Archive for March, 2010

Spingola Files Polo Shirts Now Available

Since this Web site’s inception, a number of people have passed along tips regarding interesting investigations.  Many of these cases merit further scrutiny.  To look further, however, the Spingola Files — like any other worthy operation — is in need of additional resources. 

In an effort to develop the revenue needed to dig deeper, I have created a line of Spingola Files polo shirts.  Available in sizes medium, large and extra large, these classy black shirts feature the trademarked Spingola Files logo. 

As many of you know, obtaining information via open records, conducting detailed research, and traveling to venues to explore open homicide cases, takes both time and money.  I am more than willing to invest the time.  After all, justice, in many instances, is illusive.  Now I am asking the readers of this site to underwrite some of the expenses by purchasing a polo shirt or two. 

My goal is to raise the necessary funds to travel with a colleague to Charlottesville, Virginia to thoroughly examine the Morgan Harrington case, the Colonial Parkway murders, and activities related to the Route 29 stalker. 

To get a look at the official Spingola Files polo shirt and obtain an order form, please visit:

http://www.classifiedads.com/clothing_apparel-ad2649021.htm

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010


Accused North Side Strangler is His Own Worst Enemy

As the state’s case against an accused serial killer proceeds through the Milwaukee County Court system, the suspect likely provided the proverbial rope needed to figuratively hang himself.

 Walter Ellis, the man prosecutors allege is Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler, fired his attorney, Russell J.A. Jones, earlier this month.

“Mr. Jones has not investigated. Mr. Jones has not asked for an extension to review 50,000 pages of documents intended to be used in this case,” Ellis told Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet.

Many consider Jones, who took the case at no cost, a rising star among the pool of Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys. From 2005 to 2007, Jones defended former Pewaukee Alderman Anthony Balistreri on sexual assault and child pornography charges that eventually went to trial.  The evidence against Balistreri was overwhelming, but Jones managed to chip away at the state’s case.  Although the disgraced alderman was later found guilty, a prominent Waukesha County official privately lauded Jones’ courtroom acumen.

“I know as a matter of fact I did everything I can [in Walter Ellis’ defense],” Jones told the court. 

Reading between the lines of Ellis’ statement, it appears as if the man prosecutors believe killed seven women is upset that his attorney has not spent more time investigating information contained in reams of police reports.  In reality, however, defense attorneys primarily react to the filings of prosecutors.  While the state needs to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, the goal of defense counsel is to suppress prejudicial information and then marginalize the evidence presented to a jury in order to create enough doubt to justify an acquittal of charges. 

Since the only statement Ellis allegedly made is to a jailhouse informant—the character of which a competent defense attorney should rip to shreds—the primary evidence in the North Side Strangler case is DNA collected from the crime scenes.  Prior to being relieved on his duties by the court, Jones filed a motion requesting that the state pay for additional DNA testing that he argued would show that the victims had contact with multiple men. At a hearing in late December, Judge Dallet, citing costs, denied this motion.

Here lie the pitfalls of DNA, which can include numerous suspects.  Moreover, on appeal, the courts may reasonably conclude that the state should provide all exculpatory DNA data retrieved from crime scenes to the defense at the expense of taxpayers.  In all fairness, defendants on trial for serious crimes are entitled to evidence that may shine light on their innocence.

Without Russell J.A. Jones at the helm, the state’s case against Ellis now becomes stronger.  The accused North Side Strangler may not realize it, but I am willing to bet — somewhere in the offices of the Milwaukee County DA’s office — a collect sigh of relief occurred.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Broken Bones, Broken Hearts

New information has surfaced regarding the homicide of 21-year-old Morgan Harrington. On St. Patrick’s Day, Morgan’s parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, held a news conference in front of the John Paul Jones Arena on the University of Virginia campus. 

Morgan Harrington disappeared after attending a Metallica concert at the JPJ Arena last October. A farmer discovered her body on January 26 in a relatively remote area of his property.  Forensic pathologists wasted little time declaring the missing woman’s death a homicide. Investigators have not disclosed the specific cause of death. 

Police, however, released Morgan’s body to her family in February. Her parents believe broken bones made it evidently clear that their daughter suffered a violent death.

“A monster walks among you,” Morgan’s mother, Gil Harrington, told the media, “a violent, sadistic and dangerous man.”

By going public with this information, the Harrington’s are walking a tight rope. In most instances, detectives usually prefer to keep details of an open investigation under wraps. When specifics about a case leak out, two things generally happen: first, the killer discovers details of the criminal inquiry from the newspaper. Second, information that bleeds into the public eye can compromise the integrity of a confession.

Why then would the Harringtons go public with any details that may reduce the chances of the government obtaining a conviction in their own daughter’s tragic death? It is apparent that the Harringtons do not want to see another family suffer through the same ordeal that has rocked their lives. By painting a picture of a possible serial killer fulfilling his violent fantasies of power and control, the Harringtons are providing notice to potential victims. I also see the Harringtons’ news conference as an effort to keep political pressure on investigators and prosecutors.  Not for one minute do they want this case to get back benched or turn cold.

The Charlottesville, Virginia news publication The Hook reports that Gil Harrington suggested “a possible link between Morgan’s abduction and death and other unsolved cases in Virginia, including the Colonial Parkway murders and the Route 29 stalker.”

The modus operandi of the Colonial Parkway killer differs significantly. From 1986 to 1989, the suspect killed three couples, primarily young adults. Links from these cases to Morgan Harrington’s are the disposal of the bodies.  In two instances, September 1987 and October 1989, investigators located victims of the Colonial Parkway killer in secluded areas.  At first glance, it appears the suspect targeted couples in parked vehicles — primarily in remote areas — in the vacinity for the purposes of sexual liaisons. Investigators believe the killer may have impersonated a police officer. Nearly 20 years have passed, which leads me to believe that the Colonial Parkway killer is either dead or incarcerated. 

The Route 29 stalker developed and fined tuned his demented fantasies as a Good Samaritan motorist.  Active during the late 1980s, this middle-aged white male would flash his headlights and pull along side female motorists.  Using the ruse of car troubles —  sparks emanating from underneath the car or other mechanical problems — he would encourage his victims to pull off to the side of the road.  The suspect would then conduct a supposed examination of the car and offer transportation to a nearby telephone or service station.  Initially, several women accepted rides without consequence.  Later on, however, he attacked one woman, who escaped, while another, Alicia Reynolds, went missing and was later found dead in a remote wooded area. Victims described the suspect, at the time, as being clean-cut and 35 to 45 years-of-age. 

Although specific details pertaining to the deaths of the victims in both the Colonial Parkway and Route 29 matters are not public, I believe the current ages of these suspects, as well as their methods of operation, may exclude them as suspects in the death of Morgan Harrington.

In my February 1, 2010, Spingola Files post, I provided a limited profile of Morgan Harrington’s killer:

“Imagine the would-be killer trolling for possible victims, which he probably has done a dozen times before. A heavy metal concert is taking place on a large college campus that is bound to produce a target rich environment of attractive co-eds — the kind of women that, in a typical social setting, would never give the killer so much as the time of day.  He is probably driving a van or an SUV with heavily tinted windows. Having run through this scenario in his head a hundred times before, he is on the lookout for the perfect victim: a woman isolated and slightly inebriated.  The perpetrator — and their may be more than one — is hoping to find a woman whose inhibitions may be numbed by naïveté and/or alcohol.  He finds this woman thumbing for a ride on Copeley Road.  As she jumps in, the driver checks his mirrors for possible witnesses, and believes he’s in the clear.”

As in the Route 29 stalker case, investigators working the Morgan Harrington investigation are likely on the lookout for potential witnesses offered rides by a probable white male suspect. The broken bones on Morgan’s body indicate a classic power and control killing. These types of suspects go through cooling off periods; however, over time, the urges to kill — propelled by their intense fantasies — rise to the surface. They garner great satisfaction in reveling in their control of the victim and the pain they have inflicted. 

In the interim, the Harrington family and investigators anxiously await the results of DNA testing from the state crime lab. “One thing we have clearly learned,” Dan Harrington told the Charlottesville Daily Progress, “is that things do not work as they do on CSI.”

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Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


The Power of Pictures

Their hairstyles depict decades old fashion. Even though these women voluntarily posed for photographs it is what may have taken place afterwards that is troubling.   

Over 30 years ago, police seized more than 2,000 pictures of women — many taken in the nude — from a storage locker rented by Rodney Alcala. In late February, a California jury found Alcala guilty in the slayings of one girl and four women over a two-year period in the late 1970s.

Investigators believe that it is possible some of the women who had posed for Alcala became victims of the serial killer. 

Huntington Beach Detective Patrick Ellis believes Alcala is obsessed with the cache of pictures. Now in his mid-sixties, the since convicted serial killer represented himself at his latest trial where he sought courtroom discovery of the images.

“Now, why does he want all of this after 30 years?” Ellis pondered during an interview with AOL News. “Either he’s reliving his glory days or there’s a victim in here we don’t know about.”

Convicted of murdering Jill Barcomb, 18, in November, 1977; George Wixted, 27, in December 1977; Charlotte Lamb, 32, in June 1978; Jell Paranteau, 21, on June 14, 1979, all in Los Angeles County, Alcala sexually assaulted, bludgeoned, and, then, strangled his victims. A 12-year-old girl, Robin Samsoe, also fell prey to Alcala in June of 1979 near Huntington Beach, California.

While the photographs of the seemingly naïve women sensationalize Alacla’s acts of nefarious debauchery, serial killers routinely retain personal items from their victims. In this instance, these items — like the photographs themselves — are souvenirs. Based on the description of the crime scenes, Alacla is a classic power and control killer.  He relishes reliving the potent fantasies fulfilled by witnessing the victims’ pain, which is why Alcala rented a storage locker in far away Seattle to house the photographs and the other souvenirs taken from victims. 

Milwaukee’s infamous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, also kept souvenirs and trophies.  Psychologists do make a distinction between the two: souvenirs generally consist of personal items taken from the victim. Trophies are items used by the perpetrator to create a memorial — a serial killer’s hall of shame.  In Dahmer’s case, the skulls and genitalia served as trophies, while the photos of victims, taken in various stages of dismemberment, acted as souvenirs.

In the Alcala case, investigators believe there are more victims.  However, unless the state is willing to cut a deal sparing the former amateur photographer from the death penalty, the fate of the others may never be known. Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy has so far refused to make a deal in exchange for cooperation.  “We don’t make deals with people like Rodney Alcala,” Murphy told AOL News. 

I have a professional hunch that the prosecutor’s stance may change if the photographs identify a dozen or so missing women. The political pressure brought to bear by family members seeking closure may ultimately result in a commutation of the death sentence.  After all, information is power, and power and control is what Alcada will savor as he relives his crimes by describing them to investigators.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.