Select It Sunday: Shannon Verhage

This week’s Select It Sunday case was chosen by Tracy S.: Shannon Dale Verhage, who disappeared from Cedar Springs, Michigan on June 3, 1997, just twelve days from her first birthday.

It’s “virtually undisputed” what happened to Shannon: Marvin Gabrion killed her, along with her mother, nineteen-year-old Rachel Timmerman, and dumped them both in a lake in a national forest. Gabrion had raped Rachel shortly after Shannon’s birth, and Rachel and Shannon disappeared just a few days before Rachel was to testify against him. He later allegedly said he “killed the baby because there was nowhere else to put it.”

Michigan doesn’t have the death penalty, but because Rachel was killed on federal land, her murder was prosecuted under federal law and Gabrion was sentenced to death. He’s never been charged in Shannon’s disappearance, or the murder of a man whose body was found in the same lake, or the disappearances of two others he’s suspected of killing.

ET: Cordella Stevenson

My first (of two, unless I write another) Executed Today entry of the month: Cordella Stevenson, a black woman who the victim of a horrific lynching in Columbus, Mississippi 101 years ago today. She didn’t even do anything “wrong,” not that anyone deserves that kind of death — she died because her son was suspected of arson. (Oh, and she was black.) The locals couldn’t find him so they took out their rage on her family. Of course no one was brought to justice. TJ Jarrett wrote a poem about her in her 2013 book, Ain’t No Grave.

Select It Sunday: Sharon Baldeagle

This week’s Select It Sunday is Sharon Baldeagle (often named as Sharon Bald Eagle), chosen by Fluttergirl. She was twelve when she disappeared on September 18, 1984, and her case has for some reason fascinated me since I started getting interested in MPs, back when I was the same age that Sharon was when she was taken. I actually blogged about her once before, exactly three years and one week ago.

Sharon and a fifteen-year-old friend ran away from Eagle Butte, South Dakota, which is on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, the fourth-largest reservation in the U.S. Sharon was Native American, presumably Cheyenne River Sioux, and probably her friend was too. They were hitchhiking in Casper, Wyoming, almost a six-hour drive from home, when they got picked up by Royal Russell Long, a truck driver who took them to his house in Evansville. There he attacked them, raping the older girl and beating Sharon. Sharon’s friend escaped and went for help, but by the time the authorities arrived at the scene, Long and his other captive were gone.

Long wasn’t arrested until the following year; by then he’d gone to New Mexico. He claimed Sharon was alive and well the last time he saw her, but let’s face it, what are the chances of that? He was convicted of two counts of kidnapping — that of Sharon and her friend — and died in prison 25 years ago.

Long was probably serial killer; he’s also a suspect in the cases of Carlene Brown, Christy Gross, Deborah Rae Meyer, Jayleen Dawn Baker, Charlotte June Kinsey, and Cinda Leann Pallett, who ranged in age from ten to nineteen. Carlene and Christy disappeared together from a rodeo in Rawlins, Wyoming in July 1974, and Deborah and Jayleen disappeared, nineteen days apart, from the same area in August of that year. Cinda and Charlotte from a fair in Oklahoma in 1981 — Long was actually charged with their murders, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence. Only Christy and Jayleen’s bodies were ever found.

I think it’s pretty obvious what must have happened to Sharon; I only wish her family had answers. Her father was alive as 2013 and still hoping to find her — he looked all over the country for her. I’m not sure if he’s still living as he had cancer in 2013, but I can’t find an obituary for him.

I wonder if anyone’s ever written a book about Royal Russell Long. Serial killers are a popular topic in literature, after all. If someone has, I’d love to read it.

Let’s talk about it: Ashok Narain

NamUs gives the year 1987 for when Ashok Kumar Narain disappeared from Eugene, Oregon. Other sources say it was in April 1988. Regardless, Ashok’s disappearance is a very mysterious case — was he a murderer, a victim, or both?

The story begins in 1983 when Ashok, a native of Fiji, married Raj, a fellow Fijian from his village. It was an arranged ceremony. The couple moved to Oregon and subsequently had a little girl, Kamnee Koushal Narain.

The Narains regularly wrote letters to their families back in Fiji. Nobody back home detected anything amiss from the letters; it looked like a normal marriage and Raj seemed happy enough. The letters eventually stopped, but the couple’s Fijian relatives weren’t worried.

In the meantime, in September 1987, the dismembered remains of a pregnant woman were found in two different rivers in Washington and Oregon. A few days later, a toddler’s body was found in yet a third river in the vicinity. Although the police suspected the woman and child were related, they couldn’t prove it, and there were no missing persons that matched either of them.

Ashok’s brother reported the Narains missing in 2006. He’d heard about the dead woman and baby in Washington, and Raj’s family couldn’t find any trace of her online. In 2007, DNA testing confirmed the bodies were Raj and Kamnee. Mother and daughter were taken back Fiji for burial. Raj was 24 years old at the time of her death; Kamnee was only fourteen months.

I haven’t seen anything about a cause of death. It’s possible the police don’t know due to the condition of the remains. It’s equally possible that police do know and are withholding this information from the public.

So… where’s Ashok, the last surviving member in the family? Nobody knows.

When a woman, particularly a pregnant woman, is murdered, the police always start their investigation by looking at the husband or boyfriend. Yet, there’s no warrant for Ashok’s arrest and he isn’t even being called suspect; he’s only wanted for questioning as a witness. He certainly seems to have dropped off the map entirely since his wife and daughter’s killings — although I must admit, he had a really good head start.

