January 15 – What happened today?


Marie Lafarge

1816Marie-Fortunée Lafarge, born Marie Capelle on January 15, 1816, was a French woman who became infamous for her conviction of murdering her husband by arsenic poisoning in 1840. Her case was notable as it was one of the early trials followed by the public through daily newspaper reports, and she was the first person convicted largely on direct forensic toxicological evidence.  Marie was born in Paris, the daughter of an artillery officer. She is said to descend from a liaison between Stéphanie Félicité, Comtesse de Genlis, and Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. Marie lost her father to a hunting accident when she was 12; her mother, who remarried soon after, died seven years later. At age 18, Marie was adopted by her maternal aunt, who was married to the secretary-general of the Bank of France. Despite attending an elite school and interacting with daughters of the moneyed aristocracy, Marie was kept aware of her status as a poor relative.  When Marie turned 23, one of her uncles took responsibility for finding her a husband. This led to her marriage to Charles Pouch-Lafarge, a man who presented himself as a wealthy iron master. However, upon arriving at her new home, Marie found the estate in disrepair and her in-laws to be peasants. The disappointment led to a strained relationship with her husband.  In 1840, Marie was convicted of murdering Charles by arsenic poisoning. The case divided French society and is often compared to the better-known Dreyfus affair. Marie Lafarge passed away on November 7, 1852.

1916Rufus Franklin – also known as “Whitey”, was an American criminal born on January 15, 1916, in Alabama. He is best known for his involvement in the third documented attempted escape from Alcatraz Prison on the night of May 23, 1938, along with Thomas R. Limerick and James C. Lucas.  Franklin was originally sentenced to imprisonment for bank robbery, car theft, and assault. He was then transferred to Alcatraz, where he became inmate number 335-AZ. In the spring of 1938, Franklin, Limerick, and Lucas planned an escape from Alcatraz. Their plan involved incapacitating an unarmed guard supervising a work detail on the top floor, escaping through a window to the rooftop, incapacitating an armed guard, and leaving the island via a seized police boat.  They enacted their escape plan on May 23, 1938, in the prison’s mat shop, where they assaulted Custodial Officer Royal Cline with hammer blows to his head. They proceeded to the roof, where an armed guard shot both Franklin and Limerick, although Lucas wasn’t shot. Other guards arrived at the scene, and Franklin, Limerick, and Lucas were cornered and surrendered to the guards. Cline died of his injuries the next day, as did Limerick.  Franklin and Lucas, the other surviving convict, were tried for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment after the jury spared them from execution. Franklin spent many years of solitary confinement in Alcatraz’s D Block. He was eventually transferred to the Atlanta federal prison where he was paroled in 1974. Franklin died a year later on May 26, 1975, in Dayton, Ohio.

1934Piroska Jancso-Ladanyi – was a notorious Hungarian murderer who preyed on young girls in the town of Törökszentmiklós. She killed five victims between 1953 and 1954 to fulfill her sexual fantasies. She was executed by hanging in 1954, becoming one of the most infamous and evil criminals in Hungary’s history. Her case inspired the novel Little Saints by Szilárd Rubin, which explored her motives and psychology.

1949Joseph Lewis Clark – was an American criminal who was executed by lethal injection in Ohio in 2006. He was convicted of murdering two people during robberies in 1984. He also confessed to another murder that he committed in 1977. He was the 21st person executed by Ohio since the state resumed executions in 1999. His execution was controversial because of the difficulties in finding a suitable vein for the injection. He cried out “It don’t work” and moaned while the execution team struggled for 90 minutes to kill him. His case raised ethical questions about the use of lethal injection as a method of execution. He was 57 years old when he died.

1955Gerald Dwight Casey – was born on January 15, 1955, in Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas, USA. He was involved in a series of criminal activities and had multiple prior convictions for burglary, possession of marijuana, and heroin, theft, and assault on a police officer.  On July 10, 1989, Casey and his accomplice, Carla Smith, visited Daryl Pennington at his home and attempted to sell him furniture and a television set in an effort to raise the money they needed to move from Texas to Florida. When Pennington refused the sale, Casey and Smith formulated a plan to steal Pennington’s gun collection and sell it for cash. The victim, Sonya Lynn Howell, lived with Pennington. Smith testified at trial that, as part of their plan, she was going to call Howell the morning of July 10, 1989, after Pennington had gone to work to make sure that Howell was home alone. Then, she and Casey would go to the Pennington/Howell residence, subdue, bind, and gag Howell, and steal the guns. Smith said that on the morning of the murder, she dropped Casey off at the trailer and then drove to a nearby convenience store and waited by the pay phone. A while later, Casey called from the trailer, she came and picked him up, and they drove away with the stolen goods. Casey testified that he and Smith were together with Howell. He said that the two women got into an argument, which he tried to break up, but Smith beat Howell with a telephone and then shot her.  On July 26, 1989, a grand jury indicted Casey in the District Court of Montgomery County, Texas, for the capital offense of murdering Sonya Howell in the course of committing the offense of robbery. After Casey pleaded not guilty, a jury found him guilty of the capital offense on Oct. 28, 1991. On Nov. 13, 1991, Gerald Dwight Casey was sentenced to death for the capital murder of Sonya Howell, which occurred during the course of his committing robbery in Montgomery County, Texas, on July 10, 1989. Gerald Dwight Casey, 47, was executed by lethal injection on 18 April in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a woman during a home robbery. 

1983Jeremy Alan Steinke – also known as Jackson May, was born on January 15, 1983. He is known for his involvement in the Richardson family murders that took place in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada on April 23, 2006. The victims were Marc Richardson, 42, his wife Debra, 48, and their son Jacob, 8. The murders were planned and committed by the family’s 12-year-old daughter Jasmine Richardson and her 23-year-old boyfriend Jeremy Allan Steinke.  Steinke was described by friends as a self-proclaimed 300-year-old werewolf who allegedly liked the taste of blood and wore a small vial of blood around his neck. He and Jasmine met at a punk rock show in early 2006 and communicated on various websites. Jasmine’s parents disapproved of their relationship due to the age disparity, which is believed to have been the motive for the murders.  On the day of the murders, Jasmine’s parents and younger brother were found stabbed to death in their home. Jasmine and Steinke were arrested the following day in the community of Leader, Saskatchewan, about 130 kilometers away. Steinke’s friend, Kacy Lancaster, 19, was later charged with being an accessory for driving them away in her pickup truck and for disposing of evidence.  Steinke was tried in November 2008 and found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Jasmine, who had turned 13 before being convicted, is thought to be the youngest person in Canada ever convicted of multiple first-degree murder counts. She completed her 10-year sentence on May 6, 2016.



Meyer Lansky

1894Frances Lydia Alice Knorr, also known as Minnie Thwaites, was born on December 10, 1868, in London, England. She immigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1887. Initially, she worked as a domestic servant and married Rudolph (or “Randolph”) Knorr, a German immigrant. She later had an affair with one Edward Thompson and moved to Melbourne. However, the short-lived affair was not successful and Knorr had to find a means to support herself and her daughter.  In February 1892, Australia was in the midst of a depression and jobs were scarce when Rudolph Knorr was sent to prison for selling furniture he had bought on hire purchase. Pregnant and penniless, Frances decided to set up a business as a childminder, a practice known as “baby farming”. She moved around Melbourne frequently using both her maiden and married names.  Frances Knorr strangled some of the babies she could not place elsewhere or sell to childless couples. While she was living in Brunswick, she buried a victim in the garden, then two others at her subsequent residence in Davis Street. The bodies of three babies were discovered in September 1892, and Frances was arrested and sent for trial in December.  Frances Knorr was found guilty of strangling two infants and was executed by hanging on Monday, January 15, 1894. This was the first execution of a woman in Victoria since 1863. Frances Knorr’s execution was intended as a warning to other wayward women, and she became known as the “Baby Farming Murderess”.

1947Elizabeth Short – known posthumously as the Black Dahlia was born on July 29, 1924, in the Hyde Park section of Boston, Massachusetts. She was the third of five daughters of Cleo Alvin Short Jr. and his wife, Phoebe May Sawyer. Her father built miniature golf courses until he lost most of his savings in the 1929 stock market crash.  In her early life, Elizabeth developed a passion for movies. When she turned 19, she decided to visit her father in California. She stayed with him for a while, but it wasn’t long before he kicked her out for “not doing anything with her life”. After moving out, Elizabeth traveled to Santa Barbara where she was arrested for underage drinking and sent back home to Massachusetts. She returned to southern California in 1946.  Elizabeth Short was found murdered in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on January 15, 1947. Her case became highly publicized owing to the gruesome nature of the crime, which included the mutilation of her corpse, which was bisected at the waist. The murder started one of the most intense investigations in Los Angeles history, but although the police said they did have suspects, no arrests were ever made. The case still remains unsolved.  Her life and death have been the basis of numerous books and films, and her murder is frequently cited as one of the most famous unsolved murders in U.S. history, as well as one of the oldest unsolved cases in Los Angeles County. It has likewise been credited by historians as one of the first major crimes in postwar America to capture national attention.

1983Meyer Lansky – born Maier Suchowljansky on July 4, 1902, in Grodno, Russian Empire (now Belarus), was an American organized crime figure. He immigrated to the United States in 1911 and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. Lansky met Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel when they were children and they became lifelong friends. They managed the Bugs and Meyer Mob, known as one of the most violent Prohibition gangs. Lansky was also close friends with Charles “Lucky” Luciano.  Known as the “Mob’s Accountant”, Lansky was instrumental in the development of the National Crime Syndicate in the United States. He developed a gambling empire that stretched around the world, with major interests in Florida, pre-Castro Cuba, Las Vegas, and the Bahamas. He was said to own points (percentages) in casinos in these locations. Despite nearly 50 years as a member/participant in organized crime, Lansky was never found guilty of anything more serious than illegal gambling.  He played a large role in the consolidation of the criminal underworld, although the full extent of this role has been the subject of some debate, as Lansky himself denied many of the accusations against him. Before he fled Cuba, Lansky was said to be worth an estimated US$20 million. However, when he died on January 15, 1983, his family learned that his estate was worth only around $57,000. Despite this, he has a legacy of being one of the most financially successful gangsters in American history.

1990Cornelius Gerhardus van Rooyen, better known as Gert van Rooyen, was born on 11 April 1938 in South Africa. He was a pedophile and serial killer who, along with his accomplice and mistress Joey Haarhoff, abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered at least six young girls between 1988 and 1989.  Van Rooyen’s criminal history began with various thefts. He was sent to a reform school in 1954 after stealing a car, and in 1960, he was convicted of stealing motor spares and clothing. He married and fathered six children, and ran a building construction business with his brothers.  In 1979, Van Rooyen abducted two girls, aged 10 and 13, taking them to the Hartbeespoort Dam near Pretoria, where he assaulted them. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment for the abduction, sexual assault, and common assault of the girls, serving three years before being released.  In 1988, Van Rooyen started dating divorcee Francina Johanna (“Joey”) Hermina Haarhoff, who became his alleged accomplice. The couple holidayed together at Warmbaths and Umdloti, on the KwaZulu Natal coast.  Despite the evidence against them, Van Rooyen and Haarhoff were never formally convicted due to their deaths. In early 1990, when faced with arrest after the escape of their latest kidnap victim, Van Rooyen killed Haarhoff and himself in a murder-suicide. The bodies of their alleged victims were never found.



Salvatore Riina

1919 – The Hoskins family murders take place

1927 – The Tennessee Supreme Court overturns (on a technicality) John T. Scopes’s guilty verdict for teaching evolution, but the law itself remains in force

1934 – While robbing the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indianapolis, John Dillinger is shot several times by Officer William O’Malley, but survives because he is wearing a bulletproof vest. Dillinger returned fire and Officer O’Malley was killed.

1947 – Elizabeth Short is discovered in Los Angeles

1973 – 4 Watergate burglars plead guilty in Federal court

1974 – Members of the Otero family were found dead having been victims of BTK

1976 – Sara Jane Moore is sentenced to life for attempting to shoot US President Gerald Ford

1978 – Ted Bundy kills Florida State University Coeds Lisa Levy & Margaret Bowman

1987 – A police officer who mistakenly shot & paralyzed an innocent woman, Cherry Groce, in Brixton, UK is cleared of all criminal charges

1993 – Salvatore Riina, mafia boss is arrested after 3 decades as a fugitive

2018 – US Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles says she is one of more than 130 women sexually abused by team doctor Larry Nassar

2019 – A witness in the El Chapo trial claims former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto accepted a $100 million bribe from the drug cartel head

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