One murder trial ends while another begins

Brendt Christensen has been convicted of the murder of 26-year-old doctoral student Yingying Zhang, whose body has never been found.

Of course Yingying’s Charley Project casefile has the basics. I also recommend this Washington Post article, which links to a partial transcript of the trial. And there’s plenty of other news articles about this available.

There remains the punishment phase: LWOP, or the death penalty? (The state of Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, but because Brendt was tried in federal court he can be executed.) The defense’s primary objective, as they said from the outset of the trial, is to save Brendt from the death penalty. I have a hard time imagining how they’re going to accomplish this.

Given the recorded confession and the blood found at Brendt’s apartment, the defense in this case is waging an uphill battle with a 50mph wind in their faces. But even so, their argument strikes me as pathetically weak: Brendt totally isn’t a vile human being and would-be (or, perhaps, actual) serial killer, not at all! He only kidnapped, raped, murdered and decapitated a complete stranger because he was depressed and flunking out of college and felt like a failure!

To which I say: SO WHAT? Lots of people are depressed. I’ve been depressed since I was in middle school. Lots of people flunk out of college. Most people feel like a failure at some point in their life. That isn’t an excuse to go out and murder some poor woman you don’t even know.

In other news, yesterday John Bayerl’s murder trial began in Wisconsin (which happens to be Brendt Christensen’s home state). John’s wife, DonaMae, disappeared in 1979 and was never seen again. Suspicion hovered over him for decades before he was finally arrested early this year.

I’m a bit surprised they’re going to trial so quickly; in most murder cases (as in Yingying’s) years pass between arrest and trial. But John is 79 and not getting any younger; I suppose he’s hoping they’ll acquit him and he can return to his retirement home in Florida and die on a beach instead of in jail.

John is another absolute turd and I firmly believe he killed his wife. I just hope the prosecution can prove it.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Howard Takanaka

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am profiling one Asian or Pacific Islander MP for every day of the month of May. Today’s case is Howard Shizue Takanaka Jr., a 26-year-old Army veteran who disappeared from Superior, Wisconsin sometime in January 1984.

The circumstances of his disappearance are vague; even the exact date his unknown. However, there’s no reason to think he’s not still alive today …somewhere.

Victoria Prokopovitz’s husband charged with her murder

Victoria Lynn Prokopovitz has been missing from Pittsfield, Wisconsin for six years and counting. Her daughter, Marsha Loritz, was the one who started those missing persons event I go to every year. Marsha is a very sweet person, just lovely. She cries when she talks about her mother’s disappearance.

Well, it looks like answers may finally be coming, because yesterday, Vicki’s husband, James, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and perjury. James’s girlfriend, Kathryn Friday, whom he started seeing just a month after Vicki vanished, was charged with perjury and obstructing an officer.

This isn’t really a surprise; James had been a suspect in his wife’s disappearance for awhile now. I don’t know whether I should be happy or sad for Marsha. James had been her stepfather since she was a kid and I’m sure she hoping someone else was responsible for whatever happened to her mom. She always said she didn’t know what happened and just wanted to find out, find her mother.

I hope James confesses, pleads guilty and discloses the location of Vicki’s body without any further BS. Not only is he a murderer, but he basically tortured Marsha and her sister and the rest of the family for the past six years by not letting them know what happened.

Articles:

Had a great time at the Wisconsin missing persons event

Everything at last weekend’s missing persons awareness event in Wisconsin went REALLY well. Even the one thing that didn’t go well, turned out to be more good than bad.

After an uneventful trip up there on Friday, I checked myself into a very nice hotel that I could never have afforded on my own. (A certain anonymous person covered the costs.) It had all sorts of plants, and a hot tub, and an open floor plan. Saturday morning, upon arising, I met up in the lobby of the hotel with one of the other people attending the event.

We sat at a table talking and I was lamenting about my makeup. I had forgotten to bring eyebrow pencil and had to make do with eyeliner and I thought it looked terrible, and he was telling me he couldn’t tell the difference.

Meanwhile, four or five stories up, a housekeeper accidentally bumped her cart into the rail of the balcony overlooking the lobby. This caused her clipboard to slide off the cart and over the rail, where it plummeted all those floors down right onto my friend and me. It missed me by a foot or so, but my friend took a direct hit.

He’d been drinking some Starbucks coffee when this happened, holding the cup to his lips, when the clipboard smacked him right there. If his hand hadn’t been over his mouth, and that cup hadn’t been made of cardboard instead of ceramic or something, he probably would have knocked a few teeth out. As it was he just sustained a small cut, and the coffee was of course a total loss.

In response to the two guests screeching in surprise, shouting the F-word, and then one guest jumping up on the table and staring up at the balcony, management and security came running. Profuse apologies were issued. Paperwork had to be filled out and photos taken of the little knick on my friend’s hand. CYA and all. The hotel announced that both our rooms were now free.

