5 Forensic Files Killers Who Can’t Hurt You Now

Relax, These Heartless Souls Are Out of Commission

With so much cruelty portrayed on Forensic Files,  an update that gives a little peace of mind seems in order for this week.

Sharon Zachary

Sharon Zachary
Huron Valley Complex, Michigan
DOB: 08/05/1965
FF episode: Prints Among Thieves
Crime: Murder, robbery
Victim: Robert Rogers
Outlook: In prison for life, no parole.
The caretaker of the very crotchety and cash-rich Robert Rogers, Sharon Zachary was already in the will, but she couldn’t wait. The 5-foot-1-inch-tall Battle Creek, Michigan, native started helping herself to his money early, then used a pipe to beat the 80-year-old multimillionaire to death in hopes of gaining total access early.

Shannon Agofsky

Shannon Agofsky
Prison: Terre Haute USP, Indiana
DOB: circa 1971
FF episode: Stick ’em Up
Crime: Robbery, murder
Victims: Dan Short, Luther Plant
Outlook: On death row.
Shannon, 18, and his brother Joseph, 23, abducted bank president Dan Short, forced him to unlock the vault in the State Bank of Noel in Missouri, and stole $71,000 on October 6, 1989. Instead of wearing masks to hide their identities, the thieves bound the 52-year-old banker to a weighted chair and threw it into Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. While serving prison time for Short’s murder, Shannon killed fellow inmate Luther Plant in an exercise cage in 2001 and faces the death penalty. In the meantime, he’s active on Facebook. (Joseph Agofsky was convicted of the robbery but not the murder; he died in jail in 2013.)

Lynn Turner

Lynn Turner
Metro State Prison, Atlanta
DOB: 7/13/68
FF episode: Cold Hearted
Crime: Murder
Victims: Glenn Turner, Randy Thompson
Outlook: Dead.
The rather benign-looking mother of two poisoned her 32-year-old common-law husband by sneaking antifreeze into his food, in a bid to collect the firefighter’s $35,000 life insurance payout. After Randy Thompson’s death, it came to light that her previous husband, police officer Glenn Turner, had met his end in a similar way and she had received $150,000 from his insurer. She was convicted of both murders and given life in jail. The prison routine didn’t suit Lynn Turner, and she took her own life via an overdose of propranolol in her cell on August 30, 2010.

Colvin “Butch” Hinton

Colvin “Butch” Hinton
Prison: Hays State Prison, Georgia
DOB: 09/18/1960
FF episode: Ring Him Up High
Crime: Sexual assult, murder
Victims: Shannon Melendi, Tammy Singleton
Outlook: In prison for life, no parole.
Authorities should have never released Hinton after he attempted to rape 14-year-old Tammy Singleton in 1982. But the sexual predator won freedom after just two years. He got a gig as an umpire at a softball game, where he met 19-year-old Emory University sophomore Shannon Melendi on March 26, 1994. He abducted, raped, and strangled her, then burned her body. Afterward, he took his unsuspecting wife out to dinner at an Olive Garden and gave her as a gift a ring stolen from Melendi. It took a decade for authorities to figure out what happened and convict Hinton.

Stacey Castor

Stacey Ruth Castor
Prison: Bedford Hills, New York
DOB: 7/14/67
FF episode: Freeze Framed
Crime: Murder, attempted murder
Victims: David Castor, Ashley Wallace
Outlook: Dead.
Stacey murdered husband David Castor in 2005 by feeding him antifreeze via a soft drink and a turkey baster, then staged his death to look like a suicide. She subsequently attempted to frame her own daughter Ashley Wallace for the crime by forging a confession note. Castor then gave Ashley a beverage with a lethal dose of sleeping pills; fortunately, the the college student got medical help and survived. Stacey might have killed her previous husband, Michael Wallace, as well but no charges were filed. She died of a heart attack in a jail cell on June 11, 2016. She would have been eligible for parole at age 87 — but I wouldn’t trust someone like her at any age.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

Jim Barton: Bad Lieutenant?

Or Maybe a Railroaded Victim
(“Chief Suspect,” Forensic Files)

This week, it’s back to Forensic Files with one of the more perplexing episodes in the series.

Jim and Vickie Barton as a youngish couple

The evidence used to convict Jim Barton for his alleged role in a home invasion that left his wife dead seemed a little shaky. And unlike other accused Forensic Files spouse killers, Barton was something of a sympathetic character.

While his alleged crime was highly inadvisable, it didn’t carry much in the way of malice — if he really did it, that is. A jury thought so, and convicted him in 2005.

Eye on the prize. I checked into an epilogue for the 6-foot-5-inch former lawman, but first here’s a recap of the episode, “Chief Suspect,” along with additional information from internet research and insights from YouTube commenters.

Jim Barton was a well-liked lieutenant with the Springboro, Ohio, police department. His wife, Vickie, worked as a nurse supervisor at Sycamore Hospital.

The couple met through their love of riding and lived on a horse farm called Locust Knoll in Franklin Township, outside of Springboro. By all reports, Jim and Vickie had a happy marriage.

The 40ish Jim allegedly was aiming to win the top job of police chief, but that position would usually go to someone who resided within the city limits.

Horrific scene. The talk about his ambitions, however, was mostly conjecture. The rumors came up during the February 2005 trial. The crime actually happened a decade earlier.

On April 11, 1995, Jim Barton called 911 to report finding his wife on the floor. She was undressed, not breathing, and had three bullet wounds to the head from a .22 caliber.

Someone had ransacked the household’s gun collection but didn’t steal anything.

Vickie Barton taught at Kettering College of Medical Arts in Ohio

The crime shocked the small community, and police geared up for a thorough investigation. But they had a problem: no suspects and no helpful evidence.

The case went cold for a few years, until police arrested a local career criminal named Gary Henson over an unrelated burglary. Henson said he knew something about the Vickie Barton homicide.

Suicide adds intrigue. His half-brother, William Phelps was paid $3,000 by Jim Barton to rob his home in order to scare Vickie, so that she’d agree to move away from their rural property and into the city of Springboro, Henson contended.

But Phelps went off the rails and raped and murdered Vickie, said Henson, who also told police that the original plan was for Henson himself to go along on the robbery but that he was in jail then.

Phelps committed suicide just weeks after the murder. (Henson later changed his story, testifying that Phelps had an accomplice, and the accomplice was the one who assaulted and killed Vickie.)

The revelations were more than enough reason to compel a cold case squad to reopen the investigation in 2003.

Detectives listened to Jim Barton’s 911 tape for any hints pertaining to a robbery-for-hire, and came up with a lot of what it considered red flags.

