The Killer Book of Infamous Murders: Incredible Stories, Facts, and Trivia from the World's Most Notorious Murders

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9781402237461: The Killer Book of Infamous Murders: Incredible Stories, Facts, and Trivia from the World's Most Notorious Murders
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Spine-chilling Tales of the Ultimate Evil Deeds

Murders have long made headlines, but only those with the most heartless betrayals, twisted lies, and gruesome crime scenes have earned a place in infamy. The Killer Book of Infamous Murders takes you behind the crime scene tape and into the heart of notorious and remorseless massacres.

Uncover fascinating facts about killers' dark pasts, pent-up rage, and what finally caused them to snap-leading them to commit some of the world's most shocking crimes, including:

  • Leopold and Loeb's "perfect crime": the kidnapping and slaying of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks
  • The bloody shootings of Alan and Diane Johnson, killed by their sixteen-year-old daughter
  • The cold-blooded murder of the Clutter family
  • The puzzling and controversial murder of Marilyn Sheppard
  • And much more...

Bury yourself in these edge-of-your-seat tales, read chilling quotes and courtroom transcripts, and test your crime IQ with trivia. You'll shudder in horrified delight-and you just might need to sleep with the lights on.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Tom Philbin and his brother Mike have been close to crime for many years. Tom is a long-time freelance writer who has written nine cop novels. He lives in New York.

Mike Philbin is a musician and this is his third book. Mike lives in New Hampshire.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Notable Quotable

The body speaks to you.

Tom Richmond, Homicide, Suffolk County

In this unusual, gruesome, and historic case, Tom actually got up close and personal with murder and a murderer. Indeed, we have never read of a method of murder more gruesome than this, and it took twenty-six years to file a case against the person who the district attorney felt was guilty. Today, with regular cold-case squads in police departments all over the country and older cases commonly investigated, it would not be unusual. But in 1979, it was the oldest case ever pursued by a prosecutor in the United States.

Murder in 1979

The case occurred in Suffolk County, Long Island, a sprawling county on the eastern end of Long Island. The investigation of the case―or reinvestigation as it would turn out―supposedly started in mid-January of 1979 when an anonymous female called the Suffolk County Homicide Squad and asked a simple question.

“Was there a murder in the early 1950s?” the caller asked a detective. She did not offer any details, wouldn’t identify herself, and then hung up.

The woman called again on January 19, and told cops that she once dated a man named Rudolph Hoff. She reported that one night Hoff got violent with her and told her that he had hurt one woman and killed another who resisted his advances.

It was then that the DA’s office and the homicide squad started to look into a 1954 cold-case murder.

The rumor of the anonymous caller circled for a while, but a person close to the case told me the real story. Though there was no formal cold-case squad at the time in Suffolk County, Gary Leonard, newly named to the Suffolk County Homicide Squad, was doing what all new appointees on the squad did. Leonard spent time going over old homicide cases to see if his “new” eyes could see anything that might produce a fresh lead that the original detectives hadn’t seen.

One of the cases that he reviewed was the murder of a fifty-four-year-old woman we’ll call Betty James (not her real name) on October 3, 1954. The detail that grabbed him was the method of murder. Leonard was aware that it was just like the method of assault in 1970 in Lindenhurst by a man named Rudolph Hoff, a six foot two inch muscular carpenter/cabinet maker, on a woman named Eugenia Sullivan. One doctor who examined Sullivan said that it was the most vicious assault he had seen in thirty years as a doctor. Hoff has taken his very large fist and part of his forearm and driven it in and out of the woman’s vaginal canal, macerating the flesh, damaging her cervix, causing her to lose seven of the eight pints of blood in her body, and taking sixty stitches to close. She lived, miraculously, but her mind died. The event caused her to be institutionalized in a mental facility where she passed away a few years later.

Leonard learned that Hoff had served thirty-two months in state prison for the Sullivan assault and had been a suspect in the killing of Betty James, a small woman whose body had been found sprawled on the grass in Pinelawn Cemetery in Lindenhurst. Her vaginal canal and cervix had been ripped like Sullivan’s, and she had died of blood loss (exsanguination), losing just about every ounce of it in her body.

 

   Rudolf Hoff   

Leonard brought the similarity of the cases to the attention of his superiors, and galvanized by them, the DA’s detectives and the homicide squad started to look into the 1954 case. Of course they were well aware that any kind of prosecution was a long shot. Twenty-five years had elapsed and witnesses were few and far between.

The case, investigators learned, had started in the Alcove Bar and Grill in Lindenhurst, on the south shore of Long Island, in the wee hours of the morning of October 4, 1954. People who were there were buzzing over a spectacular catch―still known among baseball fans as “The Catch”―that Willie Mays made at the Polo Grounds, snaring a high arcing drive by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz over his shoulder and on the dead run, his back to home plate.

