January 20 – What happened today?

Births

Johnny Torrio

1882John “Johnny” Donato Torrio – born as Donato Torrio on January 20, 1882, in Montepeloso, Basilicata, Kingdom of Italy, was an Italian-American mobster who played a significant role in the development of the Chicago Outfit in the 1920s. He immigrated to James Street on the Lower East Side of New York City with his widowed mother in December 1884. His first jobs were as a porter and bouncer in Manhattan. While still a teenager, he joined a street gang and eventually managed to save enough money to open a billiards parlor for the group, which led to illegal activities such as gambling and loan sharking.  Torrio’s business sense caught the eye of Paul Kelly, the leader of the Five Points Gang. Torrio’s gang ran legitimate businesses, but its primary concern was the numbers game, supplemented by incomes from bookmaking, loan sharking, hijacking, prostitution, and opium trafficking. Al Capone, who worked at Kelly’s club, admired Torrio’s quick mind and looked to him as his mentor.  Torrio was the mentor and successor of Al Capone, who took over the crime empire after Torrio was shot and retired in 1925. Torrio proposed a National Crime Syndicate in the 1930s and later became an adviser to Lucky Luciano and his Luciano crime family. He was convicted of income tax evasion in 1939 and served two years in prison. He died of a heart attack in 1957. Torrio was known for his cunning and finesse, earning him several nicknames, primarily “The Fox”. He was considered by many as “the biggest gangster in America” and “the best of all the hoodlums”, with ‘best’ referring to talent, not morals.

1883Enoch Lewis “Nucky” Johnson – He was an Atlantic City, New Jersey political boss, a sheriff of Atlantic County, New Jersey, a businessman, and a crime boss who was the leader of the political machine that controlled Atlantic City and the Atlantic County government from the 1910s until his conviction and imprisonment in 1941.  Johnson was the son of the sheriff of Atlantic County, a powerful regional politician in his own right. Johnson followed in his father’s footsteps and was elected Atlantic County sheriff in 1908. A year later, Johnson was appointed executive secretary of the county’s Republican Party. In 1911, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson, a reformer who would go on to be president, led an effort to clean up corruption and rackets in Atlantic City, leading to indictments of more than 100, including Johnson and the then-boss, Louis “The Commodore” Kuehnle. While Kuehnle was convicted of election fraud, Johnson was not. Although he was forced to resign as county sheriff, he assumed near-total control of the Republican Party machinery for Atlantic City and Atlantic County.  Johnson, who reportedly got a percentage of profits from all gambling and prostitution in Atlantic City, soon extended his political influence into state politics and was instrumental in the election of a sympathetic New Jersey governor in 1916. With the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, Johnson’s profits and political influence continued to grow. Prohibition was essentially ignored in the coastal holiday community. In 1929, Johnson hosted a meeting of prominent Mob figures, including Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and the participants in Chicago’s beer wars, Al Capone and Bugs Moran.  By the 1930s, newspapers and law-and-order reformers started paying close attention to Atlantic City and to Johnson. Johnson, famously, did not apologize for delivering illegal products to paying customers. “We have whisky, wine, women, song, and slot machines,” he said. “I won’t deny it and I won’t apologize for it. If the majority of the people didn’t want them, they wouldn’t be profitable and they would not exist.”  Johnson died on December 9, 1968, in Northfield, New Jersey. His life and career served as the inspiration for the character Nucky Thompson in the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

1953Jeffrey Epstein – Despite lacking a college degree, he began his professional life by teaching at the Dalton School in Manhattan. After his dismissal from the school, he entered the banking and finance sector, working at Bear Stearns in various roles before starting his own firm, J. Epstein & Co.  Epstein developed an elite social circle and procured many women and children whom he and his associates sexually abused. In 2005, police in Palm Beach, Florida, began investigating Epstein after a parent reported that he had sexually abused her 14-year-old daughter. Federal officials had identified thirty-six girls, some as young as 14 years old, whom Epstein had allegedly sexually abused.  Epstein pleaded guilty and was convicted in 2008 by a Florida state court of procuring a child for prostitution and of soliciting a prostitute. He served almost thirteen months in custody but with extensive work release. Epstein was arrested again on July 6, 2019, on federal charges for the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. He died in his jail cell on August 10, 2019. The medical examiner ruled that his death was a suicide by hanging. Epstein’s lawyers have disputed the ruling, and there has been significant public skepticism about the true cause of his death, resulting in numerous conspiracy theories.  Since Epstein’s death precluded the possibility of pursuing criminal charges against him, a judge dismissed all criminal charges on August 29, 2019. Epstein had a decades-long association with the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, leading to her 2021 conviction on U.S. federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy for helping him procure girls, including a 14-year-old, for child sexual abuse and prostitution.

