E24: Missing in Utah- The Case of Susan Cox Powell

If you feel unsafe or at risk in your home, please do not wait until it’s too late. Call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, visit https://www.thehotline.org/ or text LOVEIS to 22522

Susan Cox was born October 16th, 1981 in New Mexico to her parents Charles, also known as Chuck, and Judy Cox. She was the third daughter for the family, who moved from New Mexico to Alaska before settling into life in Washington State. Her family describes her here, for the Susan Cox Powell Foundation: 

“Susan is an outgoing, optimistic person with a servant’s heart and boundless energy. She is characterized by her faith in her Heavenly Father, her determination to provide for her children and her belief that families are forever.”

Susan Cox Powell

Susan was raised Mormon, and was very devoted to her faith, regularly attending services at her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She also sought out relationships and friendships in that community as well.  In November of 2000, when Susan was 19, she was taking a course at the LDS Institute of Religion, and she attended a little dinner party with her classmates where she met Joshua Powell. Josh was a little bit older than Susan,  24, but he had a decent job, a good head on his shoulders, and Susan was very drawn to him right away. 

Susan Cox and Josh Powell, the early days

Josh’s upbringing was not quite as loving and faithful as Susan’s. Though he was also raised in the LDS church, by the time he met Susan his faith was really shaken. His parents Steven and Terrica had a total of five children, and what was known as a very tumultuous marriage. When Josh was 16, they finally divorced after years of arguments and tension. Terrica said in court documents that Steven was really pressuring her to add a second wife to their relationship- plural marriage- but that she was not interested. She alleged that he must have cheated though, regardless, because she claims he gave her an STI. The court documents also show that Terrica alleged some pretty dark things about Steven’s parenting, to boot. She claimed he watched pornography around the boys, and even pitted them against eachother and encouraged them to fight. All of this really contributed to some major mental health issues for Josh who tried to take his own life at least once as a teenager. 

Still, despite their differences, Susan believed that if anyone could bring Josh back to his faith, it was her, and she was also very eager to settle down and fulfill her dream of becoming a mother. 

Susan and Josh Powell’s Wedding

By April of 2001, just five months after they’d met, Susan and Josh married at the Portland Oregon Temple. After their wedding, they lived for a time with Josh’s father Steven, but eventually relocated to West Valley City, Utah where they settled in and went on to have two little boys- Charlie in 2005, and Braden in 2007. 

Left to right: Braden Powell, Susan Powell, Charlie Powell, and Josh Powell

December 6, 2009 was a Sunday that started like any other for the Powell family at their West Valley City home. Susan began by taking the kids to church, something she rarely missed. That afternoon back at the house, a neighbor stopped by for a visit. She says that Josh offered to make dinner for them all, which was a nice treat for Susan since she usually did most of the cooking and cleaning, and they all went to town on a really typical dad-feast of pancakes- breakfast for dinner! 

Throughout the meal, Susan began to say that she wasn’t feeling very well. Around 5pm, Susan said she was feeling so off that she decided to try to take a little nap. She went to bed, and Josh said he was going to take the boys sledding, presumably to get out of mom’s hair so she could rest. The neighbor said her farewells, and that is the last time anyone would see the Powell family before everything changed forever. 

The next morning, Charlie and Braden’s daycare provider grew concerned when the boys didn’t arrive at their normal drop off time. If it was Josh’s day to drop the boys off, she might not have reacted so strongly- he was prone to showing up at any odd time, but not Susan. On Mondays, Susan always dropped the boys off early. When the daycare provider couldn’t reach either Susan or Josh by phone by 9am, she grew worried and called the emergency contacts- Josh’s mom Terrica, and Josh’s sister Jennifer Graves. They also called their jobs only to find that neither parent had shown up for work that day, so Terrica and Jennifer rushed over to the Powell home to check on them. When they found no one there, they feared a carbon monoxide leak or some other emergency and called the police. 

Powell Family’s West Valley Home

Officers met them at the home, and with Josh’s mom’s permission they broke in only to find no sign at all of the family. There were a couple points of note that really stood out to the responding officers though:

 1) Susan’s purse was still there, something her family said she’d not have left behind of course

2) The carpet and/or the couch were all wet as if maybe they’d just been deep cleaned, with two box fans set up blowing them dry. 

Two fans blew on the wet carpet and/or couch at the scene

While everyone in the Powell family’s circle feverishly searched for them, Josh casually pulled into the family driveway around 5pm that evening. He and the boys piled out, and for a second everyone was thrilled to see them all a-ok, but that excitement quickly faded when they noticed Susan wasn’t with them. When they wanted to know where Susan was, he just said “I don’t know, I guess she went to work.” Of course everyone was immediately wondering where on earth they’d been all day, and he told them that he’d taken the boys camping. 

This immediately raised some questions for investigators, because the previous night had actually been very cold and snowy. Remember, this was December in Utah. They asked Josh to meet them the next day for a formal and official interview. But that appointment time came and went with no Josh, and his family found him there at the house deep cleaning when he was supposed to be at the station. Eventually he strolled in, four hours late, and they carried on with their questioning. 

This is only the beginning of the red flags we find coming from the Powell family in the disappearance of Josh’s wife Susan- there’s so many, I know I’ll miss some tonight for the sake of brevity- there were a couple answers Josh gave early on that really seemed to stand out to everyone as not making a lot of sense. For starters, Josh stated that he wasn’t answering his phone the day of Susan’s disappearance because it was dying and he needed to conserve battery, but one of the investigators who saw him arrive on scene says it was plugged into a charger cable. Also, Josh says Susan must’ve gone to work and even left a voicemail for her saying he went by to pick her up, but someone during the day actually had gotten ahold of him and claims he knew she wasn’t there and everyone was looking for her. Furthermore, Josh claimed that he was confused on his days, and he thought it was Saturday night when he left for camping, not Sunday, and that’s why he didn’t show up for work on Monday- but if that’s the case, then why was he so convinced that Susan was at work? Josh also had some cuts on his hands that he had no explanation for.

And let’s talk about the camping: Who takes a two year old and a five year old camping in the middle of the night in a snowstorm? Josh claims he did this because the boys wanted s’mores.  

Detectives were not buying that anymore than you or I are right now, and they actually sent investigators to the campground to have a look around. There was absolutely no sign that anyone had been to that particular campground in some time, let alone built a fire and had s’mores. In fact, police even had trouble conducting the search because the snow was so heavy. 

During Josh’s interview, the police seized the family van as evidence, and so when the interview concluded he rented a car, and took off for two days. No one knows where, no one knows what he did, and no one admits they spoke to him during that time, but there were 800 miles more on the car when he returned it. 

While the Cox family initially showed support for Josh, it wasn’t long before the investigation revealed some startling indications that Susan was not happy in her marriage. Though everyone in Susan’s life agreed they weren’t ever all that crazy about Josh, Susan had done a good job of only sharing bits and pieces of their problems, so it wasn’t until they all began comparing notes about things she’d said to them that they realized there’d been some cries for help. 

Josh had been extremely controlling toward both Susan and the boys. He controlled what their family ate, even only allowing the boys to split a hot dog because they were only going to “poop it out anyway”. Susan wasn’t allowed to use the car without his permission, and he almost always took it with him so she had to bike 7 miles to and from work. He kept a strict budget and made Susan DIY as much as possible, including knit the family’s socks. One of the sources we used even says that Josh made Susan call and get a ride to the hospital when she was in labor with Charlie. He missed Charlie’s birth entirely because he was backing up his computer. 

While the investigation continued, police found even more suspicious evidence in the Powell family home. Susan had been keeping journals her whole life, and had many entries showing she was not at all happy in her marriage and might be seeking a way out. She had contacted a divorce attorney, and at his encouragement she’d made videos of their belongings to catalog their assets. On the video she says she hopes they live happily ever after, but just in case she was doing the film. 

Perhaps the most alarming thing investigators found wasn’t in the Powell family home at all. It was hidden in a safe deposit box that Susan kept at the bank where she worked-  a hand-written makeshift last will and testament. In this she detailed how bad her marriage had become, and the fact that Josh had taken out a $1million dollar life insurance policy on her. In her own words, she wrote “If I die… it may not be an accident” 

Police also discovered that prior to Susan’s disappearance, Josh had attempted to move some money out of her retirement account, and even tried to cancel other important policies she had in place. At this point, they declared him an official person of interest in his wife’s disappearance, and Susan’s family could now see him for who they felt he really was, and they were devastated that he wasn’t arrested, but authorities simply didn’t feel they had enough without a body. 

Josh’s family fiercely defended him, and they didn’t take this announcement lying down. The only outlier in this was Josh’s sister Jennifer. Jennifer even offered to wear a wire tap to family dinner at one point, but no one confessed to anything, and her questioning only seemed to alienate her from her siblings and father even more. Josh and his dad Steven started what could only be called a smear campaign against Susan, basically announcing to the world that she’s a whore and a liar. They even started a website made to discredit her reputation, and they publicly stated that she was having an affair with a local reporter who went missing around the same time. To be clear, there’s never been any connection between the reporter and Susan, and I do believe the reporter was eventually found. 

What’s really interesting here, is that this seems to be a major change of opinion coming from Josh’s dad Steven. Susan’s journal entries and the interviews with her friends and family revealed that Steven actually had a bit of a fixation on Susan that made her kind of uncomfortable. They even say that the reason Susan and Josh relocated to Utah in the first place was because when they were staying with Steven in Washington, he had suggested that they SHARE her, and Susan was rightfully pretty horrified. 

Steven Powell, Josh’s Dad with Josh

After Susan disappeared, Josh had moved in with his Dad again, and as part of their smear campaign against his missing wife, Josh claimed that he had seen her childhood diaries which would “prove” she had run away because she was a “sexual deviant” of some sort. The problem was authorities couldn’t prove that these diaries were really in their possession, so they had no probable cause to search Steven Powell’s home.  So they brilliantly set up a public scene in an attempt to bait Steven into admitting something that would get a judge to sign the search warrant. At this point in the investigation, Susan’s dad Chuck and Josh’s dad Steven had built up a very public feud, so authorities set Susan’s family up with what’s called a honk and wave at a grocery store parking lot. 

The plan worked, and before long Steven showed up to rant and rave and was fully getting in the grieving family’s face. He was yelling horrible things about Susan, and just as investigators suspected he gleefully announced that they had evidence at home that would prove Susan was a liar. That was all that was needed, and a warrant was soon signed, sealed and delivered. The unexpected revelations they found in Steven’s home continue to shock the nation 13 years later. 

Steven Powell at a court appearance

In a somewhat unrelated twist, Steven was found to be in possession of child pornography and actual voyueristic photographs he’d taken of neighborhood children, young girls!! He was swiftly arrested, thankfully, and as they continued to comb through the evidence they discovered that his infatuation with his daughter in law was far beyond what they could have even imagined. 

Steven had kept logs of Susan’s behavior, along with tons of video and photo evidence to show that he’d been watching her for years.  Despite the fact that these photos were taken from a distance, and it did not look at all like she knew she was being followed or watched, you can hear Steven’s voice in the background as he convinces himself that she’s doing it for him, and that she desperately and secretly loves and wants him just as much as he wants her. As if the stalking wasn’t creepy enough, the investigation also uncovered a ton of little baggies labeled “Susan” filled with her personal things like cotton swabs, nail clippings, and hair. He’d also written at least one incredible skeevy love song about their secret love. One which, according to everyone in Susan’s life, was completely uninvited and unrequited. 

Steven’s collection of thousands of photos of Susan
Steven’s collection of Susan’s underwear, used toiletries, etc
Steven had journals, audio recordings, video recordings, and homemade music videos detailing his love for his daughter in law

When Steven was arrested, this prompted another man to come forward saying that in late December of 2009, just a few weeks after Susan’s disappearance, Michael Powell- Josh’s brother- had sold him a car for scrap for only $100. He had thought it was very odd on it’s own without even recognizing the connection to Susan, but when he heard of Steven’s arrest two years later, his spidey senses started tingling- “wait a minute, that powell family??” and he called authorities. Though they’d gotten rid of much of the car by then, what was left was searched by a cadaver dog named Tug. Tug blew right past all the other cars and went straight to Michael’s, indicating that there had been human remains in the vehicle. Investigators waited with baited breath, hoping that this was a break in the case they needed, but no DNA linking the car to Susan could be recovered, and they returned their focus back to Steven and Josh. 

Despite the vile, nauseating behavior that Steven Powell was arrested for, there was still nothing concrete that could connect him to the disappearance of Susan. Police also focused their attentions on Josh’s belongings, and they did discover some disturbing content, what they called simulated child pornography- basically animated cartoon kiddie porn. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t “real” it wasn’t illegal, and rather than arresting Josh they had to let him go. It did lead to the boys being removed temporarily from his custody though, and they were sent to live with Susan’s parents Chuck and Judy while Josh was waiting for a full psycho- sexual evaluation. As part of this parental competency evaluation, police were excited because it meant he could be given a full polygraph exam that he couldn’t decline, and they could ask him anything they wanted, so everyone was hopeful this could lead to some answers. 

Chuck and Judy Cox with their grandsons

Little Charlie, who was 5 when his mom went missing, was also interviewed by a forensic child psychologist during the investigation. While it’s tricky to take the memory of a small child into account, he did make some statements that everyone involved found alarming at best. Over the course of his two meetings, he told the interviewer that they went camping with mommy but she stayed where the crystals are. He also said that he’s not allowed to talk about Susan or camping. He said “I have to keep a lot of secrets.” Similarly, while Charlie was in the Cox’s custody, he drew a family photo of his dad, and his brother, and himself- then he pointed to the trunk and said that’s where mommy was. Chuck and Judy also say that when the boys came to live with them, their behavior was completely out of control- it was as if they’d had no discipline, no guidance, and no love in the Powell home after their mom went missing.   

While everyone waited for the state to complete their investigation into Josh’s fitness as a parent, he was permitted to have supervised visitations with the boys and a licensed social worker. Normally this would be something that’s done in a public office setting, but since there was such a massive amount of media attention on the case, the state allowed the visitations to be held in Josh’s new home, one he was renting near his father’s residence that had been part of that separate criminal investigation. 

On Sunday, February 5th 2012, Social Worker Elizabeth Griffin arrived at Josh’s residence with Charlie and Braden for their supervised visitation. She knocked on the door and Josh answered, and the boys gleefully ran inside. Before Elizabeth was able to follow, Josh slammed the door on her. As the front door wafted the air into her face, Elizabeth noticed the unmistakable smell of gasoline and ran to call 911. 

911 dispatcher David Lovrack’s cold response to Elizabeth’s cry for help was one that has since led to pleas for reform in the training of emergency dispatchers. It was very evident right off the bat that he was not taking her seriously. He went around and around with her for 8 whole minutes while she tried to explain to him what a supervised visit is, who’s doing the supervising, and why this man isn’t allowed to be alone with his own children. He came across as flippant and dismissive as he repeatedly tells her for 8 whole minutes that 911 is for emergency life threatening issues, and that they’ll send someone when they can. She cried and begged for him to understand for 8 whole minutes that this IS life threatening. She told him that inside she could hear the boys crying and screaming, and after 8 whole minutes, David Lovrack finally, reluctantly, agreed to send someone out to have a look. 

A terrified Elizabeth hung up the phone to wait for officers to arrive, and Josh Powell’s home exploded behind her. It took another 13 minutes for anyone to arrive on scene. 7 year old Charlie Powell, and 5 year old Braden Powell had died in a murder-suicide at the hands of their father.  Evidence recovered at the scene indicated that all three had died of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation, but only Charlie and Braden had multiple stab wounds determined to be from a hatchet or an ax. The boys’ bodies were recovered together, curled up on the floor, holding hands. 

Josh Powell’s home, destroyed in his murder-suicide

Though no one has ever been charged in the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, most people seem to operate under the belief that Josh was responsible for the death of his wife, and possibly was helped to cover it up by his father Steven and brother Michael. Tragically, we may never know because all three men are now dead. Michael took his own life in 2013 by jumping from the roof of a large building in downtown Minneapolis in front of several witnesses. Steven died of a heart attack shortly after his release from prison in 2017. No one has ever confessed, no evidence has ever been recovered that could connect them to Susan’s murder, and even sister Jennifer believes there never will be.   

In February of 2022 the world got a pinch of renewed hope with skeletal remains found in a mine near where Josh says he took the boys camping that December night in 2009. Unfortunately for Susan’s family, it was another dead end.  Charlie and Braden would be 17 and 15 today. Chuck and Judy Cox do their best to live every day in honor of their daughter and grandsons. Let’s share with you a little bit about some of the action steps the Cox family has been taking to effect change on behalf of their loved ones:

Everything Judy and Chuck Cox do is in honor of their daughter and grandsons

The Susan Cox Powell Foundation was established in 2010 by Susan’s Parents with the help of friends, and after an overwhelming response from people around the world.  Their email, letters, and Facebook messages of support and sharing of other parents with missing children, questions of parents concerned about their children in potentially similar situations but without the support we felt, moved us to create this Foundation. 

The mission of the Foundation is:

-To assist families of missing persons by providing no-cost strategic media consulting services to ensure that their loved one’s face and name remain in the public eye as long as possible;

-To research and catalog resources across the United States that may be helpful to families of missing persons in an effort to create a resource clearinghouse for other families to use in their time of crisis, and;

-To support domestic violence prevention efforts and to participate in community and school-based education about domestic violence prevention with a special emphasis on recognizing the early signs of abuse.

The Susan Cox Powell Foundation has an even stronger desire to reach out and provide assistance to other families as a legacy to our daughter Susan, and our Grandsons Charlie and Braden Powell.

We have partnered with the Tears Foundation, who have established “the Charlie and Braden Project”.  They now accept donations and provide assistance in Washington State to parents of families losing a child between the ages of 1-12, by helping to pay some of the cost of burial.  A burden faced by parents already trying to deal with such a powerful loss.

The local Sheriff deputy and his partner were moved by a drawing by Charlie of a Dinosaur, the tragedy of the boy’s death, and their experience with other children who through no fault of their own enter Foster Care and have their lives forever impacted.  They established the “Charlie’s Dinosaur” project, with the help of “Crime Stoppers”.  This organization provides new clothing, backpacks to help with foster care moves, school supplies and other necessities.

– Susan Cox Powell Foundation
In loving memory of Susan, Charlie, and Braden

Call to Action:

Tonight I will leave you with the Susan Cox Powell Foundations own calls to action by sharing the How to Help link in our show notes and sources. The non profit organization accepts general financial donations, but also donations of time and skills- if you’ve got qualifications which could help families of the missing, please do reach out and connect with them. 

The website is also full of useful links and phone numbers for anyone who may be suffering from Domestic Violence. If you feel unsafe or at risk in your home, please do not wait until its too late. Call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, visit https://www.thehotline.org/ or text LOVEIS to 22522

As Susan’s family says “The only way evil can win is; If good people do nothing.” so please do your best to get involved and help out on behalf of this mother who was taken far to soon from the world. 

Sources:

Missing and Murdered in North Carolina- The Cases of Lumbee Stolen Sisters

We’ve spoken before on the Lost Souls of America Podcast about the difficulties indigenous women face when it comes to getting equal attention to their cases. Biases, jurisdictional problems, distrust of the police- there are a million reasons. Let us share with you some statistics:

“According to the National Crime Information Center, 5,712 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing in 2016 alone, but only 116 of those cases were logged with the Department of Justice. According to the National Institute of Justice, 84 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes, and 56 percent experience sexual violence. Of those victims who experienced sexual violence – an astounding 97 percent were victimized by non-Native perpetrators.”

– Stronghearts Helpline

Those statistics are staggering, and frankly made me feel sick. 97%?? So what can we do about it? Let us read for you an action step from the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center: 

“The National Partners Work Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the MMIW Family Advisors are organizing a National Week of Action (April 29-May 5, 2022) to call the nation and the world to action in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Take action by participating in these virtual events, exploring our list of resources, and organizing additional actions in your communities on and around May 5th. Join us in saying ‘enough is enough’—not one more stolen sister.”

-National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center 

This national week of action is going to culminate on May 5th for a day of awareness. We want to share with you a couple more quotes now from the StrongHearts Helpline which is a 24/7 confidential and anonymous culturally-appropriate domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans. We’ll be sure to put the link in our sources for this and anything else that may help you take action this week. 

“May 5 has been commemorated as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Across the nation, we are called upon to wear red to acknowledge thousands of young women and girls who go missing each year without so much as a search party. Topping a long list of reasons why law enforcement officials are unable to respond in a timely manner are being underfunded, short-staffed, and jurisdictional issues between Native and non-Native judicial systems.”

– Strong Hearts Helpline

One thing you may notice as you’re engaging in these calls to action is a lot of RED. Why do they wear red?

“It has been said that red is a color that transcends the physical world and calls to the ancestors in the spirit world. For ceremony and pow-wow, Native Americans dressed their children in red as an introduction to the ancestors – calling upon them as guardians to the young. However, the color red had other uses and symbolic meanings that differ among Indigenous tribes in North America. It has been used by the young warrior painting his face and his horse, it has also been used to beautify the faces of young women and their clothing. Today, the role of red is being used to call attention to the invisible – missing and murdered.”

– Strong Hearts Helpline

But splashing some red in your outfit on May 5th is simply NOT enough, so please hear these women’s stories tonight- as little details as we have in some cases- but also be sure to listen and follow our calls to action. Support is wonderful but without action it doesn’t do much, seek out free ways to engage if money prohibits you. During this week please feel free to tag us in any actions you take on social media and we’ll share it with our audience as well! 

Our story takes place tonight primarily in Robeson County North Carolina, an area that is 42% Native American. According to a database created by the Missing Murdered Indigenous Coalition of North Carolina, more than 600 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered, but that number is probably higher, since its nearly impossible to get accurate. Many of these cases go unreported or uninvestigated, and calculating this is a more recent study despite the fact that, well, they were here first. 

Lumbee Tribe from the Fayetteville Observer

Today, there are 55,000 members of the Lumbee tribe in this region, making it the largest tribe east of the Mississippi river. The Lumbee Tribe website has a wealth of information for anyone who’d love to know more about the history, culture, and current events facing the Lumbee tribe today. Here’s a quote from their history page: 

“ In southeastern North Carolina, amongst the pines, swamps, and dark waters of the Lumbee River, you will find the heart and homeland of the Lumbee People.  The ancestors of the Lumbee came together in the shelter of this land hundreds of years ago – survivors of tribal nations from the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan language families, including the Hatteras, the Tuscarora, and the Cheraw. The ancestors of the Lumbee were recognized as Indian in 1885 by the State of North Carolina.  In 1956, Congress recognized the Lumbee as an Indian tribe while denying the People any federal benefits that are associated with such recognition – an action that the Lumbee continue to fight today.” 

-lumbeetribe.com

The culture of Robeson county has historically been one that created a lack of trust among the native communities. More than 30% of the people there live below the poverty line. In 2017, the year of the main murders we’re speaking about tonight, the violent crime rate was 920.3 per every 100,000 people- the highest violent crime rate in the state. Yet people on the frontlines say that Law Enforcement Officers often mislabel Native Americans as hispanic or black. One study even shows that 13% of Law enforcement agencies don’t even include Native American as an identifier! So by 2017 Robeson county with its high violent crime rate and lack of cultural education among its police force had become the perfect breeding ground for indigenous cases to slip straight through the cracks.  

Our story begins tonight with a non-native woman, 32 year old Christina Bennett who preferred to go by the name Kristin. Like most of the women we’ll discuss tonight, the bulk of the source material you can find about Kristin on the internet talks about her death, rather than her life. Before I share with you the tragedy of her passing, let’s take a moment to remember that Kristin- that all these women- had families, had loved ones, had dreams, had aspirations. They all had things like a food they couldn’t get enough of, maybe allergies, maybe a favorite sweater they liked to curl up in. They were people with a wealth of experiences and memories and in many cases, their pasts were complicated. Even posthumously their families have to struggle with that perception in the media. For them it often feels lonely at best, and at worst even like revictimizing them, wanting to reduce them down to their flaws and not the wholeness of who they were. 

Kristin Bennett

Though Kristin herself wasn’t a member of the Lumbee tribe, many of her affiliations were- her partner, child’s father, friends, etc. According to one of the sources I used (the Red Justice Project, a fantastic podcast from two Native women about the MMIW crisis in North Carolina), she initially moved to Robeson county for a relationship which I hear may have been abusive and unhealthy, but she was doing the best she could to turn her life around, according to her family. Her mom says that she was just days away from picking her daughter up after regaining legal custody. 

On April 17th, 2017, police were called to a vacant home near the railroad tracks on Peachtree Lane in Lumberton North Carolina for a strong odor. The body of Kristin Bennett was found at 9:30 am. She was nude, wrapped in a blanket, and stuffed in a TV cabinet. 

As police began to process the crime scene, another suspicious odor was brought to their attention less than four blocks away on East Fifth street. There they found the body of 36 year old mother Rhonda Jones. She was also nude, and had been stuffed face down into a trash can. 

Rhonda Jones

Shortly after the women were found, media was in the neighborhood putting together a story. One woman who was interviewed by a local CBS reporter had been a friend of Rhonda’s, Megan Oxendine. The reporter himself said that Megan appeared shaken by the horrible news, and watching the footage does make you wonder if she’s just sad to lose a friend, or if perhaps there was fear in her voice for her own safety. 

Still image from Megan Oxendine’s news interview

6 weeks after her interview, the backpack Megan was wearing on camera was found discarded in a trash barrel. On June 3rd, two young men found her nude body hidden in the bushes outside of a vacant house on East Eighth Street, in close proximity to where Rhonda’s body had been discovered. 

Megan Oxendine

Initially, if you can believe this, the cases were investigated as unrelated. But thanks to the relentless love and anger that’s fueling the weary Lumbee community, the Lumbee police department requested assistance from the FBI after Megan’s murder in June of 2017. There’s currently a reward of $30,000 for information leading to an answer in the deaths of these women. 

Though the Lumberton Police Department and the FBI say they’ve been hard at work on the case, some of the families of these women feel otherwise. Sheila Price, Rhonda’s mother, believes that the girls all suffered from police bias and victim blaming. Just days after the discoveries of the bodies, the police chief released a public statement saying that the women were known drug users and this was an area of prostitution. The families felt this did a great disservice to how seriously the case was taken, both by the police and the public. And though the women were known to engage in drug use, they were not known prostitutes, and even if they were this doesn’t mean their lives were any less valuable. 

One other important thing to note is that the autopsies took well over a year to get results, and other evidence processing took even longer than that. When the autopsies did finally come back, the cause and manner of deaths for all three women were listed as undetermined. To remind everyone, this means that they’re unsure physically what killed the women, but also that they can’t tell if the deaths were even murder. To hear officials tell it, there’s simply not any evidence to say so, but this has been called into question a lot by the community. From their perspective, even if all three women happened to die of accidental overdoses, SOMEONE hid their bodies at best. Rhonda did not overdose and jump naked headfirst into a trash can. Kristin was not likely hiding in this TV cabinet when she died.. Also the people who found Megan used the word “beaten” to describe how she looked. It just doesn’t make sense, and the undetermined status feels hurtful to those who are still seeking answers. 

To date, police have released next to zero information about the nature or status of the case,, simply that they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. They do say there is evidence though, and have released some things the public can look for as told by the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI:

“We believe that this offender may have left the community, after this happened. If they didn’t leave the community, their behavior probably changed. They may have started drinking. They may have quit their job. Maybe inconsistent behavior. They may have told someone. That they did it. And it was brushed aside… Sometimes, all it takes is for the community to come forward with that small little bit of information that matches something else that we have. That just kind of completes the puzzle. And I think that is something that we really need from the community right now. Is that little bit of information to match up with the evidence we have. We are asking the community to think back to this timeframe. And go, you know what, I didn’t come forward then, but I think maybe I should come forward now.” 

– Lumberton Police Department based on the FBI’s BAU profile

The horrific murders of these three women should be tragedy enough, and it certainly has caused fear in the community that there could be a potential serial killer- maybe even someone who is targeting Lumbee women. Whether the cases are connected or not, there’s definitely a scary pattern being established in North Carolina for the Indigenous community. Lets take a few moments to talk about some more unsolved cases involving missing and murdered Lumbee members over the years.

Cynthia Jacobs- MISSING

Just weeks after Megan Oxendine’s murder, 41 year old Cynthia Jacobs, another Lumbee woman from Robeson County went missing from East Lumberton. She was a good  friend of Megan Oxendine and some sources say that SHE was the last known person to see Megan alive.  To this day no one knows where she is or what happened to her. I hope for her sake she ran away for her own safety but I’m not sure that’s the most realistic outcome. 

2017 was not the only difficult time for the Lumbee tribe’s women. Obviously this goes back centuries in one way or another, but let’s talk about the 2000’s to start. 

Sara Graham- MISSING

In February 20015, an 18 year old Lumbee girl named Sara Nicole Graham, also from Robeson county disappeared somewhere between home and the start of her shift at Walmart. According to the FBI, Graham left her home in Fairmont, North Carolina, around 6:30 a.m. on February 4, 2015, to go to work at the Wal-Mart in Pembroke, North Carolina, but she never arrived. Her van was found abandoned around 12:15 p.m. on February 4, 2015, in a field along East McDonald Road. She has never been seen since. Graham has short hair, wears glasses, and has braces. She was last seen wearing a blue Wal-Mart vest.

Lauren Holmes- MURDERED

In March of 2013 the body of Lauren Holmes, a 23 year old Lumbee woman from Robeson County, was found in a canal off the side of the road. She’d been shot to death, and the day that she went missing her home was also shot up- her mother was even hit in the arm. Most believe it was related of course, though her case has never made much progress and no arrests have been made. 

Michelle Driggers- MURDERED

In March of 2003, the nude body of 23 year old Michelle Driggers, another Lumbee woman was found in the driveway of a cemetery in Lumberton. It’s believed she was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.  Just months later and only a mile away,  36 year old Lumbee woman Lisa Hardin’s body was found in the woods in East Lumberton. Her clothes were twisted around her, indicating the probability of sexual assault, and she’d been strangled. (*I could not find photos of Lisa Hardin, and most sources listed her as “a prostitue”- If anyone with connection to Lisa would like to send me her photo I would love to include it)

Both of these murders have been thrown around in connection with the 2017 Lumberton murders, but there’s nothing official to report as far as an investigative stance on that, but it’s certainly shaken the community to think that something so similar could still be happening in their area all these years later. 

Secretary for the US Department of the Interior- Deb Haaland

Early this year in January of 2022 Deb Haaland who is the Secretary for the US Department of the Interior created a new Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Ms. Haaland herself is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, so this was personal for her and her heritage. Haaland comes from a 35th generation New Mexican family, and she grew up as a military child getting to experience a lot of life at an early age. Not too long ago she was a single mother trading volunteer hours for her kids preschool tuition, and today she is the FIRST Native American serving as a cabinet secretary for the office of the White House. To get where she is today, she lived paycheck to paycheck putting herself through college followed by law school, but she’s never forgotten where she came from and her roots. Back then she served as tribal ambassador for San Felipe Pueblo, and today she still fights for change on a national level to better serve the indigenous populations of the country. She breaks barriers, she opens doors, and she’s someone who can contribute to a lot of good in this fight for justice for the Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women, girls, and two spirits of the country. 

Earlier this month for the anniversary of the murders, Kristin’s mother released a statement through the police department’s facebook page, continuing her 5 year long plea for information: 

“On April 18, 2017 and June 3, 2017, the families of Kristin, AKA, Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine received the devastating news of our daughters deaths. It has been 5 very long years, and these cases are unresolved and open for investigation. I am sure I speak for other families, as we will not rest until justice is rightfully served concerning our daughters deaths.

We are speaking in behalf of the victims. We are speaking for the lives that are lost. We are speaking to the public. Please help us pursue justice for Kristin, Rhonda, and Megan. If you have heard something, know something, or have seen something, please contact Law Enforcement. No information is too small or trivial. If you are fearful, call or contact Law Enforcement anonymously. If you prefer you can make arrangements to meet with a plain clothed police officer of your preference, in an unmarked vehicle, in a undisclosed location of your choice. But please make that call!

There are no socio-economic boundaries to tragedy. Everyone deserves a safe place to live, work, attend school, raise your families, and worship. You can remain seated by maintaining your silence, or stand up and make a difference. There are those in your community walking “fancy free” that has no regard for human life, and needs to be held accountable. Someone that is culpable for heinous crimes.

If you “care,” you will “share,” what information you may have concerning our daughters deaths. This is not just a “city matter, ” this is a “community matter.” There are many rumors circulating concerning these cases which are blatantly untrue and have been ruled out, by investigative means. But, please if you have pertinent information, do the right thing, and come forward.

Kristin’s daughter always had the dream, her mother would come home and reunite as a family. Someone destroyed a little girls dreams. Someone destroyed the expectations of not only Kristin’s children, but the children of Rhonda and Megan. I understand there are those that are fearful, but think of the “fear/horror” our daughters faced with the reality their life was coming to an end. How can anyone sit back and do nothing to help?

The Lumberton Police Department, (LPD), State Bureau of Investigation, (SBI), and Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI), have worked relentlessly investigating these cases, but still need the public’s support. There is still a FBI $40,000.00 reward offered for information pertaining to these cases.”

-Nancee Bennett, Christina (Kristin) Bennett’s mother

Call to action: 

If you have any information about ANY of the unsolved crimes I spoke of tonight, please leave an anonymous top for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department at robesoncoso.org/reach-out/tips or contact the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations at 800- 334-3000 

If you do not have any information about any of these unsolved crimes, but still want to be involved in the cause- and we hope you do!- here are some ways we plan to help, and we invite you to join us: 

  1. If you are located in or near North Carolina, there is a rally to support MMIW and their families on April 30th in Gibsonville. It’ll be at Northeast Park at 10am, and if you need more information on that you can contact  info@mmiwnc.com
  2. I want to direct you to a website loaded with action steps you can take from anywhere: https://www.niwrc.org/mmiwnatlweek22 
    • Here you’ll find a calendar full of webinars, we plan to sign up where we can and hope to see some of you there! 
    • You’ll also find an excellent list of resources you can use at the bottom of that link 

Sources

Reasonable Doubt in Texas: The Case of Melissa Lucio

UPDATE: Melissa has been granted a stay of execution and will be going to trial court to review new evidence. We will keep you posted as we hear any new information

Continue Reading for full story

Please sign the Innocence Project Petition.

Texas call Gov. Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by dialing 956-446-2866

Call the Cameron County District Attorney and ask him to withdraw Ms. Lucio’s execution date.  956-300-3881

Use the hashtag #SaveMelissaLucio on social media and include in your post that Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022 for a tragic accident.

Purchase gear at bonfire.com/store/save-melissa-lucio

Learn more about this case:

Melissa Lucio was brought up in Lubbock Texas. She was raised in a Catholic Mexican-American family with many siblings, and a rocky relationship with her mother. Melissa watched her mom, Hope, face physical abuse at the hands of her romantic partners, and she herself also suffered through years of prolonged sexual abuse from family members and other adults she was supposed to trust. This all began at a very young age, and her mother admits to not believing her when she tried to seek help, so the pattern continued. 

When she was just 16, Melissa married an older man in an attempt to escape her childhood. She moved out and had five children by the time she was 24 years old. But Melissa’s examples of what love should be were not great growing up, and as a result neither were her relationships. That marriage was allegedly abusive and unhappy, and when they eventually divorced it was a pattern that Melissa continued to repeat. By the time Melissa was arrested in 2007  she had 12 children between the ages of 2 and 15, and was pregnant with twins. Experts they interviewed for the documentary “The State of Texas vs Melissa” said that motherhood may have been the only place Melissa found any value and worth.

She often chose men who were abusive, addicted, and had criminal involvement. Whether it was self medicating, or perhaps pushed by her partners, Melissa ended up with some substance use disorder herself, her drug of choice being cocaine. Financially, things for Melissa were always extremely tight, even facing periods of homelessness as a family. CPS had been involved several times, and Melissa was often on their radar for these issues. 

Mariah Alvarez, Melissa’s youngest daughter

On February 17th, 2007 the youngest baby Mariah never woke up from her nap. Her little body was brought to a medical examiner who saw bruising and determined that she had been abused. While the family was reeling from the horror of this tragic death, police aggressively interrogated Melissa for hours and hours for the murder of her daughter. Pregnant with twins, she’d had no sleep, no food, no drink, and had just lost her child. Footage from the interrogation shows police get in her face, and make her beat a doll as an example of how she hits her children. At 3am, an exhausted and defeated Melissa who had already said she didn’t hurt her baby 80 times finally agreed “I guess I did it”. 

Melissa was tried for capital murder, meaning the intentional planned murder of her daughter Mariah. She was sentenced to the death penalty. The Innocence Project is now representing her and asking for an urgent call to action to help get her sentence vacated. 

So what really happened? 

On February 15th, 2007- two days before Mariah’s death- the family was moving from one apartment to a new home. The old place had a long, steep, dilapidated wooden staircase down to the ground level. Little Mariah had a mild physical disability which caused her to be a bit unsteady on her toddler legs. More than one of her siblings report Mariah taking a bad fall down the stairs that day, but said that she was fine. She cried and they consoled her, and everyone went on as normal. Two days later, she fell asleep for a nap and never woke up having died of a brain bleed.

Upon examination after her death the bruising on the girl’s body was of a questionable nature, and the examiner immediately linked it to abuse. But according to the experts on Melissa’s side, especially forensic pathologist Thomas Young, brain bleeds can do that to you. Poor little Mariah was suffering those two days from bleeding in the brain, and the strange staggered appearance of the bruises was actually a result of that brian bleed as the tissue began to die. He says that even the slightest touch could have left a bruise like mark on her body. 

Did she abuse her kids? 

Despite a long case file with Child Protective Services, there’s absolutely no evidence that Melissa ever abused any of her children. The state didn’t even present any evidence of this in their case. Melissa’s other kids say she never abused any of them and they never saw her abuse Mariah. In fact, they all say that during that window of time Melissa was never even alone with Mariah. Yes she struggled to provide for her family. Yes she struggled to stay sober. But no one anywhere can verify that she was physically abusive. 

Why would she confess?  

Melissa Lucio spent her entire life trying to survive abuse, coercion, and manipulation from men. Giving in to a threatening man of power had been her means of survival since she was a small child.  

According to the Innocence Project, 27% of exonerations were from false confessions. Research has shown that survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are at a much higher risk for falsely confessing. Experts for Melissa Lucios team who reviewed the hours of interrogation footage agree that she “was relentlessly pressured and extensively manipulated”  

Why would the state pursue this so hard then?? And Why would the jury convict?? 

Well this is where the story gets even more controversial. In 2008 the Cameron County District Attorney was a man named Armando Villalobos. Now we all know that a lot of the higher levels of the judicial system are positions of politics, and he was up for reelection as DA. Villalobos was a rising political star who had his eyes on the white house and wanted to make a big name for himself. He’d previously come under fire for not properly investigating over 100 cases of child abuse, and was looking to reinvigorate his position as one that was tough on crime. 

Former District Attorney Armando Villalobos

Melissa’s team of attorneys and supporters feel that THIS was the primary motive for seeking capital punishment. In order to charge Melissa with capital murder and be eligible for the death penalty, the state was claiming (and was expected to prove beyond a reasonable doubt) that Melissa intentionally, willfully, and with planning murdered her daughter. If the state could successfully achieve a capital conviction here, Melissa Lucio would be the first latina woman on death row- a major boost to Villalobos’ image. 

What’s crazy is that it may have worked, because he was reelected in November after her conviction… but his political career did not last. According to official court documents, “In May 2013, a federal jury convicted Villalobos of one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and five counts of extortion.”- (justice.gov) According to the federal prosecutor on that trial, he was deeply involved in organized crime and drug trafficking rings. He is currently serving 13 years in federal prison. 

Peter Gilman, Lucio’s first defense attorney and current Assistant District Attorney

There are also a lot of people who feel Melissa wasn’t adequately represented in court, which is a deep rabbit hole to go down should you choose to. Some people blame incompetence, some point toward conspiracy here, because Peter Gilman, who represented her, is now the Assistant District Attorney himself. He says himself that he had no intention of switching offices, it just happened that way. But, It is also worth noting that another one of her 2008 defense attorneys, Irma Gilman, is now Judge Garcia’s court administrator, so Melissa’s new attorneys have filed motions to have certain people withheld from future proceedings because of that affiliation. 

Melissa Lucio

One thing to know is that no matter which way you slice it, Melissa’s story really was not properly shared with the jury. Many experts feel that the jury should have been let more in on Melissa’s background to understand the circumstances which would have caused her to confess. Absolutely no witnesses were called in her defense. None of her children were permitted to testify about what they saw or didn’t see, such as the fall down the stairs and the allegations of abuse. Surely also her lifelong history of sexual assault and domestic violence were worthwhile bits of evidence to know in explanation for her statement at the interrogation. Similarly they weren’t properly informed of Mariah’s medical conditions, or symptoms which could have contributed to her bruising looking like abuse. The real question everyone should be screaming here is “Did Melissa get a FAIR trial?“ If your answer is no, even if you’re unclear or undecided on Melissa’s role in her daughter’s death, it’s worth sticking around for our calls to action at the end of this episode. 

Melissa’s family, mother Hope sitting in front

On April 15th, 2022, so just two days ago for us here as we record, Melissa’s new attorney team have filed a 242-page application for a writ of habeas corpus asking the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay her scheduled April 27, 2022 execution and vacate her conviction and death sentence. I will leave you with a quote directly from one of her attorneys, Vanessa Potkin, who’s the Director of Special Litigation for the Innocence project:

“If the jury had heard evidence about the coercive tactics used in Melissa’s interrogation and the medical evidence showing that Mariah’s cause of death was consistent with an accident, they would have found there was no murder, Melissa would have been acquitted, and she would be preparing for Easter mass with her children, not facing execution. She deserves a new trial,” 

– Vanessa Potkin

Once again here is your URGENT Call to Action:

Please sign the Innocence Project Petition.

Texas call Gov. Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Parole by dialing 956-446-2866

Call the Cameron County District Attorney and ask him to withdraw Ms. Lucio’s execution date.  956-300-3881

Use the hashtag #SaveMelissaLucio on social media and include in your post that Melissa Lucio is scheduled to be executed on April 27, 2022 for a tragic accident.

Purchase gear at bonfire.com/store/save-melissa-lucio

Sources:

Murdered in Indiana: The Case of Abigail Williams and Liberty German

On the morning of February 13th, 2017, Liberty German and Abigail Williams wake up at Libby’s grandparents home the morning after a sleepover. The two are absolutely inseparable best friends, a bond that is very close and special to all those who have witnessed it. 

Libby

Liberty goes by Libby to her family and friends. She’s 14, adventurous and intelligent. Her sister describes Libby as an investigative person- she says “she always had to ask questions and find out more about something.” 

Abby

13 year old Abigail goes by Abby, and she’s described as kind and joyful, with a passion for absolutely anything. Her mom Anna says she “loved people, loved pets, loved art, loved music, and tried anything under the sun at least once” 

The girls have grown up as classmates and are in 8th grade together at the Delphi Community Middle School. They have a special day off from school this day in their little town of Delphi Indiana because the district had not used up all of its built in snow days, and is giving the kids a day off with what is called a “give back day.” It is unseasonably warm this day, close to 60, so the girls decide to do exactly what their families were hoping they’d do, get off the screens and get some time outdoors in the fresh air. 

Libby’s sister Kelsi drops the girls off at the parking area for a trailhead for the Mary Gerard Nature Preserve at around 1:30 pm that afternoon. The girls plan is to walk southeast along the old out of use rail trail onto the Monon High Bridge that goes about 60 feet above Deer Creek. They made plans to be picked up by Libby’s dad around 3pm and set out. At 2:07pm Libby takes a photo on social media of her best friend Abby stepping board by board across the tall train bridge. That was the last anyone would see of the girls. 

At 3:11, Libby’s father called to say that he was close and to get ready for him. There was no answer. He tried again, even walking a ways onto the trail to call for them. Naturally he’d assumed they had lost track of time, and he collects his parents (whom they live with) to help him search. They call Abby’s parents who think “oh boy, those girls are grounded for this!” and join in looking for them. By 5pm as it begins to get darker and colder, everyone realizes this out of character behavior from their girls is cause for alarm, and Libby’s grandfather Mike calls the Sheriff at 5:30pm. 

In a close community like Delphi, word spreads quickly that there are two missing teenagers lost in the woods, and what seems like the whole town shows up that night to help look. Search teams of volunteers are each paired up with a leader from the fire or police department and everyone combs the areas on and off the trail looking for signs of the girls- maybe one of them had fallen and gotten hurt, and the other didn’t want to leave her alone? Surely they will be found quickly. 

As the evening progresses, the eerie fear grows harder to shake for the families who know just how frightened Libby is of the dark. Abby’s mom Anna says “That worried me, because I knew then that the odds of them just being out screwing around were not good.” 

When there is still no sight or sign of the girls by midnight, official search teams take a pause. They still think the girls will turn up any minute- hey the late movie is about to be over, maybe you’ll find them at home and in trouble for simply breaking some rules. The locals would not give up though, with dozens of people staying to search through the night. Anna recalls around 2am having to head back to the car when she realizes people  are looking in the water, and she refuses to search for bodies- still convinced she’d just be grounding her daughter. 

The next morning the search quickly resumes in a well organized effort with multiple agencies on board, prepared to find those missing kids. The effort is urgent, especially since they must have spent the night alone outdoors, and the whole community converges in hopes of finding them safely.  Kelsi, Libby’s sister is out with a group of volunteers searching under the railroad bridge when she hears someone yell out a question about what the girls were wearing. 24 hours after they’d set out for an adventure, the bodies of Abigail Williams and Liberty German were found along Deer Creek less than a mile from where they had been safely dropped off.

While the families are consumed in their grief, the search and rescue efforts rapidly shift gears into an investigation. Autopsies are done and evidence is collected, though the police hold back all of those details. They do confirm everyone’s worst fears very quickly: This is now a double homicide investigation. 

Immediately the Indiana State Police hold a press conference calling for anyone who was on the trail that day to come forward with what they saw or photographed. Along with that announcement, they released a photo from Libby’s phone of a man walking on the bridge toward the girls. Libby’s grandfather believes that the girls were snapping the images of him because they knew something wasn’t right. State police hope the photo will bring him forward- If he sees a photo of himself on the news and has no involvement, certainly he’d be eager to clear it up and share any info he had. But the photo release surprisingly reveals nothing. Meanwhile the whole community mourns the loss of these joyful, fun loving girls. Anger is boiling under the surface. The whole town feels victimized. Anna herself says “This doesn’t happen in Delphi” and historically speaking, she’s not wrong. The country gains word of the story, and everyone everywhere is now invested in the tragic and scary case of the girls from Delphi. If this could happen in a small town to someone else’s kids, could it happen here, to mine? 

On February 22nd, Indiana State Police along with the Mayor, the prosecutor, the sheriff, the police chief, the state police superintendent, FBI agents, and the chief public information officer  hold a press conference to update the nation on the status of the case. During this conference, they announced that the man on the bridge is officially a suspect and asked for the public’s help. Listen now to the Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglass Carter speak about how personal this is for all of them while he describes the investigation and the suspect. 

You can also hear Greg Massa, Assistant Special Agent in charge for the FBI shares some new updates from the BAU for the public at this press conference, and Captain Dave Bursten, chief public information officer to the ISP shares an audio clip from Libby’s cell phone here: 

According to an interview with Abby’s mom for Investigation Discovery, the image of the man appears to have been taken from the far end of the bridge with the girls being around 40 feet away from the man. She says they’d have had no choice but to wait for him to cross near them to the side before they could pass to get back to the parking lot for their 3:15pm pickup. She also points out the scary reminder that the girls wouldn’t have been able to run across that bridge due to the large gaps between railroad ties and the huge fall. If this suspect is indeed the person who hurt the girls, they were sitting ducks with no opportunity to escape him. “Down the hill” would have taken the girls away from that bridge they needed to cross, and down toward Deer Creek which is exactly where their bodies had been found. She does tell ID that she was given access to a little bit more of that tape from Libby’s phone, in which she reveals that Libby tells the man the path ends here and they can’t go any further. Heartbreaking and haunting last words for their families to have to live with.  

From here on out, the FBI takes over the tip line and the reward for information skyrockets. Billboards are put up all across the country and the community installs orange lights on their porches to honor the girls by Lighting up Delphi, something I hear can still be seen on many homes to this day. On March 9th 2017, Mike Patty- Libby’s grandfather speaks publicly for the first time on behalf of both families: 

Though the FBI is overwhelmed with tips, nothing solid comes of the suspect profile for months, so investigators go back to the drawing board, literally. According to local station Call 6 News, ISP says they received new information and were able to release a new artist rendering of the suspect in the hopes that this would reinvigorate the public’s attention on that man.

And it does kind of work… a couple potential persons of interest that we know of are investigated in the year following the girls murders. In September of 2017 Investigators fly out to Colorado to interview a man named Daniel Nations who had been arrested for threatening hikers with a hatchet on a trail where someone had been shot and killed just two weeks prior. He had spent time living in Indiana, I’m not sure when or how long, but at this point he is extradited back to Indiana on warrants for unrelated charges, in part because he failed to register as a sex offender. The startling thing for me is how much he looks like the artist’s sketch of the suspect. Even his own wife publicly agreed that they look a lot alike! Both deny his involvement vehemently though, and by the one year anniversary of the double homicide, police announce that he’s no longer being looked at with interest. 

Daniel Nations Comparison photo. He has been RULED OUT as a Person of Interest.

In 2019, the investigative team hosts a new press conference in order to unveil a new sketch and some additional sound to the audio recording. Take a listen to ISP Superintendent Douglass Carter again here: 

So a lot of new but also not new information comes out this day. Firstly,  police release a clip of the video from Libby’s phone in which they previously got that still shot of the man in the hat. They also release a little bit more of the audio at this point, adding “guys” to the previously released “down the hill” 

Perhaps most importantly though is the new sketch, which police say comes from new information, and makes the previous sketch, in their words “secondary.” They also say his age could be anywhere from 18-40 but they believe he has a youthful appearance. They also reveal that they believe he’s likely a part of the Delphi community, whether he’s a resident, works there, or is connected in some other way. The car that Superintendent Carter mentions early on in that clip was found abandoned on the side of the highway the day of the murders. 

Late in 2021 police announce that during their investigation into Abby and Libby’s murders, they’d discovered a fake snapchat profile going by the username “anothony_shots” who allegedly used photos of a male model to solicit underage girls into sending nude photos or even meeting. Again they ask for the public’s help in identifying any information about that profile and according to some heavily redacted court documents, it looks like that profile has been officially tied to a 27 year old man named Kegan Anthony Kline who was charged with 30 felonies, including possession of child porn, child exploitation, obstruction of justice, child solicitation, and synthetic identity deception. There are transcripts and rumors and lots of questionable things regarding this person floating around the internet, so until the Indiana State Police make any kind of official comments there is nothing concrete connecting him to the murders of Abby and Libby. 

The male model being used to catfish teens on the @anthony_shots profile has been RULED OUT as a Person of Interest
Kegan Kline

As of today, 5 years after their tragic deaths, there is still no answer to the question of who killed Abby and Libby. The investigators have been very up front that they are NOT releasing most of the information to the public because of the ongoing nature of the investigation. When we catch him, we want to be able to prosecute him. This includes the cause and manner of death, time of death, and any evidence collected on the scene. 

Before I leave you with a call to action, I want to remind you again to be careful of speculation versus confirmed information. This case is huge on reddit and webslueths, and people have been comparing everyone and their brother to those sketches- some very publicly and by name. I’m also horrified by the people who want to daydream, imagine, recount and describe what could have happened to those girls to cause their death. It has not been released, and we will not speculate on that here. It serves no beneficial purpose from my point of view, and we won’t engage in that. If you choose to go down the rabbit hole on your own with this investigation, please use a very discerning eye and ear.  Remember that her family or even the killer could be watching and reading anything you say. 

For Abby’s mom Anna, the pain of her loss is all too real. She says “It’s not even so much about what I’m missing right now, it’s about what I’m going to miss the rest of her life” For Libby’s grandfather Mike, his grief is what propels him forward as he says “I’ll continue to fight until I’m not longer able to, until I’m no longer on this earth”

Liberty “libby” German and her friend Abigail Williams. Undated photo. credit: Courtesy Mike and Becky Patty

Please take a look at our website or any of the sources we linked for you on our website to find the information we discussed in tonight’s episode. We will put up photos, youtube links to press conferences, as well as the sketches. There’s a hefty reward for information leading to an arrest, but that’s not why we do this. Tonight please take just one minute for Libby and her best friend Abby. Take just one minute and see if you recognize the man responsible for taking two little lights from this world. 

If you have any information about the murders of Abigail Williams and Liberty German, or any tips regarding someone you think fits the description of the suspect, or any information about the @anthony_shots profile please contact the FBI or the Indiana state police at Email: abbyandlibbytip@cacoshrf.com Or Tip Line: (765) 822-3535

Sources: 

*UPDATE* Unidentified in Georgia: The Benton MacKaye Trail Doe identified as Stephen Lucas Ryan, 41, of PA

*UPDATE* Unidentified in Georgia: The Benton MacKaye Trail Doe identified as Stephen Lucas Ryan, 41, of PA. Please respect his family during this difficult time.

Previous Post:

In Episode 3 here at the Lost Souls of America Podcast, we had an interview with our friend Natasha where we shared the story of closing the case of an unidentified hiker that the world called Mostly Harmless who’s real name turned out to be Vance Rodriguez.

Well, our humble little facebook community took some downtime and now we are starting up again with a new investigation. We’d love to invite you all to join in too. You can help by searching missing person’s databases, and even just by sharing his poster as often as possible. We really believe that sharing is going to be the key to finding this man’s family, so that’s the best thing you can do! The group is also a great place to bounce ideas off other sleuths, make comparisons, and come up with creative ways to help.

There’s not a lot of information available for this unidentified doe case but we’re going to tell you as much as we can. I’m going to read you the quote directly from the GBI website: 

The GBI is requesting assistance from the public in identifying a deceased man believed to be a hiker on Springer Mountain found on January 21, 2022. The man was found specifically off the Benton MacKaye Trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail in Fannin County. A forensic artist’s rendering of the man is attached.

The man was wearing a small gray t-shirt, a gray fleece long sleeve shirt, tan Wrangler brand cargo pants size 30×32, gray wool boot socks, and Keen brand hiking boots size 10.5 (pictured). The man had in his possession a black Thermal-FR brand fleece quarter zip pullover (pictured), a dark gray Champion brand quarter zip fleece (pictured), a black Uline skull cap with rechargeable light attachment (pictured) and a small black folding shovel (pictured).

This investigation is active and ongoing. Anyone with information regarding a person matching this description is asked to contact the GBI. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS (8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.

GBI

Sources: 

Missing in Vermont: The Case of Brianna Maitland

Brianna Alexandra Maitland was born October 8th, 1986 in Burlington Vermont to loving parents Kellie and Bruce. She was raised with an older brother in the small town of East Franklin near the Canadian border where her parents owned and operated a farm. She grew up doing farm chores and longed for a life beyond that.

On her 17th birthday, her parents hesitantly agreed to let her move about 15 miles away and transfer to the Enosburg Falls high school. Brianna hated the country life, she had no desire to be a farmer like her family, and she wanted to go where her friends were, her boyfriend at the time, and a town where there were more opportunities for her future. 

It would seem though that things weren’t as easy on her own as she had expected. For nearly 6 months, Brianna seemed to bounce from friends house to friends house, until ultimately in February of 2004 she dropped out of her new high school and moved in with her childhood friend Jillian Stout. Brianna’s parents insist this period of restlessness was just their daughter trying to assert her independence and learn who she is and what she wanted. They are adamant that there were no problems at home, or dramatic issues going on in her life causing instability. 

Brianna wasn’t entirely restless though, and her friends and family describe her as having big goals. When she dropped out of highschool she very quickly enrolled in a program to get her GED so she could head to college as soon as possible. At the rate she was pushing herself, she was on track to be there before her friends even graduated. 

The day of March 19th 2004 started out as a really wonderful day. Brianna completed her GED exam in the morning, and her mom Kellie took her out to lunch and to do some shopping to celebrate. Over lunch they discussed Brianna’s college plans and the two chatted excitedly about her future. After lunch they shopped together, and at one point Brianna told her mom “I’ll be right back” and stepped outside. Kellie completed her purchase and met Brianna at the car a few moments later. She said her mood had palpably shifted- she seemed agitated. Kellie tried to ask a little, but Brianna was short with her, saying she needed to get home to get ready for her shift that evening. In retrospect, her father doesn’t feel that was abnormal for her given that she had a lot to do that afternoon, since she wouldn’t want to be late to a job that was relatively new.

Kellie dropped Brianna off at Jillian Stout’s house sometime between 3:30 and 4:30 that afternoon. It was the last time her mother ever saw her. Brianna got ready for work and left a note for her roommate saying she’d be home after her shift, and she headed to work as a dishwasher at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery Vermont in her green 1985 oldsmobile. When her shift ended, her coworkers invited her to hang out but she was starting a new second job in the morning, so she was going home to get some rest. She left the Black Lantern alone at 11:20pm when she clocked out and her manager saw her leave. 

The next morning, March 20th 2004, a Vermont State Trooper was dispatched to an old abandoned house off route 118 outside of Montgomery only about a mile from the Black Lantern Inn. The state police had gotten reports of a car crashed into the side of the house in a very peculiar way- reversed, trunk end first, with one of its hind wheels up on the foundation in such a way that it was unable to drive back out. The car had a piece of plywood from a window covering on the house laid over the trunk. Outside of the car the trooper found loose change, a water bottle, and an unsmoked cigarette. Inside of the car the trooper found two uncashed paychecks. He assumed the car had been abandoned by a drunk driver who’d crashed, and had it towed to a local garage. 

When Brianna’s roommate Jillian returned home from a weekend away and found the note still in the same place she’d seen it on Friday, she was a little confused and concerned. She calmed herself down and convinced herself as best she could that everything was fine- Brianna had just gone elsewhere for the weekend. But overnight that nagging feeling of worry weighed on her, so sleepless and scared, she called Kellie on Monday to tell her she could not reach Brianna.  

Frantic with worry about this abnormal behavior, Kellie called absolutely everyone she could think of who might know where Brianna could be. When no one had seen or heard from her since Friday, she called the police and filed a missing person’s report. It took two more days for the officers to connect the abandoned car to the missing girl. 

After news of Brianna’s disappearance broke publicly, several people came forward to say that they saw the car at the old Dutchburn house as well. The first was reported as approximately 12:15 am by a man who saw the car with headlights on, and didn’t see anyone in or around the car. The next report was  12:30am who thought they saw the  turn signal flashing but didn’t see anyone in or around the car. Brianna’s own ex boyfriend, James Robatialle, was the next who reported the scene at 2:30am. He says he stopped, shut off the lights and shut the doors. This wasn’t unusual for him to pass by, as it was on his road home. Unfortunately, her has since passed in a motor vehicle accident himself and is unable to provide any new information. Investigators have not listed any reason to believe he was involved.

The next morning, March 20th, tourists on a ski vacation happened by and found the scene so odd that they pulled out their disposable cameras and took photos. Since Brianna’s car had already been impounded, this was an incredibly valuable piece of evidence! The photo corroborates the responding officers report of the condition of the car, and the items surrounding the car. The tourists also reported seeing a broken bracelet or necklace on the ground next to the car.

At first police were skeptical of any foul play- They really thought she must have just run away given her living situation. But still, the area was combed on foot by police and dogs to no avail. If she had run away, there was no indication she’d done so on foot. 

On March 30th, the car was collected from impound and was processed as a crime scene. Investigators took their reports and then returned it to the family. Brianna’s dad Bruce noted other items of significance that Brianna had left behind:  contacts and a contact lens case, plus her glasses, her prescription migraine meds, and her atm card were all left behind. Based on whatever the investigators recovered from the car, and Bruce’s insistence that these were not items she could go without, the Vermont State Police acknowledged publicly that this was a probable case of foul play.

The investigation has pressed on slowly but steadily over the last 18 years. Whenever anyone disappears there are multiple options. In Brianna’s case, pretty much everyone agrees right off the bat that there’s no reason for anyone to think she took her own life. Though police initially suspected she may have run away, the things she left behind, and the lack of preparation for such a big adventure made them think otherwise. Furthermore, she’d had to have had some major help with that, and absolutely no one they’ve interviewed seems to have any knowledge of that plan.

If foul play, who? And why?

Investigators have thoroughly followed through on any leads from the people she had relationships with in life. When researching this case, there are several names that pop up in connection to Brianna, but no person has ever been substantiated as a suspect. Investigators warn the public to be careful with any rumors they spread, because over the years those speculative theories have had a way of transforming into the media to be presented as fact.

Maura Murray

Brianna’s disappearance has been investigated in connection with other murders as well. Just 5 weeks before Brianna went missing, UMass student Maura Murray went missing under similar circumstances, with police finding her car abandoned just 90 miles away from where Brianna’s car was found. In later years, Brianna was investigated after the suicide of serial killer Israel Keys who had victims in Vermont. All connections to both cases have been ruled out by the FBI.

In 2006 casino footage from Atlantic City revealed video of a guest who looked remarkably similar to Brianna. Investigators have never identified the woman, but Brianna’s mom doesn’t believe it was her. Human trafficking though is a very real possibility, and many have looked to that over the years as a potential motive. Brianna was very beautiful, and her family believes this is a very real possibility for what happened to their daughter. Detective Baker says its a problematic area to investigate because there’s so much shame and guilt surrounding sex work and addiction that many victims don’t come forward. She does say that Vermont to New York was a route for drug trafficking and its a theory that’s always been at the forefront of their minds. 

In 2007 a flier provided by the FBI to reinvigorate the investigation said that the car crash scene may have been staged to appear as an accident, officially validating something many people already believed. The eerie manner in which the car was backed into the abandoned building left many people who saw it completely shaken. A lot of the armchair detectives of the world agree- is it possible that she was trying to get away from someone, in her panic used reverse instead of drive, crashed the car and then had to run on foot? We asked Chief Louis Barry, a private investigator involved in her case, and it’s his personal opinion that the scene was not staged, so this may just be one of those speculative rumors that have spread unfoundedly.

In 2016 the old abandoned Dutchburn House burned down due to arson, a crime that has been prosecuted and has no connection with Brianna’s case.

Also in 2016 investigators revealed that one week after her disappearance, they had collected an item from the ground near where Brianna’s car had been found. This item could not be connected with certainty to Brianna, but this new announcement revealed that DNA had been collected from this item and it had led to no matches.

March 18th 2022, almost 18 years to the day of her disappearance, Othram announced that they had partnered with the Vermont State Police a while back, funded by Paul Holes of the Murder Squad. 

Othram scientists used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a DNA profile and conducted genealogical research to develop investigative leads so the Vermont State Police could continue their work. After months of follow-up investigation, police were able to locate, interview, and obtain DNA samples from candidate donors. These DNA samples were sent to the Vermont Forensic Laboratory for comparison testing. The lab confirmed that DNA from one of the individuals matched the DNA on the item found on the ground near Brianna’s vehicle.

-dnasolves.com

It’s really important to note that this does not mean a suspect has been identified. Remember, the DNA was collected on an item at the scene where Brianna’s car was found, but there was no way to know when that item was placed there or what the connection was. We need to be clear that this person is NOT one of the 11 or 12 people from Brianna’s life who were looked at in connection with this case. Thus far, there’s no reason to connect this person to Brianna’s disappearance, but we eagerly await any new announcements.

Call to Action: 

Join us this week by listening to the Lost Souls of America Podcast to hear an interview with Chief Louis Barry who helps us clear any rumors or misunderstandings in the case.

Chief Louis Barry is a retired law enforcement officer with over 35 years of experience, 24 as Chief of Police. He’s been teaching college as an adjunct professor since 1990 at several colleges and universities, and he’s also a certified police instructor in a variety of fields for Massachusetts police academies.

He’s been working as a private investigator since his retirement, and he works primarily on cold cases for an organization called Private Investigations for the Missing, which is a non profit organization founded by Bruce Maitland, Brianna’s father.

You can help support Brianna and other missing people by following https://investigationsforthemissing.org/

Age Progressed Photo

Brianna Maitland was last seen March 19th 2004 at the Black Lantern Tavern and Inn in Montgomery Vermont. Her Pale green four-door 1985 Oldsmobile sedan was located on March 20, 2004 off East Berkshire Road and Route 118, across Dutchburn Farm Road, about a mile outside of Montgomery. At the time of her disappearance Brianna was described as a caucasian female with brown hair and hazel eyes 5’3 – 5’5, 105 – 118 pounds. Brianna has a faint scar extending from her left eyebrow to her forehead. Her left nostril is pierced; she wore a small ring or stud in it at the time of her disappearance. She wears contact lenses and takes prescription medication for migraines, but all were left behind when she vanished. Brianna’s nicknames are Bri and B. She was 17 at the time of her disappearance. She is turning 36 this year. If you have any information about the disappearance of Brianna Maitland please call Vermont State Police 802-524-5993

Sources: 

Murdered in North Carolina: The Case of Mary Collins

Mary Santina Collins was born in July of 1999. Mary was a small, beautiful, gentle, loving young woman who was born with 22q Syndrome.  

“The 22q11.2 deletion syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a missing section (microdeletion) of chromosome 22, which is present from the time a child is conceived. The 22q11.2 deletion is almost as common as Down syndrome. It is present in 1 out of every 1,000 live pregnancies, in 1 in 68 children with congenital heart disease, and in 5 to 8 percent of children born with cleft palate. The deletion has the potential to affect almost every system in the body and can cause a wide range of health problems — although no two people are ever exactly alike or affected in the same way. “

From the International 22q Foundation:

Mary had a submucosal cleft palette which she had to have surgery to improve at three years old. Though the doctor was skeptical she’d ever be able to talk, she began using signs and her lively personality to communicate her needs. By 6 years old she was able to speak, but her speech was always impaired, making it challenging to advocate for herself. One of the heartbreaking things that the family points out now is that Mary was not able to scream for help the way you or I might assume someone could- a fact that has really pushed them to scream for justice on her behalf. 

Mary lived with her grandmother, and the pair had a very close loving relationship. I asked her to tell me a little bit about Mary. There was a lot that was still so painful and raw to her so it was hard. I could really feel the longing when I spoke with her. 

“Mary loved music and had an excellent ear for it. She liked photography and was very talented at it. She liked makeup and hair colors. She loved her family and friends deeply. She adored Sushi. She loved to shop. She loved The World Market and Japanese Candy. She liked Coconut cake. She liked spicy foods and snacks. She loved to try new foods. She was giving and loved to give to people and to give them gifts…My memories are deep and those of a parent who was deeply loved by a child. I can not simply remember Mary, she is a part of my own soul”

– Mary’s grandmother to LSA

Mary was stunningly beautiful, I personally think she looked a lot like Jessica Simpson with a bit more of an edge- incredibly gorgeous and photogenic.. Her family says she was shy, and because of the 22q her cognitive abilities were somewhere around 15 years old- in some areas maybe higher, in some areas maybe lower. Mary needed some help with a lot of the tasks we associate with independence. Getting around, shopping, making change, she didn’t drive, etc..  Though her loving, sweet nature was something her family remembers with fondness, it also meant she always wanted to see the best in people. Because she was so trusting, she became an easy target for manipulative predators. 

On March 28th, 2020, authorities say that Mary was sent an Uber by some people claiming to be her friends. Lavi Pham knew Mary from highschool and he lived with his girlfriend Kelly Lavery at an apartment in the arts and entertainment district known as NoDa in Charlotte North Carolina. Social media shows Mary, Lavi, and Kelly joyfully bringing take out up to the apartment- sushi- Mary’s favorite. According to some reports, this was not a spur of the moment thing- Kelly had been grooming Mary for months leading up to this night, making Mary believe that she had grown a trusting friendship, something she desperately wanted and was eager to pursue. Mary thought Kelly and Lavi cared about her, something the social media videos demonstrate as Kelly lovingly touches Mary’s face in the elevator. 

Also on Saturday March 28th, 2020, after Mary had left the home to meet her friends, the Governor of North Carolina officially shut everything down due to the new at the time problem of Covid 19. At the time, Mary wasn’t responding to any calls or text and it appeared as if her phone had been shut off. But then Lavi posted those social media photos and videos, which left Mary’s family with a false sense of security for about a day. 

When Mary still didn’t come home though, her grandmother knew something was very wrong and went directly to the apartment herself. She knocked on the door and Kelly answered. She was told that yeah, sure, Mary had been here but Mary had left at around 11am. As her grandmother stood there yelling for Mary, calling her name, the couple let her take a quick glance around the front room of the apartment, and then had her leave. She searched outside of the apartment grounds for hours, and eventually called 911. One of the most powerful things she told me was “I did not call 911 to report her missing, I called to get help. To make them give Mary to me.“

The 911 operater told Mary’s grandmother to go home and wait there, because that’s where Mary had last been seen, that an officer would come by the house to take a report and another would go to the apartment to check for Mary. She says she was completely distraught and didn’t want to do that at all, still knowing that Mary was somewhere in that apartment. But she says she trusted the police, and went home reluctantly and waited for them to collect Mary and bring her home. The officer who responded to the NoDa complex did a “well check” knocking on the apartment door and no one answered, so the officer left. 

Police did file a missing person’s report on behalf of Mary, and her case was assigned a detective to investigate. The next day, Detective Gaskin called Mary’s grandmother on the phone while she was standing outside the apartments again, searching for Mary. He told Mary’s grandmother that he would not be able to make it out there that day. Mary’s family says that he was notified and aware of Mary’s diagnosis, and when her family members didn’t want to leave the apartment grounds, Detective Gaskin simply told them they could call 911 again. She stood there, knowing Mary was trapped inside and she was locked outside, feeling helpless and hopeless. 

Not knowing what else to do she took matters into her own hands and called the apartment manager who told her he’d look at the security camera footage for the time Kelly told them Mary had left the apartment. While he was searching for that footage, the police officers responded to the new 911 call but Lavi Pham would not let them in. Lavi did let Mary’s mother in briefly, and it’s reported that she saw someone laying on the bed, tucked it- he told her it was his girlfriend Kelly who was asleep. The apartment manager was also told at this time to STOP looking at the security footage by the 911 responding officer, for unknown reason, and Det. Gaskin later said that he was waiting for a warrant. 

By April 1st, Mary’s family was completely frantic with worry. No one felt the police were taking them seriously, or understanding that Mary was not just some average 20 year old who’d run off in search of some independence. They begged him to understand that Mary COULD NOT have simply left on her own. She wouldn’t have, but more than that she couldn’t have. She needed help navigating those matters and it simply wasn’t possible. 

Meanwhile the community banded together to conduct a search for Mary. Flyers were made and distributed, organizations were contacted, bloodhound searchers were hired, and physical grounds searches for nearby areas were conducted. They spoke to sex trafficking experts, and were willing to explore any possibility to find her. The kids of the family all took to social media to spread the news far and wide. The police didn’t contribute to these search efforts at all- they were on their own. Police even told a local news station that they didn’t believe Mary was in danger. 

But Mary’s grandmother knew where Mary was. She wasn’t missing. She was inside the apartment. And no one would listen to her cries for help. Detective Gaskin actually told her that Lavi and Kelly felt threatened by her, and she was asked to stop knocking on their door.

Eventually on April 2nd, five days after Mary was last seen, Detective Gaskin conducted a search of the apartment himself. He sat on the couch and interviewed them. He walked around. He looked in closets and corners, he even lifted up the mattress. He then reported to Mary’s family that the search brought up nothing. According to her grandmother, he said “Do you understand Mary is not inside that apartment?” She told him no, she didn’t understand that, and that if Mary’s not there you need to make them tell us where she is and what they did with her. 

At that time, Mary’s uncle contacted the CEO of the apartment complex and within ten minutes they were able to get their answers from the security footage. No warrant needed. Unfortunately some of the footage had been deleted because of the new calendar month, but in any case it showed what was known by her family all along- They watched every moment of days of footage, just to verify- No footage of Mary ever leaving the complex. 

On April 4th, around 10pm, Mary’s grandmother received a phone call telling her that authorities were at the complex and there was an ambulance. She ran out the door headed for the local ER looking forward to seeing Mary alive and safe. When Mary wasn’t at that ER, she headed on her way to the next ER when another phone call told her she’d misunderstood. She needed to come and be with family. They had found Mary. She had been murdered.

When they recovered her body from the apartment, Mary had been tortured and assaulted. They stabbed her frail frame at least 133 times and left her to bleed to death. They then wrapped her in saran wrap and duct tape, and hid her in the mattress. The very mattress that police had lifted as part of their search before. She was just 20 years old. And she had been there all along. 

What got police to finally take the search seriously was not Mary’s family’s cries for help. A witness had actually come forward and said that a young man named James Salerno had told him he was at a party with Mary, and Lavi and Kelly had beat her in the bathtub, tied her up, murdered her, and hid her body in a mattress with intent to burn it later. That witness allegedly had to call the police twice to get them to listen to the claim with sincerity. 

According to authorities, Lavi Pham, Kelly Lavery, and James Salerno committed the brutal murder of Mary, and then the three called in a fourth friend, America Diehl, to help with clean up. All four were arrested and are currently awaiting trial.  Pham, Lavery, and Salerno have all been charged with kidnapping and murder. Lavery and Salerno are set to be arraigned on April 21st, 2022. Pham’s arraignment is June 21st. America Diehl has only been charged with concealing a death and accessory after the fact. She is currently out on bond, living with family, and facing very few restrictions. America Diehl’s bond has been yet another trauma in an agonizing two year ordeal for Mary’s family. How can someone take part in a horrific prolonged murder, and be out free? 

In Mary’s honor, her family and friends have created Mary’s Voice 

“We are a grass roots movement first for justice for Mary but we have goals in addition to change the police policies and procedures to better protect people with disabilities and young adults like Mary. We wish to advocate for an independent alert tailored to the disabled. We also plan to share our experiences with the justice and legal system as well as law enforcement to better inform families of people with disabilities…Right now we fight for justice for Mary first and foremost, we have begun to reach out to the state regarding the alert system.”

Mary’s Voice

MARY’S VOICE GOALS

Increased Police Response

1.  Increase police response time for a missing or endangered person with a disability.  If a person with a disability is missing or endangered, police must respond more rapidly to this urgent emergency.  We would like to help draft legislation that would mandate more immediate response protocols to locate missing or endangered persons with disabilities. As well as seeking policy and procedure changes at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.

Critical Code Alert

 2.   Create, develop and implement an additional national alert system for missing or endangered persons  with disabilities, much like Amber Alert for missing/abducted children https://amberalert.ojp.gov/ and Silver Alert for seniors, especially those with Alzheimers, dementia or other mental disabilities https://silveralertbill.com/ 

The Death Penalty and plea deals for murder.

3. Increase awareness of how the death penalty is flawed.  Increase awareness of how plea deals are used. Increase awareness of inequity in the justice system and how it applies to Mary’s case. And differently abled persons.

Increase awareness of what is happening in our justice system. Including BONDS FOR MURDER and VICTIMS RIGHTS …

“What “Just Is” is not always justice” – Amanda Gorman, Youth Poet Laureate

We asked Mary’s Voice what we as the public could do to help support them :

We hold an online vigil for Mary marking each day they had her this illustrates to people how long that was and Mary more than deserves this. We ask for candles or whatever the individual would like to display online during March 28th thru April 5th.  Please use hashtag #MarysVoice, #MaryCollins  We ask people to change their profile pictures to Mary’s Voice for this week. Many have masks and display a photo of themselves wearing them. Some use a photo of the mask or a photo of Mary. The tagging is important to help people find the vigil and share Mary’s story. We hope people get to know Mary as we do. We have multiple sites, @Mary’s Voice Facebook Group, Mary’s Voice Youtube, Justice for Mary and marysvoice org Instagram, Mary’s Voices Twitter. Marysvoice.com is the website.

Mary’s Voice

Lost Souls of America will be participating in the online vigil for Mary and we hope that you will join us.

Your call to action for tonight is to join the movement with us! Links for all of Mary’s information will be in our show notes and on our website lostsoulsofamerica.com but one more time that’s Mary’s Voice- Justice for Mary on twitter, instagram, and facebook. Mary’svoice.com 

Sources: 

Murdered in Utah: The case of Kylen Shulte and Crystal Turner

Editor’s note: This episode contains clips from an interview with the victims’ family which was recorded on March 2nd 2022 and aired at 4pm on March 16th 2022. This is an open and ongoing investigation and new information is coming to light regularly. Follow the family’s sources for the most up to date information, and we will update you in new episodes as information is available, airing every Weds. Please listen to the full episode at the link below or wherever you get your podcasts:

https://www.spreaker.com/show/lost-souls-of-america

Crystal Michelle Turner was born in 1982 in Hot Springs Arkansas to parents Obie and Beverly. 38 year old Crystal met 24 year old Kylen and her dad Sean Paul while out in a hike. The two bonded instantly over a love of nature and adventure. The two got married in a super fun and unique ceremony on April 20th 2021. The photos are beautiful and so full of love and celebration. Kylen was tall and stunning in her traditional gown, while little Crystal looked fantastic and fun in her suit and braided hair. One of the notable things about them is that they lived a pretty bohemian, hippie lifestyle. In fact, at the time they were full time campers in Moab Utah. 

The night that they were last seen was August 13th 2021 when the couple met some friends at a local tavern. The friends say they were very much in love that night, and all had a great time. After the bar, the pair went to visit a friend with a newborn. That night while visiting her friend, Kylen’s was complaining about a creepy neighbor from a neighboring campsite who was in their space. 

The girls said their goodbyes and returned to their campground after leaving the mom and baby. When no one had heard from them in 4 days, Kylen’s father Sean Paul contacted their Moab friend Cindy Sue, as well as the police. Diane told me that they wouldn’t do a missing persons report at that time but they did an unable to locate report instead. Crystal’s coworkers told officers where they’d camp, but the police initially went to the wrong site. 

On August 18th, Sean Paul called Cindy Sue again,  headed to the correct area where she thought their campsite was located. When Cindy Sue arrived, still on the phone with Sean Paul, she discovered the nearly nude body of Kylen Shulte in a ditch. Fearing for her own safety and reeling from shock, she ran from the scene, never having seen the body of Crystal Turner which laid just beyond her wife. They had both died of multiple gunshot wounds from a 9mm to their back, sides, and chests. 

There’s a lot the police are not telling us yet, which Diane says she’s grateful for so that there’s a chance at prosecution when they catch this person. It does leave us with many unanswered questions though. Were they killed there or were they moved? Both women were nude from the waist down, with their shirts pulled up, though reports seem to say at this time there was no sexual assault. I can’t help but find myself wondering what possible motive someone would have for committing such a horrific act. Was it random violence? 

Early on in the investigation, Crystal and Kylen’s murders were linked to Brian Laundrie and the Gabby Petito investigation. Kylen and Crystal were murdered in Moab just one day after the infamous van altercation between Brian and Gabby in Moab. Before we knew for sure that Brian Laundrie had killed his girlfriend, some speculated about a serial killer. And today many people are still not convinced that Brian himself isn’t that killer. But the police have officially cleared him as a person of interest in this case. Despite the family’s positive outlook, nothing will take away the pain of losing these two beloved women, who had so much more life ahead of them.

In January and February of 2022, some rumors began swirling that the investigators had a person of interest. I just want to make sure everyone understands anyone the police have considered a person of interest has since been cleared. Brian Laundrie was even a person of interest at one point. There are no official suspects, police do not know who did this, and police NEED YOUR HELP. 

I asked Diane what the most helpful thing we can do for Crystal and Kylen is, and she said that the investigators most need photo and video footage from the area. There’s an urgent call for submissions for anyone who traveled to the South Mesa area of Utah in mid August 2021. 

If you were visiting, camping, or even passing through the area of La Sal Loop Road and FR4651 in the part of Moab known as The South Mesa Area please contact the Grand County Sheriff’s department at 435-259-8115

If you have not traveled to Utah I still have a a Call to Action for you! Join the facebook group and contribute to the investigative fundraiser:

Fundraiser Catch a killer- money for the investigation 

Facebook Group- Ky Cry Warriors 

Sources: 

Mysterious Death in Washington: The Case of Marcia Moore

Marcia Moore was born in May of 1928 the only girl among 4 brothers. Her father, Robert Lowell Moore went to Harvard, and after finishing school, he and his roommate Earnest Henderson started a small business as flippers. They’d buy depreciated businesses and reinvigorate them, selling them for a profit. In 1934, they took a chance on  a small hotel in Boston for nothing more than the back taxes owed to the city. Because it already had a large, bold sign out front, they kept the name. You may have heard of it- The Sheraton? They saw so much success, that they kept the hotel too, and expanded it into what we know as the modern day chain of hotels and more. 

Though her parents worked incredibly hard, they also recognized the importance of relaxation, so they owned what they called a meditation retreat in California, where they would head for some peace and quiet as needed. Despite this forward thinking, above all else her parents valued education, and pushed the kids to study and work hard. 

And they were all quite successful in their own way! Marcia’s brother Robin went on to write the Green Berets and the French Connection, widely popular books which were adapted into conservative Oscar winning movies. 

But Marcia never quite took to the conservative side of her family. She always really loved the time they spent learning about meditation and other cultures as children, and she pursued that even further when she married her first husband Simons Roof. The pair had three children: Luisa, Christopher, and Jonathan. As a family, they explored India learning about hinduism and furthering their spiritual practices. 

Though Marcia and Simons’ marriage ended after 14 years, Marcia continued her love for what were considered fringe studies at the time. I think it’s important to remember how brave and bold it was for Marcia to take on topics which many people at that time, including members of her own family, considered debunked or even dangerous! She wrote a notable dissertation on astrology, then after a brief second marriage, she wrote a series of books on spiritual topics with her third husband Mark Douglass. Her total works were later compiled into a collection, which you can find near Boston at the Concord library. The titles she published are: 

  • Reincarnation, the Key to Immortality, with Mark Douglas, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-02-2, 1968.
  • Diet, Sex and Yoga, with Mark Douglas, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-00-8, 1970.
  • Astrology in Action, with Mark Douglas, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-03-9, 1970.
  • Journeys into the Bright World, Para Research Inc, ISBN 978-0-914918-12-7, 1978.
  • Astrology: The Divine Science, Able Trust edition, ISBN 978-0-912240-04-6, 1978.
  • Yoga, Science of the Self, with Mark Douglas, Arcane Publications York Harbor, ASIN: B0006X5POC, 1979.

When the relationship with Mark Douglass dissolved, Marcia met a charming anesthesiologist named Howard Altounian. He became her fourth and final husband and the two moved to a suburb of Seattle Washington. Howard also had a love for the New Age movement, which began increasing in popularity. Howard and Marcia  began to experiment with Spiritual uses for psychotropic drugs, including treating things like PTSD. Marcia had never been much of a drug user, but a new drug Ketamine had been gaining popularity in the counter-culture world. The theory was that, taken in appropriate microdoses, users could achieve higher states of consciousness allowing them to connect with other realms. Marcia was especially drawn to tapping into her past lives, as reincarnation had been a staple in her studies, having written a book on the subject ten years earlier. 

Howard and Marcia pursued the work through legal, scientific means, but the research was their own and it meant that Marcia was taking Ketamine DAILY for nearly 18 months. Her husband had already stopped, and the two had published a book together on their findings- Journeys into the Bright World. But Marcia was convinced that there were more discoveries to uncover, and that she was close to a breakthrough of the metaphysical variety. 

In the book “Dematerialized: The Mysterious Disappearance of Marcia Moore” by Joseph and Marina DiSomma, it appears as though one of the New Age beliefs that could be achieved through high enough consciousness was Dematerialization- where the soul moves onto another plane of existence and the physical body simply ceases to exist- vanishes into thin air. 

And vanishing into thin air appeared to be exactly what Marcia did. On the morning of January 15th, 1979, Howard Altounian called authorities to report his wife missing. The night before, he had left home to see a movie and when he got back, Marcia just wasn’t there. My research showed some conflicting information about what she took with her, or why he waited until morning to call, but what I do know is that everyone agrees that Howard was absolutely devastated. 

Of course the search for Marcia began immediately. For two years, many different theories were investigated while all parties who loved her simply hoped to find her alive and well. No trace of Marcia was seen for nearly two years, when someone found her partial skull in the woods, 3 miles from her home. The skull was only the top portion, and was identified easily through dental records due to the gold crowns Marcia had. The skull showed a hole in the top portion that is still debated to this day, with someone believing its a gunshot wound and others believing its simply deterioration from exposure. Her death was, and has remained classified as undetermined. 

Of course we have to consider the possibility of suicide. The hole in the skull could have been from a self inflicted gunshot wound. I wasn’t able to find any detail as to whether or not that possibility has been forensically analyzed, but the condition of the skull is reported to have made it impossible to tell. – Maybe a bullet, maybe nature. It’s true that there were no shell casings or bullets found near her body. I have heard conflicting reports as to the validity of her suicidal tendencies as well. Though some report that Howard says she had spoken of taking her life since beginning her ketamine routine, he also has been reported as saying that she’d NEVER do such a thing because of her beliefs in reincarnation. Marcia would never want to risk having to start her journey over or worse, get stuck in this lifetime doomed to repeat it. 

Marcia’s family seems to have a very different takes on what ended the heiress’s life, even different takes among the relatives. Her brother Robin has been very vocal in his assertion that Marcia was murdered due to her involvement with the occult. He claims that she told him she’d been threatened by a cult and a coven of witches, and he also says that when he was in Rhodesia two years earlier he received a mysterious letter offering condolences on the death of his sister. At the time, he’d called Marcia and she was fine, but now he believes wholeheartedly that the complaints and occurrences are connected to her death.  He believes that the reason we have only found her skill is because it was served cleanly in a satanic cult human sacrifice ritual. 

Conversely, other relatives seem to believe that the loving grieving husband knows more than he’s admitting. Dr. Altounian spoke of the mental health issues that the ketamine usage was causing for his wife, but her friends and family found that description to be different from what they say- they all felt she was happy, optimistic, and making plans for the future, including starting a magazine about reincarnation. Marcia’s niece Elizabeth remembers the adults of the family openly speaking about their suspicion of him as they settled her estate. It’s often reported that the family was embarrassed by Marcia’s lifestyle- both her relationship track record and her New Age beliefs. Elizabeth has said that while they all suspected it, there just wasn’t enough passion and rage to get the gentleman to break character and fight for those beliefs with no clear proof.

That being said, Howard and Marcia had been living exclusively off of Marcia’s trust fund. When his wife went missing, the community turned on him for his strange beliefs and strange circumstances. He ran out of money and had to move just to find work again as a doctor. It’s hard to see what benefit he would have gained from this. 

The most logical, and maybe popular theory is that Marcia died of exposure after a ketamine overdose. According to Altounian, Marcia had been depressed and despondent. He worried that her ketamine usage was having a long term effect on her, and he had begged her to stop but she was committed to her beliefs that she was close. Is it possible that she snuck a dose and took to the woods for a meditative experience? Or perhaps that she took too much and wandered off in a confused state? Ketamine is a heavy sedative- its a horse tranquilizer and has been used as a date rape drug- if she simply passed out in the woods, she would be likely to die on a cold winter night in the pacific northwest. That being said, why was she not found for two years? I’ve heard some whispers that that area had been searched right after her disappearance, so it seems odd that her remains went unnoticed. And that theory only counts for exposure being responsible for the disappearance of the rest of the body and the hole in the skull. 

Or maybe, just maybe, Marcia Moore reached such high consciousness that her soul ascended and her body simply dematerialized.

From there, the story of Marcia Moore grew as cold as her case. Though those who loved her life tried their best to keep her memory alive, her story faded from the headlines. Until a discovery in September of 2021 connected Marcia Moore to an eerily similar decade old John Doe case all the way across the country in Maine. 

On November 4th, 2010, a pair of men were out deer hunting in the woods of Stacyville Maine. Stacyville was a small town at the base of Mount Katahdin, right on the border of Penobscot and Aroostook Counties in the northern part of the state. The men came across a badly decomposed body, and state police were immediately called in for removal and autopsy. 

The man was estimated to be in his 50’s, around 5’9 and 150lbs. He wore nice clothes and seemed well cared for. His outfit included a plaid button down long sleeve shirt, khaki’s, sneakers, and a canvas jacket- all name brand. In his briefcase he had a sweater and bottles of juice and water. The item that really stuck out to everyone though was the hand knit beanie cap he was wearing, with the name CHRIS on the front. 

For more than 10 years, the Stacyville Doe was compared to missing persons, and his description was shared far and wide with absolutely no results. Who was this mystery man on the mountain? 

Then in 2021, a woman named Sydney Copp was listening the podcast by Josh Hallmark called True Crime Bullsh**. On this particular episode, Josh shared the story of the decade old mystery of the man known only as the Stacyville Doe. Sydney’s ears perked straight up, because Josh was describing a man she’d been looking for all this time. 

Sydney and many other students in the town of Concord Massachusetts had a teacher they’d absolutely adored back in 2010. The students noticed an abrupt absence, and had put together a facebook group looking for their lost teacher called “Where is Mr. Roof?” Over the years they’d tried to file a missing person’s report, but no one could prove any harm had come to him and it was assumed he’d gone off on his own. When Sydney heard the description of the Stacyville Doe, the clothes especially sounded like her long lost teacher. She immediately brought the information, especially the description of the hat, to her facebook group. With their support and encouragement, Sydney  contacted the Maine state police. By September of that  year, the remains were finally positively identified through DNA as that of the beloved teacher, Christopher Roof from Concord Mass. 

Big news in a small town, the resolution to this mystery was assigned to reporter Alex McDougall for the Bangor Daily News. Alex began to research who Christopher Roof was and how he came to be alone and unidentified in the mountains more than 300 miles away. The first thing that he found was that Christopher was both literary and brilliant. Perhaps he’d gone to the woods to follow in the footsteps of those like Thoreau. 

The next discovery McDougall made was that Christopher’s family history contained a family mystery. As he looked through property records he realized that Chris’s mom had met a similar fate when he was in his 20s- disappeared mysteriously, found in the woods, cause of death forever unknown. Chris Roof, the identified Stacyville Doe, was the son of Marcia Moore from her first marriage to Simon Roof. 

If you have any information about the undetermined death of Marcia Moore in 1979 please call the Washington state police. If you have information about the undetermined death of Christopher Roof in 2010 please call the Maine State police.

Sources:

Murdered in South Carolina: Life and Death Among the Murdaughs Part 2

The rest of our story tonight  still takes place in the area of South Carolina known as Low Country. To catch your memory up, we got to know the prominent Murdaugh family who had essentially run the area as 14th circuit solicitors and other high social impact attorney positions for nearly 100 years. Most of the community agreed that the family was the kind of prominent you see in the movies. Their influence in the judicial system went far and wide because of the family’s long standing roles, but more than that, Alex Murdaugh and his family even barbecued with the local judges and law enforcement on the weekends. Outside of court, the rest of the family had a massive social sphere of influence as well. Alex’s wife Maggie and sons Buster and Paul often were the center of attention among their friends, using their money and toys to show their circles a good time. 

On February 23rd, 2019 the consequences of terrible decision making would finally begin to catch up with the youngest member of the Murdaugh family, 19 year old Paul. After Paul used his brother’s ID to purchase alcohol, he crashed his family’s boat injuring 3 of his friends, and pitching Mallory Beach off the boat into the dark of night. For 8 days the community searched for Mallory while the Beach family held their breath. On March 3rd, 2019 her body was found 5 miles up the river from the crash site. Mallory’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but this was not the only lawsuit that came out of that crash. Connor Cook, another passenger whose jaw was painfully broken, has also filed suit against Alex Murdaugh for allegedly attempting to get him to lie and say that he was the one driving the boat that crashed and killed Mallory. 

On April 18th 2019, Paul Murdaugh was officially charged with three felony counts of boating under the influence leading to the death of Mallory Beach and serious injury of the other passengers. Paul pleaded not guilty to all of these charges and was out on bond awaiting trial. The Beach family, Paul’s former friends, and many members of the community felt increasingly frustrated by how Paul continued to enjoy a life of freedom while he was waiting for trial. He was given almost no restrictions so that he could carry on with his college education The case dragged and dragged, and I can’t help but wonder if the family’s pull had anything to do with that.  

But the Beach family would never know justice for Mallory, at least not here on Earth, and Paul would never get his day in court. 

On June 7th, 2021, more than 2 years after the fateful boat crash, at 10:07pm,  911 received a phone call from Alex Murdaugh. Take a listen. 

The home where first responders were summoned was the Murdaugh’s hunting lodge in Islandton SC. The property was called Moselle, so big it had its own road. The estate as well as a large multi-building dog kennel sat on almost 2,000 acres of secluded land. Local law enforcement responded promptly, but neighbors say it was hours of siren after siren arriving on scene. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known mostly as SLED, arrived just before midnight. 

22 year old Paul Murdaugh had been shot and killed with a shotgun, once to the chest, and once in the head with a bullet that also went through his arm. I couldn’t find anything to verify this but it made me wonder if that was possibly in a defensive stance. 52 year old Maggie was reportedly shot multiple times with a semi-automatic rifle. Both were suspected to have been killed between 9 and 9:30pm 

The investigation swung into action, and Alex Murdaugh himself was quickly looked at as a person of interest. Police reported shortly thereafter that, while its normal to look at the husband first, Alex had an “ironclad alibi”. His father, Randolph Randy Murdaugh III was very ill and dying at the time, and Alex was visiting him which could be verified by many staff. Randy went on to pass away 8 days later. Sources close to the family announced publicly that Alex was not a suspect and that he was cooperating fully with the investigation. 

Police reports of the details of the investigation have been few and far between, and there’s still many things we don’t know. Later in June, the police released some reports but they were so heavily redacted that it didn’t tell the public much else. I’ve linked these documents in the sources on our website. One particular question that I can’t get my mind off of is about those guns. We do know that Moselle was a hunting lodge and was loaded with guns, all of which were seized as part of the investigation. Where did the guns come from? Did they belong to the Murdaughs? Were they taken by the killer or were they found on scene? How did you figure out what types of guns they were? Because I do know there were shells but no one has said to my research if there were guns. And maybe the biggest question for me is logistically speaking, does this mean there were two shooters?

Naturally Mallory Beach’s family had to be investigated for any involvement they may have had in this case, but were cleared completely. For them, this was a devastating blow. More loss of life did not equal justice in their minds. Over the course of the summer, while the investigation attempted to go on quietly, many small back and forth court proceedings happened regarding release of evidence to the public, and regarding Paul’s criminal charges since he was now deceased. In August, just two months after his death, Paul’s charges for Mallory’s death were dropped completely by the state. 

During the course of the investigation, which keep in mind is only months old still at this point, the world has discovered some suspicious older deaths which have been tied to the Murdaugh family. Let’s start with the death of Stephen Smith.

In 2015 Stephen Smith was 19 years old when he was found deceased in the middle of the road under unclear and heavily disputed circumstances. Stephen’s loved ones say he had a light, carefree personality. He and his mom were super close, and she called him her ray of sunshine. He wanted to be a doctor and was studying as a nursing student in college.

On July 8th, 2015 at 3:48 am a man driving down rural Sandy Run Road near Hampton South Carolina called 911 to report that he’d discovered a body in the street. He feared foul play of some kind, so he had gone around the body and driven another mile before stopping to make the emergency call.

 He said to the dispatcher “There’s a man lying in the road, I’m afraid somebody’s going to hit him, it’s dark.” The sheriff’s department was dispatched to the scene and found Stephen deceased, his body laying right on the yellow line in the middle of the road. His car was found 3 miles away with the gas cap unscrewed and not in working condition. 

The immediate first impression was that Stephen had run out of gas, begun walking to find some, and been the victim of a hit and run. However, the officers found no evidence of a hit and run to support this theory. When there’s a vehicular accident it almost always leaves some trace evidence- There were no tire treads or sudden break marks, no glass from broken lights or windows, no bumpers, fenders, not even any paint chips. 

He also only had one injury to his head, and very minor scraping on his arm which simply didn’t seem to line up with being hit by a car or truck, and in the scene investigation camera footage, you can hear the troopers say “this does not appear to be a vehicular accident in my opinion.” The coroner initially decided that Stephen’s death was a homicide because he thought the injury to his head was actually a gunshot wound. Despite the coroner’s opinion, Stephen’s case was moved up the chain to the forensic pathologist from the SLED department, she was the person who legally had to sign off on it, and she completely disagreed with the coroner. The pathologist said that no bullet fragments were found and she believed the wound to be blunt force trauma, likely from being struck by the mirror of a motor vehicle. His cause of death was officially ruled accidental. 

Many investigators were actually surprised and confused by this finding, and you can see police reports where officers contacted her directly to try to understand more about her decision. It was not a popular one, and these reports indicate that there were strong opinions about this. But because it was ruled a hit and run, the HIGHWAY PATROL DEPARTMENT was put in charge of an investigation that almost everyone in the Sheriff’s department believed to be HOMICIDE. The family and community continued to fight for justice for Stephen, and they continue to fight to this day. 

On June 23rd 2021, within weeks of the Murdaugh Murders, SLED released a statement that they were reopening the investigation into Stephen Smith’s death as a direct result of information uncovered during the Murdaugh double homicide investigation. SLED has not told us what that newly uncovered information is, but what we do know is that Buster and Stephen had a previous connection, and Buster’s name had come up back in 2015 as part of the investigation.

Buster Murdaugh and Stephen Smith were classmates graduating together at Wade Hampton Highschool. Official police reports in the investigation show that Buster’s name was mentioned during an interview with a family member of Stephen’s. She said that she was in the store after Stephen’s death and multiple people approached her saying “Oh you know Buster Murdaugh is behind this, he did it with some of his friends” 

The officer traced the rumor mill back to another mutual friend of theirs, saying that before Stephen even died there were whispers and rumors that he and Buster were together. Stephen was openly gay, but to the best of my knowledge Buster has never specified. I hate even having this conversation, but its something that people are pointing to as a potential motive for any of Buster’s alleged involvement. 

Other people who were interviewed have stated that they heard a group of guys, including Buster Murdaugh, were driving around, saw Stephen in the road and decided to taunt him, but someone accidentally hit him in the head with something. The source goes on to say that it was out of character for his lifelong friend Buster, but that he heard Buster was on drugs that night. He also said that knowing Buster, Buster would have demanded to be the one driving – if you remember this is exactly how Paul would act years later with the boat that killed his friend. The investigators ask this source who else was with Buster, and he said that this kind of behavior was right up Paul’s alley, so he should be looked at as well. 

Other friends went on to tell police they’d heard the rumor too, but one said that they’d beat him up and thrown him out the back of a truck, and police just haven’t publicly released any information that can tie anyone to anything thus far. I’ve also heard just as many interviews where people say they’re confused by it and don’t think they were even friends, let alone had a reason for this kind of animosity. There are other theories in Stephen’s tragic death which are worth investigating, in fact his mom doesn’t even believe he would willingly be out walking to get gas and that part of it might be staged, so please let me know if that’s something you want me to look into more thoroughly in a future episode. 

Back to the double homicide at the Moselle hunting lodge and what that investigation uncovered- Stephen Smith was not the only mysterious death that came up here. 

On February 2nd 2018 Maggie Murdagh had placed a call to 911 from their home on Moselle because their long-time housekeeper Gloria Satterfield had fallen down the stairs. The second speaker is believed to be Paul. Take a listen: 

Gloria was taken to the hospital where she was in critical condition for weeks until she died on February 26th 2018.

Gloria had worked for the Murdaugh’s for many years, and by all accounts she was very close with Paul and Buster especially. Gloria also had two sons, and Alex Murdaugh told them that he’d make sure they’d be taken care of. He said that since this happened on his property, he was responsible, and he’d sue himself and then give them the insurance payout. There’s a long convoluted explanation about how that makes sense, but the fact of the matter is Alex did NOT pay Satterfield’s sons, a fact that was only uncovered recently. Turns out Alex had hooked Satterfield’s family up with a lawyer to represent them- who was his best friend and former college roommate. 

The family also goes on to sue Alex as well, and that’s all under investigation still currently, listen to the end of the episode for the latest. 

Based on the double homicide of the Murdaughs in the same home, September 2021 police again report cause to reopen the investigation into Gloria Satterfield’s death. SLED has revealed next to nothing, but here is what we do know: The manner of death on Gloria Satterfield’s death certificate was listed as “natural” which, any way you slice it, is inconsistent with slipping and cracking your head.  

Failing to deliver the payout to Satterfield’s son’s was just the beginning of Alex’s financial troubles. In early September of 2021. The PMPED law firm where Alex was a partner confronted him after finding a suspicious check on his desk indicating he may have been laundering money from the firm for personal use, so he was asked to resign and told a full investigation would begin.

The next day, 911 received another call from Alex Murdaugh. I’m not going to play it for you, but he says that he was pulled over on the side of the road to change a flat tire when he was shot in the head. I don’t want to waste a lot of time on the details here because Alex has since confessed that this was a suicide attempt, though he denied it for a couple of weeks after. He went on and on with this crazy story and wasted tons of hours of tax payer time on the investigation. He now says that he hired his cousin Curtis Edward Smith (who goes by Eddie) to assist in his suicide so that his surviving son Buster would get his inheritance. Long story short, Cousin Eddie denies shooting Alex and says that he believes Alex did intend to die but was framing him. Cousin Eddie has been arrested and is facing his own slew of charges, but he still denies his advanced knowledge of the shooting.

Alex, who went to the hospital to recover from the fairly minor gunshot wound, released a statement saying that he’s been battling an opioid addiction for 20 years, and that cousin Eddie was his primary dealer. While he recovers, SLED ramps up their investigations into the insurance fraud claims from Satterfield’s death, and when Alex was released from the hospital he turned himself in to authorities in Hampton County. 

Later in that same month, SLED announced that they’ve uncovered more potential crimes in the course of their homicide and fraud investigations. Alex was released on bond, and went to rehab in Florida, but was taken back into custody on new charges of acquiring property on false pretenses in relation to Gloria Satterfield in October. Since then, Alex Murdaugh has been charged with 74 criminal charges so far, and without being charged for any deaths, he already faces up to 731 years in prison.

But what about Maggie and Paul? Who killed Alex’s wife and son?

People magazine released an article detailing conversations and evidence that may point at Alex’s motive, but Alex’s camp has released counter statements denying that. The article alleges that people close to the Murdaugh’s say their marriage was not very happy, and behind the fancy cocktail dresses was a lot of misery. Another article from People says that Maggie had seen divorce attorneys. Could this point toward a motive for Alex? But what about Paul, whose trial was fast approaching? What other motives were there? If not Alex, who? Why? 

We will all have to stay tuned and see. 

If you know anything about the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, or the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Stephen Smith and Gloria Satterfield, please call the anonymous tip line at (803) 896-2605

Sources: