Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rap pioneer Jam Master Jay was murdered - 2002

On October 30, 2002, influential rap pioneer, Jason William Mizell was murdered. He is better known by his stage name Jam Master Jay, who was a founding member of the hip hop group Run-DMC. During the 1980s, Run-D.M.C. was one of the biggest hip-hop groups in the world and is credited with helping rap music break into mainstream music with hits such as “It’s Tricky,” “King of Rock” and a remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
On the night of the murder Mizell and some friends were hanging out at his Jamaica, Queens, New York studio packing some equipment for a show in Philadelphia, Mizell got a bite to eat and took a seat on a couch at the rear of the studio. His friend, Uriel (Tony) Rincon, sat next to him and the pair began playing a video game. A short time later, Mizell's assistant, Lydia High, entered the cramped studio to go over his itinerary for the next day. High's brother, Randy Allen, Mizell’s longtime business partner soon came in with two friends, but they shut themselves in the control room at the front of the studio. Everyone had been in the room for less than an hour when a man dressed in black, possibly wearing a hat, stepped in and gave Mizell a hug about 7:30 p.m., but after the short embrace, the man pulled out a .40-caliber handgun. A witness heard Mizell yell out “Oh s---,” before a shot rang out. A bullet hit Mizell in the head, killing him before he hit the floor. The killer and his accomplice, who was standing outside the door, both sprinted out of the two-story building and disappeared. The murder remains unsolved.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

President William McKinley's assassin was executed - 1901

On October 29, 1901, President William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, is executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison in New York. Czolgosz had shot McKinley on September 6, 1901; the president succumbed to his wounds eight days later. McKinley was shaking hands in a reception line at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, when a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz approached him with a gun concealed in a handkerchief in his right hand. McKinley, perhaps assuming the handkerchief was an attempt by Czolgosz to hide a physical defect, kindly reached for the man's left hand to shake. Czolgosz moved in close to the president and fired two shots into McKinley's chest. The president reportedly rose slightly on his toes before collapsing forward, saying "be careful how you tell my wife." Czolgosz was attempting to fire a third bullet into the stricken president when aides wrestled him to the ground.
McKinley suffered one superficial wound to the sternum and another bullet dangerously entered his abdomen. He was rushed into surgery and seemed to be on the mend by September 12th, but later that day, the president's condition worsened. On September 14th, McKinley died from gangrene that had remained undetected in the internal wound. According to witnesses, McKinley's last words were those of the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president immediately following McKinley's death. Czolgosz, a Polish immigrant, grew up in Detroit and had worked as a child laborer in a steel mill. As a young adult, he gravitated toward socialist and anarchist ideology. He claimed to have killed McKinley because the president was the head of what Czolgosz thought was a corrupt government. The unrepentant killer's last words were "I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people, the working people."
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Old West gunslinger Tom Horn was hanged - 1903

On October 22, 1903, infamous hired killer, Tom Horn was hanged for having allegedly murdered Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of a southern Wyoming sheep rancher. Some historians have since questioned whether Horn really killed the boy, pointing out that the jury convicted him solely on the basis of a drunken confession that Horn supposedly made to a detective. The jury also seems to have failed to give adequate weight to the testimony of a number of credible witnesses who claimed Horn could not possibly have committed the crime. Yet even Horn's defenders in the Nickell case do not dispute that he was a brutal hired killer who was unquestionably responsible for many other deaths.
Born in 1860 in Memphis, Missouri, Horn reportedly showed an aptitude for hunting and marksmanship at an early age. After moving westward in the mid-1870s, Horn was at various times a cowboy, miner, army scout, deputy sheriff, and packer for the Rough Riders in Cuba, but his most notorious job was as a hired gun. Horn first worked for the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency which hired him to track down and apprehend, western outlaws who were preying on Pinkerton clients, but after four years he became bored; and in 1894 he signed on as a hired killer with the privately run Wyoming Cattlemen's Association. For several years the large Wyoming ranches had been fighting a vigilante war in Johnson County against a diverse group of small farmers, sheep ranchers, and rustlers who were resisting their domination. By 1894, negative publicity had made a public war too costly. Instead, the ranchers shifted to more stealthy means, hiring Horn to use his gun-handling skills to murder any man the ranchers marked as a troublemaker. Some historians suggest that Horn may have murdered Willie Nickell by accident, having mistaken the boy for his father. Others, though, argue that it is more likely that Horn was deliberately convicted for a crime he did not commit by Wyoming citizens seeing an opportunity to take revenge.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Friday, October 18, 2013