1959Joel Rifkin – is an infamous American serial killer. He was sentenced to 203 years in prison for the murders of nine women between 1989 and 1993. However, it is believed that he may have killed as many as 17 people during this period.  Rifkin’s birth parents were both young college students, and his biological father was an Army veteran. When he was three weeks old, Rifkin was adopted by an upper-middle-class couple living on Long Island. Despite having learning disabilities and being unpopular with classmates, he graduated from East Meadow High School in 1977. He attended classes at Nassau Community College, the State University of New York at Brockport, and the State University of New York at Farmingdale, but left before earning a degree. After leaving college, Rifkin became self-employed as a landscaper.  On February 20, 1987, his father, Bernard, committed suicide after suffering from prostate cancer for several months. Later that year, Rifkin was arrested during a sex worker sting in Hempstead, New York, after offering an undercover female police officer money for sex.  Rifkin committed his first murder on February 20, 1989, killing Heidi Balch in his home in East Meadow. He then dismembered her body, removing her teeth and fingertips, and disposed of her remains in various locations. It is assumed that Rifkin killed 16 more women during the next four years. He was implicated in Balch’s murder after his arrest in 1993.  On June 24, 1993, Rifkin picked up Tiffany Bresciani, a prostitute who was working on Allen Street in Manhattan. After Tiffany failed to return, her boyfriend called the police with a description of the 1984 Mazda pickup truck that Rifkin drove. On June 28, 1993, state troopers patrolling Long Island’s Southern State Parkway noticed the pickup truck without a license plate. After a chase, Rifkin was arrested, and the decomposing body of Tiffany Bresciani was found in the back of his truck. In custody, Rifkin confessed to other homicides, a total of seventeen, including Bresciani.

1965Richard D Clay – was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Randy Martindale by a jury in Missouri. A few months later, Stacy, Martindale’s estranged wife, was also convicted of hiring the murderer. Clay’s conviction and death sentence were affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court, and the denial of state post-conviction relief was also upheld. Clay then filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, reinforcing many of his state court contentions with new evidence and legal theories. The district court granted the writ on the grounds that the guilt phase of Clay’s trial was tainted by three Brady violations, one of which was aggravated by the prosecutor’s improper closing argument, and by the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The State appeals those rulings. Clay cross-appeals the denial of relief on five other grounds. The court reversed the grant of habeas relief, concluding that Clay failed to show Brady materiality or Strickland prejudice.

1969Christopher Dwayne Peterson – He is an American serial killer who was found guilty of committing four murders and acquitted on three other murder charges related to the “Shotgun Killer” spree in Indiana from October 30, 1990, to December 18, 1990. The murders took place in a number of jurisdictions, and Peterson faced a number of trials in different venues. Peterson had initially confessed and then recanted. He was acquitted in two trials for three of the murders and found guilty of four murders in two subsequent trials. Initially sentenced to death for those murders, his death sentence was commuted in 2004. Ronald J. Harris was also charged and found guilty in two of the murders. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison. The incident is controversial for a number of reasons such as Peterson is African American, while the initial descriptions of the suspect of the murders was described as white; Peterson had been illegally arrested for committing another crime which impacted the use of evidence in the “Shotgun Killer” spree trials because it was deemed improperly collected; Peterson’s initial confession was recanted under claims of duress; the trials with all-white juries came to different conclusions than juries which included people of other races; and in the final case to go to trial, the judge over-ruled the jury’s decision not to impose the death penalty.

1974Rae Carruth – born Rae Lamar Wiggins on January 20, 1974, is a former American football wide receiver and convicted murderer. He played college football at Colorado and was drafted in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. Carruth was sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison in 2001 after a jury found him guilty of conspiring to murder Cherica Adams, his pregnant girlfriend. He was released from prison on October 22, 2018.  Carruth was a shining star during his days at the University of Colorado, so it wasn’t surprising when he was snatched up by the Carolina Panthers during the 1997 draft. However, it was beyond shocking when he was busted in a murder-for-hire plot in 1997. Carruth had hired three accomplices to murder his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams because she’d refused to have an abortion. Despite being shot four times, Adams managed to call 911. She was rushed to the hospital and underwent an emergency cesarean. Adams died a month later. Her baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, survived but was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and severe brain damage; he’s now cared for by Adams’ mom, Saundra Adams.  Carruth immediately went on the run to escape prosecution. The feds ultimately discovered him “hiding in a car trunk” outside of a Tennessee hotel. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in 2001 and sentenced to 18 to 24 years. Carruth was released from the Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina, in October 2018. His time in prison was described as feeling like a caged animal in a zoo.

 

Deaths

Captain Moonlite

1880Captain Moonlite – Andrew George Scott, also known as Captain Moonlite, was an Irish-born New Zealand immigrant to the Colony of Victoria, a bushranger there and in the Colony of New South Wales. He was born in 1842 and raised in Rathfriland, Ireland. Scott was the son of a minister who encouraged him to take up a career in the church, but he was more interested in more earthly pursuits and went to London as a young man where he studied to become a civil engineer.  He moved to New Zealand in 1861, with the intention of trying his luck in the Otago goldfields. However, the New Zealand Wars intervened and Scott signed up as an officer and fought at the battle of Orakau where he was wounded in both legs. After a long convalescence, Scott was accused of malingering and court-martialed. He gave his disquiet at the slaughter of women and children during the siege as the source of his objection to returning to service.  In Melbourne, he met Bishop Charles Perry and, in 1868, he was appointed lay reader at Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, with the intention of entering the Anglican priesthood on the completion of his service. He was then sent to the gold mining town of Mount Egerton.  On 8 May 1869, Scott was accused of disguising himself and forcing bank agent Ludwig Julius Wilhelm Bruun, a young man whom he had befriended, to open the safe. Bruun described being robbed by a fantastic black-crepe masked figure who forced him to sign a note absolving him of any role in the crime. The note read “I hereby certify that L.W. Bruun has done everything within his power to withstand this intrusion and the taking of money which was done with firearms, Captain Moonlite, Sworn.”  After this, he went to the Maitland district, near Newcastle and was there convicted on two charges of obtaining money by false pretenses for which he was sentenced to twelve and eighteen months’ imprisonment. Of these concurrent terms, Scott served fifteen months, at the expiration of which time he returned to Sydney where, in March 1872, he was arrested on the charge of robbing the London Chartered Bank of Australia in Egerton and forwarded to Ballarat for examination and trial. He succeeded in escaping jail by cutting a hole through the wall of his cell and gaining entrance into the adjoining cell, which was occupied by another prisoner, who was as desirous of escaping as himself. Together they seized the warder when he came on his rounds, gagged him, and tied him up.  Scott was executed on 20 January 1880. His life and relationship with James Nesbitt have left historians intrigued. While awaiting the noose, Scott spent much of his time in Darlinghurst jail in mourning. Not for his own life, but for the life of James Nesbitt, his fellow fugitive shot during the Moonlite gang’s standoff with police at Wantabadgery station two months previous. A well-educated man, Andrew wrote passionately in his last days, declaring his dying wish was: “…to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt, the man with whom I was united by every tie which could bind human friendship, we were one in hopes, in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms.” His request wasn’t granted. Moonlite was buried at Sydney’s Rockwood Cemetery, while James was buried over 300km away at Gundagai, near where he had been killed.

1999Mark Arlo Sheppard –  On Wednesday night, a drug dealer from Jarratt, convicted for the murder of a couple, was executed via lethal injection. The individual, Mark Arlo Sheppard, 27, was held responsible for the fatal shootings of Richard and Rebecca Rosenbluth in their home located in suburban Richmond. Despite his conviction, Sheppard maintained that he did not pull the trigger.  When asked for his last words by Warden David Garraghty, Sheppard uttered four dates, each followed by the phrase, “I love you.” His attorney, Chris Collins, speculated that these dates might represent the birthdays of Sheppard’s family members or close friends.  The prosecution argued that Sheppard, along with his accomplice Andre Graham, were cocaine dealers who resorted to murder when their financial situation became dire. Evidence of their drug dealings was found in the Rosenbluths’ home, including cocaine in the victims’ bodies and drug-related items. Richard Rosenbluth, 40, suffered two gunshot wounds to the head, while his wife, 35, was shot four times in the head and neck.

2000David Hicks – In her Teague, Texas home, 88-year-old Ocolor Hegger was discovered dead in a pool of blood around 9:15 a.m. on April 26, 1988. Her grandson, David Hicks, had visited the night before. She had sustained multiple blows to the head, a superficial stab wound, and signs of sexual assault. A missing hammer, later found in a neighbor’s yard, was linked to the crime. Hicks, with a history of convictions, was implicated by DNA testing in 1989, and confirmed guilty in a subsequent 1999 test. Inmates testified against him, leading to a conviction for this heinous crime.

2006Perrie Dyon Simpson – Simpson and his expectant girlfriend, Stephanie Eury, who was just sixteen, decided to take a stroll in search of some cash. They ended up at the doorstep of Reverend Jean Darter, a 92-year-old man. Stephanie rang the bell and expressed her hunger to the Reverend, who kindly invited them in and offered them milk, a soft drink, sponge cake, and peaches.  The following night, the couple resolved to revisit Reverend Darter’s home under the cover of darkness with the intention of obtaining money. They rang the bell and when the Reverend answered, they barged in. Simpson instructed Eury to sever the telephone lines and then coerced Reverend Darter into his bedroom, demanding money. When the Reverend confessed he had none, Simpson began to strangle him on the bed.  Upon hearing the Reverend’s peaceful acceptance of his fate, Simpson intensified his assault by using a belt to strangle him, all the while continuing his demands for money. He instructed Eury to maintain the pressure on the belt while he searched the kitchen for a weapon. He returned wielding an empty soda bottle, which he used to bludgeon the Reverend.  Subsequently, Simpson retrieved a double-edged razor blade from the bathroom and inflicted deep cuts on the Reverend’s arms, running from the biceps down to the wrists. Meanwhile, Eury collected a bag of food, a porcelain lamp, a radio, and several boxes of tissues.  Upon their arrest, Simpson confessed to his crimes and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder at his trial. Despite two successful appeals, the jury ultimately sentenced him to death. Eury received a life sentence for her involvement in the crime.

2006David Edward Maust – also known as “Crazy Dave”, was born on April 5, 1954, in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. He was an American serial killer who predominantly targeted male teenagers. His murders occurred in Germany and the United States.  Maust was deeply troubled as a child and was confined in a mental institution at the age of nine at the request of his mother. His mother claimed he set fire to his younger brother’s bed, and later tried to drown him. However, his mother was described by a social worker as “disturbed,” “psychotic,” “functioning marginally,” “needy,” and “narcissistic.” She had spent a month in a mental hospital in Pennsylvania. A later report on Maust said that the institution where he was confined was filled with children who were there more often than not because family members were mentally ill and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take care of them. At the institution, it was felt that Maust’s mother simply “dumped” him there.  In 1984, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison; he was released under probation in June 1999. Once released and off of probation, he continued murdering, leading to his final arrest and sentencing to three life terms without the possibility of parole. In January 2006, about a month after his last sentencing, Maust killed himself by hanging in his jail cell. Jail workers found a suicide note in his cell in which he confessed to five killings, and apologized to the victims’ families. Maust was 51 years old at the time of his death.

 

Events

Larry Bright

1949 – J. Edgar Hoover gives actress Shirley Temple a tear gas fountain pen

1983 – American gangster Roy DeMeo is found murdered in his car trunk after disappearing a few days earlier

1987 – Bank robber Robert A Litchfield is arrested at Lake Tahoe

2005 – American serial killer Larry Bright is arrested

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