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Episode 109: Pensacola CSI Love Triangle Murder

Pensacola private investigator and former police officer Taylor Wright, 33, was last seen on September 7, 2017. Taylor had been going through a difficult divorce and had taken money that the court had ordered her to pay to her ex-husband, Jeff, who’d been given custody of their young son, Drake. When she went missing, gun-loving Taylor had been living with a woman, P.E. teacher Cassandra Waller, but this couple, too, were at odds.
Cassandra had just discovered that Taylor was cheating on her with Ashley McArthur, 42, a former crime scene technician for the Sheriff’s Office. Taylor had asked Ashley to keep $34,000 in her safety deposit box so she wouldn’t have to pay it to Jeff. Now, she was having problems getting the money back from Ashley.

Investigators learned that Ashley, who was married, had many lovers, including Brandon Beatty, owner of Stix billiard hall, and Audrey Warner, who tended bar there. Her phone and bank records showed that on August 16, 2017, a cashier’s check for $34,000 had been deposited into her account and had since been spent. Taylor’s body was discovered on October 19 buried under concrete and potting soil on a property neighboring Ashley’s aunt’s horse farm in north Escambia County. The jury found Ashley McArthur guilty of first-degree premeditated murder with a firearm. 

This  episode contains excerpts from Jeff Wright on direct, Cassandra Waller on direct and cross, Audrey Warner on direct and cross, and Zachary McArthur on direct.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 108: Jerrod Murray Confession

In December 2012, Jerrod Murray, 18, a freshman at East Central University, Oklahoma, asked fellow student Generro Sanchez, also 18, for ride to Wal-Mart in exchange for $20. Once inside the vehicle, Murray pulled out a gun and forced Sanchez to drive five miles north of Asher, Murray’s hometown. While driving, Sanchez began begging Murray to spare his life. Murray shot him twice in the head, and the vehicle crashed into a tree. Murray pulled Sanchez out, shot him again in the head, then pushed the body into a ditch and covered it with leaves and sticks.

Murray was arrested near the scene, and taken in for questioning by Pottawatomie County Under-sheriff J.T. Palmer. Murray, speaking clearly and without hesitation, immediately confesses to the crime, telling Palmer that, “if pressed,” he would say he did it “to demonstrate the power of my will.” He states that he had thought about killing someone for a long time because he wanted to know what it felt like, and chose Sanchez because he did not seem to have many friends, and would not be missed. Murray speaks in a flat tone without emotion, and every time he speaks, addresses Palmer politely as “sir.” When asked if he feels remorse, he replies, “Well, I am glad I got caught by someone with your high rank, but no, I don’t feel any remorse for what I did.”

Evan Jolliff, a student who lived in Murray’s freshman dorm, said Jerrod was very eccentric. He wore a dark suit, carried a cane, and never went to class. “He just didn’t seem right,” said Joliff.

Murray was later evaluated by multiple mental health professionals, and all but one agreed he displayed serious signs of psychotic behavior and that, if released, he posed a significant threat to public safety. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 107: Scott Nelson Takes the Stand

At 11.30am on Sept. 27, 2017, housekeeper and nanny Jennifer Fulford received a FedEx package from the “Bacon of the Month Club” at the home of her employer in Winter Park, Florida, Reid Berman. Shortly after that, she was supposed to pick up Reid Berman’s son Oliver from school. She didn’t show up. Her body was later found in a vacant field close to the Apopka-Vineland Road in southwest Orange County. Her head had been wrapped in duct tape, and she’d been stabbed her seven times.

The perpetrator of the crime was an unrepentant 55-year-old man named Scott Nelson. As he testifies, Scott Nelson, 55, had a tough life. His mother was schizophrenic, his father abusive. He tried to go straight but failed, got into drugs and turned to crime to feed his habit. He served 25 years in federal prison for six felonies. When released to the streets of Orlando, Florida in 2010, he got a lucky break. A good Samaritan gave him a job in a paint store, and let him live in an apartment above his garage. But his luck ran out when his probation officer turned up at his job, which led to him getting fired and losing his home. For Scott Nelson, this was the last straw in a life of indignities. He was through. As he said on the stand, “Once you kick a dog enough times, they bite back.”

“I suffered to make my way up the mountain, and this maniac comes in and cuts it out from underneath me. What am I going to do? Get another job and let him do it again? No. We are going fight back,” Nelson says. He testifies that he was planning to shoot his probation officer, but instead, he decided to target the ritzy home of Reid Berman because he was homeless and hungry. He went to Walmart and bought duct tape and zip ties (“never leave home without them,” he advises the jury). When Ms. Fulford opened the door of the Berman home, he pushed his way inside with a knife. After binding Fulford with zip ties and wrapping her in a comforter, he explains that he put her in the trunk of her own car and drove her to an ATM, where he withdrew $300 from her bank account. He describes her death as “collateral damage.”

In his testimony, Nelson blames the federal government and his probation officer for the crime, saying they “lit a firecracker, lit a bomb” in his troubled soul. “Jennifer Fulford would be alive today” if it were not for them, he claims. For their part, prosecutors argued Nelson was a “narcissist” who wanted an opportunity to “rail against the world,” and so he murdered Fulford with a plan to get caught. Despite his request for the death penalty, Nelson was sentenced to life without parole.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 106: Deposition of “The Apostle”

This episode contains highlights from the 2015 deposition of David E. “The Apostle” Taylor, of J.M.M.I Ministries in St. Louis, Missouri. Taylor is being questioned by attorney Colleen Ronayne as part of a divorce suit filed by Ricky Frazier, the ex-husband of one of Taylor’s “volunteers” Deborah Frazier, who has donated over a million dollars to the ministry.

Ronayne questions Taylor about his claims to have been visited personally by Jesus, and to have cured people of blindness and AIDS. She also asks about his cars (a BMW, Mercedes, Bentley, and a Range Rover), and his clothing bills ($6,000 at Louis Vuitton, $3,500 at Versace, $1,700 at Monsieur Clothing, and other designer items totaling $30,000 over a two-year period). It’s sometimes painful to listen to Taylor’s fumbling, inarticulate responses. Visibly nervous and biting his bottom lip, Taylor makes pitiful excuses for his frivolous purchases (he has to buy his belts at high-end stores because “they have a better TV appearance”). Interestingly, like Pastor Timothy Omotoso (whose case was featured in Episode 74), Taylor has a particular fondness for garish military jackets.

He claims to know almost nothing about his own finances, repeatedly telling Ronanye that she should ask Michelle Brannon, his fellow board member. He claims not to know his own office address, or the purpose of a $2.8 million dollar property in St. Louis that is listed as an asset on J.M.M.I.’s tax forms, or even the identity of one of his dependents. Every time he’s trapped in a contradiction or a lie, his response is the same: “ask Michelle.”

Listen to the episode here.

 

Episode 105: Timothy Jones Jr. Police Confession

This child murder took place on August 28, 2014 in Lexington, SC, and this time, there were multiple victims. When interviewed by FBI agent David Mackey and Lexington County sheriff’s Detective Adam Creech, Jones, a divorced dad who had sole custody of the kids, explained that his oldest child, 6-year-old Nahtahn, deliberately blew out four electrical outlets in the home. Jones, 37, said he became angry and “PTd his ass,” meaning that he made Nahtahn do physical exercises until he collapsed and died. When Jones realized what he’d done, he said “the voices started” in his head, telling him the other children were against him, and he had to kill them, too.

Jones describes how he killed daughter Merah, 8, and Elias, 7, by strangling them with his hands, then killed son Gabriel, 2, and daughter Elaine, 1, by choking them with a belt.“I was just running on fear, and I wasn’t thinking. I started following those voices in my head,” Jones says. “Logic went out the window.” He told the officers that he’s often felt himself to be mentally ill, though has never been diagnosed by a doctor. Jones speaks in a flat voice, sometimes normally, and sometimes in a high-pitched, tearful tone, beginning to wail as he gets to the end of the confession. The jury clearly felt his “crazy” presentation to be feigned, as they found him guilty of five counts of first degree murder. Jones has yet to be sentenced, but may face the death penalty.

Listen to the episode here.

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.