Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. If you’d like to help the podcast, please head over to iTunes/Apple Podcasts, anywhere and drop a review. I would certainly appreciate it. There’s more than one type of crime. Today, my main source of reference was “My Friend Anna- The True Story of a Fake Heiress” by Rachel DeLoache Williams. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Williams. Let’s get that Audible author page bio for Ms. Williams, shall we?
Rachel DeLoache Williams was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is a graduate of Kenyon College. In 2010, she moved to New York City and landed her dream job in the photo department of Vanity Fair, where she helped produce photo shoots, including those for the annual Hollywood and New Establishment issues, and worked with the magazine’s leading photographers and iconic subjects. My Friend Anna is her first book.
And what a first book it is. I think it was a good idea for Williams to deliver her story, in her voice. But, Rachel, I got questions, girl! Before we get to the reasons I find this story to be absolutely batshit, let’s see what Goodreads tells us about the book.
Sex and the City meets Catch Me if You Can in the astonishing true story of Anna Delvey, a young con artist posing as a German heiress in New York City—as told by the former Vanity Fair photo editor who got seduced by her friendship and then scammed out of more than $62,000.
So, what problems can I have with this tale of a young woman who scammed New York? Well, first and foremost, how does this thing happen? I mean seriously- in the age of Google and social media and the need for “receipts” to prove ANYTHING- how does a person pose as an heiress for over a year and not be called to the carpet? This girl had homemade bank documents. HOMEMADE! And ,well, I guess the first thing she had going for her was being white. I know it’s a little early in the story for me to be pulling the race card, but come on. If I suddenly showed up in Atlanta saying I was an heir to the Wakandan throne, don’t you think at least ONE person would have dropped my name into Google? I think that person would have to have at least ten years of receipts before I was able to get credit at IHOP. But, somehow, Anna was able to secure a $100,000 loan on the basis that she had money in another country. I know that in New York, one has to create their own opportunities, but this borders on ridiculous! She had this big dream of getting $22million to start the Anna Delvey Foundation. She actually had the plans for this foundation being carried out in the most skeptical city in the US. She scammed a bank out of 100k with the limited life experience of a 28 year old. The banks would be requesting my mother’s maiden name for a thousand bucks. This girl got 100 times that with a fake identity. Right- her real name is Anna Sorokin. She earned 400 euros a month working/interning at Purple Magazine. Her mom was a homemaker and her dad worked as a trucker. She was born in Russia and moved to Germany as a teen. She wound up in NY after visiting and falling in lust with the place. But, she looked the part, she dressed the part, but most of all, she ACTED entitled. That’s the second thing she really had going for her. She acted as if she were better- more PRIVILEGED- than everyone around her, so that really sold the act. I know I’m pushing this, but that’s what Rachel hammered home in this book. She was the object of Anna’s generosity and friendship, but she noted that Anna was a pretty shitty human being. She was selfish and snobbish but those in her circle made excuses for her shitty behavior. She tossed around money like it was Kleenex because she didn’t have to EARN it. And as long as she was footing the bill, everyone ignored her trash behavior. And Rachel was the closest thing to a friend that Anna had, so as long as she had the money she scammed from the bank, she pampered Rachel with some of the finer things. Rachel wasn’t a starving college student- she made a decent living for herself at Vanity Fair. She didn’t NEED Anna’s money but she did benefit from the friendship. Anna was playing a role and Rachel was not only a prop but also was in the dark, but parts of me wonder if she wanted to be in the dark. I guess I’m the type of person who drops names of characters from movies, subjects of podcasts, guys I’ve dated into search engines all the time. I just want to know. So, if someone presented themselves as an heiress to me I picture myself excusing myself from the table and googling them in the bathroom. I can’t help it. For whatever reason, NOBODY thought to use the supercomputer in their pocket to do this, so Anna went on fooling the masses. She was staying at the best hotels, eating at the top restaurants, when I say she popped bottles in some of the finest establishments and rubbed shoulders with some powerful people I really mean it. She would drop a name or be seen in the presence of an “old money” type and their privilege would just transfer over to her. That’s not some shit I can dream of getting away with. I could show up to a basketball court with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and still have to prove that I can play. But not Anna. Anna was taking helicopters instead of Ubers and renting private jets. All while playing a shell game with $100,000.
So, when you get this close to a scammer eventually you become the scammed. I don’t make the rules, I just live by them. Forgive me if I sound like I don’t give a fuck- I really think Anna is a horrible person to do this to her friend. Yep, Rachel was the closest thing to Anna and a scammer gonna scam. So, Anna woke up one day and decided she needed to film a documentary in Morocco so she got a clique together and invited them, including Rachel, to roll with her-it was her treat. After some planning, it was time to purchase the tickets. Unfortunately, there was a problem with Anna’s credit card. That would have been the end of the trip. Like, you said your treat. I can’t afford this shit so I guess we’ll be hanging out in NY instead of Morocco. But, Anna asked Rachel to put the flights on her card- and she did. Of course, Anna promised to pay her back as soon as she got this credit card situation straight with her bank. Off they go to Morocco. They check-in and start the vacation shenanigans but Anna starts her anti-social behavior shit and kind of bullies Rachel into getting in the pool. Rachel got an attitude about that. This was the first time Anna singled her out with her privilege act and being on the receiving end of the bullshit wasn’t fun. Later in the trip, they were thoroughly embarrassed when the group went on a tour and Anna’s card was declined. Rachel had to save the day again. Finally, they return to the hotel where management was pressing them for payment. Rachel once again supplied her card. They were not supposed to charge her credit card, it was only for a temporary hold. Okay, once the vacation was over and regular life was resumed, Rachel got her credit card statement and saw that $62, 000 had been charged to her account. She created an invoice for the costs and sent it to Anna. Anna thanked her and said her bank would be wiring the money. Except it didn’t. And so started the back and forth between Anna and Rachel for months. It’ll be here tomorrow. Next week. Next week. Tomorrow. For literal months. Every day, Rachel is getting sicker and sicker because her credit score is plummeting and Anna is offering excuse after bullshit excuse. The thing about scams is at some point the jig is up. The piper is looking to get paid- and Anna had enough pipers to form an orchestra.
And here is where I am further confused by the law as it pertains to financial crimes like this. Let’s say I’ve got a friend named Anna. Anna asks me to give her a ride to the bank. Without my knowledge, she robs the bank. She gets back in the car and I start driving. We’re pulled over, the police find the money from the heist on Anna. Anna is going to jail- but guess who else is going? That’s right- I’m going to jail, too. Hopefully, I get a great attorney who can keep me out of PRISON, but I’m definitely getting locked up. So, in the case of Rachel vs. Anna, why doesn’t this apply? The group of friends benefited from Anna’s crimes whether they knew she was a criminal or not. Why are they not ALL on the hook for the bill? I know a person who was being scammed by a guy she met online. She became the middleman in a huge scheme that involved moving money all over the world and guess where she wound up? PRISON, that’s where- and she was being SCAMMED. I argue that anything Anna gave them was fruit of the poisonous tree and everyone who personally benefited from that fruit is responsible. That is not how the law sees it though, so Anna was going to be prosecuted for her crimes. And zero fucks were given by Anna.
She really gave no fucks. At the end of it all, she was convicted on several counts-grand larceny, second-degree larceny, theft of services– but NOT for Rachel’s ridiculous credit card bill. Anna is serving 4-12 years after a trial that was more like a damn fashion show. There was even an Instagram page devoted to her trial looks. She hasn’t been a model prisoner, either. This child got into fights and just like she did her whole stay in NY, she marches to the beat of her own drummer. Of course, when you do this in Rikers they put you in solitary confinement. I guess that will give Anna time to work on the two books she says she is writing- one about her scams and the other about her prison experience. She will very likely be deported once her sentence is up, but we will hear more from Anna in her next chapter. Netflix currently has the rights to her story and a series based upon her escapades is being created by none other than Shonda Rimes- you’ll know her from Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She’s kind of a big deal. And I know that I left you hanging about Rachel and her financial difficulties. The good news is, that after MUCH badgering of the credit card company, her debt was forgiven. Sounds about white.
If you can’t tell, I’m astonished by this story. Just all of it. I’m at an absolute loss of words because none of this seems real. But it is. Read the book “My Friend Anna” and let me know if I’m being an asshole about all this. I’ll leave a link to the book in the show notes. This is really beyond my level of experience in the world, possibly because I’m Black but mostly because I’m poor. Speaking of poor, if you’d like to help the show, I now have a Patreon at patreon.com/TcbyTB. You can also find a link in the show notes to my Red Circle creator page where you can leave one time donations. I’m TCbyTB on all the things now, so follow me on social media. You can send me a good old fashioned email at TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please- rate and review the podcast, share it with a friend. I love you all so much for listening and want to share the love with others! I’m coming back next week with my alter-ego segment which I’ve renamed “More Than A Movie”. I want to discuss “Growing Up Buttafuco” which is a recent episode of 20/20. If you’d like to watch, the episode is available on Hulu. Of course, it deals with the aftermath of the case of the Long Island Lolita. If you don’t know what that is, you have homework. Meet me back here for More Than a Movie on TCbyTB. With that, Thank you for listening! Later Bookworms!
Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. If you’d like to help the podcast, please head over to iTunes/Apple Podcasts, anywhere and drop a review. I would certainly appreciate it. There’s more than one type of crime. Today, my main source of reference was “Murder In the Heartland” by M. William Phelps, narrated by J. Charles. Charles’ reading was engaging. He slipped in and out of the different characters in a way that was not jarring or abrasive. His tone fit the material. At times a folksy charm, other times tension filled.
In case you need an Audible Author Page refresher on Phelps, he is a New York Times bestselling author of at least 40 nonfiction books to date. He has consulted for crime shows on television including season 1 of the hit television show, Dexter. The first episode of this podcast was inspired by his book, “Obsessed”, covering the crimes of Sheila Davalloo.
This crime is very disturbing and this retelling may be unsuitable for some listeners. I know there was a disclaimer at the start of the episode, but I think it’s important to issue another. Today we discuss the heartbreaking and shocking murder of Bobbie Jo Stinett.
Let’s get the Goodreads synopsis before I go into the circumstances surrounding this week’s story. On a December night in 2004, a 911 operator in Nodaway County, Missouri, received a frantic call from a woman who’d found her pregnant 23-year-old daughter in a pool of blood on the living room floor. Most shocking of all, the dying woman’s unborn baby had been viciously ripped from her womb.
Murder in the Heartland goes behind the scenes of two picture-perfect American towns forever changed by one horrifying act of violence. With exclusive access to key witnesses, family members, and potential victims who narrowly escaped a similarly gruesome fate, M. William Phelps tells a classic American tale of unthinkable murder and the quest for justice.
