Monday, June 27, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Struck Down the Death Penalty (June 29, 1972)

This week (June 27-July 3) in crime history – Mormon leader Joseph Smith was murdered by angry mob (June 27, 1844); Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated (June 28, 1914); US Supreme Court struck down the death penalty (June 29, 1972); NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of rape in Colorado (July 1, 2003); President James A. Garfield was shot (July 2, 1881)

Highlighted crime story of the week -


On June 29, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 5-4 vote in the Furman v. Georgia case, that capital punishment, as it is currently employed on the state and federal level, is unconstitutional. The majority held that, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the death penalty qualified as “cruel and unusual punishment,” primarily because states employed execution in “arbitrary and capricious ways,” especially in regard to race. It was the first time that the nation’s highest court had ruled against capital punishment. However, because the Supreme Court suggested new legislation that could make death sentences constitutional again, such as the development of standardized guidelines for juries that decide sentences, it was not an outright victory for opponents of the death penalty.

In 1976, with 66 percent of Americans still supporting capital punishment, the Supreme Court acknowledged progress made in jury guidelines and reinstated the death penalty under a “model of guided discretion.” In 1977, Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who had murdered an elderly couple because they would not lend him their car, was the first person to be executed since the end of the ban. Defiantly facing a firing squad in Utah, Gilmore’s last words to his executioners before they shot him through the heart were, “Let’s do it.”

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:


Monday, June 20, 2016

Serial Killer Melvin Rees Claimed his First Victim (June 26, 1957)

This week (June 20-26) in crime history – Mobster Bugsy Siegel was gunned down in Los Angeles (June 20, 1947); Would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity (June 21, 1982); Mobster Whitey Bulger was arrested in Los Angeles (June 22, 2011); Mob boss John Gotti was sentenced to life in prison for racketeering and murder (June 23, 1992); The Unabomber send bomb to Yale professor (June 24, 1993); Serial Killer Melvin Rees claimed first victim (June 26, 1957)

Highlighted crime story of the week -

On June 26, 1957, Margaret Harold was shot and killed while out for a drive with her boyfriend near Annapolis, Maryland. Her killer swerved in front of the couple’s car, approached with a .38 revolver, and shot Harold in the side of the face, while her boyfriend managed to escape. Investigating police found an abandoned building nearby, filled with pornographic pictures, but its full significance would not be revealed until nearly two years later.
Early in 1959, the Jackson family was driving along a dirt road in Virginia, returning home, when they were forced to stop and abducted at gunpoint. Two months later, two men came across the bodies of Carroll Jackson and his one year-old daughter Janet, dumped in a remote area of Fredericksburg, Virginia. A short time later, Mildred Jackson and her five-year-old daughter Susan were found buried in a shallow grave, just outside the abandoned building that police had discovered when investigating Harold’s murder.
Mildred had been brutally raped in the same room where the pornographic pictures had been found two years earlier. Since investigators were reasonably certain that the same killer had committed the murders, the media jumped on the story. Tips began to pour in, and although most of them were worthless, one pointed authorities towards Melvin Rees.
Rees was eventually found in West Memphis, working as a piano salesman. Margaret Harold’s boyfriend picked him out of a lineup and a search of his home turned up a .38 pistol. The most damning evidence, however, was a note paper clipped to a newspaper article about Mildred Jackson in which Rees described his horrific crimes in detail.
Detectives found evidence that linked Rees to the slayings of four other young women in the Maryland area as well. Rees was tried in February 1961 for the murder of Margaret Harold and in September 1961 for the murders of the Jackson family. He was convicted of both and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972, and he died in prison from heart failure in 1995.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/Company-Thirty-Years-California-1950-1980/dp/076435003X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466440572&sr=8-1&keywords=michael+thomas+barry

Monday, June 6, 2016

Notorious Hollywood Madame, Heidi Fleiss was Arrested (June 9, 1993)

This week (June 6-12) in crime history – Civil rights activist, James H. Meredith was shot to death (June 6, 1966); Kennedy cousin, Michael Skakel was convicted on murder (June 7, 2002); James Earl Ray was arrested in London (June 8, 1968); Heidi Fleiss, the notorious Hollywood Madame was arrested (June 9, 1993); Bridget Bishop, the first defendant in the Salem Witch Trials was executed (June 10, 1692); Mobster henry Hill was born (June 11, 1943); Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered in Brentwood (June 12, 1994)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On June 9, 1993, madam-to-the-stars Heidi Fleiss was arrested as part of a sting operation run by the Los Angeles Police and Beverly Hills Police Departments and the U.S. Justice Department. In the 1980s, Fleiss’ then-boyfriend introduced her to the leading Beverly Hills madam Alex Adams, who, according to Fleiss, taught her the tricks of the trade. Before long, Fleiss started a competing business, and when Adams was arrested in 1988, Fleiss took her spot as the leading provider of expensive prostitutes in Hollywood. As her business grew, she enjoyed the perks of celebrity, even as her rising profile attracted the attention of local authorities. On June 9, after she sent four of her employees (along with a quantity of cocaine) to fulfill an arrangement made with three “clients” (actually undercover agents), the 27-year-old Fleiss was arrested and charged with pandering, pimping and narcotics possession.
Fleiss’ trial, during which she refused to name any of her agency’s high-profile clients (though testimony did reveal at least one of them, actor Charlie Sheen), was the talk of Hollywood. She pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and her lawyers argued that the authorities had entrapped her. In December 1994, a California grand jury found Fleiss guilty on three of five pandering counts and not guilty on the narcotics charge; she was sentenced her to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $1,500 fine. Fleiss also went on trial before a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion. She was convicted in August 1995 on eight of the 14 counts and sentenced to 37 months in prison.
All told, Fleiss served three years in prison, and was released in the fall of 1999. She later began a two-year relationship with the actor Tom Sizemore, star of films such as Heat, Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. In 2003, Fleiss filed charges against Sizemore for violent abuse; he was convicted that August on six of 16 counts, including abuse, threat, harassment and vandalism. His initial sentence of six months in jail was eventually reduced to 90 days, plus mandatory drug rehab and domestic-violence and anger-management counseling. Fleiss, who has also struggled with drug abuse, has attempted to profit from her infamy by authoring several non-fiction books and in early 2008, Fleiss opened a Laundromat called Dirty Laundry in Pahrump, Nevada; she also announced plans to open a brothel catering to female customers.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of seven non-fiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, May 2, 2016

Madeleine McCann Disappeared in Portugal (May 3, 2007)

This week (May 2-8) in crime history – Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed (May 2, 2011); Exxon executive Sidney Reso died after being kidnapped (May 3, 1992); Madeleine McCann disappeared in Portugal (May 3, 2007); Japanese war crimes trials began (May 3, 1946); Haymarket Square riots leave hundreds injured (May 4, 1886); Three women were rescued after years of imprisonment in Cleveland (May 6, 2013); Serial killer H.H. Holmes was executed (May 7, 1896); Stella Nickell was convicted of murder for tampering with Excedrin bottles (May 8, 1988)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -


On May 2, 2007, three-year-old Madeleine McCann of Rothley, England, vanished during a family vacation at a resort in southern Portugal. McCann’s disappearance prompted an international search; however, she has never been found. In May 2007, the McCann family were vacationing with a group of friends at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz (“Beach of Light”), a tourist village along Portugal’s Algarve coast. On the evening of May 3, Gerry and Kate McCann went with friends to the Ocean Club’s tapas bar, leaving a sleeping Madeleine and her brother and sister in the family’s ground-floor apartment, located near the tapas bar. The McCann’s and their friends agreed to check on the children every half hour. At around 10:00 p.m., Kate McCann went to the apartment and discovered Madeleine was missing.

Portuguese police initially believed the little girl had wandered off and would be quickly found. As a result, they failed to promptly distribute a description of the missing child or search cars crossing the Portugal-Spain border, less than two hours from Praia da Luz. McCann’s disappearance generated widespread media coverage in Europe and beyond. English soccer star David Beckham made a televised plea for her safe return, and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling reportedly donated millions to help find the little girl. Gerry and Kate McCann, observant Catholics, also had an audience in Rome with Pope Benedict, who blessed a photo of Madeleine.

On September 7, 2007, Portuguese officials named Gerry and Kate McCann, both of whom are physicians, as suspects in their daughter’s disappearance. Soon after, authorities leaked word that Madeleine’s DNA had been discovered in the trunk of the car her parents rented in Portugal almost a month after she vanished. There was speculation that the McCann’s, in order to enjoy an evening out, had given their children sedatives and that Madeleine had a fatal reaction to the dosage she received. Afterward, the McCann’s faked her abduction and hid her body for weeks before transferring it to the trunk of their rental car. Gerry and Kate McCann labeled this theory ridiculous, particularly given the fact that they were under intense media scrutiny and constantly followed by reporters. The local Portuguese police chief later admitted that the DNA tests were inconclusive.

In July 2008, Gerry and Kate McCann were formally cleared by Portuguese officials of any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance. A third person who had been considered the case’s only other formal suspect, a British man living in Portugal, was cleared as well. Additionally, Portugal’s attorney general said there was insufficient evidence for police to continue their investigation. The McCann’s hired private detectives to continue searching for their daughter and have made publicity tours throughout Europe and the U.S. to raise awareness about her plight.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:






Monday, April 25, 2016

Lincoln Assassin John Wilkes Booth was Killed (April 26, 1865)

This week (April 25 - May 1) in crime history – John Wilkes Booth was killed (April 26, 1865); Andrew Cunanan began cross country killing spree (April 27, 1997); Jaycee Dugard’s kidnappers plead guilty (April 28, 2011); Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (April 28, 1789); Martin Bryant began killing spree in Australia (April 28, 1996); Deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was executed (April 28, 1945); Police officers in the Rodney King beating trial were found innocent (April 29, 1992); First Federal prison for women opened in West Virginia (April 30. 1927); Tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed during match in Germany (April 30, 1993); Former NBA star Jayson Williams was indicted for the shooting death of Costas Christofi (May 1, 2002)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week –

On April 26, 1865, John Wilkes Booth was killed when Union soldiers track him down to a Virginia farm 12 days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Twenty-six-year-old Booth was one of the most famous actors in the country when he shot Lincoln during a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., on the night of April 14. Booth was a strong supporter of the Confederacy. As the war entered its final stages, Booth hatched a conspiracy to kidnap the president. He enlisted the aid of several associates, but the opportunity never presented itself. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, Booth changed the plan to a simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Only Lincoln was actually killed, however. Seward was stabbed by Lewis Paine but survived, while the man assigned to kill Johnson did not carry out his assignment.

After shooting Lincoln, Booth jumped to the stage below Lincoln's box seat. He landed hard, breaking his leg, before escaping to a waiting horse behind the theater. Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, made their way across the Anacostia River and headed toward southern Maryland. The pair stopped at Dr. Samuel Mudd's home, and Mudd treated Booth's leg. This earned Mudd a life sentence in prison when he was implicated as part of the conspiracy, but the sentence was later commuted. Booth found refuge for several days at the home of Thomas A. Jones, a Confederate agent, before securing a boat to row across the Potomac to Virginia.

After receiving aid from several Confederate sympathizers, Booth's luck finally ran out. The countryside was swarming with military units looking for Booth, although few shared information since there was a $20,000 reward. While staying at the farm of Richard Garrett, Federal troops arrived on their search but soon rode on. The unsuspecting Garrett allowed his suspicious guests to sleep in his barn, but he instructed his son to lock the barn from the outside to prevent the strangers from stealing his horses. A tip led the Union soldiers back to the Garrett farm, where they discovered Booth and Herold in the barn. Herold came out, but Booth refused. The building was set on fire to flush Booth out, but he was shot while still inside. He lived for three hours before gazing at his hands, muttering "Useless, useless," as he died. 

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes the recently published In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, April 4, 2016

Old West Outlaw Billy the Kid was Convicted of Murder (April 9, 1881)

This week (April 4-10) in Crime history – Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated (April 4, 1968); Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were sentenced to death for spying (April 5, 1951); Convicted murderer Sam Sheppard died (April 6, 1970: The Rwandan Genocide began (April 7, 1994); Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph agreed to plead guilty (April 8, 2005); Old West outlaw Billy the Kid was convicted of murder (April 9, 1881); Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata was assassinated (April 10, 1919)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -



On April 9, 1881, after a one-day trial, Billy the Kid was found guilty of murdering the Lincoln County, New Mexico, sheriff and is sentenced to hang. There is no doubt that Billy the Kid shot the sheriff, although he did it in the context of the bloody Lincoln County War, a battle between two powerful groups of ranchers and businessmen fighting for economic control of Lincoln County. When his boss, rancher John Tunstall, was murdered in February 1878, the hotheaded Billy swore vengeance. Unfortunately, the leader of the men who murdered Tunstall was the sheriff of Lincoln County, William Brady. When Billy and his partners murdered the sheriff several months later, they became outlaws, regardless of how corrupt Brady may have been.

After three years on the run and several other murders, Pat Garrett finally arrested Billy in early 1881. Garrett, a one-time friend, was the new sheriff of Lincoln County. On this day in 1881, a court took only one day to convict Billy of the murder of Sheriff Brady. Sentenced to hang, Billy was imprisoned in Lincoln’s county jail while Sheriff Garrett gathered the technical information and supplies needed to build an effective gallows.

On April 28, while Garrett was out of town, Billy managed to escape. While one of the jail’s two guards was escorting a group of prisoners across the street to dinner, Billy asked the remaining guard to take him to the jail outhouse. As the guard escorted him back to his cell, Billy somehow managed to slip a wrist through his handcuffs. He slugged the guard and shot him with a pistol either that he took from the guard or that a friend had hidden in the outhouse for him. Hearing the shot, the second guard ran back to the jail, and Billy killed him with a blast from a shotgun he found in Garrett’s office. Reportedly, Billy then smashed the gun and threw it down on the dead guard, yelling, “You won’t follow me anymore with that gun!”

After murdering the guards, Billy seemed in no hurry to flee. He armed himself with two pistols and, according to one account, “danced about the balcony, laughed and shouted as though he had not a care on earth.” Apparently, the people of Lincoln were either too fearful or too admiring of the young outlaw to act. After nearly an hour, Billy rode off. He was not able to ride far enough. Upon his return to Lincoln, Garrett immediately formed a posse and set off to recapture the outlaw. On July 14, 1881, Garrett surprised Billy in a darkened room not far from Lincoln and shot him dead.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:


Monday, March 14, 2016

The Yosemite Murders (March 18, 1999)

This week (March 14-20) in crime history – The FBI debuted the 10 most wanted list (march 14, 1950); Jack Ruby was sentenced to death (March 14, 1964); The Birmingham Six were released (March 14, 1991); Julius Caesar was assassinated (March 15, 44BC); Lastania Abarta shots her lover on the streets of Los Angeles (march 16, 1881); Judge Rot Bean died (March 16, 1903); American journalist Terry Anderson was kidnapped in Lebanon (March 6, 1985); Raymond Clark III pleaded guilty to killing Yale Grad student (March 17, 2011); The Yosemite Killings (March 18, 1999); The Tokyo subway s were attacked with sarin gas (March 20, 1995)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -



On March 18, 1999, the bodies of Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso are found in a charred rental car in a remote wooded area of Long Barn, California. The women, along with Sund’s daughter Juli, had been missing since February when they were last seen alive at the Cedar Lodge near Yosemite National Park. Juli Sund’s body was found thirty miles away a week after the car was found.

The mysterious disappearance of the three women had drawn national attention and landed them on the cover of People magazine. Compounding the mystery, Carole Sund’s wallet had been found on a street in downtown Modesto, California, three days after they had disappeared.

Police and the FBI initially focused their investigation on a group of methamphetamine users in Northern California. This changed in July when Joie Ruth Armstrong, a twenty-six-year-old Yosemite Park worker, was brutally killed and decapitated near her cabin in the park.

The discovery of her body led investigators to Cary Stayner, a thirty-seven-year-old man who worked at the Cedar Lodge motel, where the Sund’s were last seen. Stayner was tracked down and caught at a nudist colony in Northern California. Stayner confessed to the murder of Armstrong and then surprised the detectives by admitting that he was also responsible for the murders of the Sund’s and Pelosso.

Stayner had been on the other end of another high-profile crime years earlier. His younger brother, Steven, was abducted in Merced when Cary was eleven years old. Steven Stayner was held for more than seven years by a sexual abuser, Kenneth Parnell. Following his escape, a television movie, I Know My First Name is Steven, dramatized the incident. Steven Stayner died in a tragic motorcycle accident when he was twenty-four. The family saw further tragedy when Jesse Stayner, Cary and Steven’s uncle, was shot to death in 1990 during a bungled robbery attempt. Stayner pleaded guilty to the Armstrong murder in 2001. He was convicted of the other three counts of murder in 2002 and sentenced to death.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime 1950-1980 and Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following links: