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.

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.

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: Raymond Arruebarrena

This week’s featured missing person is Raymond Louis Arruebarrena Jr., who disappeared from New Orleans, Louisiana on July 3, 1976, at the age of nineteen. If still alive, he’d be sixty-two in a little over a week.

I couldn’t find any news articles about his disappearance, only a personal ad in the Times-Picayune from 1981, asking that anyone who knows his whereabouts should call a certain phone number.

I’d never heard of the surname Arruebarrena before, so I looked it up. It’s Spanish Basque. I found a few New Orleans area Arruebarrenas on Facebook; they’re probably Raymond’s relatives.

If someone were trying to match Raymond to an unidentified body, look for one that had serious injuries to the spine, ribs and left leg during life. Those would probably be the most distinguishing characteristics.

Black History Month: Debra Stewart

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is Debra Kay Stewart, a 19-year-old UT-Austin communications major who disappeared on May 21, 1976. She felt sick and left work early to go to a doctor’s appointment, but never arrived.

Her car turned up abandoned with the keys locked inside. Witnesses saw a black man getting out of the car.

There’s some speculation that Debra’s case is related to the disappearances of Jennifer Barton and Brenda Moore. They’re all young black women who disappeared from the same city in the same time period and were never found.

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Cesilia Pena

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month I’m featuring a Hispanic missing person every day from September 15 to October 15. Today’s case is Cesilia Pena, a fourteen-year-old girl who disappeared from Manhattan on October 6, 1976, while on her way home from St. Alphonsus Commercial High School.

Cesilia lived in the Bronx and took the subway to and from school; this article talks about the route she might have used. She was tiny, less than five feet tall, and she looks very young in her pictures.

She may have been accosted by Anthony “Rudy” Flores while on her way home that day; a witness reported seeing them together, with Flores holding her by the arm. Flores is also a suspect in the disappearance of Nelida Del Valle from Boston later that year.

This gave me a double take

I’m updating the cases of Peggy Parmenter and Bernard Rusness, a couple who disappeared in 1976 after a house fire that claimed the life of their son, and found the following quote in an article:

“Also discovered amidst the debris were the remains of the two family dogs and a skull (which had been given to [Peggy] by her mother and was used as a planter).”

Two thoughts:

  1. WHAT? Who uses a SKULL as a planter? That’s morbid and weird even by my standards.
  2. Are they 100% sure the skull was the one used as a planter? I hope they didn’t just assume that and fail to check to see if it was Bernard’s or Peggy’s skull.

Thinking aloud with May 14 updates

Yeah, I was up all night working on these. Go me.

  • Suzen Cooper: The cops have GOT to know who this unidentified third party is. After all, Rachael took a plea deal and one of the conditions of the plea was to be honest with the authorities about what happened (though she claims she doesn’t know where Suzen’s body is). So where is this Mystery Man and why hasn’t he been charged?
  • Tamara Lynn Elbertson: Does anyone know what sort of medical conditions can cause that droopy eye? Maybe a stroke? My mom’s first husband (before she met my dad) has something similar and I was told he was dropped on his head when he was a baby, but I’m not sure that was meant entirely seriously.
  • Kito Royal Felton: Not mentioned in the casefile, but Kito may be one of those people where the line between “missing” and “on the run” is pretty thin. Right around the time he disappeared, a woman and her teenage son, Susan and Laurier Myrick, were shot to death in north Tampa and the articles said Kito was sought for questioning. I don’t think the murder has been solved.
    However, he’s listed as missing both on NamUs and FDLE, he doesn’t have any active warrants that I’m aware of, and he was simply wanted for questioning in the murders, not named as a suspect, so…I dunno.
  • Jared Baptista Germano: I studied his Facebook page pretty carefully. I don’t know what happened to him, but I hope he is missing because he wants to be. Jared had a troubled past and an extensive arrest record in Florida and North Carolina.
    His Facebook is public and is pretty open about his background; it says he studied criminal justice in the educational institution called “prison”. Per Jared’s posts, he had a meth problem, which would explain the arrests. But his Facebook says he had gone through rehab, got clean, was working and was generally trying to make a decent go of it.
    Wherever he is, he’s managed to avoid getting arrested again, which is a significant departure from his prior lifestyle. That could mean he’s leading a law-abiding life somewhere or it could mean he’s dead.
    Incidentally, Jared has a brother who looks JUST LIKE him. The brother also has an arrest record and I thought one of his mug shots was of Jared till I realized one person had neck tattoos and the other didn’t. Then I saw a photo on Jared’s Facebook of him and his brother side my by side and was like, “Ah, okay, here’s your double.”
  • Teresa Gossage and Alfred Hoffman Marshal: I’m very proud of getting these two up because their case is notorious in local history and they’re not listed on ANY database. They’re not even on the Missouri Highway Patrol’s list of missing persons, perhaps because they vanished on federal land. I found their names by accident while looking for something else.
    Fort Leonard Wood, by the way, is some 61,000 thousand acres spread over the Missouri Ozarks. My bet is TC and Al are still somewhere on the base. And I’m pretty sure Mr. Thornton is responsible. It would be a very strange coincidence if he wasn’t.
  • Sarah Necaise: She appears to have an active Facebook page — at least, there’s a page under that name, with a young woman who lives in Mississippi and resembles the missing girl. Hmm. An active page doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been found.