Archive for May, 2010

Taking the Sense Out of Sensitivity

The late Tip O’Neill once a said, “All politics is local.”  If the former Speaker of the House was correct, then the residents of central Virginia need to contact their congressional representatives and US Senators to politely ask why the National Park Service is throwing-up a bureaucratic roadblock to the search for Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey — two probable victims of a serial killer that roamed Virginia’s Colonial Parkway.

On April 9, 1988, Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey went on their first date.  The next day, a park ranger discovered Call’s abandoned 1982 Toyota Celica on the Colonial Parkway.  The couple literally disappeared off the face of the Earth, although investigators suspect they became victims of a killer targeting couples in so-called lover’s lane areas. 

As readers of this Web site know, the Spingola Files (SF)  — at the request of the victims’ families — is set to visit Virginia’s Colonial Parkway early next month.  SF was looking forward to assisting the June 5 search for Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey, along with dozens of other volunteers, including Kim Bidwell and her cadaver dog-handler associates.

Today, Jen Phelps, the sister-in-law of Colonial Parkway murder victim Annamaria Phelps, along with other victims’ family members, received word that the National Park Service (NPS) would limit the search to just 15 persons.  The reason: the NPS is concerned that the search may interfere with the pleasure the park may otherwise provide to visitors.

To read more about this breaking story visit:,0,5422028.story

Obviously, this is a case of bureaucrats being bureaucrats. Why any governmental body would prohibit an organized search — one conducted by volunteers and costing taxpayers nothing — is beyond logical reasoning. 

Below is the contact information for Virginia’s two U.S. Senators:

Senator Mark Warner, (202) 224-2023

Senator James Webb, (202) 224-4024

I encourage readers of this Web site to contact these two gentlemen and request that the National Park Service show some sensitivity and compassion for the Call and Hailey families. This valuable search should go on as scheduled June 5, even if it takes some behind the scenes political maneuvering to overrule the rationale of the rules-are-rules bureaucrats at the NPS.


Steve 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.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

The Winding Road of Homicide

The reliability of jailhouse informants suffered yet another blow with the tentative release of William Avery, a purported north side Milwaukee drug dealer.

Investigators questioned Avery after the body of 39-year-old Maryetta Griffin was located in a pile of garbage near N. 7th and W. Burleigh Streets on February 17, 1998.  Avery admitted “grabbing” Griffin inside his crack house, located near N. Palmer Street and W. Meinecke Avenue, although he blacked out and provided few additional details.  Absent a confession, police lacked the evidence needed to charge Avery, who, instead, was sent to prison for drug charges.

Six years later, two fellow inmates claimed that Avery confessed to killing Griffin.  Prosecutors then charged Avery with first-degree reckless homicide.  He was later convicted and subsequently received a 40-year prison sentence. 

Two months ago, Avery requested that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office take a fresh look at DNA found on Griffin’s body.  Tests showed that the DNA belonged to Walter E. Ellis; a man prosecutors believe is Milwaukee’s infamous North Side Strangler.  Ellis is set to stand trial for a string of slayings of primarily prostitutes and/or drug users, the first of which occurred in the mid-1980s.

In two additional homicides now linked to Ellis by DNA evidence, prosecutors charged different suspects. A jury acquitted Curtis McCoy of the 1994 strangling of Carron Kilpatrick.  However, another jury convicted Chaunte Ott of the 1995 homicide of 15-year-old runaway Jessica Payne.  Two young boys found Payne’s body under a discarded mattress less than a block from the Milwaukee Police Department’s Fifth Police District with her throat slit. A judge released Ott from prison in 2009.

Ironically, evidence against Ellis also consists of statements provided by jailhouse informants. 

The problem with jailhouse informants is creditability.  Most are convicted felons serving time for serious crimes.  In some instances, offenders game the system to seek reductions in their sentences or assignments to a correctional facility with better living conditions.  Ultimately, it is up to the jury to ascertain whether these inmates are telling the truth.  These surly individuals are generally not eagle scouts out to do the right thing by stepping forward as witnesses, although, in some cases, their motives are genuine.

As I mentioned in The Detectives in the Rye, a four-part post at my former blog, while critics of the Milwaukee Police Department’s homicide unit wasted little time lambasting detectives, these strangulation homicides were a complex string of cases with similarities and differences.  To the average neophyte, it appeared that the pattern of Ellis’ crimes, as well as some others, were obvious.

To visit From the Notebook of a Homicide Detective, visit

As cold case detectives revisit other strangulation homicides, they will likely find that up to a half-a-dozen suspects — all likely acting along — committed a number of these offenses. Furthermore, as the methods used to test DNA evidence continue to evolve, the probability of obtaining justifiable convictions will also improve.  Prosecutors and detectives make decisions based on the information they have at a particular point in time.  That being said, the technological advances of the future can come back to haunt not only the suspects who’ve escaped the grasp of law enforcement, but also those who’ve made a good faith effort to seek justice for those no longer with a voice.


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

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

Deadpan Drifter

To view this article, checkout Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You coming to in December 2012.


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

Prowler on the Parkway

In Virginia, a killer — more likely a handful of killers — are at large.  From 1986 to 1989, at least eight people became homicide victims on or near the Colonial Parkway.  Within hours after a passerby found the first victims, Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowski, inside a white Honda, investigators told family members that they believed the suspect was either a law enforcement officer or a police impersonator. The perpetrator bound Thomas and Dowski before slitting one of the women’s throats with enough force to cause partial decapitation.

While some believe the Colonial Parkway murders ended in 1989, and that the suspect is either dead or currently incarcerated, the May 1996 homicides of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in a remote area of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park are strikingly similar.  The two hikers were found bound and gagged with their throats slit.

In fact, the remains of David Knobling, Robin Edwards, Daniel Lauer, Annamaria Phelps, Alicia Reynolds, and Morgan Harrington, have dotted the Virginia country side.  The bodies of another couple — Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey — have yet to be located. All of these investigations remain open.  

Over the course of the past month or so, I have had the privilege to communicate with some of the victims’ family members.  This dialog caused me to do more research and dig a little deeper.  These brutal, unsolved homicides are extremely troubling. A good possibility exists that more than one killer is fulfilling his violent fantasies and remains at large to commit yet another heinous offense.

Last night, Virginia’s WAVY Channel 10 broke the news of my upcoming visit to the Richmond area.

While the report claims the Spingola Files is conducting an “independent investigation” from the FBI, I will not be acting in a law enforcement or private investigative capacity.  Instead, I am exploring these cases from the perspective of an investigative journalist.  Hopefully, my coverage of these events will call out volunteers to assist in the search of Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey, cause a person with relevant information to come forward, or somehow uncover a small piece of the puzzle needed to unlock the anonymity of the killer(s).  

Visit this Web site for updates on the Spingola Files visit to Virginia in early June.  I plan on posting information — in some cases live — as I speak with those involved in these complex investigations.


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

Shooting Suspect Invokes His Penile Rights

A search warrant filed in a Virginia court confirms that purported Blue Ridge shooting suspect, Ralph Leon Jackson, made statements against his penal interests about his penile interests.

During a search warrant executed at Jackson’s Howardsville Turnpike home, investigators discovered two plastic containers with the words “male enhancement” written on them.  A detective later spoke to Jackson, who said that the substances made him “foggy.”

In an earlier column, I discussed the significance of the Blue Ridge Parkway incident:

Reading between the lines, however, the substances marked “male enhancement” are not, in all likelihood, physician prescribed, which means they could be anything Jackson believed would enhance “male” behavior, such as ecstasy or other mood altering medications.

Reports claim that Jackson suffers from advanced prostate cancer and is under going chemotherapy.  In many instances, prostrate cancer spreads to the bones, creating a particularly excruciating condition.  Severe pain sometimes leads the afflicted to self-medicate with non-prescribed drugs.  As such, it will be interesting to hear the toxicology results.  

Moreover, media reports indicate that police have filed the paperwork needed to retrieve Jackson’s DNA.  Typically, unless a preliminary test is fast tracked, two to nine months are needed to compare samples with CODUS, a national DNA databank maintained by the FBI.

On another note, readers of this site are keenly aware of my interest in these Virginia cases.  A possibility exists that one suspect — whether it is the Colonial Parkway murders, the Route 29 stalker case, the Shenandoah National Park slayings, or the Morgan Harrington homicide — may have had a hand in these other incidents.  

Over the course of the last month, I have communicated with family members of the Colonial Parkway victims.  In the near future, the Spingola Files will travel to Virginia to highlight these troubling cases. By raising the profile of these unsolved offenses, it is possible that persons with knowledge of these crimes will come forward and shed some light on the identifies of these nefarious killers.


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