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What’s Crime Capsule about?

Our mission is to dig up true crime stories from America’s past and bring them to America’s present. Every week we publish historic true crime stories, solved and unsolved. The smoking gun. The bloodstained knife. Nothing fascinates us more than the deeds and misdeeds of our citizens that have stunned our communities and in some cases, shaped our nation. We love the wily ways that crooks just slip past the law, and we crave the stray piece of evidence that clinches a case. We hate the crimes, but wonder at the criminals: who were they? Where did they come from? What drove them to do what they did?

We travel the country looking for the local, the weird, and the untold. We celebrate local authors who know their stuff: who are passionate about their communities, and whose long hours of research have given us amazing accounts of crime chock-full of all the gory details (often literally). It’s our privilege to bring those stories to you.

For more about us and our partners, check out our About Us page.

What can you expect?

Every week, we add new true crime stories to the website, currently on a variety of topics:

Expect new stories each week: narrative articles, rogue’s galleries, author interviews, and more. We’re only just getting started!

How can you get involved?

First off, sign up for our email newsletter. In addition to killer stories <groan> arriving weekly in your inbox, you’ll also receive special offers and discounts on true crime books, local history titles, and exclusive freebies.

Second, to welcome you to the family, we’re offering a free PDF eBook about three infamous lady slayers of the past, called Murderesses. Watch out for more of these in the future—no five-fingered discount required! 

Last, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. After that your next true crime fix will only ever be a click away. And feel free to pass our articles around to your friends—after all, at Crime Capsule, we believe the best capers are always shared.

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If you’re not sure where to dive in, let us introduce you to some of our favorite stories thus far. Learn how a beer bottle helped solve a murder case in Vancouver, Washington. Or enjoy some good-old fashioned public corruption in Pittsburgh. Or meet some of the most dashing delinquents in all of Alabama’s history. Wherever you end up, from all of us here at Crime Capsule, thanks so much for reading—it’s a pleasure to have you behind our bars!

Cold Case Cracked: Lieutenant Rita Shuler’s 40-Year Quest for Justice

The evidence was overwhelming. Blood, fingerprints, clothing, even the murder weapon were all found on scene. But none of it matched up—when Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle was murdered in her own home in Walterboro, South Carolina, in 1978, it was like her killer had vanished into thin air, bloody footprints and all. Until Rita Shuler came along and tracked him for nearly 40 years.

Shuler, a special investigator for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), had first joined the case as supervisor of the SLED Forensics Photography Lab, processing and developing the photos from the crime scene. In 1978, the only digital cameras around were the ones you operated with your own ten digits, so every bit of photographic evidence that SLED collected required trained, careful handling from their arrival in the darkroom to their deposit in the case file.

Those photos would prove crucial to finding Fogle’s killer. Surprised in her own home late one night during what appeared to be a foiled robbery, Fogle had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled with a fireplace poker in a particularly violent slaying. Feeling an uncanny kinship with Fogle, from their age to their upbringing even to the kind of shoes and sweaters they both wore, Rita Shuler took the hunt personally, vowing never to rest until the culprit was caught.

A photo from the murder case Rita Shuler worked on.
Metal fire poker that was around Elaine Fogle’s neck. Elaine Fogle case file.

The Case Goes Cold

That rest wouldn’t come for many years. Despite the considerable evidence collected at the scene, none of it offered any concrete leads, only partial pictures of the perpetrator. Worse, as so often happens in sensational cases, early leads—in this case, of violent neighbors—turned out over time to be red herrings, throwing investigators off the trail. Weeks became months, and still Fogle’s family waited for justice. In 1985, seven years after her murder, with no new evidence forthcoming, SLED was forced to put the case on ice.

Yet Rita Shuler never gave up—the case bugged her, kept her up at night, pestered her even as she moved on to other opportunities, even after she retired in 2001. Yet keeping track of the new developments in forensic technology, she never lost faith that one day the evidence might tell the story in a way that it couldn’t in 1978, as it had before (for example, with JoAnn Dewey, Anita Andrews, and Tina Faelz).

Shuler was right. With the emergence of DNA testing, criminal forensics had undergone a revolution, blowing the hinges off cases long thought to be sealed away forever. In the early 2000s, SLED reopened Fogle’s case, resubmitting evidence for examination and establishing matches for male DNA found on-scene. These revelations didn’t happen overnight—in the intervening decades, crucial pieces of evidence had been lost amid the complicated chain of custody, and the initial results from DNA testing weren’t enough to pinpoint a specific individual right away—but they did offer new leads, and most importantly, new hope.

Rita Shuler standing with Gean Johnson.
Corporal Gean Johnson and retired SLED agent lieutenant Rita Shuler. Photo by Vicky Hall.

So much hope, in fact, that in 2015 the new lead investigator in Walterboro, Corporal Gean Johnson, had made Fogle’s murder his top priority for cold cases—even calling Shuler out of retirement to help him solve it. After months of reviewing every piece of evidence still remaining, every report, every page of every case file, and every new method now available, Johnson and Shuler stumbled on a breakthrough that clinched it once and for all, thirty-seven years later.

A Case-Cracking Photo

Whodunit? Well, we can’t spoil everything here—but we can say that in a remarkable twist of fate, it was a single photograph that Shuler had first handled back in 1978 that provided the key piece of evidence to identify Fogle’s killer. Want to read more? Shuler herself tells the full story in her book The Lowcountry Murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle, a riveting account of the crime, the investigation, and ultimately, the cold case cracked.

Here at Crime Capsule we’re always proud to feature the men and women of law enforcement who work tirelessly in pursuit of justice. To Lieutenant Rita Shuler—now happily retired for a second time—to Corporal Gean Johnson, and to all those still in active service, we salute you!

For decades, evidence of the 1978 murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle lay in the evidence room at the Walterboro Police Department. Investigators periodically revisited the case over the years, but it remained the department’s top cold case for thirty-seven years. Special Agent Lieutenant Rita Shuler worked on the case shortly after she joined the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and she couldn’t let it go, not even after her retirement in 2001. In May 2015, Lieutenant Shuler teamed up with new investigator Corporal Gean Johnson, and together they uncovered key evidence that had been overlooked. With new advancements in DNA and fingerprint technology, they brought the case to its end in just four months. Join Shuler as she details the gruesome history of this finally solved case.

Looking for more to read during quarantine? Check out our quaran-reads here. Finding us for the first time, and want to learn more about what we do? Visit our welcome page and sign up for the Crime Capsule email newsletter. See you behind bars!

Meet Three of America’s Forgotten Early Serial Killers

If you’re a true crime fan, you’re probably interested in serial killers. The scale of their murders and the twistedness of their minds are fascinating to anyone. Although serial killers have always existed, the concept wasn’t defined until 1975 by FBI agent Robert Ressler. The term “serial killer” entered the public lexicon during the 1981 investigation of Atlanta child killer Wayne Williams. In some ways, our view of serial murder has changed a lot throughout American history, and in many ways, it hasn’t. These books tell the tales of serial killers before modern criminology could hope to understand them.

Alfred Knapp: The First Celebrity Serial Killer in Southwest Ohio

An illustration of Ohio serial killer Alfred Knapp.
In 1934, the Hamilton Evening Journal published a recap of the Alfred Knapp case with this evocative illustration. Courtesy of the Hamilton Evening Journal.

Serial killers have been media sensations from the very beginning – just look at Alfred Knapp. He was arrested for bigamy in February 1903 after getting married to his fourth wife while his third wife, Hannah Goddard, was missing, and it didn’t take long for Knapp to confess to Hannah’s murder. The crime shocked Hamilton, Ohio, but a more stunning confession quickly followed: between 1894 and 1903, he killed three young women and girls in Cincinnatti and Indianapolis, plus his second wife, Jennie Connors, whose death was originally ruled a suicide. 

Overnight, the criminal became a celebrity. So many reporters came to Hamilton that the telegram company “brought in two more operators to handle the volume of transmissions headed to newspapers around the country.” Like many serial killers after him, Knapp basked in the glow of the attention. He spoke to reporters through the bars of his cell the Thursday after his confession, detailing his crimes with both calmness and drama – “when talking about strangling his victims, his fingers would draw up with tension like talons of a bird of prey.” As Rick Kennedy wrote in his book on the case, The First Celebrity Serial Killer in Southwest Ohio, “the only action capable of keeping [Knapp’s] mouth shut was the application of 1,750 volts of electricity while he was strapped to the chair.”

During his brief reprieve while his trial was being appealed, Alfred Knapp passed out copies of his “death portrait” to his fellow prisoners in the Butler County jail. Courtesy of the Ohio Department of Corrections.

Just like today, the public’s biggest question about serial murder was “Why?” Back then, they turned to physiognomy, the practice of analyzing someone’s personality based on their appearance. It’s considered a pseudoscience today, but one anonymous doctor told the Hamilton Evening Sun that “[Knapp’s] receding forehead shows lack of intellect … his manner is certainly that of a degenerate.”

We’ll never know the “why” behind Alfred Knapp’s crimes, but his celebrity foreshadowed centuries of true crime mania.

 The Arkansas Hitchhike Killer: James Waybern “Red” Hall

Serial killer Red Hall leads police to the remains of his victim.
Prosecuting Attorney Sam Robinson holds Fayrene Clemmons’s skull after Hall (in cabbie’s cap) led lawmen and reporters to her remains. Copyright Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

World War II dominated American headlines in the 1940s, but that didn’t stop James Waybern “Red” Hall from drawing plenty of attention in Arkansas newspapers. After he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1943, he came home to Little Rock and married 19-year-old Fayrene Clemmons. Less than a year later, Fay vanished. Hall claimed that she had deserted him, and with no evidence to suggest otherwise, she was dismissed as a runaway. 

As 1945 began, police had a new mystery to solve – between January and March, three motorists were found shot dead in or near their cars, abandoned on the side of the highway. Police quickly realized the crimes were linked, and the hunt for the Hitchhike Killer began. Before long, the trail led to Red Hall. On the surface, the friendly, red-haired cab driver didn’t seem like a killer, but he admitted to all four of the murders and alluded to even more. 

“The truth is, if I told you about every person I have killed, people wouldn’t believe it,” he told detectives. “There are so many, I can’t remember.” 

Arkansas serial killer James Waybern "Red" Hall with police detective.
Detective Herbert Peterson (left) and James Waybern “Red” Hall. Copyright Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Hall stole from all his victims, but it’s hard to tell whether the robbery was the point, or if, like the most famous serial killers, he was more psychologically driven. Before going to the electric chair in 1946, he considered donating his body to science: “Maybe they could figure out what’s wrong with me, why I did what I did.” 

In her book covering Hall’s crimes, Janie Nesbitt Jones writes that “by any estimation, when Hall confessed to seventeen slayings (and insinuated more), he secured his place in the pantheon of serial killers.” Had Hall committed his crimes a few decades later, he might have gained the lasting infamy that follows Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer – but with a war on, there was no room in the public consciousness for crimes like these. 

Seattle’s Forgotten Serial Killer: Gary Gene Grant

Victims of serial killer Gary Gene Grant are removed from the crime scene.
The murdered bodies of Scott Andrews and Bradley Lyons are removed from the scene. Courtesy of Renton Record Chronicle/Renton Historical Society.

In April, 1971, Seattle was rocked by the brutal murder of two six-year-old boys, Scott Andrews and Bradley Lyons. The friends were playing outside when they vanished, only to be found days later stabbed and strangled. The clues led investigators to Gary Grant, a nineteen-year-old high school dropout. They believed that Grant might know something about the murders, but were stunned when he confessed to killing the boys himself. And those weren’t all – Grant also confessed to the murders of two teenage girls, Carol Erickson and Joanne Zuluaf, in 1969 and 1970. 

Seattle serial killer Gary Gene Grant
Courtesy of Renton Record Chronicle.

These crimes took place shortly before FBI agent Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”. Like many of the killers Ressler studied, Grant had a traumatic childhood. During his trial, the defense argued that he faced “extreme turmoil in his early years of life” because of his mother’s alcoholism, and the “split personality” that resulted made him not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury didn’t buy it, though they did spare him the death penalty. 

Grant is still alive and in prison today, but, like most of the country’s earlier serial murderers, he’s been left to fade into obscurity. About a decade after his crimes, serial killers would rise to new heights in American pop culture – and based on how popular true crime continues to be, it doesn’t look like our fascination with them will end anytime soon.

Interested in learning more about these early cases of serial murder? Read more about each below and visit our bookstore to snag a copy:

Just before Christmas 1902, Alfred Knapp strangled his wife in her sleep. He put her body in a box and sent the box floating down the Great Miami River, telling everyone that Hannah had left him. When the truth came out, Knapp confessed to four other murders. Newspapers across the Midwest sent reporters to interview the handsome strangler. Despite spending most of his adulthood in prison, he had a charming, boyish manner that made him an instant celebrity serial killer. True crime historian Richard O Jones examines the strangler’s alleged crimes, the family drama of covering up Knapp’s atrocities and how a brain-damaged drifter became a media darling.

Faulkner County native Red Hall was a serial killer who confessed to murdering at least twenty-four people. Most of his victims were motorists who picked him up as he hitchhiked around the United States. In the closing months of World War II, he beat his wife to death and went on a killing spree across the state. His signature smile lured his victims to their doom, and even after his capture, he maintained a friendly manner, being described by one lawman as “a pleasant conversationalist.” Author Janie Nesbitt Jones chronicles his life for the first time and explores reasons why he became Arkansas’s Hitchhike Killer.

“An in-depth look at the 1971 trial of a serial killer who’s been mostly forgotten — except to those who were forever impacted.”-The Seattle Times

In 1969, the body of a young woman was discovered in the woods of Renton, rocking the communities along Puget Sound. Three more brutal murders followed, drawing the attention of multiple police agencies as they tried to piece together the meager clues left behind. The seemingly unrelated cases challenged detectives, who struggled to realize they were all connected to one man: Gary Gene Grant. Before the term “serial killer” was even coined, Grant stalked his prey, destroying lives and families while walking unseen among the masses. Decades later, his crimes have all but been forgotten. Join author and homicide investigator Cloyd Steiger as he uncovers the story of the murderer who slipped through the cracks of history.

Did Government Officials Cover Up a Lethal Ohio School Poisoning?

Twenty-seven thousand tons of contaminated soils. Fifty-eight thousand radioactive radium markers. A death rate from leukemia 122% higher than the rest of the state. And over fifty years of official uncertainty, misinformation, and doubt around a lethal school poisoning.

The numbers have the answer, but the question is: what the heck happened in Marion County, Ohio?

In his new book The School Poisoning Tragedy in Caledonia, Ohio, author and historian Dr. James Van Keuren tells the story of the tragic mishandling of the former Marion Engineer Depot (MED) in Caledonia, Ohio, a former World War II-era munitions handling site that left a deadly legacy for area residents. During the war years, the MED was one of the largest receiving and staging areas for weapons and materiel headed to the troops overseas. Yet the toxic chemicals used in munitions handling and storage, as well as radioactive elements found in artifacts like night-vision scopes, were improperly dumped and disposed of on-site—a fact that lay dormant for decades.

One of many rusted-out barrels that were found on the eastern edge of the U.S. Army Reserve training center adjacent to the River Valley Local School District Property. Courtesy of the Columbus Dispatch, May 31, 2017.

The truth would not be revealed for another thirty years, when students at River Valley High School—which had been built on the former MED site—began to show unusually high rates of cancer, particularly leukemia. Apparently building the school in the 1960s had disturbed the soil, releasing those buried contaminants, but area residents would not become aware of this fact for nearly thirty years.

Site map of the areas of toxic contamination identified by the interviews with the Ohio EPA officials. Courtesy of the author’s interpretation.

As Van Keuren details, in 1997 the Ohio Department of Health began to investigate, finding area soils to contain polyaromatic hydrocarbons (a known carcinogen), arsenic, and lead, but declining to link these contaminants to the students’ illnesses. Worse still, in 1999, the US Army Corps of Engineers failed to reveal that they had found cancer-causing chemicals on the school’s athletic fields, and even when old barrels leaking hazardous waste were found near the school’s property line, government officials refused to assign responsibility—to anyone, much less to themselves.

Troublingly, as Van Keuren notes, the investigation was flawed in numerous ways. MED workers had long known of the loose handling of toxic materials and testified to the same—one former worker’s son, Ralph Hill, Jr., recalled a group of mysterious men “in what he described as moon suits coming into the family home with Geiger counters to remove furniture his father had touched, in addition to taking his father’s clothes—all without explanation.” But no accountability for the disaster was ever established, and as his book reveals, expert findings from key witnesses was either disregarded—as in the case of environmental toxicologist Dr. Bruce Molholt—or even allegedly doctored, in the case of consultant Jed Ball.

Practice locating the gamma capsules via a Geiger counter. Courtesy of the NARA Photo: No. 111-SC-427254, July 25, 1953.

The Ohio state legislature did approve a bill to pay for the remediation of school grounds, eventually spending $35 million over a fourteen-year period (1998-2012). And in 2003, the entire school was relocated to a new site. But the damage was done. With no legal chain of accountability ever established, justice has remained elusive for the River Valley High students who fell ill—and, for those who passed away, their surviving families.

Whether the known flaws amount to a genuine cover-up may never be proved, but the evidence suggests that there is more to the story than has been revealed. It’s a sad chapter in American history, but thanks to the work of dedicated researchers like Van Keuren, at least this chapter is now, for the first time, being told.

The School Poisoning Tragedy in Caledonia, Ohio

In the early 1960s, the River Valley Local School District built its middle school, its high school and its athletic fields in the former Marion Engineer Depot. During World War II, the depot had used the land for heavy equipment rehab, military artillery practice, materials storage, burial of construction debris and burning of waste materials and fuels. In 1997, a River Valley High School nurse grew concerned about the high rate of leukemia and other cancers in graduates. Then a stunning news report announcing a 122 percent increase in death rates over thirty years in the Marion area sparked an investigation. Was the land to blame? The question of what may have been known about the contaminates on the school grounds sent shock waves through the community that still linger today.

Looking for more to read during quarantine? Check out our quaran-reads here. Finding us for the first time, and want to learn more about what we do? Visit our welcome page and sign up for the Crime Capsule email newsletter. See you behind bars!

Seven Questions for Keith Roysdon, author of The Westside Park Murders

Many authors write about noteworthy crimes from a distance, but not Keith Roysdon. A longtime journalist in Muncie, Indiana, Roysdon and his colleague Douglas Walker have covered one of Muncie’s most infamous murders firsthand for nearly twenty-five years—a story that forms the basis of their new book, The Westside Park Murders: Muncie’s Most Notorious Cold Case, just now out from The History Press. Crime Capsule is thrilled to have Roysdon join us for our next installment of our Seven Questions interview series. Welcome, Keith!

Crime Capsule: Congratulations on your new book. Can you tell us how you and your co-author, Douglas Walker, came to write The Westside Park Murders?

Keith Roysdon: We’re both longtime newspaper reporters in Muncie, Indiana—I’ve since retired but Walker works on—and we were familiar with the tragic case. We first wrote about the murders in 1997 and returned to the case for additional articles several times, including on the 25th anniversary in 2010. After our second book for History Press, Muncie Murder & Mayhem, was published in 2018, we decided to approach the press with a book about the Westside Park case.

The two of you have a longtime interest in cold cases and unsolved crimes, having reported on dozens of them for news outlets over the years. Where did that interest begin, and why?

Walker has almost always covered crime and courts for Muncie newspapers and I covered government for most of my career, and we collaborated on hundreds of stories and columns. We always worked well together and had many of the same contacts, including former investigators and others who remembered unsolved murders and would mention them to us. We were both interested in bringing back into the spotlight the victims of unsolved murders and their families. We wrote about 34 stories in our “Cold Case Muncie” series over several years.

Keith Roysdon (@keithroysdon) | Twitter
Author Keith Roydson

Ethan Dixon and Kimberly Dowell were murdered in 1985. In 2010, on the 25th anniversary of the crime, you and Walker wrote an article that sparked new interest in the case—can you describe what that moment was like, as the story reawakened?

We didn’t know, at least at first, all the repercussions of that 2010 article. It resonated with readers, some of whom contacted us to suggest avenues to explore. What we didn’t know at first was that members of the public, and sometimes police officers and others, were also contacting the police investigators on the case, offering tips and theories.

Some cold cases aren’t just cold but frozen, laying on ice for decades. After twenty-five years, what were the main challenges of re-investigating these killings? Were there any new opportunities or leads that emerged?

Sometimes it’s a challenge to write about very cold cases because surviving friends and family members are gone, police investigators are gone and files don’t even exist for modern-day police officers to consult. Since Westside Park was an open case, it wouldn’t have been proper for police to just let us look through files. Since we knew some of the players were still alive, however, we could talk to them about their recollections, and current investigators were willing to help us get an idea of where the investigation had gone in recent years. The availability of court records was also a huge help.

One of the most fascinating aspects of your book is your attempt in 2019 to interview a key suspect, Jimmy Swingley, who is currently incarcerated for other crimes. Swingley rebuffed your efforts—but how do you go about making such an inquiry in the first place? As journalists, how do you prepare for such an encounter, differently than law enforcement might?

Jimmy Swingley is serving a 65-year prison sentence for a conviction stemming from an unrelated murder in 1996, several years after the events in Westside Park. We knew that in 2018, Muncie police had obtained a court-ordered warrant to get a DNA sample from Swingley, hoping to connect him to the park murders. That encouraged us to contact Swingley in prison to ask for his comments.

We asked the Indiana Department of Correction how to go about asking him questions and did so through a letter and a self-addressed, stamped envelope for him to respond if he wanted to. We knew it was best to be brief in our questions if we wanted to elicit a response from him, so we asked very directly if he committed the crime, why he had told people that he had and what was his opinion of being the primary person of interest of Muncie police. He did not respond in the months before the book was completed in 2020, and still has not.

In one of the chapters in the book, you and Walker write with great insight about the effects that different forms of media can have on unsolved and ongoing criminal investigations. In the months you’ve been preparing Westside Park Murders for publication, have there been any additional developments in the case?

We included the email address of the most recent police investigator on the case in the book, hoping that it might elicit some contact from the public. The investigator—now the Muncie police chief Nathan Sloan—had told us he hoped the book might prompt some progress in the case. We haven’t heard, in the week since the book came out (as I write this) of new developments.

Last but not least, can you tell us about your next project? What are you working on now?

Walker is still covering crime and courts in Muncie for The Star Press, which occupies a lot of his time. Since I took a company buyout and retired in January 2019, besides finishing the Westside Park book, I’ve been working on fiction books and freelance writing. We are frequently asked about the possibility of another book, and there’s plenty of material, but it remains to be seen if that will happen.

The Westside Park Murders: Muncie’s Most Notorious Cold Case

On a warm night in September 1985, teenagers Kimberly Dowell and Ethan Dixon were brutally murdered in Westside Park in Muncie, Indiana. Their killer has never been charged. Early on, police focused on a family member of one of the teens as a primary suspect. The investigation even ruled out fantastic scenarios, including a theory that the perpetrator was a Dungeons & Dragons devotee. The case grew cold. Only decades later did a dogged police investigator narrow the scope to a suspect whose name has never been publicly revealed until now. Keith Roysdon and Douglas Walker, authors of Wicked Muncie and Muncie Murder & Mayhem, have followed the investigation into the Westside Park murders for decades and, for the first time, report the complete and untold story.

Introducing the Crime Capsule Podcast


Over the past year, we’ve been hard at work on a new part of the Crime Capsule network: the Crime Capsule Podcast, in partnership with Evergreen Productions.

Crime Capsule Pod: History So Interesting, It’s Criminal

From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.

