True Crime Wire

In part to honor the memory of my friend, brilliant True Crime Diary author Michelle McNamara, I have created a new crime blog:

True Crime Wire will be modeled after Michelle’s work in many ways. Especially in taking a deliberate and measured approach to cases, not chasing clicks by covering high profile crimes or breaking crime news just because. I fell into that trap in the distant past as a crime blogger and don’t want to again.

I’ll try and update this blog more often now, with non-crime posts, but many posts will be directing readers to True Crime Wire.

I burned out on true crime six years ago. But re-reading my friend’s work, I realized I felt a compulsion to dive back in. I’d probably been feeling it for a while, but found it easy to set aside.

Not setting it aside anymore.

I am, gladly, a working writer, so I won’t update any personal project blogs daily — but I will update, and I’ll take time with what I write.

If you follow this blog and are interested in true crime, please follow True Crime Wire.

Let’s get it started.


The Fake Kidnapping That Was Not Fake And Was Definitely a Kidnapping And…

Back in the day, when I was blogging about crime all the time, I would’ve been tempted to really dive into the nuttiness that has recently come to light regarding the kidnapping of Denise Huskins, but honestly, I’m not feeling it today.*

It’s too crazy. From “The Hoax That Wasn’t…,” a post published by CBS’s Sacramento affiliate:

It started as a kidnapping investigation, then police called it a hoax. Now the FBI is saying the kidnapping of Denise Huskins was a real event, and that a man has been arrested in connection with the case.

A 59-page criminal complaint was released on Monday with the news of Matthew Muller’s arrest. It details him as a Harvard-educated former attorney who once taught at the prestigious school, but was disbarred earlier this year.

The 38-year-old is from Orangevale, and is a former Marine who suffers from Gulf War Syndrome and is bi-polar [sic].

Now just go read the rest yourself. Because I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been covering crime on a regular basis since 2004 and reading true crime tales since I was 11 or 12.

If you’re curious about the guy who allegedly conceived of this insanity, a friend tweeted some links she found last night:

(Edit: I want to note that the facts known about Matthew Muller seem to make the two links above line up, but the guy’s appearance seems to have changed in a marked way; enough to make me wonder if the first really is him. Error? Identity theft? Who knows? Anything possible in this bizarre situation.)

That’s a start, I guess.

*I certainly don’t rule out writing about this later, but last night I was just too locked in a state of “WHAT THE FUCK” to wrap my head around it.

The Allegedly Fake Kidnapping Tale of Denise Huskins Gets Weirder and Weirder

Denise Huskins
Denise Huskins

It’s not big and dramatic, and that’s good, but this alleged ‘hoax’ kidnapping of a physical therapist named Denise Huskins is evolving into one of the weirdest news stories you’ll read. And it was already weird.

Especially after this, from the San Francisco Chronicle, published yesterday:

Over the past several days, a person claiming to be one of Huskins’ kidnappers sent The Chronicle a series of e-mails saying the incident was real, and that if police did not publicly apologize to Huskins and Quinn by noon Tuesday, the abductor would be a “direct agent of harm.”

Then the “kidnapper” (I know sarcastic quotes are a tired blogging trope but it’s early and I can’t think of what else to do with that) decided to back off the threats. In emails sent to attorneys for Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, the sender said they would “not attempt any further damage or harm.” The Chronicle reports the writer went on to say they were rescinding their threats because doing “otherwise would disregard and dishonor the one positive thing we learned from this, that it is not some game and real humans are involved.”

If I wasn’t a middle-aged man who feels stupid using emojis or emoticons, I’d insert some kind of side-eye symbol here.

To go much further would lead to quoting the Chronicle more than I want, but a few things are worth noting: the paper reports one email was 9,000 words long. This is significant because if police really want to unravel this strangeness and have suspects in mind, the person who wrote the correspondence gave them a lot to work with, from a psychological point of view. I’d be surprised if some kind of forensic analysis isn’t being done on several levels with the emails alone. Then there’s this–the Chronicle quotes the “kidnappers” as saying “For what it’s worth, what could have ended up as a prolific and dangerous criminal group has disbanded […] and you have Denise Huskins to thank for that.”

Well. Good to know.

Previously, in my experimental Tumblr crime blog.

Elderly Man Beheaded, Wife Abducted From $1M Lakeside Georgia Home (Updated)

Russell Dermond (AJC)
Russell Dermond (AJC)

Today in “Holy Hell, What?” crimes, this horror movie-level mystery.

Dateline Putnam County, Georgia, where county coroner Gary McElhenny tells the media that Russell Dermond, 88, was beheaded in his million-dollar lakefront home sometime between Saturday, May 3, and Monday, May 5. Dermond’s wife, Shirley, is missing.

Shirley Dermond is not a suspect. She is 87, and Putnam Sheriff Howard Sills told reporters that Mr. Dermond’s “body was moved,” and he didn’t “think an 87-year-old lady” could do such a thing.

The Dermonds lived in the gated and presumably secure Great Waters community at Reynolds Plantation. Investigators believe the person or persons responsible approached the Dermond residence from Lake Oconee, a central Georgia reservoir that ranges across Morgan, Greene and Putnam counties.

The Macon Telegraph reported that Sheriff Sills described the murder and disappearance as “baffling” and there aren’t that many clues as to what happened, so far:

There is no sign of forced entry to Russell and Shirley Dermond’s home where friends found his body about 10 a.m. Tuesday.

She was gone.

The cars are still there.

There is no sign of a struggle, either, inside the house…

To compound the mystery, security cameras inside the Great Waters community may have been for show, or perhaps poorly maintained, as they weren’t working at the time of the crime. The home was described as immaculate and nothing was stolen.

Based on the Telegraph’s reporting and some online searches, it’s hard to figure out why anyone would target an elderly couple like the Dermonds–and investigators have told the media they do think the Dermonds were targeted.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today that the Putnam County Sheriff has asked the FBI to assist their investigation.

Edited to add: Missed while finding links earlier, this, from WSB, Atlanta’s ABC affiliate: “A law enforcement source told Channel 2 Action News that Dermond was beheaded and the head was not found at the crime scene.”


Putnam County Sheriff
Discussion of the crime at


Crucified Woman Discovered Under Italian Bridge

It’s been a while since I wrote a crime blog post.* In fact, I’m not sure I’ve published one about a contemporary crime in this blog. Until now.

This came into my inbox via a Google Alert I set up  years ago, when I was writing about crime every day. It was too chilling to not mention.

A cyclist was riding under a bridge in Florence, Italy on Monday, when he or she discovered

…the kneeling body of a naked woman taped to a horizontal bar.

The witness described the woman as having “her arms outstretched as if she had been crucified.”

The victim, an adult white woman, was under a bridge near the A1 motorway in the Ugnano district, close to Scandicci. An Italian language newspaper reported that the victim was a Romanian woman in her 20s named Andrea Cristina Zamfir.

There have been as many as 3 similar cases in the region in the last few years, but all the victims survived.

The killer, if it is one person following a certain method of operation, has apparently learned to not leave any eyewitnesses behind.

[The Local]

*Posts about Richard Parker feel a little more personal than posts about a disturbing or mysterious crime in the news.

Richard Parker Goes on Trial for Murder October 28th

Richard Parker, the man whom I knew when we were boys and who allegedly murdered his in-laws with a package bomb in February, goes on trial in October. Richard made a court appearance in Lebanon, TN this morning. In that preliminary hearing, his trial date was set for October 28, 2014. The Lebanon Democrat reports that Richard has been “charged with two counts of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of felony first-degree murder and one count of unlawful possession of a prohibited weapon.” The Tennessean notes that Richard is being defended by public defenders and is currently being held at the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. The Tennessean’s Andy Humbles also reports that Richard’s case is no longer sealed.

The next hearing in the case will be June 20.


Curious Quiet in the Parker Case

Richard Parker (mugshot)
Richard Parker (mugshot)

Last month police in Tennessee arrested Richard Parker, age 49, for allegedly killing his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer. As I wrote then, this was a shocking twist in the case from my perspective because I knew Richard when we were kids. My family had already been friends with the Parkers for years when I was born. We knew them through church and other social ties. I thought they were relatives until I was 7 or 8.

Since the first flurry of news about the case (I’d already been following it when Richard was arrested, unaware the Setzers were his in-laws) there has been very little additional coverage. Beyond recaps of the case, there was an article on a Wilson County, TN news site noting that Richard had been mysteriously moved from one holding facility to another, then nothing of significance.

Today, another mystery. This report in the Tennessean states that the Parker case has been completely sealed. That’s unusual:

It’s the first time Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal remembers a case completely sealed in her 16 years in the position and 32 years in the office.

“Sometimes some of the pleadings, but not an entire file,” the clerk said.

While the basic facts available in the case are strange–death by bombing is still pretty rare in personal cause homicide–they don’t on the surface hint at why police would lock the case against Richard Parker completely from public view.

Wikipedia has an entry on record sealing. It lists these reasons for sealing a record:

* Sealed birth records (usually for so-called closed adoption, in which the birthparents’ identity is usually anonymous)
* Juvenile criminal records may be sealed
* Other types of cases involving juveniles may be sealed, anonymized, or pseudonymized (“impounded”); e.g., child sex offense or custody cases
* Cases using witness protection information may be partly sealed
* Cases involving trade secrets
* Cases involving state secrets

The first bullet point doesn’t apply in the Parker case. It is unlikely the second applies, as far as I can tell. The final pair of points don’t make much sense based on what’s known about the crime for which Richard stands accused. That leaves two possibilities to which I added emphasis above: juveniles are somehow involved (Richard has four children), or there may be some need for witness protection.

In the Tennessean’s report, attorney David Raybin told reporter Andy Humbles that he’d want the files sealed to ensure protection of witnesses or informants. Raybin said sealing cases is “becoming more and more common because courts and prosecutors are becoming increasingly sensitive to the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

“Discovery material,” Raybin said, “is not intended to be public record.”

Jon and Marion Setzer’s pastor, Mike Ripski, wrote the following in a sermon he gave on February 16, 2014, after Richard Parker’s arrest:

Last Sunday morning at the 11:00am service, Marion Setzer sat in a pew over to my right.

After worship we talked briefly about getting together for a conversation she wanted to have with me.

Ripski mentioned that Mrs. Setzer wanted to have that conversation an interview after Richard’s arrest (I was unable to find it online this morning) and also noted that Marion Setzer seemed concerned about something, but he didn’t seem to know what it was. I’m not sure why this feels like it may be relevant to the case against Richard Parker being sealed, but intuition says it could be.

Ripski wrote something else in his sermon that applies here, too:

I have learned that there are questions that don’t have answers, there are human experiences that can’t be explained or understood. We will ask the question Why? We will try to answer it. But none of our answers will ever satisfy our soul. Not really.

I’m not the most spiritual person, sometimes, too much of a doubter, but Reverend Ripski has a good point. Sometimes we have to accept unanswered questions. Where this case–and a lot of other things–is/are concerned, I hope I can do that, one day.

Hearstian Hyperbole and The Redureau Case

Marcel Redureau, via Pays de la Loire.
Marcel Redureau, via Pays de la Loire.

I know a lot of crime history–not just American crime, either–but I’d never heard of Marcel Redureau until today. Redureau, 15, hacked 7 people to death on or about Sept. 30, 1913. His trial commenced in Nantes, France on March 3, 1914. Here’s how it was reported by the New York Times 100 years ago today, March 4:

From the NYT, 3/4/1914
From the NYT, 3/4/1914

The final line–“he was apparently not normal”–must have seemed ironic the day the item was published.

Hearst’s International, in an article about “Terrible Children,” wrote that the Redureau case led French papers to actively discuss what it termed with characteristic Hearstian reserve as a “red wave of child criminality.” Reasons for this horrific juvenile zombie horde apparently laying waste to European principalities before the Great War were thought to include “alcohol, inherited tendencies, non-moral education, the absence of religion and the anarchy of the times.” So killer emo/goth kids are nothing new, I guess.

Marcel Redureau’s crime was the subject of a book by author André Gide, The Ridereau Case (L’Affaire Redureau). Gide analyzed the course of justice in this case, and you can read some of his writing on it in English here.

It appears that Redureau, who reportedly had a normal childhood, was probably clinically and quite possibly legally insane. As noted here, the boy was sentenced to 20 years in prison, only to die after 4 months from tuberculosis.

[Updated] Richard Parker to be arraigned for bombing deaths of in-laws

Richard Parker's childhood home, property records indicate it may still be in his mother's name.
Richard Parker’s childhood home, property records indicate it may still be in his mother’s name. (Google Street View)

[Rather than do a big edit, I added an update at the end of this post.]

Richard Parker, whom police believe killed his in-laws last week with a bomb, will be arraigned this morning. I’ve written about knowing Richard when we were children here and here.

The Tennesseean reports Richard’s case “is part of the 9 a.m. criminal court docket in Wilson County.”

The paper also reports a grand jury indicted Richard on Feb. 13. Charges against him include felony first-degree murder and premeditated first-degree murder. Richard is in the Wilson County jail on a $1 million bond after his Valentine’s Day arrest. Police focused on him after an explosion killed Jon Setzer, 74, and mortally wounded Jon’s wife, Marion, age 72. Richard, who is 49, attended bedside vigils for his dying mother-in-law before his arrest.

Richard Parker (mugshot)
Richard Parker (mugshot)

The Setzers and Parkers lived on Vance Lane in Lebanon, TN. The Setzers, according to some reports, moved there a few years ago to be closer to their grandchildren. Richard’s mother, Sarah Lee Parker, may have been living in Richard and Laura Parker’s home. A friend who lived near Mrs. Parker’s former home in Antioch, TN told me she sometimes checked in on Sarah Lee Parker until a few years ago. My friend believed Mrs. Parker, who would be in her early 80s, was suffering from dementia. In the last couple of years, Google’s camera car captured a For Sale sign in front of Richard’s childhood home (see left), but online records show Sarah Lee and “George W Parker et Ux” still own the property.

So–Richard’s mother may well be in failing health and her property slow to sell [see update]. Also, Tennessee business records show Richard’s Legacy Restorations was inactive.

If Richard Parker killed his in-laws, he did it for money.

It’s tempting to tell old stories I know about Richard, his parents, his aunt and uncle. I will save most for another time. After all, many stories are gossip, worthy of skepticism. However, a relative reminded me of one story over the weekend that was just strange. Hearing it again made me wonder about the real Parker household. What it was like when no one was putting on a good face for visitors.

Richard’s mother kept german shepherds in their fenced back yard. I don’t remember how many they had at any given time. I do remember the house smelling like their dogs–a problem we had in my home as well.

When Sarah Lee Parker was angry at her husband, Bill, the story goes, she would go and sit with her dogs. I’m told she did that because when she was with her dogs, Bill Parker wouldn’t go near her.

I don’t recall thinking Mrs. Parker mean (she was tall, and Richard has her eyes). She seemed distant compared to my warm and funny mother, or her sister-in-law Katherine, who was also friends with my mom and my paternal grandmother.

I’ve hated Richard Parker for 36 years. I wasn’t surprised to see him on every major newscast and all across my Twitter feeds, arrested for murder. I should have been, many who knew him were, but I wasn’t.

That said, the story of his mother surrounded by her dogs so his father would stay away kindled a moment of sympathy. Not for Richard, for his family. Then, and now.

At my 2006 high school reunion, I spoke with friends I’d known since elementary school. They told stories about their lives when we weren’t at school that opened my eyes to how little we see when we’re kids. We may get a sense of this or that–I often did–but unless we’re next door neighbors, we don’t know.

I knew by age 10 I wanted nothing more to do with the boy who became the alleged killer, Richard Parker.

I don’t know what was at work in Richard’s boyhood home that could explain the explosion that killed Jon and Marion Setzer. I do wonder if it began there, a mile away from me, in another house on Hamilton Church Road.


The person who used to check up on Sarah Lee Parker sent me a Facebook message regarding the status of Mrs. Parker’s home on Hamilton Church Road. This statement is interesting in how it may relate to Richard Parker’s finances before his in-laws were killed. My friend wrote:

Mrs. Parker’s house sold last year and now a Mexican family live there and they have remodeled. The proceeds from the sale and a subsequent ‘moving’ sale were used to build two rooms onto Richard’s house. Mrs. Parker has lived with Richard since then.

My friend watched Richard’s arraignment and said he has been appointed a public defender and cannot pay bail. He’ll remain in jail till his next court appearance in April.

(Based on advice from a wise friend and editor, this may be the last  in-depth post I’ll do about this for a while. I will definitely still write about it. Some things take much more time, work, and deliberation, though.)

Richard Parker: “We want the people to know what he’s really like”

Richard Parker as a senior at McGavock H.S., early 1980s
Richard Parker as a senior at McGavock H.S., early 1980s

Since his arrest Thursday for the homicide of his in-laws, Jon and Marion Setzer, I’ve seen Richard Parker’s mugshot on CNN and on local news out of Boston. I have read the BBC’s account of his alleged crime.

My first post, written yesterday, may make it clear why I find this surreal.

Tennessee outlets have reported as much as they could about Richard, some emphasizing that he taught Sunday school at First Nazarene in Nashville, with his wife, Laura. Recently, Laura and Richard* had even had kids from their church over for a campout.

So Nashville news organizations have covered the usual “he was quiet, well-liked” angles often trotted out to stir up unneeded drama in a crime story pretty well. (No real criticism intended; I’ve damn sure done that myself.)

Today the Los Angeles Times published a report that helped me clarify why I was compelled to write about this crime, even though I’ve avoided covering crime stories since 2010.

The Times tracked down Danny and Rosemary Martin. They engaged Richard Parker to restore their historic home in 1990. Danny Martin told the paper that Richard

…first offered to fix up the house for nearly $150,000. He said Parker returned two weeks later and offered to do the work for $60,000 because he wanted to start doing business on his own and this could serve as a model to show potential customers. Parker and Martin signed a contract written by the now-dead father-in-law, Martin said.

Richard fell behind on the job. Sometimes he would work all night. Mr. Martin said he wouldn’t pay Richard if he couldn’t do the work. His house burned down.

The Times reports that investigators found traces of gasoline at the site, suggesting arson. Richard was arrested and ultimately sentenced to 4 years probation and ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution.

Danny Martin told the Times, “We want the people to know what he’s really like.”

That’s my point.

Richard Parker has seemed like a churchgoing family man with a stable marriage and four kids since the arson that saw him on probation from 1993 to 1997. Those unaware of certain church traditions of forgiveness and forbearance may be surprised at this, but I’m sure Richard’s church family will stand foursquare behind him, perhaps even if he’s convicted.

People with Richard’s qualities, rudimentary as they may have been when we were kids, probably don’t have real faith save in themselves. They can become close to a partner and their own kids, but it’s often out of recognizing the need for a stable home base as much as anything.

The Richard I knew as a boy was of a piece with the man described by Danny Martin. Quiet, apparently innocuous, but cold and calculating. Looking for an angle, an advantage, an out.


This story is more personal than anything else I’ve covered, so I want to step back and take a more classic “crime blogger” tack regarding the bomb police allege Richard used to kill his in-laws.

I discussed the case with a friend who is an expert in military ordinance and disposal. He’s my age and has been doing Hurt Locker-style work for I don’t know how long. He knows his stuff.

Regarding the parcel bomb that authorities say Richard left for his in-laws, he said he found it interesting that the bomb appeared to explode without causing “…significant structural damage to the home. Most people who do not know what they are doing tend to go overboard.”

My friend (I’m not naming him because he’s active duty and I don’t know if talking to me about this might be against some obscure regulation) also said he thought the killer “definitely knew what he was doing.”


*I made a conscious decision to abandon a news writer tendency to refer to a suspect by his last name with Richard Parker. He’s always Richard in my head.