John Lennon & Yoko Ono were arrested on drug charges - 1968

On October 18, 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono are arrested for drug possession at their home near Montagu Square in London, England. The arrests came at a tempestuous time for the couple. Only days earlier, an announcement was made that Ono was pregnant, creating a scandal because both Lennon and Ono were still married to other people. Her pregnancy ended in a miscarriage a few days after the arrest.
Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, the instigator behind the raid on Lennon and Ono, was an anti-drug zealot who would later arrest George Harrison and his wife on similar charges. While Lennon was frantically trying to get rid of the evidence, the police read a warrant through a bedroom window and then broke down the front door. Drug-sniffing dogs found 200 grams of hashish, a cigarette rolling machine with traces of marijuana, and half a gram of morphine. However, the couple denied that the drugs belonged to them. When the matter finally approached trial, Lennon pleaded guilty because he was worried that Ono would be deported. He was received a small fine and warned that another offense would bring a year in jail.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Texas Rangers were established - 1835

On October 17, 1835, Texans approve a resolution to create the Texas Rangers, a corps of armed and mounted lawmen designed to guard the frontier between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers. In the midst of their revolt against Mexico, Texan leaders felt they needed a semi-official force of armed men who would defend the isolated frontier settlers of the Lone Star Republic against both Santa Ana's soldiers and hostile Indians; the Texas Rangers filled this role. After gaining independence from Mexico the following year, Texans decided to keep the Rangers, both to defend against Indian and Mexican raiders and to serve as the principal law enforcement authority along the sparsely populated Texan frontier. Although created and sanctioned by the Texas government, the Rangers were an irregular body made up of civilians who furnished their own horses and weapons. Given the vast expanse of territory they patrolled and the difficulty of communicating with the central government, the government gave the men of the Rangers considerable independence to act as they saw fit. Sometimes the Rangers served as a military force, taking on the role of fighting the Indians that in the U.S. was largely the responsibility of the Army. At other times the Rangers mainly served as the principal law enforcement power in many frontier regions of Texas, earning lasting fame for their ability to track down and eliminate outlaws, cattle thieves, train robbers, and murderers, including such notorious bandits as John Wesley Hardin and King Fisher. Even as late as the first two decades of the 20th century, the state of Texas continued to rely on the Rangers to enforce order in the wilder regions of the state, like the oil boomtowns along the Rio Grande. Increasingly, though, some Texans began to criticize the Rangers, arguing that they used excessive violence and often failed to observe the finer points of the law when apprehending suspects. As a result, in the 1930s, the state won control over the Rangers, transforming it into a modern and professional law enforcement organization.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mata Hari was executed - 1917

On October 15, 1917, exotic dancer Mata Hari was executed by a French firing squad for the crime of espionage. She was born Margueretha Gertruida Zelle in a small town in northern Holland and formerly married to a captain in the Dutch army; Mata Hari had performed in Paris as a dancer since 1903. She adopted an elaborate stage persona, claiming she was born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient Indian dances by a priestess who gave her the name Mata Hari, which meant "eye of the dawn." Her exotic dances soon earned her fans all over Europe, where she packed dance halls, largely because of her willingness to dance almost entirely naked in public.
A courtesan as well as a dancer, Mata Hari amassed an impressive catalog of lovers, including high-ranking military officers and political figures from both France and Germany. With the outbreak of World War I, these relationships immediately made her suspicious to French intelligence, which reportedly put her under surveillance. The circumstances of her alleged spying activities during the war were and remain unclear: It was said that, while in the Netherlands in 1916, she was offered cash by a German consul to report back information obtained on her next visit to France. When British intelligence discovered details of this arrangement, they passed them on to their counterparts in France; Mata Hari was arrested in Paris in February 1917.
Under interrogation by French military intelligence, Mata Hari herself admitted that she had passed outdated information to a German intelligence officer, yet she claimed that she had also been paid to act as a French spy in Belgium (then occupied by the Germans) though she had not informed the French of her prior dealings with the German consul. She was apparently acting as a double agent, though the Germans had apparently written her off as being ineffective. She was tried in a military court and sentenced to death. The trial was riddled with bias and circumstantial evidence, and many believed that the French authorities, as well as the press, trumped her up as "the greatest woman spy of the century" to distract the public from the huge losses the French army was suffering on the Western Front. After her last-minute plea to the French president for clemency was denied, French officers carried out the death sentence on October 15, 1917. Unbound and refusing a blindfold, Mata Hari was shot by a firing squad at the Caserne de Vincennes, an old fort outside Paris. Viewed by many as the victim of a hysterical French press contemptuous of her career as a dancer and courtesan and seeking a scapegoat, Mata Hari remains one of the most glamorous figures to come out of the shadowy world of espionage, and the archetype of the female spy.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Amityville murder trial began - 1975

On October 14, 1975, the murder trial of Ronald DeFeo Jr. began. Defoe was accused of killings his parents and four siblings in their Amityville, New York home. The family’s house was later said to be haunted and served as the inspiration for the Amityville Horror book and movies. On the evening of November 13, 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. entered an Amityville bar and told people his parents had been shot inside their home. Several bar patrons accompanied DeFeo back to his family’s home, at 112 Ocean Avenue, where a man named Joe Yeswit called Suffolk Country police to report the crime. When officers arrived, they found the bodies of Ronald DeFeo Sr., his wife Louise, and their four children. The victims had been shot in their beds. Ronald DeFeo Jr., initially claimed the murders were a mob hit; however, by the next day he had confessed that he committed the crimes.
Police investigators were at first puzzled by the fact that all six victims appeared to have died in their sleep, without struggle, and neighbors didn’t hear any gunshots, despite the fact that the rifle DeFeo used didn’t have a silencer. When DeFeo’s trial began, his attorney argued for an insanity defense; however, the jury did not believe this and he was found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder and later sentenced to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life in prison. DeFeo, who gave conflicting accounts of these events, later claimed his sister Dawn and two other accomplices were involved in the murders. In December 1975, the DeFeo house was sold to George Lutz, who moved in with his wife and three children. The new owners resided in the house for 28 days, before they fled, claiming it was haunted. Skeptics accused Lutz of concocting the story to make money, but he maintained he was telling the truth. In 1977, Jay Anson published a novel titled The Amityville Horror. The book became a best-seller and inspired a 1979 movie of the same name, as well as a 2005 remake.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Chicago area bootlegger Roger Touhy escapes from prison - 1942

On October 9, 1942, notorious Chicago area bootlegger Roger "The Terrible" Touhy escapes from Statesville Prison by climbing the guard's tower. Touhy, who had been framed for kidnapping by his bootlegging rivals, was serving a 99-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. The son of a police officer, Touhy had served in the Navy during World War I and later set up a trucking business in the Chicago suburbs. When business slowed during Prohibition, Touhy realized he could earn a better living through bootlegging. Along with his partner, Matt Kolb, Touhy began brewing his own beer and shipping it to speakeasies all over the state. His beer was widely considered the finest available at the time. When mob boss Al Capone heard about Touhy's operation, he wanted to get in on the action, but since Capone was not really familiar with the environment outside of the city, Touhy had an advantage. After a meeting with Touhy, Capone's henchmen reported back that he wasn’t someone to mess with. Undeterred, Capone had Matt Kolb kidnapped and then forced Touhy to pay $50,000 in ransom for his release. When Kolb was murdered in 1931, the feud escalated. Capone was instrumental in orchestrating the fake kidnapping plot of Jake Factor, which was pinned on Touhy. He was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. Shortly after his escape in 1942, Touhy was returned to prison but his conviction was eventually overturned upon appeal in 1959. Three weeks after his release from prison, Touhy was gunned down at his sister’s home. Before he died, he was reported to have said, "I've been expecting it. The bastards never forget." No arrests were made in Touhy’s murder.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Botched sweat lodge ceremony kills three - 2009

On October 8, 2009, two people die and more than a dozen others are hospitalized following a botched sweat lodge ceremony at a retreat run by motivational speaker and author James Arthur Ray near Sedona, Arizona. A third participant in the ceremony died nine days later. The sweat lodge exercise was part of a five-day event held at a rented retreat center located six miles from Sedona. At the time, Ray was known for such books as his 2008 best-seller Harmonic Wealth: The Secret to Attracting the Life You Want, and had appeared as a guest on a number of TV programs, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Ray’s sweat lodge ceremony, modeled after a Native American custom intended to purify the body and spirit, was held in a wood-frame structure covered with tarpaulins and blankets. Inside the enclosed space, water was poured over heated rocks to create steam and the temperature became dangerously high, causing many of the more than 50 participants to develop breathing trouble and become disoriented. Witnesses later reported Ray had urged people to remain inside and endure the intense heat as a form of personal challenge.

Two people, Kirby Brown and James Shore fainted but were left inside the sweat lodge and perished from heat stroke. More than a dozen other people were hospitalized for dehydration and other medical issues. On October 17th, a third ceremony participant, Liz Neuman died. In February 2010, Ray was indicted on manslaughter charges. When his case went to trial the following year, the prosecution argued that the self-help guru had acted carelessly and shown no regard for the people who got sick during the ceremony. The defense claimed the participants were free to leave the sweat lodge at any time, and said the deaths were an accident and might have been caused by unknown toxins in the ground. During the four-month trial, witnesses claimed that people had become ill or injured at previous retreats run by Ray, and Native American groups expressed outrage over his misuse of their sacred sweat lodge tradition. On June 22, 2011, Ray was found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide and was sentenced to three two-year prison terms, to run concurrently, and ordered to pay some $57,000 in restitution to the victims’ families.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Jim Bakker was indicted on federal charges - 1988

On October 4, 1988, televangelist Jim Bakker was indicted on federal charges of mail and wire fraud and of conspiring to defraud the public. The case against the founder of Praise the Lord (PTL) Ministries and three of his aides exploded in the media when it was revealed that Bakker had sex with former church secretary Jessica Hahn.
On December 6, 1980, Bakker and Hahn had a sexual encounter in a Florida hotel room. Although they each told different stories of what had happened, Bakker eventually paid Hahn over $350,000 to remain silent. When the arrangement became public, the scandal helped to bring down the entire PTL ministry. Hahn, who claimed that she didn't want to be in the spotlight, became an overnight celebrity. Bakker and his wife, Tammy Faye, were enormously successful at raising money for their televised religious programs, and after its 1974 debut, their cable show became the highest rated religious show in the country. The Bakkers then added talk-show elements to standard preaching, often featuring celebrities, music, and comedy. With all of the money they made from their programming, they built a 2,200-acre resort, Heritage USA. When the sex scandal was leaked, other televangelists were outraged. Jimmy Swaggart, in particular, went out of his way to condemn Bakker. Tammy Faye responded to their critics by singing "The Ballad of Jim and Tammy Faye" to the tune of "Harper Valley PTA" on their show. Still, Tammy Faye could not defend the ministry against federal charges that the funding for Heritage USA had been acquired by defrauding their viewers and donors. Although the evidence was not particularly strong, Jim Bakker was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to 45 years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to eight years, and he was released in 1994. Tammy Faye divorced Jim while he was in prison; she died in 2007.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Amanda Knox's murder conviction is overturned - 2011

On October 3, 2011, an Italian appeals court overturns the murder conviction of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student who two years earlier was found guilty in the 2007 murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. At the time of her 2009 conviction, Knox received a 26-year prison sentence, while her ex-boyfriend, Italian college student Raffaelle Sollecito, who also was convicted in the slaying, was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. The sensational, high-profile case raised questions in the United States about the Italian justice system and whether Knox, who always maintained her innocence, was unfairly convicted.
On November 2, 2007, the 21-year-old Kercher of Coulsdon, England, was found fatally stabbed in the bedroom of the home she shared with Knox and two other women in Perugia, the capital city of the Umbria region in central Italy. Investigators said the British exchange student had been slain the previous night. After questioning by police, Knox, a Seattle native and University of Washington student doing her junior year abroad in Italy, was arrested. She denied any wrongdoing, saying she was at another student’s house the night of the murder. Police claimed Knox later gave them conflicting statements about her whereabouts at the time of the crime. She said that police had coerced her into making incriminating statements.
During the nearly yearlong trial that followed, prosecutors charged that Knox, along with Sollecito and another man, Rudy Guede, had viciously attacked Kercher in a sex game gone wrong. (Guede was convicted for his role in Kercher’s death in a separate, fast-track trial in 2008. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced to 16 years on appeal.) The prosecution’s main evidence against Knox included tiny traces of her DNA and that of Kercher’s on a knife discovered at Sollecito’s home. Traces of Knox’s DNA were also found on a bra clasp belonging to Kercher. Knox’s attorneys argued the bra clasp was found over a month after the murder at a contaminated crime scene, and that the knife blade couldn’t have made the wounds on the victim.

Knox and Sollecito appealed their convictions, and at their subsequent trial court-appointed experts testified the original DNA evidence was unreliable and did not definitively link the young American and her former boyfriend to the crime. On October 3, 2011, an appellate court jury of two judges and six civilians in Perugia acquitted the two defendants of murder. (The court upheld Knox’s conviction on a charge of defamation for accusing her former boss of murdering Kercher. Knox was given time served along with a fine.) The 24-year-old Knox, who had been jailed in Italy since her 2007, flew home to the United States the following day. In March 2013, in a new twist in the case, Italy's highest court overturned the acquittals of Knox and Sollecito and ordered that they be retried. The retrial is expected to take place sometime in 2014.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

West Nickels Mines Amish School shooting - 2006

On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts fatally shoots five female students and wounds five more at the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickels Mines, Pennsylvania. Roberts, a 32-year-old milk truck driver from a nearby town, entered the one-room schoolhouse at around 10:30 a.m. armed with an arsenal of weapons. He forced all of the boys and several women with infants to leave and made the 11 remaining girl’s line up against the blackboard. When police arrived at the schoolhouse a short time later, Roberts had barricaded the school doors and tied up his hostages. Roberts spoke briefly with his wife by cell phone and said he was upset with God over the death of his baby daughter in 1997. He also told her he had molested two girls 20 years earlier and was having fantasies about molesting children again. At approximately 11 a.m., Roberts spoke with a 911 dispatcher and said if the police didn’t leave he’d start shooting. Seconds after, he shot five of the students. When authorities stormed the schoolhouse, Roberts shot himself in the head. Roberts had no prior criminal record or history of mental illness. Additionally, his family knew nothing about his claims that he had molested two young female relatives. The Amish community, known for their religious devotion, consoled Roberts’ widow in the wake of the tragedy; some members even attended his funeral. Ten days after the shootings, the community tore down the schoolhouse and built a new one nearby.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Former Nazi leaders are sentenced at Nuremberg - 1946

On October 1, 1946, twelve high-ranking Nazis are sentenced to death by the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg. Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo and chief of the German air force; and Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior. Seven others, including Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s former deputy, were given prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life. Three others were acquitted. The trial, which had lasted nearly 10 months, was conducted by an international tribunal made up of representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain. It was the first trial of its kind in history, and the defendants faced charges ranging from crimes against peace to crimes of war and crimes against humanity. On October 16th, 10 of the architects of Nazi policy were hanged one by one. Hermann Goering, committed suicide by poison on the eve of his scheduled execution. Nazi Party leader Martin Bormann was condemned to death in absentia; he is now known to have died in Berlin at the end of the war.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and author of Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: