February 7 – What happened today?

Births

Eric Scott Branch

1870Martin Stickles – also known as “The Kelso Killer”, was an American serial killer who was born on February 7, 1870, in Adams County, Iowa. He was brought to Washington when he was 18 months old when his whole family moved to the state. According to his mother, Martin was born a sickly child who would always get mad at everybody without any discernible reason, and was considered “unnatural”. Little is known about his life before the murders, but by the time of the killings, Stickles was living as a recluse on a scow, sailing along the Columbia, Cowlitz, and Coweeman Rivers, earning a living as a fisherman.  Stickles murdered three people in Cowlitz County, Washington, between 1899 and 1900. The first victim was a bachelor farmer named William B. Shanklin, a former neighbor of Stickles whom he had known since an early age. On November 22, 1899, while Shanklin was eating supper at the dinner table of his cabin in Kelso, Martin shot him with a rifle through the window, killing him on the spot. He then broke into the house and stole any valuable items he could find, setting it ablaze to cover up his tracks.  Nearly a year later, on November 28, 1900, Stickles traveled to Castle Rock, where an aged couple, Cornelius Knapp and his wife, were living. While they were having supper at their table, both were fatally shot with a rifle through a window. Like the previous case, Stickles burgled the house and stole all the valuables, though didn’t set it on fire.  Stickles was brought in for interrogation about the killings, protesting his innocence until the investigators revealed that they had identified a watch and some keys as belonging to Shanklin. At that point, Martin confessed to all three murders but also tried to implicate a neighbor, Edward Pierce, as the shooter and portrayed himself as a simple accomplice. In his version of the events, Stickles was swayed by the promised loot and did take an active part in the planning of the murders, but didn’t take part in the murders.  Convicted of these murders and sentenced to death, he was executed for the killings a year later, despite concerns over a possible mental illness. He died on January 25, 1901.

1914Ramon Mercader – born as Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río on 7 February 1913 in Barcelona, Spain, was a Spanish Communist and NKVD secret agent. He is most known for assassinating the revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in August 1940. For this act, Mercader was imprisoned for 19 years and 8 months in Mexico. Mercader was born to Caridad Mercader and Pablo Mercader Marina. His mother, Caridad, was a communist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and served in the Soviet international underground. Raised in France by his mother, Mercader became a Communist in the mid-1930s and worked for leftist organizations during the existence of the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939). He was imprisoned for his political activities but was freed when the left-wing coalition of the Popular Front was elected as the government of Spain in 1936.  During the civil war, he was recruited by Nahum Eitingon, an officer of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the Soviet secret police), who sent Mercader for secret agent training in the USSR. Mercader befriended and infiltrated the Trotskyite communist faction during the Spanish Civil War. As a secret agent of the NKVD, Mercader met with the war correspondent David Crook, an English communist and volunteer soldier for the Republican side, in the city of Albacete, Castilla–La Mancha, and there taught him the Spanish language and trained him in the techniques of espionage.  In 1938, whilst a student at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), with the help of Mark Zborowski, Mercader befriended Sylvia Ageloff, a young intellectual woman from Brooklyn, New York, who also was a confidante of Trotsky in Paris.  After his release from Mexican imprisonment in 1960, Mercader was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal and the Order of Lenin medal, and lived at different times in Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia. He passed away on 18 October 1978 in Havana, Cuba.

1934Juan Corona – also known as “The Machete Murderer”, was a Mexican serial killer who was convicted of the murders of twenty-five migrant farm workers. These victims were found buried in peach orchards along the Feather River in Sutter County, California in 1971. At the time, his crimes were characterized as among the most notorious in U.S. history.  Corona was born in Autlán, Jalisco, Mexico, on February 7, 1934. He first entered the United States in 1950, crossing the border into California at age 16. He picked carrots and melons in the Imperial Valley for three months before moving on north to the Sacramento Valley. His half-brother, José Natividad Corona Sánchez, had immigrated to California in 1944 to work and settled at Marysville, across the Feather River from Yuba City. In May 1953, Corona moved to the Marysville-Yuba City area at the suggestion of Natividad, finding work on a local ranch. He was first married to Gabriella E. Hermosillo on October 24, 1953, in Reno, Nevada. In 1959, he married Gloria I. Moreno and they had four daughters.  In January 1956, after suffering what was thought to be a schizophrenic episode, Natividad had Corona committed to DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, California, where he was diagnosed with “schizophrenic reaction, paranoid type.” Corona received twenty-three shock treatments before being pronounced recovered and released three months later. He was deported to Mexico upon release. Six years later, Corona was given a green card and returned to the United States legally. Aside from schizophrenic episodes and a reported violent temper, he was regarded as a hard worker. In 1962, the same year he returned to the U.S., he became a licensed labor contractor, being put in charge of hiring workers to staff the local fruit ranches.  Corona was convicted of 25 counts of first-degree murder in 1973. An appellate court overturned the conviction in 1978 on the basis of incompetent legal representation and granted Corona a new trial. In 1982, he was again found guilty of all twenty-five homicides. He served out a life sentence in California State Prison, Corcoran, and died on March 4, 2019.

1955Donald Edward Beaty – was a notorious criminal who was convicted for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl named Christy Ann Fornoff in 1984. The crime took place at the Rock Point Apartments in Tempe, Arizona, where Beaty worked as a maintenance manager. Fornoff was a newspaper carrier and was collecting fares at the apartment complex when she was abducted by Beaty.  Beaty took Fornoff into his apartment, raped her, and then suffocated her. He later claimed to have found her body near a trash container on the north side of the apartment complex, wrapped in a white sheet. However, evidence collected from Beaty’s apartment, including hair fibers from the victim and other items belonging to her, led to his arrest and subsequent charge for the murder.  Beaty’s first trial ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of guilt. In his second trial, the prosecution presented similar evidence but also included a confession Beaty made while participating in a co-ed group therapy session in jail. During one session, Beaty stated that he did not mean to kill Christy Fornoff and used hand motions to indicate that he only intended to muffle the girl’s mouth. This confession, along with the physical evidence, led to Beaty’s conviction.  Beaty was sentenced to death and spent several years on death row. His execution took place on May 25, 2011, by lethal injection, making him one of Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates. His crimes struck fear into the parents of paper carriers in the early 1980s and left a lasting impact on the community.

1971Eric Scott Branch – was a convicted criminal who was sentenced to death for the sexual battery and murder of Susan Morris on January 11, 1993. The crime took place at the University of West Florida, where Morris, a 21-year-old television production student, was attacked by Branch in the university parking lot. Branch planned to steal her car in order to evade Indiana police authorities.  Morris’ beaten body was discovered in a nearby wooded area. She was found nude, with injuries characteristic of a severe beating, and a wooden stick was found broken off in her vagina. Branch was arrested in Indiana a few days after the murder.  Branch’s first trial ended with a jury deadlock, but he was found guilty in a second trial. He was sentenced to death on May 3, 1994, for first-degree murder and received a life sentence for sexual battery. Branch appealed his execution on the grounds that the death penalty recommendation was not unanimous, which was later ruled unconstitutional. He also argued that 24 years on death row was a “cruel and unusual” punishment. However, the Florida Supreme Court denied his appeal in January, ruling that the new system does not retroactively apply to Branch’s case.  Prior to Morris’ death, Branch was also convicted of sexually assaulting and beating a 14-year-old girl in 1991. He was mistakenly released from Vanderburg County Community Correction Complex days before Morris was killed.  Branch was executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison on February 22, 2018. His case remains one of the most notorious in the history of Florida’s criminal justice system.

1975 – Mohammed Bijeh – was an Iranian serial killer. He was convicted of raping and killing 54 young boys between June 2002 and September 2004 and was sentenced to 100 lashes followed by execution. All the boys were between 8 and 15 years old. The murder of children around Tehran was recognized as the largest criminal case in Iran for the last 71 years, and strongly influenced public opinion in the country.  Bijeh, known as Bijeh, was born into a crowded family; he had six brothers and six half-brothers. When he was four years old, his mother died of cancer. His father was a merchant who married immediately after the death of Bijeh’s mother. Bijeh couldn’t remember his mother and said that his father was a barbaric person who beat him and chained his legs during childhood. His father forced him to abandon school and work. He was 11 when he moved to Khatunabad with his family, where he began working at a furnace. Around then, he was raped multiple times.  He admitted that he had been raped and wanted to take revenge on the community and that he suffered from his mother’s early death and the lack of affection he suffered in childhood. Bijeh commented on his main motive for the murders: “I suffered cruelly from childhood, and when I compared my life with others, I had to commit such acts.”  On March 16, 2005, in front of a crowd of about 5,000, his shirt was removed and he was handcuffed to an iron post, where he received his lashings from different judicial officials. He fell to the ground more than once during the punishment but did not cry out. A relative of one of the victims managed to get by security and stabbed Bijeh. The mother of one of the victims put a blue nylon rope around his neck, and he was hoisted about 10 meters in the air by a crane until he died. He was hanged in Pakdasht, Iran, the town near the desert area where the killings occurred.

1978Jason Michael Coday – He was convicted of first-degree murder on May 15, 2007, for the death of Simone Yung Kim, which occurred behind the Fred Meyer store in Juneau, Alaska on August 4, 2006. This was the city’s first murder in five years.  Before the incident, Coday was known as a drifter doing odd jobs. The week before Kim’s death, he had worked in Ketchikan, Alaska at a fish processing plant and had planned to do similar work in Juneau. Two months prior to Kim’s death, he had been accused of a similar gun crime in Nevada, when he allegedly harassed the Top family in Sandy Valley. Upon being arrested, he was found with methamphetamine (which he admitted to having used when questioned by police) and marijuana in addition to a sawed-off shotgun and ammunition. He is a registered felon in that state. Coday skipped bail and a warrant for his arrest was issued in July 2006.  Coday came to Juneau on August 2, 2006, aboard the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry M/V Matanuska. That same day, he is believed to have illegally taken a gun from Rayco Sales, a Juneau gun store located across Egan Drive from Fred Meyer, leaving $200 on the counter. He also bought ammunition at the Fred Meyer store using cash. The murder of Simone Yung Kim, a painting contractor from Anchorage who was involved in construction work occurring at the store, was apparently a random act of violence. Coday allegedly shot Kim in the face and continued to shoot the victim using two more rounds of ammunition.  Juneau resident Ed Buyarski attempted to take the gun from Coday but the latter escaped into the woods behind the store. Buyarski, whose training in hunting had included muzzle control, notified the police. On July 19, he was awarded a commendation from the Alaska Peace Officers Association for his actions.  Coday’s trial, State of Alaska v. Coday, began on Monday, May 7, 2007. The defense attempted to have Coday’s arrest and the gathering of evidence in the case deemed illegal, due to inconsistencies in witnesses’ description of the suspect at the time of the arrest, but Juneau-based Alaska Superior Court Judge Michael Thompson decided against the motion. The prosecution used the testimony of two Fred Meyer workers who witnessed the killing. In addition, the owner of Rayco Sales, Ray Coxe, testified that Coday had illegally taken a Ruger 10/22 .22-caliber rifle from the store and left two $100 bills on the counter. The rifle was identified as the murder weapon. DNA evidence pointed to Coday as the killer with the odds of an error being about 1 in 49 billion. Tracks from Coday’s shoes at the crime scene were another factor.

1988Hans Van Themsche – is a Belgian student who was sentenced to life in prison in 2008 for a shooting incident that occurred on March 11, 2006.  On the day of the incident, Van Themsche had been caught smoking at his boarding school and was facing likely expulsion. He traveled from Roeselare to Antwerp where he had his long hair cut and shaven off (apart from a ponytail) before legally purchasing a Marlin 336W hunting rifle in .30-30 Winchester and ammunition from a local weapons merchant.  About ten minutes before noon, dressed in a Gothic fashion, he began his rampage in the city center with a shot in the breast of a woman of Turkish descent who was seated six meters away on a bench reading a book; Songul Koç was severely wounded. He chambered another round and passed a pregnant Malian nanny, Oulemata Niangadou, and her two-year-old European charge, Luna Drowart. He turned and shot each of them in the back at close range, killing both instantly.  While he moved on (presumably looking for more victims) Van Themsche was intercepted by a passing police officer, who held him at gunpoint and ordered him to surrender the rifle. After Van Themsche’s refusal to put his weapon down and upon a suspicious movement, the officer fired once, neutralizing him with a shot to the stomach.  Van Themsche, while being treated in hospital, described himself as a skinhead and admitted to police – as he had before the murders to boarding school friends – to specifically targeting non-whites. Of the 2-year-old (white) child, Van Themsche said she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Her death, however, was not incidental, since he had to chamber a new round before each shot. He told his interrogators that “the presence near a black was sufficient reason” to kill the toddler. According to his statement, his reason for targeting minorities was that youths of foreign descent used to bully him at school; that would have been at least three years earlier. A farewell letter found in his room – as he may not have expected to survive – did not declare the premeditated murderous intent to which he confessed but did reveal that he wanted to take action against self-perceived “chaos in society”.  At trial, the defense lawyers argued that Van Themsche suffered from Asperger syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder and was therefore insane. However, in October 2007, Van Themsche became the first Belgian ever to be convicted of murder with the aggravating circumstance of a racist motivation.

Deaths

Janie Lou Gibbs

2010Janie Lou Gibbs – (née Hickox), born on December 25, 1932, in Cordele, Georgia, was an American serial killer who poisoned her three sons, a grandson, and her husband with arsenic between 1966 and 1967.  Gibbs was born in Georgia on Christmas Day, 1932. She operated a daycare from her home and was a dedicated member of the local church community. She had been married to her husband Marvin for 18 years before she began killing.  In 1965, Gibbs committed her first murder, poisoning her husband Marvin by putting arsenic into his dinner. While he was in the hospital, she brought him homemade soup containing more poison. After Marvin’s death on January 21, 1966, doctors decided the cause of death had been a liver disease. After her husband’s death, Gibbs was supported by the local church community. She later donated some of her husband’s life insurance money to the church.  Eight months after the death of Gibbs’s husband, she poisoned her youngest son, 13-year-old Marvin. He died on August 29, 1966. He was assumed to have inherited a liver disease from his father, but his death certificate listed hepatitis. Gibbs was not suspected of any wrongdoing, and she again donated a large portion of her life insurance payout to the local church.  On January 23, 1967, another one of Gibbs’s sons, 16-year-old Melvin, died suddenly. Doctors listed his cause of death as a rare muscular disorder, and for a third time, Gibbs donated life insurance money to the church. Gibbs now had only one son left, 19-year-old Robert. Robert had fathered a child named Raymond with his wife, and Gibbs was seen to be delighted that she had become a grandmother. Soon, Raymond became sick and died suddenly, followed only a month later by his father.  Following the sudden deaths of a previously healthy young man and his infant son, the family physician became suspicious and referred the case to the state crime lab. An autopsy on Robert found that he had ingested a fatal amount of arsenic. Gibbs was arrested for murder on Christmas Day, and the bodies of her husband and two buried sons were exhumed. Autopsies conducted in the cemetery revealed each of the five murdered members of the Gibbs household had arsenic present in their bodies. Gibbs initially was found mentally unfit to stand trial and was confined to a mental institution where she worked as a cook.

2012Florence Holway – was born on June 2, 1915, in Massachusetts, United States. She was an artist and an advocate for victims of sexual assault.  On March 31, 1991, at the age of 75, she was raped and sodomized by John LaForest in her home in Alton, New Hampshire. This traumatic event led her to fight for justice, which ultimately resulted in significant changes to the state’s rape laws. Her story is the subject of a 2005 HBO documentary entitled “Rape in a Small Town: The Florence Holway Story,” which chronicled her ordeal.  Following the assault, Holway believed that her attacker would automatically receive a lengthy sentence. However, she was shocked to learn that he was offered a plea bargain which would result in a 12-year sentence without her consent. This led her to start a petition drive and alert the media to her plight. Due to her efforts, stronger sentences against sex offenders went into effect in 1993. First-time offenders in New Hampshire are now sentenced to 15–20 years instead of 7.5–15 years, second-time offenders are sentenced to 20–40 years, and third-time offenders are sentenced to life without parole. In addition, New Hampshire now has a sex offender registry, and prosecutors cannot offer plea bargains without the victim’s knowledge.  In 2003, Holway testified at LaForest’s parole hearing, speaking to him directly and questioning the sincerity of his remorse. Although his parole was initially denied, he was eventually set free. He was arrested again after just two months for harassing a woman at his workplace.  Holway was married at 28 and had five children, four boys and one girl. An accomplished artist, she enjoyed oil and watercolor painting. Much of her art was inspired by her children and their daily activities. She passed away on February 7, 2012, in New Hampshire, United States, leaving behind a legacy of advocacy and resilience.

 

Events

Gerald Miles Turner Jr

1857 – French writer Gustave Flaubert is acquitted on a charge of obscenity for his work “Madame Bovary”

1898 – The Dreyfus Affair: Emile Zola is brought to trial for libel for publishing “J’accuse…!”

1974 – The Symbionese Liberation Army claims responsibility for kidnapping heiress Patty Hearst

1975 – Gerald Miles Turner Jr who was dubbed the “Halloween Killer” starts his prison sentence for the murder of 9-year-old Lisa Ann French

1992 – Mike Tyson testifies in his rape trial

1995 – Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing is arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan

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