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Episode 104: Brendt Christensen FBI interview

On the afternoon of June 9, 2017, Ms. Yingying Zhang, 26, a Chinese student at the  University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, went missing after she was offered a ride while waiting at a bus stop. She was last seen on a surveillance tape, around 2.30pm, getting into a black Saturn Astra. Police traced the Astra to Brendt Christensen, 28, a former physics grad student who was, at the time, unemployed after dropping out of a PhD program.

This episode contains part of the FBI interview with Brendt Christensen that took place on June 15, six days after Ms. Yingying’s disappearance. This is his second interview. After some pressing, he admits that he gave an Asian female a ride the previous weekend, but said he dropped her off after only a few blocks when a wrong turn caused her to panic. He also explained that he was married, that he and his wife were in an open relationship with another couple, and that she had been out of town with her boyfriend the day Ms. Yingying went missing.

After this questioning, the FBI agents took possession of Christensen’s computers and cellphone, and placed him under continuous surveillance. They also asked his girlfriend, Terra Bullis, to wear a wire. On June 29, Christensen attended a memorial walk for Ms. Yingying with his girlfriend. Later, he confessed to Terra that he had picked up Ms. Yingying, brought her back to his apartment, and held her there against her will.

Christensen’s trial took place in June 2019. He had no had no prior criminal record and no record of disciplinary problems at the university. The FBI report on his cellphone noted that in April, he used his cellphone to access the sexual fetish website Fetlife, and visited the forum “Abduction 101.” At the trial, it was revealed that Christensen admitted he had raped, assaulted, and decapitated Ms. Yingying. Her body has still not been found. Christensen is about to be sentenced, and the prosecution is pushing for the death penalty.

Warning: audio ends abruptly.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 103: John Jonchuck Trial Testimony

This episode contains the testimony of Father Bill Swengros of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida, in the trial of John Jonchuck Jr. for the murder of his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe. Jonchuck and his wife were engaged in a custody battle over Phoebe when Jonchuck went to see his attorney and began to make bizarre statements. He claimed he was God and the creator. He then wanted her to read him the Bible in Swedish. When she refused, Jonchuck said he was going to find a minister. He called Father Bill Swengros for an appointment, then arrived at St. Paul’s and said he wanted to join the church and be baptized. Phoebe was with him; Swengros said she seemed “bright, amiable, and self confident.” He said Jonchuck did not appear to be mentally ill.

Shortly after midnight that same evening, Jonchuck drove to the Tampa Bay bridge and threw Phoebe over the edge. Despite his claims of insanity, Jonchuck was found guilty of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 102: Dallas Dentist Love Triangle

Dr. Kendra Hatcher, 35, a Dallas pediatric dentist, was fatally shot in the head by an unknown assailant in the parking garage of her Dallas apartment building Sept. 2, 2015. Dr. Hatcher was about to leave for Mexico for a vacation with her new boyfriend, Dr. Ricardo Paniaguia, a dermatologist. Kendra was a step up from Ricky’s ex, dental hygienist Brenda Delgado, 36, whom he’d dumped in February, seven months earlier (three months before meeting Kendra). Apparently, Brenda became “obsessed” with getting Ricky back, and was angry that he’d broken up with her by e-mail. Police learned she hired a hit man, 35-year-old Kristopher Love, to “eliminate” her rival in exchange for drugs and money. Love was sentenced to life in prison. Brenda’s dental assistant friend Crystal Cortes, the 27-year-old getaway driver, pleaded guilty in October to a lesser murder charge in exchange for a 35-year sentence. Brenda Delgado was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life.

This episode contains the testimony from June 4, 2019 of: Brenda Delgado’s friend and former room-mate Jennifer Escobar, Kendra Hatcher’s close friend Rosie Singh, and her boyfriend Ricardo Paniagua.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 101: Deposition of Father Jerome Kern

On April 15, 2014, Father Jerome Kern, a priest in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, was deposed as part of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in Minnesota  While Kern does not admit to sexually abusing children in the deposition, he does admit to “horsing around” with young boys, and doing something he calls “Italian wrestling.” He claims that his only sexual outlet is “masturbation” to fantasies about “ladies,” though he admits he may be bisexual. He describes putting his hand on one boy’s stomach, chest, lower stomach, and inside his bathing suit while swimming, and touching another boy’s genitals on the outside of his swimsuit and touching his chest and stomach in the sauna.

At 72, Kern is (or appears to be) shaky, absent-minded, and forgetful. He says he’s tired, has problems remembering, and is unfamiliar with modern terms like “sexual abuse.” While he admits that he came to realize that it was wrong to “give hugs and horse around,” he presents himself as a man from another age who is surprised to find his good intentions have been misinterpreted. The deposition aims, in part, to discover the extent of the church’s cover-up, since the Archdiocese received reports of Kern’s inappropriate sexual misconduct with minor children as early as 1969, yet Kern remained in ministry until 2002.

In 1987, the mothers of two boys abused by Father Kern met with senior church leaders to discuss the allegations, but were brushed off. Eventually, Al Michaud, one of Father Kern’s victims,  filed a lawsuit against Kern and the Archdiocese, which was settled out of court.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 100: Alex Zaldivar murder trial

  In May 2013, Bessman Okafor and Nolan Bernard broke into a home in a quiet suburb of Ococee, Florida, after misidentifying it as a “drug house.” When it was clear they had the wrong place, the men tied up the house’s four young roommates: included Alex Zaldivar, 19, and Brienna Campos, 20, and their two friends Will and Brandon. The youngsters were threatened with guns, and robbed of their cash, laptops, cellphones, and electronics. Police quickly identified Okafor and Bernard, who were arrested and released on bond.

A trial date was set for September 11, 2013, and the four young victims were listed as witnesses. One day before the trial, Okafor and Bernard returned to the house in the middle of the night and woke up the sleeping inhabitants, Alex Zaldivar, Brienna Campos, and her 23-year-old brother Remington, who were lined up and shot in the head. Alex was killed, but Brienna and Remington survived. A jury found the gunman, Bessman Okafor, guilty of Alex Zaldivar’s murder and the attempted murder of his two roommates, and recommended the death penalty by a vote of 11-1. But the case was overturned because the jury was not unanimous, and Okafor is waiting for retrial.

This episode contains State witnesses from Okafor’s murder trial in August 2015: Amy Scott, a neighbor to whom Remington and Brienna ran for help; officer Daniel Schilling, who investigated the crime, and victim Brienna Campos.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 99: Jessica Bashara Testifies

On January 25, 2012, in the wealthy suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, successful marketing executive Jane Bashara, 56, was found strangled to death in a Mercedes-Benz SUV in a Detroit alleyway.  In March 2012, a mentally impaired handyman named Joe Gentz was arrested and charged with first degree murder after telling police that Jane’s husband, Bob Bashara, 57, had paid him $2,000 and an old Cadillac to murder Jane. Investigators also discovered that Mr. Bashara owned an underground sex dungeon in the basement behind a building he owned, where he took women for S&M sex games, and where he was known as “Master Bob.”
In September 2015, Bob Bashara was tried for the murder of his wife. His daughter Jessica, 23, testified that she was unaware of any problems between her parents, who had been married for 26 years, although she knew her father thought her mother was too critical of him. She also mentioned catching her father using a pornographic S&M website. “He told me that he was on pornographic websites because he had been experiencing erectile dysfunction and he wanted to know if the problem was with him or my mother,” says Jessica. Bob Bashara was sentenced to life without parole.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 98: Claudia Hoerig Trial Testimony

In March 2007, the body of Air Force Reserve Major Karl Hoerig was found in his home in Ohio, with two gunshot wounds in his back, and another in his head.  His wife of two years, Claudia Hoerig, had fled to Brazil. For various reasons, she wasn’t extradited until January 2018, at which point she confessed to the murder, but said it was an act of self-defense, and the marriage had been abusive. She said she got a gun to kill herself, and Karl told her to do it in the basement so she wouldn’t make a mess. At that point, said Claudia, she decided to shoot him instead.

During a discussion of the Hoerig’s relationship prior to Karl’s death, Claudia Hoerig’s attorney directed the conversation to the couple’s sexual habits. Ms. Hoerig claims that her husband “was not able to perform without Viagra or without bondage, or without something weird or me pretending to be dead.” She says that it wasn’t until after they were married that Karl revealed his fetishes.

Claudia Hoerig was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 97: Robert Mondrian Powell Police Interrogation

When telling lies, people are apparently either overly vague, or too specific. In his responses during this interrogation, Robert Mondrian-Powell, 59, is both extremely indirect and annoyingly particular. This polite and well-spoken gentleman explains that he was homeless when he met Elvira Segura, 67, a retired librarian whose decomposed body was found by police in the bathroom of her Las Cruces home a month before this interview took place.
Mondrian-Powell tells police that Ms. Segura let him live in her home in exchange for doing handyman work around the house. Police closed in on Ms. Segura’s former tenant after neighbors told them he recently held a yard sale, disposing of many of Ms. Segura’s possessions, then took off in her car. His description of the problems Ms. Segura was having with her headphones and her computer are pointlessly detailed, as Mondrian-Powell seems to realize he’s been caught, and is stalling for time.
But after 40 minutes of rambling about electric wiring and circuit breakers, Mondrian-Powell suddenly confesses to murdering Ms. Segura in a domestic fight. He describes smashing her head into the ground, causing her to bleed, and then shooting her in the neck.
However, the District Attorney’s Office made a mess of the prosecution. Mondrian-Powell was held in jail for 20 months while eight different members of the prosecution team took turns working on the case before the judge decided that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated, and he was released without charge.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 96: Tara Grinstead Trial Testimony

 Tara Grinstead was a south Georgia beauty queen and high school history teacher who disappeared from her home in Ocilla in Irwin County, Georgia, in 2005. This episode includes testimony from the second day of the trial of Bo Dukes, who stands accused of helping to cover up the crime. The man accused of murdering Tara, Ryan Duke, is set to go to trial later this year.
First on the stand is Grinstead’s Ocilla neighbor, Joe Portier,who recalls how Tara did his granddaughter’s hair for a beauty contest the weekend she went missing. Portier said that he called a police officer and the two men went to search Tara’s house, where they found clothes and jewelry from the beauty show, but no sign of Tara. Next up is John McCullough, who says he met Bo Dukes when they were in basic training. He recalls that Bo told him that Ryan got into a fight with Tara, and ended up accidentally strangling her. McCullough said that according to Bo, Ryan asked if he could borrow his truck to move Tara’s body to a pecan orchard, where Bo helped him to burn it, and bury the remains. McCullough testifies that he tried reporting what Dukes had told him multiple times, but no one would listen.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 95: Six Mayday Calls

(1) The Northern Belle was a 75-foot fishing vessel that went down in the Gulf of Alaska on April 20 2010. Three of her four crew were rescued alive; her captain, Robert Royer, who placed the Mayday call, tried to jump overboard but wasn’t able to get clear of the tangle of gear, hit his head on a large metal pump, and didn’t re-surface. Some time later, his body was seen floating face-up. The captain’s cocker spaniel, Baxter, also went down with the vessel.

(2) On April 7, 1994, a FedEx employee named Auburn Calloway tried to hi-jack Federal Express Flight 705 from Memphis to San Jose. Calloway, who was about to be fired, boarded the flight with several hammers and a speargun concealed in a guitar case. He planned to crash the aircraft hoping that he would appear to be an employee killed in an accident, so his family could collect his life insurance. But the crew fought back, subdued Calloway, and landed safely.

(3) Betty Ong was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first airplane to be hijacked during the September 11 attacks. Shortly after the hijacking, Ong notified  ground crew of the hijacking. She reported that none of the crew could contact the cockpit nor open its door, a passenger and two flight attendants had been stabbed, and someone had sprayed mace in the business class cabin.

(4) On August 10, 2018, a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 was stolen from Sea–Tac airport in Washington, by 29-year-old Richard Russell, a Horizon Air ground service agent with no piloting experience. Friends described him as “a quiet guy” who was “well liked by the other workers”. Around one hour and 15 minutes after takeoff, Russell committed suicide by intentionally crashing the aircraft on a lightly-populated island in Puget Sound. No explanation for the incident was found.

(5) On September 27, 2018, crew member Franklin Freddy Meave Vazquez, 27, went berserk on the fishing vessel Billy Haver when about 55 miles off Nantucket, Mass. He assaulted a crew member with a knife in one hand and a hammer in the other, Vazquez then struck a third colleague before he was chased up the mast in an attempt to avoid capture, He was charged with murder and attempted murder. No-one knows what sparked the attacks.

(6) Not actually a Mayday call…. on the taxiway, a German Lufthansa pilot is annoyed that maintenance have left the gas tank door open on his plane. Rather than wait for the ground control crew to come and close it, he gets out of the cockpit to do it himself.

Listen to the episode here.