Murder is one of the most horrendous crimes a person can commit. The wanton taking of another’s life, whether for personal gain or to satisfy some evil desire, is something very few of us can fathom. What’s worse is that most experts and police will tell you that you are more likely to be killed by someone you know than by a stranger in a random act of violence. That could be your spouse, relative, friend, or even an employee. In fact, in the United States alone, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that an incredible 80% of murder victims knew their killers very well, others might have just met them briefly. Of that group, many were killed as a result of domestic arguments, property disputes, greed, or jealousy.
But what about those who were just briefly acquainted with their attackers? What would motivate someone to kill someone else that they barely know? Excluding the aforementioned random acts of violence, drugs, alcohol, and mental illness are good places to start. Some murderers are sociopaths, or psychotic, and their victims are just unfortunate enough to have acquainted themselves with such a person. What follows is a sampling of just fifteen of the many chilling stories of unfortunate victims who had previously met the very people who would end up killing them. Some of these victims you’ve heard of before, other you might have not. However, all the stories are unsettling, so take care when reading.
15. The Springback Murder – Harvested Potatoes Together
Ken Handford was an elderly World War II veteran who lived a quiet life in Springback, in Victoria, Australia. Just prior to his 90th birthday, two men broke into the home of Handford and attacked him. The pair tied him up, gagged him, and then ransacked his house. Handford’s wrists and legs were bound before he was stabbed 13 times in the back. The pair stole money and Handford’s war medals before running off, leaving Handford to suffer for five hours before dying from his injuries. The ensuing investigation resulted in the arrest and conviction of Jonathon Cooper, 29, and Adam Williamson, 40, who both pleaded guilty to the murder. The family was shocked and disgusted because Handford actually worked alongside Williamson as potato harvesters. In fact, Handford’s grandson revealed that he had known the killers himself as they used to all play sports together. Williamson even attended Handford’s funeral and spoke to the family.
14. Phil Hartman – Wife Killed Him In Their Bed
Phil Hartman was a famous comedic actor, known chiefly for his celebrity impersonations on TV’s Saturday Night Live. While working as an actor and writer for the popular television show, Hartman was known for his pleasant attitude and ease to work with. When he decided to leave the show in 1994, he quickly found a spot on primetime television with the new sitcom, Newsradio. However, away from the public spotlight, Hartman had marital problems. His third wife, Brynn Omdahl Hartman, struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. The pair had been married for eleven years, but Brynn had trouble with Hartman’s success and some say she felt intimidated. On May 28, 1998, after a dinner meeting with a friend, Hartman returned home to bed. Later, Brynn, drunk and high on cocaine, shot Hartman twice in the head as he slept in their bed. After admitting to a friend of her crime, she committed suicide.
13. A Deadly Affair – Killed By His Wife (And Her Lover)
In the middle of a quiet night in 1982, David Harmon was bludgeoned to death as he slept next to his wife in his Kansas home. Police suspected the wife, Melinda, as her account of the night’s events were shaky. However, the local Church of the Nazarene was very influential in small Olathe, Kansas, and they came to Melinda’s defense. The police, with no real evidence to go on, backed off and looked elsewhere. The case remained unsolved and eventually was closed. Twenty-four years later, the cold case file was re-opened and police investigators were determined to follow the evidence no matter where it led. Quickly, the evidence led directly to Harmon’s wife, Melinda, and to Harmon’s friend, Mark Mangelsdorf. Further digging found that the pair were having an affair at the time of the murder and wanted Harmon out of the way. Finally, in 2006, the remarried Melinda Raisch and Mark Mangelsdorf admitted their guilt in the murder of David Harmon.
12. The Berge Murder – Lied About Having A Relationship (With The Man She Killed)
In 1974, when Gerald Davis told the authorities that he and his fiancé, Barbara Hoffman, had discovered the frozen body of Harold Berge, 52, in a snowdrift, the police found the story hard to believe. They conducted an investigation into Berge’s death and discovered that one of the reporters, Barbara Hoffman, was actually previously in a relationship with the deceased Berge. She failed to report that detail to the police, nor reacted to the body’s discovery in a manner consistent with someone who had been intimate with the deceased. Police dug deeper and found evidence indicating that Berge had actually been bludgeoned to death in Hoffman’s apartment. Hoffman apparently had forged Berge’s insurance policy in order to receive the policy payout. When the police tried to get Gerald Davis to corroborate their suspicions, he was found dead in an apparent suicide. Hoffman was eventually found guilty of Berge’s murder, but was acquitted in the death of Davis.
11. A Mother’s Love – Brutally Murdered Her Two Young Daughters
Theresa Knorr married at the young age of 16, giving birth to a son, Howard. The marriage was difficult and ended when Theresa shot and killed her husband in 1964. Pregnant, she was acquitted of the murder and shortly thereafter gave birth to her daughter, Sheila. She remarried, to Robert Knorr, and together they had four more children, Suesan, William, Robert, and Terry. Theresa was physically and psychologically abusive towards all her children, but her daughters received the majority of the abuse. Knorr tortured her daughters, burning them with cigarettes and beating them. She trained her sons to restrain the girls during the torture, as well as to cover up the abuse. She shot Suesan in the back and left her to die in the bathtub. When she survived, Knorr doused her with gas and burned her to death. She locked Sheila in a closet where she was starved to death. Eventually, Terry escaped and called the police. Theresa and her sons were arrested, whereas Theresa was sentenced to two life sentences.
10. The Gloucester House of Horrors – Knew Most Of Their 12 Victims
Fred and Rosemary West are known as the infamous husband and wife serial killers. They admitted to an incredible 12 horrific murders from 1973 to 1979, all taking place in their home in Gloucester, England. What’s worse is that these weren’t random killings. The West’s knew most of their victims; in fact, some were even family members. It all came to light when the killing couple’s 13-year-old daughter confided in a friend that she was being sexually abused. The friend’s mother called the police which lead to a search of the West home. However, what police uncovered was much more than evidence of sexual assault; they found the bones of a missing girl. The investigation further revealed that the West’s methods included brutal torture, bondage, necrophilia, and mutilation, including cutting off the victim’s fingers and toes as they screamed in horror. They even admitted to killing Fred’s daughters, Charmaine and Heather.
9. A Father’s Ultimate Betrayal – Killed Both His Sons
Dr. John V. Cavaness was well-respected in his southern Illinois community. Even when he was charged with the brutal murder of his own son in 1984, the community stood by him. No one was willing to believe the beloved doctor would be capable of such a monstrous act. During the trial, unfortunately, everyone was proven wrong. The evidence revealed that Dr. Cavaness was living a double-life of womanizing, physical brutality, and mounting financial debt. The trial even brought to light that just seven years prior, his son, Mark, had been shot and killed in an unsolved slaying. It seems the town actually knew very little about the monster in their midst. Though he was never tried in his suspected involvement in the murder of his older son, Dr. Cavaness was convicted in the killing of his younger son, Sean. The motive in both cases was the same, money. Dr. Cavaness’ needed the insurance payouts for his sons’ deaths to payoff mounting debt. Cavaness hung himself in his jail cell rather than face the death sentence the courts imposed on him.
8. With Friends Like These – Killed The Snitch (Who Was Her Best Friend)
Carol Giles and her boyfriend Tim Collier had conspired to murder Carol’s husband, a heroin dealer who was also a diabetic, by injecting his insulin with a dose of his own drug stash. The Michigan pair had thought they’d gotten away with it but they grew worried. Carol’s best friend and roommate, Nancy Rae Billiter, might know about the crime. Their fears were confirmed when Carol overheard Nancy tell her boyfriend about the murder. Carol and Tim then carried out their most horrendous crime. They bound and gagged Nancy, pistol-whipped her, brutally tortured her, and injected her with battery acid. The poor woman died a horrible, painful death. Her 45-year-old body was found dumped on the side of the road. Once brought to trial, Giles and Collier turned on each other in a bid to lessen their culpability. Both ended up being sentenced to life without parole.
7. Blood Brothers Sent By God – Killed Their Sister-In-Law
Brenda Wright Lafferty, 24, was strong-willed woman, a college graduate, and former beauty queen. In 1984, when two bearded men pushed their way into her Utah duplex and murdered her and her 15-month daughter, the gruesome act shocked the community. It was worse when it was revealed that the murderers actually knew their victims. The two men were Brenda’s brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty. The murders were brought on by religious fanaticism and a warped sense of family. Ron and Dan believed themselves prophets and the true leaders God’s church. Brenda refused to humor the men’s delusions. When she snubbed her husband’s request to enter into a plural marriage, it was the final straw. The brothers felt it was a commandment from God to strike down Brenda as a heretic. The two men beat Brenda unconscious, strangled her, and then slit her throat. Dan then went into the baby’s room and slit her throat. Both brothers, unremorseful, admitted their crime. In the end, Ron was sentenced to death, while Dan received life in prison.
6. School Murder – School Teacher Killed By Her Colleagues
On June 25, 1979, the body of popular Philadelphia-area school teacher Susan Reinert was discovered beaten and stuffed in the trunk of her car, her two children missing. With the children possibly still in harm’s way, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) immediately launched a wide-scale investigation. They quickly zeroed in on two suspects: Dr. Jay C. Smith, and William Bradfield. Dr. Smith was the principal of Susan’s school, while Bradfield was a fellow teacher with whom Susan had been briefly romantically linked. Though the children were never found, Smith and Bradfield were believed to have killed them and they were charged with Susan’s murder. Reinert was divorced and had made a $730,000 life insurance policy payable to Bradfield. In order to get the money, the trial proved that Bradfield planned the murder, while Smith carried it out. Bradfield was sentenced to life in prison, dying in 1998, while Smith was released due to prosecutorial misconduct. He died a free man in 2009.
5. The Fatal Vision Murders – Found Guilty Of Slaying His Wife And Kids
In the early morning hours of February 17, 1970, military police at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were called to the house of Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald, a U.S. Special Forces captain and surgeon. When police arrived, they found MacDonald’s wife and daughters dead in their bedrooms. They had all been viciously beaten and stabbed to death. His wife had been stabbed 21 times with an ice pick, 16 times with a knife, and clubbed so badly that both of her arms were broken. MacDonald was found lying half-conscious next to his wife, wounded with cuts, bruises, a mild concussion, and a stab wound to his chest. MacDonald reported that a group of intruders forced their way into the home and attacked him. He attempted to fight them off but was knocked unconscious. The court didn’t believe his version and MacDonald was convicted in all three deaths. In the years since, after subsequent trials and hearings, including new suspects and additional evidence, MacDonald remains in a federal prison serving a triple life sentence.
4. The Forest Hill Murder – His Ex-Wife’s Cousin Sought Revenge
Dr. Daniel Malakov was a well-respected dentist in his Forest Hills, Queens community in New York. When he was brutally shot in the middle of the day at a playground with his young daughter, people were stunned. Malakov was shot twice in the chest and left to die. His 5-year old daughter was unharmed. His estranged wife, Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova was also at the park to see her daughter and administered first aid to the dying Malakov. Who would commit such a terrible act in broad daylight, in front of his daughter? The ensuing investigation revealed that he had just received full custody of his daughter from his ex-wife. Borukhova believed herself to have been victimized by not only Dr. Malakov, but the custody court as well. She went looking for justice in the most brutal way possible – hiring an assassin to murder her husband. She and the killer, her cousin, both received a life sentence without parole.
3. Til Death Do Us Part – His Ex-Wife Killed Him And Wife #2
In the early morning hours of November 5, 1989, newlyweds Daniel Broderick and his wife, Linda, were sound asleep in their San Diego home. Someone gained entry to their home and shot the couple execution-style as they lay in their bed. Soon after, the murderer turned herself in – it was Daniel’s first wife, Betty Broderick. She never denied killing the pair and even told police that Daniel didn’t die right away, looking at Betty, saying “Okay, you shot me. I’m dead.” Betty claimed that she was a battered wife and had experienced years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of Daniel. The court refuted that notion as Daniel was voluntarily giving her $16,000 a month in alimony, in addition to her own hefty salary. He had bought her a half-million dollar home that he left in order to start a new life. Betty was ultimately diagnosed as having multiple mental disorders and was sentenced to 30 years-to-life, which she is currently serving in a California prison.
2. Selena – Killed By Shady Fan Club President
Selena Quintanilla-Perez, known to millions simply as Selena, would go on to be the undisputed queen of Tejano music. She was a Grammy-winning recording artist and entertainer. From playing weddings, singing lead in her family’s band, Selena y Los Dinos, she grew popular enough to tour the country and pack stadiums. The amount of fan mail she began to receive was immense. Yolanda Saldivar, a die-hard fan, proposed to form a fan club to handle all the mail. Selena agreed and the two became good friends. When Selena opened up a clothing boutique in Corpus Christi, Saldivar was hired to manage it. Soon, Selena began to suspect Saldivar was embezzling money and arranged a meeting to discuss the irregularities. On March 31, 1995, Selena met Saldivar at a local hotel. When confronted about the missing money, Saldivar shot Selena in the back as she tried to flee, piercing a vital artery. Selena, 23, died shortly thereafter, sending shockwaves through the Latin community.
1. The Assassination of John Lennon – Signed An Autograph For His Murderer
John Lennon was the influential co-founder of the legendary band, The Beatles, arguably the most successful and musically influential band of the rock era. After a five year hiatus to spend time with his family, Lennon returned to the music world in 1980, with the anticipated release of his new album, Double Fantasy. On a chilly night, December 8, 1980, just a few weeks after the album’s release, John Lennon stepped out of his New York City apartment building. He was approached by Mark David Chapman. Chapman pulled a copy of the album from his coat and asked Lennon to sign it for him, which Lennon graciously obliged. A paparazzo even took a now-famous photo of Lennon signing for Chapman. Later, around 10:50 P.M., Lennon was returning home when Chapman stepped into the apartment building archway and shot him in the back four times. Within 10 minutes, Lennon was pronounced dead. Chapman wasn’t a super fan, he wasn’t obsessed with Lennon. He just wanted to be famous.
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