Monday, April 27, 2015

Madeleine McCann Vanished in Portugal - May 3, 2007

This week (April 27-May 3) in crime history – Andrew Cunanan began cross country killing spree (April 27, 1997); Jaycee Dugard’s kidnappers plead guilty (April 28, 2011); Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (April 28, 1789); Martin Bryant began killing spree in Australia (April 28, 1996); Deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was executed (April 28, 1945); Police officers in the Rodney King beating trial were found innocent (April 29, 1992); First Federal prison for women opened in West Virginia (April 30. 1927); Tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed during match in Germany (April 30, 1993); Former NBA star Jayson Williams was indicted for the shooting death of Costas Christofi (May 1, 2002); Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan (May 2, 2011); Kidnapped Exxon executive Sidney Reso died in storage vault in New Jersey (May 3, 1992); Four year-old toddler Madeline McCann disappeared while on vacation with her parents in Portugal (May 3, 2007)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week –

On the evening of May 3, 2007, four-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished while on vacation with her parents at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz, a tourist village along Portugal’s Algarve coast. Gerry and Kate McCann went with friends to the Ocean Club’s tapas bar, leaving a sleeping Madeleine and her brother and sister in the family’s ground-floor apartment, located near the tapas bar. The McCanns and their friends agreed to check on the children every half hour. At around 10:00 p.m., Kate McCann went to the apartment and discovered Madeleine was missing. Portuguese police initially believed the little girl had wandered off and would be quickly found. As a result, they failed to promptly distribute a description of the missing child or search cars crossing the Portugal-Spain border, less than two hours from Praia da Luz. McCann’s disappearance generated widespread media coverage in Europe and beyond. English soccer star David Beckham made a televised plea for her safe return, and author J.K. Rowling reportedly donated millions to help find the little girl. Gerry and Kate McCann, observant Catholics, also had an audience in Rome with Pope Benedict, who blessed a photo of Madeleine.

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

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

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Sacco and Vanzetti Case - April 15, 1920

This week (April 13-19) in crime history – Serial killer Christopher Wilder shot himself to death to avoid capture (April 13, 1984); Old West outlaw Butch Cassidy was born (April 13, 1866); President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater (April 14, 1865); The Sacco and Vanzetti Case (April 15, 1920); Boston Marathon bombing (April 15, 2013); Nancy Titterton’s murder shocked New York City (April 17, 1936); Suicide bomber destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut (April 18, 1983); The Central Park Jogger Case (April 19, 1989)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On April 15, 1920, a paymaster and a security guard were killed during a mid-afternoon armed robbery of a shoe company in South Braintree, Massachusetts. Out of this crime grew one of the most infamous trials in American history and a landmark case in forensic crime detection. Both Fred Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli were shot several times as they attempted to move the payroll boxes of their New England shoe company. The two armed thieves, identified by witnesses as “Italian-looking,” fled and their abandoned car was found in the woods several days later. Through evidence found in the car, police suspected that a man named Mike Boda was involved. However, Boda fled to Italy.

Police did manage to catch Boda’s colleagues, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were each carrying loaded weapons at the time of their arrest. Sacco had a .32 caliber handgun, the same type as was used to kill the security guards and bullets from the same manufacturer as those recovered from the shooting. Vanzetti was identified as a participant in a previous robbery attempt of a different shoe company.

Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists, believing that social justice would come only through the destruction of governments. In the early 1920s, mainstream America developed a fear of communism and radical politics that resulted in an anti-communist and immigrant hysteria. Sacco and Vanzetti, recognizing the uphill battle ahead, tried to put this fear to their advantage by drumming up support from the left wing with claims that the prosecution was politically motivated. Millions of dollars were raised for their defense by the radical left around the world. The American embassy in Paris was bombed in response to the Sacco-Vanzetti case; a second bomb intended for the embassy in Lisbon was intercepted. The well-funded defense put up a good fight, bringing forth nearly 100 witnesses to testify on the defendants’ behalf. Ultimately, eyewitness identification wasn’t the crucial issue; rather, it was the ballistics tests on the murder weapon. Prosecution experts, with rather primitive instruments, testified that Sacco’s gun was the murder weapon. Defense experts claimed just the opposite. In the end, on July 14, 1921, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty; they were sentenced to death.

However, the ballistics issue refused to go away as Sacco and Vanzetti waited on death row. In addition, a jailhouse confession by another criminal fueled the controversy. In 1927, Massachusetts Governor A. T. Fuller ordered another inquiry to advise him on the clemency request of the two anarchists. In the meantime, there had been many scientific advances in the field of forensics. The comparison microscope was now available for new ballistics tests and proved beyond a doubt that Sacco’s gun was indeed the murder weapon. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in August 1927, but even the new evidence didn’t completely quell the controversy. In October 1961, and again in March 1983, new investigations were conducted into the matter, but both revealed that Sacco’s revolver was indeed the one that fired the bullet and killed the security guards. On August 23, 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation that Sacco and Vanzetti had not received a fair trial.

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

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of six nonfiction books that includes Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, April 6, 2015

Madame LaLaurie's Torture Chamber was Discovered - April 10, 1834

This week (April 6-12) in crime history – Sam Sheppard died (April 6, 1970); Oscar Wilde was arrested (April 6, 1895); Rwandan genocide began (April 7, 1994); Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty (April 8, 2005); Billy the Kid was convicted of murder (April 9, 1881); Chicago 8 pleaded not guilty (April 9, 1969); Delphine LaLaurie’s torture chamber discovered (April 10, 1834); Emiliano Zapata was assassinated (April 10, 1919); Galileo was convicted of heresy (April 12, 1633).

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On April 10, 1834, a fire at the LaLaurie mansion in New Orleans, Louisiana, led to the discovery of a torture chamber where slaves are routinely brutalized by Delphine LaLaurie. Rescuers found a 70-year-old black woman trapped in the kitchen during the fire because she was chained up while Madame LaLaurie was busy saving her furniture. The woman later revealed that she had set the fire in an attempt to escape LaLaurie’s torture. She led authorities up to the attic, where seven slaves were tied with spiked iron collars.

After Delphine LaLaurie married her third husband, Louis LaLaurie, and moved into his estate on Royal Street, she immediately took control of the large number of slaves used as servants. LaLaurie was a well-known sadist, but the mistreatment of slaves by the wealthy and socially connected was not a matter for the police at the time. However, in 1833, Delphine chased a small slave girl with a whip until the girl fell off the roof of the house and died. LaLaurie tried to cover up the incident, but police found the body hidden in a well. Authorities decided to fine LaLaurie and force the sale of the other slaves on the estate. LaLaurie foiled this plan by secretly arranging for her relatives and friends to buy the slaves. She then snuck them back into the mansion, where she continued to torture them until the night of the fire in April 1834.

Apparently her Southern neighbors had some standards when it came to the treatment of slaves, because a mob gathered in protest after learning about LaLaurie’s torture chamber. She and her husband fled by boat, leaving the butler (who had also participated in the torture) to face the wrath of the crowd. Although charges were never filed against LaLaurie, her reputation in upper-class society was destroyed. It is believed that she died in Paris in December 1842. Recently, actress Kathy Bates appeared as Madame LaLaurie in FX’s American Horror Story: Coven.

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

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: