Monday, May 1, 2017

Serial Killer H.H. Holmes was Executed (May 7, 1896)

This week (May 1-7) in crime history – NBA star Jayson Williams was charged with shooting a limo driver (May 1, 2002); FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died (May 2, 1972); Exxon executive Sidney Reso was found dead after being kidnapped (May 3, 1992); -year-old Madeleine McCann vanished while on vacation with her parents in Portugal (May 3, 2007); The Haymarket Square Riots (May 4, 1886); Three women were rescued after being imprisoned for year at a Cleveland, Ohio home (May 6, 2013); Serial killer H.H. Holmes was executed (May 7, 1896)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On May 7, 1896, serial killer H. H. Holmes, was hanged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although his criminal exploits were just as extensive and occurred during the same time period as Jack the Ripper, Holmes’ crimes have not endured in the public’s memory.

Born Herman Mudgett in New Hampshire, Holmes began torturing animals as a child. Still, he was a smart child who later graduated from the University of Michigan with a medical degree. Holmes financed his education with a series of insurance scams whereby he requested coverage for nonexistent people and then presented corpses as the insured.

In 1886, Holmes moved to Chicago to work as a pharmacist. A few months later, he bought the business from the owner’s widow after his death. She then mysteriously disappeared. With a new series of cons, Holmes raised enough money to build a giant, elaborate home across from the store.

The home, which Holmes called “The Castle,” had secret passageways, fake walls, and trapdoors. Some of the rooms were soundproof and connected by pipes to a gas tank in the basement. His bedroom had controls that could fill these rooms with gas. Holmes’ basement also contained a lab with equipment used for dissections.

Young women in the area, along with tourists who had come to see the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and had rented out rooms in Holmes’ castle, suddenly began disappearing. Medical schools purchased many human skeletons from Dr. Holmes during this period but never asked how he obtained the anatomy specimens.

Holmes was finally caught after attempting to use another corpse in an insurance scam. He confessed, saying, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.” Reportedly, authorities discovered the remains of over 200 victims on his property.

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Patty Hearst was Kidnapped (February 4, 1974)

This week (January 30 – February 5) in crime history – Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated (January 30, 1948); Andrew Jackson narrowly escaped assassination (January 30, 1835); Prosecutors announce intention to retry Ray Buckey in the McMartin Preschool molestation case (January 31, 1990); Guy Fawkes kills himself moments before his execution (January 31, 1606); Ted Bundy murdered University of Washington student (February 1, 1974); King Carlos I of Portugal and his heir were assassinated (February 1, 1908); Murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor February 2, 1922); Barnett Davenport committed mass murder in rural Connecticut (February 3, 1780); Patty Hearst was kidnapped (February 4, 1974); Medger Evers assassin was convicted (February 5, 1994)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst, granddaughter daughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California, apartment. Stephen Weed, Hearst’s fiancĂ©, was beaten unconscious by the two abductors. Soon, a ransom demand came from the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical activist group led by Donald DeFreeze.
DeFreeze had formed the SLA in 1973 after he escaped from prison. About two years before Hearst’s kidnapping, an SLA bomb-making factory had been discovered by the police. On November 6, 1973, the SLA shot and killed Marcus Foster, Oakland’s superintendent of schools, with bullets laced with cyanide.
The SLA instructed Hearst’s father to distribute $70 in food for ever poor person from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Hearst agreed to give away $2 million to the poor in Oakland. The Black Muslims, Malcolm X’s former organization, were chosen to manage the food distribution, which turned into a riot when more than 10,000 people showed up and fought for the food. Afterwards, the SLA demanded an additional $6 million giveaway. Hearst refused and they did not release Patty.
The Hearst story took a strange and unexpected turn two months after the abduction, when the SLA robbed the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. The surveillance cameras clearly showed that Patty Hearst was one of the machine gun-toting robbers. Soon after followed a taped message from the SLA in which Hearst claimed that she had voluntarily joined the SLA and was now to be known as “Tania.”
On May 17, 1974, police were tipped that the SLA leaders were at a Los Angeles home. With 400 police and FBI agents outside the house, a tremendous gun battle broke out. The police threw gas canisters into the house and then shot at them, sparking a fire in which DeFreeze and five other SLA members died. However, Hearst was not inside the house. She was not found until September 1975.
Patty Hearst was put on trial for armed robbery and convicted, despite her claim that she had been coerced, through repeated rape, isolation, and brainwashing, into joining the SLA. Prosecutors believed that she actually orchestrated her own kidnapping because of her prior involvement with one of the SLA members. Despite any real proof of this theory, she was convicted and sent to prison. President Carter commuted Hearst’s sentence after she had served almost two years. Hearst was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Brenda Spencer - "I Don't Like Mondays" (January 29, 1979)

This week (January 23-29) in crime history – Emmett Till’s murderers publish confessions on Look magazine (January 24, 1956); BTK Killer sends message to Wichita television station (January 25, 2005); Charles Manson and three of his followers were convicted of multiple murders (January 25, 1971); The Mad Butcher of Cleveland claimed third victim (January 26, 1936); The Vampire of Sacramento murdered three victims (January 27, 1978); Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate began their murderous crime spree (January 28, 1958); Brenda Spencer shot and killed two and wounded eight children at a San Diego area school (January 29, 1979)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On January 29, 1979, teenager Brenda Spencer shot and killed two school employees as they enter the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. Eight children and a police officer were wounded in the attack. Spencer blazed away with rifle shots from her home directly across the street from the school. After twenty minutes of shooting, police surrounded Spencer’s home for six hours before she surrendered. Asked for some explanation for the attack, Spencer allegedly said, “I just don’t like Mondays. I did this because it’s a way to cheer up the day. Nobody likes Mondays.”
Spencer was only sixteen-years-old at the time of her murderous attack and suffered with anger issues. In the weeks leading up to the mass shooting, Spencer had repeatedly shot out windows at the Cleveland school with a BB gun. Still, her father gave her a .22 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition as a Christmas gift at the end of 1978.
This seemed to inspire the young girl into more grandiose plans, and she started telling her classmates that she was going to do something big to get on television. When Monday morning rolled around, Burton Wragg, the principal of Cleveland Elementary, was opening the gates of the school when Spencer began firing her rifle from across the street. Wragg and custodian Michael Suchar were killed. When asked why she had committed the shooting Spencer stated, “I just did it for the fun of it, I don’t like Mondays.”
Spencer’s statements were later memorialized by Bob Geldof, the leader of the rock group The Boomtown Rats, in the song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.”
Spencer eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to twenty-five years to life at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California and has been dined parole multiple times.
Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: