A few questions that popped into my head about the Whatley case

The presumed abductions of Faye and John Whatley in 1976 is pretty bizarre and I thought I’d blog about it cause I’ve never had a case before where the only thing that seemed to be missing from the house besides the people was a part of the house itself. The cops seem to have given up on solving the case, which is going on 45 years old.

Some questions that occurred to me as I was researching the case, and for which I found no answers in the news articles at the time.

  1. Did the Whatleys lock their doors? They seem to have lived out in the country, so perhaps they didn’t bother.
  2. Did the couple own any guns, or know how to use them? If so, was one of those guns a .22?
  3. Where was the barn in which the door was located? If it had been searched multiple times before, it was probably pretty close to their home. Was it on the Whatleys’ property? Is it possible the door could have been missed in previous searches?
  4. When the door was found, was there any blood or fingerprints or other physical evidence on it? Had it been wiped off? While 1976 forensics were quite primitive compared to today, they should have been able to detect blood and type it.
  5. Are they 100% sure it was the Whatleys’ door that turned up in that barn? I don’t know much about doors but they all pretty much look alike, and unless it was a custom-made one or something, wouldn’t it be hard to tell the Whatley’s door from a similar-looking mahogany door?
  6. This was a second marriage for John and I think for Faye also. Were there any issues within the two sides of the family? Any personal grudges, any ne’er-do-well children or grandchildren or in-laws or anything like that?
  7. Who was expected to inherit the couple’s estate once they passed? Did they have life insurance? Have they ever been declared dead, and if so, when?
  8. Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing them, but Lucas seems to have confessed to virtually every crime that was put in front him and most of his confessions turned out to be false. Is there any actual evidence to back up his statement? Is he still considered a possible suspect?

The whole thing makes no sense. How does it happen that people (and there had to be more than one person involved in this) somehow get into the house without leaving signs of a break-in, subdue or kill the Whatleys without leaving any evidence of a struggle (save the single gunshot fired from inside the house; what happened there?), remove a door from its hinges and take that too, take the Whatleys and the door away without bothering to steal anything else, and then go and put the door up in a barn loft and do god-knows-what with the Whatleys, then never make a ransom demand or anything, and keep their mouths shut about it during the ensuing years? What does anyone gain by that?

I’m not discounting Lucas entirely. He was a legit serial killer and seemed to like going around the country with his buddy Ottis Toole murdering people for no reason whatsoever. But as I said, he confessed to a lot of things he didn’t do, and this operation seems to be a bit too organized for him.

Sorry for the recent silence

Yeah, I haven’t updated in a bit and I’m sorry. The last week has been super busy, mainly with wedding stuff. Michael and I are getting married Saturday.

I picked up my dress at the alterations place yesterday and it fits me perfectly. In my completely unbiased opinion I’m going to be the most beautiful bride in the world. There’s not going to be any honeymoon because of Covid. Michael will go back to work on Monday and so will I.

So, in lieu of Charley Project updates, here’s a sample of the more interesting recent missing and unidentified persons news:

  1. A woman whose body was found off Interstate 5 in Sacramento, California in 1981 has been identified as 26-year-old Lily Prendergast, who was last seen when she left her family’s Texas home in late 1980.
  2. John Michael Carroll disappeared from Victor, Idaho in 2005. His skeletal remains were found “in the general area” where he lived in 2013, and were identified this month.
  3. Hollis Willingham has been arrested in the murder of Jim Craig Martin, who disappeared from Normangee, Texas on August 6, 2007. It doesn’t look like Martin’s body has been found, however.
  4. Thomas Drew disappeared from Salisbury, Connecticut in 2007. He used to be on Charley but then his daughter asked me to remove the case. She didn’t like what I’d written, I guess. Anyway, he is still missing, and his daughter has recently published a memoir, Searching for My Missing Father: An American Noir. It sounds very interesting and I added it to my wishlist.
  5. Blackfeet Community College, in corroboration with Montana’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, has launched a website to help streamline missing persons reports of Native American people: “The website [linked here] allows families and friends to complete a Contact Information Form about the missing person online. In the past, missing persons’ loved ones have expressed reluctance to report missing individuals directly to law enforcement. The BCC reporting system will serve as the go-between for those reporting and all levels of law enforcement. Once the form is submitted on the website, an automatic notice will be sent to local tribal law enforcement.”
  6. A woman’s torso found washed ashore in the seaside community of Benicia, California in 1979 has been identified as Dolores Wulff, who disappeared from Woodland, California that year. Dolores’s husband Carl Wulff Sr. had actually been charged with her murder in 1985, but the charge was dismissed later that year and he died in 2005.
  7. A skull found on Mount Hood in Oregon in 1986 has been identified as that of Wanda Ann Herr, who had left a Gresham, Oregon group home a decade earlier at the age of nineteen. No missing persons report was filed at the time and the most recent photo available showed her at age twelve. The police are asking anyone who knew Wanda or has any info on her 1976 disappearance to contact them.
  8. The police have identified a new suspect in the 1973 disappearance of Barbara Jean Aleksivich from Bath, New York. The suspect, Richard W. Davis, is now dead, but he was recently identified through DNA as the killer of Siobhan McGuinness, a Missoula, Montana six-year-old who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1974. Barbara, who was 24, was way out of Richard Davis’s preferred age range for victims, but he did live in Bath at the time Barbara disappeared. A previous suspect in her case, who still lived in the Bath area last I knew, has been cleared.
  9. The body of Ethan Bert Kazmerzak, who disappeared from Hampton, Iowa in 2013, has probably been found. At least they found his car submerged in a local pond, with human remains inside. The remains have been sent to the state medical examiner to be identified, but it’s highly unlikely it’s anyone but Ethan.

I cannot emphasize how much of a game-changer this is

So, I found out today that Dr. Arpad Vass, a forensic archaeologist I’d heard of, has invented a nifty little widget that detects buried human DNA.

I have no idea how much it works, but it’s already proven its effectiveness: they found Gina Renee Hall‘s DNA in EIGHT PLACES along a river valley FORTY YEARS after her disappearance, as well as a piece of Gina’s bone (making her Charley Project case resolvable, which I have done), as well as DNA from someone else entirely: Angela Mae Rader, a girl who disappeared with her friend Tammy Lynn Akers in 1977. The girls (who were fourteen at the time) have been missing even longer than Gina.

Rather than thinking this means the guy who killed Gina (whose identity is known; he’s Stephen Epperly and he’s serving life in prison for her murder) must have also killed Angela, I think it’s more likely that both girls’ bodies coincidentally ended up somewhere in the same river valley and probably the same body of water. (DNA from Tammy was not found, but it seems likely that she’s somewhere in the same river valley.)

I haven’t resolved Angela’s case, since they only found DNA, not an actual body or even a piece of bone like with Gina. But I’m hopeful that her and Tammy’s cases can still be resolved, even after 43 years.

Dr. Vass’s invention could wind up leading to answers in a LOT of missing persons cases. This is really exciting.

MP of the week: Willie Johnson

Hello, all. This week’s featured missing person is Willie Lee Johnson, a 26-year-old African-American man who disappeared from Akron, Ohio on January 20, 1978. He went out that night to the Tropicana Lounge on north Howard Street (which now appears to be derelict) and never returned. His car was later found abandoned with his things inside.

Unfortunately that’s basically all I know about Willie’s disappearance. I can’t find anything about him in the newspaper archives, and having a name like “Willie Johnson” does not help matters. But I’m sure he still has family who miss him and wonder what became of him.

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy and washing their hands.

MP of the week: Jacqueline Cooper

This week’s featured missing person is Jacqueline Cooper, a 27-year-old woman who disappeared from Modesto, California on November 12, 1976. If still alive, she’d be 71. But she’s not still alive.

Jacqueline’s case is one of those where we basically have the gist of what happened to her, we just don’t know where she is. She and at least three other women, Mary Louise Watkins, Hester Lee Chandler and Patty Gay Toliver, are presumed victims of serial killer James Carlin Toliver. (Patty was James’s wife. She and Hester aren’t on Charley for want of photos.)

Toliver died of a heart attack in 1980, just after shooting his last victim to death and lugging $98,000 in looted money back to his car. (Out of curiosity I looked up how much $98k in $100 bills weighed, wondering if Toliver had keeled over from the effort of carrying it. Nope: just 2.161 pounds.) He was never convicted of any of his crimes and his many secrets, including the location of his other victims’ bodies, to his grave.

As to other matters: I am well, and staying at home with Michael. Today was the first day I had left the house in over a week (other than to get the mail and walk the dog); I went to the pharmacy to pick up my medication refills. My family is well and so are my friends.

Sitting there all day staring at my phone doing nothing but reading COVID-19 news (which is all bad) is not doing wonders for my mood. Although crime news is quite minimal at the moment, I am going to try and do some extensive Charley updating tomorrow.

Stay safe people, wash your hands, and unless you are on an essential errand or work in an essential job, practice social distancing and STAY HOME.

Native American Heritage Month: Delema Sits Poor

In honor of Native American Heritage Month I’m featuring a Native American missing person for every day in the month of November. Today’s missing person is Delema Lou Sits Poor, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared in 1974 from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She’s of Oglala Sioux heritage and her nickname in 1974 was Babe.

Pine Ridge is one of the poorest places in the entire U.S. and has numerous other socioeconomic problems. To quote from Wikipedia:

The population of Pine Ridge suffer health conditions, including high mortality rates, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, malnutrition and diabetes, among others. Reservation access to health care is limited compared to urban areas, and it is not sufficient. Unemployment on the reservation hovers between 80% and 85%, and 49% of the population live below the federal poverty level. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewage systems; and many use wood stoves to heat their homes, depleting limited wood resources.

The exact date of Delema’s disappearance is no longer known with just uncertainty, just sometime in February that year. She reportedly disappeared while walking “on a back road Oglala to Manderson” in subzero temperatures. You might wonder how they know the temperature at the time she disappeared but not the date, but my guess that just about EVERY day in February in Pine Ridge, North Dakota is subzero.

According to Google Maps, there are two routes you can drive between Manderson and Oglala; one is shorter in distance, 23.5 miles, but takes an hour, and the 40.2 mile roundabout way is shorter to drive. Either one is a VERY significant distance for a child to walk in subzero temperatures. Why was she out that day? Was she running away from something, or to something?

It’s extremely sad that a twelve-year-old girl’s disappearance seems to have been forgotten about by the authorities, but it doesn’t surprise me all that much. The situation of missing and murdered indigenous women has only recently become a topic attracting national attention.

Maggie Cruz found alive and well

Yesterday I wrote about how the police were looking into the possibility that “Beth Doe”, a young pregnant woman who was murdered, dismembered and dumped in a Pennsylvania river in 1976, might be runaway foster child Maggie Cruz.

Well, that possibility has been ruled out, as Madeline “Maggie” Cruz has been found alive and well and has spoken to the police.

I’m glad she’s all right, but that leaves the cops back to square one where Beth Doe is concerned. I wonder if she was killed by her husband — murder of pregnant women by the father of the baby is heartbreakingly common — and that’s why she was never reported missing.

Latest MP stuff in the news

So I wrote a blog entry on the WordPress app on my phone last night about latest missing persons news. But then the entry refused to upload, no matter how many times I tried to get it to. It wasn’t online at all, only on my phone, so I couldn’t even use my computer to upload it. Grr. Lot of time wasted. Now I will try my best to recreate it.

Some cold case missing persons have been resolved:

  • Edward “Ashton” Stubbs disappeared from Dickinson, North Dakota on June 17, 2013, a few days before his sixteenth birthday. He was from Texas and had gone up to North Dakota to stay with a cousin and work a summer job. He disappeared from his job site. Ashton’s skull was found on private property in Dickinson in December. It has just been identified. His death is under investigation.
  • Sheila Sherrell Franks, age 37, disappeared from Eureka, California on February 2, 2014. A woman of similar appearance, Danielle Bertolini, had disappeared a few days earlier, and people thought their cases might be connected. In 2015, Danielle’s skull was found in the Eel River. Now Sheila’s remains have been identified; her femur, or part of it, turned up in June, near the mouth of the Eel River. Unlike Danielle’s death, Sheila’s death has not (yet) been labeled a homicide, but it is considered “suspicious.”
  • Jo Anne Dolly Burmer has been identified, forty-six years after the 25-year-old disappeared in 1973. A fragment of her skull was found in 1993, but it wasn’t until 2017 that it was entered into the DNA database, and it wasn’t until now that there was a match. As nothing else has been found or is likely to be, probably we will never know what caused her death, but I wonder about exposure. This article is very detailed and talks about Jo Anne’s background and her son, who was put in foster care after her disappearance and later adopted by another family.

Some other news:

  • The police have a new lead on the possible identity of “Beth Doe”, a young pregnant woman who was raped and brutally murdered in 1976. Her body was dismembered, stuffed in three suitcases and thrown off a bridge into the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. They think it’s possible that Beth Doe may be Madelyn “Maggie” Cruz, a sixteen-year-old foster child who ran away. They’re trying to find relatives of this Maggie Cruz to get DNA from them to test. I think it’s a long shot.
  • Georgia “Nadine” Kirk‘s son Ted has been sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for stealing his mom’s Social Security benefits after her disappearance and presumed death. Nadine was 98 years old and in poor health in 2010, the last time anyone saw her. She was reported missing in 2015, and Ted was unable to explain her absence. It seems likely that she simply died of age-related natural causes and Ted, who hadn’t worked since 1980, disposed of her body and kept cashing her checks. Fifteen months in prison, and $30k restitution, seems light, given the circumstances, and the fact that $80k in total was taken from taxpayers. Nadine’s body has never been found.
  • Bernard Brown, the ex-boyfriend of Moreira “Mo” Monsalve, has been charged with her murder. Moreira disappeared from Hawaii in 2014. Her body hasn’t been found and they haven’t said much about the case against Brown, but it seems likely it’ll be circumstantial and possibly include cell phone ping evidence. Murder-without-a-body cases aren’t that common in Hawaii (or anywhere) but other examples include Bongak “Jackie” Koja in 1997, Masumi Watanabe in 2007, and of course Peter Kema in 2017.
  • Nancy Beaumont has died at age 92, 53 years after her children Jane, Arnna and Grant disappeared at the respective ages of nine, seven and four. The Beaumont children have never been found and their disappearance is one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in Australia’s history. Their father, Grant “Jim” Beaumont, is alive, but is also in his nineties and I think it’s unlikely he will find answers on this side of the mortal plane.
  • The police have released a new sketch of one of Christine Eastin‘s abductors, based off of a recent witness description. I think that’s a reeaaaallly long shot. It’s a rough drawing, this witness’s memory is by now almost fifty years old, and at the time they apparently didn’t realize the significance of what they saw and so they probably took little notice of it. Christine disappeared in 1971 at the age of 19.

MP of the week: Jack West

This week’s featured missing person is Jack Edward West, a 63-year-old man who disappeared from Phoenix, Arizona on February 16, 1975.

I don’t know anything about his disappearance beyond the time of day (4:15 in the afternoon) and part of Phoenix (his house, “the area of north 19th Avenue and West Virginia Avenue”), and that foul play is suspected. With a name like “Jack West” it can be hard to find any articles about the case that may exist.

West would be over 100 if he was alive today, so that’s unlikely. But he probably has relatives living who would like to learn his fate.

Interesting evidence released in Margaret Fox case

Today the police released an interesting phone recording related to the unsolved 1974 disappearance of Margaret Ellen Fox, a fourteen-year-old girl who disappeared 45 years and one day ago from Burlington, New Jersey, after going to meet with a man who said he wanted to hire her to babysit.

After her disappearance was reported, the police tapped Margaret’s parents’ phone in hopes that someone would call with information or a ransom demand or whatever. Someone did, a man who said, “Ten thousand dollars might be a lot of bread, but your daughter’s life is the buttered topping.”

That caller has never been identified, and the police held back all that info — the fact that they recorded calls, the call itself, all of it — until today, forty-five years later.

You can listen to the clip here. It’s very short: that sentence, followed by someone else saying “Who is this?” I am not sure — and perhaps the police are being deliberately vague here — whether that’s the entire call and the caller then hung up, or whether that’s not the whole call but it’s all they were able to catch on tape, or whether there’s more to the call that they decided not to release.

I posted articles about this on the Charley Project Facebook page, and a few commenters groused about the cops waiting 45 years to release the recording.

However, to that I have to say two things:

  1. The internet barely existed at all in 1974 and social media was not a thing yet, so it would have been harder for the police to disseminate the recording to the public even if they had wanted to.
  2. The phrasing used by caller is unique, and the police would have been able to use it to screen out false confessors — but ONLY if the exact words in the call were kept a secret from everyone except the investigating officers and, perhaps, Margaret’s parents. If the police had released this recording at the time they got it, they would have lost that critical advantage.

Now, about the call itself.

For those who are unaware, The word “bread” is or was occasionally used as slang for “money”. (The Oxford English Dictionary finds the first usage in 1935 and notes it may be criminal slang.)

The call sounds a little rehearsed to me. It sounds like something a character in an action movie might say, not someone in real life, and when you actually analyze the statement, it doesn’t even really make sense. (Obviously the guy meant “$10,000 is a lot of money but your daughter’s life should be worth more to you” but buttered topping is no good without any bread to put it on, so his analogy just falls apart.)

I think whoever made that call thought up that phrase ahead of time, trying to sound impressive.

Which doesn’t, of course, mean that the call WASN’T from someone with knowledge of the case. The police obviously think there’s a good chance that it was, or they wouldn’t have made a big deal of releasing this recording.

I hope this leads to something, anyway. The abductor could very well be deceased, but if at the time of Margaret’s abduction he was under, say, forty years old, he could also still be alive. And even if the abductor is dead, perhaps he told someone Margaret’s fate before his passing. When people get old they often start to fear eternal judgment.