Book Review: Blood Will Tell by Heather Chavez

Gripping, with multiple layers of mystery.

How far would you go to protect someone you love? Even if you suspected them of murder…

From the author of the searing debut, No Bad Deed, comes a story about family bonds, and the secrets sisters keep in order to protect each other. Blood Will Tell is original, captivating, and layered with mystery. The backgrounds of the characters are unique and believable, their relationships complex and intriguing, revealing a number of possible antagonists, which kept me guessing until the very end. The past and present timelines are weaved together perfectly, allowing time to digest and reveal possible psychological motives for the crime. I loved how different Frankie and Izzy are and felt that it brought so much life to the story. The scene descriptions are vivid, and the plot steady, giving a real sense of mystery as Frankie leads us through the puzzle of what actually happened that dreaded night, five years ago. One scene that sticks in my head involves the night Frankie drove to her sister’s aid only to find her passed out in the driver’s seat of their parent’s car, a streak of blood, and a clump of human hair on the hood. So chilling!

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy compelling female characters, family secrets, and edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Plot

Schoolteacher and single mom Frankie Barrera has always been fiercely protective of her younger sister Izzy—whether Izzy wants her to be or not. But over the years, Izzy’s risky choices have tested Frankie’s loyalty. Never so much as on a night five years ago, when a frantic phone call led Frankie to the scene of a car accident—and a drunk and disoriented Izzy who couldn’t remember a thing.

Though six friends partied on the outskirts of town that night, one girl was never seen again . . . 

Now, an AMBER alert puts Frankie in the sights of the local police. Her truck has been described as the one used in the abduction of a girl from a neighboring town. And the only other person with access to Frankie’s truck is Izzy.

This time around, Frankie will have to decide what lengths she’s willing to go to in order to protect Izzy—what lies she’s willing to tell, and what secrets she’s willing to keep—because of the dangerous game that six friends once played on a warm summer night isn’t over yet . . .

Book Review: Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Witty, fierce, and unapoligetic. My favorite book of 2021!

Lisa Taddeo is the author of three books: Three Women, a compelling nonfiction account of women and sex, Animal, a fictional depiction of female rage and visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society, and her newest book, Ghost Lover, a collection of fearless and ferocious short stories (available June 14th, 2022 in the US).

“I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me.”

Joan

Joan leads us on a journey across the country filled with abrasive revelations as she searches for a woman called Alice, who is connected to the traumas of her past. Having left New York City for Los Angeles, she rents a small apartment on a shared compound located in Topanga Canyon. While there, she becomes romantically involved with two men. A handsome young man named River who lives in a yurt, and a senile landlord called Leonard. Both men have a profound effect on her future. Slipping in and out of traumatic flashbacks, Joan describes various atrocities committed against her in great detail. We know these are the catalysists driving her, even if the details are somewhat concealed in the beginning. What we do know, by her own words, is that Joan is “depraved.” Her trauma defines her and she moves through the world seeking just that.

What I love most about this book is Taddeo’s natural ability to tackle taboo subjects with such literary boldness and grit. The focus on the link between trauma and sexual violence both shocked and intrigued me, and the way Joan lived inside her pain felt relatable and reasurring. I couldn’t pull myself away as her twisted psyche led her down a dark path of exploration, where she describes being victimized while also using her beauty and sexuality as an exploitive tool. And as the story unfolded I found myself concerned and anxious as she walked the fine line between prey and predator.

Certain statements ring true in Taddeo’s novel, highlighting feelings of anxiety, shame, and deep-rooted fears women endure daily. Experiences we encounter but don’t always find the support or opportunity to voice: “I had the fear of angering a man. Of not being an amenable woman. I had the fear of being murdered.” Another scene: “He was picking a pimple on his chin and staring at me. There are a hundred small rapes every day.” Women relate to each other’s pain in a different way than men do, Taddeo mentioned in an interview, stating that it’s something we, as women, are drawn to in one another. Whereas, for men, it’s the sort of pain that makes them feel very uncomfortable. Taddeo explains, “‘Bad women’ aren’t allowed to tell their stories.”

A woman has to be a victim in the right kind of way.

Lisa Taddeo – 2021 – Salon Talks

The vivid and at times, dreamlike, descriptions Joan speaks of are particularly disturbing. A scene that sticks in my mind recounts a night she suffers a painful loss while living in the canyon, and the vivid portrayal of death as the howling coyotes circle outside, drawn by the smell of blood.

I didn’t know what to expect from the story going in, which is my favorite way to read. I’d read Taddeo’s nonfiction book, Three Women, right before this one and loved it, so I could see certain themes repeated in Animal. I’ve read a lot of conflicting reviews about this book and I’m here to say, read it and decide for yourself. I read Taddeo’s nonfiction book first and connected to it immediately. So much time and effort was put in, gathering those women’s stories, and in the end it definitely paid off. When I started reading Animal it felt very different, and I was able to separate the books from each other and enjoy the fact that the world of fiction is a place where one can write more freely with more control over the content.

5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to those who enjoy complex female anti-heroes, unreliable narrators, slow-burning suspense, and uncomfortable topics. Described as “American Psycho” for the #MeToo era. This is my favorite book of 2021!

published June 8th, 2021

Plot

Joan has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child—that has haunted her every waking moment—while forging the power to finally strike back.

Book Review: Don’t Look For Me by Wendy Walker

Sharp, suspenseful, fast-paced, and satisfying. One of my favorite books of 2020!

Regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with Wendy Walker, this book will make you an instant fan. With a background in law and psychology, Walker crafts compelling female protagonists and eerie settings into twisted mysteries. Two of my favorite books are The Night Before published in 2019 and Emma in the Night published in 2017 by St. Martin’s Press, both of which I tore through. More recent notable works of hers include American Girl, an audiobook released in 2021 which received rave reviews. The atmosphere and suspense Walker creates in Don’t Look For Me is palpable as the story immediately takes a sharp turn, unfolding through a carefully structured dual narrative and timeline.

It’s the five-year anniversary of her youngest daughter, Annie’s death. Since then, Molly Clarke has watched her family drift apart as she blames herself and struggles to cope; she was, after all, the one responsible. She’s often wondered if they’d be happier without her, toying with the idea of disappearing altogether. So when she goes missing the night of a severe hurricane it raises the question, did she plan it?

Walker is a true master of the genre, her descriptions vivid, and plot twists believable. Her use of structure to create suspense is clever and creative. Themes of trauma, motherhood, and child psychology are expertly intertwined throughout, the scenes between characters very real and complex. I found both main characters, Molly and Nicole, relatable and likable, and I was desperate for them to reunite and heal their relationship. I enjoyed the slow reveals of each supporting character and their connection to Molly which kept the story alive in my mind. One of the big twists was so surprising it left my jaw on the floor. I was instantly hooked from beginning to end, desperate to learn what happened to Molly, revealing an ending I honestly, did not see coming. Walker is such a huge inspiration to me, not only as a fan but as a fellow writer, and I can’t wait to see what she’s working on next.

5/5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to all fans of the thriller genre and urge them to read it immediately. If you enjoy palpable suspense, compelling female protagonists, dual narrative/timeline, and psychological twists, this is for you!

published September 15th, 2020

Plot

Molly Clarke is driving home on a stormy night in Connecticut when her car breaks down less than a mile from the nearest gas station. For the last five years, she has been living in a state of torment and self-blame after accidentally killing her youngest child. Often toying with the idea of leaving everything behind, she thinks her family would be happier if she just disappeared. But when she accepts a ride to town from a man with a little girl passing by in a truck, Molly doesn’t make it home.

Book Review: Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

Lightning-fast and whip smart. A fresh take on the genre.

Never Saw Me Coming is Vera Kurian’s debut novel, published September 7th, 2021, by Park Row Books. Kurian is a scientist first, novelist second. Per her bio, she’s spent time on both US coasts but now lives in her hometown of DC, which mirrors the setting of her novel.

I was immediately drawn in by the premise of the book: eighteen-year-old Chloe Sevre earns a full scholarship to Adams college when she agrees to participate in a clinical study on psychopaths. It’s new, it’s interesting, and I love unreliable female narrators. Once first introductions were over, the story hits the ground running and drops a couple of bombs in the first 50 pages (my favorite) including, the fact that Chloe is on a revenge mission to kill a childhood ‘friend’, and if that’s not shocking enough, one of the other students in the study is found murdered. After that, the pace continues full speed and we see Chloe teaming up with two other students—Andre and Charles, also participants in the psychopathy study—as they try to figure out the motive behind who is targeting them and why.

But can you really trust a psychopath?

