At 02:30 the morning of August 16, 2008, a call was placed to 911. On the other end, Jennifer Davidson informed the 911 operator that her neighbor's house at 180 Signore Drive (Russellville, AL) was on fire. Two-and-a-half minutes later, a second call was made to 911 and Davidson informed the operator that there was a child in the house
When the firefighters arrived on the scene flames were shooting from the windows and the roof. They tried unsuccessfully to enter the house in order to save the child but were driven back by the intense heat and smoke. It took approximately 30 minutes to bring the fire under control. Six-year-old Mason Scott was eventually found on the floor of his bedroom.
After an investigation by state and local authorities, Christie Michelle Scott was indicted on three alternative counts of capital murder. Count I alleged that Scott murdered her child for pecuniary gain or other valuable consideration. Count II alleged that Scott murdered her child in the course of arson in the first degree. Count III alleged that Scott murdered a child under the age of 14. On October 26, Judge Terry Dempsey from the Franklin County Circuit Court issued a warrant for Scott's arrest.
In his opening statement on June 11, 2009 Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing outlined his case before the jury. He stated that the evidence would prove that Christie Michelle Scott intended to kill her six-year-old son and that her actions before, during and after the fire verified her intent.
Scott's attorney, Robert Tuten contended that Mason's death was a tragedy but not criminal. He claimed that the rumors circulating around the town had lead to an innocent woman being accused of killing her own son.
Mason Scott had just started the first grade at Russellville's West Elementary School almost two weeks before his tragic death. Witnesses testified that Christie Scott had been verbally and physically abusive to Mason on more than one occasion, included the morning of the fire where she was alleged to have yelled at Mason and pushed him. Mason had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. He was prescribed Abilify, Risperdal, and Vyvense. Mason was seen by Dr. Duane Carter and diagnosed with bronchitis. He prescribed Omniced, Decadron and a cough syrup containing codeine. Dr. Carter testified that the cough syrup would make a child sleepy.
Dr. Emily Ward, state medical examiner, performed the autopsy on six-year-old Mason. She testified that he was alive at least briefly while he was being burned. She found soot in his throat and lungs during the autopsy. Mason died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns and much of his skin was charred.
Dr. Jack R. Kalin, a toxicologist at the Department of Forensic Sciences, testified that he identified the following drugs in Mason's bloodstream; amphetamines, codeine, and promethazine - a medication used to treat nausea. The amphetamine level was high and that combined with the codeine and promethazine could have caused sleepiness and drowsiness.
Christie Scott testified that on the night before the fire she was watching TV and around 10:00 p.m. she went to check on Mason and his 4-year-old brother, Noah Riley. She stated that at that time Mason was asleep but Noah was not. She said that she told him to go to sleep and went back to watch TV. Christie testified that at 11:00 p.m. she turned the TV off and went to bed. She checked on the boys one last time and found that Noah was still awake. She told Noah to come and get in the bed with her. She went on to testify that the next thing she remembered was Noah hitting her in the face. She began to smell smoke and could feel heat on her face. She crawled over to the door of her bedroom and looked out into the hallway. She claimed that it was covered with smoke and could see flames coming from the laundry room. She closed the door to her bedroom, crawled back over to her bed to get Noah and the two of them escaped out of the window. She ran to her neighbor's house handed her Noah and told her to call 911. Christie testified that she ran back to the house and tried to get back in. She stated that she punched in the code several times to open the garage door because the other doors were locked but was unable to get the code to work. She testified that her hands were jerking and that's why she kept hitting the wrong buttons. She said that she gave the code to Brian and that when he tried the garage door still would not open. She claimed that her neighbor's boyfriend, Brian Copeland restrained her to keep her from going back into the house. Scott also testified that she gave Mason cough medicine the night before because he was coughing.
Jennifer Davidson testified that she stayed with Scott after calling 911 and when the police and firefighters arrived. She stated that when Scott was in the ambulance she did not want anyone to call Jeremy because she was afraid that he would either blame her or try to hurt himself. Jeremy was Christie Scott's husband. He was in Atlanta on a business trip. Davidson also testified that Scott was fully dressed and that she pulled a cell phone out of her pant pocket. She stated that Scott said that she had her cell phone the whole time and could have called 911.
Davidson's boyfriend, Brian Copeland testified that when Christie Scott came to their door the morning of the 16th, he ran to her house to try and get inside to rescue Mason. He said that Scott told him all the doors were locked and that there was no way into the house. He testified that he never saw her attempt to punch in the code to open the garage door and he denied having to restrain Scott in order to prevent her from trying to get back into the house.
Several officials at the scene testified that when Scott's father arrived he was visibly upset and asked Christie what the hell she had done to his grand babies.
Fire investigators determined that the fire started on Noah's bed but were unable to say exactly how the fire started. They also believe that the smoke detector in the hallway outside of the boys bedroom had been removed before the fire began. There was damage to the wires behind the detector that would not have occurred if it was in place.
Christie Scott obtained life-insurance policies on Mason and Noah prior to Mason's death. On May 6, 2008 Scott obtained a policy from Alfa Insurance in the amount of $50,000 and on June 14, 2008 she obtained a second policy from Alfa in the amount of $25,000 for each of the boys. On August 15, 2008, Scott obtained an additional an additional policy from Woodmen of the World Insurance Company in the amount of $100,000. Jeremy and Christie Scott were named as beneficiaries. After Mason's death Alfa Insurance paid out $25,000 to the Scotts. They refused to pay the remaining amount because Christie had omitted information about Mason's medical history on the application for the $50,000 policy. The claim for the $100,000 policy had yet to be filed. The Scott's homeowners policy was through Farmer's Insurance and after the fire they received $253,500.
Christie Scott was no stranger to fires. A witness testified that Scott had told him that she did not know how she could be so unlucky - to have had three house fires in two years and that God was punishing her for not wanting Mason.
Prior to living on Signore Drive, the Scotts had a house on Steel Frame Road. On January 12, 2006 there was a fire in the kitchen. It began when a pizza box was left on top of a hot burner. The fire was ruled an accident. On January 14, 2006 there was a second fire in their home. This one also started in the kitchen however this time the entire house was destroyed. Dwight Walden investigated the fire and believed that it was intentionally set. unfortunately it was not proven and the Scotts received an insurance payout totaling $185,000. Evidence showed that Christie Scott was the last one to leave the house before the fire, she had also increased the insurance coverage for the house three months before the fire and the smoke detector had been disconnected.
The state presented witnesses to testify to Christie Scott's behavior after the fire and prove that she was not the grieving mother. Anna Kay Greenhill, a hair stylist at Hello Gorgeous, testified that when Christie and Jeremy came in on the same day that Mason was killed they joked about how long Jeremy's hair had gotten. Heather McCalpin testified that on the day of Mason's funeral Christie was holding her daughter and said that Noah had always wanted a baby sister and that now maybe he would get one.
Upon hearing that his wife might have started the fire, Jeremy Scott separated from Christie for two weeks. He had also obtained a safety plan and a protection against abuse order based on the recommendation of the prosecutors and investigators. He later reversed his decision and testified on his wife's behalf. He claimed that after meeting with a defense investigator he had received false information about the fire from the police and fire investigators. He also stated that the only reason he had obtained the protection order was because the Department of Human Resources threatened to place Noah Scott in a foster home if he did not comply.
Christie Scott's father, Donald Bray, also testified on his daughter's behalf. He claimed that he never asked Scott what she had done but he did ask where his babies were.
On July 6, 2008, after four weeks of testimony, six men and six women met behind closed doors to determine the fate of Christie Michelle Scott.. Three days later the jury returned their verdict. They found her guilty of all three alternative counts of capital murder. At a vote of seven to five, the jury recommended that Scott be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Christie Scott and her family were allowed to address the court before Judge Terry Dempsey pronounced the sentence. Her husband, Jeremy Scott, and her father, Donald Bray, pleaded with the judge to spare Christie for the sake of her other son, Noah. Christie asked the judge to spare her life because she was innocent and believed that in time her innocence would be proven.
Their pleas failed to sway Judge Terry Dempsey. He said, "Justice must be served and the only way justice can be served in this case is by death." He went on to state, "Killing your own child for money by burning him alive is too much to over come...to intentionally murder your child by burning him is shockingly evil."
With this sentence, Christie Michelle Scott became the first woman to be sentenced to death in Franklin County. She is currently housed at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka on death row.
It was a lovely summer day in 1898 and Miss Beatrice Gregory was on vacation with her mother in Hastings, England. While strolling through Alexandra Park she was approached by a well-dressed, charming young man who introduced himself as Arthur Devereux, a chemist's assistant.
At first Beatrice's mother, Mrs Ellen Gregory, approved of Arthur. He presented himself as a good catch. He was ambitious and made grandiose promises about the future. Beatrice happily accepted his proposal and they were wed soon after even though her mother had developed some grave reservations about Arthur.
Within a few months Beatrice wished that she had paid attention to her mother. Arthur proved to be immature, impractical, impulsive, and clearly not cut out for married life. To add to her misfortune Beatrice soon found herself with child.
When their son, Stanley, was born, Beatrice had hopes once again that their marriage might at last be a happy one. Those hopes were soon dashed when she realized that although he clearly doted on his son, Arthur had little love for Beatrice. She found herself pregnant again and this time she presented Arthur with twin boys, Lawrence and Evelyn. As a chemist's assistant Arthur was only bringing home a weekly salary of £2. He was barely making enough to take care of himself let alone a family of five.
In early January Arthur gave notice at the chemist shop. Later that month he brought home a large tin trunk, probably explaining to Beatrice that he needed it for storage. He began selling off household items and on the 7th of February, Arthur moved with Stanley to a smaller flat in London and arranged to have the large tin trunk sent to a storage warehouse in Kenal Rise.
Although Ellen Gregory did not get on well with her son-in-law, she was very close to her daughter and grandchildren. so she was quite shocked when she called on the flat in Kilburn and found it to be vacant. It took several weeks for Mrs Gregory to track Arthur down at his new digs and when she finally did she was alarmed to discover that Beatrice and the twins were not there. When Mrs. Gregory questioned Arthur concerning their whereabouts his response was evasive. He claimed that Beatrice and the twins were on holiday but refused to tell his mother-in-law exactly where. When she realized that she was not going to get any further information from Arthur Mrs Gregory left. If Arthur thought he had taken care of matters he was sadly mistaken. He had not counted on Mrs. Gregory's tenacious nature. She returned to their old flat in Kilburn to question the Devereux's neighbors. While speaking with the neighbors she found out about the large tin trunk and the moving van that had come to collect it. Fearing the worst Mrs Gregory contacted the police to report her daughter and grandchildren missing.
It took several weeks to track down the storage warehouse but eventually the trunk was located. Instead of the books and chemicals Arthur claimed was in the trunk there were three decomposing bodies. The cause of death was attributed to Morphine overdose. Arthur knew the gig was up when the story about the bodies broke in all the newspapers. He packed up and moved to Coventry with Stanley.
The case was assigned to Inspector Pollard of Scotland Yard. Knowing that Arthur would have to support Stanley and himself he began questioning chemists to see if they had recently hired an assistant with a six-year-old son. It wasn't long before Insp. Pollard showed up at Arthur's place of employment in Coventry. While he was being questioned Arthur blurted out he didn't know anything about a tin trunk. The problem was Pollard had not asked him about the trunk yet. He was immediately placed under arrest.
Arthur went on trial at London's Old Bailey in July of 1905. He tried to claim that Beatrice had killed the twins and then committed suicide. He was afraid that no one would believe him so he brought the tin trunk and hid the bodies. He was right! Amongst the evidence used to convict him was his job applications. He listed himself as a widower with a young son. The problem with that was Beatrice and the twins weren't dead yet! Arthur Devereux was found guilty and put to death on August 15, 1905 at Pentonville Prison.
Mary Busch was a 27-year-old beauty who's unfortunate misstep was the man she chose to fall in love with.
In 1935 she answered an ad for a job at a beauty parlor/barber shop in downtown Los Angeles. The owner of the shop, Robert James, was looking for a manicurist. Shortly after Mary was hired, the two were married and three months later the couple was expecting their first child.
On the evening of August 3, 1935 Mary fell ill while working at the shop. Her husband put her in a taxi and sent her home. The following Monday, August 5, Robert opened up the shop on his own. He told his employees that Mary was still feeling a little "under the weather" and would possibly come in later that day if she was better.
By 7:30 that evening Mary still had not put in an appearance and Robert closed up the shop for the night. He invited two friends to join him at his home for dinner - Viola Lueck, a close friend of Mary's, and her boyfriend, Jim Pemberton.
When they arrived at his pink stucco home in La Canada, a suburb of Los Angeles, Robert was surprised to find the house dark and no sign of Mary. After searching the house Robert and his guests headed out to the back yard garden where they made a ghastly discovery.
In the midst of the garden was a fish pond. Several goldfish could be seen darting beneath pink and white water lilies floating on top of the water. In the center sat a bearded gnome, smoking on a pipe, smiling down on an unexpected occupant in the pool.
Mary Busch James was lying face down in the pool with her arms and legs splayed out behind her.
When the police arrived they brought a physician with them and Mary was pronounced dead at the scene. At first glance it appeared to be an accidental drowning. Robert explained to the police that Mary was pregnant and had dizzy spells. She also loved to watch the goldfish. It was surmised that she had become dizzy, fallen and struck her head on one of the rocks used to rim the pool. When the physician examined Mary's body he found no evidence of a head injury but did notice that her right leg was discolored and swollen and that she had a cut on her right great toe.
When police searched the house they found a note to Mary's sister, Robert confirmed that it was her handwriting, in which she told her sister that she was pretty sick. Her leg was swollen; something had bitten her while she was watering her flowers that morning.
While they were searching, one of the detectives discovered something out of place. He found a bottle of black widow spiders in a dark corner of the James' garage. Given the unusual circumstances the police were about to rule Mary Busch James' murder suspicious until they spoke with one of their neighbors, a retired English Army Officer name Dinsley. He claimed to have seen a young woman walking alone in the garden near the pool.
A coroner's inquest was held and the question of how Mary Busch James died remained unanswered.
However, when Robert James filed a claim to collect on his wife's insurance policies totaling $21,400, he launched a chain of events that would lead to his downfall. His claim prompted the usual investigation by the insurance company but their findings were anything but usual.
Robert James had obtained policies totaling $10,000 naming himself as his "wife's" beneficiary from the Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Occidental Life Insurance Company. When James tried to push for payment under the double indemnity clause, the companies refused to payout and he filed suit. Unfortunately for James, he had to settle for $3,500 when he had to admit in court that he and Mary Busch were not legally married at the time he initiated the policies. Turns out he was still married and was in the midst of an annulment when he pretended to marry Mary. The two were not legally married until several months later on July 19th just weeks before her death.
The investigator continued digging and he also uncovered the fact that James had been married at least five times. Along with the fact that at least one of his other wives had drowned in a bathtub after being heavily insured. James' payout from her policies totaled almost $18,000. In each case both women died after the first premium had been paid. The investigator decided to go to the police with the facts his suspicions which resulted in them launching an investigation into James' past.
Robert S. James was actually born Major Raymond Lisenba in 1895 to Alabama sharecroppers. He was saved from a dreary future of picking cotton when his sister's husband sent him to barber school. He married his first wife Maud Duncan at the age of 26. The marriage however, quickly ended in divorce when she accused him of being sadistic and engaging in perverted sexual practices.
Marriage no. 2 also ended in divorce when Lisenba skipped town after an angry father came after him with a shotgun for getting his young daughter pregnant. He ended up in Fargo, North Dakota with a new name, Robert James, and wife no. 3, Winona Wallace.
Within days of the wedding James took out insurance policies on his wife which included clauses for accidental death. The couple went on a honeymoon to Pike's Peak in Colorado. While his wife was driving down the mountain, according to James, she apparently lost control of the car and it went off the road. James claimed that he jumped from the moving car and went for help.
When the officials arrived at the scene of the accident they found the car resting against a large rock approximately 150 feet below the road. His wife, Winona, was just outside the car. Her feet still resting on the running board. Amazingly she managed to survive the precipitous drop and was unconscious. The officials noted that her head was covered with blood. They also discovered a large amount of blood inside the car and a bloody hammer lying on the floor.
Officials also couldn't help but notice that although James' claimed to have jumped to safety from the out-of-control car, his suit was amazingly neat. Not a piece of clothing was out of place, not a tear nor a speck of dirt could be found on the suit either.
Winona was immediately taken to a hospital in Colorado Springs and surgeons were able to save her life. Unfortunately she was unable to remember any of the facts surrounding her terrifying ordeal.
When Winona was finally released from the hospital Robert James took her to a remote cabin in Manitou Springs, Colorado on the premise that she needed a quiet place in which to recover.
Gerald Rogers worked in the local grocery store in Manitou Springs. In the early evening on October 14, 1932, James entered the store, ordered some groceries and asked that they be delivered to his cabin. In the end James decided to hitch a ride back to the cabin with Rogers and his groceries. When the two men arrived at James' cabin he told Rogers to take the groceries to the kitchen while James went in search of his wife, Winona.
James suddenly appeared in the kitchen visibly upset and motioned for Rogers to follow him. The two men entered the bathroom when Rogers saw Winona lying on her back in the tub half filled with lukewarm, soapy water. She appeared to have died from drowning. When the coroner arrived to examine the body James claimed that she must have attempted to wash her hair while he was out running errands, gotten dizzy and drowned. The coroner suggested an autopsy but James refused. Later James asked the coroner to change the death certificate to reflect that the drowning was a direct result from the previous car accident. Although her death seemed suspicious there was no official investigation launched and James was able to collect approximately $14,000 from the life insurance policies he had taken out on Winona immediately after they married.
James bought a new car, a Pierce-Arrow convertible, and a new wardrobe and headed back to his hometown of Alabama to share his good fortune with his family.
And how does Robert James repay his sister and brother-in-law for sending him to barber school and saving him from the life of a sharecropper? He seduces their 18-year-old daughter, his niece, Lois Wright and moves with her to Los Angeles where he sets up his barber shop and hunts for wife number four.
After his marriage, James files papers to have it annulled when wife number four refused to go to a doctor for the required physical examination. During this time he met and "married" wife number five, Mary Busch.
After Mary's suspicious death James moved back in with and openly continued his relationship with his niece, Lois. During their investigation into Mary's death, the police decided to bug James' residence and even though they could uncover any evidence to prove that he had murdered Mary they did have enough evidence to arrest him for having sex with his niece.
On April 19, 1936, Robert James was arrested and charged with incest, a felony under California law. He was convicted and received a sentence of 50 years. When the papers got wind of the arrest they also began to delve into James' background and printed his numerous exploits for the world to read.
The widespread press coverage got the exact result that the police were hoping for. A liquor store owner came forth and told a report from the LA Herald and bizarre tale involving a drunk named Charles Hope. When the lead was passed on to the police they were able to track Hope down through the California Motor Vehicle Department.
It was not long before the police showed up at a hamburger stand in Hermosa beach where Hope worked as a short order cook and brought him in for questioning. At first Hope denied knowing anything about Mary but after several hours of questioning he finally admitted that he knew she had drowned but refused to be more forthcoming with any of the details. However, after the police took him back to the pink stucco house where Mary was murdered, Hope finally broke down and related the gruesome details of Mary's murder to the police.
He claims to have entered the James' barbershop one day and told him that he was broke and could he receive a haircut on credit. James agreed and after Hope sat in the chair James asked him if he knew anything about snakes. When Hope shook his head in the negative James went on to explain he had a friend who wanted to get rid of his wife and wanted to use rattlesnakes to commit the deed. He also told Hope that he would pay him $100 if he helped him obtain the snakes. Hope, desperate for money, jumped at the chance.
James gave Hope $20 and a few evenings later he showed up with three rattlesnakes he purchased at a sideshow in Long Beach. James also gave Hope money to have two special boxes in which to house the snakes with sliding glass tops. When Hope came to the James' barber shop a few days later he found that James was dissatisfied with the snakes and had Hope go to the Ocean Park snake pit and purchase another pair of snakes. These also met with James' disapproval and Hope eventually ended up in Pasadena where he purchased two Colorado diamond-backs named Lethal and Lightning from a man named Snake Joe Houtenbrink. They were tested on chickens and definitely lived up to their names.
James had decided to use Mary's pregnancy as a way to get rid of her and somehow managed to get her to agree to an abortion. On August 4, 1935 Hope showed up at the James' residence and it was then that James revealed the real reason why he had Hope procure the snakes. James also warned Hope that he had no other choice but to assist he as he was in just as deep as James.
James convinced Mary that as the procedure was illegal, he would have to tape her eyes and mouth shut in order to protect the identity of the "doctor". After Mary had consumed several glass of whiskey as anesthesia, James helped Mary lay down on the kitchen table, taped her eyes and mouth, and strapped her down to the table. James then went to the garage where Hope was waiting and had him bring in one of the boxes containing the snakes. James grabbed Mary's foot slid back the glass top and stuck her foot into the box where the snake immediately sunk its fangs into her great toe three times. James then instructed Hope to take the snakes back to Snake Joe. After he had sold them back for half price he threw the special boxes out along the side of the road. Hope then returned to the James' residence where he and Robert James sat in the garage drinking whiskey while they waited for the snake venom to work its deadly course on Mary.
By 1:30 in the morning Mary's leg was swollen and turning dark purple. But instead of being dead Mary was very much alive and writhing in agony. It was then that James decided he had had enough and decided to fall back on the same method he had used with his previous wife. He carried her limp body to the bathroom and drowned her in the bathtub.
Later he insisted that Hope help her carry her to the fishpond and arrange her body to make it appear that she had tripped and fell in head-first.
When confronted with the facts of the case and Hope's account which it was obvious the police believed, James tried to turn the tables against him and blame Mary's murder on Hope.
Hope agreed to turn states evidence after he plead guilty to first-degree murder and received a life sentence. James went on trial for the murder of his wife Mary. The trial lasted five weeks after which the jury quickly returned with a guilty verdict. James was sentenced to death by hanging.
He fought the sentence for six years with appeals but eventually his luck ran out. On May 9, 1942 Robert "Rattlesnake" James kept his date with destiny. By that time however, California had adopted a more "humane" form of capital punishment. Unfortunately in James' case he was sentenced to death prior to the adoption of the gas chamber so he became the last man to be hanged in California. The rope was the wrong length and it took over ten minutes for him to die.
On the morning of August 22, 2005 Stacey Castor went to work at Liverpool Heating and Air Conditioning. She was the office manager for her husband, David Castor Sr, who owned the business. She made several attempts to call his cell phone but he refused to answer. When he still had not arrived at his business by 2 p.m. she decided to call the police and ask them to meet him at her residence because she was concerned about her husband's welfare. She claimed that her husband had locked himself in their bedroom. She also stated that he had been acting strangely for the last month and he kept a gun in the room.
When deputies from the Onondaga County Sheriff's department arrived at 4127 Wetzel Road, Stacey was waiting in the front yard for them. Sgt Robert Willoughby entered the residence and made his way to the bedroom door. Sgt Willoughby knocked on the door but after receiving no response he kicked the door in. David Castor was sprawled naked across the bed. On the floor next to the bed was a container of Prestone antifreeze. On the nightstand there was cranberry juice, apricot brandy, and a half full glass of a bright green liquid.
Sgt Willoughby summoned paramedics but it was already too late. Detective Dominick Spinelli arrived on the scene and observed David Castor's body on the bed and Stacey Castor outside seemly distraught. The house was searched and evidence collected. Including a turkey baster found in the kitchen trash.
Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Robert Stoppacher performed an autopsy and ruled that David Castor's had caused his own death by consuming antifreeze.
His family however, vehemently denied that David would ever consider taking his own life. And there was at least one other person who had his own suspicions about David's death. Detective Spinelli refused to close the case. Something just didn't sit right with him.
The following day Detective Spinelli sat down with Stacey Castor and she gave a nine-paged detailed statement as to the final days of David Castor's life.
Stacey felt that the recent death of his father and stress at work pushed David over the edge and led him to take his own life.
She claimed that they had been having frequent arguments in the four days leading up to his death. According to Stacey, David locked himself in the bedroom and spent the weekend drinking and vomiting. She cleaned up the vomit and rubbed his feet, gave him cranberry juice and water, and did whatever she could to try and make him comfortable. At one point during the weekend she came in the room and found David on the floor. She called a family friend to help her pick David up and put him back in the bed. She claimed she spent the weekend sleeping on the couch and tried to stay out of the house as much as possible. She gave a detailed account of her comings and goings for the entire weekend.
Stacey Castor volunteered one final piece of information prior to ending the interview. David and she had watched a "48 Hours" television show about a woman who had killed her two husbands by putting antifreeze in green jello. They watched the program again a month or two ago when it aired again.
The interview did not sit well with Detective Spinelli and as Stacey Castor buried her second husband next to her first husband, Michael Wallace, he helped launch an investigation that would take two years to complete.
One month after David Castor's death, Stacey convinced her longtime friend, Linda Pulaski and her husband to witness David's signature on a will leaving Stacey sole heir to his estate. The will was then backdated to two years earlier.
As the police police conducted their investigation it soon became apparent that Stacey's description of events did not match the evidence. She claimed to have repeatedly phoned her husband on the day of his death but a search of all her phone records showed that she only placed one call to David.
The half-full glass of antifreeze contained three fingerprints. All of which belonged to Stacey. The container of antifreeze found on the bedroom floor had no finger prints on it at all. And the turkey baster that was found in the kitchen garbage had traces of antifreeze and David's DNA on the tip.
The police were now certain that David Castor died by his wife's hands and not his own. The suspicious circumstances surrounding his death caused them to look more closely at the death of Stacy Castor's first husband Mike Wallace.
Michael Wallace died of a heart attack or so doctor's originally thought. The police were skeptical and made the unusual request to have the body exhumed. When an autopsy was performed the medical examiner found traces of antifreeze and rat poison in his remains. The official cause of death was changed to homicide.
Detective Spinelli again brings Stacey Castor in for questioning and asks her why the only finger prints found on the glass of antifreeze was hers she responds, " when I poured the antifree... I mean cranberry juice." Once she realize what she had done Stacey terminated the interview and requested to speak with a lawyer.
Stacey could feel the noose tightening around her neck. It was just a matter of time before the knock came on the door that would spell an end to her life as a free woman. Someone had to pay for the murders of David Castor and Michael Wallace and Stacey was determined that it would not be her.
Ashley Wallace, Stacey's oldest daughter from her first marriage, was visited by detectives on her first day of college in September of 2007. They informed her that her father had not died of a heart attack but had indeed been poisoned. A hysterical Ashley called her mother to tell her about the detectives. Stacey arrived at the college to pick Ashley up and suggested that the two of them go home and get some drinks. They were going through a stressful time and needed something to help them relax. 20-year-old Ashley, who had no reason to mistrust not only her mother but her best friend, readily agreed. Stacey bought some Watermelon Smirnoff Ice on the way home and Ashley drank with her mother until she became ill. The next day when Ashley returned home from school, Stacey was waiting for her with a mixture of Vodka, Sprite and orange juice. Ashley took a sip of the concoction but was put off by the awful taste. Stacey convinced her daughter to drink it quickly by using a straw, which Ashley did, because again, this was her mother.
Seventeen hours later, Ashley's younger sister Bree Wallace came into her room to check on her and found Ashley nearly comatose on her bed. She screamed for Stacey who came flying into the room, took one look at her daughter and called 911. She told the 911 operator that Ashley had swallowed a lot of pills along with a bottle of Vodka and that her sister Bree had found a suicide note. The typewritten letter was apparently Ashley's confession to the murders of her father and stepfather. The painstaking description of how the murders occurred could have only come from someone who had firsthand knowledge of the crimes.
When Ashley awoke in the hospital she was confused. She could not figure out how she had ended up in a hospital bed with her wrists tied down and most of all why police Sgt Michael Norton was yelling at her. She never took any pills, she didn't write any suicide note, and she sure as heck hadn't murdered anyone. Investigators also took note of the fact that the supposed suicide letter refered to antifreeze as "antifree" and during her interrogation Ashley always used the entire word unlike her mother, Stacey.
When news of Ashley's supposed suicide attempt reached Detective Spinelli he was appalled. He never thought for one minute that Stacey would go to such lengths to save her own skin. It was time to put an end to her murderous rampage. Stacey Castor was arrested soon after for the murder of her second husband David Castor and the attempted murder of her own daughter, Ashley.
In December of 2007, Stacey Castor was indicted on three separate charges: 2nd degree murder, 2nd degree attempted murder and 1st degree offering of a false document.
Stacey Castor went on trial in January of 2009. Prosecutors laid out the case against Stacey including the lack of David's fingerprints on the glass and antifreeze container, the turkey baster containing his DNA which prosecutors felt she used to force-feed the antifreeze to David. They also introduced evidence that Stacey's first husband, Michael Wallace, had also died of antifreeze poisoning. Also that Stacey and not Ashley referred to antifreeze as "antifree."
But what was the motive? Not surprising prosecutors felt it had to do with money. Stacey collected on her husbands life insurance policies and she forged a new will cutting out David's son from his previous marriage and leaving his estate solely to her.
Stacey Castor's computer was confiscated and there was found several drafts of the suicide note that Ashley was supposed to have written. The time stamp on the drafts showed they were written when Ashley was at school. Prosecutors also argued the attempted suicide was in actuality a murder plot in which to frame her own child for the murders.
Stacey Castor took the stand in her own defense. She maintained her innocence and insisted that her daughter Ashley had in fact murdered her father, even though she was only 11 years old at the time, and her stepfather. When asked what possible reason her daughter would have for the murders she would only imply that Ashley might be suffering from some sort of mental illness. She admitted on cross-examination that she never attempted to get any sort of help for her daughter.
On February 5, 2009, Stacey Castor was found guilty on all three charges and received a sentence of 51-1/3 years. As Judge Fahey handed down the sentence he had these parting words for Stacey Castor, "...I have to say Mrs Castor, you are in a class all by yourself. I had never seen a parent willing to sacrifice their child to shift the blame away from themselves. It's the most reprehensible crime I've ever seen."
Stacey Castor had no comment and showed no remorse. Given the length of her sentence, at her age it is very likely that she will die in prison.
On a final note, charges are pending against Stacey Castor for the murder of her first husband, Michael Wallace.
31-year-old John P. Dunning had the kind lifestyle that many people dream of. He was a well-regarded war correspondent and had a devoted wife, Mary, who was the daughter of former congressman John B. Pennington of Dover Delaware.
In 1891 the couple moved to San Francisco where Dunning took a position as the Bureau Chief of Associated Press' Western Division. A year later the couple welcomed the birth of their daughter.
In the summer of 1895, Dunning was riding his bike to work through Golden Gate Park when it broke down near a bench where the woman who would tragically alter his future was sitting enjoying the morning sun. As he fixed his bike the two struck up a conversation and although she was 10 years his senior Dunning soon found himself captivated by her ill disguised, raw sensuality and they were soon embroiled in a torrid affair. She was Cordelia Botkin, wife of wealthy businessman, Welcome A. Botkin from Stockton California. Although they were separated, Cordelia's husband still supported her financially with a monthly stipend. Cordelia introduced Dunning to the seedy side of San Francisco and before long he was caught up in a sordid lifestyle of drinking, partying, and gambling.
Mary Elizabeth Dunning had suffered the ultimate humiliation. Her husband was openly cavorting with a woman of obviously loose morals. To add to this he had been fired from his position at Associated Press when it was suspected that he had embezzled company funds in order to pay his gambling debts. And due to his heavy drinking he was unable to maintain employment. Fed up, Mary Elizabeth packed up herself and her daughter and moved back to Delaware with her parents.
Still caught up in the clutches of Cordelia, Dunning moved into same hotel where she was staying and for the time being was content to let Cordelia support the both of them with her husband's money.
During one of their conversations the subject of Dunning's wife arose and he let it slip about her love of candy and that she had a close friend in San Francisco named Mrs Corbaley.
Eventually Dunning grew tired of his life of debauchery and jumped at the chance when Associated Press offered to rehire him as a war correspondent to cover the Spanish-American war in Cuba. He informed Cordelia of his plans and turned a deaf ear to her impassioned pleadings for him to stay with her. Dunning also informed her that he had no intentions of returning to San Francisco and upon completing his assignment he would be returning to Delaware in the hopes of reuniting with his wife and child.
Mary Elizabeth received letters signed "A Friend" postmarked San Francisco. They informed her that her husband was still constantly seen in the company of an attractive woman and warned Mary Elizabeth not to reconcile with her husband. She turned the letters over to her father for safe keeping.
On August 9, 1898, a small package arrived at the Dover, Delaware addressed to Mary Elizabeth Dunning. Inside the box was chocolate bonbons resting atop a lacy handkerchief with the price tag still attached. The note enclosed with the package read, "With love to yourself and baby. Mrs. C."
Later that evening after dining on trout and corn fritters, the family retired to the veranda in a effort to cool off from the summer heat. Thinking the chocolates were from her friend, Mrs. Corbaley, from San Francisco, Mary Elizabeth had no reservations about indulging in her love of chocolate or passing the box around for her family to share. Mary Elizabeth's parents passed but her older sister, her daughter, her niece and two young neighbors who had stopped by to visit.
Hours later all six of the unfortunate people who ate the candy experienced stomach pains and vomiting. The physician who came to examine them diagnosed their illness as cholera morbus, a common ailment due to lack of refrigeration. He claimed it was probably from the corn fritters they had eaten at dinner. The problem with that theory was the two neighbors had not eaten the fritters. Nonetheless everyone eventually recovered with the exception of Mary Elizabeth and her sister. Having eaten the bulk of the candy they progressed to severe stomach spasms and their father called in a specialist who's grim suspicion spelled doom for the two women. He feared that they had been poisoned and by then it was too late to save them. Mary Elizabeth and her sister died a day later.
Mr Pennington began to suspect that his daughters had been poisoned by the candy and he had the uneaten candy analyzed. The chemist reported that a few of the chocolates had indeed been tainted with arsenic.
Mary Elizabeth's father dispatched a telegram posthaste to John Dunning informing him of the death of his beloved wife. When he reached the home of Mr. Pennington, Mary's father, he was immediately shown the letters and handwritten note that accompanied the box of chocolate. It took only one brief glance for him to instantly recognise the handwriting. There was no doubt as to the identity of the writer in his mind. He broke down and told Mr. Pennington the details of the sordid affair with Cordelia Botkin.
The Dover Police were contacted who then referred the case to San Francisco since the candies were sent from there. The remaining candy, the paper it was wrapped in and the handkerchief were sent to San Francisco in the custody of Dover Police.
San Francisco Police Chief Isaiah W. Less spearheaded the case against Cordelia and immediately set to work building the evidence against her. The sensational story was soon front page news and the Examiner "assisted" the police with the investigation. The paper that was used to wrap the candy was traced back to the George Haas confectionery where the clerk recalled selling the chocolate bonbons to a woman fitting Cordelia's physical description. The price tag on the handkerchief led directly to the City of Paris department store. A clerk who remembered selling arsenic to a woman who resembled Cordelia was eventually located at the Owl Drug store. Finally Less had the note that accompanied the chocolates and the anonymous letters sent to Mary Elizabeth analyzed by a handwriting expert who conclusively matched them to samples of Cordelia's writings.
In October, 1898, Chief Less appeared before the grand jury, confident that he had a strong, albeit circumstantial case. The only potential problem was the fact that an autopsy had not been performed on the two women so there was no proof that they had died from arsenic poisoning. In response the grand jury returned with an indictment for two counts of first-degree murder against Mrs. Cordelia Botkin.
Her trial began in December, 1898 before Judge Carroll Cook. Given the strength of the prosecutions case, the defense had no choice but to put Cordelia on the stand. She admitted that she bought the arsenic in June but hers was powdered not the crystalline type that was found in the candy. Furthermore she claimed she had bought the arsenic to bleach a straw hat. She also produced alibis to prove that she did not purchase the candy or mail the package. However her alibis could not be substantiated.
After four hours of the deliberation the jury found Cordelia guilty and recommended life in prison. As recommended Cordelia was confined to the Branch County Prison to serve her life sentence. One Sunday a few months after being sent to prison Judge Cook spotted Cordelia shopping in downtown San Francisco. He immediately launched an investigation and uncovered evidence that Cordelia had exchanged sexual favors for lavish comforts in jail and the freedom to leave the prison grounds.
Meanwhile Cordelia's lawyer appealed her conviction and was able to have it overturned based on a procedural error. Her second trial commenced in 1904 and on August 2, 1904 she was again sentenced to life in prison.
Cordelia Botkin was transferred to San Quentin State Prison where she remained until her death on March 7, 1910. The official cause of death was "softening of the brain due to melancholy." She was 56 years old.