Twenty-five years ago, I became a mother. Thinking back to my pregnancy, I remember being both excited and fearful at the same time. The fears are probably common amongst first-time parents: Am I ready for this responsibility? Will I be a good parent? How big of a fool am I going to act when I go into labor? Those were my questions, and there was quite a bit of pain, not as much drama as I expected, and the feeling of unparalleled love when I looked into the eyes of my newborn son. No, I wasn’t ready for the responsibility, and I made my fair share of mistakes while raising him, but I didn’t lose him or break him (two of my worst nightmares) and I’m proud of the woman he made me and the young man he’s become. Bobbie Jo Stinett had recently celebrated her twenty-third birthday in December of 2004. I’m sure she was at peak excitement because she and her husband, Zeb, were preparing for Christmas and anticipating the birth of their first child. They had a little house in Skidmore, Missouri, the nursery was done, and the sounds of a baby girl would be filling their home. Bobbie Jo was due on January 19, 2005 and in her eighth month of pregnancy- this is easily the most awkward and clumsy time for most women. Maneuvering the extra weight and general discomfort is more of a task in those final weeks. But, there were still things that had to be done and she joyfully went about her housework and managing the dog breeding business she and Zeb ran out of their home. The couple bred rat terriers. The Rat Terrier is an American dog breed with a background as a farm dog and hunting companion. Traditionally more of a type than a breed, they share much ancestry with the small hunting dogs known as feists. These little guys were Bobbie Jo’s passion, and she had won awards for her dogs at shows. She had met many other breeders at these shows and was a part of the rat terrier community. There were even message boards, one called “Ratter Chatter” and another named ”Annie’s Rat Terrier Rest Area”, of which she was an active member. Here she chatted with other breeders and struck up friendships. Through one of these friends, Bobbie Jo was introduced to Darlene Fischer. Darlene was a breeder who also was pregnant. She and Bobbie Jo shared their excitement and talked dogs and babies often. On December 15, Darlene expressed an interest in purchasing one of Bobbie Jo’s pups. The two ladies made plans for Darlene to come to Skidmore to visit and pick up a dog. On December 16, Darlene got into her red Toyota Corolla, grabbed a page with directions to the Stinnett home that she printed one month earlier, and made the 300-mile journey to Skidmore.
Lisa Montgomery was a 36-year-old mother of four and wife to Kevin Montgomery. He was her second husband. Her ex-husband -and father of her children- was Carl Bowman who was a perpetual thorn in her side. They were set to go to court over custody of their kids in January. Carl intended to prove her unstable and unfit to properly care for their children. She had already allowed their 14-year- old daughter, Kayla, to move to Georgia and live with a virtual stranger- he wanted to get the other minors out of her home. He thought he had an excellent chance of winning full custody of two of his kids because Lisa was a negligent mother and had a history of being a pathological liar. Her latest whopper was that she was expecting a baby. This was a frequent lie that she told because she enjoyed the attention that pregnancy gave her. Of course, Carl knew that Lisa had her tubes tied in 1990 after the birth of their fourth child. It was impossible for her to be pregnant. He intended on proving to the courts that she was just a manipulative attention seeker who wasn’t capable of parenting. Her supposed due date was Dec. 13. When she could produce no child, she would be guilty of perjury. Slam dunk.
Carl even went the extra mile of telling Kevin, her new husband, that it was inconceivable for Lisa to be pregnant. Kevin stood by his wife, though. She had morning sickness, mood swings, and she LOOKED pregnant. She had shown him an ultrasound. She even went to the doctor regularly for checkups on the progress of her pregnancy. Did I mention that she LOOKED pregnant? Things were even more complicated when Lisa’s mom called and reiterated that there was no way she could be pregnant. She had a tubal ligation. On a side note, tubal ligation is considered a permanent method of controlling fertility but there is a 1 in 200 chance of it failing. Lisa was claiming to be a statistical anomaly.
On December 16, Lisa was set to go Christmas shopping. She was past her due date for the newest addition to her family, but she wanted to get a special Christmas gift for her daughter, Kayla, who was coming home for the holidays. Kayla was away in Georgia, living with a friend who could assist her with what had become a full- time hobby- dog breeding. They bred a specific type of dog- rat terriers- and had been showing their dogs in competitions. In fact, they were photographed at one such competition in April of that year with Kayla, Lisa, their dogs, and the Stinnet’s. Kayla was an online friend of Bobbie Jo’s and even felt inspired by her. The rat terrier world was a small one. But, back to Malvern, Kansas and Lisa’s shopping excursion. She told her oldest daughter that she would be back soon. Before long she was in her red Toyota Corolla, heading down the road towards town.
We’ll pause here for a word from the host of a NEW true-crime podcast you’re sure to love. It’s called “True Consequences”.
Now, back to our story.
Bobbie Jo was awaiting Darlene’s arrival. In the meantime, she talked with her mom. Becky Harper, Bobbie Jo’s mother, was also full of anticipation for the birth of her first grandchild. She regularly checked in on her expectant daughter and planned to do that later that afternoon. She was so proud of Bobbie Jo and Zeb. How they almost personified love in their relationship and that they were starting a family. How Bobbie Jo’s glow only got brighter during their marriage and now in her pregnancy. Zeb was a good husband and provider. They were living their dream. As they spoke on the phone, Bobbie Jo noticed that her customer had arrived and quickly ended their conversation. Becky had no way of knowing this would be the last time she heard her daughter’s voice.
By 3:15pm, Becky had called Bobbie Jo’s home a number of times. There was no answer. She was concerned because when they spoke earlier Becky had asked her for a lift to the auto shop to pick up her truck. So, Becky Harper made her way to Bobbie Jo’s to make sure everything was alright. She entered the tiny home and called her daughter’s name. No answer. Then she went room by room, hoping she hadn’t fallen or passed out. At 3:28pm, Becky found Bobbie Jo. She was splayed out on the floor surrounded by blood. The room showed signs of a struggle. Blood was everywhere. A horrified Becky dialed 911 and said, “It’s my daughter. It looks like her stomach is exposed! It looks like her stomach has exploded.”
Okay- now it’s time to detail the crime itself. Bobbie Jo had just noticed that a car had pulled into their gravel driveway and got of the phone with her mom. She went to the door, expecting Darlene Fischer. Instead, she was greeted by Lisa Montgomery, a lady she was acquainted with through the many dog shows they had both competed in. As the women chatted, it is presumed that Lisa asked to see one of the pups. When Bobbie Jo turned to get one, Lisa extracted a rope, quickly put it around Bobbie Jo’s neck, and pulled. When Bobbie Jo lost consciousness, Lisa produced a makeshift birthing kit and serrated paring knife from her purse. With the knife, sh began to perform a crude C-section on Bobbie Jo. The searing pain from the initial incision would have jolted Bobbie Jo back to consciousness, and realizing that she and her unborn child were in danger, a fight ensued. Lisa struggled with Bobbie Jo, who had gripped Lisa’s hair with both hands. Lisa regained the upperhand in the melee and, again, got the rope around Bobbie Jo’s throat. Because she had already lost a lot of blood from being sliced open, this time Bobbie Jo succumbed to the strangulation. Lisa hurriedly completed the C-section and successfully delivered Bobbie Jo’s baby girl. With that, she swaddled the child and escaped the scene. She began to make the trip back to Melvern.
It has always confounded me that people think they can get away with this kind of crime. Like, is no one shocked that you would return from a shopping trip with a brand new baby? How do you explain to your entire family that you delivered a baby and were released from the hospital within hours? Well as crazy as it sounds, it’s not as uncommon as one would think. There is a condition known as pseudocyesis. Pseudocyesis is the medical term for a false pregnancy. Pseudocyesis can cause many of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, and often resembles the condition in every way except for the presence of a fetus. So, Lisa displaying all of the marks of pregnancy isn’t unprecedented. It is thought to occur in roughly 1 in 22000 women, so still a huge anomaly. What makes this criminal is when a woman who has one of these “phantom pregnancies” decides to engage in fetal abduction, like Lisa Montgomery. Sadly, this phenomenon of women stalking expecting mothers with the intention of stealing their unborn children is not totally uncommon either. The most recent reported case was a nine-month pregnant 19-year-old Chicago woman, Marlen Ochoa-Lopez was lured to a house with the promise of free baby clothes on April 23, and then strangled. Police believe that “the baby was forcibly removed following that murder” and a 46-year-old woman living at the residence subsequently called emergency services and stated that she had just given birth to the infant. The baby boy was stated to be in critical condition then. The deceased mother’s body was found on the property on May 15. The boy, named Yovanny Jadiel Lopez, died several weeks later from brain damage.
In the case of Bobbie Jo’s child, Lisa Montgomery somehow successfully delivered the baby after only watching YouTube videos detailing the procedure. In fact, she was just about to call her husband and children to announce that she had gone into labor while shopping and delivered the baby at a women’s clinic. Her excited family couldn’t wait to see the baby. Kevin asked what clinic she was in and she explained that she had been released. Kevin, you have to know that is not a thing. Right Kevin? No? Well, she told him she’d be home shortly. Kevin- you HAVE to know that this is not a thing. Right, Kevin? This time he said absolutely not! Good Kevin. He and her daughter would be there shortly to pick her up and bring her car home.
In Skidmore, authorities had put the pieces together and realized that Bobbie Jo had been killed for her unborn child. In the struggle, she had yanked clumps of hair from her assailant which was bagged as evidence. After speaking with her mother,law enforcement found out that a woman named Darlene Fischer had been at the house to buy a dog. Darlene Fischer had just moved to the top of the suspect list, just as Lisa had planned when she made her up. The sheriff,, issued a very controversial Amber Alert for the missing child. An Amber Alert is – a widely publicized bulletin that alerts the public to a recently abducted or missing child. It relies heavily on detailed information about the child, the abductor, and usually the vehicle involved including make model, color, and license plate number. In the Stinett case, there was no known description of the abductor, no way to know the missing child’s features and very little about the vehicle. I say “very little” about the vehicle, because a family friend had earlier drove by the Stinnet’s to check on Bobbie Jo but noticed a dirty red Toyota or Mazda at the house. He assumed she had company and went on his way. I can only imagine him feeling awful about not stopping that day but he had no real way of knowing that Bobbie Jo was in any danger.
This kidnapping and murder made the national news due to a slow Christmas news cycle. People all over the area and the country were aware that a psycho had slain a young woman and stole her child right out of her womb. The Montgomery household was oblivious, though. They were all awed by the new bundle of joy in their midst. While the FBI was investigating the rat terrier chats and emails shared between Darlene Fischer and Bobbie Jo Stinett, Lisa was phoning friends and loved ones to tell them of Abigail’s arrival.
The next morning, Dec 17, Lisa did something unfathomable to most mothers. See, there’s this period of time that coincides with recovery for the new mother. This fragile little human has just been through a trauma- and that’s if everything goes normally. This infant needs to adapt to life outside the womb- get used to the sights, sounds and sensations that are going to be customary in her new surroundings. But, Lisa needed no physical recovery since she didn’t do any real “labor”. So she set out to show the town Baby Abigail to prove to everyone who doubted her that she had INDEED been pregnant. So she and Kevin went out to eat and shop literally hours after ripping that poor baby from her mother. The townsfolk fawned over Abigail, even while the women wondered how Lisa could be so irresponsible by bringing a newborn out of the house- in December, no less.
In the meantime, in Missouri law enforcement was getting leads as to the potential whereabouts of the missing Stinnet baby. They had been fielding calls from members of the rat terrier community with everything they thought they knew about Darlene Fischer. She supposedly lived in Fairfax,, Missouri, her email address was fischer the number 4 and kids – did that help? But their biggest lead came from a caller in Georgia. She told the investigators about a woman she knew who just had a baby despite having a tubal ligation. She told them this same lady had previously faked pregnancy at least 4 times, and she was acquainted with the victim. When asked this woman’s name she told them LIsa Montgomery, of Melvern, Kansas. Shortly after that call, forensics got a hit on the IP address from Darlene Fischer’s correspondence with the victim. It was determined that the IP originated in Melvern, Kansas.
Later that evening, Kevin, Lisa, and Abigail were returning from their day out. They noticed a black SUV at the corner of their street. It was Christmas time so there was little odd about strange vehicles in the neighborhood. Neighbor’s would be having visitors for the next month. When they pulled up to their house, more black SUVs and law enforcement would be soon swarming them. Directions were shouted- hands up, get down, where’s the baby. Abigail was handed to an officer and she was rushed back to Skidmore. The jig was up.
Zeb Stinnet was reunited with his and Bobbie Jo’s daughter. He knew exactly what Bobbie Jo wanted to name her- Victoria Jo Stinnett. Despite her traumatic entrance into the world, she was a beautiful angel. A miracle baby.
In death, Bobbie Jo had delivered law enforcement the evidence they would need to positively identify her killer. Those clumps of hair she pulled out in the struggle positively matched Lisa Montgomery. Lisa went on trial for the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinett and the fetal abduction of Victoria Jo. She was found guilty and sentenced to death. She is currently in federal prison in Fort Worth Texas, awaiting her execution.
There are a lot of questions about what could make someone so desperate that they would commit this grisly kind of crime. Would she have faked another miscarriage if her ex-husband, Carl Bowman wasn’t planning to get custody of their children? Make no mistakes, I don’t think she cared about her children enough to kill for them. I believe she didn’t want to lose to CARL. She had no problem sending Kayla to live with someone she hardly knew (who, in case you didn’t put it together- called the FBI with a HUGE tip). No, she’d let them live ANYWHERE but with Carl. I think she had something to prove to Carl, her mother, and anyone else who doubted her. Her motive was selfish, which makes the whole situation even worse. She planned this for months- e=she had even printed the directions to the Stinett home a month in advance. Sadly, there was still drama in the life of Victoria Jo when Becky Harper, her maternal grandmother, ended up taking Zeb Stinnet to court over visitation. Becky did receive visitation but she had to honor Zeb’s wish to not tell the child the circumstances surrounding the death of her mother. There was a picture of a now teenaged Victoria Jo and she is absolutely beautiful. Just like her mother.
And that is M William Phelps’ Murder in the Heartland. I’ll see you in two weeks when we discuss My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams . If you have feedback, comments, or book suggestions, I’ll direct you to my email TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please subscribe to True Crime By The Book on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and many other podcatchers and share the show with a friend. I would also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. Thanks for listening. Later bookworms!
Please be aware that True Crime By The Book may discuss topics, share opinions, and use language that could be disturbing or offensive to some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.
Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. First of all today, I’d like to thank Hipyoungy and JenBrad1211 for their five-star reviews. My first 2, so yay!! And if you’d like to help the podcast, please head over to iTunes/Apple Podcasts, anywhere and drop a review. I would certainly appreciate it. Now… Today, we will be discussing Charmer: The True Story of a Ladies Man and His Victims by Jack Olsen. It was narrated by Kevin Pierce (no relation), who teamed up with Olsen on many of his works. His narration lends the right mix of charm, gravity and sincerity to the words on the page.
Jack Olsen is the award-winning author of thirty-three books published in fifteen countries and eleven languages. A former Time bureau chief, Olsen wrote for Vanity Fair, People, Paris Match, Readers Digest, Playboy, Life, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, New York Times Book Review and others. His magazine journalism appeared in thirteen anthologies. Olsen’s journalism has earned the National Headliners Award, Chicago Newspaper Guild’s Page One Award, commendations from Columbia and Indiana Universities, the Washington State Governor’s Award, the Scripps-Howard Award, and other honors. He was listed in Who’s Who in America since 1968 and in Who’s Who in the World since 1987. The Philadelphia Inquirer described him as “an American treasure.”
Olsen has been described as “the dean of true crime authors” by the Washington Post and the New York Daily News and “the master of true crime” by the Detroit Free Press and Newsday. Publishers Weekly called him “the best true crime writer around.” His studies of crime are required reading in university criminology courses and have been cited in the New York Times Notable Books of the Year. In a page-one review, the Times described his work as “a genuine contribution to criminology and journalism alike.” Needless to say, there will be more of his books featured here on the podcast.
The Goodreads synopsis goes like this:
In a tree-lined community near Seattle, young women and girls were drawn to George Russell, Jr. They crowned him “cool, ” trusted him as their protector, and took him to their hearts. And why not? An articulate young African American, he was a cheerful companion, flashy dancer, and urban sophisticate. He had good looks, professional parents, rich friends, a beguiling style and smile. George was a local favorite. Then, bodies started turning up – in a nightclub parking lot, in a quiet, out-of-the-way house, and in a tastefully decorated apartment. The victims, attractive young females, had been bludgeoned to death, violated sexually, then outrageously posed like gallery sculptures. Seasoned investigators were sickened by the cold brutality. A prosecutor described the bodies as “the killer’s collected works of art.” No one suspected George Russell. He offered the police helpful clues and even put the finger on a pal. When frustrated detectives ran out of leads, they came close to giving up on the case. In this riveting examination into the mind and life of a vicious killer and his deceptively charming persona, Jack Olsen tracks Russell’s thirty-year psychological decline, which culminated in a shocking killing spree.
This week we are visiting Mercer Island. It is situated between Seattle and Bellevue in Washington State. It was described as upper suburbia- a place where executives and professionals put down roots. A place where poverty means driving last year’s Mercedes. Six miles of land that was home to around twenty thousand people. Unbeknownst to Mercer Island, a career criminal would soon grip the community and shake it to its core.
When I got into the book, I didn’t know much about George Waterfield Russell, Jr. I’ve been a fan of true crime since I was 11-years-old when Alton Coleman held my hometown, Gary, Indiana, hostage in the summer of 84. In Charmer, we meet Russell as a boy about the same age as I was when I learned that monsters live amongst us. He was wise beyond his years. He would talk to anyone. His conversation was so mature that it was easy to forget you were talking to a child. He was cautious as well- he’d get a person to talk and talk without disclosing much about himself. He was guarded that way. His family was among only a handful of blacks who lived on Mercer Island. He lived with his mom Joyce, a college professor; his stepfather, a dentist; and his baby sister. From the outer appearance, he seemed to have an ideal home life. Upon further investigation, we soon learn that George was a neglected and lonely boy.
He never had any really close friends as a youth. He was more like an accessory- kinda like TV shows that have a white ensemble cast and one black guy on the periphery of the group. George was always on the periphery. In his family, he watched his mom and stepdad fawn over Erica, his sister. He didn’t receive that type of attention from either of them. His stepfather often pointed out that George wasn’t his son.
At school, he wasn’t popular- he was just “there”. Because he was so often left to his own devices, George started to get into mischief. This wasn’t cute Dennis the Menace type stuff, though. He was prone to lie about anything, often exaggerating the type of family life he thought he deserved. In 1970, he and two other 12-year-olds broke into a neighbor’s home and made toast. Okay, I know that sounds a little funny. I couldn’t imagine coming home and actually finding the three bears in my kitchen eating toast. This could easily be mistaken as a prank, but in reality, it was premonitions of things to come. That same year he also began peeking into people’s homes. He was caught by police who decided to punish him by having him do odd jobs at the police station.
George soon became fascinated with law enforcement. He was interested in all aspects of fighting crime and the people who dedicated their lives to doing it. The Mercer Island police also liked having George around and they hoped by feeding his curiosity they could keep him out of trouble. He became a fixture around the station- answering phones, being a gopher, and studying the intricacies of being an officer. He even began telling people that he wanted to be a cop when he grew up. He was a charming and likable kid, just needed a little supervision.
Unfortunately, George’s mom and stepfather began experiencing relationship problems and she decided to leave the home they shared. I was baffled when it was revealed that she took the child she shared with her husband but left George behind. Of course, George said she gave him the option to go with her but he refused. History shows that his mom likely abandoned him. She had pawned him off on various relatives while she went to college. He stayed with a litany of relatives- aunts, grandmothers, basically anyone who would have him. This had to make George feel alone in the world, being shipped from one household to the next. After hearing how his mother so callously left him with a man who never wanted him, I almost felt sorry for him. It seems that George Russell didn’t want sympathy- he had his mind set on something else entirely.
I feel like I say this every week, but I can’t cover the entirety of the book in just 30 minutes. So, let’s fast forward to an adult George. It is important to note that he committed plenty of crimes between high school and adulthood. He was able to escape those brushes with the law with a slap on the wrist. A week or two in jail, maybe a month here and there. He wouldn’t serve long, and then he would be back on the street looking for new trouble to get into. He was arrested once, and when he thought that his crime would have him potentially looking at a lengthy prison sentence, he escaped from the jail. This was an embarrassing situation for the Mercer Island police. There was an all-out manhunt for George- dogs, helicopters, a mini task force. It was incredible that the Mercer Island police were having extreme difficulty locating a black fugitive on a white island, but that was the case. He was on the run for two weeks. When George was finally captured he told one officer that he wasn’t caught. He pretty much gave up. He couldn’t ever admit that he was wrong; he never could be fooled. This little adventure was George’s first felony charge. He spent 10 months on ice.
So, far we’ve learned that George was a liar, was abandoned as a child, and was neglected- he also shared a number of other traits that could be an indicator of his personality type. Those are a lack of guilt, empathy, and deep emotional attachments to others; narcissism and superficial charm; and dishonesty, manipulativeness, and reckless risk-taking. According to the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy, a person with all of those traits is likely to have antisocial personality disorder- also known as psychopathy.
Upon release, George went back to Mercer Island. He was as secretive and manipulative as ever- kind of a “street psychologist”. He knew who to pursue and who to avoid; who to steal from and who he shouldn’t cross. He kept different groups of friends and they remained separate. He had multiple lives, in a way. He could never stay out of trouble, but he would work off smaller transgressions by flipping on local drug dealers. He even had convinced one of his groups of acquaintances that he couldn’t be arrested because he worked with the cops.
George was finding himself increasingly alone in this period. He burned bridges with his old school friends by stealing from them, his street friends by turning full-time snitch, and the community at large by being a known petty criminal. The last resort on Mercer Island was the younger crowd. This is when 28-year-old George began running around with a group of girls who were looking forward to entering the 10th grade. Everyone knows the guy- he is the only one old enough to buy beer, he brings the weed, life of the party. Those guys who never grow up. Big fish, small pond types.
Well, he began to hang out at the homes of these young girls- sneaking in late and tipping out early. He would talk with them, really act like he cared. He asked questions and gave advice. He knew all the kids in their circle and could gossip with them all night. They would hug and cuddle in bed together- but nothing sexual ever happened.
UNTIL- one of the girls developed a crush on George. She began to display the classic signs of a 14-year-old being jealous and lovesick. It wasn’t obvious to all the other kids, but George recognized it- because he is old and pervy as hell. Then he began to work on grooming this kid into a long term sexual relationship. She had recently given her life to God- so that was the hook that George used to lure her in. I’ll save you the lurid details of his repeated sexual abuses of her. In usual George fashion, he eventually was caught with a stolen TV and stolen scratch-off lottery tickets. That landed him a 30 day stay in jail. His behavior while there extended his stay for 7 months. While he was locked up, the young lady discovered that she was pregnant. She had just turned 15 four days earlier. She knew there was no way she could properly care for the baby, so she used $130 of her babysitting earnings to have an abortion. Even though she and George remained in contact through letters and occasional phone calls, his spell was beginning to fade. She realized that it was really weird that this adult man was dating her. She wanted to experience dating someone her own age, who could be her boyfriend all the time, not just late at night. She finally recognized George for the loser he was. I think at this point in the story, I was so excited for her that I pumped my fist. It’s unfortunate that she went through all of that, but she came out on the other side. On May 18, 1987, he got out of jail. She saw George a few times but her behavior was distant. Eventually, he got the hint and exited her life.
Now, back on the streets of Mercer Island, George had to exist. He would sleep in parked cars, warehouses, people’s garages. Five weeks later, he was squatting in a warehouse. The owner called police and George spent 5 days in jail. He was trespassed from most of the businesses in the area- Denny’s, gas stations, stores. He was essentially ostracized.
He still kept a group of younger friends who he could manipulate into allowing him to crash at their places until they kicked him out- usually for stealing. He couch-surfed until his penchant for “borrowing” things reared its head, then out he went. He didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it of. So, he picked up his bag and moved on to Bellevue.
In Bellevue, he was known to frequent a nightspot called The Black Angus. He would post up at a booth close to the DJ, buy drinks and dance the night away. He continued to keep details about his life very secretive as he got to know the other regulars in the establishment. George was a reasonably attractive guy and he would flirt and be flirted with. He absolutely had no love for the black girls, though. He hardly would interact with any black women. It’s not hard to imagine why. I tend to think they reminded him too much of his mother. Most of the time, he kept his encounters with the women he met at Black Angus confined to the night club. Then, he met a young lady named Mindy Charlie.
Mindy was a young divorcee. She married her high school sweetheart at 17 years old and by the time she was 20 he up and left. One year later, in 1988, she was involved with an aspiring actor named Chris who turned out to be jealous, abusive, and an alcoholic. After a huge blowup on Christmas Eve, he destroyed her 6-foot aluminum Christmas tree. She finally had it with him- be an asshole all year round but DON’T ruin Christmas. She bought him a ticket to LA and sent him packing. That relationship ended up costing her a total of $5000. Then, in the summer of 1989, she met George in the Black Angus. This pretty, naive and vulnerable girl was just his type.
The street psychologist in George picked up on the unconscious signals that Mindy was sending. Before long he had effectively swept her off her feet. They started off dating. Before long he was spending nights, cooking dinner, making breakfast in bed. He would surprise her with gifts and kept her home spotless. She was so taken she didn’t even realize when George had moved in. He paid his portion of rent on time for a time. He was a perfect boyfriend until he wasn’t. That facade couldn’t last forever, Before she knew what happened he had morphed into a controlling, manipulative monster. He was emotionally abusive, secretive, and selfish. George had picked up on her insecurities and weaponized them against her. There was a constant hot and cold with him- he would ignore her for days on end and then suddenly start communicating again. He would “borrow” her car for hours on end, leaving her to wonder where he was. He told her that he was an “undercover narcotics officer”, but he never had money. She would occasionally find trinkets, jewelry, and what-not around the apartment, he would snatch it up and say “It’s police evidence”. He choked her after one argument, punched her after another. She was finally seeing him for who he truly was. This George was the one who could strong-arm children out of their possessions, who could steal from the people he called friends, and who would ruin another Christmas for Mindy. That’s right, Christmas was Mindy’s favorite holiday. She confided in him the terrible things Chris, the ex, had done on Christmas 1988. And this piece of crap did the exact same thing to her for Christmas 1989. When she dared question him, he picked up her aluminum Christmas tree and speared it at her. After the shock wore off, Mindy sat in a heap and began to pick up the shattered pieces. While scripting this, I witnessed an act of domestic violence. I heard yells, so I looked up. This young man tackled a young lady and began pummeling her like she was an opposing quarterback. I didn’t have my phone on the balcony, but I leaped up and yelled, “Heyyyyy”. He saw me and ran. This young lady was one of the 24 people per minute who are victims of domestic violence in the United States. That being said, I’ve been one of the 24 myself. Please, realize that you are worth so much more than this kind of treatment. If you have been a victim of domestic abuse and are in need of help, please call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit the hotline.org.
There had been a rash of burglaries in Mindy’s neighborhood. The perpetrator broke in and stole small items of little value. The Mercer Island police noticed that the burglaries on the island had slowed down tremendously. They also knew that George would occasionally slip in and commit a crime, just to keep them on their toes. George really wasn’t in it for the spoils, he was in it for the sport. The feeling that he could enter someone’s home while they were sleeping, rummage through their belongings, and essentially hold their lives in his hands. He could kill them while they slept. He wondered if his victims ever thought about that. It was through his benevolence that they were still alive. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.
I believe I’m going to stop here with Jack Olsen’s The Charmer, but fear not! There will be a second episode to conclude this story. In fact, the second episode will be available tomorrow! I hope you all will join me for part two- and bring along a friend. If you have feedback, comments, or book suggestions, I’ll direct you to my email TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please subscribe to True Crime By The Book on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and many other podcatchers. I would also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. Thanks for listening. Hasta manana, bookworms!
Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. Today, we will be concluding our discussion of the book Charmer: The True Story of a Ladies Man and His Victims by Jack Olsen. Last week, we learned that George Walterfield Russell, Jr. grew up on Mercer Island. He was a troublemaker all his life, and his petty crimes were little more than a nuisance. Over the years, George’s crimes had begun escalating. His burglaries taking on a perverse and voyeuristic tone. He began to study the movements of the Green River Killer with a little too much intensity. He spoke of Ted Bundy with a sort of reverence. He read a book by a woman about Bundy. He raged about how she knew nothing about Bundy- how dare she judge his hero. He pondered out loud about why there weren’t any Black serial killers (which of course was not true). When we left off, he had ramped up to physically abusing Mindy, his girlfriend of 5 months. Today we will find out how much further George ultimately goes.
In time, Mindy got sick of George’s abuse. He assaulted her and ransacked her apartment. She reported it. He was arrested Feb. 12, 1990, and soon out of Mindy’s life for good.
He still had the Black Angus. There was a waitress, GB, that dared to spot his bullshit and she was very vocal about it. George began to harass and attempt to intimidate her. She wanted him to be banned from entering, but the owner was reticent because of George’s popularity with the regulars. After talking with a female friend- who also was a Mercer Island cop- GB learned that George had a warrant out for his arrest on a parole violation. The next time he showed up to the Angus, she tipped the police. They dispatched a female black officer, who made the arrest. We already discussed how George felt about black women. This was the tipping point for George. He had been humiliated by a woman for the last time.
After threatening the life of GB, George was eighty-sixed from the Angus. The ban was initially for two weeks but after an employee meeting, the ban became permanent. George knew exactly who was most wanted him to be barred from the Angus. That knowledge further fueled his extreme misogyny.
Mary Anne Pohlreich was 27 years old. She moved to Bellevue to study computers and was working as a telemarketer. She shared an apartment with a friend. Mary Anne had a strict Christian upbringing, and she was kind of relishing her newfound freedom. She began frequenting a night spot- not the Black Angus, but a place called Papagayo’s. There she would sip drinks with friends, chat with other partiers and dance the night away. On Friday, June 23, 1990, she got dressed and hit the club with a couple of her girlfriends. Liquor flowed, music played, and dancing ensued. In fact, Mary Anne had personally requested MC Hammer’s song “U Can’t Touch This” at least 5 times. She was having a lot of fun and I’m pretty sure that more than a few of you can relate to the club scene in the 90s. There came a point that her friends were ready to go home, but Mary Anne was not ready to call it a night. She still had a Long Island Iced Tea in front of her and she wanted to finish her drink. They left without her. That would be the last time they saw Mary Anne Pohlreich alive. There is a little speculation involved in determining the timeline from that point. According to a toxicology report, she was highly intoxicated. It is thought that she was offered a ride home and was attacked in the vehicle she was riding in. Her cause of death was manual strangulation. There was blunt force trauma to the head by a heavy object, and she had sustained other injuries from being savagely beaten. She had also been raped after death. Her body was then disposed of near a dumpster behind the Black Angus. She was posed nude with her legs crossed, arms folded. There was a pine cone placed in her hand and a plastic lid covering one eye. A bartender who left work at the Angus reported that there was definitely nothing near the dumpster at 3:30 a.m. That would mean that the perpetrator put Mary Anne’s body out there around 4 a.m. or later.
Bellevue had a very low crime rate, so this murder was bizarre for a number of reasons. This was a particularly heinous crime and the staging of the body just added an extra layer of depravity. Where there is staging, there is often a message. But what was the message and who was the intended recipient? The police began their investigation by retracing Mary Anne’s steps from 9:30 p.m when her friends left the club until 4 a.m. They spoke to patrons, bartenders, and bouncers at Papagayo’s, many of whom stated that they were not sure if they had seen her or if she had left with anyone. Those who had remembered seeing her weren’t sure when she left. One person wanted to know what happened to her and if the police had any leads. The police had hoped to get some ideas from the last place they knew Mary Anne was seen alive. They had zero leads to share with the public. As the Mary Anne Pohlreich case continued to unfold, the unthinkable happened. There was another woman murdered.
On August 9th, police were called to the home of Carol Beethe. Carol was 34 years old and the mother of two daughters. She was a divorcee but had a boyfriend. Carol was a bartender at the Cucina Cucina restaurant. Carol got home shortly after 2:15 a.m. After her shift, she had spent an hour or two chatting with her boyfriend then another hour with a friend talking about her upcoming vacation plans. At 4:30 a.m., her daughter heard movement in the house and saw the light from a flashlight. She assumed it was her mother’s boyfriend and went back to sleep. At 8:30, the girls got up and noticed their mother wasn’t awake. One daughter went to her mom’s door and knocked to no response. She tried to open the door, but it was locked. She then went outside and around to the sliding door, which was open. Upon entering the bedroom, she was confronted with a horrific sight. This description is extremely graphic, but I thought it important to detail the scene that this poor child saw. Carol was lying on her bed, legs spread. She was nude, except for a pair of red heels. There was a rifle with the barrel inserted in her vagina, the stock between her legs. Her left arm was bent up towards her head, right arm bent down towards her hip. There were a pillow and a plastic bag over her face. The perpetrator had smeared blood down both of her legs. She was beaten with some type of weapon about her head and face. The assailant kneed and punched Carol so violently that her ribs were broken and her liver was lacerated. She had no defensive wounds, which means she was blitz attacked while she slept. This is the condition the monster who had killed her left for the children to find. Her terrified daughter raced from the room and called her father. He came over and looked at the scene then called the police.
When the police arrived and saw the level of violence coupled with the staging there was a sense of dread. What were the chances that the murders of these two women WEREN’T related? A town that has so few murders that it doesn’t even have a homicide division suddenly has TWO bodies and zero leads.
Well,since it appeared that there was a repeat offender on the loose, the police began looking at what the victims had in common. There really didn’t seem to be any similarities besides them both being white and pretty. One was killed in her home and the other was apparently killed somewhere else and dumped at a popular hangout. The police began to interview friends, family, and acquaintances in order to spot a pattern or a suspect. Incredibly, before they got very far with the Beethe case, there was yet ANOTHER murder of a pretty, young white woman.
Andrea Levine was 24 years old and lived alone in a basement apartment. On August 30, she got home from meeting her boyfriend at about 1:30 a.m. She apparently did some packing for a trip she and her boyfriend had planned, then prepared for bed. At approximately 5 a.m., her landlord- who lived upstairs- got up to let his dog out. That was when he spotted a figure lurking outside the home. The figure appeared to be a man and when he saw the man of the house he took off running. The landlord initially gave chase but then went home to phone police. The police came and performed a search of the property, but didn’t check on Andrea’s apartment. The following Monday the landlady noticed an odor coming from Andrea’s apartment. She entered the apartment and was shocked by what she saw.
Andrea was on the bed with her legs spread. She had a sex toy inserted in her mouth, and the book, “More Joy of Sex” tucked under her left arm. Her right arm was extended above her shoulder. She had sustained a ferocious attack, being cut or stabbed 263 times. She was also beaten about the head with a metal bar.
What makes a killer pose a victim? Psychology Today states:
FBI profilers may encounter deliberate alterations of the crime scene or the victim’s body position at the scene of the murder. If these alterations are made for the purpose of confusing or otherwise misleading criminal investigators, then they are called staging and they are considered to be part of the killer’s MO.
On the other hand, if the crime scene alterations only serve the fantasy needs of the offender, then they are considered part of the signature and they are referred to as posing. Sometimes, a victim’s body is posed to send a message to the police or public. For example, Jack the Ripper sometimes posed his victims’ nude bodies with their legs spread apart to shock onlookers and the police in Victorian England.
In the crimes we are discussing, the posing and staging seem to be a part of the killer’s fantasy. He isn’t attempting to point the finger in another direction, he is achieving a perverse thrill and is attempting to shock the unfortunate soul who stumbles upon his work, and to punish or degrade the victim.
The staging, the frenzied attack, the type of victim- there was little doubt that there was a serial killer on the loose, and he was escalating. Bellevue police knew they were out of their league on this one, so they called the Seattle police for an assist.
What did these victims have in common? After investigating the lives of these three victims, it became apparent that the only similarity outside of their race was they all frequented Bellevue’s nightspots. Mary Anne was last seen alive at a nightspot, Carol worked as a bartender and sometimes met friends at the Black Angus, and Andrea was known to hang out from time to time. In two of the crimes, a home invasion was a key component. From that, they gathered the perp was a skilled cat burglar. There were small items of jewelry taken in both home invasions, and Carol was known to keep Crown Royal bags with silver dollars and other change. Those were missing as well. A sexualized crime expert offered a profile of the killer that included him being a white male, but when local cops heard of the break-ins and petty thefts they had one suspect in mind.
On January 10, 1991, George Waterfield Russell was arrested on outstanding warrants. When he was interviewed by police concerning the homicides, he divulged that he was acquainted with all three victims. Three victims who seemingly had nothing in common suddenly were linked to one individual. This was not a coincidence. It also wasn’t a coincidence that the day Mary Anne Pohlreich was killed, George had “borrowed” a friend’s truck to make a quick run. When he kept it until after five the next morning, the friend was pretty pissed off. Not only that, but it reeked. George told him that he had thrown up to explain the smell. There was no coincidence that George had been to Andrea Levine’s home previously with her boyfriend, then returned alone asking her for a ride. She told her boyfriend to tell George never to come to her place again. It was absolutely not a coincidence that Carol Beethe and GB, the waitress who got George banned from the Black Angus, were good friends. He thought the two ladies were gossiping about him after his first verbal altercation with GB. And if somehow you still aren’t convinced of George’s involvement, here are some more non-coincidences:
The truck George borrowed was searched and Mary Anne’s blood was found under the floor mats
George began cutting out articles about the murders, saying the killer would “never be caught” and referring to the victims as whores and skanks
George sold one of his friends a ring that belonged to Andrea Levine
George took another friend into a wooded area to collect some money that was owed to him and returned with Crown Royal bags filled with change
“Negroid” hairs were found at the crime scenes (this was pre-DNA, but the hairs were consistent with George
George was a VERY skilled voyeur and burglar- he had been doing it since he was a child on Mercer Island.
Remember the bar patron that asked if there were any leads in the investigation? That patron was GEORGE!
The evidence was more than circumstantial- it was damning. I will recommend that you read the book for details of the trial of George Waterfield Russell. Just know that this piece of trash is off the streets for good. On Oct. 22, 1991 he was sentenced to forever. Forever ever, for ever ever. I’m sure that he would have been sentenced to death if that were an option at the time of his murders.
George broke the mold in a few ways- he crossed the racial divide as a serial killer, which is unusual until you take into account that George “acted white”. His crimes were sexual and sadistic- even before his first murder, I believe there was gratification in breaking into people’s homes. He took things from the scene of the murders but I don’t think they were trophies. It was just like 12-year-old George, breaking into a home and eating toast. He was hungry, so he took food. In the case of 31-year-old George, he needed money, so he stole their stuff. He wanted to be special, he thought black serial killers were unicorns. Truth is, black serial killers usually kill black people. Since he didn’t live around Black people, he didn’t know that. I believe George would have continued to murder had he not been caught. This would not have been a Golden State Killer or BTK kind of maniac. He would have killed and killed and killed some more. I do recommend that you read the book. I also watched the Investigation Discovery show Most Evil’s episode about Russell and looked up certain facts on Murderpedia.
That’s it for Jack Olsen’s Charmer. I had a book chosen for next week’s episode, but I had to return it because I just couldn’t get into it. The audio was shitty, and so was the story. I have a backup plan, however, so I’ll be working hard to get that out next Tuesday. If you have feedback, comments, or book suggestions, I’ll direct you to my email TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please subscribe to True Crime By The Book on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and many other podcatchers and share the show with a friend. I would also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. Thank you all for listening. Later bookworms!
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Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. There is, of course, more than one type of crime. This week, we’ll discuss a case that unfolds like a cheesy made for TV movie. Today’s conversation is based on the book “The Setup: A True Story of Dirty Cops, Soccer Moms, and Reality TV” by Pete Crooks. I listened to the audiobook (shout out to Audible) which ran for about 10 hours and was narrated by Keith Sellon-Wright. I thought Sellon-Wright did the story justice. I could almost hear the twinkle in his eye. I followed up with the Diablo magazine article as well. The Setup was a wild and winding adventure told from the point of view of the author, Pete Crooks, who had inadvertently stumbled into something HUGE. According to the Audible author’s page, Pete is a Bay Area journalist. We’ll learn that he has been an editor at Diablo magazine, which serves the San Francisco /Diablo Valley region, for 14 years. After exposing this absolutely unbelievable tale, he has been a guest on This American Life and 48 Hours on CBS.
Before we jump into my summary, let’s get the Goodreads synopsis:
The pitch went like this: Chris Butler, a retired cop, ran a private investigator firm in Concord, California. His business had a fascinating angle—his firm was staffed entirely by soccer moms.
In fact, Butler employed PI Super Moms: attractive, organized, smart, and trained in investigative techniques, self-defense, and weaponry. This American Life host Ira Glass described them as “MILF: Charlie’s Angels.”
When this story came across Pete Crooks’s desk when he was working at Diablo magazine in 2010, he was instantly hooked. He’d heard a little bit about Butler and his super moms in the news; they’d been featured in People magazine and on Dr. Phil. What Butler’s publicist was offering was too tantalizing to pass up: an opportunity to ride along with Butler and a few of his sexy PIs as they prepared to start filming a reality TV show.
He soon found himself deep in the underbelly of fake sting operations, wannabe celebrities, police corruption, drug-dealing, reality television, double-crossing employees, and more twists and turns than a dozen crime thrillers.
A wise person once told me to believe half of what you see, none of what you hear. I am not sure that sage advice was meant to cover audiobooks but, while I was listening to The Setup, I more than once thought to myself “There is no way possible this happened”. By the end of the story, I was exhausted! If you are unfamiliar with the case, I hope it’s as thrilling for you. Of course, there is no way I can hit every high and low during this episode. Regardless, I hope my telling encourages you to read the book.
Like we’ve already revealed, Pete was an editor at Diablo magazine in 2010. He covered entertainment, and there was the word that a local private investigator firm would be getting a reality TV series. The show, PI Moms, would be airing on Lifetime, because- where else?. There was a lot of buzz surrounding these “soccer moms” who doubled as private investigators, including being featured on the Dr. Phil show and People magazine. They had a boss named Chris Butler. Chris was a former cop and the Charlie to their angels. Chris was a stocky guy, blonde hair and goatee. A form-fitting tee shirt, tight jeans, and fashionable boots seemed to be his uniform. He kind of looked like you expected him to. Well, this was a pretty nice report to feature in Diablo- the show would be about the PI’s but the Bay Area would be the backdrop of their escapades. Pete was contacted by the firm’s public relations and asked if he’d like to interview the ladies for an upcoming issue. He was quite enthusiastic about it. Interestingly, he was even invited to do a ride-along with the moms. He could cover a routine day in their lives while interviewing them for his article. Well, this is more than he really hoped for so he agreed. Little did he know, this ride-along would change his life and hand him the biggest story of his career.
On September 9, 2010, Pete made his way to the warehouse that served as headquarters of the PI Moms. The first things he noticed were the photos of all the TV cops from his youth- Moonlighting, Columbo (my personal fave), Cagney and Lacey- and, of course, Charlie’s Angels. After meeting the staff and getting through obligatory niceties, Pete was eager to get a glimpse of the girls in action. These ladies came from divergent paths but were united by their preparation- investigatory techniques, self-defense, weaponry training, and a 6-month intense training program. Pete was to be a fly on the wall of their operation. Soon, an attractive middle-aged woman named Sharon entered the office and was in need of their services. She tearfully explained to the group that she had a much younger fiance. Lately, he had been MIA on Saturday’s and this rather well off woman needed to have her doubts relieved before she could go ahead with their planned wedding. She said that he told her that his unaccounted-for time was spent in a local gym, but she suspected that he was lying. She wanted the PI Moms to track him down and either verify his alibi or confirm her suspicions.
September 11, the day of the ride-along, arrived. Pete met up with Charmaine Peters and Denise Antoon. These were the spies who were taking point on Sharon’s case. The team leaped into action- what gym was he a member of? Did she have a photo? What type of car did he drive? What time did he usually head to the gym? Armed with this information, the ladies and Pete jumped into a minivan (because we all know that soccer moms only drive minivans) and took off in order to stake out the gym. Butler and the client would stay behind, keeping in contact via phone or text.
Pete couldn’t believe his luck! He never expected that they would get a client and hit the road just like that. He sat in the back seat taking notes and wondering how the case would turn out. He didn’t have to wait long for the next chapter to unfold. The fiance, Al, drove up to the gym in the described Mercedes. The moms pulled out a camcorder and trained it on their subject. He was wearing his workout gear and carrying a gym bag. It looks like he may be really going to work out. Imagine how surprised the PI’s were when he returned minutes later dressed in a casual outfit. He jumped back in the car and drove off.
The moms pulled out behind him and tailed him- in what the book describes as one car length behind. They made the same turns as him. They made the same traffic violations as him. This has got to be the worst example of secretly following someone EVER. If the man looked in his rearview mirror the “trained’ investigators would be made. Pete mentioned this to them, but they assured him that the driver was in his own little world. He wouldn’t notice the minivan with the camcorder in the windshield that had been following him since he left the gym. Well, they were the professionals. What the heck did Pete know? He’s just a freaking “entertainment” editor for Diablo, right? These skilled and highly disciplined experts were actually going to be part of a reality show! Pete stayed in his place.
They continued to trail the Mercedes until it got to a gated community. There was no following him in there. They’d be forced to wait for him to come out, and they couldn’t definitively tell their client what he was up to. This felt like a dead end.
BUT– it seemed luck would prevail, once again. Playboy pulled back on the highway, but this time not by himself. Al was now accompanied by a beautiful young woman. With the chase back on, the group shadowed the couple to, among other places, a jewelry store. The oblivious lovebirds stopped dead in front of the minivan with a whole damn camcorder set up on the dashboard and shared a kiss. Then they went into the store and spent some of the old lady’s money. Three hours in and they’d already confirmed the client’s worst suspicions, but the moms were ordered by Chris to continue their surveillance. In fact, he was dispatching a second team to further document the fiance’s actions. Pete didn’t understand why they would need any more evidence, but he kept his mouth shut and rode along.
The next stop for the caravan was a restaurant- Rutherford Grill. The fiance and his lady friend went in and found seats. Minutes later a flashy black Mustang carrying an even flashier couple pulled up to the restaurant. The backup had arrived! Out stepped Carl Marino, and his wife Ilona. They went over to the van to see a picture of the target and then waltzed in the restaurant and sat next to them. Soon, the Marino’s had struck up a conversation and were really getting acquainted with Al and his date. Well, the trio in the van were starving, so they also went inside and sat RIGHT NEXT TO THEM. This was really odd. Pete was closest to the cheater and his lady friend- in fact, he could hear their REALLY juvenile conversation. Thankfully, he and the Moms went back to the van after eating. Carl texted them that he and the misses had been invited to join cheater and friend at a hotel. Because that’s a thing that happens on random Saturdays between strangers.
The motorcade was soon traveling to a Holiday Inn Express- the cheater and his date in the Mercedes, the Marino’s in the Mustang, and the Moms in the minivan bringing up the rear. A text announced that another car would soon be joining them- one carrying Chris and Sharon the client.
Pete thought this was HIGHLY irresponsible and problematic and told Charmaine and Denise. Sharon was the last person who needed to be present at this hotel. Things could go south in a real Jerry Springer sort of way.
The Moms and Pete watched the two couples go into the hotel. Then, Chris and the client pulled up. Chris came over to the van and instructed them to follow him. Then, he and Sharon jumped into the Mercedes and raced off- seemingly leaving her fiance stranded at the hotel. They met up at a nearby parking lot. Before the car was even parked, Sharon leaped out and ran over to the Mercedes- her car- that the scoundrel had been driving. Using her keys, she popped the trunk and rifled through his date’s bag of gifts. After seeing the evidence of Al’s dalliance, she began to sob inconsolably.
After completing the 10-hour stakeout and witnessing its aftermath, Pete went home. Two weeks later, he joined the moms and Butler for a self-defense class at the UFC gym- the official gym of Butler and Associates. He used this time to also chat with the crew. He had material for a hell of a story. Later, he began the writer’s process of putting together an article that would captivate his audience. Three months later, he was ready to start writing the piece. BUT– on Jan 3 he received an email. It read, “I am writing this as a courtesy to you. It would be a mistake to publish the article on the P.I. Moms and Chris Butler that you came and did a story on a few months ago. Chris totally played you. The case that you sat in on was totally scripted. All of the participants were employees or paid actors. The ‘client’ actually works for the agency and was a former client. The ‘boyfriend’ was a friend of Chris’, and his ‘mistress’ is a hired ‘decoy.’ The entire Napa ‘trip’ was planned out, and the investigators knew exactly the course of events. The only reason Butler wants to be in your magazine is for advertising purposes. The whole ‘P.I. Moms’ thing has even been crafted just to get on a TV show. You have a great and classy magazine, and I would hate to see it cheapened by someone of low character such as Mr. Butler.”It was signed “R Rutherford”
Who the heck is Rutherford?
Pete was perplexed. He wanted answers, so he made calls to everyone involved in that godforsaken ride-along. Charmaine, Denise, Marino, Butler. They all assured him that the whole thing was legit. He asked Butler to put him in touch with Sharon the client. First thing tomorrow was the response. Alone with his thoughts, Pete began to wonder. Had he been duped? He was beginning to think so, especially since Butler never got back to him with Sharon’s info.
In the meantime,
Rutherford made contact again- this time he named the mystery date. Her name was Ryan Romano. Pete did a Facebook search and there she was. She was Facebook friends with people who were friends with some of the PI Moms. Not even six degrees of separation, huh? He then did some pretty impressive detective work and came up with Sharon the client’s full name. He plopped that in the Facebook search and saw pictures of her and her real boyfriend. The further he went down this rabbit hole the more pissed he got. The absolute icing on the cake was when Rutherford forwarded an inter-office email that laid out the entire itinerary of the staged ride-along complete with aerial maps. They had wasted 10 hours of Pete’s time on his day off! This was now PERSONAL!
So. now Pete is big mad. Let’s be realistic for a second, though. The day of the stakeout played out like a bad Lifetime movie. Just listening to it I’m sure some of you had already come to the conclusion that at least parts of it were faked. If not, I know you noticed that the sarcasm dripped from my re-telling of the events. Things definitely appear different from the outside looking in. Pete had no reason to believe these people would lie to him. He had no idea that so many people would be part of this endeavour to set him up. The important thing was now that he knew, what was he going to do about it? It didn’t take long for him to reach the conclusion that he would expose them. There was a lot of questions about the validity of “reality television” and how much of it was actually “real”. Pete could definitively say that his experience with one wasn’t real at all. He planned for that to be the scope of his article- until January 13, when he received another email from the enigmatic Rutherford. “I am hesitant to tell you this. Mr. Butler is involved in some serious criminal activity right now. He is very well connected in the police community and with the Narcotics Task Force. I am not sure who to contact about this, and I assure you it is serious.”
When pressed for more info, Rutherford responded, ““[Butler] is selling large amounts of
marijuana along with other drugs (prescription Xanax and steroids) that have been confiscated by the Contra Costa County Task Force. The commander of the task force is taking the drugs from raids and giving them to Chris to move. They even have a couple pounds of C-4 plastic explosive.”
Okay- this was way beyond the scope of Pete Crooks of Diablo Magazine. Rutherford needed real help. If his allegations were true, Pete had to direct him to someone in law enforcement that he could trust. This was bigger than the PI Moms. It was now a matter of public safety. C-4 plastiques can easily be molded into any desired shape. C4 can be pressed into gaps, cracks, holes making it hard to detect and highly effective. The ‘conventional wisdom’ regarding plastic explosives is that a lump of C-4 the size of a potato will destroy an ‘average’ house. Imagine the amount of damage two pounds of the stuff could do!
Pete had a friend who could help. He told her about Rutherford’s accusations and showed her
Photos of the marijuana. She encouraged Pete to get “Rutherford’s” contact information so she could forward it to the right people. Cortez also told Pete that once Rutherford became a confidential informant he probably wouldn’t hear from him again. He’d be working very closely with the state’s Dept of Justice. Pete was just relieved that he could get him help.
So, I’m going to let the cat out of the bag here. If you’re unfamiliar with this case, I’m sure your biggest question is “Who is Rutherford?” We know that he is very close to Chris Butler and his PI firm. He has access to internal emails and the criminal exploits of the boss. We’ve all heard the term keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Well, this guy is as close as one could get. He is Butler’s right hand man- Carl Marino.
Carl Marino, according to his own IMDB page, was born and raised in upstate New York in the city of Hornell, the son of Carl and Carol Marino. He was the only boy of four siblings. After graduation from High School, Carl attended the United States Military Academy at West Point for 2 years. Following West Point, and while studying Criminal Justice at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Carl became a Deputy Sheriff in New York and served for almost 17 years on the force. He also signed with a modeling company in NY and worked on print and commercial projects. After his service and the passing of both of his parents, Carl moved to California to be closer to some of his family that had moved there years before. While in California, He signed with a modeling agency there. Soon after his arrival, he auditioned for a feature film, got the part, and made his big screen debut in the independent film Sedona’s Rule (2010). Almost immediately after this, he was cast in the NBC show “Trauma” (2009)_ that was filming in San Francisco, and became a recurring guest star. Since then, Carl has worked on and been featured in numerous feature films, network and cable television shows, and national commercials.
He met Butler when he answered a Craigslist ad looking for someone with law enforcement and acting experience. He was hired on the spot, became besties with Butler, and even was named Director of Operations for Butler and Associates. Over time they handled a shit load of cases- most of which entailed deceptive practices. They were experts at dirty DUIs. In these scenarios, a client would want them to get a subject (usually an ex-husband) in a situation to damage their reputation. They would throw sexy decoys at them to ply them with alcohol. If the gentleman wouldn’t be moved by beautiful women, they’d send Marino in as a potential business associate or reporter- basically, whoever could get the mark to heavily indulge in alcohol. When the night was over and everyone jumped in their cars to leave, Butler would send in some of his dirty cops. They pull the mark over, he blows above the limit, and is immediately arrested. This type of sting worked hundreds of times.
Then there was the case of a mother who wanted to “scare her son off of drugs”. She hired Butler. He came to their home and conducted a fake raid. They roughed the kid up a little and tossed his room where they found 4000 Xanax pills. Those were never turned in to police.
In another case, a mother worried that her 19-year old son may have been selling drugs. Butler sends in the decoys who entice the young man to get ecstasy for them. He goes and gets the drugs and out pops Butler and Associates pretending to be cops, guns drawn. They scare the shit of the kid, confiscating the drugs and the money. There was actually one real cop present for this dirty drug bust- Norm Wielsch, Commander of the Contra Costa County Narcotics Task Force.
Carl was down for the dirty busts and stings, but says he wanted no part of the drug dealing. So, while Lifetime was filming the PI Moms, Carl was filming Butler. The Lifetime producers were having a hard time getting material for their show. Since most of the Butler and Associates cases were fake, there were not many REAL active cases going on. I’m going to leave the deets of the show out of my re-telling because of a lack of time. Carl, on the other hand, had a lot of success with his reality show. The state Dept of Justice was building one hell of a case against Chris Butler. They needed a little more on the big fish, Norm Wielsch.
On February 15, they got everything they needed. Undercover officers watched Norm Wielsch take three pounds of meth out of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s drug locker. He had forged a “destruction order” to get the drug and then drove with Butler to the dump, where Wielsch poured three pounds of flour to fake the drug’s destruction. The two then drove to Butler’s office and sold a pound of meth to Carl—who filmed the entire deal with a hidden camera. The video evidence reportedly showed Wielsch and Butler weighing the meth, counting their money, and joking around.
The next day,Feb 16, Wielsch and Butler were arrested separately. Wielsch confessed, tearfully and immediately. He was the first officer from the state’s Department of Justice ever to be arrested on drug charges. During a court hearing, Wielsch apologized to the law enforcement community for his conduct and said he tarnished the badge. He accepted full responsibility for his crimes. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Chris was arrested outside the “official gym of the PI Moms”- who by now were no longer a thing. He demanded a lawyer. There would be no tearful admissions from him. He ended up pleading guilty and was eventually sentenced to eight years in prison.
Pete Crooks went on to publish the article in Diablo about the PI Moms and the uncovering of one of Contra Costa County’s most nefarious conspiracies.
The moms moved on to new careers and Car Marinol-
Well, he continued to cross acting with law enforcement. He plays a young Joe Kenda on Investigation Discovery’s Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda.
And that’s Pete Crooks’ “The Setup”. I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I need to tell you that there is FAR more to the story. When all of our favorite true crime news shows come a-knocking, we learn the true motivations of some of the heroes. Hopefully, my summary makes you want to pick this one up. The tone of the writing was sarcastic humor that may at times make a self-deprecating turn. There are times when that took away from the material and other times that it was well placed and well timed. While listening, I found myself wondering if Chris Butler played some kind of Jedi mind tricks that made all these people join him in his dirty deeds. If the promise of reality TV fame was so alluring that they set aside their own morals or whether he just woke up their own twisted desires to be a part of something daring and dangerous. The book answers a few of my questions and I definitely encourage you to read it.
I’ll see you in two weeks when we discuss Charmer: The True Story of a Ladies Man and His Victims by Jack Olsen. If you have feedback, comments, or book suggestions, I’ll direct you to my email TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please subscribe to True Crime By The Book on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, and many other podcatchers. Follow me on Twitter @TCbyTB. If you like what I’m doing here, share the show with a friend. I would also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. Thanks so much for listening. Later bookworms!
Please be aware that True Crime By The Book may discuss topics, share opinions, and use language that could be disturbing or offensive to some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.
Tidings and salutations, bibliophages. Thank you for joining me on True Crime By The Book where every other Tuesday we meet up to talk real crime one page at a time. I’m your host, Tasha Pierce. Since this is the first episode, I want to tell you what to expect- I’m not an investigative journalist. I may have my opinions on unsolved mysteries, but I won’t attempt to solve any crimes on the show. I feel like podcasts have such a broad reach that too much speculation could potentially contaminate a jury pool if these crimes finally DO get a trial. We can definitely discuss current events, but I’ll really try to keep the discussions to the facts of a case. My real focus is cases that have been written about. There’s more than one type of crime, I’d like to read and hopefully recommend books that run the gamut. For the first episode, I could not have chosen a more convoluted tale. Today we cover “Obsessed” by M. William Phelps.
Phelps, an acclaimed and award-winning investigative journalist, is a name you should get used to hearing on the show. He is a staple among true-crime aficionados. According to his author page on Audible, he is a New York Times bestselling author of 40 nonfiction books to date. He has consulted for crime shows on television including season 1 of Dexter. So, in a nutshell, he is definitely about this true crime life!
“Obsessed” was originally published in 2014. I consumed it in audiobook form- it’s roughly 13 hours in length, but honestly, it didn’t feel that long. It was narrated by J. Charles whose cadence was perfect, in my opinion.
Okay, let’s get to the story-First, I’ll give you the Goodreads synopsis and then my summary and thoughts on the actual story.
Sheila Davalloo was young, attractive, and successful. When she started a new job at a cutting-edge research lab in Stamford, Connecticut, she met the man of her dreams. Nelson Sessler had no idea how violently Sheila would react when he began seeing a coworker, Anna Lisa Raymundo. Sheila eliminated her rival in a bloody knife attack–and then turned her rage on another victim she saw as an obstacle to her passions.
So, we already know that Sheila’s unhinged ass murdered Anna Lisa. But, the lead up to the murder is important. Now, I admit that Phelps can get a little “wordy” from time to time but the sheer outrageousness of this story forces you to forgive him when he sways off course. The story takes place in the Greater New York metropolitan area. Stamford, Connecticut is one of the safest cities in the US. In fact, we’re going to be discussing one of its very few murders of 2002. Stamford is home to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. The people involved in this case worked at Purdue Pharma (remember them- they’ll be featured again in a future episode). They earned six-figure salaries and held multiple degrees. Young, bright and educated. So, Sheila Davalloo was a research scientist and was involved in this on again off again love affair with a co-worker named Nelson Sessler. Nelson was living his best bachelor life, which translates into him being a bit of a ladies man. The situationship that they were in finds Sheila being more into him than he was her. That, of course, didn’t stop Sheila. She couldn’t get enough of him- he spent weekends at her place, she hung out at his. Sometimes, he even drove an hour just to walk her dog when she was away. She was spending all her free time with him and doing the absolute most to keep him interested. Except he was. Not. That. Interested. He started to recognize that she was a stage 4 clinger, which caused him to pull away.
Enter Anna Lisa Raymundo, another co-worker who Nelson began cozying up to. She was a Harvard University graduate who went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University. She worked at Purdue Pharma with Sheila and Nelson for several years before taking a job at a company in New Jersey approximately a year before the murder. At one point Anna Lisa found out that he was still philandering out there, so she left his ass alone. Then upon losing her, he realized that she was who he needed. Typical shit. Happens all the time, I don’t make the rules I just live by them. Anna Lisa was the type of lady Nelson could see himself settling down with. Naturally, Sheila was more than a little peeved about this development. I’ve been there. Maybe we all can relate to having bouts of jealousy and insecurity when a former love interest moves on. But Sheila’s actions over the following months are incomprehensible. She had an overwhelming need to get Nelson back and it literally CONSUMED her.
Sheila began obsessively talking about an imagined “love triangle” to anyone who would listen. Instead of using their actual identities, she changed the names of her character and Nelson’s character. Anna Lisa remained Anna Lisa. Well, one day she was talking to her husband about it- oh, wait. I didn’t mention that Sheila was married? Well, yeah, she was married. To Paul Christos. Paul is, like everyone else in this story, a high achiever. He graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in business. He later went on to NYMC to get a master’s degree in public health/epidemiology and a second master’s in biostatistics. In 1994, he met his wife-to-be in a study group he ran at NYMC. She was pursuing a master’s in environmental health science at the time. They began to spend time together away from the group which then evolved into dating. They were involved against her strict family’s wishes for a couple of years, but Paul eventually won them over. The two were married in May of 2000. So, I bet you’re wondering if Paul knew about her lover. No. He was absolutely clueless. Because Sheila was sneaky, for one. But- two- she had also convinced Paul that every weekend he needed to remove any indication that he existed from their home and check into a hotel or stay with his parents. She says this was because her “brother”, who is mentally ill, spent weekends with her and he wouldn’t be able to accept that she had married. Now, you and I know that excuse is horse shit. He had to go so she could entertain her boo. Now, just let that sink in. She’s got a husband who endured not being accepted by her family. A husband who would pack up his belongings and leave their home EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND for MONTHS because she wanted to hide her whole marriage from her brother. He did this with no real questions asked (or at least not the right ones), which made me scream “WHY PAUL????” to absolutely no one. He was just a good guy who really loved his wife who really loved Nelson who really loved Anna Lisa who really loved Nelson- in fact, they had gotten quite serious and were discussing marriage.
So anyway, yeah, she was running the tales of the three people involved in the love triangle who worked in her office. A male, Jack, his girlfriend Anna Lisa and the jilted lover “Melissa,” played by Sheila. And Sheila is telling her husband that she gets all the scoop because she’s good friends with Melissa. She believed that Melissa was better for Jack and really wanted to help her win him back. This meant she needed a male point of view. She was constantly asking Paul what advice he could offer Melissa to get the guy. He was intrigued by the story in the beginning, but she literally talked about these people he didn’t know ALL THE TIME. When she wasn’t asking her husband, she’d ask family friends. It was practically all she talked about. When she wasn’t pestering Paul for advice, she was asking to borrow his night-vision goggles so that she and Melissa could go stake out Anna Lisa’s home. Again I asked, “WHY PAUL???” Because Paul, possibly due to being sick of hearing about this love triangle, gave her the goggles. Then this chick ordered a lock picking kit for Melissa. She showed it to her husband and then attempted to pick the lock in their home before realizing the kit didn’t work. In fairness, he grew quite concerned when his wife was considering aiding Melissa in breaking into Anna Lisa’s home. And I’m thinking that at the very least he should have realized that Sheila was getting too invested in this situation even if he didn’t catch on that she was Melissa. Sheila obsessively continued to ask what Melissa should do, until one day Paul told her to encourage Melissa to confront Anna Lisa. The lady had a right to know that her fiance was seeing another woman. So, finally hearing something she wanted to hear, Sheila thought this was a great idea.
On Nov. 8, 2002, an unidentified woman called the police to report that her neighbor was being attacked by a man. The neighbor provided an incorrect address before finally getting it right. The call was traced to a nearby restaurant’s payphone. Upon getting to the scene, law enforcement found a badly beaten and bloodied Anna Lisa Raymundo. It appeared that an epic and prolonged battle had taken place- evidenced by overturned furniture and plants that seemed to go on throughout the home. She had put up one hell of a fight against her attacker. I won’t get too descriptive about the injuries she sustained. Just understand that the attack was brutal. Anna Lisa had been stabbed nine times about the head, neck, and face and struck about the head. Apparently, the killer also injured themselves in the frenzied attack. The person had taken the time to wash the victim’s blood off of them in a bathroom sink. Unbeknownst to the perpetrator, a tiny smear of their own blood was left on the faucet handle. After studying the crime scene, the detectives began to talk to the family and friends of Anna Lisa- including her fiance, Nelson. Who would want to do this to her? The attack was very personal- the wounds were aimed at her face. They also wondered if the DNA from the smear of blood would point at Anna Lisa’s killer. Let’s talk a little more about the victim so we can get a better idea of what the world lost when she was taken from it:
Anna-Lisa was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sept.11, 1970. The daughter of Drs. Renato and Susan Ramos Raymundo. She had two siblings- a brother and a sister. Anna set everything aside if anyone in her family had issues. She was considered thoughtful and unselfish. She was described by her family and friends as highly intelligent and a bright star. She was the type to set a goal and ACHIEVE it. She had very little use for small-minded people or their opinions. She embraced life- had fun with friends at various events, danced, read, cooked. Loved. And she still found time to knit.
She was devoted to her circle and was quite reliable. When she said she would do something, she could be counted on to do just that. That’s why it was odd to her mother that she didn’t get a promised phone call. When that call didn’t come as expected, Mrs. Raymundo tried calling her daughter. When there was no answer, a sense of dread overcame her. Anna worked from home on Friday’s, and TODAY was Friday. She was usually at home all day and would most definitely answer a call from her parents. Mrs. Raymundo felt as if something was wrong When the horrible news was delivered, she experienced a mother’s worst nightmare. Anna Lisa had been taken from her family under vicious circumstances. She was only 32 years old.
After headlines broke about Anna Lisa’s savage murder, Sheila reached out to Nelson. He was grieving, but she let him know that she was there if he needed her. Believe it or not, a few months later, Nelson and Sheila began hooking up again. With Anna Lisa gone, he fell back into the arms of a familiar lover and by most accounts, things were going well. Things were going so well, Sheila began to think of the future. She knew that there could really be no future with Nelson as long as she was married to Paul. Getting a divorce was not an option- see, Paul was her SECOND husband. She cheated on her first husband with Paul. Imagine the shock when Paul learned that this girl that he loved was actually MARRIED. The first husband reached out to Paul when he found out his wife was seeing him and divorced her shortly after. This was why the Davalloo family wasn’t accepting of Paul at the beginning of his and Sheila’s relationship. They saw him as a homewrecker! Paul and Sheila briefly separated, but true love prevailed and they were wed.
Sheila’s family was of Iranian heritage and wasn’t happy about the first failed marriage. They would definitely frown upon another divorce. She certainly couldn’t live with that. She had to get rid of Paul.
Before I go on, I have to say that I felt like Paul was really living with blinders on. Anna Lisa’s murder was a HUGE story. I remind you that Stamford had an extremely low crime rate, then and now. Still, it took some time before Paul heard about the murder, more time to realize that the victim had once worked with his wife, and even MORE time to ask his wife if she was THAT Anna Lisa! Then he believed whatever lies she told him (I really wish I could remember what the lie even WAS), even though she is a KNOWN liar and CHEATER. If she’d cheat with you she’d probably cheat on you. Those are the rules! I just know I thought to myself- Okay, 1-she stopped talking about this dumb love triangle after the murder, 2- THE VICTIM’S NAME IS ANNA LISA, and 3- her lies REALLY ARE BAD! But anywho-
This lady first tried to cause Paul to have a heart attack by having him OD on ephedrine- TWICE. Ephedra can cause a quickened heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. Side effects include heart palpitations, nausea, and vomiting. More than 800 dangerous reactions have been reported with use of the herb. These include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and sudden deaths. After experiencing adverse reactions to what she told him were “supplements”, he wouldn’t take any more. So, on March 23, 2003, Sheila got more creative. She introduced a “game” to him. The rules of the game were simple: Player one handcuffs and blindfolds player two, rounds up household objects and rubs them on player two’s body. Player two must guess the object. Then they switch places and player one is bound and must guess. “WHY PAUL?????” Well, Sheila is bound first and for this to be her idea she really sucks at the game. Then she binds Paul and blindfolds him- after a couple of easy entries, the third item feels like a slam to his chest leaving him in agonizing pain. He didn’t know that his wife had stabbed him- twice!
Sheila tried to convince him she had injured him by accident. While Paul wasn’t sure exactly what had occurred, he knew he needed medical attention, so he asked his wife to call 911. Initially, she refused to get help. Then, she pretended to call 911 but told Paul the line was busy and said she was unable to get through to anyone. She fake called again, this time pretending to give a dispatcher their info. Then, she leaves the room and calls Nelson. According to him, she wanted him to come by her home for dinner later. Imagine how brazen a person has to be to call her lover while she waits for her husband to bleed to death. I’m not sure how she would think that would even be possible. I mean, Paul has a family and friends who would definitely want to rally around his wife in the light of this terrible tragedy. How would she explain her BOYFRIEND being at her home in the midst of all of this?
After some time, the ambulance still didn’t show specifically because Sheila never called one. There was no way Paul could know that. One thing he did know was he desperately needed medical help so he convinced her to drive him to a nearby hospital. She took the scenic route, even pretending she didn’t know where the ER was (although her mom worked at this very hospital for almost two decades). When they finally arrived at the Westchester County Hospital, instead of taking Paul straight to the emergency room for treatment, Sheila stopped her car in an isolated part of the parking lot and attacked her husband once more, stabbing him in the chest. After it dawned on him that this woman he loved wanted him DEAD, they fought over the knife. He wrestled it from her and threw it beyond her reach. He finally was able to summon help from a bystander who saw what was happening. Paul was taken into the emergency room where life-saving open heart surgery was performed.
Anna attempted to flee, but her husband and the witnesses identified to police that she was the attacker. She was apprehended and taken to the police station to be questioned and later charged with attempted murder. During her questioning, Sheila had insisted that she did make every attempt to get help for Paul. This was easily disputed by investigators when they checked her phone. But what was interesting was the call she DID make as her husband lay bleeding and in pain. The number she dialed belonged to Nelson Sessler- who happened to be the former fiance of Anna Lisa Raymundo, whose murder was currently UNSOLVED. Police had to get to Nelson- this case could very well provide a motive and suspect for Anna Lisa’s killing. Did Anna Lisa die at the hands of her fiance so he and Sheila could come out of the shadows?
We know that’s not the case. Now, it’s time to let Nelson in on what really happened to the woman he was poised to marry. When Nelson was questioned by police he had to be the person with the LEAST amount of answers in the room. Yes- he spoke to Sheila that night, they were having dinner later. What did the police mean by Sheila’s husband? The Sheila he knew wasn’t married. They were seriously telling him that Sheila STABBED her husband then invited him to dinner. The whole thing didn’t make sense (and probably never would until the case went to trial). But the one thing that everyone suspected was that maybe they’d found their killer!
Sheila would go to trial for the attempted murder of her husband in February 2004. She opted for a bench trial. Her defense argued that she was emotionally disturbed at the time of the incident and didn’t intend to injure Paul- much less kill him. Prosecutors said she most certainly did intend to kill him- she stabbed him twice in their home, stalled when he needed medical assistance and then stabbed him AGAIN in the car. She was a woman who had a goal in sight and, to her, Paul was just another obstacle to get over. The judge agreed with the prosecution and handed down a 25-year sentence for her vicious attack on Paul.
With Sheila locked up, it would still be some time before investigators had enough evidence to charge her with the murder of Anna Lisa Raymundo. They had that small smear of blood that turned out to match Sheila, but the DA wanted a case that was as airtight as possible. They finally had the preponderance of evidence that the DA needed, and Sheila was charged with first-degree murder in November of 2007.
Almost 5 years later, in 2012, the trial began. This time around, Sheila decided to put her fate in the hands of a jury. She also chose to represent herself, which is absolutely batshit. It’s also classic narcissism. She put on quite a display for the jurors, too. She staged (my opinion) an emotional breakdown while she questioned her now ex-husband. His testimony was interrupted and she was unable to finish her cross-examination. When she questioned her former lover Nelson Sessler she tried to get him to admit to leaving work and having injuries the day that Anna Lisa was killed to turn him into an alternate suspect. She took shots at the victim by saying that Anna Lisa outweighed her, which would give HER the advantage in a fight. But these were rookie moves and weren’t supported by any evidence- nor did her arguments lead to reasonable doubt. The skilled prosecution presented the DNA evidence (which is literally checkmate), along with her incessant stories about the love triangle, the stakeouts of Anna Lisa’s home, her attack on Paul, her duplicitous nature, the fact that she wasn’t at work at the time of the killing AND-
A 911 call that voice experts say matched her voice by 68%. Yes, remember the call placed by the “neighbor” of Anna Lisa? That was allegedly Sheila. She had attempted to steer the direction of the investigation by reporting that Anna Lisa was being attacked by a male. Because 911 calls are NEVER EVER recorded, right? A juror said they literally tossed that expert testimony out because they didn’t trust the science. But they HEARD the 911 call and Sheila’s voice for 2 and a half weeks. They trusted their ears on that one.
Sheila attempted to bob and weave the accusations and evidence but she was ill-equipped for the avalanche of a case that had been formed against her. The evidence presented indicated that she was not only obsessed with Nelson, but she also was very fixated on Anna Lisa as well. Anna Lisa probably NEVER even thought about Sheila, but Sheila’s whole life revolved around her. The DNA proved that she was at the crime scene and BLEEDING. There was only one reason for her blood to be on the victim’s faucet handle. The 911 tape was really just icing on the proverbial cake. Case closed. Anna Lisa and her loved ones finally received justice when the jury returned a guilty verdict. Unanimously. On the first vote.
Had she just divorced Paul instead of trying to kill him, she may have very well gotten away with murder. Instead, ten years after the crime, Sheila Davalloo was sentenced to 50 years in prison, to be served AFTER her 25-year sentence for Paul’s attack. She is currently 50 years old and will likely die in prison. She is serving her sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. Her scheduled release date is in 2079.
I know I went over the story in what may seem like a lot of detail, but trust me when I say there is far more to this book. I do recommend Obsessed to anyone who would like to really get into the nitty-gritty of the investigation and trial. There are also a lot of details that I didn’t share for the sake of time. There’s also Sheila’s therapy sessions that you have to hear for yourselves. After listening to this book, I couldn’t help but mourn for everyone affected by these crimes. I also wondered what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Anna Lisa’s murder. How could she know that a person she really wasn’t acquainted with was stalking her? I wonder if anyone looks back and remembers when Sheila started going off the rails. How does one have all these balls in the air without dropping one? It solidified my belief that ANYONE can be deluded- no matter how educated or attractive. Insecurity is a mofo. Sheila is where she belongs, but look at what it cost.
And that is M William Phelps’ Obsession. I’ll see you in two weeks when we discuss The Setup by Pete Crooks. If you have feedback, comments, or book suggestions, I’ll direct you to my email TCbyTB@gmail.com. Please subscribe to True Crime By The Book on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and many other podcatchers and share the show with a friend. I would also appreciate ratings and reviews on your platform of choice. Thanks for listening. Later bookworms!
Another true crime podcast? No, not ANOTHER true crime podcast. MY true crime podcast. There’s only one of those.
There are a LOT of true crime podcasts out there, that’s for certain. But, with each creator you get THEM. You get their voice, their laugh, their quirks. You get their strengths and their flaws (and we all have them). You get the feeling that you are in a room with them, chatting about the things that go bump in the night. The situations you just can’t wrap your minds around. The things you fear most.
What do I have to add?
I bring Tasha to the table. My love of reading. My life experiences. My particular way of stating a fact or opinion that is unapologetically ME. I’m maternal when I need to be and sisterly the rest of the time. I’m that cool aunt that you can talk to about ANYTHING.
While we share some fears, and are confused by similar situations, and all jump when we hear those bumps, we are also UNIQUE. Maybe your method of moving through life will help me or possibly my navigation will help you.
In other words, I got shit to say about all kinds of crime. I’m an American, I’m Black, I’m a woman, I’m middle aged- all of those things color my perception and perspective. I want to create a community that embraces everyone’s individuality and recognizes that we all have perspectives and perceptions that shape our realities and because they’re all different, we have things to talk about.
And I’ll suggest a book or movie/documentary to continue our discussions.
I hope you enjoy your stay here today and you’ll consider subscribing and sharing. Later, Bookworms!