this day in crime history: july 15, 1997

Cunanan

On this day in 1997, fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed outside his home in Miami Beach, FL. Versace’s killer, Andrew Cunanan, had gone on a killing spree that started three months earlier in Minneapolis. Versace was Cunanan’s fifth and final (known) victim. Cunanan committed suicide on July 24th on a houseboat in Miami. His motive for the killings remains unknown.

Further reading:

FBI: Serial Killers – Andrew Cunanan Murders a Fashion Icon

Crime Museum – Versace Murder

Wikipedia – Andrew Cunanan

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this day in crime history: july 12, 1979

On this date in 1979, acting Bonanno crime family boss Carmine “The Cigar” Galante was murdered at a restaurant in Brooklyn. Galante, whose tenure as boss caused friction with the other New York crime families, had engineered the assassination of several Gambino family members in order to take over their narcotics trafficking business.

By the middle of 1979, the bosses of the other families agreed to have Galante killed. On July 12th, he was having lunch at a restaurant with Bonanno family members Leonard Coppola and Giuseppe Turano. Two Sicilian bodyguards stood watch as the men dined. As they finished lunch, three masked men walked up and opened fire with pistols and shotguns. Galante and his two companions were killed. The bodyguards, who took no action to protect Galante, were unharmed.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Carmine Galante

FBI Records – Carmine Galante

this day in crime history: july 8, 1898

On this date in 1898, con-man and gangster Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith uttered his last words: “My God, don’t shoot!” What do you think happened next? If your guess was “He was shot,” give yourself 10 points. Soapy was killed in a dispute over a game of three-card monte, among other things.

Further reading:

Alias Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men

Leadville & Twin Lakes, Colorado History: The Story of Jefferson Randolph (Soapy) Smith

Legends of America: Soapy Smith – Bunko Man of the Old West

Soapy Smith’s Soapbox

this day in crime history: july 2, 1881

On this date in 1881, President James A. Garfield was shot in the back and arm at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station in Washington, D.C. The wounds were not immediately fatal, and the president lingered until September 19th when he died of complications from his injuries. He was the second US president to be assassinated. Had he been shot 20 years later, medical science probably would have been able to save President Garfield, a point not lost on assassin Charles Guiteau. “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him,” Guiteau proclaimed at his trial. Be that as it may, Guiteau was convicted of murdering the president in January of 1882. He was executed on June 30, 1882.

Further reading:

The Assassination of James A. Garfield, By Robert Kingsbury

Wikipedia – Assassination of James A. Garfield

Last Words of Assassin Charles Guiteau

Nobody Move – This Day in Crime History: June 30, 1882

this day in crime history: june 29, 1978

Hogan

On this date in 1978, actor Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes) was found murdered in a hotel room in Scottsdale, AZ. His head had been bashed in and a VCR cord was tied around his neck. Cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Police suspected Crane’s friend John Carpenter (no relation to the film director). He was finally arrested and tried for Crane’s murder in 1992. The jury found him not guilty. He died of a heart attack in 1998, so whatever secrets Carpenter knew about the murder went to the grave with him.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Bob Crane

findadeath.com – Bob’s Cranium

this day in crime history: june 26, 1957

perpwalk

On this day in 1957, Margaret Harold was out for a drive near Annapolis, MD with her boyfriend, a US Army Sergeant. The couple was run off the road by a man in a green Chrysler. When the other driver got out of the car, he confronted them and shot Harold in the face. The soldier managed to escape. He ran to a nearby house to call police.

When police arrived, they had little to go on. While the boyfriend was calling police, the killer had removed Harold’s clothing and sexually assaulted her. After searching the area, they discovered an abandoned building that had apparently been broken into. Violent porn and autopsy photos had been left there.

In January 1959, Carroll and Mildred Jackson and their two daughters disappeared in Virginia. Their abandoned car was found on the side of a road, but there was no indication of what may have happened to the family. In early March, the body of Carroll Jackson was found in a ditch near Fredericksburg, VA. He had been shot in the back of the head. The body of one of his daughters was found underneath his.

On March 21, 1959, The bodies of Mildred Jackson and one of her daughters were found near Annapolis, MD. Both bodies showed signs of torture and sexual assault. A search of the area found the abandoned building thought to the the hideout of Margaret Harold’s killer. Inside the building, they found a button from Mildred Jackson’s dress. At that point, police were convinced the two crimes were related.

Police in Fredericksburg received an anonymous letter naming Melvin Rees, a local a salesman, as the killer. But Rees vanished before they could question him. In 1960, police received another anonymous letter, apparently from the author of the first letter, informing them that Rees had surfaced in Arkansas. The letter writer, later identified as Glenn Moser, had previously worked with Rees. Moser had been creeped out by a conversation he had had with Rees the day before the Jackson family disappeared. He also could place Rees near Annapolis on the date of the Harold murder.

Police arrested Rees. When they searched his house, they found a note describing the Jackson family murders. Margaret Harold’s boyfriend later identified Rees as her killer. Melvin Rees was tried and convicted in Maryland. He was sentenced to life in prison. He was then tried and convicted in Virginia, where he was sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life.

Melvin Rees was suspected in four other murders near the University of Maryland, but police were never able to link him to the crimes. He died in prison in 1995.

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Melvin Rees

Wikipedia – Melvin Rees

this day in crime history: june 25, 1906

murderatthegarden

On this date in 1906, prominent architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden. The shooter was Harry Kendall Thaw, of Pittsburgh. Thaw, the heir to a multimillion dollar fortune, held a grudge against White, whom he blamed for thwarting his efforts to achieve the respect of high society. White was also the former lover of Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been a popular model and chorus girl and was the inspiration for the movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.

At trial, Thaw went with a temporary insanity defense (“temporary” probably being the only part that was exaggerated). The jury wound up deadlocked. At the second trial, Evelyn Nesbit took the stand and testified that Stanford White had abused her and that Thaw was just acting in her defense. She performed this task in exchange for the promise of a divorce and a million dollars from Thaw.  The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Thaw received a sentence to the state mental hospital at Matteawan. Nesbit received her divorce, but not the money.

Thaw escaped from Matteawan in 1913 and fled to Canada. He was eventually apprehended and extradited to New York. After receiving a new trial, he was found sane and not guilty of murder. He was released from state custody in 1915.

Thaw was arrested again in 1916, this time for the abduction and sexual assault of 19 year old Frederick Gump (no relation to Forrest). He was found not guilty by reason of insanity (it’s like déjà vu all over again). In 1924, Thaw was judged sane and released from the asylum where he had been incarcerated.

Harry Thaw died of a heart attack in Florida in 1947. In his will, he left Evelyn Nesbit ten thousand dollars, about one percent of his estimated net worth.

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Harry Thaw

Wikipedia – Harry Kendall Thaw

IMDb – The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing