Browsing: Cold Cases

Quithreaun Stokes, one of seven murdered by a suspected serial killer

‚ÄčThis spring, police in Milwaukee discovered they had a serial killer on their hands. DNA evidence indicated the same man may have been killing prostitutes on the city’s north side since 1986. Seven women in all were linked to the killer — 6 hookers and one runaway 16-year-old. Their bodies were dumped in vacant buildings in a three-square mile radius.

But the man was killing sporadically, making him harder to catch. Two women were killed 1986, three in 1995, one in 1997 and
one in 2007. Moreover, police believed they were dealing with someone new to the legal system. The suspect’s DNA wasn’t matching up with anyone in Wisconsin’s database.

Now police have arrested Walter E. Ellis of Milwaukee, who’s said to live near where the murders occurred. Though they’re only calling him a “person of interest,” the fact that his arrest at a hotel brought swarms of officers suggests they consider him much more. The state’s crime lab is now checking to see if he can be linked to 24 additional prostitute killings.

What remains to be explained is how Ellis avoided a DNA match. He’s been arrested 12 times between 1981 and 1998, when he was sentenced to five years for reckless endangerment. (Wisconsin began keeping a DNA database in 1996.) Coincidentally, none the slayings occurred while Ellis was last in prison.


Some things just seem wrong. This search of is one of them: “Natalee Holloway.” Because the disappearance of an 18-year-old is always a great time for snark, to way too many folks on the Internet. No, I get it, I do. For much of the summer of 2005, some cable nets turned Natalee Holloway’s disappearance into a cash cow and a great opportunity for anchors to traipse up and down Aruba in the interest of finding the missing girl from Mountain Brook, Alabama. Crime bloggers (me included) and political bloggers both chewed over every new wrinkle in the story. Natalee Holloway seemed to be the only missing teen in the world. The ultimate Missing White Woman. I got sick of the case, because I realized it might never be solved, and because it was clear to me how this particular story was being used to further careers and sell advertising on some of the cable news shows. It made me slightly ill to have been a part of it. In the end, Natalee is still missing, and may just stay that way. At this point, I think the case will remain unsolved, and be reduced to the reruns of the movie about the ordeal on Lifetime and weird ephemera like the image on the left. Missing white girl, totem for endless pop culture riffing, endless mystery – Natalee Holloway.

Paul Plishka singing “Come dal ciel precipita” in San Francisco, circa 1984.

On November 13, 1973, Metropolitan Opera star bass Paul Plishka performed the role of Banco (Banquo) in Opera Philadelphia’s staging of Verdi’s Macbeth. In Act II, Scene 2 of the opera based on Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” Plishka stepped onto the stage to sing Banco’s aria, “Come dal ciel precipita.” The first part of the aria addressed Banco’s son, Fleanzio (Fleance): 

“Be careful how you go, o my son…
Let’s go out from this darkness…
I feel something unknown
Growing in my heart,
Fraught with sad premonition and suspicion.” ~ [Translation source]

In that long-ago Philadelphia production, the part of Fleanzio was performed by Paul Plishka’s then-10-year-old son, Jeff.

Banco’s warning was intended to save his son from the feared Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth. His fear was summarized by the lines, “E il mio pensiero ingombrano, Di larve e di terror” – “And my thoughts are filled with ghosts and terror.”

There was no way to know then, of course, what the father and son playing these roles would face many years later. There was no way of knowing that Jeffrey Plishka, the boy onstage with his opera star father, might one day be the cause of “ghosts and terror.”


On July 27, 1991, Camp Cayuga waterfront director Laura Lynne Ronning took a break. Her family would say later that Ronning centered her life around children, but on this Saturday she decided it was time to use a day off from her counseling duties to hike alone from Camp Cayuga to Tanners Falls. Laura set out on foot about 11 that morning, with a book and some lunch.

She never returned.


When you blog about crime, saying a story sounds like it could have been pulled out of a movie script becomes pretty cliche after a while. Then there are stories like the arrest of Los Angeles Detective Stephane Ilene Lazarus for a murder committed in 1986, which send people like me scrambling for new ways to say it sounds like something out of detective fiction. Because dammit, it just does.

From the LA Times:

Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, 49, was arrested this morning at 8 while working at Parker Center, the LAPD’s downtown headquarters. Police allege that Lazarus beat and fatally shot Sherri Rae Rasmussen, a hospital nursing director, according to sources familiar with the investigation. 

Rasmussen’s was one of those murders that simply had to wait for technology to catch up with it. Catch up it did. Police apparently had what they believed to be the DNA of Rasmussen’s killer on file – and a DNA sample surreptitiously taken from Detective Lazarus matched that DNA. 

According to the LAT, Lazarus worked a regular patrol beat in the San Fernando Valley for years before joining an LAPD unit tracking stolen art in 2006. Just last month, LA Weekly profiled Lazarus and her partner, Det. Don Hrycyk. The Weekly published a photo of the detectives in this post about Lazarus’s arrest, which the Weekly aptly termed “a shocker.”

There is no sign at the moment that Lazarus was ever anything but a good cop. She was a D.A.R.E. training officer in 1990, when she spoke to the Los Angeles Daily News while visiting her old junior high. Five years later Lazarus was the treasurer for Los Angeles Women Police Officer’s Association and again received mention in the Daily News for her part in a fund-raising effort aimed at establishing reliable, 24-hour childcare for parents working in Los Angeles law enforcement.

Then in 2000, a Stephanie Lazarus-Young was interviewed by the Ventura County Star. She was a cop the same age as the detective arrested today, but also a private investigator and owner of Unique Investigations. Lazarus had decided to, in the words of Star reporter S.L. Salamone, “give back to the community” by offering free Child ID kits.

The Star article described Lazarus as “bubbly and vivacious” and quoted her saying she’d originally “wanted to be a lawyer.” Lazarus became a cop instead, and Salamone wrote that “her life was forever changed.”

You have to wonder, if the DNA match in this case holds true, how Stephanie Lazarus spent so many years after the murder of Sherri Rae Rasmussen dealing with what must have been going on inside of her. Moreover, did she see each new development in forensic science and wonder if this was the test that would finally put her on the other side of the bars?

The story of the arrest of Detective Lazarus isn’t just disturbing and shocking, it also brings to mind a ton of questions the arrestee may never see fit to answer. It makes you wonder how people can box off parts of their minds, their souls and go on as if nothing happened. The kind of thing you’d wonder, yes, if you discovered this story on an episode of CSI instead of in the pages of the Los Angeles Times.   

This comes from the Broward-Palm Beach New Times blog “The Juice“:

Natalee Holloway

A Miami-based flight attendant for American Airlines tells The Juice that a cadaver dog was aboard a Miami-to-Aruba flight. The officer with the dog told the flight attendant that the dog was going to search for the remains of Holloway.

“They think they’ve found where Natalee Holloway’s remains are, and they’re taking the dog down to confirm that,” said the flight attendant, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. “They’re not telling anybody because Aruba is trying to keep this quiet.”

If this is true, it would obviously be the biggest break yet in this most high-profile of international cold cases. Who knows? It might even send Joran van der Sloot back to jail for what, the 15th time? “The Juice” is waiting for further details. They’ll also be highlighted here when and if they become available. If you’ve been in a coma since 2004 and have just awakened and are catching up on news, read more background on the 2005 disappearance of this pretty Alabama teen here.

UPDATE – has picked up this story, though they make it clear that their source is the New Times, since the post is basically a re-write of “The Juice’s” blog entry.

UPDATE 2 – Aruba’s Police Commissioner Strantan has told CNN that the news of a body being discovered in connection with Natalee Holloway’s disappearance is false. It may be that the dog is just going to do a typical cadaver search.

Extreme skepticism always pays in this case.

Part 1 of 4: Cambridge-area broadcaster Roger Nicholson interviewing James Lewis.

The FBI showed up today at 170 Gore St. in Cambridge, MA. They were there to search the home of James and LeAnn Lewis.

He has faded from the public eye, but if you were following the 1982 Tylenol poisonings that took place in and around the Chicago area, you probably heard about James Lewis. He went to jail for several years for an extortion plot directly linked to the mysterious poisonings. Lewis was also the main suspect in the murders. It appears as though that’s never really changed…

An AP video explaining the “touch DNA” that the Boulder DA used to exonerate the Ramsey family.

JonBenet Ramsey would be graduating from high school this year, if she’d lived past Christmas, 1996. But as anyone and everyone knows by now, the 6-year-old beauty queen was mysteriously murdered on the night of December 25/26, 1996.

Nancy Grace Show producer Rupa Mikkilineni has authored a recap of the case for The article recounts the major developments in the case. A quote:

For many, the images of this tragic story are indelible: A doll-like
child smiling flirtatiously at the camera in flamboyant costumes, heavy
makeup and grown-up hairstyles parading on a beauty pageant stage. A
tiny, lifeless body, dressed in long johns, found on the basement floor
by her father.

Mikkilineni goes on to note:

Just this past July, John and Patsy Ramsey were exonerated by police of
having any role in their daughter’s death. Patsy Ramsey died of cancer
in June 2006.

The article doesn’t really touch on just how deeply this murder mystery has become embedded in our national dialogue. The JonBenet murder mystery ranks up there with the OJ Trial, may even outrank it, for the way it’s provided grist for the merciless mill of popular culture. A few examples:

1. My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike

Don’t get me wrong — I think Joyce Carol Oates, the novelist who authored this cryptobiography of the Ramsey clan, is brilliant, and I love her writing. That said, I couldn’t finish this book. It was too broad in many places, too cartoonish, and conversely, some of the characterizations were way too flat — and (spoiler alert) Oates’s denouement was sabotaged after the book’s release by the Boulder DA’s announcement that DNA results pointed away from the Ramseys killing their daughter. As a writer I found Oates’s exercise fascinating, but I also wondered if the writing of the book was the ultimate sign of cultural saturation where the Ramsey murder was concerned. Is one of America’s finest novelists putting their spin on the story just another sign that the truth will never truly be known? Most people still insist that we just don’t know what happened — the hate of Patsy is often strong with this group — and having a solution to the crime novelized seems to somehow put a metaphysical cap on things. One I don’t think the story needs to have yet.

2. The Jonbenet — Music

Years ago Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen was a band that frequently played college nightspots in Middle Tennessee. I got that. It was sick and inappropriate, and frankly a little funny. That said, I’d never pay to see the guys play. I pretty much feel the same way about The Jonbenet, a group out of Houston that is sometimes called post-hardcore and which puts out albums with titles like Devil Music and The Kidnap Soundtrack. That is, I get the joke, and kinda think it’s funny, but not very, and I’m pretty sure it wears thin after a while. In the end, a kindergartener dead in a basement is just not the sort of thing you want to mess with, karmically-speaking.

3. Family Guy References

I like Family Guy, which is probably something I should keep to myself, but the JonBenet jokes and references they occasionally throw into the dialogue are a bit too much, even for me. The worst example: in one episode, Stewie (the baby of the family) is cross-dressing, but he objects to entering the Little Miss Texas pageant, referring to it as “a one way ticket to a semen-covered death in the basement.” That’s not edgy. It’s just nauseating.

4. The Sob Sister Cult of JonBenet on YouTube and Elsewhere

Long before folks were posting horrid videos with treacly soundtracks about Caylee Anthony on YouTube, they were working the same sort of nerve with JonBenet Ramsey. The example video below was posted 2 years ago, when YouTube was still pretty new and a relatively novel thing. But I shouldn’t single out YouTubers here — there has been a kind of cult of JonBenet on the Web for 12 years now, hence the current tally of 331,000 hits on Google. Plenty of folks just want to discuss a confounding and tragic unsolved crime, one filled with likely suspects — the social-climbing parents who paraded the child in front of pageant audiences, the older brother in the shadows, various family friends, a sickly old guy who played Santa, truly scary, predatory malcontents who may have been creepy-crawling homes in Boulder at the time — but some seem much more drawn to the pathos and tragedy of it all. These are the folks who act as if JonBenet was their own kid, probably while their real kid goes blissfully ignored by the parent in question. The most extreme example ever of this type of sob sister (okay, that’s a stretch, but still, it’s true in some respects) was probably the JonBenet Ramsey case’s most onerous contribution to pop culture — fantasist and all-around spooky dude, John Mark Karr. He could easily be number 5 on this little list — but the less said about him, the better.


KCAL news brief about Miura case.
Kazuyoshi Miura, age 61, arrived in the U. S. early this morning, landing at LAX on a flight from Honolulu. Miura is back in the U.S.A. to face charges that he conspired to have his wife murdered for insurance money as the two visited Los Angeles in 1981.
Miura was arrested in February while visiting Saipan. He fought extradition for months, but after an American judge removed the “murder” part of the murder and conspiracy charges against the Japanese businessman, Miura agreed to return to America. Los Angeles County judge Steven Van Sicklen ruled that putting Miura on trial for murder would amount to double jeopardy.
Miura and his wife were shot while they were in LA 27 years ago. He was injured, she was struck in the head. It took a year and returning to Japan, but Miura’s wife finally died from her wound.
Prosecutors think Miura was motivated by the $750,000 in insurance money he eventually picked up after his wife’s demise.
A Japanese court found Miura guilty 14 years ago, but the conviction was eventually overturned.
If Miura is convicted of the conspiracy charges against him, he could face anywhere from 25 years to life in prison.
Prosecutors in LA aren’t letting go of the murder charge yet. They filed a brief yesterday seeking reinstatement, stating that Miura’s acquittal under Japanese law might be irrelevant in the United States.
Miura will be arraigned next Tuesday.

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