Tag Archives: murder

220 – True Crime Halloween: Scarier Than Superstition

When we think about Halloween, we think of witches and ghosts and demons. Superstitions and mythical creatures. Wicked? Sure. Scary? You bet. Real? Well, the jury is out. We talk about the veil between the worlds being at its most thin on the holiday, we talk about Samhain, horror movies, and jack o’ lanterns. We make evil into a joke, something cute for kids. We dress up little girls as witches, little boys as vampires. The terrors of our Dark Ages become fantasy fodder for our Enlightened era. We’ve talked about all kinds of supernatural brutes on this show and every kind of superstition. But sometimes the most horrible monsters aren’t monsters at all. They’re just people, sick and weak and selfish and angry people. 

  • Halloween night 1974, Ronald Clark O’Bryan laced candy Pixy Stix with cyanide in order to kill his children and collect their life insurance policies. He pretended to go to a neighbor’s house who wasn’t home and “trick or treat”-ed the candy, giving it to his own children and their friends. His son Timothy was poisoned to death and O’Bryan was caught and eventually executed. He was nicknamed “The Candy Man” or “The Man That Killed Halloween”.

  • On Halloween 1975, 15 year old Martha Moxley’s body was found bludgeoned to death and stabbed with a golf club. The affluent and troubled Skakel brothers were implicated in the murder and one of the brothers was eventually tried and convicted of her murder 25 years later. The case was international news because their aunt was married to Robert F. Kennedy.

  • October 28th, 2014, 35 year old Derek Ward decapitated his mother, Patricia Ward, and carried her body out into a Long Island street. There were several witnesses that watched him carrying the headless corpse but they had no idea it was real, they thought they were looking at a Halloween decoration. Derek Ward then proceeded to walk three blocks and killed himself by jumping in front of a train.

  • Halloween 1981, Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman are found murdered in their New York City apartment. The apartment is ransacked and they are killed execution style. Police suspect a drug transaction gone bad until a prison inmate came to them with an unusual claim. That inmate was imprisoned with David Berkowitz, the infamous “Son of Sam” killer, who was arrested in 1977. The inmate claimed that Berkowitz told him earlier that he was part of a cult that was planning on killing a photographer in an apartment in Greenwich Village on Halloween in a Satanic ritual. The police couldn’t get enough evidence and the case remains unsolved.

  • On Halloween night 2002, Christopher Jenkins was kicked out of a Minneapolis bar into the freezing weather while still in his costume. His body was found in the Mississippi River four months later. Four years later, the Minneapolis police changed the status of his death from an accidental drowning to homicide, but no one has ever been charged in the crime. Two New York detectives have their own theory about a “Smiley Face Murder Club” that travels along the Mississippi, killing young men and covering up their crimes by dumping the bodies in the river.

When we use names to describe these real-life terrors we turn people into monsters: “Smiley Face Killers”, “Son of Sam”, “The Candyman”. Nicknames are catchy, they sell newspapers and get clicks, but it also de-humanizes the people behind the names. It turns them into a witch or a vampire or a ghost. Because how could someone, a regular person like us, do something as horrible as this?

The song this week is based on a  true crime that happened in St. Louis in October of 1899. Francis “Frankie” Baker was a young woman who was keeping company with ragtime piano player named Allen Britt. Allen he stepped out on her with a prostitute named Alice Nelson, Frankie heard about it and got so enraged that she shot him. Allen died 4 days later and was able to tell the police who did it.

At Frankie’s trial, she claimed that it was self-defense, that Allen pulled a knife on her and that he beat her in the past. That was good enough for the jury, who acquitted her. But within months, someone had already written a song about it and soon afterwards, the names were changed a little bit to accommodate easier rhymes. The song “Frankie and Johnny” was born and was covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard to Elvis. Francis Baker died poor in 1952, and was bitter that she never received any money from the song that she inspired. However, she did kill a guy. This episode’s song is our own acoustic guitar and violin version of the true crime murder ballad, “Frankie and Johnny”.

