JT Townsend

True Crime Detective

Month: September 2015

The Bricca Mystery… And Nobody Is Talking

No One is Talking...49 years ago this month, the Gerald Bricca family was murdered in what would become the most notorious and obsessive cold case in Queen City history.

Jerry Bricca, wife Linda, and daughter Debbie were found stabbed to death on Greenway Avenue in the Bridgetown neighborhood of Cincinnati. Going down between the 4th and 5th murders of the “Cincinnati Strangler”, this grisly triple homicide pushed a city already on edge to the breaking point.

The young family was slain on Sunday night September 25 1966, sometime between 9-11PM.  Two nights later, concerned neighbors discovered their bodies after noticing the lack of activity at the house.  Detectives were already 48 hours behind the killer.

Scan0168Several factors indicated the assassin knew the victims.  There was no forced entry, a carving knife matching the wounds was missing, and the house was ransacked yet nothing taken.  There were no defensive wounds or signs of a struggle.  The Briccas’ two dogs, known to be aggressive, were found locked in the basement.  Investigators theorized that 4-year-old Debbie was murdered because she could identify her parent’s killer…or killers.

Over 300 people were interviewed in connection with the case.  Eventually, the focus narrowed to a married man known to be romantically involved with Linda Bricca.  This man hired a lawyer after his second interview and refused any further cooperation.  By early 1967, Bricca investigators and their prime suspect retreated into a lingering psychological stalemate that was never broken.

Scan0010Five decades later, this unsolved crime still haunts anyone who dares to remember it. Because there is something sinister at the heart of these murders – a motive so twisted that the line between passion and insanity was obliterated.

Consider an investigation that became an ominous impasse when detectives were engulfed by a case beyond belief…
Or a prominent prime suspect who lawyer-ed up and lived the rest of his life under a cloud of dreadful suspicion…
And a community so passionate about this grim and terrible crime that the rumor mill is still spinning after almost 50 years…

The murder house

Even after almost half a century, the house where the Bricca family was murdered has yet to give up its secrets.

Armchair detectives know that every good mystery has a wild card. So is there a clue, motive, or secret ready to drop in from left field? Because the key to understanding a crime is to expose the skeletons that spawned it.

Today, the Bricca mystery lingers in cobwebs and survives on whispers… a terminal case with a fading pulse.

But for those who have kept this slaughtered family in their memories, it will never be too late to learn the truth…

-JT

JT’s True Crime Awards

Best Unsolved:
Jack the Ripper… There are more books about the unknown fiend with the killer sobriquet than every United States president except Lincoln.

Best Getting Away With Murder:
Lizzie Borden and OJ Simpson… Both of their juries were biased in favor of the defendants and were not emotionally capable of convicting.

Most Wrongly Convicted:
Sam Sheppard… Evidence that Marilyn Sheppard was raped and the blood trail from a 3rd person at the murder scene clinches it for the doctor.

Best Non-Mystery:
Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold… Our first thrill killers spewed dramatic confessions and were defended by Clarence Darrow in a riveting trial.

Most Enigmatic Character:
Bruno Richard Hauptmann… Wrongly convicted of killing Lindbergh’s baby, this shadowy figure was innocent of murder but guilty of something.

Best Serial Killer:
Ted Bundy… From his alleged incestuous birth to his electrocution in Florida, a fascinating deviant – the most charismatic serial killer in history.

Most Overrated Serial Killers:
Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy… They were just two creepy, disgusting losers who should have been apprehended much earlier.

Most Bogus Serial Killer:

The Boston Strangler… DNA has proven that Albert DeSalvo did NOT kill two of the victims. These murders were the work of several different stranglers.

Most Bogus Conspiracy Theory:

JFK… Despite many suspicious circumstances, all the evidence comes back to Oswald, who tried to assassinate General Edmund Walker in April 1963.


 


JT’s Top Ten Murder Cases

In chronological order:

  1. Jack the Ripper – 1888:  First psycho-sexual serial killer came replete with the most evocative nickname ever and an unsolvable identity…
  2. Lizzie Borden – 1892:  America’s first feminist eschewed poison and hacked her way to personal liberation via financial independence…
  3. Hall/Mills – 1922:  The “Minister and the Choir Singer” was a juicy story of adultery and murder which remains unsolved despite clear suspects…
  4. Loeb/Leopold – 1924:  America’s first thrill killers murdered not for passion or greed but rather as a sociological experiment…
  5. Lindbergh Baby – 1932:  For decades investigators of the “Crime of the Century” have looked for a kidnapper instead of a baby killer…
  6. Black Dahlia – 1947:  The dismemberment of the pathetic butterfly may have been related to other similar LA crimes in the 1940’s…
  7. Marilyn Sheppard – 1954:  A classic murder mystery that spawned intricate forensic evidence and a cadre of five solid suspects…
  8. Kennedy Assassination – 1963:  A Tsunami of conspiracy theories overwhelms solid evidence that Oswald acted alone…
  9. Manson Murders – 1969:  The end of the “Love Generation” when a criminal guru manipulated young followers into savage murders…
  10. OJ Simpson – 1994:  A modern day Othello collides with the media circus in  a fascinating tale of murder, race, and sex…

Honorable Mention:

  • Lincoln Assassination
  • Speck & Whitman
  • Boston Strangler
  • Sacco & Vanzetti
  • Ted Bundy
  • Starkweather & Fugate
  • Son of Sam
  • St. Valentines Day Massacre
  • Joe Ewell
  • Jon Benet Ramsey

JT’S Top 10 Lizzie Borden Case Mysteries

Even when you know Lizzie was the killer, plenty of mystery remains in the Borden case.  I speculate about each item below – but the answers remain elusive.

thumbnailCATNSKUVthumbnailCA06LJEK1.  What were John Morse and Andrew talking about Wednesday night? Morse didn’t coincidentally stumble into a double homicide – his presence and Emma’s absence set the stage for murder. Did the mysterious negotiation between Borden and his brother-in-law provide the motive?

2.  How did Lizzie avoid leaving a blood trail after Abby’s murder? She didn’t have to go far, but blood drops are hard to staunch. The lack of blood trail from the guest room eliminates anyone else from suspicion – Lizzie only had to walk 20 feet to the safety of her own room.

3.  Was a note delivered to the Borden house on murder morning? There is nothing in the record about a messenger, yet the legend of the young man getting the front door slammed in his face persists. Was the intercepted note an irretrievable mistake that sparked the rage killing of Abby Borden?

thumbnailCA4DJ9QI4.  What were the real contents of the note that Dr. Bowen burned? The good Doctor’s furtive reading and overt burning of the note about his “daughter” just doesn’t fly. Was this the note from #3? Too bad Fall River’s finest didn’t do a better job of protecting the crime scene.

5.  Did Andrew have a will or was he having one made? Another persistent rumor that’s more than just a red herring – this is the most logical topic of discussion from #1. Why would John Morse not volunteer this information if he was assisting Andrew in dividing up his estate?

thumbnailCAMCOILO6.  Was the handle-less hatchet the murder weapon? Robinson did a superb job of rendering it irrelevant at trial – when you consider that expert witnesses all agreed it fit the wounds, the wood break was new, and the coating of ash did not match the dust on the other items.

7.  What did Alice Russell know about missing evidence? Her cryptic comments about the house search resonate – she told both Mrs. Churchill and Mrs. Kelly that police didn’t look thoroughly enough. She could have done her own search during the funeral – did she examine that “bundle” in Emma’s closet?

thumbnailCAKU3YGS8.  Did Lizzie act alone or did someone help her commit murder? A conspiracy is unlikely but can’t be ruled out – especially during Andrew’s murder. Bridget, Emma, Morse, Bowen all had either motive or opportunity. Lizzie certainly killed Abby – did someone else knock off the old man?

9.  Why did Detective Shaw privately interview Lizzie in May? Conventional wisdom says he warned her about shoplifting, but could this meeting have a more sinister undertone? The daylight robbery? Something Lizzie did or said that was a harbinger of murder?

Scan016110.  Why did Lizzie stay in a boarding house just before the murders? This was bizarre and scandalous behavior. Instead of going home from Marion she bunked at a New Bedford flop house for several days. She eventually was restless enough to return to Fall River on July 30th.

~JT

Every Good Mystery Has A Wild Card

Armchair detectives are always looking for what I call “prime constraint circumstance”…a fact that everything else must be filtered through…an immovable object and/or irresistible force that assumes priority over all others.  And it’s usually something that you never see coming…a blindside hit to your carefully constructed scenario.

I like to excavate these tingling minutiae that keep true crime mavens awake at night….those little details that destroy reasonable doubt and close a case – or throw it wide open!

Such as….

Rear View 2013How could Bruno Richard Hauptmann have kidnapped that baby if only a few servants knew the Lindbergh’s would be staying in Hopewell New Jersey on a Tuesday night?  Any normal week puts them back in New York – but because the baby had a cold they stayed past Monday.  Hauptmann, three hours away in the Bronx, could never have anticipated this schedule change, or even arrived there in time after getting off work.

Jack RubyHow could Jack Ruby have been part of a conspiracy to kill Lee Harvey Oswald if he was telegraphing money to a stripper 5 minutes before the shooting?  His transaction might have caused him to miss Oswald’s transfer from the jail down the street.  Throw in the tiny fact that his beloved poodle Sasha was with him – those who knew Ruby swore he never would have left the dog in the car knowing he would be arrested after killing JFK’s alleged assassin.

images[3]How could Sam Shepard have beaten his pregnant wife to death when a third blood type was found at the crime scene?  In 1954 the coroner ruled the blood trail was dripping from the murder weapon, yet modern forensics proved it wasn’t Marilyn’s or Sam’s blood – the killer was bleeding because she bit him while fighting for her life.  Her husband had no open wounds, but suspected serial killer and former Sheppard window washer Richard Eberling had motive and opportunity – plus an unexplained scar on his hand years later.

DeSalvoHow could Albert DeSalvo have murdered 13 women and then gone back to being a casual rapist?  The Boston Strangler crimes were committed by multiple killers – the age and race of the victims were too diverse, and the cases of the younger women all had solid suspects who knew the victims.  And no serial killer would savagely slaughter that many women and be satisfied with returning to the “Green Man” crimes DeSalvo was arrested for – stealthy, non-violent rapes where he apologized to his victims and even gave them money.

~JT

Abby Borden’s Wedding Picture

Abby Borden, as she was found

Abby Borden, as she was found

Sometime after moving into Maplecroft, Lizzie Borden sent her murdered stepmother’s personal effects to her half-sister Sara Whitehead, including Abby’s wedding picture.  Author Robert Sullivan found the picture in 1972 in the Providence apartment of Abby Potter, Sara’s daughter and Abby’s niece.  It showed a smiling and slender Abby Borden in her wedding gown – no harbinger of the obese woman she would become after 28 years of marriage to Andrew.

Why did Lizzie return this picture to the Whitehead’s?  Was it common courtesy, or did she need to dispose of an unpleasant memento?  Perhaps it was a final salvo of hostility and rejection – both Lizzie and Emma felt that Abby was “unsuitable” to be Andrew’s wife.  Or just maybe it was a small gesture of atonement.

Whatever Lizzie’s motive, the image of her rummaging through the personal property of a woman she had butchered and then mailing it back to the victim’s dearest relatives is chilling…

And what of Miss Abby Gray, the blushing bride of Andrew Borden.  I’ll leave it to the poignant pen of Edmund Pearson as he contemplates her brutal end.

Between bed and dressing table lay the body of Andrew Borden’s wife.  To this hideous and grotesque death she had come; this was the end of the road that had begun on that Sunday morning so long ago, when she looked up and saw her suitor waiting for her.  That far-off spring day, at the close of the Civil War, was the spring of her romance.

Dull, dull years had followed, and now everything had come to this pitiful moment, and she was an undignified heap of shabby workaday clothes, her feet in clumsy shoes sprawled behind her, their soles turned up, her head savagely hacked to bits; locks of her hair chopped off; her poor, plain old face lying in a puddle of blood.”

~JT

The Myth of the Boston Strangler

Albert DeSalvo, 35, is surrounded by police after his capture in Lynn, Ma. on Feb. 25, 1967. DeSalvo was nabbed in a store a day after he escaped from Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. (AP Photo)

Albert DeSalvo, 35, is surrounded by police after his capture in Lynn, Ma. on Feb. 25, 1967. DeSalvo was nabbed in a store a day after he escaped from Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. (AP Photo)

Albert DeSalvo, the alleged Boston Strangler, was never arrested, charged, tried, or convicted for murdering any of the 14 victims attributed to the killer.  The only evidence against DeSalvo was his own confession, a confession spawned by greed and rife with errors…the same errors that were erroneously reported in press coverage that was scrutinized by DeSalvo, who had a photographic memory.  There is not a single piece of forensic evidence linking him to the murders, and three witnesses who saw the strangler failed to identify DeSalvo.  And ten months after the last strangling, Albert DeSalvo was arrested for the “Green Man” crimes, a series of non-violent rapes where he even apologized to the victims afterwards…hardly the textbook progression for a violent, sadistic serial killer like the Boston Strangler.

Moreover, the strangler victims did not reconcile with a victimology profile.  They were young and old, white and black, city and suburban.  The methodology varied greatly:  Ida Irga was left spread-eagled in a grotesque position, while Patricia Bissette was tucked in bed with the covers pulled up to her chin.

And in 2003, DNA evidence eliminated Albert DeSalvo as the killer of Mary Sullivan, considered the last victim of the Boston Strangler.

So who murdered these women during 1962-1964?  And how many killers were there? Here is a chronological list of the accepted strangler victims, along with primary suspects other than Albert DeSalvo.

  • Anna E. Slesers, 55, sexually molested with unknown object and strangled with her bathrobe cord; found on June 14 1962
  • Mary Mullen, 85, died from a heart attack, but believed to have collapsed as the strangler grabbed her; found on June 28 1962:
  • Nina Nichols, 68, sexually molested and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 30 1962
  • Paula Lepro, 57, sexually molested and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 22 1962:
  • Helen Blake, 65, sexually molested and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on June 30 1962:
  • Ida Irga, 75, sexually molested, bludgeoned, and strangled with a scarf; found      on August 2 1962:
  • Jane Sullivan, 67, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on August 30 1962:

SUSPECTS in all 6 murders:   George Nasser, Barry Schereschewsky, William Lindahl, Peter Denton, Arthur Harrold,

  • Sophie Clark, 20, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on December 5 1962:

SUSPECTS:  William Keany, Albert Williams

  • Patricia Bissette, 23, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on December 31 1962:

SUSPECTS:  Jules Rothman, James Tuohey,

  • Mary Brown, 69, sexually assaulted, stabbed, strangled and beaten, found on      March 9 1963:

SUSPECTS:  Unknown

  • Beverly Samans, 23, stabbed to death, but not sexually assaulted, on May 8 1963:

SUSPECTS:  Gene Graff, Daniel Pennacchio,

  • Evelyn Corbin, 58, sexually assaulted and strangled with her nylon stockings; found on September 6 1963:

SUSPECTS:  Robert Campbell

  • Joann Graff, 23, sexually assaulted and strangled with her leotard on November 23 1963:

SUSPECTS:  unknown subject seen by her neighbor just before the crime

  • Mary Sullivan, 19, sexually assaulted and strangled with dark stockings, found on January 4 1964

SUSPECTS:  William Ivey, Nathan Ward,

The Greatest Crime Scene Photo of All Time

 

MrPostmortem_lg_fallriverhistoricalsociety

Submission for your approval:  Andrew Borden as he was found the morning of August 4th, 1892, in his Fall River Massachusetts home, after being hacked to death with a hatchet. His wife Abby also lay similarly slain in an upstairs bedroom…

Why is this picture the greatest crime scene photo of all time?  For starters, it was one of the first ever taken in this country, a spontaneous decision to record the tableau of an unfathomable double homicide for later use as an investigative tool.

Also, the compelling composition is pure American Gothic, evocative of an Edward Hopper painting, like a curious interior view of a New England parlor.  There’s a disturbing serenity to this murder, far removed from Jack the Ripper’s shocking butchery of Mary Kelly that we see in that infamous 1888 crime scene photo.

THIS crime scene photo is sedate yet chilling.  But here’s what makes it THE masterpiece…a crucial clue to the murderer’s identity is clearly visible in the photograph!  Something that is so out of place, so askew, that the finger of guilt can be effortlessly pointed in the right direction.

That black shape behind Andrew’s smashed head and bloody pillow is his Prince Albert Jacket, the coat he donned that morning to carry out his business rounds in downtown Fall River in the sweltering heat, the coat he wore when he came trudging home to die, and the coat he wearily hung in the hall closet upon returning.

Look at that Prince Albert wadded under his head!  Would Andrew do that?  Fastidious Andrew, who would have abhorred a dry cleaning bill if ANY member of his family treated a garment with such carelessness?  No, he would have hung it up like he did every other morning of his life.

So what is that jacket doing in our picture?  And why is it there on the day of Andrew Borden’s murder, of all days?

A killer always leaves something at the scene and takes something from the scene.  But every so often, they also employ something close at hand and then abandon it.

Slipped on backwards and worn like an apron, the Prince Albert would easily fit a shorter person (Andrew was 6’2”), and could serve as a covering to shield a stealthy killer from flying blood when leaning around the door jamb to strike the blows.

Because compared to the frenzied slaughter of Abby Borden 90 minutes earlier, this 2nd killing looks like a furtive, peek around the corner affair.  The overkill of Abby was pure orgasmic rage, yet this same UNSUB murdered Andrew out of fear…

This wadded up jacket fits only one crime scenario.  No maniacal OR cunning intruder, intent on rapid flight after the second killing, would have bothered with it.  And if the motiveless maid Bridget did the whacking, she would have used her own apron and then disposed of it.

But Lizzie Borden, at only 5’4”, would have recognized the jacket’s value immediately.   Having leaned around that corner into the sitting room myself, it’s easy to see how Lizzie could have remained free of blood.  The trajectory was away from the door jamb.  The Prince Albert jacket would fit her like a pair of coveralls.  And by leaning into the room, she wouldn’t have to face her father as she hacked him.

We already know that Andrew would NEVER have wadded the jacket under his pillow to prop up his head.  That touch is pure Lizzie.  Yet she believed that others would accept the jacket under her father’s ruined head without comment.  And she was wickedly perceptive, because neither the contemporary detectives nor future armchair sleuths (except Victoria Lincoln) have ever seriously considered what this significant clue really meant.

That Prince Albert wadded under Andrew’s head SCREAMS OUT that Lizzie Borden was the killer of her father and stepmother.  Case Closed!

~JT

PS – Just because the killer is revealed, that doesn’t mean America’s most notorious murder is bereft of mystery.  Please help yourself to my previous blog post on the Top Ten Lizzie Borden Case Mysteries, and have a whack at solving those little gems…

An Astrologer Looks at Lizzie Borden

 

8-4-82-BordenThis information is taken from the book “The Astrologer Looks at Murder” by Barbara Watters (1969).  I was skeptical, but it has a chapter on Lizzie.  Ms. Watters was the “leading astrological consultant in the nation’s capitol”, plus she lived in Fall River for 12 years.

It turned out to be one of the best essays of the thousands I’ve read on the case.  Here are the highlights of Lizzie’s chart – with some planetary specifics:

  • She was born the day after a total eclipse of the sun – 13 days later there was partial eclipse of the moon.
  • She has an “influence for violence” that “takes a cunning and mercenary twist” and “confers a fortune”.
  • There was a “configuration” that “condemned her to spinsterhood” and “mixed up her emotions toward her father” – a textbook case of the Electra complex (mythology), where the “unresolved tension resulted in the death of both parents”.
  • Because “the moon falls in 9 Taurus and Pluto in 9 Leo”, Lizzie’s “violent and irrational signs are perilous to the mother”.  Ms. Watters cites another identical chart where a “girl attacked her mother suddenly and violently on five different occasions, nearly killing her the last time.”  Motive was jealousy over possessions and property.
  • The “rising degree of Virgo” supports Lizzie’s tendency to “fawn upon those of higher status yet be kind and considerate to inferiors”.  Ms. Watters talks of hiring a Fall River painter who had worked on Maplecroft as a young man, and “although he thought her guilty of the murders, he maintained she was kindest, most generous employer he ever had.”

This just scratches the surface of this lengthy essay.  I don’t know much about astrology, but I’m wondering:  Has any astrologer since 1969 documented the specific alignments within the house that falls in Lizzie’s chart?

~JT

© 2017 JT Townsend