Our first three-part series focuses on the case of Tina Faelz and the insights of author Joshua Suchon, a story which seasoned Crime Capsule readers will know. In our second series we are turning to The Lowcountry Murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle with law enforcement official Rita Schuler, author of a book by the same name.

Series 1: Murder in Pleasanton: Interview with Joshua Suchon

In 1984 the town of Pleasanton, CA was rocked to its core when a 14-year-old freshman was found brutally murdered in a drainage ditch. The victim had been stabbed 44 times with no witnesses and little evidence left behind. The case eventually ran cold.

That freshman was Tina Faelz and this is her story.

In this three-part series, we are talking to Joshua Suchon, author of the book Murder in Pleasanton: Tina Faelz and the Search for Justice, about the murder, the case, and the search for justice.

Listen to episode 1 below, and follow each episode here.

Series 2: Lowcountry Murder: An Interview with Rita Schuler

For decades, evidence of the 1978 murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle lay in the evidence room at the Walterboro Police Department. Investigators periodically revisited the case over the years, but it remained the department’s top cold case for thirty-seven years. Special Agent Lieutenant Rita Shuler worked on the case shortly after she joined the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and she couldn’t let it go, not even after her retirement in 2001.

In May 2015, Lieutenant Shuler teamed up with new investigator Corporal Gean Johnson, and together they uncovered key evidence that had been overlooked. With new advancements in DNA and fingerprint technology, they brought the case to its end in just four months. Join Shuler as she details the gruesome history of this finally solved case.

In this two-part series host Ben Morris interviews Rita Schuler, author of The Lowcountry Murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle: A Cold Case Solved

Listen to episode 1 below, and follow each episode here.

Meet Cathy Pickens, author of True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina

Continuing our occasional series of author interviews, this month we’re delighted to welcome Cathy Pickens to Crime Capsule. A true Renaissance lady—among other hats, Pickens is a law professor, historian, teacher, and mystery novelist—she is also the author of the brand new volume True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina, published last year by Arcadia Publishing/The History Press. You can read more about her work at her website,

Crime Capsule: Congratulations on your new book! Can you tell us how True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina came to be?

Cathy Pickens: The short answer is I went to jail. In research for writing mystery fiction, I became fascinated with real crime stories—first, looking for details, methods, plot devices, how a poison works, how an interrogation unfolds. Then one day, no matter how I’d tried to say no, I ended up teaching workshops—first, on how to start a business, and later, on creative writing—in the massive Mecklenburg County Jail.

In jail, those news articles became living, breathing human beings who, frankly, weren’t so different from the folks who’d been students in my MBA classes—funny, creative, hungry to improve themselves. Instead of a mental puzzle to play with, crime began to have a human dimension. After I wrote about Charlotte and how crime defines that city, Eastern North Carolina was the logical next stop in capturing North Carolina’s unique crime stories.

You’ve written for Arcadia/The History Press before, publishing Charlotte True Crime Stories and Charleston Mysteries: Ghostly Haunts in the Holy City. What did you learn working on your previous books that you could apply to this one?

Charleston Mysteries started as a lark—a walking tour pamphlet I wrote when I set one of my murder mysteries in Charleston. I even had goofy blurbs on the back cover, like “This one is written by my sister-in-law—and she’s pretty scary.” The History Press invited me to expand that into a book, which includes crime as well as ghosts.

Nothing beats visiting the “scene of the crime.” For Charleston Mysteries,my nephew, his college roommate, and I dodged rain bands from a tropical storm to take photos. For the new book, my husband and I spent a couple of weeks in a record heat wave touring eastern North Carolina. Scrolling through the photos, he laughed. “Not your usual vacation photos, are they?” I’m passionate about not just getting the facts but getting to the story. For me, these true cases require the same techniques, the same eye for what makes a good story. The nicest thing is when someone says they read like good fiction.

You tell a variety of tales in True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina—from deadly “black widow” homemakers to local swamp outlaws to murderous sex-driven swingers. With so many incredible criminals to choose from, how did you pick your subjects?

Oh my, how to choose? Every locale has cases that everyone knows. I was hesitant at first to write about the most famous—but even though people know the headlines, they don’t always know the details.

What of the stories we simply shouldn’t forget? I don’t like to read about depravity and evil. I am, though, fascinated by people who feel compelled by difficult circumstances to cross a line, like the swamp outlaws that befuddled law enforcement in Robeson County in the 1860s. Or missing persons, like the state senator’s son who disappeared in Currituck County. Or the cases we haven’t been able to solve.

Nor can I resist writing about poisoners. From what I’ve found, North Carolina has more convicted female serial poisoners than any other state, and Eastern North Carolina had some doozies. Do you reckon we’re just better at catching them here, or …?

Headshot of Cathy Pickens, author of True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina.
Cathy Pickens, author of True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina. Source.

What kind of material did you use to tell your story? What were your main sources?

My dark secret is I have shelves crowded with books and file cabinets stuffed with newspaper clippings about crimes, all collected over decades. No detox program for that, I fear. To those resources, I’ve added the expertise of amazing librarians, along with websites, online research, blogs, podcasts, and Facebook sites. My research process is much more sophisticated now, thanks to crazy changes in research technology, so my insatiable love of digging now has more rabbit holes than it did twenty years ago—which just makes it more fun.

You’ve written about the Carolinas in your previous books. Has any aspect of the true crime stories you’ve written about hit home for you? Do you have any personal connections to what you’ve researched?

I met my first murderer when I was three. I haven’t written about him, but once you start pulling the strings, it’s amazing the connections that come unearthed. At book events, I’ve met people who grew up down the road from the Outlaws motorcycle clubhouse, or who left the gym when alone there with a man suspected of killing his wife, or who dated a woman who went missing.

In the Charlotte book, I wrote about a woman killed in her home. I now live a mile down the road. In the book I’m working on now, I found out my father went to high school with a girl who married a man suspected of being a Cold War spy. Crime is closer than we think.

Alongside your work as a historian you’ve had a longtime career in the legal world, both in the private sector and in academia. Your meticulous, fact-hungry approach to storytelling certainly informs your writing—but how else has your immersion in the law equipped you to tell these stories?

Fact-hungry. That’s a good description. Or maybe it’s “story hungry.” The one thing that unifies the pieces of my life—lawyer, professor, creativity coach, writer—is story. I’m one of many writers who went to law school. In some ways, I have to overcome being a lawyer in order to be a better writer. Lawyers love footnotes. Ten footnotes for a single sentence? About right, we’d say.

But it helps to have some sense of the history of forensics in courtrooms, of the limitations of expert witnesses—as in one Eastern North Carolina case with a shoe expert whose unsupported testimony helped convict several men around the country—or of how the appeals process unfolds. A comfort with appellate court opinions and scientific details also helps. But my affection for those has to be tamped down to make sure the story is readable. Readers don’t want a legal or scientific treatise. Readers want to meet real people who make them think and feel, who leave them understanding a bit more about others. Readers want a behind-the-scenes peek at an often-closed world.

Last but not least, can you tell us about your next project? What are you working on now?

I want to cover the rest of the Carolinas’ crime stories, and the next logical stop is the Triangle area of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. That book, Triangle True Crime Stories, will be coming out in May. A bombing inside an office building? The largest prison break in American history, yet no one was injured? Another female poisoner? A lover’s lane murder? Dedicated cops pushing to solve decades-old murders? Who could resist?

True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina book cover

Eastern North Carolina is a land of contrasts, and its crime stories bear this out. A lovelorn war hero or a stalker? Conniving wife or consummate homemaker? Murder or suicide? The answers can be as puzzling as the questions. Mystery author Cathy Pickens details an assortment of quirky cases, including a duo of poisoning cases more than one hundred years apart, a band of folk hero swamp outlaws, sex swingers and a couple of mummies. Each story has, in its way, helped define Eastern North Carolina and its history.

William Lambert & the Secret Society that Powered Detroit’s Underground Railroad

Every American knows Harriet Tubman. Immortalized in history, in film, and potentially even on the $20 bill, the story of her role in founding the Underground Railroad is part of the American story, and rightly so.

But Tubman wasn’t alone. The phrase ‘Underground Railroad’ is a slight misnomer, because there was never just one railroad through which slaves escaped the antebellum South. Rather, there were many railroads: many routes, many sympathetic abolitionists, many safehouses, and many “conductors” along the way. One of the most daring of these conductors was William Lambert, a free African-American man from Detroit, whose story historian Bill Loomis tells in his book Secret Societies in Detroit.

William Lambert: Courageous Conductor of Detroit’s Underground Railroad

Born in New Jersey in 1817, as a young man Lambert traveled with his Quaker schoolmaster around the northeast, learning about abolitionism and establishing himself both in business and in the church. Finally settling in Detroit, he became a member of the historic Second Baptist Church, and later, St. Matthew’s Protestant Episcopal Mission, whose gospel teachings informed his desire to secure freedom for the enslaved.

Though Cincinnati may be home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, according to Loomis, Detroit was the busiest ‘railroad’ station before the Civil War, seeing as many as 40,000 African-Americans pass through to safety in nearby Canada. As a result, numerous secret societies arose there in the 1840s, as the abolitionist movement gained steam. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Lambert founded the African American Mysteries, also known as the Order of the Men of Oppression, to strengthen his segment of the route.

The Order of the Men of Oppression

The Order, modeled partly on other groups such as the Masons (of which Lambert was one), devoted itself to assisting escaped slaves. Using wagons with false bottoms, the Order traveled into the South through backroads and safehouses to find fugitives and bring them back to free land. Like the Masons, too, the Order had its own rituals—one of which, remarkably, involving the ‘enslavement’ of a new member. As Lambert recalled years later:

“[The conscript] was clad in rough and ragged garments, his head was bowed. His eyes blindfolded and an iron chain put about his neck. When his examination was over his eyes were unbound and he was admitted to the fellowship of the degree of captive. When he passed to that of the redeemed the chain and fetters were stricken off, although before that, when his eyes were unbound and he was a captive, he found about him all the members of the lodge present, each of them with a whip in his hand. In this way the organization maintained its typical character.”

When escaped slaves arrived in Detroit, the Order would feed them and clothe them and house them in one of their members’ homes, all under cover of night. As skilled in the clandestine arts as they were, Lambert further recalled that “We never lost a man by capture at this point, so careful were we, and we took over as high as 1,600 in one year.”

Poster for the Detroit Underground Railroad.

Poster for the Detroit Underground Railroad, 1856. Silas Farmer, Public domain.

A Legacy of Justice

Though precise figures will never be known, some historians estimate that the Order aided as many as 50,000 fugitives seeking safety and freedom in the North—a truly extraordinary legacy, especially given the very real threat of danger and death that followed every man and woman along the route. Longtime readers of Crime Capsule know we love to celebrate those courageous men and women who have fought for justice at different times and in different ways in American history, and we’re proud to honor Lambert here.

For more on Lambert, including his connections to famed abolitionist John Brown, Secret Societies in Detroit has the whole story—just don’t forget, when picking up your copy, your secret handshake!

Secret Societies in Detroit

Secret Societies in Detroit

By Bill Loomis

Secret societies have operated in Detroit for most of the city’s history. Many started for fun and companionship. Others had more serious ends in mind. The African American Mysteries: The Order of the Men of Oppression helped enslaved people escape the South for freedom in Canada. During the Civil War, so-called black lantern societies like the Knights of the Golden Circle and the Union League waged a covert war in Detroit and across the northern Midwest. In the last century, it wasn’t uncommon for a sober suburbanite to catch the train to Detroit and don yellow silk pantaloons, a purple fez and embroidered vest to drink “Tarantula juice.” Join Bill Loomis in this fascinating look into the secret world of these groups.

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Convicting Serial Killer Roy Melanson: The Shoddy SODDI Defense

The 1974 murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews shook Napa. After thirty-seven years DNA evidence brought her killer, Roy Melanson to justice.

Most crime junkies know the Texas Defense, made famous by country singer (and murderer!) Ernest Tubb—the claim in court that a murder suspect should be acquitted not because of any evidentiary or procedural matters, but because, quite literally, “the other guy had it comin’.” It’s one of the great plays in the defense attorney’s playbook, and is still used from time to time today.

Roy Melanson & The SODDI Defense

That playbook, however, has many pages. And this week on Crime Capsule, we’re exploring another one of the all-time classics: have you ever heard of SODDI?

Napa Register front page, July 11, 1974. Napa County Newspaper Archive.”

July 10, 1974, Napa, California. A small town just north of Bay Area where, fittingly for wine country, most of the crimes committed were bar fights or drunk driving. So for Muriel Fagiani to discover the body of her sister Anita Fagiani Andrews the next day, brutally murdered on the floor of the bar the two of them operated, the shock and horror was felt not just by the Fagiani family, but throughout the whole of Napa as well.

In his book The Napa Murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews: A Cold Case that Caught a Serial Killer, historian and former judge Raymond A. Guadagni tells the story of the search for Andrews’ killer, a thirty-seven year saga that ended in the conviction of Roy Melanson, now known as a serial killer and habitual rapist. It’s a story of early leads, of disappearing evidence (Andrews’ car, mysteriously, was stolen and never found), of red herrings and discarded suspects, and of a case gone cold for decades.

The Evidence

It’s also the story of a single cigarette, which brings us to SODDI. Among the evidence found on scene was a cigarette butt left behind in the bar by the main person of interest in the case (witnesses had seen an unknown man there the day of Andrews’ murder, drinking and smoking alone). Though it wasn’t of much immediate use in 1974, investigators collected it nevertheless. For years, that cigarette remained untouched, until the early 2000s when Detective Don Winegar, who had recently taken on the case, sent it to the DOJ crime lab. Thanks to the advances in DNA testing in the meantime—which also helped to convict Tina Faelz’ killer—the cigarette came back a match.

Evidence photo of the cigarette butt and ashes found on the bar after the murder. Courtesy of the Napa County District Attorney’s Office.”

The match was for Melanson, who was already serving time in Colorado for the murder of hiker Michele Wallace—a murder that took place barely two months after Andrews’. Based on this and other evidence (a bloody towel that also contained traces of his DNA), it wasn’t long before the Napa County DA had Melanson on trial. With Melanson proven to have been in the bar that day, the defense was in a corner, and so out came SODDI. As Guadagni explains,

“The core of the defense case [is] informally referred to in defense circles as the ‘SODDI defense,’ or ‘Some Other Dude Did It.’ That defense rests on the argument that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. The SODDI defense is employed in cases where the defense cannot deny that a crime has occurred, such as a homicide. In such a situation, the defense attempts to shift blame onto another unidentified person.”

Guadagni would know—not only was he a judge before he was an author, he was the judge in Andrews’ murder trial. In this case, Melanson’s attorney tried to argue that in between the time that witnesses saw Melanson in the bar, and the time that Andrews’ sister found her, somebody else had shown up and done the deed. Logically, the notion could not be disproved: it wasn’t much, but all the defense had to do was establish a reasonable doubt.

A 1975 mug shot of Roy Melanson from the Orange, Texas Sherriff’s Department. Courtesy of the Napa County District Attorney’s Office.”

But prosecutors weren’t having any of it, honing in on the cigarette butt and the bloody towel. In DA Paul Gero’s closing arguments—recorded verbatim thanks to trial transcripts—he had this to say to the jury: “Is that reasonable? Sure, it’s possible, but is it reasonable? I don’t think so. It is not reasonable that there’s another man like Mr. Melanson who likes to rape women, likes to murder women and likes to steal cars, and he just happened to come into the same bar after Mr. Melanson leaves. That is completely unreasonable. It is possible, yes. But it is not reasonable.”

The jury agreed, and found Melanson guilty of murder in the first, thirty-seven years after Andrews was killed. The moral of the story? SODDI may work well in some cases, but for this particular serial killer, it turned out to be a pretty shoddy defense in the end.

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Want to learn more about Anita Fagiani Andrews? Check out the full book!

The Napa Murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews: A Cold Case That Caught a Serial Killer

The Napa Murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews: A Cold Case That Caught a Serial Killer

By Raymond A. Guadagni

In 1974, the brutal murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews, a fifty-one-year-old former beauty queen and mother of two, shook the small working-class town of Napa. Detectives, criminalists and forensic experts raced to identify who’d struck Anita down in her own bar, but despite their efforts, the case went cold. Decades passed, during which the town grew into a world-renowned wine region and tourist destination, but the case remained an open question. After thirty-seven years, thanks to DNA evidence, the killer—imprisoned for a different murder—was finally found and brought to justice. Join author and retired judge Raymond A. Guadagni as he tells the story of the shocking murder, the investigation and the subsequent trial over which he presided in 2011.

Giovanni Chiesa: Immigrant, Miner, Martyr

We’ve been here before. In a previous look at the dangerous, often violent early years of American metal industries, Crime Capsule explored the turbulent development of the steel industry in western Pennsylvania. Today, we’re moving just across the state line, to the famous Mahoning Valley of Ohio, where many of the mines that produced raw material for those steel mills were housed.

In their book Coal War in the Mahoning Valley: The Origin of Greater Youngstown’s Italians, authors Joe Tucciarone and Ben Lariccia chart the growth of digging, extracting, and processing in one of the most mineral-rich areas of the country. As in Perelman’s account of Pennsylvania, Tucciarone and Lariccia detail the many conflicts that characterized mine operations, not just between owners, management, and workers, but between workers themselves as well.

Stock certificate from the Mahoning Coal Railroad Company, 1880s. Unbekannte Autoren und Grafiker; Scan vom EDHAC e.V.

In a sad chapter in American history, Tucciarone and Lariccia tell the story of Giovanni Chiesa, who was the first Italian murdered by a lynch mob in the United States. In the early 1870s, falling coal prices had led mine owners to slash wages for their workers, leading to full-scale strikes and walkouts. In the decades before federal labor laws and union protection, oftentimes the only recourse available to the rank-and-file was simply to refuse to work, imperiling profits for the brass, and the strike of 1873 was no different.

Arson by striking miners. From the Holmes County Republican, April 24, 1873, Chronicling America, the Library of Congress.”

Except that in this case, mine ownership played a deadly card: ignoring the demands of their local workers, they began to ship in immigrant labor to do the job instead. These strikebreakers were mainly Italians, followed by Swedish and German workers who were content to work at the new wage scale. Tucciarone and Lariccia:

“To the embittered strikers of Church Hill, the coming of the immigrants was the death knell of their cause. Unable to settle their dispute with the coal company and blindsided by the arrival of so many replacement workers, the miners turned their anger on the foreigners. Indeed, the presence of aliens in the coalfields ignited xenophobia among the workmen, who saw the newcomers overturning the established relation between miners and their workplace. It’s not difficult to see how the mining community at Church Hill would seize on ethnic and other differences between the miners and the foreigners, who were Catholic and non-English speaking. It wasn’t long before these resentments turned violent.”

Unsurprisingly these new arrivals usually kept to themselves, but one day in July 1873, Giovanni Chiesa had left his tenement in the miner’s camp to go draw water. Disgruntled Scottish and Welsh miners led by one William Trotter angrily confronted him; the argument turned violent, and Trotter was wounded, stabbed in the neck. Enraged, the displaced Anglos raised a crowd of 200 miners and surrounded Chiesa’s tenement. When the Italians refused to come out, the Anglos set fire to the building, intercepting the Italians one by one they fled the building and beating each one half to death.

Death record of John Church (Giovanni Chiesa). Trumbull County Courthouse.”

Chiesa, Tucciarone and Lariccia note, was the primary target, and received the worst of it. Pistol-whipped, beaten, struck with bricks, Chiesa suffered for hours, barely able to crawl along the ground. When he begged for a drink of water, someone threw him in a mud puddle, saying he could drink all he wanted from there. He expired soon after, but even then, the indignity didn’t cease: according to one witness, Tucciarone and Lariccia record, little boys came along hitting the dead with sticks.

While there is little true good that came of this story—there rarely is, when mob rule or ‘mob justice’ is involved—thankfully, justice was served upon many of the perpetrators. Fifteen of the rioters were arrested, Trotter included, and several of the rioters were charged with first-degree murder and later imprisoned. As the authors note, it would take years before racial stereotypes against Italians in the greater Mahoning Valley would give way to tolerance and acceptance, but peace would eventually come. For that, we can be grateful—and we can light a candle for Chiesa as well.

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Coal War in the Mahoning Valley: The Origin of Greater Youngstown's Italians

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The struggles and successes of the industrious coal miners in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley. Year after year, local Welsh coal diggers supplied the ravenous and roaring ironworks in Mahoning Valley but the good times ended in the closing weeks of 1872. The demand for iron slackened, and with it, coal orders fell. Responding to plunging coal prices, mine owners cut wages, but rank-and-file miners would have none of it. On New Year’s Day, they went on strike. The bitter stalemate broke only when operators sidestepped local labor by employing African Americans from Virginia and Italian immigrants crowding the Eastern Seaboard. Violence followed. Yet this vicious strife opened the Mahoning Valley to permanent Italian settlement. Authors Ben Lariccia and Joe Tucciarone uncover this forgotten chapter in the region’s storied labor history.

Killing the Filibuster — Literally!

U.S. Capitol building under construction. National Archives.

This past election season, one of the major issues up for debate was the filibuster. Were one party able to gain a super-majority in the Senate, it’s possible that they could end the age-old practice of filibustering: a senator speaking so long and without yielding the floor that they thereby prevent a vote on a given bill.

Little did pundits know that a century ago, someone literally tried to kill the filibuster. The filibuster-er. You know what we mean.

In his book Wicked Washington: Mysteries, Murder & Mayhem in America’s Capital, historian Troy Taylor takes us on a tour of the scurrilous, scandalous, and downright shocking accounts of bloodshed in the halls of power. Revisiting famous incidents such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the duel between Hamilton and Burr, Taylor offers many lesser-known anecdotes as well: including the attempted murder of Wisconsin senator Robert M. Lafollette, directly on the Senate floor.

The murder of Philip Barton Key. Harper’s Weekly.

In May 1908, Lafollette was leading a filibuster against the Aldrich-Vreeland bill, a bill seeking to change currency policy. That day, on May 29, he began speaking around noon, and by evening began to request concoctions of milk and raw eggs from the Senate kitchen to keep up his strength. Around 10 or 11pm, Taylor records, Lafollette received his latest drink—but on downing it, he tasted something amiss and quickly discarded it. Lafollette was known as a senator of staunch integrity; if supporters of the bill in question could not buy his loyalty, might they find other ways of dispensing with him instead?

Yet the damage was done. Taylor: “A few minutes later, Lafollette, still leading the filibuster, began to feel nauseated. His symptoms quickly got worse. His stomach churned, his bowels rolled and shooting pains stabbed his abdomen. Although hunched over and wincing in pain, Lafollette refused to leave the Senate. Heroically, he stayed on for another half dozen hours. Finally, he surrendered at exactly 7:08 in the morning.”

Map of the city of Washington, 1851. Lloyd Van Derveer, Camden, N.J.

According to Taylor, Lafollette—despite his ailments—had filibustered for nearly seventeen hours, a Senate record at the time. And his suspicions? Sending the suspect sample away to a lab, investigators found that Lafollette’s cocktail of raw egg and milk indeed contained a third ingredient: ptomaine, a deadly poison, with a dosage high enough to kill a grown man. Though no suspects were ever apprehended in the crime, the case made history nonetheless.

And perhaps the worst part of it all? All Lafollette’s misery was for nothing—damned if the bill didn’t pass.

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Wicked Washington: Mysteries, Murder & Mayhem in America's Capital

Wicked Washington: Mysteries, Murder & Mayhem in America’s Capital

An addictive and fascinating read that traces the criminal history of our nation’s capital, from the bloody site of the city’s most famous murder to dark deeds involving politicians from both sides of the aisle. Includes a look at the mysteries surrounding the Lincoln assassination, death by duels and the infamous Washington Vampire,