At the event itself, later that day, there was a very good turnout. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and got to talk to some awesome people.

Victoria Lynn Prokopovitz‘s daughters were both there; her daughter Marsha organizes these events and Marsha is an absolute sweetheart.

Amber Lynn Wilde‘s family showed up as they always do. I was talking a bit to her aunt, who was really happy to see me, about Amber’s case having been covered on CrimeWatch Daily.

Some of Kenneth Plaisted‘s relatives arrived; this was the first time they’d showed up to one of these things. His daughter explained to me that, although no one has seen Plaisted since 1971, he wasn’t actually listed as a missing person until 1998 or so, which is pretty horrifying. I can understand, given the whole embezzlement thing (see his casefile I linked to), the police thinking he’d just done a runner, but waiting 27 years to declare him missing is just lazy and uncaring.

There was no balloon release. Instead, we were issued little candles, each labeled with a missing person. I got Steven F. Woelfel and Madeline Kelly Edman.

My table was right next to the table for The Unidentified, and I had a fine time speaking to Rebekah Turner (a medical examiner in training who runs that organization) and her companions. They’re really great people. After the event was over, Rebekah, her friends and I went out to dinner.

My photos and some video from the event are on the Charley Project Facebook page; for some reason I can’t figure out how to link to the individual posts/images from there. I’m sorry.

I had an uneventful trip home but I haven’t been feeling very well, physically, since my arrival home. I think it was I got a bit overextended/overexcited. I am trying to force myself back on my regular schedule and to eat a bit more.

Going to 5th Annual Wisconsin Missing Persons Awareness Event in April

So in two weeks I will be attending the fifth annual missing persons awareness event in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I went to the first, second, and fourth ones.

wisconsinevent

This year, I will not have to stay in l’Hotel a la Sketchy or an Airbnb; due to the sponsorship of a certain person who shall remain anonymous for the moment, I will be staying in a respectable establishment for once.

I should have a blast. I always do.

Murder-without-a-body cases galore!

So, someone found a photo of Eli Robert Sharclane on Facebook so I was able to add his case to the Charley Project. I’ve blogged about his case before; it’s kind of unusual. A guy threw him off a bridge fifty feet down to the freezing water and he was never seen again, but the suspect was only convicted of ATTEMPTED murder, because it was 1977 and no-body homicide convictions were not really a thing yet.

More information has been released about the 1991 disappearance of Sabrina Leigh Long. All we knew before was that a female suspect was arrested and charged with kidnapping, someone who’d attended Sabrina’s high school but wasn’t in her year, and the police said multiple people were involved.

Well, this article has a LOT more stuff about the case. Basically, Sabrina said she was supposed to visit a neighbor on the day of her disappearance, but the neighbor said she wasn’t expected and he had no idea why she said she was going to see him. The neighbor, Keith Loyd, had an alibi and wasn’t a suspect in her case, but in 2017 he died by suicide and left a note implicating himself and Melinda McSwain (the woman now charged in Sabrina’s kidnapping) in Sabrina’s disappearance.

Loyd’s alibi for Sabrina’s disappearance had been that he was out with his girlfriend. I wonder if that girlfriend was McSwain. If both of them had kidnapped and killed Sabrina, it would be easy for them to alibi each other.

DonaMae Bourgeois Bayerl‘s husband John has been arrested at his retirement home in Florida and charged with murder. I’m so happy; he’s been a suspect for a very long time. I’ve met DonaMae’s family before; they attend the Wisconsin missing persons events.

Also, yesterday they held closing arguments in the trial of Liam McAtasney for the murder of 19-year-old Sarah L. Stern. She disappeared from Neptune, New Jersey in 2016. The second suspect, Preston Taylor, allegedly helped dispose of her body. He pleaded guilty and testified against McAtasney. The verdict is expected next week.

And Thomas Skeek is on trial for the murder of his wife, Linda Skeek, who disappeared in 2016. Per this article, case had been “shrouded in secrecy” and it wasn’t until the trial actually began that it became public knowledge that Linda’s body was never found. I haven’t heard of this case before. I’ll have to add her. [UPDATE: I did.]

Articles about other kids in the wake of Jayme’s recovery

As often happens when a high-profile missing child is found, especially when they’re found safe, news agencies are dusting off their local missing kid cases and being all like, “Hey, you know how Jayme Closs was found? Here’s some kids missing in YOUR area and their parents hope they’ll get found too.” So far we’ve got:

I highly doubt Adji or Diana is alive. Adji is a special needs child and if he was abducted, I don’t think the abductor could have kept him long without attracting some attention. As for Diana, a suspect has been charged with her murder.