Tag Archives: robert kennedy

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.

121 – The Kennedy Curse: Tragedies and Superstitions of American Royalty

The United States isn’t supposed to have royalty, elected officials are supposed to be normal citizens. You don’t get “born into” anything here, you’re supposed to earn your position. In fact, the Founding Fathers didn’t even like the idea of permanent titles. You weren’t President for Life, you were only called “President” while you were in office.  It was supposed to be different than the aristocracy they escaped from in Europe.

john quincy adams kennedy curse
John Quincy Adams baby, those chops mean BUSINESS

But an American nobility crept into politics almost from the beginning. The second US President, John Adams’ son John Quincy Adams served as minister to Russia for his father, then Secretary of State before being elected to the big chair in a controversial race against Andrew Jackson. President William Henry Harrison served as President for 32 days, but his grandson served a full term in 1888. Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt were related distantly (but FDR’s wife Eleanor was Teddy’s nice).

Royalty isn’t just about power, though, it’s also about glamour. It’s about capturing the public’s imagination. While the Bush family gave us two presidents, a governor, a senator, and representative, let’s face it, they’re powerful, they’re wealthy, but just not very sexy.

When you’re looking for sexy, you need star power, and for decades there were no brighter lights in the Democratic Party than the Kennedys of Massachusetts. Born in Boston in 1889,  Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. lead his family to change the world in the Twentieth Century. Three of his sons would be Senators, one would become President (but they all ran at one time or another) and his daughter was the Irish Ambassador. His son-in-law started the Peace Corps and ran for Vice President in 1972, another was a member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. One granddaughter is Ambassador to Japan, one is a national television reporter and married Arnold Schwarzenegger. Two of his grandson served in the House of Representatives. You get the point.

arnold Schwarzenegger ted kennedy
Ahnuld and his Uncle Ted laughing after some housekeeper “interviews”

Joseph Kennedy’s made his fortune first as a banker and Wall Street investor and then as a financier of Hollywood film studios in the 1920s (he founded RKO Pictures!) His ambitions turned political when President Roosevelt made him the Ambassador to the UK in the late 1930s, but Joseph’s controversial statements about “democracy being finished” in Britain combined with his perceived pro-Nazi isolationist views towards World War II.

And it’s when he came back to the United States and ended his Ambassadorship is when the Kennedy Curse seems to have begun.

1941, his daughter Rosemary has a botched lobotomy, rendering her intellect to that of a toddler for the rest of her life. In 1944, his son Joseph Jr. who he was grooming to run for President, dies flying a mission over the English Channel. 1948, his daughter Kathleen dies in a French plane crash. That’s three tragedies in the 1940s alone, but the 60s would be even more harsh.

John F. Kennedy eventually does become President, but he himself had suffered the loss of two children, one through a miscarriage and another child who lived for only 2 days in 1963. The first attempt on his life was in 1960 but the successful assassination on November 22nd, 1963 becomes the cultural landmark of the entire decade and people will argue and obsess about it for decades to come.

Robert Kennedy then becomes a Senator from New York and runs for President in 1968. He’s assassinated the night he wins the California Democratic Primary.

The next brother, Ted Kennedy, is a Senator in Massachusetts in 1969. He goes to a party, gets drunk, and drives away with a 28-year old former secretary of his brother Bobby. The car ends up going over the side of a bridge, she dies, and he leaves the scene of the accident. At the press conference the next night discussing his problematic behavior, he wonders aloud “whether some awful curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys”. He only ends up with a 2-month jail sentence, though. And while the Chappaquiddick Incident most likely cost him his own shot at the White House, it also ended up with his wife suffering a miscarriage shortly after.

More incidents happen to lesser known Kennedys and children in the 70s and 80s, but the family stayed in the headlines in the 90s with William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial in 1991, one of Bobby’s children dying in a skiing accident in 1997, and then JFK Jr’s tragic plane crash in 1999 that kills him, his wife, and sister-in-law.

Could there be a curse? Bands like The Maine and Alexisonfire have named songs after the idea. Punk icon Jello Biafra named his band The Dead Kennedys (after one of his friends told him about the name inspired by a stuffed bear named “Teddy Kennedy”) because of its shock value. The American people loved the Kennedys and their incredible wealth, romantic escapades, and their rise and fall in Washington (there was a Kennedy in some elected office every year between 1947 and 2011) is the stuff of tabloid dreams. Joseph Kennedy’s sons were absolutely American princes.

But do the sins of the father affect the son? Well, according to the Bible they do. It’s right there in the Old Testament…

‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’

And speaking of the Old Testament, there is a theory believe that the Kennedy curse stems from Joseph’s anti-Semitism. He blamed Jewish bankers for the Great Depression and he believed that there was a Jewish conspiracy trying to push the US into the Second World War. He had some ugly views about the Jewish people, and even supported a plan to move the German Jewish population to the European colonies in Africa.

Indeed, there’s an urban legend that he was cruel to some Jewish refugees trying to escape Nazi Germany and they placed a curse on the man and his family. It’s an interesting thought and there is a history of curses in Jewish mysticism and it’s often associated with a famous Rabbi. It gives a “reason” for the Kennedys’ tragedies that seem to happen so quickly and so publicly.

But the real reason is probably just being in the public spotlight for so long with fabulous wealth and tremendous ambition. The Kennedys were rich playboys and war heroes who hung around with movie stars (even though I don’t believe that JFK and Marilyn were a “thing” anymore) and wanted to rule the country. They were fascinating and enticing, but their life in the spotlight and fast lifestyles got them in trouble and we all got to see it as it happened.

This week’s song, “Snuff Film”, has a verse inspired by Abraham Zapruder’s (I call him William in the podcast for some reason, like an idiot) movie of JFK’s assassination. It’s an older Sunspot track about our obsession with watching tragedy and how sometimes that can turn around with negative effects on our own lives.

Directed and premeditated,
Graphic gore, triple-X rated,
Ends a life that was so jaded,
on the Roman Senate floor.

When I realized that my religion,
was nothing more than superstition,
reality turned into visions,
knocking at my door.

My life was a snuff film,
that was over before it began.
My life was a snuff film,
and it was that day my wings fell away,
and I turned my back on man.

Driving through the streets of Dallas,
Conspiracies so full of malice,
Are cold, unfeeling, cruel, and callous,
hid behind a grassy knoll.

When I saw the things that came to pass,
through a mirror made of broken glass,
the future looked just like the past,
questioning the soul.

My life was a snuff film,
that was over before it began.
My life was a snuff film,
and it was that day my wings fell away,
and I turned my back on man.

And when God appeared,
in a cloud of faith and fear,
he looked at what he made and cried,
and he contemplated suicide.
And all the angels vanished from the earth,
leaving a sad, mistaken birth,
of a life never led,
endlessly dancing with the dead.

My life was a snuff film,
that was over before it began.
My life was a snuff film,
and it was that day my wings fell away,
and I turned my back on man.