this day in crime history: november 13, 1974

HighHopes

On this date in 1974, 23 year old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. walked into Henry’s Bar in Amityville, NY and announced that he thought his parents had been shot. Several people left the bar with him and went to his house to check on his parents. As it turns out, they were dead in their bed. The police were called. When they arrived, they searched the house and discovered that DeFeo’s four younger siblings, two brothers and two sisters, were also dead in their respective beds. All six family members had been shot.

DeFeo, a known troublemaker and drug abuser, spun a tale for police about a mob hitman killing his parents. As the investigation progressed, details of DeFeo’s story didn’t hold up. He eventually confessed to all six of the murders.

At trial, DeFeo and his attorney, William Weber, attempted an insanity defense. The jury didn’t buy it, and Defeo was convicted of six counts of second degree murder. He was given six consecutive twenty-five to life sentences. DeFeo is currently incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility. His next parole hearing is in July 2017.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s probably because it was this crime, and DeFeo’s attempt at an insanity defense, that were the inspiration for the story of The Amityville Horror.

Further reading:

The Amityville Murders

Wikipedia – Rondald DeFeo, Jr.

Amityville: Horror or Hoax

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this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns

this day in crime history: september 16, 1920

On this date in 1920, an unidentified man stopped his horse-drawn cart in front of the J. P. Morgan building on Wall Street. He got down from the cart and disappeared into the noontime crowd. A short while later, a bomb consisting of dynamite and cast iron slugs detonated on the busy street. Thirty-eight people were killed and over four hundred were injured. Police conducted an exhaustive investigation that lasted over three years, but the case was never solved.

Further reading:

The Street.com: “Previous Terror on Wall Street — A Look at a 1920 Bombing”

FBI: Terror on Wall Street

Wikipedia: “Wall Street bombing”

this day in crime history: september 4, 1977

SF Imperial Palace

On this date in 1977, a feud between two of San Francisco’s  Chinese street gangs led to a slaughter at the Golden Dragon restaurant. The Joe Boys were angry over the recent death of one of their members in a gunfight with the rival Wah Ching gang. Acting on a tip that a senior Wah Ching member would be at the Golden Dragon, a group of Joe Boys descended on the restaurant armed with shotguns and semi-automatic weapons. Upon entering the restaurant, they fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Five innocent bystanders were killed and eleven wounded. The target of the hit, Michael “Hot Dog” Louie, escaped unscathed.

Police rounded up five members of the Joe Boys. They were tried and convicted in connection with the murder. A  retaliation by the Wah Ching followed the massacre, which was then followed by the formation of the San Francisco Police Department’s  Asian Gang Task Force. The Golden Dragon went out of business in 2006. It’s location is now the home of the Imperial Palace restaurant.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Golden Dragon massacre

Found SF – The Golden Dragon Restaurant Massacre

Mister SF – Golden Dragon Massacre

this day in crime history: august 20, 1986

USPSmemorial
Memorial to the incident in Edmond, OK

On this date in 1986, Postal Service employee Patrick Sherrill went on a shooting spree in a post office in Edmonds, OK. Twenty people were shot, leaving fourteen dead and six injured. At the conclusion of his rampage, Sherrill turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. It is believed that the shooting may have been motivated by a reprimand that Sherrill had received the day before. The incident is often credited with inspiring the phrase “going postal.”

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Patrick Henry Sherrill

Wikipedia – Patrick Sherrill

Time“Crazy Pat’s” Revenge

this day in crime history: august 15, 1914

JulianCarlton

On this date in 1914, Julian Carlton (pictured above) murdered seven people on the estate of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Carlton, a native of Barbados, was employed as a servant at Taliesin, Wright’s estate near Spring Green, WI. Wright was out of town on the day of the murders. Carlton struck during lunch. Several estate employees were in the dining room, Wright’s mistress and two children on a nearby screened in porch. Carlton bolted all but one of the dining room doors shut. He poured gas under the doors and started a fire. After starting the fire, he ran to the screened-in porch and murdered Martha “Mamah” Borthwick and her two children with an ax. He then waited outside the dining room and attacked the employees as they tried to escape the fire. Three employees and the thirteen year old son of the estate’s head carpenter were killed. Only two of the dining room’s occupants survived.

After the fire was under control, Wright’s neighbors went looking for Carlton. They found him hiding in the basement furnace room. He had attempted unsuccessfully to commit suicide by drinking muriatic acid. Carlton was brought to the local jail, and later made several court appearances. He died of starvation before coming to trial. He never gave a reason for the attack. Calrton’s wife Gertrude, who worked at the estate as a cook, claimed she did not know why her husband committed the murders.

Further reading:

Provedentia – The Taliesin Murders

Wikipedia – Frank Lloyd Wright

this day in crime history: may 22, 1962

CA-Flt11

On this date in 1962, Continental Airlines Flight 11, enroute from Chicago to Kansas City, MO, crashed in Unionville, MO, killing all 45 of the Boeing 707’s occupants.

Several eyewitness accounts described an explosion at the rear of the plane while it was over Centerville, IA. Once it became apparent that an explosive device might be involved, the FBI was called in. They discovered that one of the passengers had purchased an inordinate amount of life insurance just prior to the flight. In addition to insurance, Thomas G. Doty also purchased six sticks of dynamite before his trip. The married father of a five year old daughter was facing prison time for an armed robbery.

Investigators believed that the bomb had been hidden in the rear lavatory on the starboard side of the plane. The explosion tore the tail section off the 707, which caused it to crash.

In July 2010, a memorial was erected in Unionville, MO.

Further reading:

Pitch News – Fifty years ago this week, Continental Flight 11 fell out of the sky over Unionville

Wikipedia – Continental Airlines Flight 11

Continental Airlines Flight 11 Facebook Page

Continental Airline Flight 11 Blog