Friday, September 8, 2023

9/8/23—Living My Own True Crime Drama

There is a little old lady in Florida. She is probably 90 years old. Petite and feeble. And I have been waiting for her to die for 35 years. I wouldn't mind if she goes painfully...torturously. But the truth is, I would be OK if she died in her sleep. I just want her gone. 

Let me explain. 

When my mother died back in 1984, my father was devastated. He was like the walking dead. A zombie, lifeless behind his eyes. My mother was truly his soulmate. She battled cancer and, to the end, they were affectionate and, frankly, sometimes sickening with all their public displays of affection. They had plenty of flaws and novel ideas for scarring their children for life, but I was also fortunate enough to be raised seeing both their strong partnership and their soulmate love. 

After about a year of deep mourning that, at times, had his kids worried, he started coming back to life. He had met a woman. A few months later we met her, too. She seemed nice enough, but there was a vague something about her that troubled us all. Maybe it was just that we couldn't see our father with someone else. And he thought she was just like our mom, but we couldn't see it. So maybe it was all of that. 

The night we met her, while she was with us at a barbecue, her house got robbed. How horrible. Another notable thing at the time was that she was converting to Catholicism in her 50s. And despite having had three previous husbands and two children, she decided to remain a "virgin" until her next marriage. And then we found out it was actually four previous husbands, not three. Then my dad proposed to her. 

All of this set off red flags. So, one by one, five of my dad's six children approached him, the disciplinarian general, and questioned his wisdom. It was the only time in my life I had the courage to confront him. But he said we were all overreacting and he probably believed it was a case of adult children not wanting their dad to marry another woman. It happens. 

Life went on fairly normally after that. They married. They moved in together. And, as April approached, they were set to file their first joint tax return. 

On April 9, 1988, I had just gotten home from Popeyes. I will forever remember my order that day—nuggets and red beans and rice. As I settled in to eat, the phone rang. And in five words, everything that had been odd or off about my stepmother coalesced and I suddenly understood what was wrong with her. The words were "your father has been shot". At once, I knew he was dead and she did it. 

I know what you are thinking, "I watch CSI. There must be all kinds of evidence left behind." Or, "If she and he were the only people in the room, there are only two possibilities." With my father's long military history and being a veteran of three wars, there was actually only one possibility. He was meticulous with guns and everyone that served with him and hunted with him testified to that fact. I grew up in a household with two guns. I never saw them. They were cleaned regularly with the door closed. And we all knew if we touched his guns and lived, he'd kill us. 

Anyway, within an hour or so my brother and I were in a car headed to West Virginia where the murder happened. When we arrived there, I walked into the house and stood on the spot that, hours before, had been soaked in my father's blood, and I didn't even know it. The place had been fully cleaned. The furniture had been burned. And there was no police tape up. She told them it was an accident. He had been "playing" with the gun and it went off. They believed her.

An interesting twist happened the next day. My brother, accompanied by her two biological sons, went to WVA to tell the police that they thought she murdered him. I'll repeat that. Her two sons went to the police to say they thought their mother was a murderer. They said, "We are tired of losing fathers." My dad was her 5th husband. Only one husband made it out alive (their supposed biological father, though they looked nothing alike and were probably 13 years apart in age.) All the others died while she was married to them. #4 oddly left all his money to her, despite having two daughters who were left orphaned and abandoned when he died. I don't remember their ages, but let's say 12-16. 

When police determined the angle that the bullet came from above and behind my father...and the fact he had no gun residue on his hands, her original story changed. Now the story was that he had been playing with the gun and she got up to wrestle it out of his hands and the gun went off. Those were the two official stories, but her story changed with the wind depending on who she was telling. It was hard to keep up.  

The medical examiner determined my father was shot from an angle that eliminated the possibility of the gun being in his hands. That medical examiner had recently been through a messy divorce, though, and he owed his attorney money. His attorney was my stepmother's attorney. He revised the medical report to make it inconclusive as to whether or not my dad's hand could have been on the gun. 

Meanwhile, this story is the talk of Washington, DC. The trial made it to the front page of The Washington Post every day, above the fold. It was on the news nightly. The story was also nationally broadcast a couple of times on A Current Affair, a tabloid show hosted by Maury Povich. People are hanging on for any new detail from the trial. And there are two guys from the Air Force OSI (the group the Six Million Dollar Man worked for...haha) poking around in trash cans and listening at doors. 

One was an investigator/spy and the other was a criminal profiler. They told us she was a narcissist and a sociopath and a black widow. But they kept their information to themselves for the most part. Their official line was that they were there to help the WVA State Troopers with their investigation. But they were collecting evidence in ways that would be inadmissible in court. Their job, ultimately, was to protect the federal government from having to pay her my father's pension for the rest of her life. Requests for their work product under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) results in heavily redacted documents that reveal nothing. I just got a report from them...135 pages, but more than 100 are blank/redacted. We won't get more until she is deceased, and maybe not even then. But that's not why I want her dead necessarily. 

See, she was acquitted of murder. She got to walk free. She was just an old lady who couldn't possibly do harm according to a rural West Virginia jury. It didn't matter that there were two people in a room and one is dead and they physically couldn't have shot themself. She got off. And she has been living quite nicely off my father's pension ever since. Murdering my father was her retirement plan. 

If it all seems fairly straightforward for a True Crime story, it wasn't. There was a car chase as she left her home during a search with evidence in tow. She disappeared for a few days while out on bail and her son put in a missing person's report. (The good Catholic was later found to have been in a hotel with a man having sex, according to the spent condoms in the trash.) There were stories about how she was a double agent and one of her sons was kidnapped as a baby. So maybe she was also with my dad for the access he afforded her to Pentagon types. Perhaps she even hoped to meet her next husband. Who knows? It was hard to know what was true and what was part of her carefully crafted delusion. And here's another interesting point: my dad met her in the personal ads of The Washingtonian. 

The drama went on and on, which is why people were addicted to the story. And remember how I said her house was robbed while she attended a barbecue at our house? They found all the stuff she said was stolen behind a false wall in her house while they were investigating my father's murder. And then, as I said, on the eve of tax season when my father was going to learn that she had no income and was siphoning off of his, he ends up dead. 

So, she murdered our father. She was found not guilty. And for 35 years she has drawn what may be near six figures a year of your tax dollars. I want her dead. I want it to be over. I do not believe in closure. I think you have to make your own peace. But my family has gotten none of the ordinary kind of closure you'd get in a situation like this. So many things have been left unanswered. And, frankly, we have to live with the reality that these things will never be answered. And justice will never be served. That ship left port over three decades ago. 

She was found guilty of the stolen crap in her home, however. But since she had no priors, she got a suspended sentence. She is now a convicted felon, however. And we sued her for wrongful death. So whatever insurance was left over after her lawyers and our lawyers were paid, we received. 

There are tons more anecdotes and oddities with this story. I don't remember them all. She wrote poetry and did self published books back in the day when that was what you had to do if you weren't a good writer. There's all the intrigue she wrapped herself around in, like the spy stuff. And lest you think it was a government hit, while my father definitely knew secrets, he had been out of the Air Force for a decade by the time this happened. And they had 36 years of his service as a veteran of three wars to know he wasn't going to expose anything. They'd have killed him much sooner if they were afraid he'd tell any secrets anyway. Another anecdote is that, before my mother died, she told my brother to "watch out for the next woman your father marries." She knew his vulnerabilities and had some sort of precognition. And then remember the guy my stepmother had sex with when she was a missing person? He is buried two rows up and maybe 5 or 6 graves over from my dad in Arlington National Cemetery. He was likely an accomplice. No shit. His grave overlooks my dad's. 

Sample page from
FOIA document
So, for 35 years, I and my siblings have been living with this and waiting for her to die. It was a kick in the gut when my brother John, who fiercely wanted her dead, died before he got the satisfaction. Hopefully he is haunting her...and not being nice about it. But she just keeps living. Off my father's money. I think 35 years is very wait for wait for the government to tell us what their spies found. To wait for something—anything—vaguely resembling justice. But the Air Force feels we have no right to this information. Seriously, even my own interview with investigators was heavily redacted to protect her rights. I get she was not convicted and that's how the law works. But seeing so many blanked out pages does make me wonder if we will ever get any more information at all. 

So that's my True Crime story. There may be another post in the offing as I tell you how it impacted me and my life and why I won't be writing a book about it. I mean, seriously, I wouldn't believe it if I didn't live it. And no, we haven't heard from her since she was found guilty of the insurance fraud and went on to start her free life as well-compensated widow. Most everyone—the investigators and witnesses—are long dead now. Only she lives on. 

I know all of this is just fascinating to people, so if you have any curiosity, feel free to ask. Chances are good you can't ask a question that would offend me more than what I've already endured. 

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