I’m pleased to share with you this guest blog post by Steph Mullin & Nicole Mabry, authors of The Family Tree. Below they share with you some true crime cases you may not have heard of before…
For avid true crime listeners and readers, it can be hard to come by criminal cases that are unheard of. There is a seemingly endless supply of episodes to listen to, articles and books to read, and limited TV series making their way into our homes daily. But some cases tend to get overlooked more than others, cast in the shadows of famous serial killers and already well-known unsolved mysteries. These lesser discussed cases, however, are just as dark, twisted, and intriguing as the rest. In The Family Tree, it was important to us to show our fictional serial killer’s victims as real humans, rather than focusing only on the killer himself, although his routine and motivations were important to the story as well. His character, and how he was discovered for his crimes, was heavily influenced by true crime stories we had followed closely over the years. So, to shine a light on more victims’ stories and delve into the complex histories of the dark individuals who perpetrated the crimes, here’s a roundup of some cases you may not know much about.
- THE MURDER OF DOROTHY JANE SCOTT
Anaheim, California, 1980
Dorothy was a 32-year-old woman who disappeared after taking a co-worker to a hospital following a company meeting. As the co-worker finished up his medical care, Dorothy exited the hospital to retrieve her car to pick him up closer to the doors since he was in pain. Instead of arriving back at the doors as expected, her car was seen quickly exiting the parking lot, the headlights too bright to see who was driving, and never returned. After police were notified, a search for Dorothy over the following weeks turned up nothing except for her burned abandoned vehicle. What makes this case stranger, is the reports that Dorothy had been receiving threatening calls in the weeks leading up to her disappearance where an unidentified male voice recounted things from her life, as though she was being closely watched, and claiming he was going to hurt her. Then, almost every week for the next four years, the man who harassed her continued to call her house and speak to her mother, asking to speak to Dorothy or recounting creepy details as he claimed to be the one to murder her. In 1984, Dorothy’s skeletal remains were found. The caller, as well as her death and disappearance, remain a mystery.
2. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF BRANDON SWANSON
Minnesota, May 14, 2008
Many of us have heard of the baffling Maura Murray case, especially after it aired in a special series on Oxygen. But the case of Brandon Swanson is eerily similar and perplexing, with interesting theories on what could have happened to him. On May 14, 2008, 19-year-old Brandon Swanson left a party celebrating the end of spring semester and drove his car into a ditch on his way home. He called his parents and told them he thought he was somewhere near Lynd, Minnesota. Annette and Brian Swanson drove to where Brandon said he was, keeping him on the phone as they drove, even though Brandon’s phone kept dropping due to poor service. But after driving around the area and flashing their lights, the Swanson’s could not find Brandon or his car. Brandon finally gave up and left his car, saying he was going to walk toward lights he saw in the distance, believing it was the small town of Lynd, and would meet them at the parking lot of a local bar. The Swanson’s kept Brian on the phone while they drove to the location. But at 2:30 a.m., Brandon suddenly said, “Oh shit!” and went silent before the call was ended. He was never seen or heard from again. When his parents reported him missing, the police didn’t initially do a search because he “had a right to be missing,” they said. But when a search finally was done around Lynd, they found nothing, not even Brandon’s abandoned car. After searching his cell phone records, police found that Brandon had been calling from the vicinity of Taunton, some 25-miles away from Lynd. They moved their search and found Brandon’s car in a ditch off a gravel road. During a search near the car, bloodhounds picked up a trail that led to the Yellow Medicine River. One theory is that Brandon fell into the river and drowned. But his body was never found in the water, even after searches were done. Another theory is that the lights Brandon mentioned were from a spacecraft, and Brandon’s “Oh shit!” was because of what he saw just before he was abducted by aliens. Other theories have been tossed around, like the possibility of foul play or Brandon encountering a wild animal that killed him and dragged his body away. We may never know what happened to Brandon, but as a result of his case, a new Minnesota law came into effect after Annette Swanson helped introduce a bill called Brandon’s Law that requires law enforcement to immediately conduct searches for any adult reported missing under 21 years old.
3. THE SPEED FREAK KILLERS
San Joaquin County, CA 1990’s
While many may have heard of this case, what happened years after the murderers were locked up may have gone under the radar. Childhood friends, Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine, also known as The Speed Freak Killers due to their severe methamphetamine abuse, were collectively convicted of multiple murders. But the pair were suspected of killing many more around San Joaquin County, California before their arrests in 1999. At the time of their convictions, Herzog was given a 78-year sentence and Shermantine was sentenced to death. However, in 2004, Herzog won an appeal and later reached a plea deal which got him paroled in 2010. Now here’s where it gets interesting. Around the time of Herzog’s parole, Shermantine’s sister, Barbara, began receiving letters from Shermantine laying out the location of additional victims’ remains in an abandoned well. Barbara handed the letters over to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s department, but when they interviewed the property owner, he informed them that the well in question had been sealed before the victims went missing. So, the well was not searched! But in 2012, bounty hunter, Leonard Padilla, offered Shermantine a sizable sum of money to draw maps to where the still-missing remains were located. Shermantine agreed and Padilla then called Herzog, warning him that Shermantine was about to give up their secrets, which could lead to new charges for Herzog. He did not take the news well and ended up hanging himself. After Padilla turned the maps over to the authorities, the well that was supposedly sealed prior to the crimes was excavated. More than 1,000 bones fragments were found in the well. Nicole’s childhood friend who works at a biology lab in California was part of the team who identified the bones from the well.
4. THE TOY BOX KILLER
Albuquerque, NM, Late 1990’s
We’ve heard stories about killer couples, but the story of David Parker Ray, The Toy Box Killer, and his accomplice girlfriend, Cindy Hendy is particularly chilling. Although no bodies were found, the pair are suspected of murdering as many as 60 women from Arizona and New Mexico. It wasn’t until 1999, when Cynthia Vigil was kidnapped and tortured before outsmarting her captors and escaping, when the true horror of Ray and Hendy came to light. Vigil told authorities that she’d been chained to a gynecological-type table and raped and tortured repeatedly by Ray, with Hendy assisting. They used whips, electrical devices and medical instruments in their devious deeds. She was forced to call Ray and Hendy “Master” and “Mistress.” But what is most chilling about this crime is that Ray played a recording for Vigil before the torture began, detailing what he was going to do to her. After Vigil escaped, police searched the couple’s home and soundproof trailer, Ray’s “Toy Box,” where they found the table Vigil had spoken of, with a mirror on the ceiling above so victims were forced to watch what was being done to them. The walls were blanketed with diagrams of different methods to inflict pain. They also found chains, straps, clamps, leg spreaders and surgical blades among a plethora of sex toys and other torture devices. Many personal affects and jewelry items were also found, pointing to a likely higher count of unknown victims. Through their investigation, police also discovered that Ray’s daughter, Glenda “Jesse” Ray and her friend Dennis Roy Yancy had also helped and participated in the disturbing crimes.
5. RICHARD CHASE, THE VAMPIRE OF SACRAMENTO
California, Late 1970’s
Richard Chase is probably the more famous of the cases in this roundup, but the horrible details surrounding his crimes make it worth examining all the same. Chase got his moniker “The Vampire of Sacramento” due to his proclivity to drinking his victims’ blood. It’s even reported that at times, he was convinced that his heart had stopped, a walking dead man. He had been in and out of psychiatric care, but unfortunately his mental health continued to worsen. He was known to enter homes by trying doorknobs as he walked down the street, saying later during a police interview that he felt an unlocked door was an invitation inside that justified his actions in killing the person who lived there. His crimes were gruesome, shooting his victims before cannibalizing them. In the end, he committed suicide in prison by overdosing on his prescribed medications he had been stockpiling.
BONUS HISTORICAL CASE
COUNTESS ELIZABETH BATHORY
Hungary, 17th Century
In the 17th century, Elizabeth Bathory was a wealthy and powerful Hungarian noblewoman. At the age of 15, Bathory married Count Ferenc Nadasdy and subsequently had five children, two who died as infants. After she became a widow in 1604, Bathory took control of the sizable estate. Bathory’s long list of crimes against female servants and noblewomen include covering her victims in honey and leaving them outside to be devoured by insects, stripping the women naked and forcing them into ice baths, plunging needles into their fingers or cutting their noses or lips, biting and burning their flesh, including their genitals, and some depictions show Bathory bathing in the blood of her victims in an attempt to remain youthful. In 1610, after many allegations from noblewomen, Count György Thurzó went to Bathory’s castle to investigate. The allegations from servants were not a concern for authorities, but a crime against a woman of noble birth was indeed noteworthy. When Thurzó arrived, he caught Bathory in the act of torturing a victim and immediately imprisoned her to her home. What’s interesting and horrifying is that four of Bathory’s servants were arrested, questioned, tortured and three of them sentenced to death for burying multiple bodies at Bathory’s behest, while Bathory herself was never even put on trial. Because of her powerful family name, she was only isolated to her castle as punishment where she remained until her death. It’s suggested that Bathory killed at least 600 victims, earning her the nickname, “The Blood Countess.”
Huge thanks to Avon Books and both Steph and Nicole for the guest post.
The Family Tree is out now and you can read my review for it right HERE.