Feeling stuck in relationships, my hometown, jobs I hated- all that fell under the “I have no choice” umbrella.
Today’s mantra is a little something I heard in the season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard. Just like every other iteration of Trek, there are some pearls of wisdom to be found in this series. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone about life letting things happen and copping out with “I have no choice”. The truth is, there’s always an alternate choice.
I may have been presented with two options in 1999 and my present lot in life is a result of the decision I made, but I had a choice. There is a proper way to look at the choices I made- I mean, I just took the scenic route to success. Had I not chosen the I did way back when, I may have forgone the lessons that I’ve learned. I chose an indirect route to TODAY. If I could recalibrate and start the journey over I’d definitely choose to do things differently, but I would also lose the knowledge that I have gleaned from making “mistakes”.
I have let the phrase “I have no choice” become an excuse for not daring to dream. It’s a lazy person’s wild card. Feeling stuck in relationships, my hometown, jobs I hated- all that fell under the “I have no choice” umbrella. I understand that there is a difference between making things happen and things happening to me. Now that I have learned the lesson, it’s time to put the knowledge into action.
How do I turn the lemons I’ve been handed into lemonade? With the right ingredients and a little imagination. Releasing my limiting belief that “I have no choice” transforms me from victim to hero. Today, I will dare to take the first step in improving my life by using my imagination. Even in this period of global uncertainty, I can choose to put pieces in place to assure success. I DO have a choice.
This particular mantra jumped off the screen and into my heart. It truly felt as if Jean Luc Picard was speaking DIRECTLY to me when he (oh, so elegantly) uttered these words. I wasn’t even sure why it meant so much to me in the moment, but I wrote the phrase down and pondered over why I connected with it. I’m sure I can come up with more interpretations as it pertains to my life, but knowing I have a choice makes me feel empowered.
Does the phrase “To say ‘I have no choice’ is a failure of imagination” inspire you as much as it did me? Do you at times recall limiting yourself with these words? I hope you’ll share. Catch you tomorrow for Day 4!
Every time I think of the phrase “Push yourself”, sports or physical exercise always comes to mind. The truth is, this applies to many areas of my life. Sometimes I need a little nudge to quit playing out scenarios in my mind and jump into action. What I have done in the past is set up all the hurdles but never run the race! I’m still exhausted, yet have gained absolutely NOTHING.
When I think of the mantra I chose for today, I’m reminding myself that this is not a sprint. I am in a race of one. And just like any other race, I won’t win if I don’t GO. That means getting out of my own way, stop thinking of everything I assume will go wrong and believing that any obstacle I come across can be overcome. I recognize that these limitations are self-imposed. I set the hurdles up, so I can also take them down. I don’t have to build Rome in a day but I do need to lay the first brick.
This week I plan to get at least 1 bonus episode of True Crime: By the Book uploaded to Patreon. Not 17, just one. It may sound simple, but I’ve been obsessing over how many patrons I DON’T have instead of creating content to attract them. I don’t need to go fast, I just need to go.
If you’re following along, how do you overcome paralyzing anxiety? Do you think today’s mantra (and applying it) will be the kick in the pants you need? I’ll share my progress with my first challenge by 4/6/20. If you set a goal, I would love to hear when you achieve it! Catch me tomorrow for day 3 of Born For Greatness.
I’m almost afraid of success, yet I chase it. I want to elevate my thoughts. I don’t have to chase success if I BELIEVE it’s mine for the taking!
I’m challenging myself to rise to my potential. This is (and isn’t) a personal journey. Allow me to explain: this is a path I feel is necessary for me to build self-confidence and recognize my strengths. A lot of times, I’m my own worst critic and the effects are crippling. So, I’m embarking on a journey to change the conversations that I have with myself. I want to shed some of the beliefs I have that are limiting my growth. Yes- I have flaws and weaknesses but those aren’t the totality of who I am. I know this, but do I BELIEVE it? The answer, if I’m being honest, is no.
Even as I pursue interests (such as my podcast) that I’m passionate about, I second guess the impact I’m having or that I am likely to have. I’m almost afraid of success, yet I chase it. I want to elevate my thoughts. I don’t have to chase success if I BELIEVE it’s mine for the taking! No one said that I wouldn’t be afraid- I just can’t be STILL.
As I said earlier in this piece, the journey is personal, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. If you find yourself in a rut, lack self-confidence, or are overly critical of yourself I invite you to join me. If you have felt this way in the past and are willing to share experiences or wisdom, I encourage you to reach out to me or others (God knows I need a cheerleader!). Today is day one of “Born For Greatness” and the mantra I’ve chosen reminds me that I have a ton of qualities to offer the world that are unique to ME. Hiding my voice and procrastinating on my dreams is depriving the world of MY impact. I know it sounds narcissistic, but this whole thing is about empowering myself to be the person that I was BORN to be.
I’ll share mantra 2 tomorrow. I’m a mantra ahead on Twitter, if you want to know what tomorrow’s piece will be about. If you want to join me, tell me what today’s mantra means to YOU. What steps will you take within the next week to “Advance the World”. You have so much to offer- I hope you take me up on the challenge of being kind to yourselves. Meet you back here tomorrow!
Tidings and salutations, bibliophiles! Welcome back to True Crime: By The Book. I’m the Librarian, Tasha Pierce. Today we’re going to learn about presa canarios, cults of personality, and unfortunately, murder. Before I get into Red Zone by true-crime queen Aprhodite Jones, let’s say thanks to the Bookworms who have left reviews! This week I’m shouting out Why So Loud from Apple Podcasts and the beautiful Karen T from Facebook. So, I’m looking for you- yeah YOU- to leave a review for the show on your platform of choice so I can give you a personal greeting and you help others find the podcast. That’s a win-win if I ever heard one!
Now, let’s talk about one of the most well known true-crime authors in the game, shall we?
Aphrodite Jones is a best-selling true crime author and journalist who uses her reporter’s hunch to investigate and write about murder. Through her eyes, Jones brings readers inside murder cases as she explores dark motives and conveys the emotional truths hiding behind the tragedy. Over the past two decades, Jones has written a string of best-selling true crime books and has provided TV commentary and expert insights into the psychological profiles of both criminals and victims.
In recent years, the author created a hit reality crime TV series, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, which aired on Investigation Discovery for six seasons. The series followed Jones as she unraveled new mysteries lurking behind cases that shocked America: Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson, Jon Benet Ramsey, Phil Spector, the and Menendez Brothers are among the riveting cases that Jones covered. Fans of True Crime came to know they could rely on Jones to present each murder case with authority and flair, to depict a chilling portrait of the crime, and to treat every victim with compassion.
Before landing the hosting position with Investigation Discovery, Jones worked as an investigative reporter for FOX News covering the trials and court hearings of Scott Peterson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, Barry Bonds, Jerry Sandusky and Dennis Rader (the BTK Killer). Jones started her TV career as a crime correspondent for America’s Most Wanted and went on to create and host a true crime show called The Justice Hunters for USA Network. Early in her TV career, Jones also contributed to KCOP in Los Angeles as a true crime on-air correspondent.
When Jones wrote her first book, The FBI Killer, it was quickly turned into an ABC movie-of-the-week, Betrayed by Love, starring Patricia Arquette, which Jones co-produced. Not long afterward, Jones landed the exclusive rights to a teen crime drama that she chronicled in her book Cruel Sacrifice, which hit the top of TheNew York Times list. Her third book, All She Wanted, was one of the first true crime accounts of a transgender hate crime in America. The book was optioned by Diane Keaton with Drew Barrymore attached to star as “Brandon Teena” and was later transformed into the Oscar-winning film Boys Don’t Cry starring Hilary Swank. Her seventh best-selling book, A Perfect Husband, was made into the highly-acclaimed Lifetime Movie which Jones co-produced, The Staircase Murders.
Jones knows the crime world first hand. She’s known as a TV persona who doesn’t sugar-coat important issues for viewers. She has a penchant for “telling it like it is” and in her 25 years of crime reporting, Jones has been asked to investigate and comment on everything from the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks to the trials of Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson. She has appeared as a crime expert on CNN, HLN, MSNBC, FOX News, Court TV, MTV, TLC, Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Extra!, Anderson Live, Forensic Files, E! News, The New Detectives, American Justice, Deadline Crime, The Jury Speaks, CBS This Morning, Dr. Oz, The Today Show, and Dateline NBC.
If you follow the blog at TCbyTB.com or my social media accounts -which are TCbyTB on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram- you know that this week we are covering Red Zone. This book was suggested by friend of the show Harriet C, and is my first listener request. Thanks a lot Harriet! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Kat Heiser. I must admit- I was a little disappointed in the narration. Kat repeatedly mentioned the Orion Brotherhood before I realized that she was speaking of the Aryan Brotherhood. There were several other pronunciations that ground my nerves, but nobody’s perfect right? It kind of took me out of the story so be warned. Let’s get the synopsis before I break the actual crime down and share my take.
It was the story that shocked the nation and captured headlines for more than a year. In January 2001, Diane Alexis Whipple bled to death in the hallway of her ritzy Pacific Heights apartment building when she was mauled by two Presa Canarios, a vicious breed of attack dog imported from the Canary Islands. After the lethal attack, animal experts testified that the dogs could not have been stopped, explaining that they had entered a frenzy called the “Red Zone.”
Now, New York Times bestselling author Aphrodite Jones shows that the mauling was only one part of a frightening story involving obsession, bestiality, and illegal dog rings. The dogs belonged to Whipple’s neighbors, lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who had been keeping them for a leader of the notorious prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood.
Jones takes us deep into the bizarre world of Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, a Hannibal Lechter-type character who actually owned the dogs, Bane and Hera. She explains how Noel and Knoller, after being warned about these killer dogs, brought them to the heart of San Francisco, leading the dogs eventually to murder an innocent next-door neighbor. Jones also reveals the shocking L.A.-area whereabouts of the offspring of Bane, the dog most directly involved in the mauling.
Jones is a masterful investigator and writer who has interviewed the complete cast of characters — including Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller during their imprisonment — and can now tell the full story of what happened in that apartment hallway. Red Zone is a riveting page-turning account of this news-making story that takes us deep into the relationship between man and animal.
At first glance, you’d think the villain of this tale would be a presa canario. I mean, the synopsis spells out that Diane Whipple died as a result of being mauled by one of these attack dogs. But, that would be too easy- there’s no way to get a ten-hour book out of villainizing a dog. And this is one of those times that I FELT every one of those 10 hours! No, there has to be something or someone more nefarious involved. But since we started with the dogs, I’m going to tell you what I learned about “presa canarios” while listening to this audiobook.
The presa canario is said to have first shown up in 15th century Spain and was brought to the Canary Islands by Spanish conquistadors. They were generally bred to be guard/attack dogs. The dogs can grow up to 26” and 100 pounds. Their bite is a frightening 540 pounds per square inch. These animals can be trained to be warm and affectionate towards their families, but strangers, other animals, and even children need to be careful. Their natural instinct is to protect and they also have an “alpha personality”. If you are around one of these dogs and are afraid or unsure, they will exert their dominance. This type of situation could end in an attack. It is highly suggested that these dogs receive socialization and obedience training from an experienced dog trainer before adopting it as a pet. Again, this is a huge dog who needs space to exercise or it can become destructive. If these procedures had been followed, there would probably be no story to tell today. Unfortunately, this story has been recorded in the annals of history because of the negligence of Marjorie Knoller and her husband Robert Noel.
Marjorie and her husband were attorneys in the San Francisco area. They were living in a Pacific Heights apartment when a close friend of the family, Paul Schneider, asked them to take his dogs in as a favor. The husband and wife couldn’t say no to their friend so they went to pick the two presa canarios up and bring them home. The dogs were staying with another of Schneider’s friends, but she could not control the animals. She even warned Noel and Knoller that the dogs were VERY aggressive. She raised sheep for a living but Hera and Bane, the dogs, had killed many of her animals. She had a tendency to leave them locked in a pen all day- but remember, these dogs need exercise! They began to break out and act aggressively towards the sheep. The attorneys pretty much dismissed what she told them and took the dogs back to the apartment.
So, we’ve got two grown animals, both massive in size, being cooped up in a small apartment around other people. We can all guess where this whole thing is going. One thing about Robert- he was able to KIND OF “handle” the dogs. He tried socialization techniques he had learned from being a dog owner in the past. When it came to Marjorie, the dogs kind of handled her. As neighbors became aware of the two beasts, it was clear that these dogs were dangerous. Some of the building’s occupants would return to their apartments if the dogs were being taken down for a walk. Marjorie and Robert were well aware that the neighbors were uncomfortable but they thought it was funny- it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. That day was coming.
This is where Diane Whipple comes in the picture. She was the next-door neighbor to Marjorie and Robert and she had just about had it with them and their poorly behaved pets. She had spoken to other residents who felt as if they were being held hostage in their homes by Hera and Bane. She exchanged angry words with Marjorie about her habit of letting the dogs off-leash in the hallways and elevators. Marjorie pretty much ignored the remarks but made sure she told Paul Schneider about how terrified the residents were of his presas. Paul was proud that his dogs were living up to the presa reputation.
Diane and her partner of 6 years, Sharon Smith, were the picture of happiness. Diane was a former lacrosse player, even playing on the US World Cup Team twice. She was a natural athlete, and after barely missing the Olympics in the 800-meter run, she put down roots and became a lacrosse coach at St Mary’s College of California. On January 26, 2001, just five days after her 33 birthday, Diane was returning home with groceries. As she attempted to balance opening the door to her apartment with her bags, Marjorie came out of her apartment with both dogs. There’s only Marjorie’s word to go on about what happened next- she says that Bane, the larger male dog, got away from her and attacked Diane. At this time it was estimated that Bane weighed 143 pounds. He easily took Diane down and began to maul her. Marjorie states that she attempted to defend Diane from the attack to no avail. She stated that Hera was not involved in the attack. Her retelling is tragic, but mostly because she blames Whipple for her own death, saying, “I told her to stay still. If she had, this would have never happened.” Diane sustained over 70 injuries to her entire body save from her scalp and the soles of her feet. One would think that once Marjorie lost control of the dogs that she would call 911 to report the attack. She did not. An elderly neighbor who heard the commotion made the call, however. She couldn’t open her door to Diane for fear of being attacked herself but she made sure help was on the way. When paramedics and animal control arrived they couldn’t believe the sight. The hallway was covered in Diane’s blood as was Marjorie Knoller. Officers entered Knoller and Noel’s apartment to deal with the deadly dogs. They found Bane locked-up in the bathroom. The dog’s black and tan tiger stripe coat and white teeth were painted with Whipple’s blood. The bathroom floor was covered in dog shit. Animal control officers arrived on-scene and shot Bane with three tranq darts strong enough to put down a dog of his enormous size. Fifteen minutes later, though, Bane was clear-eyed and unaffected.
Eventually, the animal control officers collared the dog with two poles and dragged him outside the apartment building and put him down for good with 25cc of sodium pentobarbitol.
Paramedics raced Diane to the hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries.
This was huge news in the Bay Area. As you can guess, animal rights activists were quick on the scene to defend Hera, pleading for her life. Like Bane,Hera was eventually put down in January of 2002.
So, the dogs were like our villain in this story until reports of the indifference shown by Marjorie and Robert were made public. In the eyes of the community at large, this indifference cost Diane Whipple her life and subsequently cost the lives of the two presa canarios. Now, I’m a huge fan of Marvel and DC movies and comics. In those universes, we learn the identity of a villain only to learn that there may be a bigger bad guy pulling the strings. For instance, in the first Avengers movie, the villain was Loki and the the Avengers had their hands full dealing with him. By the 4th Avengers installment, we loved Loki and found out he was being controlled by Thanos who wanted to destroy half of all life in the universe in an attempt to be a savior. Crazy tangent, I know, but I am a nerd so it all makes sense to me. Thanos had a mighty group behind him- the “Children of Thanos” who were willing to die for their belief in his cause. Call it a cult of personality. I’m bringing it all home, now, so stay with me.
Hera and Bane, the dogs, were let down by their family- in this case Marjorie and Robert. They had no training so were left to their base instincts. Diane, to them, exuded fear so they asserted their alpha personalities in a horrific way- but that’s what they were bred to do. Innately, they served to protect. They were not meant to be confined to small spaces and weren’t taught to control the need to be violently aggressive. In the case of the animals, Marjorie and Robert were the worst thing that happened to them. But, remember, they aren’t the dogs owners. Paul Schneider was. So why is he conspicuously absent from all the blame that’s going around? Well, Paul is the big bad- saved for the final act.
Paul “Cornfed” Schneider is the “adopted” son of Marjorie and Robert. In fact they adopted him when he was 38 years old and already serving a life sentence in prison. That’s right, he was the “owner” of the dogs- from PRISON. At this point in the story, I will refer to a piece that was published in Mel Magazine- it’s going to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of exactly who this guy is.
The stud dog that Schneider first purchased to start his dog-breeding business was a Presa Canario named Bane. They’re massive animals bred by Spaniards as work dogs who herd bulls. But unlike sheepdogs, Presa Canarios prefer to run up to a bull and bite its lip or ear and then drag the bull to the ground by its face. Schneider planned to breed and train Presa Canarios to work as ferocious guard dogs for the Mexican Mafia’s meth labs. (Or as part of a dogfighting outfit, depending on who is telling the tale)
Paul Schneider has repeatedly left disaster in his wake. Damn near every person or thing that he has encountered has been left broken. How does a Mormon woman living a normal life end up in witness protection? Paul Schneider. How does a married couple go from being attorneys to being involved in bestiality, murder, and a bizarre relationship with their client? Their client is Paul Schneider. How did Bane and Hera come to be in that building to attack Diane Whipple? Paul Fucking Schneider. He is an unnatural disaster. The worst kind of person to EVER come in contact with because he feeds on a persons insecurities and weaponizes them. He is obviously charismatic enough to get people to hop on board his bullshit train with nothing more than words in letters and some weird art.
I’m positive that you can dig into his past and turn up an even bigger villain than him (his stepfather), and that brings me to my conclusion- we, as a society, can understand that animals can be raised in normal homes and become a loving member of the family. I know people who have pit bulls as pets with no problems because they take the time to teach them right from wrong. We see that dogs shouldn’t be to blame when they haven’t been taught to KNOW better. Let’s exercise that same line of thinking when it comes to people. Not with huge crimes, like murder- but when you come from a depressing and desolated environment there is a survival of the fittest mentality. Some people are gifted students or athletes who are lucky those talents take them out of despair. But, what about “normal” average folks? Sometimes the environment they live in trains them to do other things to survive. I love animals, but I love HUMAN BEINGS more. I think that if dogs can be taken out of abusive situations and rise above their base instincts so can people. I know- another tangent- but isn’t it something to THINK about?
That’s it, that’s all for this week’s episode. I liked Red Zone, it gave a lot of info not included in my re-telling, get the book if you want to know more OR go to TCbyTB.com to see my other sources. If you’d like to assist the show, I’ll leave a link in the show notes and on the blog- every penny helps. You can also share the show and leave a review on Apple Podcasts, Podchaser- wherever you listen. Thanks for being a part of my audience- I really appreciate it! Watch your feed for the next one- Later Bookworms!
In my Jehovah’s Witnesses rabbit hole, I came across a photo of one of the governing body members of the organization, Stephen Lett. OMG- this guy reminds me so much of ANOTHER cult leader, Marshall Applewhite. You probably remember Applewhite as the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult. We’ll eventually get to him in a future episode. Had to share this because the similarity seems downright eerie. What do you think?
Last night Oxygen released a full length documentary that explores the child sexual abuse accusations that are plaguing the Jehovah’s Witness organization. I have been following the allegations for a number of years, so this is hardly a new issue, but it is gaining media attention due to the sheer number of lawsuits that are being levied against the religion.
I am particularly interested in following this story because I was married to a member of the religion and I did study the Bible with my former mother in law and spouse. I had very strong opinions then, but I felt as if I wasn’t giving the religion a fair shot due to my Baptist upbringing. I have long since re-evaluated my thoughts on ALL organized religion and as the stories pile up I am glad that I never was indoctrinated into the Witnesses.
I planned on covering Solitary this week, but given the timing of this documentary and new investigations being underway, I thought I would take an episode to explain the situation as it is right now. Of course, this is an ongoing situation that will be updated as new info comes out.
Please join me Friday when I lay the allegations out, the reasons why the organization is being held responsible, and other doctrines of the Witnesses that are considered problematic. Of course, I do plan on releasing the episode on Solitary in the very near future.
Tidings and salutations, bibliophages! Welcome to another episode of True Crime: By The Book! Every week we get together to discuss books, movies, and documentaries that center on true crime. I’m your host, the Librarian, Tasha Pierce. This week we will be discussing the docuseries that is airing on Netflix called Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.
I would be negligent if I did not address that the sports world lost another legend this past Sunday. Kobe Bryant was among the victims of a helicopter crash in Calabassas- nine people died in total in an accident that shocked many of us to our cores. There are a lot of opinions on Kobe, both professionally and personally, but I choose today to focus on ways he improved the world around him. Bryant was the official ambassador for After-School All-Stars (ASAS), an American non-profit organization that provides comprehensive after-school programs to children in thirteen US cities. Bryant also started the Kobe Bryant China Fund which partnered with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation, a charity backed by the Chinese government. The Kobe Bryant China Fund raises money within China earmarked for education and health programs. On November 4, 2010, Bryant appeared alongside Zach Braff at the Call of Duty: Black Ops launch event at the Santa Monica Airport, where they presented a $1 million check to the Call of Duty Endowment, an Activision-founded nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition to civilian careers after their military service has ended.Bryant established Kobe Inc. to own and grow brands in the sports industry. The initial investment was a 10% stake in the Bodyarmor SuperDrink company for $6 million in March 2014. The headquarters are in Newport Beach, California. With The Coca-Cola Company purchasing a minority stake in the company in August 2018, the valuation of Bryant’s stake rose to approximately $200 million.
On August 22, 2016, Bryant and his business partner Jeff Stibel launched Bryant-Stibel, a venture capital firm focused on different businesses including media, data, gaming, and technology, with $100 million in funding.
Due to light rain and foggy weather that morning, the LAPD helicopters and most other air traffic were grounded. The flight tracker shows that the helicopter experienced issues while above the L.A. Zoo. The helicopter circled the area six times at an altitude of around 850 feet (260 m). At 9:30 a.m. the pilot contacted the Burbank Airport’s control tower, notifying the tower of the situation. At that time, the helicopter experienced extreme fog and turned south towards the mountains. At 9:40 a.m. the helicopter climbed in altitude from 1,200 to 2,000 feet (370 to 610 m) flying at 161 knots (298 km/h; 185 mph).
At 9:45 a.m. the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in Calabasas, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and caught on fire. At 9:47 a.m. authorities were called. The helicopter had passed over Boyle Heights, near Dodger Stadium, and circled over Glendale during the flight. Personnel from the Los Angeles County Fire Department attended the scene. The fire had been extinguished by 10:30 a.m. None of the nine occupants survived. Initial reports indicated that the helicopter crashed in the hills above Calabasas in heavy fog. Witnesses reported hearing a helicopter struggling before crashing.
The surviving Bryant family members are Vanessa and three remaining daughters.
It seems like the world kind of paused when the announcement was (prematurely) made of Kobe’s death. Then there was a shameful shuffle by those of us who don’t trust one news site. I needed corroboration before I could even begin to believe that Kobe Bryant had passed away. I say it’s shameful because I can remember a time in my life that if something was on the news, it had been vetted and could be trusted. This fucked up 24-hour news cycle and the ambulance chasers (like TMZ) have made retractions par for the course. This story is no different- first 5 people were killed, then reports of all of his daughters being on the helicopter, then 7 people- it is absolutely SHAMEFUL- damn near CRIMINAL- to be reporting things before the family is notified. All of this scrambling and false reporting just to be able to say “We were first.” True Crime: By the Book would like to offer condolences to the families and friends of the victims and issue indictments to the media for being soulless.
Now, let’s dig into the topic of today’s episode, Aaron Hernandez.
The documentary outlines his early life, his college years, and finally his time in the NFL. It also indicates that he may have been living a triple life. At the heart of it all, it raises the questions could he have been helped? Could some of his behavior be a byproduct of being raised in an abusive environment? Did football contribute to his violent behavior? These questions are really left to the viewer and I absolutely have my own opinions on Aaron. Just know, that you may not agree with me and that’s okay. There needs to be a dialogue. Because discussing and debating this Aaron Hernandez may prevent another one from being created.
Okay, so we start at the beginning- Aaron and his older brother DJ were being raised in Bristol, Connecticut by their father Dennis and mother Terri. Dennis is kind of a local legend in football so there’s no surprise that his boys were introduced to the sport early. Dennis is described as a “man’s man” very hyper-masculine. He was strict on his boys. Known around as the King, DJ and Aaron were his heirs apparent. They may as well had been William and Harry as far as he was concerned. They were being primed to step in his oversized footprints. That meant playing football and being outstanding at it. Well, Aaron was outstanding in football- and basketball, and track. An all-around athlete but a mediocre student. It was the latter that would cause his father to become physically abusive to Aaron. He wanted the best for his boys, and mediocrity wasn’t going to cut it. It’s also noted that Dennis and Terri had a tumultuous relationship that included alcoholism and domestic violence. Besides all that, Aaron still idolized his dad. His brother, DJ, has stated that besides the physical abuse, Aaron may have also been sexually molested by an older kid. These are things that, left unaddressed, could turn a man into a monster.
We meet the high school quarterback/friend of Aaron and he admits that they had sexually experimented with one another throughout high school. His father was in the documentary as well and talked at length about how both he and Dennis were extremely homophobic. According to him, they had created an environment that made it impossible for the boys to question their sexuality or to identify as anything but heterosexual. I’m sure we can imagine the conflict that this can create in a person who does has questions. This likely added to the anxieties of being a teenager.
After DJ left for college, Aaron was excited to announce that he intended on going to UCONN with his brother- again, following in the footsteps of dear old dad. And then tragedy struck the Hernandez family. Dennis had surgery on a hernia and passed away afterward. Totally unexpected, the family was understandably grief-stricken. Family and friends knew that Aaron would never be the same. His dad, as rough as he was, was Aaron’s moral compass. Without him, Aaron seemed directionless. I’m sure it didn’t help that Terri rebounded rather quickly and it really fucked me up when I heard that she had begun seeing Aaron’s cousin’s husband! Not only that, she moved him into the family home. Now imagine being an already troubled young man who just lost his father. Now you have to deal with a dude you saw all the time with your cousin banging your mom. That drove Aaron out of the home, to his cousin Tonya’s house.
A lot has been said about Tonya being there for Aaron, how he felt like she was a mother figure who he could tell anything. But, in my estimation, Tonya had the “anything goes” house. Everybody comes there to chill, smoke weed, niggas running in and out, eat, and do everything you don’t want going on at YOUR house. So, she may have been loyal but she was also an enabler. Here this young man was free to openly engage in things that he should have at least had to sneak to do. One of those things was smoking weed. I don’t have an issue with marijuana- I wish they would legalize it for the WORLD to enjoy- but not minors. I’m sorry, I just don’t think they are equipped to handle the side effects of marijuana consumption and the ability of the drug to kind of take over your life. I know what he was trying to achieve- he wanted to dull the pain that life was handing him. Unfortunately, when he sobered up that pain was still there. So he spent the majority of his life- from 16 years old on- HIGH. He still was a first-class athlete, though, so people tended to overlook his negatives. I can empathize with him in this way- I was 12 when my mother passed away. I was very smart and athletic and had never been in trouble at school. But when she passed away, I began to get in fights. I was angry all the time. I got suspended quite a bit. Do you know what straightened out my behavior? The principal, Mr. Reese, heard me using some language that would make Samuel L. Jackson blush. He and my coach dragged me down to the office and gave me the come to Jesus speech. If I intended to continue to represent Lew Wallace High School and the mighty black and gold as an athlete, I could not have another behavior blemish on my record. PERIOD. Being on the honor roll wasn’t going to be enough- because, frankly, that came easy to me. I had to learn to direct my anger in healthy ways, admit that I was still hurting from the loss of my mom, not be impulsive. And I wanted to continue to play sports with my band of sisters, so I straightened up my act.
But, Aaron was learning the opposite lesson. He could do damn near anything and the fact that he was an outstanding athlete was a get out of jail free card. There were no repercussions for bad behavior, only coverups. Once again, Aaron’s fucked up behavior was being enabled.
His prowess on the gridiron meant that a number of Division-I Universities were interested in him as a player. Remember Aaron had already made a verbal commitment to UConn. He still made other college visits, however. When Aaron was just shy of 17 years old he re-committed. This time he chose to play at the University of Florida alongside Tim Tebow and under Urban Meyer. By now, he was dating Shayanna Jenkins who he had known since elementary school. Dennis Hernandez had set a path for his sons to follow. Aaron was departing that path and heading to Florida.
There are so many reasons that this decision was problematic. The main one was the football program under Meyer. I mean, he is an excellent general. If all you cared about was winning and bowl appearances, he’s your man. But as far as guidance to the players- uh-uh. Nope. Aaron failed multiple drug tests- covered up. He took bullshit courses. He was frequenting bars (at 17 years old) and in April 2007 he even punched a bar manager when he was asked to pay his tab. That disappeared. Of course, he stayed high because- childhood trauma. He was playing alongside Tim Tebow who literally wore his religion on his face (but riddle me this- was still at the bar with underaged Aaron).
I save most of my ire for Urban Meyer, though. He established quite a pattern in Florida. Every season there were arrests, infractions of rules, and players who demonstrated horrible character that was left unpunished. That “win at all costs” mentality was a terrible disservice to these young men and the community that they inhabited. There was none worse than Aaron Hernandez. While on scholarship at the University of Florida he frequented many night spots. It was not unusual for him to get easily angered at perceived slights, and on more than one occasion he was described as “paranoid”. It was in September of 2007 that Aaron would be first accused of pulling a gun on people and actually shooting them. The victims were in a vehicle at a light when “a large male who appeared to be Hawaiian or Hispanic with lots of tattoos” approached the car. These guys in the car had a verbal altercation with Aaron in the nightclub and chose him out of a photo lineup as the shooter. They later said that he wasn’t the shooter- that was after the university and Meyer got involved. Remember- this is a college town. Winning over EVERYTHING! Aaron was sleep in an interrogation room while the school’s attorney’s worked their magic. Now, I don’t know about you, but I watched the Usual Suspects- many times. In the film, the police detective is attempting to suss out a killer. What does he do? He locks them up overnight and observes. The one who can sleep is the killer. This is a 1995 movie that still holds up (except for the whole Kevin Spacey thing), but I digress. Here this 18 year old kid is able to sleep when he’s in a police interrogation room- not for stealing candy, or getting into a fight- for assault with a deadly weapon at the least and attempted murder at most. But, if he did this he got away with shooting two men. The school knew about this but continued to roll with Aaron because he was a beast at his position. An absolute BEAST. He remained a Gator for three seasons and finished his college career with 111 receptions for 1,382 yards and twelve touchdowns. He won the John Mackey award as the nations best tight end. He also was an All-American and All SEC. But, he was not welcome to play his senior season and was encouraged to enter the NFL draft.
At 20 years old, Aaron declared that he was ready to move to the next level of play- he was going to be a professional football player but for whom? His reputation on the field was diminished by his off the field antics. Teams would really be rolling the dice by choosing this loose cannon. He should have gone late in the first round or early in the second. But teams continued to pass on him until, in the fourth round with the 113th pick he was chosen by the Patriots. This lucky fuck was going to play with arguably the best QB in the league- Tom Brady. But the Pats wanted to talk to Urban Meyer before they signed him. And Urban- with ABSOLUTELY nothing to lose by telling the truth- still gave his endorsement. Don’t for one second think that I feel sorry for the Patriots organization, I kind of feel sorry for Aaron in this moment. Because this professionally ideal situation was the worse thing that could have happened to him personally. I listen to a podcast- Crime In Sports with James Petrogallo and Jimmy Whisman. It’s a great show, lots of laughs- but damn near every episode they talk about athletes getting into trouble when they go to wherever they consider “home”. Well, Aaron would be playing two hours away from “home” and for a person with many demons and as socially immature as him- well this is where it all REALLY goes to shit. I know this is going to be fucked up- but tune in to True Crime By The Book next week so we can talk about what the hell Aaron gets into during his time at Foxborough. If you enjoy what I’m doing here, please leave a rating and review for the show on your platform of choice. Check the show notes for my linktree- those are all the many places I can be found. Shit really gets wild in the next episode, so tell a friend to tell a friend. Thanks for hanging with me and I’ll catch you in part two of Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. Later Bookworms!
Tidings and salutations bibliophiles! Welcome to episode 15 of True Crime By The Book. We get together here once a week to chat about books, movies, and documentaries that center on true crime. I am the Librarian and your host, Tasha Pierce. This week we finish our discussion on Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. If you like the episode please share both parts with a friend, acquaintance, or loved one so I can blow up. I’d also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. I’ve got a couple of shout outs for the end of the episode from Apple, Facebook, and Podchaser. But right now, I think we should pick up with the downfall of Aaron Hernandez.
Throughout the series, we hear excerpts from conversations that disgraced NFL star Aaron Hernandez had with the people closest to him. Of course, being a guest of any prison comes with a total lack of privacy. The calls in and out are recorded and we get to be a fly on the wall when Aaron spoke with his agent, his mom Teri, his cousin Tonya, and his fiancee Shayanna. The calls that were featured in the series offers a little insight into the mindset of Hernandez. They also give us a glimpse of the relationships that he had with these people.
I spoke about Teri in the first episode. Her husband Dennis passed away unexpectedly after having hernia surgery. Before her 15-year-old son could even begin learning to live without his dad, she moved her new beau into the family home. This would have been difficult enough, but the new boyfriend was no stranger. He was the husband of Aaron’s cousin, Tonya. This turn of events alienated Aaron from his mom and brought him and Tonya even closer. We hear Aaron discussing her decisions and how they affected him. It was both heartbreaking and sickening to hear- he was so frustrated that he couldn’t share secrets with his mom because she would tell others. It is obvious that he lacked a basic trust in her. He also prophesied that “she would die without even knowing her son”. He was only half right
He spoke to Shayanna very often, as well. By this time she had mothered a daughter with Aaron. It seems like she was very in love with Aaron and his imprisonment was weighing quite heavily on her. There were days that she had to talk when she probably would have rather been crying. She gave him solid advice and talked him out of responding to situations with anger. He also got to talk to his daughter during these calls. He made it very clear to Shayanna that he was positive he would be beating his case. She seemed to be a little more realistic about his fate, but she didn’t rain on his parade.
All this talk about Aaron behind bars, but we still haven’t discussed how he got there. That’s where we are introduced to Odin Lloyd. Odin was a semi-pro football player. Semi-pro basically means that the amount players are compensated would not be enough to live on. In fact, Odin’s teammate said they paid to play. These are guys that really are just playing for the love of the game. And Odin was a stellar semi-pro player. That’s one thing he had in common with Aaron, love of the game. They would cross paths again for their OTHER loves- Aaron’s fiancee Shayanna and Odin’s girlfriend Shaneah are sisters. They were close which means Odin and Aaron became close by default. One more similarity between the guys was their love of Mary Jane. Both were smokers, Odin was known as the “blunt master” for his talent at rolling marijuana cigars. The ladies would hang out while the guys would have sessions in Aaron’s mancave. We can only assume that Odin and Aaron began to share more than marijuana and they would occasionally go out together.
This is how they came to be together in the early morning hours of June 17, 2013. Aaron and two of his friends from the hood- the real hood- went to pick Odin up at his sister’s home. When he got in the car, he texted his sister:
Did you see who I’m with? Followed by: NFL- just so you know.
Right now those texts seem ominous as fuck but at the moment his sister thought he might be bragging that he was hanging with an NFL star. In June 2013, that’s who Aaron Hernandez was- a STAR. Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance at the young age of 22, Aaron had proven to be one of the premier tight ends in the NFL. He was rewarded with a contract that would be worth $40mill over 5 years. This was beyond lucrative- it was insane! That contract alone represented 40 million reasons for Aaron to stay out of trouble, which makes it downright confounding that he didn’t. Because, not only did Aaron continue to go to night clubs (which triggered his paranoia), smoke weed (which could create professional issues), and hang with the boys from the hood- he was about to commit murder.
No one can REALLY know what happened in those hours, but the next day Odin was missing. He and Aaron had plans to join their girlfriends for Father’s Day Brunch but Odin was a no-show. Later that evening, his remains were found by a jogger who then called police. Odin’s body was found in a gravel pit- the pit is located less than a mile from Aaron Hernandez’s home. These guys had to be the biggest idiots ever. Aaron didn’t live in a modest 3 bedroom. He had a MANSION. A mile from a house that size may as well be in its backyard. Then the morons left evidence that included DNA in the form of a half-smoked blunt at the scene.
It wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that Aaron and his friends Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace were involved in Odin’s murder. On June 26, 2013, Aaron was arrested at his home. Less than two hours later, the Patriots cut him.
This is where I tell you about how shitty the business end of the NFL can be.
We heard Aaron in one phone call talk about banned substances in the NFL (not just marijuana, but certain pain killers that were also considered illegal drugs per the NFL standards). He spoke about how hypocritical the league is because every Sunday the team doctors were injecting him full of those illegal drugs. Anything it takes to win, right? Also, Aaron asked to be traded because he was in fear for his and his family’s lives. Belichick and Kraft said, “Nah- how about we set you up in an apartment where you can lay low?” Of course, there’s a story behind why Aaron was fearful and I’ll get to it once I’m through dragging the Patriots organization. I know he was under contract, but if a kid wants to be traded from a perennial playoff contender, wouldn’t you want to look into that? WHY would you want to be traded? For Aaron, it was allegedly because he shot one of his best friends in the face and left him for dead. Imagine his shock when, on Valentine’s Day 2013, he received a call from Alexander Bradley- the man he had apparently tried to kill. Bradley was very much alive and pissed- I guess that’s understandable when someone literally wanted you dead. He wasn’t cooperating with police, either. He never intended to out Aaron as the shooter. He wanted revenge, money, or both. So why the fuck did Aaron shoot him? His constant friend, paranoia, required it. See, there was another case we haven’t yet discussed. Oh yeah, the cases are just PILING up. In this case, on July 16, 2012, Aaron allegedly was at the usual place that filled him with anxiety- the nightclub- when someone had the nerve, gall, and intestinal fortitude to ACCIDENTALLY spill a drink on him. Upon leaving the club, Aaron and Bradley saw the guys involved in the incident. Instead of asking them to pay his dry cleaning bill, it is alleged that Aaron rolled up on them and said, “What’s up now, niggas” and began shooting into their car. Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, 28, were hit in the hail of bullets. They both died from their injuries. The only person who could finger Aaron as the shooter was Bradley- so, killing him would be the way to eliminate the only witness.
Well, he had no idea that there would be surveillance footage of a vehicle that looked remarkably like his leaving the scene of the crime- more on that a little later.
So, the Patriots could have and should have looked further into Aaron’s request and the timing of it and easily deduced that Aaron was involved in some top tier bullshit. They went the route of plausible deniability. I fucking hate the fact that these players are like chess pieces that the organization “owns”. When you own something valuable you don’t want anyone else to get it. So they were overlooking the failed drug tests, his incompatibility with the locker room, and the GLARING character flaws because they owned him. As long as he’s useful to us, we are going to continue playing him. The entire Patriots organization has the blood of Odin Lloyd on their hands because Stevie Wonder could see that this kid was troubled.
I call him a kid- he was 23 when the shit hit the fan. Yes, he was technically an adult. He was absolutely RICH beyond my wildest dreams. He was also socially immature (per the Patriots’ own scouting report). He needed guidance. Actually, later on, we find out he needed even more than that.
It’s like he found peace behind bars. Listening to the phone calls with Shayanna, it was clear that she was the adult in the room. He had affection for her and their daughter, but they weren’t enough for him to make better choices. And his mom was literally fussing at him about not giving her a million dollars while he was locked up- she didn’t understand that a $40mill contract does not mean that he has $40mill today. But, of all the damn things to be worried about, why are you worried about that? He wasn’t getting that money. The Patriots were doing everything in their power to not pay his signing bonus, so you know that they weren’t going to be paying any part of his contract. Even though those bastards knew he was thugging and looked the other way- but I’m making this about New England when it’s really about how fucked up Aaron Hernandez is.
He strolled into court looking devastatingly handsome and just a little bit scared. Just a little. He blew kisses to his daughter. He seemed normal. That’s a scary thing, how normal he seemed. Shayanna sat with Aaron’s family. Her sister sat with Odin’s family. Once so close, now they were estranged because Shayanna stood by her man. Also never wavering in her support was Tonya- who by now was battling cancer. While I thought the activities she condoned at her home played some part in Aaron’s delinquency, she without a doubt loved him. Remember the other murders that Aaron was thought to have committed? I said a vehicle that looked very much like his showed up in surveillance video. He was known to drive a silver SUV that -poof- vanished! Well, that vehicle was finally located- it was in the garage at Tonya’s. And try as they may, prosecutors could not get her to cooperate with their investigation. She even stared down being charged with contempt without blinking. The judge didn’t blink either when he sentenced her to jail time despite the fact that this woman would miss her cancer treatments if she got locked up. She ended up making bail after 196 days. I don’t want to go into all her cases and such, but she was a ride or die. She did the jail time, plead guilty rather than answer questions, missed precious days with her children for Aaron. She continued battling cancer until passing away in October of 2015.
Do I really need to give you a blow by blow of the court proceedings in the Lloyd case? Good- I’ll just say Robert Kraft’s old evil, two-faced ass testified. Did I really just say that? I don’t even know Mr. Kraft- but I do know his organization is always in the midst of a cheating scandal, I DO know that he’s shaking in his boots because THE Patriot, Tom Brady, is dipping his toe into free agency. I also know that he allegedly likes a happy ending. There was very powerful testimony from Odin Lloyd’s mom as she held back tears. Shayanna got up there and lied- and she is also considered a ride or die chick. I think she was misguided. Tanya Singleton showed the world that it was family over everything, and she had her cousin’s back. In the meantime, Shayanna’s family- her sister- was sitting on the opposite side of the courtroom mourning the loss of her boyfriend at the hands of YOUR boyfriend.
At the end of it all, Aaron is found guilty in the death of Odin Lloyd. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was acquitted of the murders of Furtado and de Abreu. So, now his focus was on assisting his attorney with appeals. He and Shayanna were being hopeful for their future. That is, until a Kirk and Callahan radio show appearance by a reporter named Michele McPhee. There she and the hosts suggested that Aaron was a closeted homosexual. Two days later, Aaron would be found hanging in his cell, dead from an apparent suicide. He had left three letters- one to Shayanna,, one to his daughter, and one that is rumored to have been to his prison lover. There was a Bible opened to John 3:16, and that verse was also written on his forehead. There is much speculation that he could not live with the world knowing his deepest secret. But an evaluation of Aaron’s brain after his death may shed light on all of his impulsive and violent behaviors.
That exam proved that Aaron at 27 had one of the worst cases of CTE ever studied even at his young age. There was a considerable amount of damage, thought to have come from sustaining head injuries while playing football. Unfortunately, the degenerative brain disease can only be diagnosed at autopsy.
According to a July 2017 article published in Sports Illustrated:
A study by Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee examined the brains of 202 deceased football players and found that 110 of the 111 brains of former NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The brains were donated by families of former NFL players who showed signs of the disease. The study was not conducted on a set of random former NFL players, and Dr. McKee notes “tremendous selection bias” in the samples.
“It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football—there is a problem,” Dr. McKee said, according to the New York Times.
High school players in the study had mild cases while college and professionals had more severe cases. CTE was found in 177 of the 202 brains.
The disease can cause impaired judgment, aggression, memory loss, and depression. CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem.
The study examined players as young as 23 years old and as old as 89. The brains were also from all player positions including 44 linemen, 10 linebackers, 17 defensive backs, and seven quarterbacks.
Former NFL Hall of Famer Ken Stabler was among the brains after he asked that he be examined when he was battling colon cancer. McKee determined that Stabler had a “moderately severe” case of CTE.
The family of the only NFL player without CTE did not authorize for Dr. McKee to publicly identify him.
The NFL issued the following statement to SI.com:
“We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE. Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advance the science and progress related to head trauma. The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes. As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence, and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE. The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.
In 2016, the NFL pledged $100 million in support of independent medical research and engineering advancements in neuroscience-related topics. This is in addition to the $100 million that the NFL and its partners are already spending on medical and neuroscience research.”
Last year, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, testified before the House of Representatives and was asked by Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky whether he thinks “there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE.”
“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Miller responded.
With that answer comes another question: What is the NFL prepared to do to ensure players get the help they need when and if they begin to show symptoms?
Because the Florida Gators turned their backs on Aaron and sent him to the league. The league turned a blind eye, enabled, and discarded him like trash. And he had been playing the sport since early childhood, with an uber-masculine father who may have celebrated his son’s toughness when he sustained damaging hits.
There was a former player who made the observation that head injuries don’t cause anyone to become a murderer. I’m not qualified to make this assumption, but I will make it anyway- It is proven that head injuries can result in brain damage and that damage may increase an individual’s likelihood to be impulsive and destructive. If there are murderous thoughts they are amplified by the damage. Does that mean that I think Aaron should have been let off the hook? Hell no! But I do believe that his repeated blows to the head should have been considered in sentencing. I also believe that other athletes with a history of severe head trauma who went on to have a cognitive decline should have been presented as examples of what type of difficulties Aaron may have faced. I believe the Patriots should have been sued in civil court for the wrongful death of Odin Lloyd, based on the knowledge that Aaron had approached them about a trade due to death threats.
Don’t mistake me for being anti-NFL either. I absolutely LOVE the sport, but I do realize that in the US football worship has gone too far. When the sport is known to be potentially dangerous to the athletes, it is imperative to take all the preventative actions necessary to mitigate the danger. I’m not sure what that looks like but I think a good start is to rethink PeeWee and Pop Warner for the little kids. I also think that players should be able to understand and accept the risks when they play on any level- which means that tackle football would have to wait until the teenage years. And for professionals, organizations need to be about the players’ well-being. They need to staff professionals who can identify changes to behavior in athletes and be prepared to make a player medically unfit to play if they display classic symptoms of severe brain damage. While they’re at it, they can protect and respect a player’s right to peaceful protest, but I digress.
Aaron led a triple life- he was at the same time an insanely talented athlete, a sexually confused young man, and a cold-blooded murderer.
He was let down in so many ways by so many people. He also destroyed many lives with his actions. His sexuality should not have been that big of a story (he did protest too much about homosexuality and transgender women, doesn’t mean he should have been “outed”). I just wish he would have gotten help sooner because this sensational and salacious story may have never happened if he did.
There, of course, was so much more to this documentary than I could cover in two half-hour episodes so I highly recommend that you watch the Netflix series Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. Also, peep the bit players and let me know if you think that a couple of them were propping themselves up with their appearance in the series. I don’t know- I just got a bad vibe.
Anywho- that’s my take on what happened. As promised, I have a couple of shoutouts for leaving me a 5-star review. You can get a shout just by sending a favorable review on your platform of choice. I will leave my linktree in the description so you can see all the wonderful places I can be found including TCbyTB.com.
This week I’m saying thanks to Melanie, Joel, and XOTori21 for putting a BIG smile on my face! Thank you all for being a part of my audience.
Until next week, tell a friend to tell a friend- our numbers are growing! Don’t let them be left out of this expanding community. That’s it. Thank you for joining me this week on True Crime: By the Book. Rate, review, and share! Later bookworms!
Tidings and salutations bibliophages! Welcome back to True Crime: By The Book. Every week we discuss a new book, movie, or documentary related to true crime. I’m your host- the Librarian- Tasha Pierce. I appreciate all the ratings, reviews, and feedback that I’ve been receiving. Keep it coming! If you’d like to help the show, please leave a rating or review on the platform of your choice. This week we are digging into Randy Roth by way of Carlton Smith’s book, Fatal Charm. So, let’s dig into the author’s bio, shall we?
An award-winning journalist for The Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times during the 1970s and 1980s, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting in 1988. His books include Mind Games, Cold Blooded, The Prom Night Murders, Cold as Ice and In the Arms of Evil. There are more than two million copies of his books in print.
We know we’re in good hands with Smith, and he has teamed up with a stellar narrator in Keith Sellon-Wright. He delivers the text with passion and enthusiasm and kept me engaged.
That’s the author and narrator, short and succinct- which means there’s more time to unpack the story. Here is the summary from Fatal Charm:
Smith, a prize-winning reporter for The Seattle Times, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for his coverage of the Green River Killer case. Now he reveals the shocking true story of serial wife-killer Randy Roth, the alluring, handsome man who was caught after his fourth wife “accidentally” drowned.
Once again, a description that is short and sweet. Tells us enough to help us decide if we’re interested. And of course, I’m interested.
This is the story of a man who knew what women wanted, and he delivered. He was born on Dec. 26, 1954 into a family that would ultimately consist of five children. Lizbeth and Gordon Roth were the parents in a dysfunctional home. The atmosphere was patriarchal with zero tolerance of what was considered weak emotions. Randy absolutely worshipped his dad and even sided with him when he and Lizabeth divorced. In 1973, after graduating from high school, Randy enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was an average soldier, but he would embellish his service record in letters that he wrote to his girlfriend at the time. He ended up being discharged after a year because his mom said she needed him home to provide for the family- it is speculated that Randy had grown tired of being a file clerk so his mom bailed him out of completing his service obligation.
When he returned home, he began living with his girlfriend, Teri. Her family allowed them to reside in a home they owned. It was at this time that Teri discovered that he was seeing another woman named Donna. Teri eventually had enough of Randy and broke things off with him. Even though Randy was as wrong as two left shoes, he gave Teri and her family HELL after the breakup. He broke into the home of her parents, stealing and vandalizing. Teri went to the police and informed them that Randy was responsible for the break-in at her parents and she also gave them information on an unsolved robbery at a convenience store. She told them that the perp was Randy, who had robbed the store in order to give her money for an abortion after an unwanted pregnancy. This occurred shortly before he left for basic training. This was the first known instance of Randy using illegal means to come into money. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last.
Randy served two whole weeks in jail for the burglary of Teri’s parents’ home. Before long he married Donna and in 1978 they welcomed a baby boy to the family. Shortly after that, Donna was shown the exit. Randy divorced her and took custody of their son.
Randy was considered “1970s hot”. Think Magnum PI. So it wasn’t very difficult for him to get back in the dating arena. In fact, this is where he meets Janis Miranda. He wooed her with his charm and wowed her with stories of his military service. In these fairy tales, Randy spoke of death surrounding him, women and children being slaughtered, him being a killing machine in the jungles of Viet Nam. He claimed to suffer from flashbacks of his service and that he was a very dangerous man. In fact, when they would meet up with friends who really did see combat, he would regale in these stories while they wondered why he would want to constantly relive these nightmares. That was a problem that Randy didn’t know he had. He seemed to actually be proud of the things that most real combat veterans wanted to forget.
In March of 1981, Randy and Janis married. They bought a home and got insured to the gills. Randy said that he wanted her to have the security of knowing that the home would be paid for if tragedy ever befell him- you know, because he was so scarred from his imaginary time in Nam. The day after Thanksgiving of 1981, Randy and Janis decided to go hiking on Beacon Rock Trail. This was a roughly two-mile trail that is considered a moderate level hike. Randy and Janis had separated from the throng of hikers on the trail. It was then that Janis went close to the edge, lost her footing, and plummeted over 300 feet. Randy was spotted going back and forth before pleading with others to assist him in finding his wife. The authorities were called but by the time they got to Janis, she was dead. Although Randy’s statement was doubted, there was no real evidence tying him to her death. The following day, before notifying Janis’ family and friends of her death, he arranged to have her cremated and cashed in on her life insurance policy. That would be $100k in 1981 currency equal to just over 280K today.
In 1985, Roth met and married a second Donna- single mother Donna Clift. He followed the same pattern of charming, proposing, marrying, and becoming a massive asshole after the wedding. He also talked Donna into getting a huge life insurance policy yadda yadda yadda. Then one day, when they were rafting, Donna was terrified when it seemed that he was intentionally heading into rough water. She survived the incident and got the fuck out of Dodge. That’s 2 Donna’s that escaped what seemed like Randy’s death trap.
He met another woman, Mary Jo Phillips. He didn’t marry her because she was a cancer survivor. Cancer is rarely a lucky thing, but in this case, Mary Jo dodged the bullet because no insurance policy would cover her. She wouldn’t be beneficial to Randy financially, so he was on to the next.
The next turned out to be Cynthia Baumgartner, a recently widowed young mother of two boys. Her first husband had passed away after being diagnosed with Hodgkins. He had benefits that left his wife and children taken care of. This seemed to be an ideal situation for Randy. He swooped in and charmed who would turn out to be his fourth wife. She was unaware that she would be the next wife to die so Randy could get his money right.
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Before they had even been married a year, Cynthia and Randy went out on Lake Sammamish with their raft. After a few hours, Randy returned at a very nonchalant pace with an unconscious Cynthia. He claimed that she had fallen in the water and he had to rescue her. The lifeguard on scene tried to resuscitate Cynthia to no avail. Her children watched as the paramedics arrived to work on their lifeless mother and they began to cry. Randy was attempting to deflate the raft- seemingly unconcerned about the fate of his wife. That’s the thing about psychopathic murderers. They just don’t know how to perform as if they have emotions unless they have experiences to emulate from. Randy’s upbringing didn’t afford him any opportunities to practice emotions. He simply didn’t know how to even PRETEND to give a fuck.
In fact, a witness stated that he told Cynthia’s sons to stop crying. How do you expect children to react to watching their mother die? It was just noise to him. He couldn’t empathize with their feelings. He took the boys to eat, went home, and probably dreamed about the 400K he stood to gain from Cynthia’s insurance policy. Not to mention, he had her boys- which meant he also would have access to her first husband’s survivor’s benefits. Except, through all his controlling and abuse, Cynthia had the foresight to make her best friend the caretaker of her children in the case of her untimely death. That was a wrench in Randy’s program, but he was still set on a huge life insurance payout plus proceeds from selling their home.
In the meantime, King County police investigators were slowly building a case against this piece of crap. They recreated the series of events that led to Cynthia’s demise according to Randy’s statement and- SURPRISE- the shit couldn’t have happened that way. Then statements from witnesses on the beach when Cynthia was receiving CPR noted that Randy gave zero fucks about anything. Co-workers came out saying that Randy was utterly disgusted by Cynthia and was counting down the days before their “contract” ended at the one year anniversary. Of course, before this day arrived his wife was already dead and cremated. There were many other disgusting acts by Randy during this “time of grief” that I will leave out for those who want to read the book.
Of course, he was taken to trial in the murder of Cynthia Roth. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison and an additional year for theft. He is eligible for parole in 2029- so be careful who you swipe right on in 2030! Also, sadly, the first Donna remained convinced that Randy is innocent and that he was a good husband. I’ll remind you- he divorced her and took their child with no explanation. The bar is set really low for “good husbands”.
And this is where I’ll leave the story with my thoughts. First of all- women, we have to be vigilant. It was far easier to be bamboozled in the early ‘90s, but let’s not act like this isn’t still a thing. Dirty John, anyone? And if you aren’t sure what I’m referring to there is a FANTASTIC podcast, Netflix movie, and a couple of documentaries detailing THAT case. We need to KEEP a network of friends, associates, and loved ones who need to be empowered to tell it like it is when it comes to new men in our lives. If the relationship is moving too fast, it’s okay to pump the brakes. If things seem too good to be true be cautiously optimistic. Because a Randy Roth won’t have the patience to deal with a woman who is taking her time to make sure he is who he says he is. Also, if there are too many mysteries- Randy was known for not disclosing his age, not being interested in sex, and the horrible LIES that he told about Viet Nam- these kinds of mysteries should make us ask, “What does he have to hide?” And then Donna- what the heck is your issue? This man is either the most unlucky husband on the planet or he is skilled at picking unlucky women. And she was clearly only good enough to carry his male child- he didn’t trust her to RAISE him. So, how could you back a man who thinks you aren’t shit?
There are so many other tangents that I could go on with this case but I’ll just encourage you to read the book and let me know your thoughts! You can always share feedback at TCbyTB@gmail.com. You can also find me on social media on all the things- TCbyTB. I do have a patreon and would love for someone to be my first donor at patreon.com/TCbyTB. I need to keep a stash of munchies and other edibles (wink, wink) for recording days! Next week- we gotta discuss Aaron Hernandez! Netflix has released a documentary Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez and we MUST talk about it! That has the potential to be a two-part episode. The next book on the docket is Solitary by Albert Woodfox in case you want to read it beforehand.
As promised, I’ve got two new reviews that really lifted my spirits this week:
Thank you to NickRich5737 and fledanow from Canada for your wonderful reviews! Thanks for listening guys! If you’d like to make my week, leave a rating and review on your platform of choice. I’ll shout you out on a future episode. With that, I thank you for joining me for episode 13 and I hope you meet me here next week. Later bookworms!