Archive for October, 2010

Book Marking a Good Stocking Stuffer

With Christmas and the holidays right around the corner, many of SF’s readers will soon find themselves beating the winter blues by curling up on the sofa with a warm blanket and a good book.  

Over the past few months, I’ve paged through some interesting reads.  Here’s a short list:

The Murder Room, by Michael Capuzzo

In the 1990s, three renowned investigators—a former FBI agent, a U.S. Customs agent, and a forensic pathologist —gathered together informally in a Philadelphia meeting room and formed the Vidocq Society.   Named after a famed French sleuth, the group explores cold case murders.  The catch: a detective from the investigating agency must formally present the case.

Worst Case, by James Patterson

When the son of a wealthy New York family is abducted, Detective Michael Bennett catches the case.  But the kidnapper isn’t demanding the typical ransom.  The well connected family uses its connections to involve a slew of politicians and the FBI.

The Cozen Protocol, by Mitchell Nevin

As two cutthroat gangs battle over drug turf, Milwaukee’s sitting police chief, under fire for his department’s lackluster performance, decides to retire.  His decision sets off an internal power struggle.  A dedicated detective, a savvy defense attorney, a talk-radio host , and a television news reporter diligently piece together a complicated puzzle.

Killing Pablo: the Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, by Mark Bowden

In the 1980s, Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar brazenly exploited the South American cocaine trade.  With a fleet of yachts and a portfolio of expensive real estate, Escobar was one of the world’s largest drug kingpins.  When the U.S. government began providing resources to their Columbian colleagues, agency infighting was the only thing standing in the way of killing Pablo.  Very applicable to the current situation in Mexico.

So many good books but only so much time to read them. 


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 and Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

Keep a Tight Lid on Keller Homicide Information

“I want to know the truth. I want to know what really happened, you know? When were they searching? If they were searching, why didn’t they search the area of the park sooner,” Northern Illinois University student Sara Pezel told NBC Chicago in response to the ongoing investigation into the homicide of freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller. 

In mid-October, Keller went for a walk in Prairie Park, just south of the NIU campus and was never seen alive again.  Her body was later discovered burned beyond recognition near a set of railroad tracks not far from campus. 

Of course, the NIU community is looking for answers. Students, faculty and the victim’s family are perturbed that the DeKalb police are withholding information from the public. 

But justice requires that investigators keep a tight lid on senstive information pertaining to the investigation.  


Reading between the lines, it appears that Keller was probably killed by a transient with a criminal past.  One can bet that police are combing the park in attempt to identify frequent visitors and/or homeless individuals that call the 150 acre park home. They are also searching for campsites or make-shift shelters, while railroad detectives are checking contacts in their databases. 

I believe Keller’s body was burned to destroy potential DNA evidence. Since Keller decided to take a random walk in Prairie Park, the slaying has the hallmark of a crime of opportunity.  The perpetrator likely observed the young women alone and isolated; whereupon, he acted on impulse to fulfill his fantasies.  

As of 2000, most states require convicted felons to provide DNA samples.  A reasonable investigator might conclude that the person who killed Ms. Keller may have served time in prison, possibly for a sex offense.  These type of offenders are keenly aware of the power of DNA evidence.  Through the prison grape vine, it is well known that fire is one method used to destroy forensic material. 

Should the NIU community be concerned that a killer is on the loose? Absolutely, although I would be willing to bet that perpetrator has fled the area. 

In the interim, the police should provide as little detail as possible.  During future interrogations, detectives want to hear specific, first-hand information from the suspect.  If specific details of the Keller homicide are somehow released or leaked to the public, it could compromise a confession.


Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders  and The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler


© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

Northern Illinois University Homicide No Walk in the Park

The case of a missing young, Naperville, Illinois woman illustrates that predators continue to view college campuses akin to shooting fish in a barrel.  

Antinette “Toni” Keller, an 18-year-old freshmen at Northern Illinois University, was last observed just before noon as she left her dormitory, Neptune Hall, on October 14, 2010. Keller told acquaintances she was going for a walk in Prairie Park, a 150 acre DeKalb municipal park, located just south of campus.

To their credit, local authorities made use of a plethora of resources.   A methodical grid search of the large park was conducted with cadaver dogs and by assets from the air.  Late last week, searchers found human remains inside a wooded area.  DeKalb’s Police Chief Bill Feithen didn’t waste any time calling in the heavy hitters—the Major Case Squad, a task force that includes DeKalb police, Northern Illinois police detectives, as well as investigators from DeKalb County and the Illinois State Police.

While Feithen classified the discovery of human remains as a “death investigation,” requesting the services of the Major Case Squad clearly points to a homicide.  

At a late night October 23 press conference, police disclosed they had discovered items belonging to Toni Keller inside Prairie Park.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the property belonging to Keller was located just south of Illinois State Highway 38 (also known as Lincoln Highway) near a line of railroad tracks.  While the remains have yet to be officially identified, investigators clearly believe the body is that of Toni Keller. 

The Keller case is eerily reminiscent to another ongoing investigation that occurred nearly 850 miles and five states to the east—the murder of 20 year-old Morgan Harrington.   Coincidently, Harrington disappeared on October 17, 2009, almost a year-to-the-day that Keller went missing.  She was last observed thumbing for a ride on the Copeley Road Bridge that hovers above a set of railroad tracks on the University of Virginia campus.  Harrington’s body, however, was found on a farm several miles from campus, suggesting that she was transported in a vehicle.  In July, the Virginia State Police released information indicating that DNA linked Harrington’s killer to a 2005 Virginia sexual assault.  A composite sketch of the suspect in the 2005 rape depicts an African-American male with a round face and beard.

The Harrington and Keller homicides are, of course, likely unrelated, but the similarities illustrate that predators see college campus as a hunting ground for naïve or inebriated women who, for whatever reasons, walk or stagger alone.  It is the isolation of the victims that creates the opportunity for these killers to fulfill their demented sexual fantasies of power and control. 

Reading between the lines, authorities in DeKalb are keeping the details of the Keller crime scene close to the vest.  Only a week old, the victim’s remains will probably provide investigators with the physical evidence needed to forensically identify the perpetrator.  Crimes of opportunity typically involve disorganized slayings; whereby, the suspect’s actions are poorly planned. 


Two weeks ago, Augusta County, Virginia prosecutors dismissed a homicide case against Ralph Leon Jackson, a 57-year-old mechanic and the alleged perpetrator in the slaying of Timothy P. Davis on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

But a lack of evidence is not the reason for the state case being dropped.

Instead, federal authorities have decided to prosecute Jackson in the April double shooting.   Authorities from the Augusta County DA’s office readily admit that the reason for the federal prosecution is that Jackson would likely face a tougher sentence.  Because Davis was shot but likely died due to a fall off a bluff, under Virginia law, Jackson would likely be ineligible for a capital murder sentence.  However, since the Blue Ridge Parkway is U.S. property, federal guidelines may call for a death sentence.

Is it possible that prosecutors believe that Jackson may be involved in other Virginia slayings and are simply upping the ante in an effort to get him to cooperate for sentencing considerations?



 Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders and The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI,2010

City’s Violent Night Highlights Print Media’s Decline

Over the past two years, the city of Milwaukee’s homicide rate has seen a significant decline.  One can argue the reasons: the shrinking 14 to 24 year-old demographic age group, the stellar performance of paramedics, the professionalism of the Froedtert Hospital ER staff, and/or Chief Edward Flynn’s data driven enforcement.  In 2010, however, perpetrators have apparently taken better aim, as the number of Milwaukee homicides has already exceeded all of 2009. 

Without a doubt, violence is on the uptick.  Early Friday morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that two people were killed and another shot during separate robberies on the city’s near north side. 

But even a better indication that Milwaukeeans, in general, have become accustom to the violence is the manner in which the dead tree version of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered the investigations. 

 On Saturday morning, the newspaper simply printed a small inch-and-a-half article entitled “Two Killed, One Injured in Overnight Shootings,” which provided minimal detail about Milwaukee’s violent night.

Many moons ago, as a rookie officer, I vividly recall the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel vigorously exploring serious crimes.  Reporters frequently sought background information about the victims by interviewing neighbors and family members.  Frequently, the newspapers followed-up and reported about ongoing investigations and kept the community appraised.

Granted, the dramatic decline of print journalism is part of the problem. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a shell of its former self.  Budget cuts showed many experienced reporters the door and have resulted in a local page devoid of thorough coverage.  With advertising revenues in the doldrums, those in the newspaper industry are left clinging to their once busy printing presses by their ink-stained fingernails. 

Undoubtedly, some will argue that other forms of information—blogs and Internet news outlets—fill-in some of the remaining gaps.  Yet the inevitable collapse of the Fourth Estate, as we know it, will leave the next generation with a reduced ability to conduct research and understand the dynamics of Milwaukee’s past. Just as importantly, those who currently operate institutions—private and public—around town clearly realize there are fewer eyes watching. The county pension scandal, the Open Sky radio debacle, the $1.3 billion failure that is the Milwaukee Public Schools, and the ever growing list of sewage dumping, depict the ebb of the influence of print journalism in Milwaukee.

And the media is partly to blame, as well.  To boost sales, they sensationalize the news instead of simply conducting solid reporting, although one would think that adequate, in-depth coverage of Milwaukee’s violent night would cause more readers to pick-up a few more copies.


Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders. 

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010