Time
Nothing irritates the fool out of me more than to read about a cold-blooded killer that whines about prison conditions. Really? You took a life and you want humane treatment? Give me a break!
Kathy Rae Gaultney is one of these whiners I read about recently. She killed her alcoholic husband because he had discovered she was acting as a runner for a large drug ring and had turned her into the IRS, resulting in a raid on her business by the DEA. Keith had threatened to call in more authorities. While Keith may have been an unemployed, alcoholic slacker that left the bread winning to Kathy, he was no drug dealer and he hated what his wife was doing.
Keith didn't hit a lick at anything and running those drugs was how she paid the mortgage and kept her kids clothed and fed. In Kathy's eyes, she was making more than she'd ever made and the thought of returning to a low-paying legit job was not what she wanted to do.
So on September 22, 1989, with her kids playing outside, Kathy shot Keith while he was sleeping and tossed some stuff around to make it look like a robbery gone wrong. Things didn't sit right with veteran detectives, however, and soon Kathy found herself in a lot more trouble than drugs would have gotten her in.
Instead of feeling good about skipping away with only a 45 year sentence for cold-blooded murder, Kathy spent her time behind bars whining about the inhumanities suffered by female prisons while incarcerated.
She waited for her husband to get drunk, put a couple of bullets in head, murdered him in an act of revenge, and then boo-hoos about the lockdowns, bullying, and mistreatment by guards? Wow, all I can say is, "That's some nerve, lady!"
And to add insult to Keith's fatal injuries, the Illinois Department of Corrections set this cold-blooded murderess free on December 29, 2011. Thanks, Illinois, for keeping America safe! (/rolling eyes)
But the second story gets even better... let me tell you about Shaun Attwood, an English man who forged his travel VISA so he could stay and work in America, began importing drugs from Britain that he sold to anyone willing to buy, and formed deadly bonds with Mexican gangs, then had the audacity to write a book about the hard time he served under Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona.
While draining his parents' life savings to defend his criminal activities, Shaun was writing blog entries that he slipped out to family and friends to be posted online. He wrote about the moldy food, the unbearable heat, the harsh treatment by correctional officers, the lack of medical attention, the racial wars, the vicious gangs, limited beds that required some inmates to sleep on the floors....on and on and on Shaun went, moaning and groaning about the atrocities of jail life - a place he wouldn't have been had he not committed the crimes he did. But his major point of contention was that English prisoners were never subjected to such indignities.
Oh, please! Shaun was in our country illegally, supplying our youth with illegal drugs, and when he got busted, he couldn't man-up and deal with our laws. Then he was sucking off the American taxpayer tit with, God forbid, food and housing that wasn't to his liking.
Fortunately, as soon as Shaun was released from jail he tucked his cowardly little tail and ran back into the arms of his beloved England and is no longer a scab on the American society.
Listen up, people, 99% of you go to jail because you do bad things. If you don't like prison life, don't do bad things. If you don't keep your nose out of trouble and find yourself in a 6 x 11 cell, then shut up and deal with it because, quite frankly, me and most other Americans, DON'T CARE!
You reap what you sow, punk. It's as simple as that!
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2016 Kim Bryan