Yet the dates here are pretty significant, because if the 1988 date is correct, that means Ashok was last seen over six months AFTER Kamnee and Raj’s killings. And that’s kind of hard to explain away.

I have no idea whether or not Ashok committed the murders. I do, however, think whoever did it was someone close to the victims. I believe this because the killer(s) went to a great deal of trouble disposing of the bodies and concealing their identities. I mean: dismemberment, hiding Raj’s head where it would never be found, and dumping the pieces in three different rivers in two different states. I think if the person was a stranger or only a slight acquaintance, they wouldn’t bother with all that.

R.I.P. Raj, and the baby you were carrying. R.I.P. Kamnee. I hope they find out who committed such a terrible crime.

And… let’s talk about it.

Witness

Michael and I were hanging out last night like we do. Because he’d come home right at the beginning of an episode of Say Yes to the Dress (my worst vice) and was forced to sit there watching silly girls try on overpriced wedding gowns for half an hour, I told him to pick whatever he wanted for the next show. He went on Netflix and selected something called Witness, because it “looks cool.”

Witness was FASCINATING and I highly recommend it to the type of crowd that reads the Charley Project and this blog. It’s a documentary where Bill Genovese, the younger brother of Kitty Genovese, who was the victim of an infamous murder in 1964, tries to figure out the truth behind his sister’s death and the story about how 38 people witnessed her murder and none of them lifted a finger, or a phone, to help save her.

I originally heard the murder story in a freshman psychology course at Ohio State. It’s become kind of part of American culture over the years. I think most people in the country have heard this story in one form or another. It got mentioned in the film Boondock Saints and served as part of the McManus brothers’ motivation to go on their vigilante spree.

(Spoiler alerts follow.)

The business about 38 apathetic witnesses is pretty much a myth. Their number probably did not equal 38, most of them did not realize that a murder was taking place, and some of them DID call the cops or otherwise tried to intervene. But the myth shredded Kitty’s family, lead to the early deaths of her parents, and cost Bill Genovese his legs.

I really had to admire Bill; he seems like a very tough person and also a very level-headed, good-hearted man. He tried to meet with Kitty’s killer Winston Moseley — who by any standard was a monster — and when Moseley refused to meet with him, he met with his son and stressed that he was trying to understand what had happened and hopefully find forgiveness in his heart. (Moseley died early this year, after the documentary came out. Good riddance.)

At the end of the film, Bill actually hired an actress to stand outside the same apartment building where Kitty died and sort of reenact the crime while he sat in his wheelchair nearby and listened in the dark. At the end of the scene the actress broke down sobbing; Bill was very calm and took her into his arms.

It was a very interesting and emotional film. Michael and I were still talking about it at lunch today.

An MP-related article from Cracked!

Robin Warder (who does that Trail Went Cold podcast I wrote about not too long ago) did an MP-related Cracked article that got published yesterday: The 5 Most Insane Twist Endings Of Real Missing Person Cases. Included was the case of Bobby Dunbar, who was “found” in 1912 but is actually still missing (long story). I thought I’d let y’all know about this article. Like most Cracked articles it’s interesting, informative and funny.

Incidentally, the most recent podcast for The Trail Went Cold is for two Catholic priests, father Reynoldo Rivera and Father John Kerrigan. The former was the victim of a horrific murder; the latter disappeared and was never found but was almost certainly also murdered. Both cases remain unsolved. There’s some speculation that the cases are related, although the murder happened in New Mexico and the disappearance in Montana. Father Kerrigan had spent some time in New Mexico, and in both cases, it seemed like whoever did this had a serious grudge against the church.

I actually updated Father Kerrigan’s casefile last month, with some significant new information. (I found out he was accused of sexual abuse.) I wonder if it’s a coincidence, then, that Warder did this podcast now. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet so I don’t know.

Podcasts are fun and entertaining, and I highly recommend them to true crime buffs, but unless I have some time to kill, I usually don’t listen to them myself. If I’m already familiar with the case, a podcast usually just provides a few shreds of extra info for the most part, or sometimes nothing at all. It would take much less time to read an article about the case and those often have more info in them. I wish more podcast included the written text as well as the recording.

Some news in Chance Wackerhagen’s disappearance

Per this article, the police no longer believe Chance Wackerhagen‘s father, Lee “Dub” Wackerhagen Jr., murdered his live-in girlfriend and then abducted Chance. The two have been missing since Christmas 1993, after Lee’s girlfriend, Latricia White, was found shot to death in her home. At present, Lee is listed as Chance’s abductor in his casefile. But the cops have a new theory, that someone else killed Latricia and that Lee and Chance also met with foul play.

That’s something I had considered myself, because it seems like those two dropped off the face of the earth. I didn’t think Lee had the kind of skills and resources necessary to keep himself and his son off the radar for so long when he was wanted for murder, and it seems like Chance would have found some way to call home if he could have. (And perhaps he did. See casefile.) I thought both of them had probably died a very short time after Latricia did, but I didn’t know if it was a murder-suicide situation or if another person altogether had been involved.

Now that I have the police endorsing this new theory, I’m not really sure how best to update Chance’s casefile. Should I make a whole new casefile for Lee as a missing person in his own right, do you think?

The article also has a color version of my previous black-and-white photo of Chance. I have replaced the photo accordingly.