Frankie and Johnny was lovers, oh, how they could love
They sworn to be true to each other, true as the skies above
He was he man, he wouldn’t do her no wrong.

Frankie went down to the corner, to get her a stein of beer
She asked the big old fat bartender, “Have my lovin’ Johnny been here?
He is my man, he wouldn’t do her no wrong. “

Said, “I ain’t gonna tell you no story, I ain’t gonna tell you no lie
He was here ’bout an hour ago with that gal they call Nellie Bly,
He was your man, but he’s been doin’ you wrong.”

Frankie went down to the hotel, she didn’t go down there for fun
Under her long red kimono she carried her .44 gun
Lookin’ for the man that was doin’ her wrong.

Johnny pulled off his Stetson hat, hollered, “Now, baby, don’t shoot!”
Frankie pressed her finger on the trigger and that gun went “rrrroooolietoo”
She killed her man, ’cause he was doin’ her wrong

This is the end of my story, this is the end of my song
Frankie’s down in the county jail, poor thing, down there all alone
She killed her man, ’cause he was doin’ her wrong.
She killed her man, ’cause he was doin’ her wrong.
She killed her man, ’cause he’d been doin’ her wrong.

184 – Something In The Way: The Death and Afterlife of Kurt Cobain

February 20th, 2018 would have been Kurt Cobain’s 51st birthday and it’s  hard to believe that he’s been gone for over two decades. Nirvana sold 75 million albums which puts them in the upper echelon of recording artists, but more than that, Kurt Cobain was one of the, if not the, last rock star.

He was aloof and artistic. He hated his fame while being drawn to it. He was the antithesis of the 80s Sunset Strip rocker, eschewing their glammed up hypermasculinity and virtuoso guitarists for dirty sweaters and simple melodies.  He seemed to spite the media, but they worshipped him.

kurt cobain ghost
Live fast. Die young. That’s how a musician becomes an icon.

Long before we watched every move artists made on Twitter and were a party to their private lives on YouTube and reality television, there was a sense of otherness to our celebrities. Kurt Cobain played guitar simply and sang his heart out with a tuning of his own, but he was not just like us. There was a quality to him that matched the era and he inspired an entire generation that was ready for a change. He was the last of the mainstream rock n’ roll heroes, and just like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, he died at twenty-seven years old, apparently of a heroin overdose and suicide by shotgun.

And when he died, it ripped people in my generation apart. We were the ones who listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as Freshmen in high school and we made the Alternative Nation the soundtrack of our lives. Kurt Cobain was the John Lennon, he was the epicenter of the movement, and his passing also symbolized a feeling that it was over. The bands that came up in Nirvana’s wake (Bush, Silverchair, etc..) felt like warmed over seconds. The moment had passed. It was the last time that Rock ruled and it was nearly the end of American mainstream culture. By the end of the decade, Hip Hop was the number one genre, MTV only showed videos sometimes, and the alternative movement turned into Nü-Metal. Kurt’s death was the beginning of the end.

Other podcasts and documentary films have covered all the conspiracy theories surrounding his death and those range from his wife Courtney Love hiring a singer to kill her husband (even her wacko father thinks she did it) to the idea that the CIA tried to kill him because he was pro-Clinton (and George H.W. Bush was a former CIA director.)

kurt cobain ghost
Chicks dig that hat, man.

But what interests us the most is that just because Kurt died doesn’t mean that people haven’t still seen him around. He inspired the kind of loyalty and love in his fans that we just don’t see anymore. He wasn’t just a popular musician, he was a rock deity and he entered the pantheon the only way you can… with his untimely death.

Here are just a few of the Kurt Cobain ghost stories out there, it seems like he’s had a very healthy afterlife so far.

kurt cobain ghost
Statue of a crying Kurt Cobain in his hometown of Aberdeen, WA

For this episode, we cover the last song off of Nirvana’s breakthrough album, Nevermind. A dark moody classic, “Something In The Way”.