The 1954 investigation said that Hoff came into the bar after midnight, and at one point offered an old man named Otto Schaarf a ride home. Betty James, meanwhile, who was an alcoholic, was sitting at a table and when he was about to leave, Hoff said to her as he passed, “C’mon Grandma, let’s go.”

They left, Hoff took Schaarf home, and then started home with Betty James, but they never made it. Instead, Hoff took her to an isolated part of nearby Pinelawn Cemetery.

No one knows exactly what happened. Different theories suggest that at one point Betty James laughed at Hoff for his inability to perform sexually. Others say that she laughed because he actually could not get his erection to subside, a condition known as priapism. Whatever was said, Hoff was driven into a rage and assaulted her.

The 1979 investigators found that the 1954 investigators were severely hampered by jealousy and incompetence and too many police agencies involved in the probe of the murder. There were four separate police departments involved: Lindenhurst, Babylon, the New York state troopers, and the Suffolk district attorney’s office. The agencies failed to disclose information to one another and just generally bungled the case. Hoff was identified by a couple of bar patrons as the man who left the bar with Betty James―he had an Ace bandage on his hand and his size made him physically distinctive―and he was put in a couple of lineups but was not picked out.

The mishandling of this particular case was one of the reasons why, in 1960, a single, county-wide police department was formed in Long Island.

An Unconscionable Act

Hoff was also given vital and unconscionable help by one of the cops investigating the case. Police officer Jack Holmgren, who lived across the street from the Hoffs―Rudolph, his wife Gurli, and their three kids―recommended that Hoff hire Sidney Siben of Siben & Siben (an excellent law firm at the time) to represent him. Holmgren also tipped Hoff off to the fact that his phone―the phone of a potential murderer―was being tapped by cops to try to see if they could catch him making any incriminating statements to his attorney. Hence, any calls between Hoff and his attorney that related to the case were made from “safe” phones.

Why would Holmgren do this? There are hints here and there that he was involved with Gurli Hoff, a WWII German bride and striking woman who would ultimately divorce Hoff because of his drinking, destructive behavior, and philandering ways.

In 1971, after Hoff was sent to prison for assaulting Eugenia Sullivan, Gurli still, as Newsday said, “continued her close relationship with Holmgren.” For his part, Holmgren said that he had always been “flabbergasted” that Hoff had never been arrested, apparently forgetting that he helped get him great legal representation and warned him that his phone was tapped. Ironically, Holmgren died on January 26, 1979, the day Hoff was picked up for questioning as he left for work from his Freeport, Long Island, apartment.

The cops, aware they had very thin evidence against him, apparently planned to blitzkrieg Hoff, and they succeeded. Out of the blue he was picked up by a couple of detectives from the DA’s office and brought to the Lindenhurst precinct, where he was questioned intensely about the 1954 murder. Hoff, for all his savagery with women, seemed to be afraid of cops.

Shortly thereafter, a court hearing was held, at which Thomas Gill, a detective, testified that Hoff had confessed to the murder, and as a result he was formerly indicted. Hoff and his attorney, Jonathan Boxer of Garden City (no one can explain why he didn’t hire Siben & Siben again), argued that the confession had been concocted by the police, but the argument was rejected by the judge. Bail was set but Hoff couldn’t come up with it for sixteen months, at which time it was lowered and Hoff was bailed out by his girlfriend, Lucy Rydzylewski.

As the trial approached, the prosecution received a seemingly fatal blow: Hoff’s confession was tossed out by Judge Doyle, who said that he should have had a lawyer present when he confessed.

Steve Wilutis, the DA prosecuting the case (who was nine years old when the murder was committed), had gathered a circumstantial case, and the loss of Hoff’s confession was a horrific blow. They still had some people who would testify about their recollections from more than a quarter-century earlier―such as a nurse where Hoff worked who remembered putting an Ace bandage on his hand―but Wilutis knew his case was in serious trouble.

A Miracle

The miracle was to come from George Latchford, a motorcycleriding Jackie Gleason look-alike who was a detective with the DA’s office and who asked his bosses if he could talk with Gurli Hoff. They all sensed she knew more than she was saying, but so far had refused to talk to anyone about what she knew outside the family.

Latchford got permission and assaulted Gurli, you might say, with delicious strudel cake, which he brought over every Saturday morning to Gurli’s house, riding his conspicuously German-made motorcycle. Gurli said he was “persistent but very nice.”

Slowly but surely she “gave it up” as cops say, and at the trial in 1980 she showed up, making, Latchford said, a dramatic appearance as a prosecution witness.

“She was a strikingly beautiful woman,” Latchford told me, “and even with gray hair she wowed everyone, but what she had to say was stunning, the heart and soul of the case.”

As she testified, Hoff watched her carefully. She had not seen him in years and he was now white-haired, unrecognizable, and nothing like the brown-haired man she was once married to.

Cold Cases

These refer to cases that have gone unsolved for years because of lack of leads, information, evidence, or anything else detectives normally use to keep investigating a case.

“In the past decade,” as Vernon J. Geberth points out in his book, Practical Homicide Investigation, “decreasing crime rates and advances in forensics have combined to allow some law enforcement agencies the opportunity to reinvestigate older, previously investigated but unsolved homicides.”

Cold cases have given rise to a wide variety of TV shows and books, and at the center of the ability to solve old cases is, of course, DNA. And it has saved lives. Well over one hundred people, set to be executed, have walked out of the death chamber.

DNA is not alone in solving some of these cases. Over the years people change, and they become more susceptible to being cooperative. A prime example of this is when Gurli Hoff, once married to Rudolph Hoff, came into court to testify against him in a case that was over a quarter-century old, most likely because her conscience couldn’t endure it any more.

On October 4, 1954, she said, at about 4:30 a.m., Hoff came home, and she was taken aback. His hands, shirt, and pants were bathed in blood. He explained that he had been in an accident, and she helped him wash his clothes in a washing machine.

But the next morning, she knew exactly what had happened when the papers said that the bloodied body of Betty James had been found, and that she had been in the Alcove Bar, the same place that she knew Hoff frequented.

Unknown to Hoff or anyone else, Gurli produced a curledup bloodied belt that was entered into evidence, and Wilutis brought out that it was the original bloody belt that Hoff had worn that day in 1954 during the commission of the homicide of Betty James.

Gurli was asked where she had kept the belt all these years―since October 1954―and she said she had rolled it up and put it in a jar and buried it in the backyard.

Why?

She didn’t know. She just felt that some day she might need it.

“She was only on the stand for about eight minutes,” Latchford said, “but she buried Hoff.”

Indeed, the jury deliberated for twelve hours and returned a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder, which carried with it a life sentence. Hoff, manacled, was led from the court in tears.

***

At one point I asked Latchford why Gurli testified against Hoff. Was it because he had cheated on her so extensively? Was it revenge?

Latchford, who had gotten to know her quite well over many strudel-eating Saturdays, said “No, I think it was just a terrible burden she had been carrying, that she knew that her husband had killed a woman and assaulted another and her life ended as well. She had to let it go.”

“And what,” I asked Latchford, “did you think of Hoff?”

I remember the face of Latchford, a funny kind of guy who always seemed bemused by life, going hard and flat. “Hoff,” he said, “was a cold, vicious bastard.”

Notes on Talking with a Murderer

I had gotten a tip from a law enforcement friend about what a great case the Hoff case was, and I was looking for a good case to write a book about. I started corresponding with Hoff, who was in Attica, a maximum security facility in upstate New York, and travelled to visit him in mid-August of 1989. Hoff was excited by my visit. He thought I was going to do a story that would cut him loose.

The following are slightly edited notes I took to give readers a flavor of what Hoff and Attica are like. Hoff, interestingly, had started calling himself “John,” which is his middle name, I guess thinking that Rudolph had an evil connotation to it. After exposure to Hoff for a while, John had an evil connotation too.

Attica doesn’t look like a prison. It has high gray concrete block walls, but inside there are neat and well-maintained red brick buildings, and between the buildings there is lawn, now lush, vibrant green in summer and rich, multicolored flower-lined paths. All in all it hardly looks like a maximum security prison holding some of the most desperate men in the state, indeed, the world. However one definitely does sense intensity.

I was taken from the parking area by a battered security van with a cage fence separating the passengers and the driver (trust me folks, I wasn’t going to assault him). Upon arrival you travel through various checkpoints including the last where you are checked to see if your name is on an approved list. All the doors are heavy black-barred affairs and slide in and out of walls. I think there are four of them, though one would be enough to keep Godzilla out.

In the waiting room are signs of caution in Spanish and English, telling me that appropriate attire is required―no plunging necklines (don’t worry!), see-through clothes, or bathing suits. The visitors’ anteroom smells like an elephant house at the zoo. Walls are painted powder blue and are made of concrete block. I was surprised by the room where visitors actually meet the prisoners. It is quite large and open but manned by only two gray-uniformed guards who seem inadequate. They sit in a corner behind a tall desk and watch everything. The waiting room is painted yellow, I assume to cheer everyone up, and has a series of card-game-sized tables set in small rows where visitors and pri...

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