Tale of the tape. First, the detectives noted that Barton referred to the killers in the plural, evidence that he knew that two people committed the crime, they theorized. But as a YouTube commenter noted:

Susan Adams7 months ago  “They” could be said because you don’t know if the person who committed the crime was man, woman, one person or several. Saying “they” shouldn’t have [raised] red flags.

Detectives also interpreted noise on the tape as the sounds of Barton moving objects around, possibly tampering with evidence.

Gary Henson

But the offending noise, which the episode broadcast, sounded rather nonspecific. It could have been the house’s HVAC system or a breeze through a window.

In an interview for “Scared to Death,” a 20/20 episode about the Barton case, Jim Barton said that he looked around the house in case an assailant was still on the scene. Perhaps this accounted for some of the noise on the 911 tape.

Jumping to conclusions. Also, the theory about the attack as a scare tactic seemed a little far-fetched.

Before voting for conviction, I’d want to hear something along the lines of a secret recording of Barton admitting to the crime. No evidence like that existed. As another commenter wrote:

Sam Rod1 year ago (edited) “hmm, the evidence was terrible in convicting this guy. this was a long reach for the prosecution.

And on the subject of long reaches, one of the prosecution’s witnesses (presumably Henson) was hypnotized in order to extract information from him, said Barton defense lawyer Jon Paul Rion.

According to the 20/20 episode, in his earliest police interviews, Henson didn’t mention a robbery-for-hire plan; he trotted that out later.

Henson sounded like a none-too-reliable witness all in all.

A CBS story published on truthinjustice.com reported that Vickie’s friends considered the frighten-into-relocating theory a stretch as well: “It would have challenged her to be more aggressive in protecting their farm,” Vickie’s girlfriend Darlene Bisgaard told CBS.

Here’s the part that really made me lose respect for the methodology of the investigation.

Jim Barton in custody

Hokey experiment. On the 911 tape, Barton said, “I gotta call [unintelligible word that sounded like ‘felp’], man.” Prosecutors asserted the garbled word was “Phelps” — thereby proving that Barton was in cahoots with Henson’s half-brother, William Phelps.

Barton maintained that he said “help” as in “I gotta call for help.”

To prove otherwise, the prosecution brought in Robert Fox, an Ohio State University linguistic and acoustic-phonic expert.

“To eliminate any potential bias,” narrator Peter Thomas explained, the professor was given only two choices: Was the word “help” or “Phelps”?

But why even give him suggestions? They should have simply let him interpret the word in question instead of prejudicing him.

Fox concluded that Barton said “Phelps” despite what seemed like a lack of a final “s” sound on the tape.

Failed second marriage. And there were other weak revelations as well. Barton’s second wife, Mary Ann Lacy, said that he sometimes spent time alone in their darkened basement, which investigators translated into evidence of guilt.

But Barton had married Lacy, who was Vickie’s best friend, only 15 months after the murder, and he may have still had sorrow to process. It didn’t make him guilty of anything. Or as an online commenter put it:

Dan Kirchner1 year ago (edited) “so the 2nd wife dumped him for spending alone time in the basement?? wtf? its called a mancave these days, right?”

Another piece of new evidence the prosecutors seized upon: A waitress named Barb Palmer suddenly remembered that, 10 years earlier, she had seen Jim Barton and William Phelps eating together at a local diner called Mom’s Restaurant.

Unless they left her a $100 tip, how could she possible recall them after all that time?

DNA taken from the crime scene didn’t match that of Gary Henson or William Phelps (authorities exhumed his body to get a sample).

Credit undeserved. But members of the jury apparently harbored few doubts. They convicted Barton of complicity to commit manslaughter. On April 15, 2005, he received a sentence of 15 to 50 years at the Southeastern Correctional Institution in Lancaster.

“Had it not been for the forensic analysis of Jim’s 911 call, the case might never have been solved,” narrator Peter Thomas concludes. But as another commenter noted:

Babalwa Brook2 years ago  “I love how they are crediting forensics for solving this case when it clearly was the informant who brought up Phelps and the waitress who confirmed that dude knew Phelps smh”

The Forensic Files episode left off in 2006, but more has happened since then.

Barton wins a round. In 2015, the  6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that authorities improperly withheld evidence about a break-in that happened in another rural home in Warren County, where the Bartons lived.

Vickie Barton’s mother, Mary Jane Siebert (right), testified for the defense. She is shown with Elaine Barton, who married Jim in 2003.

The panel of judges also said that the state’s case hinged on  “unsupported, shifting and somewhat fantastical” witness testimony (presumably referring to Henson’s assertions).

In March 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate Barton’s conviction, meaning Ohio authorities would have to give him a second trial or set him free.

The following month, Jim’s third wife, Elaine Geswein Barton, put up $350,000 in bail, and he exited prison.

In September 2016, Barton avoided a new trial by entering an Alford plea, whereby the accused maintains his innocence while admitting that enough evidence exists to convict him.

Who knows? Of course, maybe Barton really did cause his wife’s death via the Fargo-like plot that Henson related. The time Barton served behind razor wire seems like adequate punishment for a crime of that nature.

From the evidence shown on Forensic Files and detailed in newspaper stories, however, his chance of being guilty seems around 50 percent. As a juror, I’d want to be 99 percent sure before convicting.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

Menendez Brothers Cheat Sheet

Who’s Who in a Beverly Hills Greek Tragedy
(Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders)

After watching the first episode of The Menendez Murders, I’m suspecting the NBC series won’t be quite as good as last year’s FX true-crime juggernaut The People vs. OJ Simpson.

Series star Edie Falco

But so what? The Menendez miniseries still means eight nights of Edie Falco as defense lawyer Leslie Abramson. I’d tune in to watch Edie read aloud the Hertz Terms & Conditions Agreement.

Throw in the portrayal of Lyle and Erik Menendez — the telegenic brothers who massacred their parents and soothed their grief with shopping sprees — and it definitely merits one hour every Tuesday (10 p.m. EST on NBC) for the next seven weeks.

The Menendez Murders dramatizes the killing of Jose and Kitty Menendez inside their $5 million Beverly Hills mansion on August 20, 1989. Here’s a cheat sheet on the real-life cast of characters.

Leslie Abramson, defense lawyer
Born: 1942
Abramson had displayed a talent for helping accused murderers avoid death row before she defended Erik Menendez. Teenage father-killer Arnel Salvatierra got off with no jail time after Abramson portrayed him as an abused child. Likewise, she defended Erik and Lyle Menendez by presenting a tale of paternal cruelty strong enough to result in a mistrial for two young men who shot their father five times and their mother nine. A second trial ended with a guilty verdict and, although Abramson wan’t allowed to speak during the sentencing, she got to see her clients spared the death penalty. She reportedly received $700,000 for her work on behalf of the Menendezes.
Fun Fact: She’s a bittersweet reminder of when it was okay to have a big frizzy perm.

Jose Menendez, father
Age at time of murders: 45
Born: 1944
The Cuban immigrant came to the U.S. at 15 and married at 19. Jose turned an accounting degree from Queens College and an insatiable drive for success into a $500,000-a-year job in the entertainment industry at Carolco Pictures. The domineering Jose eventually amplified his ambitions and transferred them to his sons, but he was very hard on them. Erik’s high school swimming coach recalled that Jose would criticize his son harshly in front of his teammates at meets. Apparently, he took pride in his children’s physical appearance as well and urged Lyle to wear a toupee when an early case of male pattern baldness emerged.
Fun Fact: His company produced Sylvestor Stallone’s Rambo pictures.

Kitty Menendez, mother
Age at time of murders: 47
Born: 1941
Described in some sources as a socialite, the onetime midwestern elementary school teacher was born Mary Louise Anderson. She met Jose at Southern Illinois University and married him, despite both sets of parents’ disapproval (Hers didn’t like that he was an immigrant; his were put off that she came from a broken home). After having Lyle and Erik, she gave up her career. The series portrays her as suffering from depression. Other sources have reported that she was fragile and unusually emotionally dependent on her husband. Before moving to California, the Menendezes lived in Princeton, New Jersey, where Kitty reportedly had a fulfilling social life. She wasn’t happy about relocating to the West Coast.
Fun Fact: Before the Menendezes bought their house on Elm Drive, it had at different times been rented out to Elton John and Prince.

Lyle Menendez, elder son
Age at time of murders: 21
Born: 1968
Pressured by his father to apply to Princeton University, Lyle did attend the Ivy League school for a short time, until cheating on a test got him suspended for a year. At some point during his travails, he impregnated a girlfriend, but Jose stepped in and persuaded her to terminate. Lyle bought a $60,000 Porsche Carrera with his late parents’ funds. He and his brother expected to collect a $5 million life insurance payout on their father, but it turned out that Jose had never taken the required physical exam, voiding the policy.
Fun Fact: Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne said that Lyle’s was the only toupee that ever fooled him.

Erik Menendez, younger son
Age at time of murders: 18
Born: 1970
Emotionally more vulnerable than his older brother, Erik exhibited grief — whether real or feigned — that included weeping, throwing himself to the ground on the front lawn of the house, and going fetal the night of the murders. He managed to pull himself together well enough to use his late parents’ money to hire his own personal full-time tennis coach at $50,000 a year (quite a nice salary in 1989).
Fun Fact: Lyle at one time expressed interest in going into commercial real estate because he admired Donald Trump’s career.

Judalon Smyth, witness
This irritating mess of a witness was an entrepreneur who owned a tape-duplicating business at the time of the Menendez drama. Smyth told investigators that she overheard Erik Menendez confess to murdering his parents while she was standing outside psychologist Jerome Oziel’s office door. Her story about her personal relationship with the doctor, who was married with two children, changed a number of times, but they both ultimately admitted to an affair. At some point, she switched to the defense side after asserting that Oziel had brainwashed her.
Fun Fact: She said she found Oziel revolting at first.

Jerome Oziel, psychologist
Born: Circa 1947
Erik Menendez first sought help from Oziel after he committed two burglaries in 1988. Oziel must have done a great job counseling Erik, because he killed his parents a year later. Erik confessed the murders to the Beverly Hills shrink, who ended up breaking his patient confidentiality agreement because, he said, he was worried Erik and Lyle might try to shut him up. But Oziel managed to suck in both boys as patients, only to testify against them later. Oziel now practices in Oregon and specializes in couples counseling.
Fun Fact: California took away his psychology license in 1997 amid a number of allegations including compelling a construction worker to do free home-repair work in return for therapy.

That’s all for this this post. Next week, the blog will resume Forensic Files recaps. Until then, cheers. RR

In Cold Blood Slideshow

Click on any image to view this post as a slideshow.

In Cold Blood: No Saints in Kansas

A Girl Detective Takes on a Quadruple Homicide

Just a brief post this week since I went a little off the rails with the long-form blogging last time.

I like Truman Capote’s writing and true-crime stories so much that it’s hard to stop elaborating.

The first In Cold Blood post discussed how the flamboyant Capote created a new literary genre, and last week’s explored his alleged efforts to snuff out a competing manuscript.

Never stop. But when the subject is In Cold Blood, there’s always more.

The tale of the brutal collision between the wholesome Clutter family and two dissolute criminals in Holcomb, Kansas, has been fascinating readers since the book hit the best-seller list in 1966.

Now, Soho Press has a new telling of the story coming out in November.

The novel No Saints in Kansas offers the tale through the eyes of the fictional Carly Fleming, a 15-year-old who recently moved to Kansas.

Carly was just beginning a friendship with Nancy “the town darling” Clutter when the teenager was murdered along with three members of her family on November 15, 1959.

Taking the initiative. In the early days of the investigation, detectives (in real life, too) suspected that Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend, was the culprit who tied up, robbed, and shot her and her brother, Kenyon, and their parents, Herb and Bonnie.

Carly, who feels protective of Bobby, launches her own investigation in order to clear his name.

And speaking of going off the rails, Carly sneaks onto the murder scene, barges in on a press conference, and does her own ballistics tests.

She ends up grounded and arrested. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Hometown girl. If all this sounds like a novel for a teen audience, it’s because it is. Soho Press is publishing the book as young adult fiction.

Murderers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. Smith later said that he liked Nancy Clutter and could see she was trying to put him at ease. He shot her anyway.

I enjoyed the telling just the same, especially because author Amy Brashear brings credibility to the characterizations.

Brashear and her family moved to Finney County, Kansas, in 1991, when she was 9.

That’s 33 years after the homicides, but locals hadn’t stopped talking about them, and probably never will.

Lose the halo. The author grew up around people old enough to have known the Clutters personally and still feel the psychic trauma caused by Perry Smith and Richard Hickock’s crime.

I found the novel engaging also because it seems to confirm something that I’ve always suspected: that Nancy Clutter wasn’t quite the perfect human being that Capote portrayed.

(“You’ve idolized that poor dead woman beyond all human recognition,” as Ruth and Augustus Goetz wrote in The Heiress.)

That and other story elements made No Saints in Kansas a nice read.

Nice holiday gift. I caught a couple examples of anachronistic language in No Saints in Kansas. The first known use of “face-plant” was in 1982, according to Webster‘s, and I suspect people didn’t say “sounds like a plan” back in the 1950s.

But it’s not the author’s fault that this reader makes her living by pointing out errors; I’m an editor by day.

Author Amy Brashear

I’d recommend the book for any preteen or young teen reader who likes detective stories and true crime.

It’s a good introduction to a U.S. tragedy that Truman Capote made sure will never become arcane.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

In Cold Blood: Alternative Facts

The Story Capote Didn’t Want Us to Buy

The last post mentioned a new development related to Truman Capote’s 1966 best seller, In Cold Blood.

The four murder victims

A report surfaced a few years ago that at the same time Capote was researching his book, another writer was working on a telling from a different perspective.

Dark horse. Capote’s version of a quadruple slaying that took place in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959, relied heavily on interviews with one of the two killers: Perry Smith, whom Capote portrayed as a sensitive drifter marred by abuse and hardship.

The other writer, an uncelebrated newspaperman named Mack Nations, was helping to edit an account called High Road to Hell penned by Smith’s partner in crime: Richard Hickock, a tall Kansan whom Capote portrayed as a personable but remorseless conman, killer, and would-be rapist.

Media coverage about the existence of High Road to Hell dates back to 2009. What’s new is that the son of the late Wichita Eagle reporter is spearheading a campaign to draw attention to it.

Michael Nations, who works as a probation officer, has posted a seven-part video series on YouTube to present some facts about his father’s work.

Smeared. The video series, titled Footprints Found Inside ‘In Cold Blood,’ is a simple effort, just the younger Nations talking to a video camera in front of his garage and later in an easy chair inside his house.

“Many negative and demeaning things were written and published about my father years after his death on December 24, 1968,” Michael Nations says on camera. “I believe it only fitting that what I have presented on his behalf as both a reporter and writer will be credited to him.”

I watched all seven parts. While not absorbing, the series hits a few high notes, particularly in outlining Capote’s attempts to undermine the competing manuscript.

A list of the interesting points from the video series will follow, but first a bit about Smith and Hickock’s crime and In Cold Blood for readers unfamiliar with the events:

Safe house. On November 15, 1959, Richard Hickock, 28, and Perry Smith, 31, slipped through an unlocked door into Herb and Bonnie Clutter’s house and cut the phone lines.

The ex-cons thought that the Clutters, who owned River Valley Farm in Holcomb, Kansas, had a safe containing $10,000 in cash in their house.

Back in 1959, that seemed like the score of a lifetime, or at least enough to finance a jobless existence for a few years.

Hickock acquired his belief about a money-filled metal box when he shared a jail cell with Floyd Wells, a onetime employee of River Valley Farm.

Wells had been inside the Clutters’ house and described its layout in detail to Hickock.

Terrified family. Although Wells got the floor plan correct, he was wrong about the safe. It didn’t exist and, in fact, friends of Herb Clutter later recalled his using checks to pay for nearly everything, even a purchase of $1.50, according to In Cold Blood.

Unfortunately, Hickock had no doubts about a safe. He recruited Smith, another prison friend, for a robbery plan.

Hickock, Smith

After sneaking into the Clutters’ house, the two woke up the family members by shining flashlights in their faces.

They tied up the couple and their two youngest children, Nancy and Kenyon. (The Clutters’ adult daughters, Eveanna and Beverly, didn’t live at home.)

Sex criminal. Hickock, who had a history of targeting underaged girls, admitted that he knew from Floyd Wells’ account that Nancy would be a teenager by then.

He allegedly acknowledged that he intended to rape Nancy, 16, but that Smith had stopped him.

After Hickock and Smith found no safe in the location Wells had specified, they searched throughout the five-bedroom three-bathroom house. Herb Clutter assured them there was no safe.

No church that day. They gave up and stole what little cash family members had in the house, less than $50, plus 15-year-old Kenyon’s transistor radio. They executed each of the Clutters with a gunshot to the head at close range.

Smith and Hickock then fled Holcomb, eventually hiding out in Mexico.

Mack Nations

Meanwhile, two of Nancy’s friends entered the house and discovered the bodies; they were planning to go to church with the Clutters and were concerned when no one answered the door.

News of the murders shocked and terrified Holcomb. All the Clutters, but especially Herb and Nancy, were popular in the community.

On the day before she died, Nancy taught a little girl how to make a cherry pie and helped another local girl with a violin solo.

Herb oversaw construction of the First Methodist Church in Garden City, served on the Federal Farm Credit Board, and was the first president of the National Wheat Growers Association.

Chance encounter. Although their murders weren’t huge news on a national level, the Clutters were affluent enough to merit a mention in the New York Times.

If not for Truman Capote’s coming across the item by chance, few people outside of Western Kansas would know about the Clutters or Smith or Hickock today.

Capote, a glamorous, already successful 5-foot-3-inch-tall novelist, called up William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker, and announced he was heading to Kansas to start working on a story about the crime.

Complex character. For Capote, it turned into a six-year odyssey that included forging a close relationship with lead Kansas Bureau of Investigation detective Alvin Dewey and his well-read wife, Marie, followed by an intimate friendship formed with Perry Smith and some acquaintanceship with Hickock.

Michael Nations

The 2004 movie Capote with Philip Seymor Hoffman portrays the writer as a compassionate advocate for Perry Smith on one hand, and on the other, an inveigler impatient for Smith and Hickock’s executions to happen so he could finally slap an ending on In Cold Blood and get it published.

Capote began serializing the story in The New Yorker in 1965, and the book came out in January 1966 to great acclaim. It was translated into 30 languages.

Cut to the video. But back to Michael Nations and his 2017 video series: He asserts that High Road to Hell was suppressed and his father wrongly treated.

Who wanted to thwart Hickock and Nation’s effort? First, there was Capote, of course. He’d invested too much of his time in researching the story to let some enterprising local get in his way.

Also, according to Nations, the Kansas prison and law-enforcement officers who worked with Capote wanted Capote’s story to be the definitive account of their work. Capote portrayed Alvin Dewey as the hard-charging yet humble hero of the investigation and prosecution of the two killers.

Truman Capote circa 1966

A 2017 Wall Street Journal story by Kevin Helliker reports that Dewey let Capote know about the existence of the Hickock script, and it was only then that Capote began visiting death row to interview Smith and Hickock.

Subtle bribery? Michael Nations reads from a letter to Dewey in which Capote calls Nations’ work “preposterous.”