For a debut, Never Saw Me Coming is long in length (389 pages) but since the chapters are relatively short it never slows in pace. I found myself racing through each new chapter as the POV alternated between Chloe (18 year-old hot girl next door), Charles (privileged, handsome, rich kid), and Andre (a student with a troubled past hiding a big secret). Each character is interesting, unique, and complex, bringing their own personal set of traits to the table. Kurian did an amazing job at displaying the nonchalant and calculative tendencies psychopaths are described to exhibit in textbooks to the page, specifically in chapter 47 where I found myself gliding through a particularly gruesome scene with ease, narrated by Chloe, in which I had to pause and go back, shocked at how cold and detached she was. The tone was executed perfectly and it sent shivers down my spine!

One of the things I love the most about this book is how fresh the story idea is. I have read and enjoyed numerous books featuring unreliable narrators for one reason or another, whether it’s addiction, trauma, or straight-up deceit, but it’s not often I read about a diagnosed psychopath who is not only unashamed but openly proud to admit it. And the fact that she’s not the only one makes for a very suspenseful read with an even more interesting cast of characters. The only downside is that sometimes I found it a little hard to follow all of them, nevertheless it’s an expertly plotted novel.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers, dark academia with a wide cast of characters, lightning-fast pace, and unreliable narrators.

Plot:

You should never trust a psychopath. But what if you had no choice?

It would be easy to underestimate Chloe Sevre… She’s a freshman honor student, a legging-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. She spends her time on yogalates, frat parties and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her. 

Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study of psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smartwatches that track their moods and movements.

When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan for revenge into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

Book Review: A Double Life by Flynn Berry

A slow-burning, utterly satisfying suspense novel with an ending I never saw coming. Inspired by one of the most shocking true crimes in 20th century Britain: the Lord Lucan case.

A Double Life, the second novel by Flynn Berry was published in 2018 by Random House. This book resonated with me on so many levels—some of it personal—and I recommend it to readers who enjoy a story with a slow, steady build that quickly ramps up the action in the last few chapters. As I followed along, I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going at first. Sure, I understood the crime that had occurred years earlier and completely empathized with the protagonist and her motives, but I couldn’t quite figure out which way she was leaning—toward violence or lawful retribution—when finally confronted with her murderous father.

One of my favorite elements Flynn brought to the story was the setting. The protagonist, Claire, lives in London, however, spent a number of years living with her family in Crail, Scotland, a small town north of Edinburgh. And since I was born and raised in Edinburgh, I found that I could really connect with the story and enjoyed reading all the details she’d drop about certain places in the city I’ve personally visited. It felt like I got to experience a little piece of home and it made me feel melancholic in all the best ways.

Something else I enjoyed was how convincing the characters and their interactions were. Nothing felt improbable or forced, and the dialogue flowed naturally (something I’m sensitive to). There was also something so pleasing reading about normal, everyday things like her work schedule and her memory flitting back to the night of the crime, that when the action ramped up in the last few chapters I found it logical and nicely paced. Any illusions I may have shared with the protagonist were shattered when the very serious and real nature of her father was exposed, forcing her to make an unwanted snap decision for survival.

Plot:

“A better person would for­give him. A different sort of better person would have found him years ago.”

Claire is a hardworking doctor leading a simple, quiet life in London. She is also the daughter of the most notorious murder suspect in the country, though no one knows it.

Nearly thirty years ago, while Claire and her brother slept upstairs, a brutal crime was committed in her family’s townhouse. The next morning, her father’s car was found abandoned near the English Channel, with bloodstains on the front seat. Her mother insisted she’d seen him in the house that night, but his powerful, privileged friends maintained his innocence. The first lord accused of murder in more than a century, he has been missing ever since.

When the police tell Claire they’ve found him, her carefully calibrated existence begins to fracture. She doesn’t know if she’s the daughter of a murderer or a wronged man, but Claire will soon learn how far she’ll go to finally find the truth.

Inspired by one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the 20th century – the Lord Lucan case – A Double Life is at once a riveting page-turner and a moving reflection on women and violence, trauma and memory, and class and privilege.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who love fiction based on true crime, narrators with an unreliable edge, a slow-burning literary pace, and an interesting setting that often changes.

I love reading stories inspired by true crimes, and this one is no exception. For those of you unfamiliar with the Lord Lucan Case, in 1974 a British aristocrat named Richard John Bingham (or Lord Lucan) killed 29-year-old nanny, Sandra Rivett in the basement of his home before disappearing without a trace. He was formally charged with the murder a year later and was spotted more than 70 times by 2017, but none of the sightings ever held up under investigation. It didn’t help that the media (New York Times) painted him as somewhat of a suave James Bond type describing him as a “dashing British aristocrat and army officer, known for his prowess at backgammon and bridge and his fondness for vodka martinis, powerboats, and Aston Martin cars.”

The fact that the murder took place in the basement of a dark apartment, leaving lots of room for various theories helped cloud people’s judgment. And given that the lead suspect was nowhere to be found helped the most for writing the case up as nothing more than a horrible tragedy. Rumors began circulating not long after that he’d committed suicide by ferry propeller, started a new life in Africa, or was fed to a tiger. But none of them proved true and to this day, nobody knows where he is.

This story follows the facts of the actual case very closely but what makes it even more interesting is that it’s told from the perspective of the eldest child almost 30 years later. A smart, self-aware, successful young woman on the hunt for the man who ruined her and her family’s life. What will she do when she finds him? She’s not quite sure. But the bigger question is, what will he do?

Only Murders … In My Old Neighborhood

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to your screen every Tuesday night since August 31st along with every other Hulu subscriber to watch one of the most entertaining shows on TV. Only Murders In The Building starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez has been one of my favorite series of 2021, and I’m ecstatic a second season has been approved for next year. One of my favorite things about the show, aside from its hilarious star-studded cast, is its affectionate tribute to the Upper West Side. Capturing the macabre humor and stunning architecture that exists between the Hudson River, Central Park, Columbus Circle, and Morningside Heights.

The building, as seen on the show, is not actually called The Arconia. The pre-war structure, which was completed in 1909 and is located on West 86th and 87th (the size of an entire block), is called the Belnord. A building I passed by (and fantasized about living in) regularly on my walks around the neighborhood, its location a mere six blocks from my old apartment. For a little under $5 million dollars, you could call this place home and relish in its glamorous 13 stories of rich history.

The Belnord’s location, like many other buildings on the Upper West Side, holds a long sordid history of murder and hauntings that span back over the 19th century. A theme reflected throughout Hollywood in movies and shows like Rosemary’s Baby, Ghostbusters, and The Night Of which continue to depict the stark contrast of one of the most beautiful locations where horrific things can and do still happen. From seances and psychics in the basement of the Ansonia on Broadway (sounds a bit like Arconia, I know) to 455 CPW—a once cancer hospital turned abuse-ridden nursing home turned luxury condominium building to the disembodied voices and childlike apparitions at the Dakota (noted as one of the most haunted locations in NYC to live). John Lennon even attested to seeing the ghostly presence of a weeping woman there before he was shot and killed outside the building on the street. Now residents have reported seeing his spirit roaming the halls of the building—yeesh!

In the 1930s and 40s, the Upper West Side became a sanctuary where those fleeing Naziism settled after the war, provided they could disclose an affidavit from an American relative. The Eclair bakery on West 72nd street became famous for its guestbook, where newly arrived refugees would sign their names and perform a frenzied search for the names of loved ones they hoped had made it out.

Scene outside the Dakota after John Lennon was murdered.

Setting the supernatural aside for a moment, some of the grisliest murders I’ve ever read about have occurred in this somewhat suburban neighborhood so many New York families call home. A few so shocking they still resonate with me to this day. And unlike on TV, the outcome is rarely ever satisfying, but rather more surreal.

The Killer Nanny

Yoselyn Ortega—nanny to three young children murdered two of them in 2012 when they were under her care. She was finally sentenced to life in prison in 2018. Victims, Lulu, six, and Leo, two, were the two members of the Krim family left with Ortega, while Nessy, their three-year-old sister was out with their mother at the time.

Ortega, who was supposed to take the two kids to Lulu’s dance class, decided instead to go back to the apartment on West 75th street. She lead the kids into the bathroom where she proceeded to use a pair of kitchen knives to stab and slash both of them to death before placing their bodies in the bathtub. Mom, Marina Krim, walked in right as Ortega turned the knife on herself, thrusting it into her wrists and throat.

Neighbors reported hearing Marina’s screams echoing throughout the building after the grim discovery. Father, Kevin Krim, was out of town on a business trip at the time of the murders and was met at the airport by the police who escorted him directly to the hospital where his wife was being treated for shock.

Ortega “told a psychiatrist hired by her defense that she was following the commands of the devil,” but later undermined her own statement “denying hearing any instructions from Satan in video interviews shown to the jury.” Her motives for the crime remain hidden inside a twisted and delusional mind.

A Tragic Murder Suicide

When people saw Yonathan Tedla jogging around the Upper West Side, they knew him as a friendly neighbor with a beautiful wife, Jennifer Schlecht, and an adorable five-year-old daughter called Abaynesh. For eight years, they’d been seen as outwardly happy, chatting, and smiling as they left for work and school during the weekdays. They’d even dress up for Halloween and go door to door, with Tedla carrying his daughter up on his shoulders. “When you saw them, they were a happy couple. Funny dude, always smiling,” one neighbor said. “It’s just unbelievable. They were an adorable family. Absolutely adorable. I never saw them fight — ever,” another concurred. But that’s not what the police found when they entered the third-floor apartment on West 121st Street in November 2019.

And things were intense behind closed doors. Three years previous, Jennifer obtained a temporary restraining order against her husband after he threatened and harassed her. The couple had met ten years prior at Columbia when she was studying for her master’s degree in social work and public health and Tedla was working there as an IT freelancer. Schlecht worked in Namibia with the Peace Corps for over a year before refocusing her career in the area of maternity and child health and had over 15 years of experience in international relief and development.

Jennifer Schlecht’s father, Kenneth Schlecht, stated the couple’s marriage began to deteriorate shortly after the birth of their daughter. “She was in tears, said her husband had indicated that if she served him with divorce papers he would ruin her or take them all out.” And it’s noted Tedla threatened his wife specifically when she mentioned divorce. Unfortunately, when she finally made the choice to leave him it was already too late.

A 4- to 5-inch serrated knife was identified as the murder weapon.

A week before the murders, Tedla was spotted by coworkers who stated, “He was a nice guy, but strange.” Jennifer was about to obtain an order of protection from the courts, but she never made it in front of the judge. And when police arrived at the scene after responding to a nervous call from the victim’s brother, they were met with a gruesome and tragic scene.

When officers entered the residence they found Jennifer Schlect’s body lying dead on the bathroom floor, her decapitated head in her lap. Upon searching the remainder of the apartment, they found Abaynesh, with a gash so deep to her throat she was left headless, inside a gore-spattered bedroom. Tedla had hung himself with a rope from the child’s door.

Don’t Trust Your Neighbors

I moved apartments on October 1st, 2018, from the Upper East to the Upper West side. At that time, I lived on the edge of Riverside Park, a short walk to the subway, in the heart of the Historic District and the bustling end of Broadway. Three weeks after settling into my new apartment, a notification flashed across my phone screen. A woman had been found murdered less than a three-minute walk from my front door in a neighboring building. But not like you’d imagine a regular NYC-style murder: strangled by an ex-lover, shot while being robbed, stabbed on the subway. No. This woman was found inside her own apartment with her throat slit.

THE KILLER LIVED INside THE BUILDING

I remember feeling a sense of anguish that something so gruesome could happen this close to my new place of residence. Especially considering it was one of the nicest areas of the city I’d ever lived in. Something came over me and I couldn’t help but go and look for myself. Like everyone who lives in New York City for a certain length of time, you become jaded toward terrible things since they happen constantly. I needed more details in order to feel safe and somewhat in control (I know that sounds insane). I made the three-minute walk around the corner from my building to the street and was immediately met with streams of police tape cordoning off the entrance to 710 West End Avenue. There was a small crowd of people including NYPD, journalists, and passersby all waiting for answers.

710 West End Avenue
The Girl Next Door

On October 17th, Anya Johnston, 24, was filed as a missing person. Her mother, Isabel, hadn’t heard from her for hours and grew concerned until she received a call from her daughter explaining she’d be home soon and that she’d gone for a walk.

At 10:30pm that same day, police officers arrived at Anya’s apartment on the 15th floor where she and her mother sat waiting for them. When asked where she’d ventured off to, she replied that she’d taken a long walk to the Brooklyn bridge but returned because it was too cold and she’d had a long day. When asked to elaborate on what ‘a long day’ meant, Anya said she didn’t want to comment saying “Well, I’m not sure what your version of the events are. So, I don’t, I don’t really know what to say. I don’t want to say a damn thing.”

They responded by telling her she was going to be transferred to a hospital, where she went without protest, arriving at Mount Sinai West’s psychiatric unit.

Anya Johnston.
The Bird Lady

To her neighbors, Susan Trott, 70, was an annoying tenant whom they wanted to evict from the building, but to her closest friends and colleagues, she had the biggest heart, with an even bigger personality. One friend fondly described her as, “A tornado kind of person.”

Trott, who’d lived in her apartment for over ten years, owned two rescue dogs (both elderly) and would take them out in the middle of the night to pee, which regularly prompted fights with other tenants. They complained she didn’t use leashes and that the dogs were aggressive. Another fight ensued when she purchased a vacant apartment next to her own and would have friends stay there. Some neighbors complained that she was illegally renting the apartment out, spurring the board’s anger. Another fight was over how she carried a loaf of bread or a bag of birdseed around to feed pigeons on the corner of West End Avenue and in Riverside Park. 

Friends of Trott’s stated, “she had gotten into altercations – at times physical – with neighbors over the past decade.” And, “She was attacked over her apartment and love of animals.” Despite the animosity, she refused to move.

Trott was a successful copywriter and major player in the advertising industry for decades, working for firms including BBDO, J Walter Thompson, McCann-Erickson, Satchi & Satchi, and Y&R and for brands like Levi’s, Nickelodeon, Ambien, Virgin Atlantic, and Air Canada. She ran her own ad company out of her apartment. She split her time between London and New York and owned an apartment in Manhattan as well as a home upstate.

Susan Trott.

When Eric Boscia, a long-time friend, and colleague of Trott’s, failed to reach her by phone on Sunday, October 21st, he was concerned and contacted police to request a welfare check. Officers responding to the call entered Trott’s residence in the early hours and discovered a trail of blood leading them through the apartment to the bedroom. There they found the unconscious and unresponsive body of a 70-year-old female, clothed, and laying on her back. Upon closer inspection, they noted a deep laceration to her throat.

The apartment wasn’t in disarray, and there was no sign of forced entry so police surmised Trott had let her killer in and may have even known them. There was also no sign of the murder weapon in her apartment, nor was there a clear motive. However, after speaking with neighbors it became clear that Trott wasn’t a very popular tenant, and that, according to some of her friends, she’d had issues with a particular woman in the apartment above hers on the 15th floor.

All Evidence Pointed Upstairs

Once forensic units descended onto the crime scene, the trail of blood was discovered in footprints leading from the crime scene, into the hall, and up a flight of stairs. It quickly leads investigators directly inside a 15th-floor apartment belonging to neighbors, Isabel and Anya Johnston. Anya, who, three days prior had been admitted to a psychiatric unit. Officers searched Anya’s apartment, looking for evidence but were unable to find a weapon matching the incision marks on Trott’s body. Carpet swatches were cut out and submitted for testing. NYPD also confiscated, among other things, a jacket, some pants, and a pair of Converse All-Star sneakers from Anya’s apartment, which were later matched as having Susan Trott’s DNA profile all over them. Reports also indicated that the right Converse sneaker “was consistent” with the impressions made on the carpet in Trott’s apartment.

Johnston was arrested and immediately transferred from Mount Sinai West to the psychiatric unit of Elmhurst, and once her medical status stabilized she was sent to Rikers. But her mental health has remained a pivotal aspect of the case, with her defense attorney claiming Anya has “an extensive mental health history, going back probably 20 years.” He confirmed reports that Anya was adopted from a Russian orphanage as a preschooler and later attended Winston Prep, a private school in Chelsea for students with learning disabilities. He confirmed they would be exploring a defense of insanity regarding the case.

The question of motive continues to perplex the public. Initial media reports mentioned the notion of Anya possibly being caught in the act of burglarizing Susan’s apartment, but the indictment has no burglary-related charges. Boscia, Susan’s friend stated, “Sue never mentioned [Anya] by name, but had said a woman was assaulting her and had been stealing from her. If Anya was in the midst of a theft when the confrontation happened, Boscia believes that Susan would have been sensitive to Anya’s agitated state.

M48 Cyclone knife.

And there’s the question of the murder weapon. According to court records, Anya’s Amazon purchase history reveals she bought an M48 Cyclone knife, the same type of weapon the coroner stated made the unusual tunneling lacerations to Trott’s throat. But the knife itself was never recovered. And nobody really knows what transpired between the two of them. There are those in the building that feel awful for Isabel, Anya’s mother, stating “Sue and Isabel [knew] each other for decades…and [had known] Anya ever since her mother adopted her.” When asked specifically about Anya, she was described as “a highly disturbed person…Anya has always had ‘issues’ according to other people in the building.”

Sadly, about a month before Trott was murdered, it has since been revealed she was planning to leave the coop for good. According to her close friend, Boscia, “She’d already found the real estate agents.” He employed the same team to sell her unit in June of 2020. “Her thought was to get either a place in the country or a pied-à-terre in the city and just travel…just enjoy her 70s.”

But were there warning signs of an impending murder? 

About a month before her death, Boscia visited Trott and she mentioned feeling uneasy about someone but didn’t want to get into specifics, dismissing his concern with a wave of her hand. “She was like, ‘Next. It’s fine, it’s fine.’”

Anya Johnston remains at Rikers in pre-trial custody, having been indicted for second-degree murder. The case is still open and pending trial.

Part One: Gabby Petito Timeline

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been following the Gabby Petito case. To try and make it easier, I’ve compiled the information into a timeline below which I’ll continue updating until they catch and prosecute the criminal responsible.

Submit a tip

If you have any information on the case such as, potential sightings, photos, videos, or other details, do not hesitate to contact the FBI at tips.fbi.gov or by phone to 1-800-CALL-FBI or 303-629-7171. Videos and images may be submitted to fbi.gov/petito. You may also contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

The Last Road trip

  • Mid June 2021

    Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie were seen leaving his parent’s home in North Port, Florida. They had been living there together prior to preparing for the road trip. They headed north to New York in the van before heading west on July 2nd. They planned to stop in various national parks along the way, ending their trip in Oregon.

    Background: (Gabby’s father, Joseph Petito stated to authorities that the two had been friends in high school, and after graduation, kept in touch. Their relationship became romantic a few years later and they ended up living together at Laundrie’s family home, before getting engaged in July 2020.)

  • July 5th

    The couple arrived at Monument Rocks.

    July 8th to August 11th

    They stopped in multiple locations including Zion National Park and Mystic Hot Springs.

  • August 12th

    A concerned citizen called in a domestic disturbance outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab, Utah stating to the police: “We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl. Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”

    In the bodycam footage from Moab officers, Petito said she suffered from OCD and anxiety, with both her and Laundrie saying she was stressed because of the YouTube blog they were working on to document the doomed cross-country trip. 

    Laundrie is seen with scratches on his face and arm which he tells an officer were caused when Petito ‘was trying to get the keys from me’ and ‘hit me with her phone’.

    He later said she was angry with him because of his dirty feet. 

    When an officer asks Petito if her boyfriend hit her, she replies ‘I guess’ and makes a grabbing motion on her chin. 

    Laundrie admits he ‘pushed her’ during the altercation. 

    The cops determine Petito was ‘the primary aggressor’ and say they are separating the couple for the night.

    I have included a clip directly beneath but if you’re interested in the full video, scroll and click to watch the second one below.

    CLIP of body cam footage
    FULL LENGTH body cam footage

    Another source indicated the caller mentioned he saw Gabby hitting Laundrie on the arm. According to the police report, Laundrie said the weeks of traveling caused an emotional strain. He also said Petito thought he was going to leave her in Moab without a ride. The witness then said he watched as Petito climbed in the driver’s window as if Laundrie locked her out. No criminal charges were filed and the couple slept apart that night, according to the police report.

    A National Park Service ranger who also responded to the call interacted with Petito for about 90 minutes, and warned her that her relationship with Laundrie had markings of a “toxic” one, the ranger told the Deseret News of Utah.

    “I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” ranger Melissa Hulls told the Deseret News.

  • August 17th – 23rd

    Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino confirms Brian Laundrie flew home to Tampa from Salt Lake City on August 17 and flew back to Salt Lake City on August 23 to “rejoin Gabby.”

  • August 19th

    First and only Youtube video posted of the couple’s trip on the road.

  • August 24th

    The pair checked out of the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Salt Lake City where they had apparently spent a few nights. Gabby had been chatting and Facetiming her mom leading up to and during this period. Her mother, Nicole Schmidt, stated Gabby had mentioned a heightened ‘tension’ developing between the pair over the course of their trip, as mentioned in the police affidavit.

    Strange fact: The hotel where the two stayed is located less than 700 feet from the FBI Salt Lake City field office.

  • August 25th

    Gabby’s last Instagram post.

  • August 25th or 26th

    Idaho shop owner said he spoke with the couple, who both seemed happy and were talking of their travel plans. They mentioned they were thinking of going to Yellowstone National Park.

    “They told me they were traveling from Florida. They had just been to Teton Park and they said they were interested in going to Yellowstone and I told them they could go to the west entrance,” the owner, who was not identified, told the outlet.

    “They seemed happy and when they left, she hollered back from the door that they were engaged and then I said congratulations.”

  • August 26th (TIP surfaced September 23rd)

    A witness, Jessica Schultz, saw Laundrie parked in a white van on August 26 at Grand Teton National Park, and no one appeared to be with him, she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • August 27th

    Nicole, Petito’s mom, received a strange text from Gabby’s phone that read, “Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.” This stuck her as odd because Petito would never refer to her grandfather as ‘Stan’. Her cell phone was then turned off and non-operational.

    While the family deem this as ‘odd’ behavior for Gabby, investigators do believe she sent the Aug. 27 text.

  • August 27th (TIP September 22nd)

    Diners at Merry Piglets in Jackson Hole saw Laundrie and Petito causing a scene with the staff. The restaurant and a receipt from the couple’s meal corroborate that they were there between 1 and 2 PM on that day.

    The witness continued: Brian was arguing with four female employees over his bill. His body language was “aggressive” and “violent,” and he seemed “angry” and “relentless” over the issue. Brian left “abruptly” and came back inside the restaurant about four times and that Gabby was “crying” the whole time. Gabby was described as looking “sad” and said she sat outside on the sidewalk before coming back inside to apologize for Brian’s behavior and urge him to “drop it” so that they could leave.

    TIP September 23rd

    Separately, a man who saw the domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie in Utah last month said, “They were talking aggressively at each other, and something seemed off.”In a handwritten sworn statement, the witness said it appeared the two were arguing over control of Petito’s phone. “At one point she was punching him in the arm and/or face and trying to get into the van.”

    The witness said he heard Petito say, “Why do you have to be so mean?” although Chris added that he couldn’t be sure if the comment was meant to be taken seriously.

    **This could be one of the last time Gabby Petito was see alive.**

  • August 30th

    Petito/Schmidt family receive the last text from Gabby’s phone which reads, “No service in Yosemite” — nearly 900 miles away, in California. The family don’t think it was Gabby who wrote it.

    Afterward, the phone was turned off and non operational.

  • September 1st

    Brian Laundrie crosses interstate 75 in Florida at 10:26AM driving Petito’s white van. He doesn’t speak to anyone. When Gabby’s family reach out and try to contact him, he doesn’t respond and neither do his parents. The family goes radio silent, hires a lawyer, and refuses to speak to law enforcement.

    NOTE: It takes 35 hours driving the shortest route from Teton Park, Wyoming to North Port, Florida with zero breaks in between or traffic. In that scenario Brian Laundrie would have had to leave the park no later than 9:26 PM on Monday, August 30th. And we know he was last seen in the park on the Sunday, August 29th at 6:10 PM by a camper who gave him a lift towards Jackson.

  • UPDATE September 6th – 8th (received 9/29)

    The Laundrie family camped at Fort De Soto Campground, 75 miles from their North Port home in Florida. Laundrie’s mother, Roberta, was checked in at the waterfront site on these dates, according to a Pinellas County Parks campground check-in report provided to CNN.

    The family lawyer states they left on the 7th, all together.

  • UPDATE September 10th (received 9/29)

    The weekend of September 10th was the last weekend that a neighbor of the Laundries, Karyn Aberts, says she saw Brian Laundrie at his home.

  • September 11th

    Petito/Schmidt family file a missing persons report for their daughter.

    Law enforcement and her family continue to plead with Laundrie for information. Investigators said he is not cooperating.

    “We don’t know what Brian knows; that’s the bottom line. We’re hopeful to talk him. He needs to talk us. We need to know exactly where he was where she was their last locations,” Josh Taylor, the Public Information Officer for North Port, said.

    Police impound Petito’s white van 5 hours after she’s filed as a missing person in Long Island, taking it from the Laundrie home, while they wait for the search warrant.

    UPDATE: A neighbor stated that the weekend of September 10th, she saw the Laundrie family “in the neighborhood out in the front yard,” and that it looked like “a normal … they were going for a walk kind of thing,” and that she “never thought anything about it.” She also told CNN, “We saw them take walks as a family,” and “We saw them ride their bikes as a family and things like that.”

    Another neighbor stated he saw the Laundrie family packing up a pickup truck and attached camper before taking a long weekend trip together right after Petito was declared missing. He also stated he saw Laundrie’s father, Christopher, working on another camper after the FBI came and towed Petito’s white van away. They (neighbors) estimated that there was about “a week, week-and-a-half” between the day they saw Brian return in the van and the day he and his parents took off in the truck with the camper.

  • September 14th

    According to his parents, Brian left to go hiking in the Carlton Reserve National Park. He left with nothing but a backpack.

    Police name Brian Laundrie a ‘person of interest’ in the missing persons case for Gabby Petito.

  • September 15th

    Brian Laundrie was named as a person of interest by the North Port police for hindering the investigation.

  • September 16th

    Police execute a warrant and access Petito’s external hard drive and computer found inside the white van.

    North Port police hold a press conference with Petito’s father in which they beg for the Laundrie family to help them find Gabby.

    Laundrie’s sister speaks with “Good Morning America” hours after the Petito family hold a press conference asking for their help. Cassie Laundrie breaks the family’s silence stating: “Obviously me and my family want Gabby to be found safe,” she said. “She’s like a sister and my children love her, and all I want is for her to come home safe and found and this to be just a big misunderstanding.”

  • September 17th

    Laundrie family report Brian missing since Tuesday when he left for the hike. Police execute a search for the missing man, searching his room for personal items to assist the K9 units, heading to his last known whereabouts located at the Carlton Reserve National Park in Florida. Police discovered his allegedly abandoned Ford Mustang near the entrance, towing it away as possible evidence.

    UPDATE: It was later revealed the family went looking for Laundrie on Wednesday 15th, and found his Ford Mustang, which had a police note on it demanding that the vehicle be removed from the area. The family initially left the car there so that Laundrie could drive it back, but they returned on Thursday 16th, to retrieve it, according to Bertolino (the Laundrie lawyer).

    Carlton Reserve National Park.

    Passerby Zachary Randazzo snapped a photo of a man with Laundrie’s description at 5PM on Friday, 9/17 at Targee Avenue in North Port — about two blocks from Laundrie’s parents’ home, and 90 minutes before police showed up at his home following the missing persons report.

    This has since been disproven to be Brian Laundrie.
  • REVEAL September 17th

    Petito’s friend, Rose Davis from Sarasota, revealed Laundrie as a controlling and manipulative boyfriend. She said Petito had described strange episodes, which at times forced her to sleep at Davis’s house.

    “He’s got these jealousy issues and he struggles from what Gabby called these ‘episodes,’ where he would hear things and hear voices and wouldn’t sleep,” she told the NY Post.

    “Gabby had to stay at my house a bunch of times because she just needed a breather and didn’t want to go home to him.”

    Read full post here.

  • September 18th

    Search for Laundrie continues throughout Carlton Reserve in Sarasota County.

    “A weekend ground search and aerial search Monday of the 25-thousand-acre preserve has yet to yield any answers, but we must press on,” North Port Police said on Facebook. Police indicated the search picked up Tuesday in a different part of the reserve. It concluded Tuesday evening around sundown and resumed Wednesday morning.

    The search effort included the use of drones and bloodhounds who used articles of Laundrie’s clothing taken from his home to get his scent. Police initially focused their search on a nearby park which spans about 200 acres before expanding to the rest of the reserve.

  • TIP September 18th

    Police receive a tip from a vlogger with footage potentially revealing Gabby’s last known location. A search is conducted in Grand Teton National Park.

    Vloggers reviewing video footage after listening to the news thought they’d captured Petito’s white van while driving through the park between 6 – 6.30PM on August 27th. They realized it may have been evidence and sent it straight to police.

    Video courtesy of Jenn Bethune – “Red, White and Bethune”
    Tik-Tokkers and digital detectives at work!

    Another version of the video clip reveals the van doors closing upon approach, suggesting that someone was inside when it passed by.

    Video HQ Zoomed, thanks to nirvgorilla.

    TIP #2 September 18th

    Fellow camper, Miranda Baker, says she believes her and her boyfriend picked up Brian Laundrie in the evening at Colter Bay in Wyoming National Park and gave him a ride back to his van on August 29th. Apparently, Laundrie stated he’d been camping alone for the past few days while his girlfriend was staying in their van working on social media projects. She said he offered to pay them $200 for the ride before getting into their vehicle.

    Laundrie, who was wearing a backpack, pants and hiking boots, “looked clean and didn’t smell bad,” and was very polite, Baker said. Laundrie told them he had been camping “basically in the middle of nowhere” at a site outside the Grand Teton National Park, near the Snake River.

    Laundrie claimed to have hiked for days along that river, and that all he had was a tarp to sleep on, she said. Once Laundrie found out Baker and her boyfriend were going to Jackson Hole he got agitated, asked that the vehicle stop, and got out near Jackson Dam in Grand Teton National Park, according to Baker. She said they dropped him off less than 30 minutes after picking him up.

    In a second video, Baker said Laundrie allegedly told her that he and Petito were camping along Snake River on an unregulated campground, “basically out in the middle of nowhere.”

    Laundrie allegedly told them he had been “hiking for days along Snake River.”

    Baker then recalled how unprepared Laundrie looked for someone who had been hiking and camping outside for days.

    “Looking at his backpack, it wasn’t full,” Baker said. “He said all he had was a tarp to sleep on. Which, you think if you’re going camping for days on end, you’d want food and a tent, and he had none of that.”

    This all happened four days after the Schmidt/Petito family last heard from Gabby, and three days before Laundrie showed up back home in Florida alone.

    Amanda Baker on TikTok
  • September 19th

    Within 24 hours of receiving various tips and video footage, human remains matching the description of the missing 22 year old Gabby Petito was found in an undeveloped camping area in Bridger-Teton National Forest on the eastern edge of the park in western Wyoming. The body was taken to the coroner’s office in Denver, Colorado for autopsy.

    It was later revealed the body was found a short distance from where Petito’s white van was last seen.

  • September 20th

    Coroner confirms the body found belongs to that of missing woman, Gabby Petito.

    FBI storm the Laundrie home and execute a search warrant in light of Petito’s death, removing his parents from the home and declaring it a crime scene. They remove several boxes and tow away a car thought to be frequently used by Laundrie’s mother.

    TIP September 20th

    Report of potential sighting in Brian Laundrie search. Sam Bass said he spotted the man toting a backpack at 6:17AM. Monday in the town of Baker, Fla., about 500 miles away from Laundrie’s home in North Port.

    “I’m not saying this is the guy but whoever was on my trail camera this morning in Baker, Fl strongly fits the description of Brian Laundrie,” Bass wrote on Facebook. “Authorities have been contacted but people in the North West Florida area be on the look out.”

    This has since been disproven.
  • September 21st

    Coroner rules Gabby Petito’s cause of death a homicide.

    UPDATE: Sept. 22nd

    Priya Banerjee, a forensic pathologist, told the media on Wednesday that officials might not release the cause of death because it could hurt the investigation. Banerjee said that it will be hard to tie a perpetrator to the crime because of the conditions where Petito’s body was found.

    “That is a challenge, tying the perpetrator to the crime, especially, I want to say, in the setting of decomposition, this was out in the wild, high-temperature fluctuation,” she said.

    And, she told Fox News, Brian Laundrie’s DNA will likely be found with Petito since the couple spent so much time together on a cross-country road trip.

    “So that will be a challenge, I think, to tie it all together,” she said.

  • September 22nd

    Police continue and extend search for Brian Laundrie in The Carlton Reserve in Sarasota, Florida, including a dive team and cadaver dogs. Investigators also were using sonar to check large bodies of water in the sprawling, rugged terrain. 

    Criminal defense attorney, former assistant DA and police officer, Philip Holloway told Fox News he believed it was a slim chance of finding Brian Laundrie alive.

    Police gather to continue search, Wednesday, 9/22/21 in Sarasota County, FL.
  • BACKGROUND September 22nd

    A friend of the couple, Ben Matula, states their relationship was rocky since high school, “One minute they’d be all over each other, the next minute he’d be like, ‘We’re fighting.’ They always had some drama.”

    Read full story here.

  • September 23rd

    FBI and DA of Wyoming issued a warrant for Brian Laundrie’s arrest. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for “use of unauthorized access devices” following Petito’s death. Charging documents allege that Laundrie used an unauthorized debit card (Petito’s) with the intent to defraud, spending $1000 between Aug. 30th and Sept. 1st.

  • TIP September 23rd

    Another witness has come forward, Norma Jean Jalovec, claiming she picked up Laundrie who was hitchhiking the evening of August 29th around 6:15PM to 6:30PM.

    As she drove past Jackson Lake Dam — where Miranda Baker (the first camper to give him a ride) said she’d dropped Laundrie off when he “freaked out” about going to Jackson — and saw a man, walking backward with his thumb out. He asked if she could take him to Spread Creek.

    When she arrived at the entrance to the Spread Creek camping area, Laundrie told her to drop him off at the gate. Jalovec told the media she told him she could drive him inside, and that’s when he tried to get out while her vehicle was still moving.

    Jalovec cracked a joke about trying to impress his fiance by hiking in rather than hitching a ride, but his response was to insist on being let out of the vehicle.

    Read full story here.

  • TIP September 24th

    A woman in Canada thinks she sees Laundrie exiting the hotel she’s staying at and snaps a picture, alerting the staff and police.

    The woman said a worker at the hotel, which she did not identify, told her that the mystery man “didn’t know where he was going and he had the wrong hotel.”

    The TikTok user said she sent the image to local news outlets and also reported her encounter with the man to the FBI.

  • BACKGROUND September 24th

    Gabby’s best friend, Rose Davis, told authorities Brian Laundrie is capable of surviving in the wilderness. Davis claimed “If he’s alive, he’s out there, camping out … He lived in the Appalachians by himself for months.” And, she suspects he is on the run, in the swamps, and not holed up with someone who might be harboring him.

    “He does not have friends,” Davis said. “He reads books.”

    NOTE: The quickest route to the Appalachian mountains from North Port, FL takes a little under 9 hours by car, Brian Laundrie had a 3 day head start.

  • TIP September 27th

    A tip alleges Brian went into a Florida campground (Fort De Soto Park) with both his parents in early September from Sept. 1-3 and Sept. 6-8. — but only his parents were seen leaving.

    “They were registered, went through the gate. They’re on camera. They were here on Monday evening. “We think at least if he’s not here right now, we are sure he was caught on camera as he went in the gate — that he was here for sure. Not over in the swamp.”

    The Pinellas County sheriff dept. responded with:

    “No we are not heading to Ft. De Soto and there has been no confirmed sighting of Brian in Pinellas County.

    We will refer you back to North Port PD for any further questions.”

  • September 29th

    Investigators working with Duane Chapman (Dog the Bounty Hunter) are honing in on portions of the  Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. As the manhunt for Laundrie forges on, people have claimed to have seen the 23-year-old avid hiker in Watauga County, North Carolina, according to multiple reports. Users in a private Facebook page, Appalachian Classifieds, described how people were “reporting seeing Brian Laundrie in Boone, NC.”

    The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office told local affiliate FOX 46, “We were looking into these claims, but nothing has been verified.” 

  • REVEAL September 29th

    Brian Laundrie’s parents bought a burner phone from AT&T on Sept. 14th, the day he disappeared. It was later seized by the FBI.

  • October 4th

    A hiker claimed to have run into Brian Laundrie on a deserted road on the Appalachian Trail near the South Carolina border. He stated that Laundrie parked his car before asking for help, mentioning, “Sir, I am lost. My girlfriend and I had a fight. But she called me, told me that she loved me. I have to go to California to see her.”

  • October 7th

    Christopher Laundrie, Brian’s father, finally joins the search for his missing son.

  • October 12th

    The coroner rules Petito’s cause of death as manual strangulation and noted it occurred three weeks before her body was found.

  • October 20th

    Items, a backpack, and a notebook, believed to belong to Brian Laundrie were found off a trail where he frequented. Coroner called to park to help with the identification of human remains found near the items.

  • October 21st

    Remains confirmed to be that of Brian Laundrie.

  • November 23rd

    Brian Laundrie’s cause of death was confirmed to be a gunshot wound to the head, and the manner of death was suicide.

The TikTok Suitcase Murder Mystery

A fun adventure quickly turns into a grisly discovery on a Seattle beach.

Beach in West Seattle.

The Scene

It was a warm, sunny Friday in June near Alki Beach in West Seattle, when a group of teenagers thought it would be exciting to document their discovery after “Randonauting” in the area.

What they found…

Upon approaching the shoreline, one of the teenagers spots a small black suitcase balanced on the rocks. The tide is moving in, pulling the small item back with it into the ocean. At first the teens are seen joking, having no idea what they are about to uncover. The video then shows the young woman descend the rocks with a stick in hand. She proceeds to unzip, and peel open the case as her friends film her, only to be met with an overwhelming odor that quickly reveals something more sinister than they were expecting. After police arrived and searched the scene, more human remains were found, and the area was immediately closed off.

The Suitcase: Still shot from TikTok video.
Still shot from TikTok video and faces of victims found inside.

Wtf is Randonauting?

Randonauting is the act of using the Randonautica app to travel to random places near you based on a “quantum random number generator and mother nature”, which gives specific coordinates for you to follow.

When you open the app you start by setting a radius and the generator will spit out coordinates for you to travel to. The apps introduction video claims that these locations can be “influenced by the users thoughts and consciousness”.

This is why, while setting up the app, it asks whether you’d visit attractors (highly concentrated quantum-points), voids (sparse quantum-points), anomalies (reported patterns of areas influenced by thought) and urges you to “focus on your intent” while the app sets a location for you.

The New York Times described it as: “Think: The law of attraction meets geocaching.”

Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

Two weeks earlier…

A young woman arrived at a residence in Seattle on the late evening of June 9th to meet landlord, Michael Lee Dudley, about a room he’d advertised for rent. When he came to help her with her luggage, she noticed his glasses were broken, and he had scratches on his face.

Dudley proceeded to take her to the available unit called the “blue room.” She told police that after taking a shower, she opened the door to her new bedroom and saw “heaps of clothing” in the middle of the floor — and a hand sticking out from underneath.

She said Dudley told her later that night that he needed to “clean up the mess”, and asked if he could take her somewhere else; as they were leaving, she saw him laying out large sheets of plastic in the basement.

When she asked him about it, he told her: “Let’s put it this way, his gun misfired and mine didn’t,” the police report states.

Detectives interviewed neighbors who claimed that they’d called police earlier that same night after hearing gunfire (20 days before their bodies were found) and a male yelling from inside the residence, “please don’t do this, just let me leave.” Burien Police had responded to the call but got no response when they arrived at the residence.

Detectives obtained phone records of the victims and learned that their phones stopped transmitting or receiving data on June 9that approximately 1908 hrs (7:08 pm). One of the last calls from the victim’s phone was to Dudley at 1901 hrs and that call pinged off a cell tower within a mile of his residence at 16466 Ambaum Blvd.

Detectives learned from witnesses that Dudley had been renting a room to the victims but wanted them to leave and had been fighting with them since they couldn’t pay rent during the pandemic, and were — according to Dudley — engaging in criminal activity.

Detectives were able to gain a search warrant for 16466 Ambaum Blvd So. and it was served on August 19th. During the service of the warrant CSI detectives found bullet holes, bullet strikes, spent rounds and blood which was located in the “blue” room.” It was also apparent that the room had been recently cleaned and freshly painted. During the course of his interview with homicide, Dudley confirmed certain details but denied any involvement in the couple’s murder. When asked about the blood, he said Jessica had cut herself earlier that day but he could not explain the bullet holes and empty casings which matched his 9mm handgun.

The remains were later identified as Jessica Lewis, a 36-year-old mother of four, and her 27-year-old boyfriend, Austin Wenner. And according to police, Wenner died of a single gunshot, while Lewis was shot multiple times. They were then chopped up and dumped in the suitcases.

Booking document.

A Shady Past

It wasn’t Dudley’s first brush with the law, Back in 2016 he was arrested and charged for assault in a domestic violence dispute after beating up his then girlfriend, Marlys Gordon while holding a gun. She attests to his violent past and says, “He started to hit me and grabbed my hair and grabbed my head…threw me and my stuff out on his patio…hit my head again…with one hand while holding his gun in the other.”

Gina Jaschke, another witness and Jessica Lewis’s aunt, claims that her knowledge of Dudley more or less tracks with the allegations made by his own daughter. “Sometimes he would break their car so they couldn’t leave,” she said–describing him with various epithets. “He put trackers on people’s cars. Anytime he ever got in a dispute with anybody he would tell them to leave but try to lock them in the house.”

Dudley’s backstory also suggests a history of sexual abuse and incest; Dudley’s daughter filed a sexual assault restraining order against him in June 2018. Filed in Pierce County Superior Court, the document accused Dudley of sexually assaulting his daughter for nearly a decade.

“[Dudley] Sexually assaulted me for 9 years from age 10 until 18 (2007) by drugging and raping me,” she alleged. “Forcing me to share a bed with him from age 10, and making me watch him masturbate while he watched pornography.”

“I don’t feel safe in my home. Or leaving my home to work,” his daughter added–while also describing a disturbing tendency. Dudley allegedly frequently took out his gun and threatened to use it.

Dudley allegedly had another disturbing and typically telling tendency: cruelty toward animals.

“He killed the dog in front of them and left the carcass outside for three days to scare them,” Jaschke continued. “They had nowhere to go. That’s why they stayed there. He beat this dog to death with a hammer because it got one of his chickens…he just left it out there for the other dogs to look at and sniff. He’s a freaking psycho.”

62 year old, Michael Lee Dudley: Murderer.

Charged: Michael Lee Dudley

He was formally charged with two counts of murder in the second degree, for the death and dismemberment of Austin Wenner and Jessica Lewis, by the King County Prosecutor on September 8th 2020. He pleaded not guilty.

While no other suspects have been named, State forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Taylor told Seattle police she believed there were multiple people involved. Cuts on Lewis and Wenner’s bodies were ‘disorganized’ and appeared to be done in different manners with various devices.

The case setting hearing was initially scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 1st. Dudley remains in King County Jail on $5 million bail.

Details to follow as they develop.

A Crime Archive

I’ve always been drawn to death; I know how that sounds. A lot of people have asked me over the years how I can stomach delving into the darker side of life, and the only reason I can think of is, perhaps there’s a little darkness in me too. Throughout my life I’ve come to accept the fact that not everyone will understand that side of me. And whatever reason(s) are behind this insatiable thirst for truth, it’s always kept me on the straight and narrow; seeking justice where there is none and asking questions many are scared to.

My years growing up are bookmarked by whichever grisly crime I followed at the time and whenever I meet new people and they tell me where they’re from I can often relate it back to a crime I’ve obsessively researched. I have an unusually detailed memory and can still recall the first murder case that sparked my interest when I was eight years old. It was the most gruesome crime committed by juveniles the United Kingdom had seen in over 250 years. A crime that still haunts me to this day. And if you ask anyone living in the UK who was old enough at the time, they’ll remember the James Bulger case.

It was a typically frigid February morning in Edinburgh, Scotland and I was sitting cross-legged by the fireplace, eating breakfast before school. We’d been living back in the UK for two years since leaving California and I was still adapting to the change in climate. The morning headline flashed on the TV screen and I stared at the faces of two boys not much older than myself. Their expressions solemn and somewhat innocent as they followed instructions of officers off camera, and held up mugshot placards with their names written in black marker. I squinted in disbelief, my expression twisted as I turned up the volume to learn more.

Courtesy of Getty Images

“Baby Killers” the newspapers pegged them. Two ten year old boys from Merseyside, Liverpool were found guilty of abducting two year old, James Bulger from the New Strand shopping centre, and leading him to a railway embankment nearby where they tortured him to death.

I felt an adrenaline surge as I tried to digest the information. But the chilling image of two boys caught in surveillance footage leading a toddler through a crowd of unsuspecting shoppers burned behind my eyes. I was stunned. How could two children be responsible for killing another child? I’d always pictured killers as adults; faceless maniacs that lurked in the shadows waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims as they walked past. They replayed the footage, freezing on the last image ever caught of the boys leading a two year old away from his mother. And a knot tugged at the pit of my stomach as I realized I’d stood in the exact same spot as the killers the year previous while visiting my grandparents.

Courtesy of Google Images

If you’re curious regarding details of the crime, I’ve included a link to the case in the second paragraph. After 27 years, psychiatrists who worked closely with the two boys during their time in rehabilitation still cannot fathom a motive to the murder they committed in February of ’93. Detective Phil Roberts, from the local forces serious crime squad stated to reporters, “As far as I’m concerned, I looked evil in the face that day…They were a match made in Hell. A freak of nature.”

Since being released in 2001, both killers have lead very different lives: Jon Venables continuing his life as a repeat offender, and Robert Thompson living a crime free life of anonymity. It’s been nineteen years since their initial release, which sparked fury amongst the public and even though I now live in a different country and had no personal connection to the case, I still check in on them from time to time. That’s in my nature.

And so began my life-long fascination with true crime and the psychology behind it. I have followed many disturbing cases over the years, researching and compiling notes which, more recently, I turned into a novel. It wasn’t until finishing that project that I decided my notes could be put to better use and compiled as a blog rather than a personal journal. Cold and breaking cases will be the focus of my continued discussions here. If you’re interested in true crime or have any additional information about specific cases, you can reach out to me via email or contact the tip links I post at the end of each blog post.

Copyright © Sarah F. Prescott 2020

LISK: A Timeline

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If you’re unfamiliar with the ongoing LISK (Long Island Serial Killer) also known as the Gilgo Beach case, this post is created to catch you up. And the quickest way to do so, is with a timeline. Note that this is a work in progress, pieced together using various online sources and includes information gathered over the years by tireless individuals which helped to identify some of the nameless victims. Only cases that were officially linked to LISK have been included here (except Shannan Gilbert whom I’ve included for reasons related to my own theories).

Please let me know if there is anything missing or incorrect.

  • April 20, 1996

    Two female legs discovered on Fire Island, west of Davis Park Beach wrapped in a plastic bag.

    The victim’s skull would later be found on April 11, 2011 west of Tobay Beach in Nassau County, linked by DNA. “Jane Doe No. 7 / Fire Island Jane Doe.”

  • June 28, 1997

    The dismembered torso of a young unidentified African-American female was found in Hempstead Lake State Park, New York. Dumped in a green plastic container, the torso was left next to a road. Both arms, head, and legs below the knee were severed and haven’t been located. The victim had a tattoo of a heart-shaped peach with a bite out of it on her left breast.

    On April 11, 2011, police in Nassau County discovered dismembered skeletal human remains inside a plastic bag near Jones Beach State Park, nicknamed “Jane Doe No. 3“. DNA analysis later identified this victim as the mother of “Baby Doe.” She was found wearing gold jewelry similar to that of “Baby Doe.”

    In December 2016, Peaches and Jane Doe No. 3 were positively identified as being the same person.

  • December 19, 2000

    A female body is discovered by hikers on the Long Island Pine Barrens in Manorville, off of Halsey Manor Road. She was a white woman in her 30s with brown hair and had been dead for several weeks before her nude, headless body was found, cut into pieces and stuffed inside plastic bags.

    April 4, 2011, her head, hands and right foot were found in a plastic bag in the vicinity of Ocean Parkway on Gilgo Beach.

    On May 22, 2020 police in Long Island announced they had positively identified the “Manorville Jane Doe” and will be releasing her identity.

    Jane Doe No. 6 / Manorville Jane Doe.”

  • July 26, 2003

    A naked and dismembered torso, (no head or hands), was discovered 45 miles east of Gilgo Beach in Manorville, New York. The victim was identified as Jessica Taylor (20), an escort from Washington, D.C. She was last seen days earlier at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Taylor‘s torso was found on top of a pile of scrap wood at the end of a paved access road off of Halsey Manor Road, just north of the LIE. Plastic sheeting was found underneath the torso, and a tattoo on her body had been mutilated with a sharp instrument. Medical examiners determined the tattoo was a red heart with an angel wing that said, ‘‘Remy’s angel”.

    On May 9, 2011, it was reported that the remains of a skull, a pair of hands, and a forearm found on March 29 at Gilgo Beach were matched to Jessica Taylor.

  • July 9, 2007

    Maureen Brainard-Barnes (25) was last seen in her hotel room at the Super 8 in midtown Manhattan. Her last known call that night was to her sister, Missy, during which she says she is at Penn Station.

    Shortly after her disappearance, a friend of Maureen‘s, Sara Karnes, received a call from a man on an unfamiliar number. The man claimed that he had just seen Maureen and that she was alive and staying at a “whorehouse in Queens”. He refused to identify himself and could not tell Karnes the location of the house. He told Karnes he would call back and give her the address, but he never called again. Karnes said that the man had no discernible New York or Boston accent (Amanda Barthelemy mentioned the same detail).

    Maureen’s body was found in December 2010 located very close to three other victims.

  • July 12, 2009

    Melissa Barthelemy (24) was last seen outside her apartment on Underhill Avenue in the Bronx. At some point, the security camera of her local bank recorded her depositing $1,000 into her account, believed to be money she’d received from a date she’d had earlier that night. She withdrew $100 before heading out the door. Her boyfriend/pimp, John “Blaze” Terry, would later say that he knew Melissa had lined up another $1,000 date the next night, somewhere on Long Island. She went by the working name “Chloe.”

    Shortly afterwards, her sister, Amanda, received 6-7 phone calls from a man using Melissa‘s cell phone and claiming to be her killer. The first calls were on July 16, July 19, and July 23 and the final call was on August 26. The calls were placed from crowded locations in New York City, including Madison Square Garden and Times Square. In one instance, police determined that Barthelemy’s phone had been turned on near Massapequa, Long Island, and that someone had gained access to her voice mail.

    Her body was discovered December 11, 2010 beside Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach.

  • May 1, 2010

    Shannan Maria Gilbert (23) was a New Jersey woman who may have been a victim of the Long Island serial killer. Gilbert had been working as an escort. She left for a client’s house (Joseph Brewer) in Oak Beach after midnight on May 1, 2010. At 4:51 in the morning, 911 dispatchers received a panicked phone call from Gilbert who can be heard saying that there was someone “after her” and that “they” were trying to kill her. She was last seen a short time later banging on the front door of a nearby Oak Beach residence and screaming for help before running off into the night. Neighbors Gus Coletti and Barbara Brennan are among the last to see her.

    On December 13, 2011, Gilbert‘s remains are found in a marsh, half a mile from where she was last seen. In May 2012, the Suffolk County medical examiners ruled that Gilbert accidentally drowned after entering the marsh. They believe that she was in a drug induced panic, and have concluded that her cause of death was “undetermined.” Her family believes she was murdered.

  • June 6, 2010

    Megan Waterman (22) was last seen on June 6, 2010 heading toward a nearby convenience store on foot after leaving the Hauppauge Holiday Inn Express.

    Her body is discovered on December 13, 2010, alongside the bodies of Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Amber Lynn Costello.

    On April 16, 2011, police seized the laptop of Waterman‘s boyfriend/pimp, Akeem Cruz, to search for records of clients that could lead them to the killer. In April, 2012, Cruz pled guilty to federal charges of transporting women across state lines to meet clients for sex. In 2013 he was sentenced to three years in prison.

  • September 2, 2010

    Amber Lynn Costello (27) leaves her home in North Babylon to meet a client, and is never seen alive again.

    Her body is discovered on December 13, 2010, alongside the bodies of Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Megan Waterman.

  • December 11, 2010

    A Suffolk County Police canine unit investigating missing escort Shannan Gilbert discover human skeletal remains at Gilgo Beach, three miles west of Robert Moses bridge, at 2:45 p.m. Police discover a full skeleton, wrapped in burlap, in the bramble beside Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, three miles from Oak Beach. The remains are later identified as Melissa Barthelemy (24).

  • December 13, 2010

    Near Melissa Barthelemy‘s (24) grave was found, police discover three more sets of remains, also skeletal and wrapped in burlap, later identified as Megan Waterman (22), Maureen Brainard-Barnes (25), and Amber Lynn Costello (27). The bodies are found in the same location, within 500 feet of each of other.

  • December 15, 2010

    The FBI offers up its forensic and investigative services in the case. Police seize a white SUV from the client’s Oak Beach residence as part of the investigation.

  • December 16, 2010

    The Suffolk County Medical Examiner reports the remains are all female victims and that Gilbert is not one of the four female bodies discovered. The ME’s office holds a press conference to explain forensic investigation approach.

  • December 17, 2010

    Police hold a press conference to provide an updates on the investigation. They state that they had completed a comprehensive search of the beach area in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties along Ocean Parkway.

  • January 19, 2011

    Police identify one victim found as Megan Waterman (22), a woman from Maine who was reported missing in June 2010 from Hauppauge, NY. Remaining three victim identities still unknown.

  • January 25, 2011

    Police reveal the identities of three remaining victims, and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota declares the victims are the work of a serial killer. He also reveals all four worked as escorts using Craigslist ads. Police state the women were all killed at different times, possibly a year apart in one case, and disposed of at different times.

    Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer says beach search would resume once weather conditions improve in spring.

  • March 29, 2011

    Police search teams resume search for Shannan Gilbert on Gilgo Beach, LI.

  • March 30, 2011

    During their search they find a skull, hands, and a forearm, all later verified to be additional remains of Jessica Taylor, whose torso was previously discovered in Manorville in 2003. These remains are also found along Ocean Parkway, three quarters of a mile from where the first four bodies were recovered.

  • March 31, 2011

    Police rule out that the fifth set of remains discovered a mile east of the first four sets are not those of Shannan Gilbert (24), the missing New Jersey woman.

  • April 4, 2011

    Police find three more sets of human remains along Ocean Parkway between Oak Beach and Gilgo Beach, bringing the body count to eight. An unidentified Asian male victim is found dressed in women’s clothing; the skull, hands, and foot of the first Manorville Jane Doe (discovered in 2000); and an unidentified girl between sixteen and thirty-two months old described as “Baby Doe“.

    Police later released a sketch of the Asian male. The cause of death was blunt-force trauma. He likely been working as an escort and was wearing women’s clothing at the time of his death. He was between 17 and 23 years of age, 5′ 6″ in height, and missing four teeth. He had been dead for between 5 and 10 years. He had some kind of musculoskeletal disorder which would have affected the way he walked/carried himself.

    DNA analysis identified Baby Doe to be the child of “Jane Doe No. 3 / Peaches.

  • April 5, 2011

    Police say missing woman Shannan Gilbert (24), last seen in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010 is not one of the three bodies discovered on April 4.

  • April 11, 2011

    Police uncover two more sets of remains in two separate locations.

    The first discovery: female bones and jewelry found near the Jones Beach water tower. Described as “Jane Doe No. 3“. DNA testing determines this is the same victim as Peaches and that she is the mother of the child (Baby Doe) found the week prior along Ocean Parkway.

    The second: a skull discovered west of Tobay Beach in Nassau County is later determined to be that of the Jane Doe No. 7 remains found in 1996 on Fire Island.

  • April 12, 2011

    The first news reports air about Mari Gilbert’s claim that she spoke with Oak Beach resident Peter Hackett in the days after her daughter Shannan’s disappearance. Hackett and his wife deny all allegations.

  • May 9, 2011

    In light of the six latest discoveries, DA Thomas Spota revises his theory of the case, announcing, “There is no evidence that all of these remains are the work of a single killer.”

  • July 12, 2011

    Peter Hackett tells CBS News he did speak with Mari Gilbert on the phone days after Shannan disappeared.

  • November 29, 2011

    Commissioner Dormer revises the case theory yet again, announcing he believes a single serial killer is to blame for all ten victims, and that Shannan’s disappearance is a separate case, perhaps not even a murder.

  • November 30, 2011

    The Suffolk County police announce they will reopen the search for Shannan.

  • December 6, 2011

    Day two of the search for Gilbert and the police move from Ocean Parkway to Oak Beach marsh. That same day they discover her personal items mere feet away from where she first disappeared on Anchor Way.

  • December 13, 2011

    Shannan Gilbert’s remains are found on the far side of the Oak Beach marsh, a quarter mile from where her belongings were found five days earlier. Before an autopsy is performed, Commissioner Dormer refers to her death as an accident.

  • December 15, 2011

    DA Thomas Spota decries Commissioner Dormer’s single-killer theory. The same day, County Executive—elect Steve Bellone names Dormer’s replacement as police commissioner, effective January 1.

  • January 3, 2012

    Suffolk County Interim Commissioner Edward Webber announces “There’s no fixed theories at the moment” about the Gilbert case or any of the Ocean Parkway cases.

  • May 1, 2012

    Shannan’s autopsy results are shared with her family. The cause of death is “undetermined.”

  • November 15, 2012

    A lawsuit was filed by her mother, Mari Gilbert, against the Suffolk County Police Department in the hopes of getting more answers about what happened to her daughter the night she went missing.

  • September 2014

    Due to the controversy about Shannan Gilbert‘s death, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden agreed to conduct an independent autopsy of her remains in hopes of determining a clear cause of death.

    Upon examination of Gilbert‘s remains, Baden found damage to her hyoid bone, suggesting that strangulation may have occurred. Baden also noted that her body was found face-up, which is not common for drowning victims. Despite this, her death is still officially listed by police as an accident.

  • December 10, 2015

    Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini announced that the FBI had officially joined the investigation. The day before, former Police Commissioner James Burke, who resigned in October, had been indicted for alleged police brutality and other issues. He was said to have blocked FBI involvement in the LISK cases for years.

    A spokesperson for the FBI confirmed their official involvement. The FBI had previously assisted in the search for victims, but was never officially part of the investigation.

  • December 15, 2016

    An escort comes forward and claims that James Burke, the disgraced ex-Suffolk police chief, is linked to prostitution on Oak Beach. She gave a press conference with John Ray, the attorney for the family of Shannan Gilbert.

  • January 2019

    State Senator Phil Boyle Boyle introduced a bill in the State Senate to encourage the Commission on Forensic Science to explore use of genetic genealogy. The commission discussed the issue and that of DNA phenotyping at its June 7 meeting.

  • January 16, 2020

    Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart released images of a belt found at the crime scene with the letters “HM” or “WH” (depending on which way the belt was looked at) embossed in the black leather. The belt was found during the initial investigation near Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach. Police believe the belt was handled by the perpetrator and did not belong to any of the victims.

    Hart stated that forensic genealogy was being used to help identify other victims, but would not comment on other DNA or forensic questions.

    A website was announced, GilgoNews.com, enabling the police to share news and receive tips regarding the investigation.

    Attorney John Ray, who represents the family of Shannon Gilbert, also gave a press conference urging LE to release her 911 call.

  • May 6, 2020

    A judge overturned the appeal of the Suffolk County Police Department and ordered them to release the long-sealed 911 recording of a call made by Shannan Gilbert the night she died.

    Shannan Gilbert estate attorney John Ray says he has heard the 911 tapes and calls them ‘extremely valuable’.

  • May 22, 2020

    The Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement they had positively identified the “Manorville Jane Doe,” also referred to as “Jane Doe #6,” whose remains were located in Manorville in 2000 and Gilgo Beach in 2011. They have not yet released her identity.

  • May 28, 2020

    SCPD updated their website regarding the Manorville Jane Doe. She was identified as Valerie Mack, born 07-02-76.

    Valerie Mack was a white female described as being 5 feet tall with brown hair and hazel eyes weighing ~100 pounds. Family members last saw her in the Spring/Summer of 2000 in the area of Port Republic, New Jersey. She was 24 years old when she was last seen. Mack was never listed as a missing person.

    Mack‘s last known address was in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area where she had been working as an escort. She used the name “Melissa Taylor”. There is no familial relationship between her and Jessica Taylor.

    Detectives are asking members of the public, friends, family, and associates of Valerie Mack to provide whatever information they have about her and the circumstances leading to her death.



Copyright © Sarah F. Prescott 2020