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Extra episode: “An Unexplained Death” – Audio Excerpt

A short extra for you: a sample chapter of my new book An Unexplained Death (Henry Holt, 2018), “the true story of an obsessive investigation into a mysterious death at an old hotel, and a gripping meditation on suicide and voyeurism” (read for you by the author). You can get the complete Audiobook on iTunes. An iOS version is available from Apple Books, and the real book can be purchased at Amazon, and elsewhere.

Listen to the first chapter here.

Episode 88: Nichol Kessinger Police Interview

Nichol Kessinger, 30, was hired as a contract employee at Andarko Petroleum in Platteville, Colorado, where she worked in Health and Safety. In either May or June 2017, she met and got to know Chris Watts (see episode 85), who also worked at Andarko. The two began a heavy affair that lasted for ten months. Watts told Kessinger that he and his wife Shannan were separated, and had joint custody of their two daughters. He said he lived in the basement of the family home in Frederick, Colorado, which, according to Watts, the couple were getting ready to sell. Nude photographs of Kessenger taken by Watts were retrieved from his cellphone by investigators.

On August 13, Shanann Watts and the two girls, Bella and Celeste, went missing; Chris denied knowledge of their whereabouts, but after failing a lie detector test and being confronted about the contradictions in his story, Watts finally confessed to murdering his family.

After his confession was made public, Nichol Kessinger came forward to police and told them about her affair with Watts. Police do not believe Kessinger was aware of Watts’ crime. In fact, she was totally duped by him, and seems to have been expecting him to propose. In early August 2013, right before the family went missing, she spent over two hours looking at wedding dresses online.

In most respects, Watts fits the pattern of family annihilators, who are generally white  middle-class males in their thirties; their crimes generally take place in August, before school starts, which may delay detection and investigation. However, unlike Chris Watts, most family annihilators commit suicide after the murders. Ironically, despite his murder conviction, Watts has been receiving love letters, while Kessinger has been the target of public threats, and has been placed temporarily in the witness protection.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 87: Cameron Rogers murder confession

This confession was recorded on Nov. 29, 2016 by Ottawa police homicide investigator Detective Theresa Kelm, the Mary Poppins of police interrogators. Her remarkably gentle, sympathetic and understanding manner is appropriate, since her subject, 22-year-old Cameron Rogers, who suffers from autism, appears edgy and unstable. His conversation is tangential at times; at other times he starts to panic.

The young man tells Kelm that he was cutting up a melon in the kitchen when he decided to kill his parents. He had no reason for doing so, he admits, other than the fact that they made him enroll in a college program he didn’t like, and required him to do jobs around the house. After retrieving a home-made “stick” (actually a sword) from the garage, he attacked his mother, Merrill Gleddie Rogers, in the back of her head, then the face.  Then, using a kitchen knife, he stabbed her in the neck and the back. Her screams brought his father, Dave, running into the kitchen, and Rogers stabbed him in the back with the knife,  puncturing a lung. He died quickly, from loss of blood; his mother, on the other hand, took “all night” to die. Rogers retreated to his bedroom, unable to watch.

The next day, he stuffed his father’s body into a large suitcase, covered his mother’s body with a tarp, then dumped them in a two-foot opening between the backyard shed and the fence. He then stayed inside the house for a week, cleaning up, and telling visitors that his parents were both in bed with the flu. Eventually, he tried to enter the U.S., but had no visa and was sent back to Canada. Returning home, he called police and confessed to the murders.

On November 24, 2018, Rogers was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder (a plea deal). He will serve two concurrent life sentences, with no chance of parole for 20 years.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 86: Stacey Castor Trial Testimony

This episode contains audio from the 2009 trial of Stacey Castor, 41, for the murder of her husband David, 48, in Onondaga County, New York State. In the face of cross examination by prosecutor Bill Fitzpatrick, Mrs. Castor remains calm and collected on the stand, and her testimony is meticulous in its detail–both of which may have counted against her in the minds of the jury.

Mrs. Castor claims that David, her second husband, had been despondent over health and business worries, and after a long and heated argument, he locked himself in the marital bedroom, drank whiskey for hours, then killed himself by drinking automotive antifreeze, which has no smell and a sweet taste, allowing it to be mixed undetected into beverages like coffee or iced tea.

Mrs. Castor’s first husband, Michael Wallace, died in 2000, also under suspicious circumstances. Police investigators, who smelt a rat, spent two years collecting evidence against her. In 2007, when the widow realized the net was closing in, she panicked, and wrote a “suicide note” on her computer in which her daughter Ashley “confesses” to poisoning both her father and stepfather. Mrs. Castor then invited Ashley, 20, to “get drunk” with her, and over the course of the evening, attempted to poison her daughter with crushed pills mixed with vodka, orange juice, and Sprite.

The jury found Stacey Castor guilty of the second-degree murder of David, and guilty of the attempted second-degree murder of Ashley. In June 2016, Castor was found dead of a heart attack in her prison cell.

Episode 85: Chris Watts FBI Interview

In the early morning of August 13, 2018, Christopher Lee Watts, 33, murdered his pregnant wife Shanann Watts, 34, and their daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, in their home in Frederick, Colorado. Christopher and Shannann Watts had been married for six years and lived in a five-bedroom home in Frederick, Colorado, purchased in 2013.  Chris Watts was employed by Anadarko Petroleum, while Shanann was an independent representative for a marketing company. The couple had recently been experiencing some financial difficulties, and had declared bankruptcy in 2015.

Chris Watts was arrested late on August 15, 2018. According to the arrest affidavit, he failed a polygraph test and subsequently confessed to murdering Shanann. Watts asked to speak to his father before making the confession. According to the affidavit, Watts was having an affair and claimed to have asked for a separation from his wife. During the investigation, Watts first tried to claim that Shanann had strangled the children in response to his request for separation; in a fit of rage, he said, he then strangled his wife, and then transported the three bodies to an oil site where he worked.

The bodies of Watts’ family were located by the authorities on the property of Watts’s former employer on August 16. Watts had been fired from his job on August 15, the day of his arrest. The children’s bodies were found in oil tanks, while the body of Shanann was buried in a shallow grave nearby.

At the time of her death, she was fifteen weeks pregnant. Watts pleaded guilty on November 6, 2018, to multiple counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to five life sentences, three to be served consecutively and two to be served concurrently.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 84: Dr. Conrad Murray Trial Testimony

This episode contains the testimony of Nicole Alvarez at the trial of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, in September 2011. Prosecutors allege that, during Michael Jackson’s final hours of life, Murray was preoccupied by phone conversations with his four girlfriends. In addition to Alvarez, Sade Anding, Michelle Bella and Bridgette Morgan also testified at the trial, but Alvarez, mother of Dr. Murray’s young son, was the most diverting.

Ms. Alvarez, a former cocktail waitress, testifies that she first met Dr. Murray at a Las Vegas club, and that he stays in her apartment whenever he’s in town. The prosecution argued that Alvarez received packages in the mail for Dr. Murray that contained shipments of propofol, the drug that killed Jackson.

Alvarez claims she occasionally retrieved packages for Dr. Murray, but didn’t know what they contained. She was too busy working, Alvarez claims, to pay attention to her boyfriend’s mail. When asked about her job, Alvarez says she is an actress, and spends her time going to rehearsals, and “refining my instrument,” which, when pushed, she defines as her “being.”

Ms. Alvarez’s biggest acting role was in a 2008 movie called Days of Wrath, produced by Foxy Films, where she played the role of “Hot Chick.” Murray was and convicted for involuntary manslaughter in November 2011, and served a two-year jail sentence.

Listen to the episode here

Episode 83: Denise Williams Love Triangle Part 2

This episode contains testimony from days 2 and 3 of the Denise Williams trial at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida. This tight-knit group of Florida couples–all former high school buddies–were entangled together in a complex web of sex and secrets.
First up is Nick Williams, Mike’s brother, who talks about the emotional toll the case has taken on the family. He’s followed by his mother, Cheryl Williams, who’s wheeled into the courtroom in a wheelchair, her gray hair in pigtails. She talks about the eighteen-year search for her missing son, and her quest to keep his case in the news.
Realtor Angela Stafford describes how she went back with Brian Winchester to his house one night, although both were married with children. She says that while she and Brian were having sex, Denise Williams walked into the room, then turned and fled. Brian, pulling on his pants, abandoned Angela and ran after her. Later, he told Angela that the women who interrupted them was his wife, Kathy, but Ms. Stafford testifies that she got a clear look at Denise, and didn’t believe him.
Finally, Brian Winchester’s ex-wife Kathy Thomas takes the stand. She says that she always suspected her husband and Denise Williams were having an affair. She says Brian was a selfish husband who often made her feel excluded. Early in 2018, Ms. Thomas became an informant for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and recorded several calls with Denise Williams. During one of those calls, played for the jury, Kathy refers to her current husband, Rocky. “He’s good and honest,” she tells Denise. “He’s not like us.”

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 82: Denise Williams Love Triangle Trial Testimony

On December 16, 2000, hard-working property appraiser Michael Williams, 31, left his home in Tallahassee, Florida, to go duck hunting. He never returned. Investigators concluded he’d drowned in Lake Seminole, and his body had been eaten by alligators. His widow, accountant Denise Williams, who had avoided media attention during the search for her husband, eventually declared him legally dead, and held a memorial. She was later the beneficiary of a large insurance payment.

The man who helped her with the insurance claim was Brian Winchester,an  old high school friend of the couple who had been very close to Mike. Five months after Mike was declared dead, Denise married Brian Winchester, who moved in with Denise and her daughter, Anslee.

Sixteen years later, Denise filed papers for divorce, claiming that her husband was a “sex addict.” Brian threatened suicide, then kidnapped Denise and held her hostage at gunpoint. He was tried for the crime, and sentenced to 20 years–a long time for assault and kidnapping, but not so long for murder. The police had never believed Mike’s death was an accident, and after tough questioning, and as part of a plea deal, Brian confessed that he and Denise had murdered Mike Williams in order to be together and to collect on the insurance. They had, apparently, been lovers since high school. In May 2018, Denise Williams, now 48, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was found guilty, and is awaiting sentence.

This episode contains Brian Winchester’s testimony in Denise Williams’s murder trial (Denise did not take the stand). In a clear voice, broken occasionally by moments of emotion, Winchester describes how, eighteen years ago, he murdered his best friend Mike while the pair were out duck hunting. Williams has resolved to tell the absolute truth, and the his story is powerful and gripping, a daylight horror story reminiscent of Double Indemnity.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 81: Sandra Melgar Police Interview

On December 23, 2012, family members arrived at the home of Sandra and Jaime Melgar’s home, in Houston, Texas, to celebrate the couple’s 32nd wedding anniversary. They expected to find the couple preparing for dinner; instead, they found Jaime, 52, in a bedroom closet, dead from 31 stab wounds, and Sandra, 57, tied up in the bathroom. The police were summoned, and Sandra was interviewed at the Harris County Sheriff’s department at 9.45pm the same evening.

Earlier that evening, Sandra, a Jehovah’s Witness who owned a medical billing and coding business, tells police officers that she and Jaime, a computer programmer, had taken a long soak together in the Jacuzzi, drinking wine and eating strawberries. Jaime had got out of the tub, left the room, and hadn’t come back. When she went to look for him, Sandra ways, she believes she was hit over the head, as she had a seizure and passed out. She believes that she and Jaime were victims of a home invasion.

But as the police point out, nothing was taken from the house, and the couple’s dogs did not deter the attacker. During Sandra Melgar’s trial, the prosecutor argued that her motive was financial: Jamie had a $250,000 life insurance policy, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to divorce unless the spouse has committed adultery. The prosecutor made the case that Sandra stabbed her husband to death with a kitchen knife and then tied herself up.

Yet it would be very difficult to murder someone then tie yourself up so tightly that two separate people are unable to release you. In the interview, Sandra Melgar seems exhausted, but doesn’t seem to be prevaricating. She maintains eye contact with the detectives, and although she appears shaken, but not melodramatic. There are long pauses; sometimes she even sits in silence for a while.

Sandra Melgar was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 80: Todd Courser Audiotape

In this audio recording, secretly taped by his aide Ben Graham on May 19 2015, Republican senator Todd Courser is a desperate man, rapidly drowning but still fighting for air. Courser admits he’s been having an extramarital affair with Republican senator Cindy Gamrat (at the time, both politicians were married with children). The affair has been discovered by an anonymous blackmailer (later revealed to be Gamrat’s husband), and Courser outlines to his dumbfounded aide a harebrained scheme to detract attention from the scandal. He plans to send out a “false flag e-mail” from a fake address alleging that he is a drug user, child molester, “bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant”, and “gun-toting, Bible-thumping, cock-sucking freak” who has been caught having “male on male paid sex behind a Lansing nightclub”. Courser agrees that the e-mail is “over-the-top”, but tells his doubtful aide that it will “inoculate the herd” because the “real” scandal will be hidden in the ramblings of the anonymous message.

Courser is clearly at the end of his tether, but his refusal to resign makes it difficult to sympathize with him: the man’s egotism is obviously about to take him down. And it did. Both Michigan lawmakers resigned after it was revealed they had been cheating on their spouses and then using taxpayer-funded offices and staff to cover it up.

Listen to the episode here.
Police Report on Extortion Texts
House of Michigan Representatives Report on the Courser Gamrat Affair