Underneath the bridge
The tarp has sprung a leak
And the animals I’ve trapped
Have all become my pets
And I’m living off of grass
And the drippings from the ceiling
But it’s okay to eat fish
‘Cause they don’t have any feelings

Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm
Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm
Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm

Underneath the bridge
The tarp has sprung a leak
And the animals I’ve trapped
Have all become my pets
And I’m living off of grass
And the drippings from the ceiling
But it’s okay to eat fish
‘Cause they don’t have any feelings

Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm
Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm
Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm
Something in the way
Ummmmm
Something in the way, yeah
Ummmmm

47 – Beyond The Smiley Face Killers: Looking for the Hidden Truth in La Crosse

Since 1997, nine college-age men have drowned in the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin. Authorities have consistently said that it’s a result of the men getting too drunk, wandering into the river accidentally, and not being able to get out (or maybe going for a swim and it’s a “death by misadventure”.)

It’s a case that’s close to our hearts because Sunspot has often played in La Crosse and Mike used to work at a television station there in the early part of the century during which some of these deaths occurred.

After Mike and Wendy talk about their new 5-star review, they go into the history of the “smiley face killers” theory.

In 2008, two retired NYPD detectives, Frank Gannon and Anthony Duarte, came up with a controversial theory. They said that a group of serial killers was roaming the Interstate Highways along the Mississippi River and was killing young men all over the country and throwing them in the river to hide their crimes. The detectives claimed that was a pattern of “smiley faces” at each of the scenes where the victims went into the river.

Here’s a documentary about it:

But Neil Sanders, a retired deputy Medical Examiner from La Crosse, just didn’t believe that the “smiley face killers” theory added up and wanted to see if there might be something more to it than serial killers or drunken accidents. He wanted to look into a supernatural explanation. That’s when he contacted Jay Bachochin of Wisconsin Paranormal Investigations and that formed the basis of the documentary film, directed by Scott Markus, The Hidden Truth?. 

Mike and Wendy are then joined by Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts and they proceed to interview Sanders, Bachochin, and Markus about the movie and some of their theories.

There was a steam boat that sank in La Crosse in 1870, the War Eagle, where 5 people died, including a young woman named Mary Ulrich. One of the theories that they pose in the film is that the recent drowning victims might have been “more open to spiritual channels” while inebriated and heard Mary or another ghosts’ voice and jumped in the water to try and save them.

Another part of the movie has Neil talking to a Ho Chunk elder about the “water spirits” of some Native American legends, supernatural entities that live in river and lakes. This is similar to the Slavic vodyanoy or the Welsh kelpie, and that creature was known over here as “the water man”. Allison proceeds to talk about some research that she’s discovered in a 1930s collection of American folklore about water spirits and how the water man might try to “take your soul”!

Jay and Scott talk about their interest in the paranormal and their search for the truth above anything else and how it influenced their decision to document the paranormal investigation into a film. Scott discusses the weird things that happened to some of their equipment while conducting the investigation over the site of the War Eagle sinking and Jay goes into some detail about an interesting EVP that they capture as well.

Paranormal vs. a serial killer vs. accidental drowning – there’s no smoking gun and conclusive evidence in any of the directions. But the conversation wraps up discussing how The Hidden Truth? respects the victims and gives us another theory to entertain as to their true fate.

If you’re interested in purchasing The Hidden Truth?, you can order a DVD copy right here.

This Week’s Song: Smiley Face Murder Club by Sunspot

You were stumbling when you walked along the river,
You were crying when you walked along the river.
You never heard me follow you,
You shoulda watched your liquor.
No one ever expects to be lost without a trace,
No one ever expects the smiling face.

I don’t give a damn what your name was,
I don’t give a damn who you were.
You could have been somebody else,
but it was just your turn.

I wanted to know what it felt like,
and it’s not fair.
But they won’t ever understand,
the bond we now share.
No one ever expects to be lost without a trace,
No one ever expects the smiling face.