Happy Birthday to Aggie Underwood and Deranged L.A. Crimes

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Aggie at a crime scene in the 1940s.

Aggie Underwood was born on December 17, 1902 and Deranged L.A. Crimes was born on December 17, 2016, so there’s a lot to celebrate today. We have so many candles on our birthday cake it will take a gale force wind to blow them all out.

It was Aggie’s career as a Los Angeles journalist that inspired me to begin this blog.  She began her career as a temporary switchboard operator at the Daily Record in late 1926.. In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, she described the Record’s newsroom as a “weird wonderland” and promptly fell in love with the newspaper business. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to be a reporter and she pursued her goal with passion and commitment.

During a time when most female journalists were assigned to report on women’s club activities and other social events, Aggie covered most, if not all, of the most important crime stories of the day. She attended Thelma Todd’s autopsy in December 1935 and was the only Los Angeles reporter to score a byline in the Black Dahlia case in January 1947.

Like Aggie, I’ve become obsessed with the villains and victims in Los Angeles. The stories touch me as often as they frighten and repulse me. I want to understand why people do the things they do, and sometimes I feel like I get close. I don’t expect to ever completely answer that question–but the quest is a rewarding one.

Whether you are new to the blog or have been following Deranged L.A. Crimes for a while, I want to thank you sincerely for your readership.

There will be many more stories in 2017 and a few appearances too. I will keep you posted.

Joan

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Conclusion

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Photo of crime scene courtesy of LAPL. This Bob’s restaurant has since been demolished.

Tami Rogoway’s failure to identify Franklin Freeman as one of the Bob’s Big Boy shooters the first time around was a boon for his defense attorney, Madelynn Kopple. A rumor circulated that Rogoway’s failure may have been the result of undue pressure applied to her by Kopple.  In any case, Kopple mounted a vigorous defense. But despite the rumors no verifiable evidence was found to prove that she had applied undue pressure on Rogoway and the witness did finally ID Freeman as one of the killers.

Clearly a pit bull in defense of her client, Kopple went so far as to write letters to the Los Angeles police and prosecutors charging that they were aware of Freeman’s innocence and that they were “allowing the actual killer to remain free.” Her action triggered a gag order. Undeterred,  Kopple supplied the name of the man she thought should take Freeman’s place at trial: Thomas Carver, 29. It isn’t clear from the LA Times coverage why Kopple accused Carver. If he had any connection with the other defendants it wasn’t mentioned. Yet, at Kopple’s insistence, Carver was brought in for a lineup at the Sheriff’s Department. The gag order prevented details of the lineup from being reported in detail by the press, but the outcome spoke volumes. Carter was returned to his West LA home and was never charged.

The contretemps over Kopple’s letters was far from over though. Superior Court Judge James M. Ideman dismissed her as Freeman’s attorney for what he considered her over-the-top behavior. However Freeman refused to accept another attorney in Koppel’s place so an appeal was filed and she was reinstated.

None of the defense attorneys were keen to have their clients tried together; so, motions to sever were submitted, and accepted.  The three defendants would be tried individually.

Leslie Abramson

Leslie Abramson

First up was Ricky Sanders. There was a mountain of evidence against him and even legendary defense attorney Leslie Abramson found it an uphill battle. A search of his home turned up a sawed-off shotgun similar to the weapon used in murders–as well as two spent shell cases the same size as those used by the second gunman. Cops also found coins in wrappers of the type used at Bob’s.

At every opportunity the prosecutor,  Harvey Giss, reminded the jurors of the carnage in the restaurant—and the continuing pain felt by the loved ones of the dead in the days and months since.

Cesario Luna never regained consciousness and died of his wounds six months after the attack. Jurors learned that he wasn’t even supposed to be in the restaurant that night. He came in on his day off to fill in for a worker who was a no-show. His son, Ismael, a dishwasher, miraculously escaped injury but whatever relief he felt was marred by the devastating loss of  his father. Michael Malloy, the night manager, lost his right eye. Evelyn Jackson, a waitress who pleaded with the gunmen for her life after the shooting began, was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage. Dionne Irvin, waitress, had her arm shattered by a shotgun blast. Rogoway, waitress, who initially failed to identify Freeman, was partially paralyzed with 150 shotgun pellets in her body, three of them lodged in her spinal column.

On August 20, 1982 the jury found Sanders guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, five counts of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.

The jury that found Sanders guilty for his part in the December 14, 1980 massacre sentenced him to die.

With her boyfriend sentenced to death Carletha Stewart decided, on the very day she was to go to trial, to plead guilty and avoid the same fate. She copped to all of the crimes she was charged with: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. She admitted to driving the getaway car. Taking everything into consideration she got a good deal, 25 years to life.freeman pic2

The last to stand trial was Franklin Freeman.

In his opening statement at Freeman’s trial in August 1983, Deputy District Attorney Harvey Giss told jurors that they could expect Carletha Stewart to tell them the same story she had told him.  That her cousin had taken part in planning the robbery at Bob’s but backed out when a third conspirator said that he might have to kill everyone in the restaurant.  Giss planned to discredit Stewart and prove that Freeman had gone through with the robbery and murders. Carletha threw him a curve when she refused to testify. Giss wasn’t broken up about her decision since, as far as he was concerned, she was going to perjure herself.  The prosecution’s case went forward without difficulty.

Further, Giss told the jury that he would present  testimony from the manager of a Taco Bell in Santa Monica that was robbed by two gunmen just hours following the slaughter at Bob’s. The manager identified Freeman and quoted his accomplice as saying: “We are going to jail for 30 years for what we just did, so we don’t care about you.” Then the man identified as Freeman said, “Put him in the freezer; put him in the refrigerator and plug him.”

The manager would likely have died if he hadn’t escaped by batting the gun out of the robber’s hand, grabbing it, emptying the shells out of it and then diving through a plate glass window.

The trial lasted four months and the jury deliberated for one week. On December 22, 1983, four days past the third anniversary of the crime, Franklin Freeman Jr. was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery, and one count of conspiracy. He was also found guilty of attempting to rob the Santa Monica Taco Bell and guilty of assaulting the manger with a deadly weapon.

Freeman convictedFreeman sat impassively as the verdict was read, and while a young woman screaming “no” and “you liar” attempted to lunge through the short swinging gate that separates spectators from trial participants. Two bailiffs subdued her and she was removed from the courtroom. Whether she was a relative, girlfriend, or just a trial groupie wasn’t revealed.

During the penalty phase the jury was unable to reach a decision about Freeman’s punishment and announced that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Because of the deadlock the prosecution and defense were compelled to present their evidence to a second jury tasked with determining Freeman’s sentence. Nearly one year following his conviction Freeman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Freeman showed no emotion when his sentence was pronounced but Madelynn Kopple burst into tears.

freeman sparedWhen asked by reporters why Freeman’s life had been spared, the jury’s forewoman said that they had some doubts regarding the extent of his involvement in the murders and so decided against sending him to the gas chamber.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Ricky Sanders — is still on death row.  On May 26, 2010, he filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over the denial of his habeas petition in Federal District Court. I don’t know the outcome of his appeal, but it was very likely denied. If and when California resumes executions he is certainly at the top of the list.

Franklin Freeman Jr. —  is in prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Carletha Stewart — a petition circulated by a friend of hers a few years ago advocated for her release, but as far as I can tell she is still incarcerated.

Madelynn Koppel — according to  the California Bar Association she continues to practice law.

Leslie Abramson — is best known for her defense of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the 1989 shotgun murder of their parents in Beverly Hills.

Harvey Giss — eventually left the DA’s office and went on to become a superior court judge.  He retired in July 2014.

I don’t know what became of the survivors of the tragedy. I sincerely hope that they were able to find some measure of peace and, those who were physically and emotionally able, went on to lead happy lives.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 2

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

At a press conference on December 23, 1980 at Parker Center, Daryl Gates, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, announced that three suspects in the gruesome massacre at the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer Street, in which three people were killed, were in custody and would be charged with first degree murder. The suspects were identified as: Franklin Freeman, 22, Ricky Sanders, 25, and Carletha Stewart, 19. [Stewart and Freeman were cousins, Stewart was Sanders’ girlfriend.] Gates said that Stewart was a former employee of the restaurant but did not say how long she had been employed or when she had left.

Forbidden by law to disclose the criminal records of the suspects prior to their being charged, Chief Gates said that the alleged gunmen had police records and one of them had a record of “serious violations–real hard-time stuff.” Stewart had no criminal record and wasn’t in the restaurant during the murders; however, she was thought to have been the getaway driver.

The suspects spent Christmas Eve in court where they were formally charged with murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. Each of them was eligible for the death penalty if convicted; and all of them entered a plea of not guilty.

Once they’d been charged, Sanders’ criminal record was made public. He had been released from custody on March 12, 1979 after serving almost a year in Soledad and Tehachapi for a residential burglary in Orange Count.  Not exactly “hard-time stuff”, but certainly incarceration in a California State Prison counts as serious.

As far as hard-time goes, Freeman’s younger brother, Anthony, 19, stood a chance of doing a major stretch in prison for a murder he had allegedly committed. He was awaiting a retrial for the strangulation murder of seventy-two year-old Rosa Robinson. She had been strangled with a vacuum cleaner cord on August 8, 1979. She was the mother of Inglewood Municipal Court Judge Roosevelt Robinson. Anthony’s first trial deadlocked 11-to-1 in favor of conviction. It was possible that the Freeman brothers would serve prison time, if not in the same facility, then at least simultaneously. [Anthony was sentenced to life at his second trial.]

One of the revelations during the preliminary hearing in April 1981 was that the robbery was not committed on a whim, it had been planned. According to an acquaintance of Stewart’s, Andre Gilcrest, 21, about two weeks prior to the actual robbery Stewart told him that some of her friends were going to rob the Bob’s restaurant that night. Gilcrest, who was held in protective custody, said that after Stewart told him about the plan they drove to the restaurant and drank coffee until closing waiting for the shit to hit the fan. The robbery didn’t occur that night because, as Stewart later learned, the manager, thinking that the would-be robbers were customers who hadn’t made it before closing time wouldn’t open the door for them.

sanders_freeman pic

One of the victims who testified at the preliminary hearing, during which all three of the defendants were present, was Rhonda Robinson. She took the stand and almost immediately began to tremble. When she became incoherent a recess was called so she could collect herself. When the DA asked her why she was so frightened she said: “Because I know that’s the guy [motioning to Freeman] over there who did it.” She was one of the lucky ones in that she was not physically harmed during the shootings, but she was psychologically damaged. She said she had nightmares and wasn’t able to return to work. She was consulting a psychiatrist for her ongoing emotional trauma.

Ismael Luna testified through a Spanish language interpreter. He was shocked and bewildered by the violence.  He said: “We were all in a group and they just started shooting.” Luna’s father Cesario, wounded during the shooting, died after languishing for several months in a coma–bringing the death toll to four.

Michael Malloy, night manager at the restaurant, lost his right eye during the gunfire. He appeared in court with a bandage covering half his face.

Orasteen Freeman insisted her son was the victim of mistaken identity. You might expect a mother to defend her son, but in this case there was possibly something to her assertion. One of the survivors of the massacre, Tami Rogoway, had failed to make a positive identification of Freeman. But less than a week later she testified that she was “positive” that he was one of the two men who shot into the freezer that night. She explained her inability to identify him the first time because she had  been too afraid to make eye contact with the defendant; but later when “he turned back once, our eyes caught…and I flashed back to Bob’s Big Boy.”

Madelynn Kopple, Freeman’s attorney, asked Rogoway if she was “willing to bet your life” on identifying Freeman. Rogoway replied: “I have to be willing to sit up here and say what I just said.”

witness changes testimony

Would Rogoway’s initial failure to ID Freeman be enough to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors?

NEXT TIME:  The conclusion of the bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 1

bob logoIt was 2:05 a.m. on Sunday, December 14, 1980 and the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer, just north of the Santa Monica Freeway, was closed for the night. There were still eleven people inside, two customers preparing to leave, and nine employees.

Two black men entered the restaurant through the front door. The late comers could have been customers who had not realized the restaurant was closed except that each them was brandishing a sawed-off shotgun, and one of them was armed with a revolver.

All eleven people were herded at gunpoint into the restaurant’s 8×15 foot walk-in freezer and made to lie on the floor. The victims complied with every request. They covered their heads with their hands and waited for the ordeal to end. Then, for no apparent reason, the robbers opened fire. When they were finished the freezer was an abattoir and three people were dead.

The bloodbath at Bob’s ended the fourth highest weekend of murder on record in Los Angeles with a total of 32 people slain. It was an appalling statistic and prompted Lt. Glenn Ackerman of LAPD’s West LA division to say: “What in the name of God kind of monster could have done a thing like this? It’s totally out of the realm of the kind of behavior that civilized people can even contemplate.”

rising tide violence

Citizens were terrified, and no wonder. The week before the Bob’s murders former Beatle John Lennon was assassinated on the street in front of his New York City apartment. It seemed that no matter where you lived, or who you were, you were not safe. The 1980s was one of the most violent decades in the U.S. since the 1860s and the carnage  continued at a record pace until the early 1990s.

LAPD issued a nationwide dragnet for the killers based on the physical descriptions as reported by the victims. The management of Bob’s Big Boy offered a $10,000 reward for information leading their arrest and conviction.luna pic

There were three dead at the scene: David Burrell, 20, customer; Aphrodite (Dita) Agtani, 23, waitress and mother of a 4 month old child. Ahmad Mashuck, 20, employee who died several hours later. In critical condition were diswasher Cesario Luna, 45 and Evelyn Jackson, 23, also an employee. In serious condition were Rami Ellen Rogoway, 17, patron; Dionne Alcia Irvin, 20, and Michael Malloy, 23 both employees. Slightly wounded was Derwin Logan, 19, employee. Uninjured were Rhonda Robinson, 19, and Ismael Luna, 20 (Cesario’s son), both employees. Cesario Luna would linger in a coma for several months before he passed away, bringing the death toll to four.

task force

A special LAPD task force to combat violent crime on the West Side was formed and Deputy Police Chief Daniel Sullivan said: “The idea is to keep people from getting hurt in the first place–instead of just arresting someone after something terrible has happened.” The plan was to use cops as decoys. Sullivan continued: “I want the bad guys to know that the next guy they try to rob on the street is liable to be a police officer…”

A task force was all well and good going forward, but meanwhile the cops had to identify and arrest the people responsible for the massacre at Bob’s.

NEXT TIME: The killers are busted.

The Mad Professor, Conclusion

Tracy Leroy Nute, alleged teenage victim of Professor Max Bernard Franc’s “homosexual rage”, was described by his mother, Judy Nute, as a “sentimental” and “naive” kid with problems. Interviewed in her Kansas home she said that her son had been in trouble with the law, “but nothing that any rowdy teenager wouldn’t have gotten into.”

Tracy’s scrapes with the law may have been minor, but at some point Judy found it impossible to handle him and he spent much of his time in juvenile homes. The homes in which he was placed didn’t work out and he decided, like many unhappy kids, to head for Southern California. His destination was Hollywood where he intended to become an actor. Runaways have been coming  to Hollywood in droves with the same dream since the first studios appeared in the 1910s. But big dreams die hard and fast when the reality of street life sets in–everything is a struggle–food, cigarettes, a place to crash. Tracy, like other teenage transplants before him, was most likely welcomed to town by drug dealers and pimps, not an agent with a movie contract. Tracy’s home state’s motto is Ad Astra per Aspera (To the Stars through Difficulties). He never reached a star, he never had the chance. By the spring of 1987 he was turning tricks, and by summer he was dead.

Max contended that he wasn’t Tracy’s killer and that the murder had been committed by a gay prostitute by the name of Terry Adams. According to Max, Terry had even lived with him for a while in Fresno. Did Terry exist? Sheriff’s investigators never found him; and Max was so terrified of being outed that he’d gone to great lengths to conduct a secret life in Hollywood. Would he have risked everything to bring a lover to Fresno? It is doubtful.

The trial was as interesting as had been anticipated. Rumors circulated that Tracy had attempted to extort money from Max. If true the kid had morphed quickly from a naive Kansas runaway to a street-wise Hollywood blackmailer.

Public Defender, Mark Kaiserman, admitted that Max was a voyeur who suffered from poor judgment. Explicit photos of the victim were found among the hundreds discovered in Max’s apartment. Interestingly, no photos of his alleged lover were found. The attorney unveiled a unique defense which was based primarily on Max’s ineptitude. Kaiserman argued that Max was too “nerdy” and too much of “a klutz” to wield handle a gun, let alone manage a chain saw. Kaiserman reminded jurors that Max had cemented over the entire yard at his Fresno home to avoid using a lawn mower.

nerd headline

Was it a creative defense? Without a doubt. Was it an effective defense? Unfortunately for Max, no. He was found guilty of Tracy’s murder. Fear of exposure, if that was the motive for the slaying, easily explained how Max was able to overcome his nerdiness and commit such an atrocious murder.

The jury accepted the prosecution’s case that characterized the defendant as a man overcome by homosexual rage and rejected the defense argument that Max was too wimpy to have committed the crime. max blows kiss

At his sentencing hearing Max’s sister, Carol Waiters, a psychiatric social worker from Philadelphia, made a plea for leniency on her brother’s behalf. She implored Judge John H. Reid to consider “the whole person” rather than the part of his personality that drove him to murder. On July 28, 1988, Judge Reid sentenced Max to from 25 years to life with the possibility of parole in 17 years.

Max didn’t live long enough to become eligible for parole. He died of a heart attack in Cochran State Prison on September 18, 1997.

The Mad Professor, Part 2

When LAPD received a call about a rented chain saw which had been returned with what appeared to be pieces of human flesh and flecks of blood in the teeth and motor, they turned the information over to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriffs were investigating the murder of a John Doe whose body parts had been found off the interstate in Santa Clarita and as possibly as far north as Madera County. The victim had yet to be identified but he was thought to have been a young man, likely in his teens, sporting a punk rocker hair cut.

scholar murderOne of the first things that Sheriff’s detectives needed to do was to identify the person who had rented the chain saw. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. The saw had been rented by a Fresno State College professor, Max Bernard Franc, in his own name. Characterized by colleagues as gentle and non-confrontational, Max didn’t seem to be capable of a cross word let alone a grisly dismemberment killing. But the undeniable evidence of the chain saw was sufficient for detectives to book him on suspicion of murder. He was remanded into custody and held without bail.

While efforts were being made to identify the victim, detectives in both Los Angeles and Madera counties searched both of Max’s residences–his house in Fresno and his apartment in West Hollywood. Sergeant Bryan Williams, an L.A. County Sheriff’s investigator, traveled to Fresno to take part in the search. Williams later told reporters that he had found “one of the largest collections of pornographic homosexual films ever seen.” The link between the quiet college professor and the young punk rocker was becoming a cut up doglittle easier to fathom. All indications were that Max had been leading a double life for years.

The Fresno Bee reported that Max had claimed that the chain saw was bloody because he had run over a dog and then used the saw to cut up the carcass. What? Who in the hell does that? According to Officer George Collier of the LAPD, when he first heard Max’s explanation he was skeptical; but when he was asked if he thought it was unusual for someone to report cutting up a dog with a chain saw he replied: “It’s not the normal type of thing a person would do, but Hollywood’s a bizarre place.” When the dead dog story failed to sway the police Max did what many people accused of murder do–he blamed someone else.

franc_photoMax told Sheriff’s investigator Steve Lee that the still unidentified victim had been killed by a male prostitute, Terry Adams, in self-defense. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and allegedly Terry and the victim had argued over a debt. He described Terry as a white male in his 30s, about 5’10”, 160 pounds with shoulder length blond hair. Detectives were just as doubtful about Terry’s existence as they had been about the dead dog. L.A. County Deputy D.A. Sterling Norris said: “At this time we are still of the opinion that there was not a second man, but we’re still investigating.”

Max in high school.  Class of 1947

Max in high school. Class of 1947

While Max sat in jail and attempted to talk his way out of the murder charge, investigators  succeeded in identifying the victim as an 18-year-old wannabe actor from Kansas City, Tracy Leroy Nute. The D.A.’s office was going forward with the case against Max offering “homosexual rage” as the motive and, citing the “depraved nature of the killing” ,they were seeking the death penalty for Max.

Before you dismiss homosexual rage entirely, note that it is defined in the Urban Dictionary as: “A temper tantrum observed in homosexual men who exhibit behavior of a female coupled with the strength of a man. Such deadly pairing is particularly worrisome given that crimes, such as assault and/or murder committed in a gay rage usually reveal a gory and violent confrontation above normal levels (i.e. excessive bruising, multiple gunshot or stabbing wounds.)

It was a nifty prosecution theory that managed to stereotype both women and gay males.

The trial was going to be very interesting.

NEXT TIME: The conclusion of Max’s story.

The Mad Professor, Part 1

On Tuesday, August 25, 1987, the head and torso of a male, probably in his late teens with a punk-rock style haircut, were found by a Madera County rancher. The body parts were discovered off a rural highway about 20 miles north of Fresno. The young man had a gunshot wound to the head and had been dead about two days. From marks on the bones and the tearing of the flesh it it appeared that the killer may have used a chain saw to dismember the body.

On Thursday, August 27, body parts wrapped in a bed sheet were found near the Golden State Freeway at McBean Parkway in Valencia. The mutilations appeared to have been made with a chain saw. Sergeant John Andrews of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said: “The way the remains were hacked, it appears to be the work of the same person.” No driver’s license or any other means of identifying the young man were discovered with the remains. Investigators weren’t yet sure if the body parts belonged to one or more victims.

Sheriff’s investigators started working the case, but there wasn’t much to go on until the LAPD received a phone call regarding a bloody chain saw. Sheriff’s investigators confiscated the saw–and it would lead them to the most unlikely killer imaginable.

* * *

UntitledFifty-year-old Max Bernard Franc was a tenured professor of public administration at the California State University at Fresno. The unmarried Wisconsin native had earned his Ph.D. at New York University. He’d joined the Fresno faculty in 1969. His colleagues knew him as quiet and scholarly, so you can imagine their shock when he was arrested in Hollywood for the murder and dismemberment of the young man whose body parts had been found scattered along highways between Los Angeles and Fresno.

David Provost, professor and former chair of Max’s department described him this way: “He’s a very low-key kind of individual. When I was chairman of the department, he was one who was always seeking compromise when faculty disputes arose he was. . . a very gentle type of individual.”

One of Max’s colleagues, who declined to be named, said: “I saw him about 10 days ago on campus. He had finished his summer school course and was upbeat, friendly, chatty. He looked as positive and as constructive as I had seen him in years. Nothing seemed amiss. None of this fits the psychology of the person I know. . . He’s not the kind to blow up.” Echoing David Provost’s comments he said: “He’s more the kind who tries to avoid a sticky situation.

Max had recently received a grant to study the budgets and staffing of various cities around the state, a study that had put him in touch with several public officials, including Los Angeles County sheriff’s administrators, and he was just about to begin a semester long sabbatical.

If he was the killer, what had made the mild-mannered professor snap? And what was a fairly conservative man doing in the company of a teenage punk-rocker?

NEXT TIME:  Max Franc’s secret life.

Spree Killer, Conclusion

In 1984 Dean Phillip Carter was sentenced to 59 years in prison for the rape of a Ventura County woman. His defense, that the sex was consensual, failed to convince the jury.The victim testified that she was awakened, shortly after midnight on March 29, 1984, by the sound of someone entering her apartment through her kitchen window. By the time she sat up in bed a masked man holding a butcher knife was standing in the doorway of her bedroom. Even with a bandana tied around his face she recognized him as Dean Carter, an acquaintance of her roommate.

carter convictedFor over five hours Carter forced the woman at knife-point to orally copulate him three times and then he vaginally raped her once. Twice he choked her into unconsciousness. Once because she tried to escape, and the second time because she attempted to scream for help. When he took her car keys she feared that he would take her somewhere and kill her. She testified: “I took hold of his face and I talked to him. I told him to try to remember what he was doing and who he was and who I was and that he didn’t have to do this. . .I was trying to reason with him.” She also tried to keep him off-balance. After the final sexual assault she hugged him, told him he was “beautiful”, and then casually got up and began to dress for work.She gave him directions to the bus station and, unbelievably, he left.

Because Carter was held accountable for murders and rapes in multiple jurisdictions there were numerous legal delays, much to the anger and frustration of the families of the victims. It took several  years to get him into a courtroom to face charges for the murders of Jillette Mills, Susan Knoll, and Bonnie Guthrie.

In January 1990 a panel of seven women and five men deliberated for 3 1/2 days before they recommended execution at San Quentin for Carter for the slayings of the three L.A. County women. Family members of the victims applauded the penalty and nearly all of them expressed a desire to witness his execution. Carter was removed from the courtroom in leg irons. He didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Deputy D.A. Marsh Goldstein said: “He (Carter) never said that he was sorry. He never said anything. He’s one of the most evil people I’ve ever seen–an absolutely awful, non-human being. If you believe society has the right to impose the death penalty. . . then this is the case where it should be applied.”carter_DA

A year after he was sentenced to die for three murders Carter was on trial for the rape and murder of Janette Cullins. Janette’s body had been found in a closet in her Pacific Beach apartment on April 14, 1984. San Diego County Deputy D.A. Robert Eichler spent three hours in his opening statement describing in great detail to the jury Carter’s “…path of destruction that went through the state of California” during a three week period in 1984. The evidence against Carter was overwhelming.

Carter was convicted in May 1991 for the first-degree murder with special circumstances (which meant another death penalty) of Janette Cullins. Cullin’s mother, Helen, said: “I think he should be strangled. That’s the way he killed my daughter.”

Dean_Phillip_Carter_mugFollowing Carter’s sentencing the woman he had raped in Ventura County wrote a first person account of her attack for the L.A. Times–it was gut wrenching. She had survived the attack, but for the next seven years she was called to testify against Carter.  Each time she had to re-live the events of that night.

What set Carter off on a three week long rampage? His attorneys pointed to his lousy childhood and his failed marriage. They attempted to characterize him as the loving father of twin boys. The truth was that he was an absent dad and a miserable husband.

It has been 25 years since Dean Phillip Carter was sentenced in the Cullins case. The families of the murder victims who wanted to watch him die in San Quentin’s gas chamber still have not had justice. In fact several of the family members have passed away over the years.

In 1995, Carter began writing an internet column, “Deadman Talking”. I’ve read a few of the entries and, frankly, he sickens me. He claims in some of his posts that he does not to want to discuss his case, although he manages to plead his innocence either implicitly or explicitly as frequently as possible. He continues to deny committing the crimes that brought him to “The Row”.

The Los Angeles Times covered the presence of inmates on the internet in 2000:

In 1996 it was news when mainstream media discovered that Dean Philip Carter, on California’s death row for killing four women, was posting the column “Dead Man Talkin’ ” with the help of a San Francisco disc jockey.

Today, Carter’s column is available in six languages–“Un homme mort vous parle” is the French version–and is one of scores of death row journals. The father of one of Carter’s victims has his own site, “Justice Against Crime Talking,” that includes a link to Carter’s site–a photograph of a burro.

Because he has refused to admit his guilt he is compelled to adopt the mantle of a grievously wronged innocent. It fits him poorly. He is capable of sorrow, but only for himself, and self-pity informs most of his writing. As far as I am concerned he is an evil man who has outlived anything that may have approximated real justice for the murders and rapes he committed over 30 years ago.

When will he be executed? Don’t hold your breath. He’s more likely to perish from old age.

Spree Killer, Part 2

Arizona Patrolman, Robert Dapser, pulled over a 1980 Datsun ZX when he saw the car, apparently driven by Mr. Toad, weaving along Interstate 40. The car’s driver was a man in his late 20s, Dean Phillip Carter. Dapser arrested him for driving under the influence and held him when a check on the Datsun’s registration revealed it was missing and possibly connected to a homicide in Southern California.

1980 Datsun ZX

1980 Datsun ZX

Detectives from Los Angeles and Culver City wanted to talk to Carter about the death of Jillette Mills, in whose car he was driving when he was arrested in Arizona. And they also wanted to question him about the slayings of Susan Knoll (Mills’ roommate), Bonnie Guthrie (a friend of Knolls’), and Janette Cullins. Carter was extradited to California and returned to Ventura County where there was an outstanding warrant on a sexual assault case. Cops in Oakland, CA thought Carter fit the description of the man seen with Tok Kim whose body was found in her apartment on April 13, 1984, and they were anxious to grill him about that crime.

headline3As if Carter wasn’t already in enough trouble, Seattle’s Green River Task Force was interested in him. The task force was attempting to solve the slayings of 25 young women that had started two years earlier.  Seattle detectives were able to clear Carter of any involvement in the serial killings in their city.

He may have been off the hook for the Seattle slayings, but he was suspect number one in the California murders when property belonging to all five of the dead women was found in his possession.  Police were still seeking a blue 1977 Honda Accord that belonged to one of his alleged rape victims. In mid-May 1984 he was charged with the murders of Susan Knoll, Bonnie Guthrie, and Janette Cullins.

L.A. County District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian held a press conference at which he stated that he intended to seek the death penalty for Carter who was still being held in Ventura County. Philibosian said, “We have now indications he committed at least five murders during a rampage that began in March and continued through part of last month.”headline1

Al Albergate, a spokesman for the D.A., dialed back Philibosian’s initial statement saying that the D.A. hadn’t meant to imply that Carter’s guilt was a foregone conclusion. Albergate said, “The remark was based on the fact that we have charged him with killing three people.”

headline2With Carter the prime suspect in the murders reporters and detectives started digging into his background.  He hailed from Nome, Alaska where he spent a troubled childhood. He never knew his birthfather but was was adopted by his stepfather (deceased at the time of the slayings) who was Nome’s Chief of Police. Police. If his stepfather tried to be a good influence on the boy, he failed.  When he was 12 Carter was declared to be a delinquent child and sent to a youth camp, from which he attempted to escape at least three times. He was ultimately placed in a foster home. As an adult he spent time in an Oregon prison for grand theft auto and possession of cocaine, and in Alaska for burglary.

Kicked loose from prison in 1980, Carter was employed by a non-profit where he became a television production assistant and cameraman.  He didn’t just learn job skills at the non-profit video center–it was there he met and subsequently married the receptionist.  The couple had twin boys, but the marriage didn’t last. His ex retained custody of the twins and that seems to have made Carter angry.  Did he harbor a grudge against his ex-wife that was deep enough to set him off on a killing spree?

NEXT TIME:  Carter’s story plays out.

Spree Killer, Part 1

For 18 days, from late March to mid-April 1984, a series of rapes and murders spanned California from Oakland to San Diego. The police soon realized that the sexual assaults and slayings were likely the work of one man. All they had to do was find him.

***

On March 25, 1984 a woman was raped at knife point in her San Diego apartment. Two days later another young woman was raped at knife point in Ventura County. Her assailant strangled her until she lost consciousness. She was lucky to be alive.

On April 1, 1984 in Lafayette, California, about 30 miles east of Oakland, Tok Kim met a man named Phil in a local bar. They spent the next several days together and were seen by a few of her neighbors. On April 13th, Tok’s decomposed body was discovered. The cause of death could not be determined, but strangulation wasn’t ruled out. Her car and some of her personal items were missing.

jillette mills

Jillette Mills

Kim’s car was located hundreds of miles away in Culver City parked in front of an apartment building where roommates Susan Knoll and Jillette Mills were found dead. Each of the women had been sexually assaulted, strangled, and then their bodies were stacked in a bedroom closet.

Jillette’s Datson 280 ZX with the vanity plate PHANTM Z, as well as personal items belonging to both women were missing.

The body of Bonnie Guthrie was discovered on the bedroom floor of her Culver City apartment on April 12th. She had been sexually assaulted and died of asphyxia caused by strangulation. Personal items were missing from her residence.

janette cullen

Janette Cullins

Janette Cullins was found in the closet of her San Diego apartment she, like the other dead women, had been strangled. Wood chips were found near the front door, which suggested that the killer had broken in.

***

It was 10:50 p.m. on April 17th when Arizona Highway Patrolman Robert Dapser received a call on his CB radio from a truck driver. The trucker said that “an erratic vehicle had been driving in his location, passed by him twice and nearly cut him off.” The erratic driver, possibly drunk, was behind the wheel of a Datsun 280 ZX with a California vanity plate. The trucker thought it was “PHANTOM 2″.

Officer Dapser flipped on his emergency lights. He caught up with the Datsun and watched it swerve across the center line of the highway. The sports car finally pulled over and the driver, the lone occupant of the vehicle, produced his ID but couldn’t find the vehicle registration. He told Dapser, “I can’t find it, she must not have it in here.” The driver’s failure to produce the registration wasn’t a big deal, but Officer Dapser caught a whiff of marijuana and saw a roach in the center console. There was an empty beer bottle, and several full ones, on the floor on the passenger’s side of the car.

Dapser called dispatch and said that the license plate was not “PHANTOM 2′ as originally reported but “PHANTM Z”. A few minutes later he was informed that the car had been reported stolen. Dapser Mirandized the driver and took him into custody to await detectives from California.

susan knoll

Susan Knoll

 Detectives from Culver City and West Los Angeles arrived in Arizona and inventoried the contents of the Datsun. They found a suitcase containing a few household items identified as belonging to Tok Kim; a supermarket check cashing card belonging to Susan Knoll; workout gear and photo equipment belonging to Jillette Mills; Janette Cullins’ bank card; and three hand knit sweaters identified as Bonnie Guthrie’s.

The detectives were anxious to speak to the driver of Jillette’s Datsun.  Was he a killer and a rapist? Or was he just an unlucky car thief?

NEXT TIME: The killer is identified.