In the same letter, Capote mentions that the Deweys will be welcome to use a Colorado vacation home he plans to buy.

Capote also allegedly refers to Nations as a “bastard reporter” and income tax cheater and suggests that his own work will offer the Deweys immortality.

Also during the video series, Nations holds up an ancient dog-eared paperback copy of In Cold Blood and says that each crease represents a fact contradicted by letters Hickock wrote to Mack Nations in 1961.

Callous criminal. Nations is probably right about at least some mistakes within In Cold Blood. Other researchers throughout the years have written about errors and possible fabrications in Capote’s work.

While Nations contends In Cold Blood contained falsehoods regarding Hickock’s story, he doesn’t dispute Capote’s portrayal of Hickock as amoral and heartless.

Hickock said in his letters to Nations that he considered people dying to be no big deal (“there are plenty of people to take their place”), he felt cheated that he didn’t get to shoot the Clutters (Smith did that himself, with Hickock’s complicity), and he liked the media coverage and felt proud of his unique criminal achievement.

Among Michael Nations’ other statements, assertions, and opinions presented in the video series:

  • Mack Nations sold an article about his work on the case to a magazine called Male in 1961.
  • There still exist 200 letters Hickock wrote to Mack Nations. The Kansas Historical Society in Topeka has them now.
  • Capote never liked Richard Hickock because the ex-con gave interviews to Mack Nations before speaking with Capote.
  • At some point, authorities banned all reporters except for Capote from interviewing the killers.
  • Michael wrote his own, unpublished exposé, In My Father’s Shoes, in which he transcribed Hickock’s letters to Mack Nations. He asserts that Capote stole some of the content from the letters.
  • Floyd Wells told Hickock he saw a safe in the Clutters’ home and witnessed Herb Clutter retrieving cash from it to pay workers. But at the trial, Wells testified only that he “thought” there was a safe.

False revelation. While those contentions sound believable, Michael Nations’ biggest bombshell is hard to swallow: that Hickock and Smith committed the Clutter robbery on a contract basis for a man named Roberts and they either received or expected to receive $1,000 or more from Roberts in return for their efforts.

Hickock may have told this particular tale to Mack Nations, but that doesn’t make it believable.

As the Wall Street Journal article by Kevin Helliker argues:

“The reasons to discount Hickock’s claim go beyond his lack of credibility as a pathological liar. If he and Smith were paid to kill the Clutters, why didn’t they use that information to try negotiating their way off death row? Why were they dirt poor before and after the crime?”

(If you have a WSJ digital subscription, you can view Helliker’s full wsj.com piece, which includes more photos than the version on msn.com.)

Nancy Clutter, left

Widening market. After viewing Michael Nations’ video series, I’m still confused as to whether or not he possesses a copy of his father and Hickock’s High Road to Hell manuscript. He mentions that his dad sent a copy to Kansas investigators at their request but never got it back.

Capote may have very well pressed authorities to suppress Nations’ account.

He probably didn’t need to, though.

The public fascination was and is strong enough that a competing book would likely have only stoked greater interest in the Clutter case — and ultimately led critics to conclude that Capote’s book was the greater literary achievement.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

In Cold Blood: Murders That Live On

New Variations on Truman Capote’s Storytelling

This week’s post starts a little sabbatical from Forensic Files to concentrate on some new developments related to the classic true-crime book In Cold Blood.

One of many editions

Truman Capote’s story of the slaughter of four members of a well-liked Kansas farming family in 1959 established a new literary genre: the nonfiction novel.

Cradle to gallows. Capote interviewed people connected with the Clutters, who were terrorized and shot during a home invasion — way before someone invented that term — waged by Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, a couple of young ex-cons.

By interspersing that intelligence with information from interviews with Smith, Capote created a 343-page narrative that included in-depth backstories of the characters, a moment-by-moment narrative of the murders, and coverage of the police work, convictions, and eventual executions of the killers.

Of the two truants, Smith by far had the more sympathetic story, or at least, Capote portrayed it that way. The son of a Native American mother and white father  who once had a happy marriage and worked together as rodeo performers, Smith suffered from a series of long-running tragedies.

Unexpected bromance. His mother sank into severe acoholism, her four kids lived in an orphanage for a time, and two of them committed suicide. An accident left Smith with mangled legs and constant pain.

Smith and Capote developed a bond during the time he was researching his book.

A Young Truman Capote

Capote, too, came from an unstable household damaged by alcoholism, but he found a way out and turned himself into a member of the glittering literati of his day.

He had early success with his novels Other Voices, Other Rooms, published in 1948 when he was 23, and The Grass Harp three years later. His novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, later the basis for the Audrey Hepburn movie of the same name, came out in 1958.

But In Cold Blood was his blockbuster.

I wasn’t able to find reliable data on the number of copies In Cold Blood has sold since it came out in 1966. One source estimates 3 million sold by 1971; another says 8 million by 1968.

Whatever the case, by now, it’s lots and lots.

There are at least three movies based the story.

Wholesome, meet dissolute. My favorite, the 2005 release Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, portrays the author’s efforts to make a literary conquest out of the quadruple homicide that rocked the Kansas town.

I’ve seen the film about the same number of times I’ve read the book In Cold Blood, at least four. The story of the unlikely face-off between the high-functioning 4-H-meeting-attending Clutter family and the two margin-dwelling assailants makes for an unusual American tableau.

The means of storytelling was a precursor to books such as Sebastian Junger’s 1997 best seller, The Perfect Storm, which featured a reconstructed story of a commercial fishing boat that disappeared.

Fortunately, Capote’s book probably will never vanish from the public consciousness, and two new developments related to the story have recently emerged.

First, information about a manuscript that told the story of the Clutter homicides through the eyes of Dick Hickock has leaked out. A seven-part sparsely viewed story about the manuscripts exists on YouTube. I will give it a watch and report back.

Smith (top) and Hickock

Fresh retelling. And coming up in November, Soho Press is publishing No Saints in Kansas, a novel told from the perspective of a fictional friend to the real-life Nancy Clutter, the dynamic 16-year-old at the center of In Cold Blood.

The author, Amy Brashear, grew up near Holcomb.

No Saints in Kansas is written for a teenage audience, but I’m going to give it a read myself and report back on it just the same. It might make a nice holiday gift for a nascent true-crime fan in the family.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. R.R.

Update: Read part 2.

Brian Vaughn: A Student-Athlete Kills

A Murdered Dad, a Broken Teen
(“Shattered Innocence,” Forensic Files)

If there’s a Fredo Corleone of Forensic Files, it’s Brian Vaughn. He betrayed a family member, then incriminated himself by blurting out a few words.

Brian Vaughn at 16

Not that the 16-year-old Texan had formulated anything close to a foolproof plan for getting away with his father’s murder in the first place.

Own worst enemy. Investigators picked apart his story in weeks, issuing an arrest warrant two months after the shooting of San Antonio trial lawyer Leslie Vaughn, murdered in his sleep at home.

But it was the student-athlete’s own inadvertent admission to a 911 operator that guaranteed he’d end up in a jail cell rather than a dorm room.

Shattered Innocence,” the episode about the November 10, 1998, crime doesn’t make anyone want to see Brian get away with murder, but it’s still excruciating to hear his unforced error.

The story is also a bittersweet reminder of how small disadvantages feel like the end of the world to a teenager.

Shiny, shiny. Here’a a recap of the episode along with additional information from internet research.

Brian Vaughn was born on May 20, 1982, to Madeline Vaughn, a registered nurse, and Leslie Vaughn, a defense lawyer who started out as an assistant district attorney for Bexar County and later went into private practice.

Brian played basketball well enough to make an athletic scholarship a possibility.

Madeline and Leslie Vaughn

But in 1998, he was wishing for an off-court score: a brand-new car. His used auto was cramping his style.

After his father refused to buy him a new one, the old car conveniently caught on fire. It looked like arson, but no charges were filed.

Leslie Vaughn then agreed to replace the burned-out vehicle with another used one. He and Brian had an argument about it at a car dealership on November 10, 1998.

Concerned older brother. Brian and his father left without making a purchase. Later at home, Chris, Brian’s 12-year-old brother, overheard Brian threaten to quit the basketball team if he didn’t get a new car.

That night, at 1:24 a.m., Brian took Chris to the neighbors’ house. Brian explained to Mr. and Mrs. Floyd that he had called 911 after hearing what sounded like an intruder. He wanted to make sure his brother was safely off the premises while he waited for the police.

On the 911 call, Brian said he heard a gunshot coming from his father’s bedroom, but he couldn’t get in to check on him because the door was locked.

When Deputy Edward Olivares broke down the door, he found Leslie Vaughn, age 44, lying in bed with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. A 10-pound piece of limestone lay on the floor; it had created a conveniently tall hole in the French doors leading to the balcony off the bedroom.

The Vaughns’ balcony

Noxious glass. Brian apparently wanted authorities to think that an unknown intruder had climbed onto the balcony, thrown the rock through the glass, shot his father, and exited the same way he came.

His mother was working the night shift at Methodist Heart Hospital, so Brian didn’t have to worry that detectives would suspect her.

It was he who became the No. 1 suspect early on. Investigators saw evidence that contradicted Brian’s narrative. There was broken glass on top of Leslie’s body, suggesting that he slept through the break-in — an unlikely scenario.

This was no burglar. And more glass shards lay on the rug in the hallway outside the master bedroom door. The fragments created a trail to the bathroom. How did it get there if the assailant came and left via the balcony?

Also, Brian had waited 25 minutes in between leaving the Floyds’ house and phoning emergency services, giving him time to shoot Leslie and stage the scene.

Nothing was stolen from the bedroom.

And the bedroom door handle looked rather flimsy. As a couple online YouTube commenters put it:

• Indy Castleton If my dad was shot I wouldn’t let a locked door prevent me from going inside that’s for sure.
Jocelyn Vernon: I agree if that would of been my parent no door would stop me from getting in the room!!!!

Seeking a scapegoat. Investigators theorized that after dropping off Chris, Brian used his father’s own 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson to shoot him as he slept, then stepped onto the balcony, hurled the rock through the glass, exited through the bedroom door, locked it on the way out, inadvertently tracked shards to the bathroom, washed the gunshot residue from his hands, and called 911.

Brian insisted an unseen intruder was responsible; perhaps one of his dad’s unsavory clients had a grudge. Leslie Vaughn had defended drug dealers, organized crime figures, and other rough characters during his career.

“My father was a strong man,” Brian told an AP reporter. “He would stand up to anybody, no matter what. I think that’s what happened to him.”

It was a nice try, but not enough, especially once investigators took the time to listen to the entire 911 tape.

Final nail. After giving his locked-bedroom-door-can’t-get-in spiel, Brian said that his father was “bleeding from the mouth area.”

“OK, so how do you know he’s bleeding from the mouth area?” the operator asked.

There was no walking back on that one.

According to court documents, Brian told the Floyds that his father was not moving or breathing, which confused them because he had also told them he couldn’t enter the bedroom.

Anguish: Brian Vaughn during his murder trial

The Floyds noted that Brian was wearing a different shirt when he came back to pick up Chris.

Low-profile release? A jury convicted Brian Vaughn in 1999, and a judge sentenced him to 33 years in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Corrections.

Brian was housed at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas, as well as the Ramsey I prison.

As of 2016, he was still incarcerated, according to the Inside Prison website.

It always seemed a little unfair that the court tried him as an adult when he committed the murder for a child’s reasons. Also, it sounded as though he did so in a fit of anger rather than out of diabolical blood lust.

He became eligible for parole in 2017 — and it looks as though he won it. Inmate lookup websites for Texas have no listing for a Brian Leslie Vaughn anymore.

What could have been. I searched online for any media coverage related to his release, but nothing turned up. Brian would be 35 today, not old, but past his prime in his sport.

“He was a good athlete,” Bexar County Homicide Detective Al Damiani said in his interview with Forensic Files. “He could have played basketball in college and had the time of his life.”

Perhaps, unlike Michael Corleone, Brian’s younger brother will be forgiving and the two of them, along with their mother, can be a family again.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

Ted MacArthur: Homicidal Detective

A Nice Woman Marries a Bad Hombre
(“All The World’s a Stage,” Forensic Files)

On the outrageous meter, Ted MacArthur’s explanation for his wife’s death would pretty much make the needle fly out of the machine.

Pilar Sones MacArthur

A detective for the Miami-Dade police force, MacArthur, 38, told the authorities that just for fun, he woke up Pilar MacArthur by squirting her with a water gun on the morning of August 1, 1989.

Sympathetic victim. That’s the relatively believable part. Here’s where he really pushed it. He said that Pilar, who was a corrections officer with firearms training, reacted by playfully putting a real gun up to her own head and pulling the trigger as a joke.

Pilar, 35, thought she had unloaded the weapon, he explained, but she had mistakenly left in one bullet and given herself a fatal wound on the left side of her skull.

Putting aside the insult to our intelligence, “All the World’s a Stage” is a sad and touching episode of Forensic Files.

Pilar MacArthur’s sister, Carmen Barraford, and a good friend, Jenny Alvarez, appear on camera, and they both seem like such sweet, mild souls. But just the same, they rip apart Ted McArthur’s credibility.

European background. Alvarez said that Pilar had found out Ted was cheating on her and she was giving herself a makeover in hopes of winning back the father of her two children.

For this week, I poked around to find out where Ted MacArthur is today and  whether he’s still peddling the same story that paints his late wife as reckless and foolhardy.

But first, here’s a recap of the episode plus some additional facts drawn from internet research.

Pilar and Ted MacArthur

Pilar Sones was born in Valencia, Spain, the daughter of a fisherman and a maid. The family moved to Paris, France, where her parents secured better-paying jobs.

Following her older sister, Pilar moved to Boston. She worked as a nanny at first.

Slippery guy. Something or other drew the dark and striking Pilar to Theodore MacArthur, then a motorcycle policeman who was living in his mother’s basement.

Pilar didn’t know that Ted was still married to his first wife, Betty Lou Williams, and had a child, according to the book Cracking CasesThe Science of Solving Crimes by Dr. Henry Lee with Thomas O’Neil.

Days after Ted’s divorce came through, he married Pilar. They moved to Miami, where she began a career with the prisons system, and he worked his way up to homicide detective.

It was in that capacity that he met and began an affair with a Miami Herald crime reporter. Their romance put a strain on the MacArthur family’s budget.

Bath ploy. At first, Pilar’s efforts to  keep her marriage together seemed successful. Ted said he that was just going through a midlife crisis, claimed he broke off his affair, and offered up a lie — that he would buy Pilar a new house and new car.

It’s not clear why Pilar believed him. According to Alvarez, Pilar was concerned that Ted was already “spending money faster than they could make it.”

Another part of Ted’s atonement consisted of doing nice little things for Pilar, like the time he drew her a relaxing bath, lit candles, and placed a powered-on TV on a ledge near the tub so she could watch her favorite shows.

Once she was in the tub, he caught his foot on a wire and sent the TV plunging toward the bathwater.

Colleagues suspicious. Fortunately, Pilar wasn’t electrocuted. She accepted his excuse that it was an accident. She had no reason to believe her husband would kill her; they had two sons together.

Just a few days after that mishap, Ted called 911 to report that Pilar had shot herself by accident. As a detective, Ted surely knew an investigation would take place. But, overestimating the strength of his reputation, he thought it would be an open and shut matter.

Lead detective Donald Slovonic, however, planned to make the investigation thorough and in-depth. “Most of the people that I spoke with didn’t share a good impression of him,” Slovonic later recalled.

According to Lee’s book:

Sergeant David Rivers, one of MacArthur’s colleagues and a veteran detective with an excellent reputation, later commented, “It was unspoken, but from the first day, there were sidelong glances across the office. We knew he did it.”

The case against Ted MacArthur congealed once the forensic evidence started rolling in. Pilar had no high-velocity blood splatter on her alleged trigger hand, and her fingerprints weren’t on the gun.

Story dissolves. Lee noted that the amount and condition of Pilar’s blood on the bed contradicted Ted’s contention that he immediately moved her body to the floor to begin CPR.

A ballistics expert determined that the fatal gun wound was in the wrong place on Pilar’s head to support Ted’s story about how she shot herself — that the right-handed woman aimed at the left side of her own head.

How did an experienced homicide detective like Ted MacArthur orchestrate his own crime so poorly?

Pilar as a bride

“It’s kind of like the doctor who tells his patients to give up cigarettes but smokes himself,” remarked Slovonic during an appearance on a 2016 Dr. Drew episode that looked back on the case.

Justice delayed. Or maybe it’s more like the way professional hair stylists tend to do a better job on their clients’ hair than on their own.

Whatever the case, Ted’s motivation was rather obvious: A new, $250,000 life insurance policy he took out on Pilar a few weeks before her death would bring his total payout to $470,000.

Investigators theorized Ted shot his wife while she was sleeping and then staged the scene.

The trial started four years after the shooting, on October 24, 1993. By this time, Ted’s newspaper-reporter girlfriend (I wasn’t able to confirm her name, and the Miami Herald articles from that time aren’t available online) had already moved in with him, moved out after a fight during which he allegedly threatened her with a knife, and offered to testify for the prosecution, according to Lee.

Courtside boast. Dade County assistant state attorney Susan Dannelly prosecuted the case, during which MacArthur remained notably calm. He had testified at numerous trials over his career, so perhaps his own didn’t rattle him. According to Lee:

MacArthur was supremely confident of his acquittal and even held a news conference predicting this outcome and promising legal action against his accusers.

The jury delivered its verdict on December 8, 1993, after nine hours of deliberation: guilty of first-degree murder. A round of applause broke out in the courtroom.

Ted then began his life as prisoner #123207 with the Florida Department of Corrections. But it wasn’t the last time his named surfaced in a legal action.

History of lying. In 2002, MacArthur’s dubious record came up during a battle over whether a drug-related murder conviction against a criminal named Rolando Garcia should be overturned because MacArthur had worked for the prosecution.

Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Christina Spaulding cited the discovery of MacArthur’s dishonesty as one reason to review the Garcia case.

A Sun Sentinel story about the Garcia case mentioned that MacArthur was known to use the phrase, “A lie is as good as the truth if someone believes it.”

MacArthur circa 2017

In regard to his own murder conviction, MacArthur, 65, is still maintaining his innocence — and that his late wife, who spoke three languages fluently, didn’t know enough not to play with guns.

Different kind of ink. He resides in the SFRC South Unit prison in Doral. At 5’10” and 250 pounds, he is presumably finding prison fare appetizing.

According to his inmate profile, MacArthur has acquired a number of intricate tattoos, including one that says “Pilar.”

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

Anthony Pignataro: Bad Plastic Surgeon

And an Even Worse Husband
(“Bad Medicine,” Forensic Files)

The Forensic Files episode about Dr. Anthony Pignataro isn’t in heavy rotation in my area, so I’ve only caught it a couple of times on TV. I’ve rewatched it on Netflix streaming, though, because it’s such an interesting tale.

The couple in better days

But really, all one needs is a single viewing to remember it forever.

Bad Medicine” tells of how an egotistical cosmetic surgeon accidentally kills a patient, then deliberately poisons his wife.

Overconfident. And here’s the part that’s pretty much impossible to forget.

Years before his crimes, Anthony Pignataro made a name for himself as the inventor of the snap-on toupee, which attaches to a man’s head via bolts surgically implanted in the skull.

Pignataro started losing his hair at age 23 and was his own first customer.

I’m not sure whether it was the hairpiece or not, but Pignataro thought an awful lot of himself. Once he opened his own plastic surgery facility, he didn’t see the need to hire an anesthesiologist or a qualified nurse to help him.

Those deficiencies eventually led to prison time and the loss of Pignataro’s livelihood. For this week’s post, I looked around to see what Pignataro, who was released in 2013, is doing today.

The house the Pignataros shared in West Seneca

Summer love. But first, here’s a recap of the episode, along with other information culled from internet research as well as Ann Rule’s book about the case, Last Dance, Last Chance.

Deborah Rago, born in 1957, came from a financially strapped family in Williamsville, New York.

In 1978, when Debbie was working as a pharmacy technician, she met Lehigh University student Anthony Pignataro, who Rule described as almost 6 feet tall with “classic, balanced features.”

One night, they fell in love on the dance floor to the Donna Summer hit “Last Dance.”

The son of Ralph Pignataro, a respected surgeon in Buffalo, Anthony wanted to follow his father into the profession. The mainland U.S. medical schools he applied to rejected him, however, so he enrolled at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in Puerto Rico.

None-too-impressive. Debbie waited for him to finish, and they finally married in 1985. Within the first year, a concerned party tipped her off that Anthony was cheating on her.

She took her father’s advice to “forgive once” and decided Anthony deserved another chance.

The professionals at the hospitals where the young surgeon worked, on the other hand, didn’t think the guy merited any chance as a physician.

They figured out pretty quickly that the arrogant doctor in their midst had some scary gaps in his knowledge.

But incompetent people rarely get kicked out of their fields right away.

Pignataro eventually opened his own plastic surgery practice in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, New York. He made a fortune doing breast implants and other cosmetic procedures.

Moneybags. To widen his profit margin, Pignataro skimped on overhead costs. He hired a licensed practical nurse (instead of a registered nurse) and a high school student to assist him.

Victim Sarah Smith

The Pignataros had a son and daughter by this time and lived in a big house in West Seneca. Anthony and his toupee cruised around in a red Lamborghini.

Meanwhile, he made some bad surgical mistakes. After performing an abdominoplasty on a patient named Teri LaMarti, he allegedly left her with open bleeding wounds, then yelled at her when she complained.

But back in those pre-Yelp days, word didn’t get around fast enough, and the practice continued to thrive until tragedy struck.

Utter fraud. In 1996, a 26-year-old mother of two from Depew, New York, stopped breathing during a breast augmentation operation. Pignataro’s facility didn’t have a ventilator, and Sarah Smith died.

The investigation that followed laid bare the incompetence of Anthony Pignataro for all the world to see.

It turned out that he wasn’t a board certified plastic surgeon or even a qualified plastic surgeon. He hadn’t administered Sarah Smith’s anesthetic properly. The New York state health board ended up charging him with 30 counts of professional misconduct in all.

Anthony pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and received six months in jail, a $5,000 fine, and community service. He lost his medical license. Judge Ronald H. Tills noted that Pignataro would “never practice medicine again — anywhere in the world.”

And there wasn’t any fancy legal footwork to delay jail time. The judge had Pignataro taken directly from the court room to a prison cell, while Debbie Pignataro “sobbed in the back row,” according to a 1998 AP story.

Loyal wife. After his release, Anthony had trouble finding another job, but Debbie stood by him. His well-to-do mother, Lena Pignataro, helped out the family financially.

Anthony had another affair, and Debbie took him back again.

But soon, emotional anguish was the least of her problems.

In 1999, Debbie started feeling ill with nausea and numbness of the limbs and severe pain elsewhere. The symptoms came and went. When they were bad, she had to stay in bed.

Debbie Pignataro in an appearance circa 2004

Debbie began having memory loss and needed to use a wheelchair at times.

Anthony told her the answer was to have her gall bladder removed, but her doctors vetoed that plan; they said surgery would kill her in her weakened state.

Finally, one of her doctors did a hair test and figured out what was wrong. Debbie had consumed 29,580 milligrams of arsenic.

Convoluted idea. Anthony suggested that the family of Sarah Smith, the patient who died, was poisoning Debbie to punish him. But the arsenic was traced to some ant insecticide the good doctor had purchased himself.

He was sneaking arsenic into his wife’s food, investigators determined.

The prosecution found evidence suggesting that Anthony hoped the arsenic poisoning would cause Debbie to die during surgery so that the medical establishment would see it was normal for operations to kill people sometimes — and he would thus be absolved for Sarah Smith’s death.

Anthony Pignataro ended up pleading guilty to charges related to the arsenic poisoning. Judge Mario J. Rossetti labeled the former surgeon’s life “a charade of misrepresentation,” called him self-centered and manipulative, and said he showed “disrespect for the value of human life.”

Despite his guilty plea, Anthony at various times claimed that Debbie Pignataro poisoned herself in a suicide bid, a claim ridiculed by Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita.

Back at it. Debbie, who appeared on Forensic Files, remarked without bitterness that a) she would never harm herself and b) her ex-husband should be forced to ingest arsenic himself.

She has also stated that her former spouse will never take responsibility for attempting to kill her.

But universal disdain and a second stint behind razor wire couldn’t crush Pignataro’s ego. Not long after his release in 2013, he returned to the Buffalo area, changed his name to Tony Haute, and opened a business called Tony Haute Cosmetique LLC.

He sold a line of skin-care creams, including a system formulated from “one’s own DNA-derived plasma.” His website referred to him as a doctor.

Log off, dude. The Erie County District Attorney subsequently opened a criminal investigation into Pignataro’s new venture, and the ex-convict ended up taking down his website, according to a 2017 story by Charlie Specht of Buffalo station WKBW.

Pignataro responded to WKBW’s report by stating that he changed his name in an effort to make a new start. He apologized to his ex-wife and the Smith family, although without making any specific admissions about his guilt. Pignataro also said that he works as delivery driver.

I didn’t have any luck finding out how Debbie Pignataro is faring with the after-effects of the poisoning today. I didn’t look too hard because she already cooperated with Forensic Files and true-crime author Ann Rule and probably prefers privacy at this point.

Anthony Pignataro in a recent incarnation

The show stated that much of the damage to Debbie’s health is irreversible. On the bright side, the book said that she has found nice people to help her in her daily life.

Her former husband will probably reinvent himself as something or other, but let’s hope the only person he’ll ever incapacitate is himself.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR