Frankie Pullian: Deceived and Killed

A Funeral Director Preys on an Innocent
“Undertaken,” Forensic Files

Frankie Pullian’s murder is one of those stories that simultaneously affirm and deny faith in human nature.

Victim Frankie Pullian

A band of fraudsters put into motion a plan to kill Pullian, a 29-year-old errand runner at a funeral parlor, and pocket $980,000 from life insurance policies.

Justice exists. The culprits thought no one would pay much attention to Pullian’s death because he lived in relative obscurity with no family near him in Passaic County, New Jersey.

But society cared. The criminal justice system worked. It took them a few years, but authorities determined how Pullian had really ended up lifeless underneath a Ford Maverick and put three of the conspirators in prison.

The crime happened back in 1980, so for this week, I hunted around to find out whether the perpetrators are still alive and what happened to them.

Guy Friday. But first, here’s a recap of “Undertaken,” the Forensic Files episode about the case, along with other information from internet research.

Undertaker  E. Lee White

Frankie Pullian joined the army after high school but received an early discharge because of what Forensic Files called a neurological impairment. An Asbury Park Press story from 1982 described him as retarded.

Whatever the case, he functioned highly enough to take a job with the E. Lee White Funeral Home in Paterson, New Jersey.

White hired Pullian to wash funeral limousines and perform other assorted tasks. Pullian earned $7,500 to $10,000 a year.

Forgotten scandal. Pullian (as well as Forensic Files) apparently overlooked a bit of trouble the business experienced back in 1975.

The state of New Jersey stripped E. Lee White of certification to conduct funerals because of unethical business practices including the “unconscionable” practice of marking up caskets to “four times their wholesale cost,” according to an Asbury Park Press account from July 15, 1975.

The New York Times reported that the revocation was permanent, but somehow, E. Lee White resurrected his reputation and operations within a few years.

Newspaper accounts published after 1980 describe him as a “respected civic leader,” and E. Lee White Funeral Home was open for business.

Cruel quartet. Meanwhile, White had progressed from crooked to homicidal. He hoped to parlay his investment in the innocent Pullian into a six-figure payoff.

In the eight months preceding the murder on April 8, 1980, White and his wife, Erna, and associates Lawrence Scott and William Brown started taking out insurance policies on Pullian, forging his signature, and naming themselves as the beneficiaries.

The stolen Ford Maverick

Newspaper accounts give Scott’s profession as truck driver or construction worker and Brown’s as a Prudential Insurance employee, but the two apparently did some kind of work for White’s funeral parlor as well.

Large indemnity. Erna White, a public school teacher, obtained one of the insurance policies on Pullian by claiming she was his sister. She signed the policy “Erna Boone,” her maiden name.

Pullian didn’t have a sister.

One of the policies offered an extra $350,000 if the insured party died in an accident.

Ready to pounce. Investigators believed that E. Lee White was the mastermind behind the crime and had started planning it several years ahead of time — and possibly hired Pullian with the intent of killing him.

Meanwhile, Pullian “idealized White and considered White a father figure,” according to N.J. Superior Court documents.

With all the insurance policies in place, White arranged for someone — the police never determined who — to kill Pullian, run over his body with the car, and abandon the vehicle in an alley so it looked like an accidental hit and run.

Everything worked as planned at first. Emergency services took Pullian directly to E. Lee White’s funeral parlor, where White started the autopsy himself.

The E. Lee White Funeral Home at 628 Market St.

Cops not fooled. The medical examiner arrived and unwittingly declared a car accident the cause of death and cleared the path for the conspirators to begin collecting the funds.

But the position of the body, lack of skid marks, and unlikelihood of a car traveling fast enough on a short alleyway made police suspicious.

One of the life insurance companies requested an investigation.

Three years after Pullian’s death, authorities dug up and reexamined his body. They discovered his skull carried a fatal “moon crater” injury — the mark of a blunt instrument, like a hammer — inconsistent with a death by auto.

Assumed identity. Investigators had noted that the vehicle contained high-velocity blood splatter in the interior. But someone had taken care to wipe fingerprints away.

They theorized that a Lee associate lured Pullian inside the car and killed him there with a heavy implement.

Erna Boone White

Once detectives spoke to doctors who administered the exams required by the insurance companies, it became clear that the plan involved impostors.

The men claiming to be Frankie Pullian had to refer to notes to answer the doctors’ questions.

No sweat. As the case pressed on, White tried to appear calm, even after his indictment for first-degree murder and fraud.

The funeral director said that he was not worried about the charges and that business increased after his indictment, according to a Morristown Daily Record story from 1984.

Lawrence Scott somehow managed to snag William Kunstler, a lawyer world-famous for taking on social outcasts as clients, to defend him.

On January 18, 1985, E. Lee White  and the other two men were convicted after a 47-day trial.

Condemned at last. The following month, Judge Amos Saunders, citing “pure, evil greed,” sentenced White, age 45,  to  life with eligibility for parole after 25 years.

Lawrence Scott, 1980s

Lawrence Scott, 38, also got life but with parole eligibility after 15 years.

William Brown, 1980s

William Brown was scheduled to receive sentencing the day after Scott and E. Lee White did, although newspaper accounts were unavailable.

Erna White was tried separately and convicted of fraud and theft by deception. She got off with probation.

So, where are these four cold-hearted people today?

1. E. Lee White got into trouble while incarcerated in Trenton State Prison.

In 1990, a judge tacked an extra five years to White’s sentence after a jury convicted him of soliciting a fellow inmate to take responsibility for the Pullian murder.

White had offered Robert Earl Moore cash and a sports car in exchange for making a false confession.

That disappointment didn’t deter White’s optimism and, over the years, he vied aggressively for release on the basis of various claims, including the seemingly universal “ineffective counsel.”

In 2016, two superior court judges affirmed a New  Jersey State Parole Board’s decision to deny parole to White.

The court noted a lack of “rehabilitative progress” and that “instead of confronting the facts as proven at trial, petitioner adhered to a version of events that downplayed his culpable actions.”

According to court papers, Lee would be eligible for another review in 2024.

But his profile is not available via the New Jersey Department of Corrections inmate locators.

An undated profile of E. Lee White Sr. indicates he was moved to East Jersey State Prison (formerly named Rahway State Prison) at some point.

He may have died sometime after 2016, or perhaps he’s being held out of state.

2. Erna Boone White is alive and still living in Paterson. She is around 77 today.

Interestingly, lists an “E. Lee White Jr.,” born in 1971, as jailed in Florida in 2014 for an offense related to cocaine possession, although there’s no confirmation on whether or not he’s Erna and E. Lee White Sr.’s son.

Lawrence Scott, in a circa 2016 mugshot

3. Lawrence Scott won release in 2001 but ended up back in prison later that same year. The N.J. Department of Corrections lists his status as “paroled,” but his mugshot still appears on its website.

4. William Brown is not listed with the N.J. Department of Corrections. Newspaper accounts of the crime carry little identifying information about him, and the commonness of his name makes it hard to research him. A story from 1985 lists his age as 50, so if he’s alive, he’s around 82.

Judge Amos Saunders, who viewers may remember from his appearance on Forensic Files, retired in 2000 and became a counsel to the law firm Carlet, Garrison, Klein and Zaretsky. He died in 2015 at age 81.

A New Jersey Star-Ledger obituary noted that Saunders was an expert in boxing law “after presiding over several cases with such luminaries as Don King, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Evander Holyfield appearing in his courtroom.”

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

Tim McEnany: An Epilogue

Inside His Innocence Website
(“A Case of the Flue,” Forensic Files)

Last week’s post detailed chimney sweep Tim McEnany’s conviction for the murder of Kathryn Bishop, an 82-year-old who kept a lot of cash in her house.

A young Tim McEnany, in a  Pennsylvania Justice Project photo

He received life in jail without parole and is serving his sentence at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution in Somerset.

But there are two sides to every post-conviction story, and McEnany offers up his via the Pennsylvania Justice Project, which is the subject of this week’s post.

Site to see. I really didn’t want to find anything that seemed worthy of consideration on McEnany’s website. Forensic Files laid out the case so neatly in “A Case of the Flue,” and who can resist a little self-righteous disdain for anyone who would hurt an elderly widow?

While I still suspect that justice was already served in this case, McEnany and his supporters do offer some intriguing counterpoints, including one rather explosive theory, via the Pennsylvania Justice Project.

A review of  McEnany’s website follows, but first here’s a superquick recap of the crime as portrayed in Forensic Files:

Kathryn Bishop, a retiree who lived alone, employed Tim McEnany and his cousin Andrew Reischman to clean the chimney in her house in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, on March 3, 1993.

That afternoon, they completed the job without incident and received payment by check.

Saltwater and slots. Over a beer at Shane’s Flight Deck that evening, the duo allegedly decided to return to Bishop’s house, quickly burglarize it, then establish an alibi by going back to the watering hole before anyone noticed they had left.

Kathryn Bishop (right)

The part that didn’t go as planned was finding Bishop at home and awake. She was beaten to death, and the $6,000 she kept in a basket on her dining room table was stolen.

Afterward, McEnany — a married 26-year-old with two small children — and Reischman returned to the bar and then headed to Atlantic City for some recreation, according to prosecutors.

McEnany doesn’t have a lot of supporters on YouTube, judging from reader comments to A Case of the Flue:

Zeather Ababa
“He should have been given a sign to march in the street which says ‘I kill a old lady.'”

Joseph T.
“Murder just to take the money and piss it away, and give it to the Casino. Hope it was worth it, dumbass.”

With the Pennsylvania Justice Project, Father Francis-Maria Salvato — a priest who has taken up McEnany’s cause — hopes to disabuse the public of such unkind sentiments.

The innocence website includes nine long-form blog posts, a couple of them written by McEnany himself and the rest by Salvato. It also features audio interviews with McEnany’s mother.

Janet Callahan McEnany and Father Salvato’s most provocative contention is that the police should have investigated Kathryn Bishop’s grandson, Greg Seitz, in connection with the murder-robbery.

Treated like soot. According to the Pennsylvania Justice Project, Janet Seitz — who is Bishop’s daughter and Greg Seitz’s mother —and her husband visited Bishop while the chimney sweeps were at work. McEnany recalled the husband as pleasant and trusting, but he got some dubious vibes from Janet Seitz.

In her Forensic Files interview, Janet Seitz said she felt McEnany’s bill, between $300 and $400, seemed high.

I have to disagree. Even by 1993 standards, that sounds like a reasonable fee to have two people do work of that nature. (In addition to the cleaning, they did at least one repair to the chimney.)

Burned by media. It’s possible that some bias on Janet Seitz’s part influenced the investigation.

In one of the radio interviews, Tim’s mother said that concern about a bias toward her son spurred the McEnany family to decline media requests — including one from Peter Shellem, an investigative journalist known for helping wrongly convicted people win exoneration.

Without the benefit of having talked to the McEnany family, Shellem, who worked as a reporter for Harrisburg’s Patriot News, got the facts wrong when he appeared on Forensic Files, Janet McEnany alleges.

Charting it out. A couple of other theories the website brings up are less scintillating: that the police botched the crime scene investigation and that various law-enforcement parties used the case to win themselves promotions.

Not that those allegations are any less worthwhile to explore — it’s just that they’re pretty much standard among convicted people.

The following table boils down major points of contention detailed on the website:

Called victim's house twice to ensure coast was clearPolice seized his cell phone and fabricated call evidenceAuthorities were anxious to solve case
Left bar for long enough to commit crime and returnHe and Reischman never left the bar (Shane's Flight Deck)Bar employees were guilty of serving a minor (Reischman), so they told police what they wanted to hear
Failed polygraphResults can be manipulatedMother worked for prison system, has seen corruption
Admitted guilt by saying beer gets him in troubleHe only meant he should have gone home instead of to a barWife would be an honest alibi, unlike bar employees
Had paint chip in jacket, from basement windowPaint chip planted by policeWindow never opened until police opened it
Was guilty because of forensic evidencePolice did "Forensic Files" to bolster their credibilityPolice desperate to cover up injustice to McEnany
Got a fair trialTrooper Jack Lotwick drove jurors to and from court, thus had a chance to influence themLotwick used case to win the job of sheriff
Kicked Bishop to death, causing Reischman to flee her house in horrorWitness says fleeing man had long hairHe & cousin have short hair. Victim's grandson's is long
Beat Bishop severely in a rage killingRage killings are personal; he had no rage toward BishopMore likely that someone close to victim (like a relative) did it
Left fiber evidence from his T-shirt on victim's bodyLab scientist had doubts about fiber evidenceEven if fibers are from T-shirt, doesn't prove murder
Went to Atlantic City to spend stolen cashNothing — no mention of an Atlantic City trip on site
Got a fair portrayal on "Forensic Files""FF" hyped up evidence to win viewersShows like "FF" are tools of system

Because this post includes negative reader comments about McEnany, it only seems fair to offer a couple from his supporters:

Timothy Callahan
“Timothy McEnany is my cousin. … My cousin is innocent, a good man, and a good father. A travesty of justice has been committed by our broken legal system and as a result an innocent man is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He is a victim, not a murderer.”

Darya Eudora Mace-Tasker
“I can remember this years ago and it didn’t make sense then! When reading the facts now, it TRULY is injustice!!! … There are so many wrongly put into the system because the system does not work!”

What about Reischman? While McEnany continues to serve his sentence in medium-security at SCI, Andrew Reischman has never faced charges related to Kathryn Bishop’s robbery or murder.

He did, however, run into a little trouble in North Carolina. From 1995 to 2000, an Andrew Vincent Reischman collected charges of DWI, marijuana possession, resisting arrest, and “assaults or threats against the government.”

The last offense is probably less severe than it sounds, because North Carolina records indicate he received probation for that misdeed as well as the others.

A web search for Pennsylvania and the surrounding states turned up no other brushes with the law for Reischman, who was born in 1972.

In other words, he got his act together before hitting 30.

Hero to the railroaded. On a sad note, Peter Shellem took his own life at the age of 49 in 2009.

Pete Shellem

Former O.J. Simpson lawyer Barry Scheck called Shellem “a rare, one-man journalism innocence project,” according to a New York Times story.

That’s all for this post. True Crime Truant will be off for New Year’s vacation — back on January 18.

Until then, cheers and good tidings for 2018. RR

P.S. The links still work for 5 True-Crime Movies to Watch on YouTube Thanksgiving Weekend, so if you’d like a splash of true crime with your champagne, enjoy.

Tim McEnany’s Murder of Kathryn Bishop

A Chimney Sweep Plays Dirty
(“A Case of the Flue,” Forensic Files)

It seems odd that someone with a strong enough work ethic to wriggle down a 20-foot-tall tunnel and clean away soot would later that same day kill a homeowner and steal her cash for an easy payday.

Kathryn Bishop

Or maybe it’s because chimney sweep Tim McEnany and his cousin Andrew Reischman had labored so hard for the $300 fee Kathryn Bishop paid them that he decided burglary looked like a better pursuit.

As a YouTube viewer named lonehorseman09 put it so eloquently:

 “i owned a chimney sweeping business in western canada for 24 years and this is the type of lowlife you have working for you-fortunately for me nothing physical ever happened to any of my clients.”

Unlike the occasional Forensic Files episode that leaves viewers skeptical about the  guilt of the convicted ( Jim Barton), “A Case of the Flue” presents a straight trajectory from the incriminating evidence to Tim McEnany.

Bundles of joy. That doesn’t mean McEnany has accepted his fate, however. The inmate has an unusually extensive innocence website. I’ll report on that later. First, here’s a recap of “A Case of the Flue,” along with other information from internet research.

Kathryn I. Bishop, an 82-year-old widow, lived alone in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, near the state capital of Harrisburg.

She liked to use cash to pay for groceries and had about $6,000 neatly wrapped in circular bundles in a basket on her dining room table. But McEnany was paid by check after he and Reischman cleaned Bishop’s chimney on March 3, 1993.

The next day, Bishop’s daughter, Janet Seitz, stopped by to visit, only to find an ambulance in her mother’s driveway.

Puzzle left behind. Bishop had been beaten to death — kicked more than 60 times by an intruder the night before. Wounds on her arms suggested that the retiree had fought back.

“There was a lot of trauma,” Graham Hetrick, Dauphin County coroner, was quoted as saying in a March 7, 1993 account in the News Record, a North Hills newspaper. “It’s a real pathetic case.”

Police found a word puzzle and a broken pen near the body. They also discovered a receipt from Ace American Chimney Experts, Tim McEnany’s business.

Clean oilman. A neighbor  recalled seeing a man running from Bishop’s house the night before, but it was too dark to see his face.

Police started their investigation by questioning an oil company driver who had made a delivery to Bishop’s house on the day of her homicide. He had a solid alibi.

Timothy Patrick McEnany

Investigators turned their attentions to the duo from the chimney sweep outfit.

Tim McEnany and Andrew Reischman’s story about their whereabouts the night of Bishop’s death seemed shaky from the outset.

‘Wagers’ of sin. The two claimed they were drinking at Shane’s Flight Deck in Middletown all night, but bartenders recalled that they left and came back at one point.

Cellular One records from McEnany’s massive 1990s-era cell phone showed he made two calls to Bishop’s house that night, both of them unanswered.

Police believed he was checking to make sure she was either asleep or out.

But the burglary turned into a robbery-murder when he (and probably Reischman) discovered Bishop home and wide awake. She was hard of hearing and often didn’t notice the phone ringing, her daughter said.

Loyal cousin. Investigators theorized that McEnany spontaneously decided to kill her and, when Reischman saw the violence, he fled in horror out the side door, in view of the neighbor who reported the sighting.

But apparently, Reischman still returned to the bar with McEnany.

An informant told Patriot-News reporter Peter Shellem that McEnany, then a 26-year-old married father of two, and Reischman, 20, drove to Atlantic City after they left the bar for the night.

McEnany never implicated Reischman, however, and investigators didn’t find strong enough evidence to tie him to the crime. McEnany alone was charged with robbery, second degree murder, and conspiracy.

Investigators had found a paint chip in McEnany’s clothing and discovered it came from the area around Bishop’s basement window, suggesting McEnany entered the  house that way.

Little switcheroo. The defense team hired forensic scientist Skip Palenik to refute fiber evidence that investigators said tied McEnany’s black T-shirt to the murder scene.

But Palenik ended up agreeing with the prosecution’s theory — that the fiber evidence pointed to McEnany.

McEnany, who gave a semi-incriminating statement (“Every time I drink I get in trouble”) to the police upon his arrest, maintained his innocence throughout the trial.

On October 20, 1993, after deliberating for five hours, the jury found him guilty of robbery, conspiracy, and second-degree murder.

Chaos and histrionics. When the judge polled each jury member on every charge, McEnany had to hear the word “guilty” 48 times, which sent him over the edge, literally.

He screamed of injustice and tried to escape via a courtroom window.

Adept at scurrying through tight spaces, the 5-foot-8-inch-tall McEnany got halfway out before deputies dragged him back by the ankles, according to an account that appeared in the News-Press of Fort Myers, Florida (yes, the dramatics made news all the way from Pennsylvania to the Sunshine State).

He got life in jail without the possibility of parole.

Andrew Reischman never faced charges related to the case

Supporters persist. McEnany, who is now 51 years old, resides in Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution in Somerset along with 2,393 other inmates.

As mentioned, he does maintain a strong presence on the internet and clearly has some people convinced of his innocence. I’ll give his website a good read and also look for an epilogue on Reischman and discuss it in the next post.

Until then, cheers. RR

Update: Read Part 2

Denise Davidson: A Jamaican Queen Falls

The Murder of Louis Davidson, M.D.
(“House Call,” Forensic Files)

The presence of a beauty queen, even if it’s Miss Southern Delaware Bartlett Pear of 1991, gives a true-crime story the allure of a fairy tale gone awry.

Denise Ann Davidson

The Forensic Files episode “House Call” is especially hard to resist because it centers on a genuine heavy hitter — a former Miss Jamaica pageant finalist.

Pretty face, awful crime. Denise Davidson probably thought police would never implicate someone like her when her estranged husband turned up dead.

But her poise and fluffy hair didn’t help when it really counted, and she ended up in prison. So for this week, I poked around to find out whether she’s still incarcerated — and if so, whether she’s enjoying madcap Orange Is the New Black-like adventures or it’s just plain dismal living behind razor wire.

But first, here’s a recap of “House Call” with additional information from internet research:

In 1982, Louis Davidson, M.D., married onetime swimsuit model Denise Davis, and they moved into a large house in Carrollwood, Florida, a few years later. Both of them originally came from Jamaica.

Messy divorce. The doctor was described as kind and generous and “so smart he was almost scary” by Kathy Molino, R.N., a former colleague who appeared on Forensic Files.

But it turned out that the Bayfront Medical Center’s head of emergency pediatric medicine hadn’t made a wise choice for a wife.

The marriage soured, and Denise filed for divorce in 1989. The doctor reportedly believed she was cheating on him. She alleged there was violence in the relationship, according to a Jamaican Gleaner story.

Louis Davidson, M.D.

The couple reconciled, but at some point Denise acquired Miami night club owner Leo Cisneros as a boyfriend. He had suspected ties to Jamaican drug trafficking.

By 1994, Denise and Louis Davidson were headed for divorce court again and a custody fight over their 8-year-old daughter, Natalie. Denise reportedly wanted to take her back to Jamaica to live.

The doctor had found a girlfriend, a paramedic named Patricia Deninno, and the two were engaged. Denise and Cisneros, 32, were expecting a baby together and also planned to get married.

Outsourced killers. But Denise and her new man wanted to avoid a dispute over Natalie and collect a life insurance payout  of more than $400,000  by taking the doctor out of the picture permanently.

Denise Davidson at the time of her arrest

The first hitman they engaged was himself gunned down  in Jamaica in 1993, before he could carry out the murder, according to what Denise’s sister, Ava Davis, told police, the St. Petersburg Times reported in a story by Craig Pittman.

The couple then arranged for two more hitmen, Robert Gordon, 32, and Meryl Stanley “Tony” McDonald, 47, to kill the pediatrician.

Pretending to be prospective tenants, the contract killers visited the rental office of Thunderbay Apartments, where the doctor lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, and obtained layouts of the entire complex and a two-bedroom unit.

On January 25, 1994, the doctor, 38, answered his door to find at least one of the killers on the other side. Court papers allege that one of the men had somehow chatted up the doctor in the parking lot, and they walked into the apartment together.

Whatever the case, once inside his home, the men roughed up Louis Davidson and drowned him in his bathtub, then left town pronto.

‘The Wire.’ Dennino found the doctor in the tub with his knees tied with a vacuum cleaner cord and a gag over his mouth.

The victim’s watch, camera, and money clip were missing, according to court papers. But thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables were left undisturbed, leading police to believe that murder was the real motivation.

Leo Cisneros

By this time, Cisneros had fled to Jamaica.

Denise Davidson stayed in Florida, and authorities put her under surveillance.

She made the investigation easy.

Detectives followed her into a Western Union office, where they witnessed her wiring $1,200 to Robert Gordon and noticed that she signed the paperwork with an alias, Pauline White.

They eventually gathered enough evidence to prove that she had given Gordon and McDonald a total of $14,000 to $15,000 via a series of transfers.

Phone records revealed that she made numerous calls to Gordon the day of the murder.

Idle threat. Detectives found the local Days Inn room where Gordon had stayed and discovered a pair of Voit sneakers and a man’s sweatshirt that had Louis’s blood on them. And a sneaker tread matched a footprint at the crime scene.

Meanwhile, once Denise realized the police considered her a serious suspect, she disguised her voice and left a threatening message (“You’ll be sorry, Denise…”) on her own answering machine in hopes of throwing off investigators.

No luck with that ploy, because detectives traced the call to Dooley Groves, the citrus fruit store where Denise worked as a manager. They saw her enter the business just before the time of the phone call and exit soon after.

The ultimate penalty. Police arrested Denise, then 34, at Tampa International Airport as she was waiting to board a flight to Kingston, Jamaica. She was held without bail.

Florida investigators tracked down the assassins and put them as well as Denise on trial in 1995.

Daughters Natalie and Selena (foreground) ended up in Jamaica with Denise Davidson’s father, Peter Davis (right), and one of her sisters

By this time, she had given birth in jail to Selena, her daughter with Cisneros. According to an account in the St. Petersburg Times, Denise’s face lit up when the baby made an appearance in court, which prosecutors complained was an attempt to win the jury’s favor.

At the trial, Davidson testified that Cisneros had masterminded the murder plot without her cooperation.

The jury convicted her of solicitation for murder, and she got a life sentence.

At the hitmen’s trial, the jury voted in favor of the electric chair.

“Your honor,” McDonald read from a prepared statement, “God Most High told me to tell that you that you should override the jury’s 9 to 3 recommendation.”

Circuit Court Judge Susan F. Schaeffer, known as “Ms. Death” for her harsh sentencing, was unimpressed and gave Gordon and McDonald the death penalty for first degree murder.

Susan Carole Shore, an accomplice who served as a driver for the hired killers, testified for the prosecution and received probation.

Slippery boyfriend. Pittman, who appeared on Forensic Files, remarked that Leo Cisneros was too cowardly to kill the doctor himself. That seemed a little strange. Reluctance to slaughter an innocent man with one’s own hands sounds more like evidence of a bit of humanity.

Regardless, no one ever got to hear Cisneros’ side of the story at the trials.

He had vanished and was still missing when Forensic Files first aired “House Call” in 2002. In 2008, America’s Most Wanted sought help in finding him, without success.

Cisneros remains at large.

Filing away. It should be mentioned that “Leo Cisneros” is a relatively common name, and the internet has stories about at least two felons by that name, but neither of them is Denise Davidson’s former boyfriend, whose full name is Leonardo Anselmo Cisneros.

Robert Gordon

The two hitmen clearly had no idea where Cisneros was hiding out. Otherwise, they would have used the information to win themselves plea deals.

They both made efforts to get new trials, however.

Gordon filed an unsuccessful 1997 appeal claiming that having an all-white jury didn’t count as a jury of his peers and that the court had neglected to hold Denise Davidson accountable to the same standards that had factored into his punishment.

Meryl McDonald

He didn’t get anywhere with a writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in 2004, either.

Meryl McDonald filed a motion for rehearing , which was denied in 2007. (The Murderpedia page for each of the men provides links to the court papers.)

As of today, neither man has been executed. They’re prisoners in the maximum-security section of Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida.

No deprivation camp. Regarding Denise Davidson, she is inmate #153691 at the Homestead Correctional Institution in Dade County, Florida.

It’s a prison with a minimum-security area that sounds a lot like the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary of Orange Is the New Black fame.

Davidson’s current custody status is “close,” which means limitations on off-premises activities. In other words, for OITNB fans, no van-driving gig like the one Lorna Morello and Tiffany Doggett scored.

Denise Davidson circa 2017

But Homestead offers plenty of other diversions, including four softball teams and classes in art, creative writing, music, aerobics, yoga, and anger management.

Inmates also have the opportunity to study PC support services and automotive service technology.

On the down side, Davidson looks somber in recent photographs.

She no doubt regrets ending her marriage by soliciting two hitmen instead of one divorce lawyer.

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

Forensic Files Via Netflix

Hike Over to the Stream

Just a quick post this week with a link to a side project that involves Forensic Files.

True Crime Truant posts always provide links to the related Forensic Files episodes on YouTube so you can watch them for free.

If you’re already paying for Netflix streaming, however, you might want to switch.

Netflix has 360 episodes 100 percent free of ads. But its library is time-consuming to navigate.

The article “10 Great ‘Forensic Files’ Episodes and How to Find Them on Netflix” tries to make the job easier.

Decider is a website devoted to entertainment available via streaming.

Full disclosure: Decider belongs to the same company that owns the publication where I work by day.

But True Crime Truant is funded, operated, and written by me at home with my dog on my lap, no connection to my employer (except that my colleagues and I like to read one another’s blogs. You can check out Running for Your Life by marathon runner Larry O’Connor or Total Game Plan by girls volleyball coach Mike Tully).

But getting back to Netflix, you’ll find one disadvantage to watching Forensic Files there: The only reader comments are reviews that pertain to the series as a whole, not specific episodes.

You might miss the “I hope the mother’s supervisor rots in hell” and “I knew he was a lying weasel from the 911 call” comments. I rather enjoy them. You can always go back and forth from Netflix to YouTube.


Next week, True Crime Truant will resume recaps of Forensic Files episodes, with “House Call,” which tells the story of how pediatrician Louis Davidson met his end at the hands of his wife and some hired assassins.

Until then, cheers. RR

Richard Alexander: Wrongly Convicted of Rape

Making a Sex Criminal
(“Within a Hair,” Forensic Files)

Richard Alexander’s story on Forensic Files is something of a precursor to Making a Murderer, the Netflix docuseries about Steven Avery.

Richard Alexander

Avery, an undereducated auto-salvage dealer, spent 18 years in prison because a rape victim mistakenly identified him as her attacker.

DNA evidence exonerated him and he won a $400,000 judgment from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, but he ended back in prison, for a murder, before he got a chance to enjoy his windfall.

Steven Avery circa 1985

Compact story-telling. Whereas Steven Avery’s saga snagged a 10-hour bingefest on Netflix, Richard Alexander’s got one 30-minute Forensic Files episode.

But Within a Hair gets the job done. It’s absorbing and ends on a happier note, with Alexander’s exoneration for rapes he didn’t commit.

Cagey assailant. For this week, I looked around to see whether Richard Alexander won a financial award and whether he rebuilt his life successfully — or ended up behind razor wire again, like Steven Avery.

But first here’s a recap of the Forensic Files episode along with additional information from internet research:

A series of rapes and robberies were taking place in the River Park section of South Bend, Indiana, in 1996.

The attacker took pains to leave the crime scenes free of evidence. He wore gloves and wiped off surfaces. In at least one instance, he covered a victim’s eyes so she couldn’t identify him later.

Bicyclist implicated. In another case, he came across a young engaged couple who were arguing by the side of the road. He struck the man and raped the woman.

A police dog traced the rapist’s scent from the scene of that crime to some bicycle track marks in the grass. Investigators theorized the attacker got away on a bike.

Not long after, police spotted a young black man riding a mountain bike in the area and took him into custody.

It was Richard Alexander, age 29, and his bad luck was only just beginning.

Lone juror holds out. He denied having anything to do with the River Park rapes and thefts, but three victims picked him or his photograph out of lineups.

Richard Alexander in court after his arrest

A semen sample from one of the rapes in which he was implicated didn’t match Alexander’s DNA. Police dropped charges stemming from that assault, but persisted with other ones.

At his first trial, a racially mixed jury couldn’t reach a decision because one member, a social worker named Barbara Griffin, held out for Alexander’s innocence.

In 1998, after a second trial, an all-white jury convicted him on two of three assaults, and he got 70 years in prison.

Anguish and sadness. Sex criminals tend to get the roughest treament from other inmates in the prison population, and Alexander’s experience was no different.

In an on-camera interview, Alexander’s psychic pain comes through the TV screen. He witnessed inmates raped in the shower.

Inconvenient truth. Still, as heartbreaking as it is to see someone like him wrongly imprisoned, it’s worth mentioning that, like Avery, Alexander had some rough stuff on his record from the years preceding the rapes.

Alexander’s rap sheet, which Forensic Files showed on camera briefly, included burglary, robbery, receiving stolen property, car theft, and something called “crime deviate cond.”

Steven Avery’s past misdeeds included cruelty to animals.

It’s not outrageous for law enforcement to believe that either of those men could have committed a rape.

Hair does damage. But other parts of the Richard Alexander investigation seemed like a witch hunt. Police deemed it suspicious that his apartment contained “a knife, some hoods, and bandannas.”

Also, the prosecution used a pubic hair found at one of the rape scenes as evidence against Alexander simply because under a microscope, it looked similar to his hair. At the time, there was no mitochondrial DNA testing.

And with Alexander locked away, the rapes continued, this time in the nearby city of Mishawaka, Indiana. One woman identified Alexander as her attacker despite that he was in jail when the assault happened.

Finally, in 2001, Alexander caught a break when police nabbed Michael Murphy fleeing from a residential robbery scene. They found a trove of stolen items in his apartment, including things taken during rapes that were pinned on Alexander.

Sgt. Cynthia Eastman

Yet another attacker. Murphy ended up confessing to rape and 250 thefts. By this time, scientists had developed mitochondrial DNA testing and concluded the pubic hair came from Murphy, not Alexander.

The semen matched DNA from a third man, Mark Williams.

Sergeant Cynthia Eastman noted during her Forensic Files interview that all three of the men looked alike in stature and musculature and were around the same age.

Free at last. They also had completely different facial features, but the crimes happened in the dark and the victims were traumatized.

Murphy got 30 years in jail. Williams, who was already incarcerated for other crimes, received 40 years for one count of rape.

Richard Alexander was liberated on December 12, 2001 after five and a half years behind bars.

He was 35 years old.

“Richard has proclaimed his innocence from day one to anyone who would listen to him. He is extremely happy to be vindicated. He is excited about rebuilding his life,” said deputy public defender Brian Eisenman, as reported in an AP story.

It’s not over. Eastman, who said she always had a feeling Alexander was innocent, described a jubilant hug shared between her and Alexander, and Forensic Files shows joyful scenes of his reunion with family members.

In his final on-cameral interview, Alexander said he had received no apology for the wrongful conviction and that “it still hurts because really nothing’s been done since I’ve been out.” The episode ended there.

Sadly, Alexander’s life has improved very little since then, according to information available on the internet.

He found a sympathetic lawyer, Roseann P. Ivanovich, who filed a multimillion lawsuit against the city of South Bend and its police department in 2002.

New woe develops. The suit named Cynthia Eastman as one of the wrongdoers. “Even though she had doubts, she testified against him twice. I have a big problem with that,” Ivanovich said, as reported in a 2002 AP story.

A US district court dismissed Alexander’s lawsuit. A court of appeals upheld the dismissal in 2006.

Things got worse for Alexander.

In 2007, he pleaded guilty to a count of battery for assaulting a former girlfriend with a lead pipe. He got six years.

Today, the Indiana Department of Corrections lists Richard L. Alexander as having been eligible for parole in 2008 and gives his status as “Returned to court authority on release.”

I believe that means he’s out of prison by now, but no information turned up about his doings for the last few years.

Let’s hope that no news is good news.

Cause célèbre flattened. As for the rest of the players, it’s unclear whether Michael Murphy  — who in addition to the rapes and robberies, had an attempted sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl on his record — is still in jail.  The Indiana offender database lists his earliest possible release date as December 15, 2015.

Steven Avery in 2015

The database gives a 2016 earliest-possible release date for Mark Williams, but doesn’t state whether or not he won parole.

Steven Avery is definitely still in prison and will probably stay there. On November 29, 2017, a Wisconsin judge denied him a new trial.

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

Richard Lyon: An Epilogue

Update on Nancy Dillard Lyon’s Killer
(“Writer’s Block,” Forensic Files)

The last post told the story of the poisoning death of Richard Lyon’s wife, architect Nancy Dillard Lyon, at the age of 37.

Richard and Nancy Lyon had two daughters

Richard Lyon pleaded not guilty at his 1991 murder trial. But a Texas court rejected his blame-the-victim strategy, which included a contention that Nancy had brought about her own slow demise by intentionally consuming arsenic and barium carbonate over a long period of time.

A jury convicted him of first-degree murder, and Lyon began a life sentence at the W.F. Ramsey Unit prison farm at the tender age of 34.

Sorry, sir. He became eligible for parole 15 years later in 2006. That bid was rejected, although the Texas Department of Justice website gives no explanation.

On his most recent review date, February 3, 2016, a parole board denied him again and specified the reasons as “elements of brutality, violence” and “conscious selection of victim’s vulnerability.”

He posed “a continued threat to public safetly,” according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

His next chance will come in 2021, when he’s 64.

In the meantime, Richard Lyon denies that he murdered his wife.

Richard Lyon, right, in a photo from from his website, which advocates for his innocence

No rescue. A website created by Richard Lyon and his supporters solicits donations and pro bono legal help. He maintains that he had nothing to do with Nancy’s death:

“His supposed crime was that he poisoned his wife, Nancy, so he could inherit her money and status in the community and then, begin his new life with his mistress. This narrative has been spewed for decades and portrayed in film in addition to being plastered all over the Internet.”

Lyon has applied to the Innocence Project of Texas and New York, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project, and the House of Renewed Hope.

So far, those organizations have declined to take on his case.

Dillard parents. If he ever does get out, he won’t find Tami Ayn Gaisford — the co-worker with whom he began an affair while married to Nancy — waiting for him. She still lives in Texas but married someone else.

As for updates on family members of the Lyons, I wasn’t able to find out who took custody of the couple’s little daughters after Richard went to prison. But Allison and Anna are adults now.

Nancy’s father, William “Big Daddy” Dillard,  died in 2006 after a 59-year marriage to Sue Stubbs Dillard that produced four children. She passed away in 2009.

(They are not the same Dillards who founded the Dillard’s department store chain. Nancy’s family made its fortune in commercial real estate.)

Nancy and Richard Lyon during their marriage

Another tragedy. Incidentally, William and Sue Dillard had already lost one of their adult children, Thomas, in 1986. He died of a brain tumor.

In murdering Nancy five years later, Richard Lyon took away yet another child from the Dillard family.

Let’s hope someone brings that up at the 2021 parole hearing.

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

Nancy Dillard Lyon’s Murder

A Husband Tries to Mess with Texas
“Writer’s Block,” (Forensic Files)

When Richard Lyon first began sneaking poison into his wife’s beverages, he probably hoped she would die quickly and doctors would attribute the tragedy to natural causes, end of story.

Nancy Dillard Lyon

But he was ready for a criminal investigation into Nancy Dillard Lyon’s death just the same.

Dallas drama. He prepared documents designed to make it look as though a) Nancy committed suicide, b) her brother murdered her to hide family secrets, or c) an ex-colleague had her killed to stop her from testifying in an embezzlement case.

The architect thought he had all the angles covered.

Fortunately, the state of Texas and Nancy’s family weren’t so easily fooled. They succeeded in getting Richard Lyon removed from the Dallas Country Club and deposited into the W. F. Ramsey Unit on a prison farm in Rosharon.

Here’s a recap of “Writer’s Block,” the Forensic Files episode about the case, plus additional information from internet research.

Richard Lyon was born on April 22, 1957 to a middle class family of five children in Connecticut. His father sold insurance. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, then headed to the Harvard School of Design for a graduate degree in landscaping and architecture.

Ivy League sweethearts. There, he met Nancy Dillard, whose parents were wealthy and influential enough for her father’s nickname to be Big Daddy. He had made a fortune in commercial real estate in Texas. But the money hadn’t spoiled Nancy. She was hard-working and practical.

In a Texas Monthly story, Gayle Golden wrote about Nancy and Richard’s early years:

“At Harvard, they had teamed up on all their projects, working through the night until collapsing together in the single bed they shared. According to friends, Nancy had the ideas, Richard the speedy execution.”

The two purposely tweaked their handwriting so it looked similar enough that he could get away with handing in papers she’d written for him.

Richard Lyon at the trial

They married in 1982 and moved into a duplex in University Park, an affluent section of Dallas.

Folks, it’s Camelot. Forensic Files portrayed Nancy as a sweet and generous soul, an assessment corroborated by Golden, a newspaper reporter who lived in the other half of the duplex owned by the Lyons.

Nancy worked her way up to a partnership at Trammell Crow, a real estate development firm. Richard did well for himself as a project manager at a landscape architectural firm.

By 1990, they had two small daughters and lots of friends, swam at the country club, and joined in vacations underwritten by Nancy’s parents, William W. Dillard Sr. and Sue Stubbs Dillard.

Nancy and Richard continued to enjoy working together, Gayle Golden recounted:

“On their own they transformed the once-scrawny back yard into a little paradise, planting trees and wisteria, driving bricks into sand to make a patio, hanging chimes and a hammock.”

They constructed a dollhouse “shingle by shingle” for their daughter Allison.

Neighbor Gayle Golden’s Texas Monthly story

Homewrecker. But, as every Forensic Files watcher knows, idyllic-looking existences tend to give way. Richard began an affair with a coworker named  Tami Ayn Gaisford around 1989. Nancy found out, but instead of getting mad, she got depressed.

She hoped the affair would blow over. Richard left her on at least one occasion but returned and put on the loving husband act, all the while intending to escape from the marriage.

But the mild-mannered 5-foot-7-inch Richard needed a way that wouldn’t mean losing custody of his kids or the affluence and prestige that Nancy Dillard Lyon’s family brought to his life.

And there was something to gain from Nancy’s death: a $500,000 life insurance payout.

Toxic husband. Richard first sprang into action by sprinkling a powdered poison into a soda he bought for Nancy at the movies. The drink tasted terrible and made her sick later that evening. She survived that attempt.

It wasn’t clear what type of poison he used on that occasion.

On a subsequent try, he gave her vitamin capsules laced with the poison barium carbonate. Still, she lived.

At some point, he switched to arsenic, which he probably put in her food and a bottle of wine left anonymously on their porch.

It worked.

Nice playacting. A grim-looking Richard showed up on Golden’s doorstep in January 1991 to ask if she and her husband would look after his daughters while he took Nancy to the emergency room. She had nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

“Do you think you can make it downstairs?” Gayle Golden overheard Richard say to Nancy in a sweet voice. “I’ll carry you.”

Nancy Dillard Lyon, seen here with First Lady Barbara Bush, came from an influential family

During her six-day stay at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, Nancy’s violent illness continued and she begged the medical staff to save her life.

Doctors frantically did tests to find the cause of her illness. She died before they had a chance, on January 14, 1991, at the age of 37.

Forensic tests. Nancy’s father was none-too-pleased that his son-in-law made the decision to terminate her life support without consulting him or his wife. It would come up in court later.

Meanwhile, a laboratory found lethal amounts of arsenic in Nancy’s hair, liver, and kidneys. The strands of hair served as a map of doses of arsenic that coincided with Richard’s interactions with his wife.

Aware that the No. 1 suspect is always the husband, Richard was armed and ready with the aforementioned forged documents designed to look as though Nancy wrote them.

He produced diary entries detailing childhood sexual abuse Nancy’s brother had allegedly perpetrated against her. Perhaps that would prove that either her brother killed her or that Nancy was so distraught over the bad memories she took her own life.

Find a Patsy. The grieving husband also showed authorities an anonymous letter Nancy had received; it threatened violence if she went ahead and testified against a former colleague named David Bagwell who allegedly embezzled $720,000 from Trammell Crow.

Nancy had told doctors about the mystery wine; maybe it was from Bagwell and contained arsenic.

Testifying on his own behalf at the trial, Richard Lyon tried to implicate Bagwell. Nancy had called him a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he alleged.

And in case that didn’t work, Richard could rely on a receipt for arsenic trioxide, barium carbonate, and two other deadly substances — signed by Nancy — as evidence that she deliberately poisoned herself.

Jerri Sims led the prosecution for the state

Paper Lyon. At the trial, prosecutor Jerri Sims called on a handwriting expert who could see the small differences between Richard’s and Nancy’s handwriting. He determined the diary entries about Nancy’s brother were forgeries created by Richard.

Chemical Engineering Co., where Richard claimed the arsenic came from, said that the receipts it issued to customers looked nothing like the one Richard presented; it was fabricated evidence.

And the anonymous threatening letter on behalf of her former coworker was a big nothing. No one could trace it to anyone involved in the embezzlement case.

Tami Ayn Gaisford, Richard’s girlfriend, testified that Richard had told her that Nancy died from a rare fatal blood disease — more proof that he was a liar.

Facing reality. While Golden described Nancy as “infuriatingly optimistic” about saving her marriage when Richard first left her, it came out at the trial that her hopefulness had finally receded: At some point, she had quietly removed her husband as beneficiary of her life insurance policy.

She also shut him off from their joint bank accounts. She didn’t appreciate his using $5,900 of their money to buy a ring for Gaisford.

In 1990, Nancy had hired a divorce attorney, Mary Henrich, in whom she confided her suspicion that Richard was poisoning her — something she felt too embarrassed to tell police, according to court records from Richard Lyon’s unsuccessful 1994 appeal.

Nancy planned to move to Washington, D.C., with her daughters after the divorce, a 1991 AP story reported.

Ants implicated. At the trial, internist Dr. Ali Bagheri noted that Richard was “smiling, joking, and laughing” with hospital staff members during his wife’s emergency room visit.

A detective noted that upon being informed that Nancy had passed away from poisoning, Richard Lyon didn’t ask any questions.

Lyon later admitted to buying some poisons, for killing fire ants in his yard, he said.

But members of the jury brought their healthy sense of skepticism with them for the two-week trial.

Bar exam. They took three hours to find Richard Lyon guilty of first-degree murder.

Judge John Creuzot didn’t buy Lyon’s story

During sentencing, Judge John C. Creuzot said that Lyon used “various and sundry chemicals to kill Nancy. The first two didn’t work, and you finally finished her off with arsenic, a tried-and-true method of producing death.”

Creuzot gave him life in jail and a $10,000 fine.

His sentence began on December 19, 1991 — less than a year after Nancy Dillard Lyon died. I guess Texas courts don’t mess around.

Today, Richard Alan Abood Lyon is prisoner No. 00612188 in the capable hands of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

An upcoming post will look into developments in his case since the conviction.

Until then, cheers. RR

Update: Read Part 3

Richard Lyon: Architecture and Arsenic

Nancy Dillard’s Husband Fooled Everyone at First
(“Writer’s Block,” Forensic Files)

If the story of Nancy Dillard Lyon’s death sounds a little familiar, it’s because her husband chose to kill her via poisoning, the same method used by Dr. Anthony Pignataro, the subject of a recent blog post.

A young Nancy Dillard

Pignataro, an egomaniacal plastic surgeon, failed in his efforts. Debbie Pignataro survived the doses of arsenic the doctor slipped into her food and lived to see him imprisoned.

No showboat. Nancy Dillard Lyon wasn’t so lucky. The architect died on January 14, 1991 after her husband, Richard, also an architect, sneaked harmful chemicals — one of them arsenic — into her comestibles over a long stretch of time.

He almost got away with it.

Unlike the narcissistic Pignatoro, Lyon was an outwardly modest man respected in his profession and in his community in Dallas, Texas.

The 34-year-old father of two managed to evade suspicion until after his wife died.

And even then, he supplied his defense attorneys with an armory of hard-to-refute evidence.

Nancy and Richard Lyon wed after grad school

Media binge. But the criminal justice system nailed Lyon, who had an Ivy League degree, just the same. It’s always refreshing to see investigators untangle a plot concocted by someone sure he can outsmart them.

The story became the subject of not only the Forensic Files episode “Writer’s Block” but also an hour-long Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice entitled “Traces of Evil,” and a made-for-TV movie called Death in Small Doses starring Tess Harper, Richard Thomas, and Glynnis O’Connor.

Upcoming posts will offer a recap of “Writer’s Block” along with some other research about the case as well as an epilogue for Richard Lyon, who is 60 years old and still among the living.

Until then, cheers. RR  

Update: Read Part 2

Rodger Broadway: Magazine Crew Murderer

A Door-to-Door Salesman Has Little Regard for Life
(“Death by a Salesman,” Forensic Files)

Rodger Broadway’s decision to burglarize a house with an unlocked front door and then kill the surprised homeowner was spontaneous.

Eskalene DeBorde

But the explanation for how the Bronx, New York, native ended up in Eskalene DeBorde’s Tennessee neighborhood in the first place offers a glimpse into a little-known industry rife with malice of forethought.

Paging help. DeBorde, a 66-year-old typist for the University of Kentucky, had no reason to suspect a van would drive into her corner of Knox County and drop off a group of ex-cons and other former offenders tasked with selling magazine subscriptions door to door.

It was 2001, when anyone desiring a subscription could order one online or go low-tech and fill out a card that fell out of any issue of Good Housekeeping or Cosmopolitan or Sports Illustrated at a newsstand.

Consumers weren’t exactly longing for Reader’s Digest salespeople to show up the way kids hope for Good Humor trucks.

The magazine publishers, however, did have a need. The decline of Publisher’s Clearinghouse and the rise of the Do Not Call List were taking a toll on subscription sales, according to a New York Times investigative report.

Shadow industry. While respectable media organizations like Hearst, Time Inc., and Condé Nast had no hand in creating magazine crews like the one that recruited Broadway, they would use a chain of middlemen to acquire subscriptions that the crew members sold to people door to door.

Rodger Broadway

The salespeople tend to benefit the least from the crews, according to organizations that track and study them. Magazine crew businesses seem to function at best as multilevel marketing schemes and at worst as vehicles for fraud, indentured servitude, and physical abuse against the salespeople.

Not that this in any way mitigates the cruelty of Broadway’s actions. But it sheds light on one of many types of businesses that prey upon undereducated people looking for opportunities.

The New York Times exposé of magazine crews dates back to 2007, but The Atlantic  wrote about them as recently as 2015. Currently, at least three humanitarian organizations — Polaris, Parent Watch, and the National Consumers League’s Child Labor Coalition — advocate for young people ensnared by magazine crews.

Neighborhood suddenly risky. More information about that will follow, but first, here’s a recap of Death by a Salesman, the Forensic Files episode about the Rodger Broadway murder case:

Eskalene DeBorde lived just a few blocks away from Lynn Noffsinger, her grown daughter who had small children.

DeBorde left her doors unlocked to make it easier for her daughter to drop by with her kids. Crime hadn’t been a problem in the area until August 20, 2001.

That day, one of the salesman who descended upon her Knoxville neighborhood to sell subscriptions was 21-year-old Broadway. He had once served time for “aggravated robbery,” meaning that he either committed the theft with a deadly weapon or caused bodily harm to the victim.

Lynn Noffsinger

Worst fear comes true. He probably rang or knocked on DeBorde’s door and entered after getting no answer, because she was typing upstairs. Accounts vary as to whether he broke into her home office on the second floor or she emerged and confronted him.

Whichever the scenario, Broadway beat and raped the grandmother, stabbed her through the neck, stole her credit cards and keys, poured himself a soda in her kitchen, and fled in her car.

His explanation for the incident was reported in a Knoxville News-Sentinel article:

“She was not scared. She was feisty… I didn’t come to her house to even do none of that. I went blank because she just … made me beyond mad, she made me (expletive) angry.”

Speedy police-work. DeBorde’s daughter discovered the crime scene around dinner time and called 911. Fortunately, she didn’t have to suffer an agonizing wait for justice.

The authorities solved the crime in less than a day.

Neighbors told investigators about the magazine salesmen they’d seen walking around in white shirts and black ties.

Authorities tracked down their supervisor at a Super 8 motel and spotted DeBorde’s 1997 Mazda Protege parked nearby.

He told police that Broadway was on a Greyhound bus back to New York to tend to a family emergency.

Nailed by the evidence. The supervisor admitted that members of his team had criminal records but said they were rehabilitated.

Sheriff’s deputies in Virginia stopped the bus on Interstate 81 and arrested Broadway.

Once in custody, Broadway couldn’t refute video footage showing him using DeBorde’s card at a gas station on the night of the murder or his fingerprints on her car window and a drinking glass in her kitchen.

There was also the matter of the bloody clothes and flower-shaped diamond engagement ring discovered in his travel bag.

Later, a lab matched samples taken from the victim’s rape test kit to Broadway’s DNA.

Door-to-door danger. To avoid the death penalty, the 6-foot-3-inch 202-pound killer accepted a life sentence without parole plus 50 years.

Broadway’s story pretty much ends there, but the scourge of the magazine crews continued.

Shortly after the DeBorde attack, door-to-door magazine sellers committed two more sexual assaults in Tennessee.

At this point, it’s understandable if you can’t imagine having any sympathy for the plight of the people who sell house to house on magazine crews.

Neither could I until I found all the research showing that they’re often victims, too.

Police interview workers at a gas station where Broadway asked for directions after the murder

Grim rewards. The NY Times story tells of jobseekers in their teens and early 20s enticed to join “mag crews” with the promise of seeing the country, having fun, earning $500 or more a week, and accruing points toward tropical vacations.

But in reality, the better part of the commissions are kicked upstairs. Sellers can end up receiving only $10 to $15 a day, sleeping several to a room in cheap motels, being pressured to meet high sales quotas, and receiving drugs instead of wages.

According to Parent Watch founder Earlene Williams as quoted in The Atlantic story:

“Research shows these people mostly come from very low-income situations, may have had trouble with the law, and are earnestly trying to dig themselves out of a hole. They’re vulnerable because they don’t feel like they’re worth anything and the crew managers instill a culture of fear and manipulation.”

John Simpson, a former mag crew member interviewed for a video accompanying the NY Times article, said his supervisors turned him into an enforcer who would beat up team members for not producing enough sales.

(A lawyer for the National Field Selling Association said on camera that abuse claims are exaggerated.)

One former crew member named Isaac James interviewed for the NY Times video said he would filch jewelry and electronics from homeowners while their backs were turned, then use the proceeds to buy magazine subscriptions himself so he would make his quota.

Modern-day Joads. The crew leaders reportedly have abandoned underperforming members at bus stations without enough money for a ticket home. Polaris reports that 25 percent of the calls it receives about sales crews involve “workers left behind in unfamiliar areas.”

Like Okies in debt to the company store, crew members who wish to return to their faraway homes sometimes can’t because they owe the magazine crew owner money for their food and lodging.

Many of the magazine-selling businesses hire crew members as independent contractors, according the NY Times, which means management has no responsibility to give them benefits. (It also relieves the selling businesses’ owners of liability for any wrongs the members may commit.)

Tennessee’s Northeast Correctional Complex

Parent Watch, which Williams created after her own child had a bad experience on a magazine crew, offers resources to crew members and their concerned parents. She advises consumers to turn away door-to-door peddlers.

It’s not just a matter of safety. The Atlantic reported that the subscriptions, hawked with well-practiced sales tactics (“I only need 100 more points for a basketball scholarship”), cost up to $150 apiece and sometimes the magazines never show up.

Lawmakers have looked for ways to better monitor magazine crews. Back in 1999, Wisconsin Senator Herbert Kohn introduced legislation to regulate the industry, but it failed.

Next chapter. In 2014, the Broadway case was cited by a Knox County clerk pressing for better enforcement of a $55-a-month peddler license mandate for anyone not affliated with a religious or nonprofit group, or who doesn’t own a business within Knox County.

Polaris concentrates on regulations that protect the crew members from exploitation. The nonprofit defines abusive magazine crew practices as a form of human trafficking and advocates for the National Fair Labor Standards Act to cover door-to-door sales. It also pushes for magazine publishers to practice transparency regarding their supply chains.

The organization operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which offers help for victims and enables concerned observers to report suspected abuse.

Today, with digital publishing increasingly rendering Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and other former giants of the print magazine business into shrinking pamphlets, perhaps in the near future, magazine crews will die out.

Rodger Erick Broadway has apparently already resigned himself to fading away quietly. Internet research reveals no evidence of attempts to void his sentence.

Behind razor wire. In his late 30s by now, Broadway is prisoner No. 00360958 at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, along with 1,800 other inmates.

As a resident of NYC, I’m glad to know that Broadway is in a prison cell in Tennessee instead of making appearances in dark alleyways or lonely subway cars in my town.

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