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In the early 1800s, the Osage Nation was one of the most prominent Native American cultures in the United States. The tribe had settlements that dotted the Midwest landscape, and President Thomas Jefferson referred to them as a "great nation," even hosting a delegation of Osage chiefs (along with many others) to whom he promised friendship and alliance.
You probably know what happened next: Within a few years, the Osage were forced off their land as part of what amounted to a national campaign of brutal colonialism.
By the 1870s, suffering under the weight of disease and starvation, the Osage were forced to relocate to what would later become part of the state of Oklahoma. The new land was hilly, rocky and no good for farming. But the Osage eventually caught a break when it was discovered that their new reservation was situated atop some of the most generous oil deposits in the United States, deposits for which they could charge hefty fees.
It was an incredible turn of fortune that sparked a national media sensation—at least until Osage started turning up dead, one by one.
In his new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, out today, David Grann, a New Yorker staff writer, tells the story of how the Osage became one of the wealthiest communities in the world. They made headlines as "red millionaires" who rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions on their land (complete with white servants), and sent their kids to European boarding schools. But it didn't take long for a backlash to follow from White America, as at least two-dozen Osage were murdered in a conspiracy that drew the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. VICE called up Grann to talk about this often-overlooked chapter in America's lengthy history of terrorizing Native peoples and how the feds finally got involved.
Here's what he had to say.
VICE: How did you first find out about this story, which doesn't exactly fit the traditional narrative of Americans colonizing Native American land?
David Grann: I heard about the story for the first time from a historian back in 2011. I was quite shocked at the fact that I was ignorant of these [events] and that it was not something I'd read about in school. I traveled out to the Osage Nation and I visited their museum, and on the wall there was this large panoramic photograph that showed members of the Osage with white settlers. It looked like a very innocent looking photograph. It was taken in 1923, but a piece of the photo was missing and I asked the museum director why and she said, well, "The devil was standing right there." She went down to the basement and brought up an image of the missing panel and it showed one of the murderers who was the mastermind of the killings of the Osage during the 1920s. The book really grew out of trying to understand who that devil was and the anguishing history it embodied.
It led me to one of the most sinister and really mysterious crimes in American history. It became close to a five-year process of researching the book, and that involved a lot of archival work. It involved writing to every institution I could think of that was connected to the case, including sheriff's offices, courthouses, prisons where inmates who were involved might have been. It involved Freedom of Information Acts to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to try to see what historical material existed. And it also involved tracking down the descendants of the murderers and the victims and finding as many as I could to record their oral histories and to see what documents they might have.
Can you talk a bit about what it was like for the Osage Nation to come into this sudden wealth after so much hardship—and how their prosperity transfixed the people around them?
In 1923 alone, the Osage collectively received what would be worth today more than $400 million. They were leasing the land, and it's also coming in on royalties from the oil being taken out of the land. They lived in terra-cotta mansions, had servants—many of whom were white—and while one American might own a car each, the Osage owned 11 cars. And to reporters, because these images kind of belied the stereotypes that can be traced back to that earliest contact between whites and Native Americans, they would tantalize readers with stories about the Osage wealth, even before the murders. It drew all sorts of people into the area.
One of the things that happened—which was outrageous—was the federal government created a guardianship system. Because of prejudice, they appointed white guardians to oversee Osage wealth under the prejudiced assumption that somehow the Osage were not able to handle their own money, which was absurd. This system was not only racist, it also became a system of graft because the white guardian was stealing the money. These outlaws came in hoping to try and get part of the Osage money. One Osage chief testified before Congress saying that essentially, "You [put] us down here in the corner of the country in the backwoods, rocky part of the country, and now that it's worth millions of dollars everybody wants to get in here and get a piece of it."
You decided to tell this story in large part via the character of a woman named Mollie Burkhart. Why her?
I told [it through her] because often when the story of the case is told, the targets and the victims, the Osage's story, was often overlooked. When you'd read about the case, Mollie Burkhart would be just a descendent, her family members' names little more than statistics. I thought it was really important to begin with her story. I thought it was really important to do my best to record the Osage perspective.
Mollie Burkhart is a remarkable woman. She is in many ways a transitional figure in that she was born in a lodge in the 1880s, speaking Osage, wearing traditional dress, and within a year forced to attend a boarding school. Uprooted from her life, within a span of about three decades she's living in a mansion, she's married to a white man. She has white servants and she's straddling not only two centuries, but two civilizations as her family becomes one of the prime targets of the murder conspiracy. Her sister, Anna Brown, disappears in May 1921, and about a week later she's found shot in the back of the head in a ravine.
Her mother soon dies, killed by a suspected poisoning, and not long after that there's a great explosion one night and Mollie feels her house shake. She goes to the window and she looks out where her sister's house is and all she can see is this great orange ball rising in the sky, and it turned out that somebody had planted a bomb under her sister's house, killing her. Mollie herself becomes a target, but she shows enormous courage in that she crusades for justice at a time when the white power structure and the white authorities discount her because she's a woman and because she's Osage. She's finally poisoned, but survives and ultimately some federal investigators from the Bureau come in.
That's when ex-Texas Ranger Tom White got involved, right? Why did he and J. Edgar Hoover pursue the case so strongly?
Initially, they bungle the case badly. There was an enormous amount of corruption in law enforcement at the time, which is important to understand. So many of the local authorities were bought off or were complicit in the crime, so nothing was being done—or they were just deeply prejudiced and, because the victims were Native Americans, they ignored the crime. Eventually these agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation come in and it becomes one of J. Edgar Hoover's first major homicide cases.
[He] turns the case over to a frontier lawman named Tom White, who put together this undercover operation and that helps catch some of the killers. One of the undercover operatives goes in and pretends to be a cattleman, another goes in as an insurance salesman. Another member of the team was probably the only American Indian agent in the Bureau at the time—he also goes in undercover, and they're able to capture some of the ring leaders, the people who were directly targeting Molly. But one of the things I also try to show in the book is that there was a much more deeper, darker conspiracy that the Bureau never exposed.
Hoover was able to use the case to kind of mythologize the role of the Bureau to justify the creation of a more powerful national police force and cement his reputation. He had been very insecure in power, because he was new in his career, and so he really used it as a launching pad to help build his bureaucratic empire.
Why do you think this story has been buried in history? And what legacy of the Osage oil money—and the murders it inspired—remain?
The Osage deeply remember the story—it's still living history for them. When you meet the descendants you realize that immediately. But I think for much of the country it's been neglected because I think stories of Native Americans don't become part of the broader narrative. This is a story that's a microcosm of the clash of the two civilizations—the brutal first contact, that kind of original first sin, played out in the heart of this country in the 1920s. It's an essential story to understand the formation of our country and understand the formation of law enforcement and understand why it's so important we become a country of laws where the scales of justice are not tipped one way or the other by the powerful or tipped against a certain group of people because of the color of their skin or their culture.
Unfortunately, countless millions of dollars were swindled and never recovered, and over time, the oil was depleted. By the 1940s, the Osage were no longer receiving these vast sums of money, but they are a remarkable resilient nation, and you get that sense from meeting with them. They've endured and built their own democratic institutions. They've found various sources of other income. As one Osage told me, they were victims of these crimes, but they shouldn't be seen as just victims. They have built this remarkable nation, and have about 20,000 members today.
Learn more about David Grann's new book here.
Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter.
Police are actively looking for a man who they believe committed a brutal murder in Cleveland on Sunday and uploaded the footage to his Facebook account, CNN reports.
The video, which has since been taken offline, showed the suspect, Steve Stephens, driving around in a car and talking about a woman before approaching an elderly man police have identified as 74-year-old Robert Godwin. At one point, Stephens looks at the camera and says, "Found me somebody I'm going to kill, this guy right here, this old dude," before pointing the gun to Godwin's head and firing, the Huffington Post reports. After uploading the footage to Facebook, Stephens then reportedly went on Facebook Live to talk about the incident.
According to a local CBS affiliate, Stephens, 37, lived in Euclid, Ohio, and worked at Beech Brook, a behavioral health agency that helped children and families in the area. His mother, Maggie Green, told CNN that her son was in social work and that the woman he was discussing in the video was his girlfriend of three years. Stephens admits in the video that he's killed at least 12 people, but police have only connected him to Godwin's death.
Authorities in the area believe that Stephens has been on the run since the video was posted at 2 PM local time and warned people in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, and Michigan to stay on the lookout for his white Ford Fusion. According to CNN, Stephens's last phone signal placed him in Erie, Pennsylvania.
"He is considered armed and dangerous, so we want people to be careful out there," Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams told reporters.
Green said that her son came to her house on Saturday and told her it would likely be the last time he'd ever see her. After learning about the video on Sunday, Green called Stephens, and he reportedly told her that he was firing at random because he was "mad with his girlfriend." Police believe that Stephens and Godwin did not know each other.
"He is a good guy... He'd give you the shirt off his back, and I'm not just saying that for these cameras," Godwin's son, Robert Godwin Jr., told Cleveland 19 News. "I hate [that] he's gone... I don't know what I'm going to do... It's not real."
Although the incident wasn't streamed using Facebook Live, it's just the latest in a number of violent crimes broadcast on social media. In January, four teenagers were arrested in Chicago after torturing a mentally handicapped man on Facebook Live, and in February, a teenager who filmed her friend's rape on Periscope was sentenced to nine months in prison.
Facebook released a statement about the crime on Sunday, saying, "We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety."
The deadliest murder-suicide in modern American history didn't actually occur on US soil. In the fall of 1978, more than 900 followers of deranged preacher Jim Jones—including roughly 300 infants and children, many of them people of color—perished after being ordered (or forced) to swallow a cyanide-laced drink in Guyana, South America. Many had sought an alternative existence defined by Jones's distinct vision of social justice, but their leader, whose brand was suffering amid myriad accusations of misconduct, was determined not to go out alone. That November, US congressman Leo Ryan and a coterie of journalists and family members visited the compound, and some cult members tried to leave with them.
Jones, perhaps sensing the end was near, unleashed mass death.
But history often seems to forget that the Peoples Temple, as Jones's notorious organization was formally known, did not begin as a morbid enterprise. Early in his career, in fact, Jones was a progressive (and successful) leader in the budding civil rights movement who some expected to seek elected office.
In his new book, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, out Tuesday, investigative journalist Jeff Guinn—the author of the national best-seller Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson—traces the history of America's second-most infamous cult leader. From his early days as an idealistic Indianapolis minister to his almost rock star–esque descent into sex, drugs, and dubious acts of healing in California, to the alleged jungle paradise in Guyana, Jones was no ordinary grifter. We chatted with Guinn about how this man was once viewed as a sort of wannabe American Gandhi, how close he came to running for president, and what "don't drink the Kool-aid" really means.
Here's what he had to say.
VICE: I was fascinated by Jim Jones's early days as a young minister in Indianapolis. Can you talk about the kind of guy he was then, and whether there were any hints of his dark future?
Jeff Guinn: If we look at what Jim Jones became later in life, then there certainly are signs from his early childhood that this is somebody who is seriously off kilter in some ways. Even as a child, he was deceitful. He was manipulative. He was willing to do whatever he had to do to make himself the leader and have people follow his commands. Yet one of the most shocking things about Jim Jones is if you really study his life, if you go back and look hard at his formative years in 1940s and 1950s in Indianapolis, this man almost all by himself integrates the city—and this is years before there's civil rights laws making integration mandatory.
He built this reputation—that he eventually used to bring so many people to ruin and death—by accomplishing absolutely magnificent things. If Jim Jones had been hit by a car and killed somewhere toward the end of the 1950s, he'd be remembered today as one of the great leaders in the early civil rights movement, and he would have earned that reputation. That makes what happened to him even sadder and actually more tragic. He had the ability to do great things, and instead he used his talent for provocation, for manipulation, and as a result, he's remembered today as a terrible person. Frankly, he earned that.
How did Jim Jones blend the gospel and Marxism in his preaching, and why do you think this curious juxtaposition gained him followers?
Peoples Temple, as it grew, began to swell to thousands and thousands of members. It wasn't so much that every one of them was a member of Peoples Temple for the same reason—Jones was an expert at being something to one segment of his following and something [else] to another. He built his early ministry on both the Bible and trying to help his followers get some kind of social justice in this lifetime. It wasn't, Some day you'll go to heaven, and that's where the meek get everything they deserve. As his church grew, he began to try to use its membership to work for social change.
They became very politically active, very socially active, and there were people who joined him for that reason. They didn't particularly care about the religious end of things—they wanted to bring about change. Jones was a socialist, which first is a different thing from a Communist, but his main focus, what he would say the theme of Peoples Temple was, was to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and try to set the kind of example where everyone has dignity, everyone has an opportunity. Peoples Temple was supposed to be a shining example, and the rest of the world, the thinking goes, would ultimately decide, We need to copy it.
He also would proclaim himself to be God and claim that he could do these miraculous healings, which were all staged. He got a percentage of people who followed him because they thought he was something more than human.
Was there a single moment where it all began to turn—to go bad? It seems like there was a long trail of misconduct on Jones's part. How did he pull that off for so long?
He was able to do it because he did it incrementally—it didn't happen all at once. He turned it up bit by bit by bit. One of his followers compared it to a frog in a pot of water, with the followers being the frog. If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he automatically will try to jump out—he knows it's dangerous, he knows it's threatening to him. But if you put the frog in a pot of lukewarm water, with just a little heat underneath, then gradually turn up temperature, the frog stays until it's being boiled to death and only realizes then that it should have jumped.
Jones's followers initially were loyal to him because Peoples Temple was doing so many worthwhile things. They really were helping people who needed it, and only gradually does Jones start becoming the monster that he proves to be. Again, we tend to think that he must have been this way the whole time, which means everybody who followed him were brainless idiots. That is not the case. Right up until his last months of Jonestown, when the drugs and his own personal demons just sort of overtook him, Jones had the ability to impress virtually anyone he met as one of the finest, most public-spirited people around.
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How close was Jim Jones to becoming a real politician?
Once Jones is in California, he begins attracting followers who believe he is without flaw, [that] whatever Jim says must be right. He stops hearing from people, like, Hey, wait a minute, I think you're wrong about this. He's only told how brilliant he is, how wonderful. It's human nature to start believing it, and Jones was certainly more prone to that than any of us. He's removed from criticism, and that is a huge thing.
Just before all the public scandals broke in California that drove him to Guyana, Jones was starting to explore getting into politics. He was giving interviews and saying that he really couldn't run for office... yet. Maybe sometime soon. Remember Jim Jones was working as an equal behind the scene in California. He knows several senators and congressmen, and the governor, and he's thinking about getting into politics himself.
A man who's willing to think he might be God is not going to go small when it comes to public life. Jim Jones as president of the United States might seem ludicrous now, but ten years ago, would anyone have believed that Donald Trump could be president?
You've done your share of true-crime reporting, but this is a uniquely dark episode in American history. Did it weigh on you?
Writing the chapter about November 18, 1978, was the most difficult time I've ever had as a writer. I'm 66, and I've been doing this for close to half a century, and I've never experienced anything like this, because I got to know the people. Because I've been in that jungle myself, cut my way through it, knew what it meant to stand there in November at the height of the rainy season in the mud. It struck me it as a visceral thing, besides being an intellectual thing. I would write for a couple of hours, and then I'd just have to just walk away from it.
When I finished, it hurt me when I read it, because even with the first pages, I know what's going to happen. Not only what's going to happen, but why it's going to happen, and I care about the people that it's going to happen to. I hope for the people that read this book that they understand the Peoples Temple and Jim Jones better. That they don't think it was a freak show. That they don't think it was one-dimensional, and beyond that, maybe we all should be thinking of demagogues. Because there's always been demagogues, and there always will be.
Like the Manson Family, Jones's cult remains seared into the national memory. Is that just a product of it coming in the 70s, at a time of great social change, like the Manson attacks a decade earlier?
Jonestown, in its way, ranks with the Kennedy assassination, it ranks with 9/11—it's an event whose horror is so vast that it's hard to conceive it actually happened. And from that event, one phrase about it entered the national lexicon, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid." Which is supposed to mean, "Don't fall for crazy leaders that make you do insane things." But it wasn't even Kool-Aid! A lot of the victims were held down and forcibly injected with it, which is murder. And beyond that, they weren't idiots falling for some kind of fraud. If we can try to understand what happened to people here in a wider sense, it's going to make us look harder at how we tend to buy in to demagogues. If we are going to stop falling for them, then maybe we need to understand the process a little better.
When Leo Ryan, the congressman, came [to Guyana] and brought the media, it happened to be the tipping point. Jones was looking for some final big dramatic act that would make his name live on in history. If it hadn't been Leo Ryan, I believe it would have been something else. Ryan happened to be the trigger, but that trigger was going to be pulled soon, one way or another. When we look back, we can loathe Jim Jones, we can hate what he did, but he accomplished, in a personal sense, what he wanted. He wanted to be famous. He wanted to be remembered. And he is.
Learn more about Guinn's new book, which drops Tuesday, here.
Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter.
London was on fire, and I was in the back of a prison van, almost happy for the first time in weeks. The riots of 2011 had just begun, and the city I was saying goodbye to was tearing itself to pieces. But it wasn't the flames that made me smile. After a month in high-security conditions, I was finally on my way to the promised land: a medium-security institution somewhere out in the English countryside.
I didn't know exactly where we were headed, but as we rolled through the marshy meadows of the Fenlands, toward the east coast of England, I imagined that our destination was going to be a place of great comfort and extraordinary natural beauty. It'd be the perfect environment to sit out the rest of my 16-month sentence, I figured, and finally get some reading done. I was 21 and a little naïve.
Perhaps I deserved what came next: the filthy, cramped cell with an unscreened toilet at the foot of the bed, the angry cellmate with violent diarrhea, and the troupe of rats that came to frolic and dance on the mountain of trash and rotting food outside my barred window.
As I began to doze off on my first night, a voice rumbled up from the bottom bunk. "I'm going to fucking bite your nose off," it growled. Then the snoring began. My cellmate was a sleep talker.
Things quickly went from bad to worse. The next day, soon after doors were unlocked, a stranger stepped into our cell. At first I thought it was some sort of surreal prank; he looked so silly with a green pillowcase over his head, peering out through crudely cut eyeholes like a half-dressed ghost. Mind you, the five-inch blade he was clutching in his hand implied laughter would be inappropriate.
It was one of those moments. Everything stood still. And then, suddenly, it all moved at once. The knife was held to my cellmate's throat, the Rolex was off his wrist, the robber was gone. Revenge was swiftly executed.
All of this was far from relaxing. But that was just the way things seemed to go in that provincial prison. It was full of frustrated and angry people doing frustrating and angry things.
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The art class I signed up for was, by contrast, a daily oasis of calm. There were only about half a dozen of us dabbling in oils, drinking cups of tea, sharing biscuits, and having mild disagreements about which radio station to listen to.
We were an odd bunch. There was Terry, a hippy-ish former armed robber who'd stuck up banks to pay for his rehab program and whose sketches illustrate this piece; Alan, grandfather, gypsy, and (he claimed) international drug trafficker; Mustapha, a jolly fat man who seemed more interested in gambling scams than Gauguin; our supervisor, a sweet old retired art teacher called Paul who went around photographing manhole covers in his spare time; and Dave.
Dave wasn't like the rest of us. In fact, he wasn't really like anyone I'd ever known. He didn't seem like much at first: a tall, quiet man in his late 50s working on his own in the corner. During breaks, when most people went off to smoke in the bathroom or under the stairs, he would sit on a little chair outside the classroom and read intently. It didn't seem like he needed anyone else in the world. He was completely self-contained, mysterious, and strangely charismatic.
He was a puzzle I was determined to solve. He'd clearly been in for some time. A huge mural of his—depicting a picturesque village and its rat-infested sewer system—brightened up the communal area outside our classroom. But he was a tough nut to crack. Whenever I tried to find out how long he'd been in prison and what had led him there, he'd go off on a long ramble about art or a memory of a family holiday he took in the late 1950s. But he never answered my questions.
One day, a classmate pulled me aside. "There's something you should see," he said. It was a photocopy of a page from a book: Evil Psychopaths: Dangerous and Deranged. There was Dave, a.k.a. the "Psychopath." Suspected kill count: 11. MO: strangulation and stabbing. He was an actual bona fide ax murderer. He'd pinned an 84-year-old widow to the floor with a kitchen knife and pulverized a priest's head with a hatchet. He'd been in prison since 1975.
And there he was in the flesh, just a few yards away, humming softly to himself as he put the finishing touches to a cheery portrait of a English folk dancer caught mid-jig. It was hard to believe the same hand that was carefully applying strokes of sky-blue acrylic had once shaken the life out of harmless old ladies.
Over the weeks and months that followed, I tried—delicately—to unpick him. I had so many questions. Why had he killed all those people? How did he feel about it now? What awful things had transpired to make him do it?
I didn't even get close. He remained as elusive as ever—and there were so many pairs of scissors and artists' scalpels lying around that it seemed unwise to push him. Clearly, if there's one thing four decades in prison teaches you, it's how to hide behind walls.
"Prisons are dark and evil places; sometimes, they can help to turn troubled kids into dark and evil people."
I've thought of him often since then. When I was released, I looked up his case and learned all about the alcoholic father, the childhood abuse, the live birds he pinned to the ground, the pet tortoise he set on fire, the early prison experiences, the many suicide attempts, and the gruesome details of his eventual crimes.
Then, not so long ago, I spotted him in a gallery. It was an exhibition of inmate art, and one of the works—a portrait of Sherlock Holmes, blank-faced and inscrutable—was unmistakably his. What did it mean? Did it hint at unsolved crimes? Was it the work of a man hunting the murderer within? Or just something created to pass the time? It was another clue and another riddle.
It's unlikely he'll ever be released—and if any human deserves to be behind bars, it's him. But even so, it was hard to reconcile the monster I read about with the person I'd spent occasional afternoons discussing Radio Four and sharing packets of Rich Teas. Perhaps the latter was a vision of the quiet, gentle person he could have been if society had stepped in and helped that scared and abused little boy all those years ago. Instead, he was institutionalized and hardened—and a killer was born.
As the UK government gets started on a $1.2 billion prison-building scheme, it's a story worth remembering. Prisons are dark and evil places; sometimes, they can help to turn troubled kids into dark and evil people.
I only glimpsed his scary side once. He crept up behind me while I was completely lost in my work, making a copy of a gory Otto Dix painting. It was all arterial spurts and mangled limbs, and I was laying the red on thick. A voice whispered in my ear: "Blood can be surprisingly pink, you know."
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Two years ago, on March 24, 2015, Cheryl Hayes's son, Anthony, a 27-year-old letter carrier for the US Postal Service in Chicago, was shot to death inside his car in the 2800 block of West Warren Boulevard. It was early morning, and he was leaving for work. The homicide, one of more than 1,300 in the city over the past two years, remains unsolved.
This article was published in collaboration with the Marshall Project.
Will it ever happen? Will this guy ever get arrested?
I called the postal inspector today—he's investigating the case with the Chicago police because Anthony was on his way to work when he was shot. We text once a week, I'll ask him what's going on. I never really go too deep into it because I know there's only so much that he can tell me—or maybe that I want to hear. I still believe police will arrest someone. I try to stay patient and give them time to do their job.
It's been two years, and it still scares me thinking an arrest could happen.
When the case goes to court, I know I'd be confronted with a lot of the details about how Anthony died. Meanwhile, I write things down in a journal a friend sent me. It has roses on the cover and says, "Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you."
The first day I wrote in it was the Tuesday of Anthony's burial: "After a week of planning I had to give my baby boy back to God. Mom loves you so much. My heart aches but with much prayer for strength, my ache will lift. Love you, mom."
On the first anniversary of Anthony's death, I added, "Today is the day of your untimely death. … You are the best son a mother could ask for… I will write more later."
I wasn't able to go to his burial plot that day. It was bad weather out. I just wrote to him throughout the day, promising, "Will try to come next week."
This month, I wrote, "Feeling sad, wanting to cry. I see visions of you lying sleeping in your casket. I never would have thought I would have to bury you. I miss you so much. You are so missed by everyone. Love/Miss u Mom."
I've also written what I might want to say when I confront this evil person.
I don't want to forget anything. I wrote about the night before it happened: Anthony lived downstairs, and I heard the front gate close with a bang. I always asked him to hold the gate so it would close quietly, but he insisted on letting it go, and I could hear it in the back of the house. I looked out the window that night, saw Anthony retrieve his phone charger from his car. I didn't know this was the last time I would see my son alive.
I would give anything to hear the front gate close with a bang again.
When I got to the crime scene after the shooting, Anthony was already dead. There was yellow tape, and I could not actually walk up to the car. I wondered, though: Did he call my name?
Later, when I went to identify Anthony's body, the medical examiner prepped me by warning that his eyes and mouth would be open. When she revealed him, my ex-husband immediately fell on the floor. I just looked and shook my head and said, "That's him." I suspect he didn't have time to think or even blink.
It just haunts me that I couldn't keep my child safe. I don't even know how many times Anthony was shot, and I'm not sure I want to. All I know is that there were about 11 bullet holes in the car. You can actually count them if you pull that picture up from the news photo on the Internet. I pulled it up for the first time this year. It was the first time I could actually look at it.
At first I couldn't stand to read or look at anything about the case. But since then I've seen all the messages of condolences on the poster boards his friends had put up outside the house on the day it happened. I took them down that night because it was going to rain the next day, brought them in the house, and turned them towards the wall. This past August was the first time I could actually turn them around again.
There were about six poster boards, the big white ones. They're downstairs on his bed. We still haven't rented out his apartment.
I still talk about Anthony. We laugh about him a lot. I always looked at pictures—a lot of family members say it's hard to look at pictures, but I still do. I have pictures of him on my phone. I have pictures of his headstone, too.
I'm reminded about the violence in Chicago every day. It's always on the news. Someone's child is getting shot. Everyone is always talking about Chicago, even the president. I think everyone in Chicago is stressed out; we're tired of being in the news. I'm at the point now where I'm not saying I'm immune to all the shootings, but I just have to turn the channel when the news comes on. It used to make me cry. I know I need to get involved and speak out against all the shootings, but right now I just turn the TV to the Weather Channel or sports or something. I can't take it.
My therapist told me after the first anniversary of Anthony's death, "You will start moving forward, Cheryl." And I did a little bit. I started moving a little forward. But like I tell everybody, time is the only thing that will get you through it.
Once in a while, I read what I wrote in my journal to see how far I've come.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
When Detective Sergeant Steve Fulcher heard that taxi driver Christopher Halliwell—the lead suspect in the disappearance of Sian O'Callaghan five days earlier—had refused to tell officers anything during his arrest, he made a decision that, in a cop show, would be described as "not doing things by the book." In the real world, the Independent Police Complaints Commission later described Fulcher's actions as a "catastrophic" breach of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act—an official act of Parliament that outlines basic codes for officers to follow, including illegal searches and seizures and a suspect's right to an attorney.
While officers were driving Halliwell from the scene of his arrest, in an grocery store parking lot, to Gablecross police station in Swindon, England, Fulcher called them and told them to instead take the suspect to Barbury Castle, an earthwork from sixth century BC. Fulcher met Halliwell on the wind-swept hilltop at 12:11 PM on Thursday, March 24, 2011. He led him 50 yards away from the officers and their police cars to talk. Their conversation was recorded by the only other person there, a civilian notetaker:
Fulcher: "Are you going to tell me where Sian is?"
Halliwell: "I don't know anything."
Fulcher: "Are you going to show me where Sian is? What's going to happen, if you tell us where Sian is—that whatever you will be portrayed—you would have done the right thing."
Halliwell: "I want to go to the station."
Fulcher: "Are you prepared to tell me where Sian is?"
Halliwell: "You think I did it."
Fulcher: "I know you did it."
Halliwell: "Can I go to the station?"
Fulcher: "You can go to the station. What will happen is that you will be vilified. If you tell me where Sian is, you would have done the right thing."
Halliwell: "I want to speak to a solicitor."
Fulcher: "You are being given an opportunity to tell me where Sian is. In one hour's time, you will be in the press."
Halliwell: "I want to speak to a lawyer."
Fulcher: "You will speak to a lawyer. I'm giving you an opportunity to tell me where Sian is, before the media gets a hold of the story. Tell me where Sian is."
Long minutes of silence passed. Finally, Halliwell said: "Have you got a car? We'll go."
The previous Friday, 22-year-old Sian O'Callaghan had gone out with her friends and ended up at Suju, a nightclub in Swindon. She left alone in the early hours of Saturday morning, at 2:52 AM, but didn't have far to go. The flat where she lived with her boyfriend, Kevin Reape, was only about a ten-minute walk from the nightclub.
When she still wasn't home at 3:24 AM, her boyfriend sent her a text. There was no reply. When he still hadn't heard from her at 9:45 AM, he contacted the police to report her missing.
"He used to ask me about killing. He said, 'How many people do you need to kill before you become a serial killer?'"
On Sunday, the Wiltshire police put out a public appeal for information. Their analysis had shown that when her phone received the text at 3:24 AM it was somewhere in Savernake Forest—about 12 miles outside of Swindon. To have traveled that far in half an hour, they realized she must have been taken by car. It was at this point that Detective Fulcher (who declined to be interviewed for this article as he's currently in discussions about the serialization of his forthcoming book) was put in charge of the case. He was still hopeful that O'Callaghan might be found alive.
By Tuesday, around 400 members of the public joined the police in their search of Savernake Forest. The following day, police announced that further analysis of O'Callaghan's cellphone signals had led them to the identification of certain "hot spots" to be investigated, and they asked the public to allow the police to search them alone. Fulcher made a statement that the investigation was moving at a "rapid pace" and that "significant lines of inquiry" were being developed. One of the people interviewed that day was 47-year-old taxi driver Christopher Halliwell.
Halliwell was already being treated as a lead suspect, but Fulcher decided to allow him to "run." The cabbie didn't know, but police surveillance teams were watching him, hoping he might lead them to O'Callaghan. Instead, they watched him go to his local drug store to buy enough over-the-counter painkillers to kill himself. Now considered a suicide risk, at 11:05 AM on Thursday, police officers approached him in a grocery store's parking lot as he was picking up a passenger and wrestled him to the ground. He told them nothing during an "urgent" interview, and Fulcher chose to redirect the policemen to Barbury Castle.
Following their hilltop conversation, Halliwell directed Fulcher to a spot 20 miles farther north, near the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric hill figure created from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. He couldn't find the exact spot, but police officers put up markers. Later that day, they'd find Sian O'Callaghan's body there.
When Fulcher told Halliwell he would be handing him over to a constable who would arrest him for murder, Halliwell told him: "You and me need to have a chat."
Once more, Fulcher and Halliwell walked away from the officers to speak privately. Fulcher gave Halliwell a cigarette. Halliwell said: "Do you want another one?"
Getting back in a car, Halliwell led Fulcher and a couple of police officers to another spot around 45 minutes away. During the drive, Halliwell became emotional. "Normal people don't go around killing each other," he said.
Eventually they arrived at a country lane near Gloucestershire. Climbing over a dip in a drystone wall and then counting out his steps into the field, Halliwell arrived at a spot where he said he'd buried a prostitute from Swindon years earlier. In the coming days, police would discover the remains of Becky Godden-Edwards, who had last been seen in December 2002.
Police then took Halliwell back to the station. They processed him and allowed him to speak to a lawyer. When Fulcher next spoke to him, in a formal interview setting, Halliwell's answers were simply: "No comment."
"His favorite book was about the Moors Murders, with a picture of Myra Hindley on the front."
This was not Halliwell's first arrest. Born in 1964, he'd burgled houses as a young man and served time in prison during the 1980s. Ernest Springer, who was a cell mate of Halliwell's at Dartmoor Prison during this time, has claimed that even back then Halliwell was attracted to the idea of becoming a serial killer.
Police involved in the the Sian O'Callaghan case interviewed Springer, and he also told the Sun: "He used to ask me about killing. He said, 'How many people do you need to kill before you become a serial killer?' He just had a thing about them. He wanted people to be proud of him or an area to be afraid of him. Don't ask me why, but that's what he wanted to be. He used to get this magazine called True Detective, with stories about people getting murdered. His favorite book was about the Moors Murders, with a picture of Myra Hindley on the front."
However, after coming out of prison, Halliwell built an ordinary-looking life for himself. He lived with his partner and her three daughters in a suburban semi in Swindon and had three children of his own from a previous marriage. Fellow minicab driver Neil Barnett told the Sun that Halliwell was a "real nice bloke—a genuine bloke, a normal run-of-the-mill bloke. I've got two daughters [and] I would have trusted them in his car."
On the of May 31, 2012, Halliwell appeared in court for a plea hearing. Despite previously confessing to Fulcher and leading police to her body, Halliwell pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Sian O'Callaghan.
A few months earlier, in January, the consequences of Fulcher's decision not to do things by the book had become clear. The High Court judge, Laura Cox, had ruled that Halliwell's confession was inadmissible in court as Fulcher had failed to allow him to seek advice from a lawyer or read him his rights. Justice Cox described his breaches of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and police codes as "wholesale and irretrievable."
Thanks to DNA evidence linking Halliwell to O'Callaghan, the police pushed ahead with the case. On October 19, 2012, Halliwell appeared at Bristol Crown Court and changed his plea to guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years.
However, as a result of Justice Cox's ruling, the second case—over the murder of Becky Godden-Edwards—collapsed. It took police four years to rebuild the case. Halliwell was formally charged with murder again on March 30, 2016. He entered a plea of not guilty on June 9, but a jury found him guilty three months later. Halliwell received a "full life sentence," meaning he will die in prison. This is a rare sentence, used only about 100 times since it was introduced in 1983, and previously handed down to the likes of notorious serial killers such as Peter Sutcliffe, Ian Brady, and Myra Hindley.
The way Detective Steve Fulcher acted during his interrogation of Christopher Halliwell is known as "noble cause corruption." Fulcher has argued that while he knew regulations said he should have reminded the suspect of his right to remain silent and given him access to a lawyer, he acted in the belief that Sian O'Callaghan might still be alive and could have been saved. Following Halliwell's second conviction in 2016, Fulcher said in a statement: "As the law stands, the expectation was that I should have prioritized Halliwell's right to silence and legal protection over Sian O'Callaghan's right to life. I remain convinced that the action that I took in allowing Halliwell to take me to the bodies of both Sian and Becky was the right and moral thing to do."
However, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is designed as a blanket rule to protect all interviewees who come into contact with the police, especially those who are vulnerable or easily led. Fulcher never read Halliwell his rights, even after it became clear he was dealing with a murder rather than a kidnapping, and his decision to throw out the rulebook almost derailed both cases. He was later found to have committed misconduct and given a final written warning. He resigned from the police and went to work as a security and policing guard in Somalia.
Fulcher still believes, as other detectives do, that Halliwell may have killed again. Detective Sean Memory, who was the the senior investigating officer in the Godden-Edwards case, told BBC Radio 4 last September: "I'm definitely concerned. We know that Becky died in 2003 and Sian in 2011. What I don't understand is why there is that gap and how he can turn from a mild-mannered taxi driver taking young vulnerable women home, and on other occasions turn into a killer."
Investigations have continued into Halliwell's past and possible other murders. However, earlier this month, a ten-day forensic search of Halliwell's home in Swindon, which included digging up his gardens and searching garages, ended with no items of "significant interest" found.
Follow Kevin EG Perry on Twitter.
This story was published in collaboration with the Marshall Project.
Jeanette Popp's daughter Nancy DePriest was murdered in 1988 in Austin, Texas, while working at a Pizza Hut. Weeks later, police arrested Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger. Ochoa confessed during an interrogation, and pleaded to a life sentence for murder, while Danziger was convicted of rape.
More than a decade later, Popp learned that both men were innocent, and she decided to meet the man who was actually responsible.
I felt suicidal when my daughter died. I had a gun and tried to work the courage up, but then one day my sister slapped me and said, "Do you want to put our mother through what you're going through?"
I couldn't do that to her.
It was a high-profile case, and the public wanted results. Our family wanted results. I remember how at the trial, Richard Danziger would just stare at me; he was so adamant about his innocence. But why should I have believed him? I had no reason to doubt the police, the detectives, the district attorney. It never occurred to me to doubt the entire judicial system.
Twelve years later, I was at work when my brother-in-law called and told me to turn on the TV. There was the district attorney, announcing that they'd got the wrong people. It was such a shock that I just collapsed in a chair, thinking, Oh my God. I was absolutely livid that I had not been told this before it was on television. What the hell are they doing? I thought. The guy confessed. They got the right guys.
I argued over the phone with an assistant district attorney, and then I called the lawyers for Ochoa and Danziger. I think they expected me to give them hell, but I just wanted the truth.
I felt horrible, like I should have known all along that something wasn't right. When there's a wrongful conviction, the family of the victim is victimized again, because you're going to go through the release and then another trial, and then you're going to wonder: How could this happen?
I reached out to Ochoa, who was still in prison. I didn't know what to say to him, except that I was sorry this had happened, and how bad I felt about his mother's suffering, knowing—because mothers know—that he wasn't capable of murder.
On the day of Ochoa's release, I sat with his mother, holding her hand. When the judge released him, I stood up and stepped aside so she could get to her son. We all went out to dinner together. He had a great big T-bone steak that covered the whole plate. It was heartwarming to see him free and eating that food; you could tell he hadn't had good food in a while. Eventually, I pulled him aside and I asked him why he confessed. He said that after so many hours in an interrogation room, with no water and no food, he broke.
Danziger was exonerated and released, too, but he had been beaten by other prisoners and suffered brain damage. I never met him. He now needs constant care, and therefore is still serving his life sentence, in a way.
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The actual murderer was a man named Achim Marino. He had undergone a religious awakening while in prison for a different crime and confessed to killing my daughter. Because I'd lost faith in the judicial system, I knew that this man was the only person who could tell me the real truth of what happened.
I traveled to the prison where he was housed, and we sat across a table from each other. He was kind of scary looking, with tattoos all over, and his eyes could tear through you. I asked him why he killed my daughter, and he said that the voices in his head told him that if he made a human sacrifice, the headaches and voices would go away.
I asked if they went away, and he said no. I asked if she had said anything, and he replied that she said only, "Please don't hurt me." I asked if she fought, and he said no. He added that she didn't see he was going to shoot her.
Then he looked in my eyes and said he was sorry. Do I believe that? I'm not sure.
He said he'd rather be executed than spend his life in a Texas prison. But I couldn't support that. You have to understand: Mr. Marino has a mother. She's not responsible for what he did, and taking her son away—what good is that? I told reporters, "I will not stain my daughter's memory with that man's blood." To be honest, part of why I tried to spare him was selfishness; I can't personally be a party to the taking of human life.
I went on the court steps and told the public to call the district attorney on my behalf and ask them not to seek the death penalty. A week later, it was off the table. "I'm sorry," I told Marino. "I'll do everything I can to save your life."
Achim Marino received a life sentence in 2002—one of four he is serving simultaneously—for the 1988 murder of Nancy DePriest. He is incarcerated at the Robertson Unit, in Abilene, Texas.
In October 1984, Leah Carroll's mother, Joan, was strangled during a cocaine deal gone awry at the Sunset View Motel in Attleboro, Massachusetts. As the murderer pulled a towel tighter around her 30-year-old mother's throat, he's believed to have said, "Come on you rat… give me the death rattle."
Fourteen years later, Carroll's father, Kevin, died in a seedy hotel in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, called the Sportsman's Inn. "Rooms rented for forty dollars a week," Carroll writes of the incident. "The ground floor was a strip club with a 24-hour Italian buffet." He was 48 years old; Carroll was 18.
Carroll describes these two incidents in the first two pages of her new memoir and ends the prologue with a question: "Who were these people, my parents, and how did they come to this place?" Over the next 220 pages of Down City: A Daughter's Story of Love, Memory, and Murder, out this month, she goes searching for answers. She speaks to journalists, friends of her parents, and even the son of the man who killed her mother. She dives into the strange and sordid history of Rhode Island, taking particular interest in two institutions: organized crime and the daily newspaper, the Providence Journal, where her father worked as a delivery driver. She tracks down documents, including newspaper clippings and police reports about her mother and her father's autopsy report, which describes "Steatosis of the Liver Associated with Clinical History of Chronic Ethanol Use." Along the way, she interweaves memories of her own tumultuous upbringing in the troubled but lovable seaside state.
The result is an unusual, mesmerizing hybrid: part true-crime story, part coming-of-age memoir, part portrait of a parent's alcoholism, part love letter to Rhode Island. I recently spoke with Carroll, who has written for an array of publications—including Broadly—and lives in Brooklyn, for some perspective on the project. Here's what she had to say.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: In the 2010 "Modern Love" piece you wrote of your mother's death, "For me, discovering the truth had somehow let me out." And in the book you describe how one of the men who was there the night your mother was murdered was working on a memoir when he was in protective police custody. You write, "But Peter Gilbert doesn't get to tell this story. I do." What does it mean for you to be able to tell this story—for you to be the one controlling the narrative?
Leah Carroll: One of the things that changed for me when I got older, when I became the age that my mom was when she died and then older, [was] realizing she did not have a life. Her life was taken from her. Thirty years is not a life. And I think we tend not to think of our parents that way, as people outside of us. And so it was a really powerful realization for me that I wanted to tell her story.
And, unfortunately, when somebody becomes a victim of a violent crime, their story becomes wrapped up in the story of the person who killed them. That's just inevitable. And because of the way that this went down, that story had to be told. And I think in many ways, I decided I didn't want to disown that part of her. I wasn't going to be ashamed that she was a drug addict, and [the fact that] that put her in a position where many, many people were in power over her, and they didn't care about her. And I thought that it was important to point that out because she had the opportunity to be a really incredible person, and that opportunity was taken away from her, first by people who murdered her, and then by the people who sort of took her death and tried to make their careers on it, basically... in law enforcement and in Rhode Island state government.
There are some incredibly raw and personal and powerful documents in the book, including what is essentially your father's farewell note to you and the notes from his autopsy. Did you ever hesitate and say to yourself, "This is too personal." Or did you feel, This all needs to go in?
I think that my dad's note to me is so extraordinary and encapsulates who he was as a human being in so many ways that I never thought of telling the story without including that note. Even though it was very private and it was addressed to me, it really was him, and it was his voice, and it was important for me to have his actual voice and his actual words.
I've amassed so many of these documents and the language in them and the ways they were written—they were so interesting to me. I always wanted to include them because of the idea that we leave behind this trail of documents. And they are not necessarily for public consumption, but they are public documents. The autopsy reports, the police reports—these things, they are sort of like the non-artful record of our lives.
They were [also] always a touchstone for me to go back [to]. If I didn't know how to feel about something, I knew that I had a document, and I knew that I could present that and sort of let that be an objective truth.
I don't want to to oversimplify this, but do you think your father's fate—I wondered as I read—was he kind of a belated casualty of the Vietnam War? Or maybe was he, in a way, a collateral casualty of what happened to your mom? Or maybe he was fated to have the problems he had, regardless?
I mean, all three. When [my dad] went to Vietnam, he was five foot nine and 160 pounds. He was literally a child. He was 17, he had just finished tenth grade, and he was living with his dad and his stepmom, whom he didn't like, and was like, "I'm just going to go to Vietnam." And it destroyed him in many ways. Of course, his mother died of cirrhosis of the liver. And then I think my mom's death was incredibly hard for him, especially because in the beginning he was a suspect, as all husbands are. I [also] cannot overstate the importance of the Providence Journal in my father's life, and I think a lot of people like him. Because it was a rally extraordinary place, and it had value, and it gave value to the people who worked there. And it produced such great content. And then when that was taken away from him [when he was laid off during a corporate restructuring], that really just cut his lifeline.
How did you decide to take on this project—were there particular true-crime books that inspired you to write your own?
So, James Ellroy's My Dark Places changed my life. I think I can divide my life between before that book and after I read that book. I read that book in college, and it just blew my mind. And actually James Ellroy had been one of my dad's favorite writers. Black Dahlia was one of his favorite books and L.A. Confidential. And then there's also this great book by Mikal Gilmore... Shot in the Heart. So that was another one.
I read those two... and was like, "I'll never be the same. These books are life-changing." And that one was interesting because The Executioner's Song, the Norman Mailer book about Gary Gilmore [Mikal Gilmore's brother] had been one of my mom's favorite books. So there were these kind of weird connections.
What do you want people to take away from this story?
I think that my parents were ordinary, but they were also special, and their lives were really special. And they were these two people who existed in this particular time, and they wanted more than circumstances might have allowed for them. And even though both of their lives ended too soon, through kind of the sheer force of just their will and their personality and their talent and everything about them, they made me. And I'm telling this story.
Their lives mattered. And I think that their story matters and the story of Rhode Island matters. And I think you can kind of hang on to things and be angry, but in the end, especially for mom who I hadn't known... I just found so much love for my mom as a human a being, in writing about her. And I just hope it honors their spirit or who they were. Because they were great.
Learn more about Down City, which drops Tuesday, March 7, here.
Follow Philip Eil on Twitter.