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Saturday, May 12, 2018

What is a 21st Century Serial Killer?

Filming with the woods of Connecticut as a backdrop.
Two Netflix shows came to town last week: "Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer" and a new show, "21st Century Serial Killers." We had a busy three days of filming at my house and at relevant locations including the wooded area behind the strip mall in New Britain where Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, William Devin Howell, buried his seven victims. For those of you who have watched Season 1 of "Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer," you can already predict what that episode will be about- my quest to delve into the workings of Howell's mental landscape and explore his motives. No doubt, the show will include disturbing portions of the lengthy phone call that I had with Howell on Tuesday in which he discusses his downward spiral into darkness during the 9-month killing spree that took place in 2003.

The premise of the new show also fascinates me. What is it that makes Howell and the atrocities that he committed unique to the 21st century? The answer is obvious: the heroin epidemic. The show's producer likened this moment in world history to the "The Gin Craze" in the first half of the 18th century, when unregulated distillers preyed upon the poor with all-grain based alcohols that resulted in overconsumption and often death. Today's worldwide opioid crisis, which frequently leads addicts to using even deadlier street drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, makes Britain's Gin Craze seem tame by comparison. Heroin and crack turn ordinary people into desperate shells of human beings willing to do just about anything to get their next fix- including selling their bodies on the streets. Howell knew just what he was doing by preying upon the victims of this 21st century nightmare. He had no shortage of vulnerable women to choose from. Drive along the Berlin Turnpike and you will see what I mean.
The motel room on the Berlin Turnpike where one of Howell's victims lived.
   

On our second day of shooting, we went out to the motel where one of Howell's victims lived for the last 6 months of her life. We had just visited the burial ground behind the mall, and my mind was fresh with images of Howell throwing his victims into the ravine beside the parking lot and then dragging their bodies into the forest to dig their shallow graves. So when I saw a drug-addicted young woman emerge from the motel along the Berlin Turnpike, the soiled sweat pants hanging from her skeletal frame, the gaunt, bloodless face and vacant eyes staring up at me as she asked if I could spare a dollar, my heart broke thinking about Howell's victims. This woman standing before me would have eagerly stepped into Howell's van in exchange for 20 dollars, only to suffer unimaginable horrors before being strangled to death.

Filming along the Berlin Turnpike.
When interviewing a victim's family member this week, I was once again struck by the devastation that Howell has brought upon so many. The woman that I interviewed discussed what her sister was like before the drugs. She played the piano at church, she attended private schools, she looked like a princess on her wedding day. But because of the heroin, this woman remarked that her sister "was dead before he killed her." Heroin steals peoples souls, and in the case of Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, it provided a deranged man the opportunity to pick and choose his victims from a long assembly line of drug addicts that grows by the day.

For those interested in pre-ordering my book "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer,"about Connecticut's most prolific serial killer and the confessions that he exclusively gave me, go directly to this link, or the Amazon link below, to order it. wbp.bz/hisgarden OR wbp.bz/hisgardena. This is the kindle version. The paperback version will also be available on July 10.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Defining the Enemy: How a Serial Killer Rationalizes His Heinous Deeds

At the edge of "His Garden" behind the mall.
Nazi propaganda often portrayed Jews as rats. With that image came the message that an entire group of people flooded the continent with contagion while devouring invaluable resources. When Nazi guards beat and killed women and children in concentration camps, they honestly believed that they were not committing grievous crimes. In their deranged way of thinking, they were sweeping away the filth. It was a moral clean-up, of sorts, and they felt that Germany's national identity was made stronger and purer for it.

Likewise, the serial killer that I am writing about in my upcoming book, "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer," rationalized strangling his seven victims as a kind of moral endeavor. As drug-addicted prostitutes, his victims were worthless objects. He was doing society a favor by snuffing out their lives and preventing the commission of future "thefts and petty crimes."

I am in possession of hours of audio recordings in which William Devin Howell and I discuss his crimes in great detail following his guilty plea hearing at the New Britain Superior Court in September 2017. In those calls, I probe his mind to try to figure out not just why he repeatedly raped six individuals and killed seven, but how he could justify the murders and go on to do it again. As with Nazi prison guards, Howell appears to have a split personality derived from a rigid binary moral code. When he was not torturing his helpless victims for 12-hour periods in the back of his 1984 Ford Econoline van, the infamous "Murder Mobile," it appears that he lived a day-to-day existence made up of normal activities: making money from a lawn care business, spending time with his then girlfriend, Dori Holcomb, and hanging out at bars to flirt with women that he had no intention of raping or killing. He once told me that he was a "good guy with a bad habit."

"Wow," I replied, "That's some bad habit, Bill."
The path that Howell took from McDonalds to His Garden.

The attached audio link includes excerpts of a phone call that I had with William Devin Howell on Monday. In it, he states that the women that he met at bars or had as friends were not in danger. In contrast, the drug-addicted prostitutes that he picked up in his van were in very grave peril. They belonged to his target group. Strangely, he could control his impulse to rape and kill based on his lawncare schedule the following day. If he had no lawns to mow in the morning, he was free to rape  his victims throughout the night and into the next day. When I challenge him with the fact that his victims were good people caught in a dark lifestyle based on drug addiction, he counters that "they were all good people at one time." However, he remains incapable of getting past categorizing them as worthless in their status as drug addicted prostitutes. That is what enabled him to look them straight in the eyes as he strangled them and watch as they took their last breaths. "There were just like objects," he states, "I got past that somehow. I used them for my pleasure and satisfaction and I killed them and justified it by saying the streets are cleaner...."

Warning: Needless to say, this audio contains very disturbing information and lewd language.




When I ask Howell at the start of this audio clip why he chose to allow me to write a book about him and open up to me in the course of the last 2.5 years, he says that it is because, when I first wrote to him, I was "open and upfront and didn't bullshit" him. There is an authenticity to our author/subject relationship that transcends the dynamic of a reporter getting the scoop for an upcoming article or news show. As you can hear in the audio, there is a certain comfort and familiarity that we have with one another. He trusts me. No doubt, this will offend some listeners and will possibly come as an insult to the family members of the victims. I get that. Nonetheless, in my role as "good cop" I have been able to get inside of the mind of a killer. Were I to voice judgment or pose as an interrogator, Howell would have closed up to me a long time ago. I also believe that he would have never pled guilty to killing his six remaining victims without my presence in his life. So I make no apology for my demeanor in these conversations. It was a means to an end.

"Mind Hunter" John Douglas. My mentor from afar.
When I initially contacted Howell in July 2015, I had read the writings of John Douglas and other FBI profilers and I took that knowledge into all of my interactions with Howell. Douglas and others know what they are talking about. Talking to a serial killer and getting him to honestly discuss his crimes is like trying to get a frightened kitten out from under your bed. You can't scream at it or toss shoes in its direction. You need to speak gently and pose no threat. In his book, Anatomy of Motive, Douglas writes: "Not everyone was emotionally suited to carry out this kind of research. Though you'd have to steep yourself in the details of the hideous crimes, you couldn't show that you were appalled or come off as judgmental, otherwise you would get nothing. You had to be a good listener and a good actor- to know how to play the game."

I have been playing a game with Howell since starting this project. That is not to say that the feelings that I project in our conversations are disingenuous, but it is to say that I only convey a portion of my reactions when we discuss his crimes. The shock, the horror, the sorrow that I feel.... those emotions are all stuffed down, to be expressed in a private setting at a later date.

Which brings me to a problem that I have been having since Howell began confessing to me last September. I cannot always control when my suppressed feelings will rise to the surface, sometimes at the most inappropriate times. A client will tell me about his or her childhood history of sexual abuse, and I will tear up and leave the conference room for some water. A mother will hug her child and send him off on the school bus and simply observing the ordinary exchange causes me to shake with emotion. And yes, there are the panic attacks, which usually happen in the morning- the inability to swallow my coffee and the need to stop what I am doing and take some deep breaths. Couple this with my husband's recent recovery from Stage 4 cancer, and you have a very fragile woman on your hands who presents as a thick-skinned serial killer author to the outside world.

The important part of surviving tough times is to know when you need outside help. Last spring, I knew I needed that help, and so I hooked up with a therapist. "You need to finish this book!" she urges me in our monthly sessions. She is right. This shit has to stop. I am writing the final chapter next week and making final revisions in January, then it is off to the publisher. It will feel like a ton of bricks is lifted from my chest when that happens.

Sadly, the victims' family members don't have that luxury. While I can wipe my hands of this gruesome venture and be done with it once and for all, the family members will continue to live with the pain-filled residuals of Howell's evil acts for the remainder of their lives.

copyright 2017, Anne K. Howard, all rights reserved.
Post Script: Pictured above, Howell on Santa's lap, circa 1973. The Crime Watch Daily show is tentatively set to air on January 5, 2018. It is a four part show comprised of interviews with me, a victim's family member, audio recordings that I provided to the show, and an interview with a serial killer expert.    


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Confessions: The True Story of a Serial Killer

© 2017. Anne K. Howard, all rights reserved. 
People see him as a monster, and rightly so. William Devin Howell, known to his Virginia acquaintances as "Devin," killed seven Connecticut residents during a 10-month killing spree in 2003 and left their bodies behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut.

I have been in close written and face-to-face correspondence with Howell since July 2015, shortly before charges were pressed against him for the remaining 6 murders. At all times, Howell has been aware of the fact that I am writing about him and that information he provides to me will be used in my upcoming book. He has openly shared with me details regarding his childhood, adolescence, and his early years in Connecticut starting in 2001. Since pleading guilty to all charges on September 8, 2017, he has also confessed details of his crimes to me in letters, prison visits, and audio phone recordings.

"Does he come across as crazy?" people ask me. "Is he like Charles Manson, or Jeffrey Dahmer?"

Hardly. As you can hear by listening to the audio link provided below, which contains just a smidgen of the confessions that he has exclusively given to me, Howell has an ironically gentle and "normal" demeanor. Perhaps that is why seven unsuspecting individuals stepped into his van, trusting that he would do them no harm.





A serial killer expert recently asked me if Howell possesses the Macdonald Triad, a set of three behavioral traits common to serial killers and other types of sociopaths: bed wetting as a child; cruelty to animals; and arson. While there is no way of knowing if Howell was a bed-wetter, I can say with certainty that he did not display any tendencies to injure animals or light fires. If anything, he is quite fond of animals, including dogs he had in childhood, and the frogs and mice that visit the outdoor recreation area at the prison where he resides. He has even given them names: "Marvin the Mouse" and "Freddie the Frog." An acquaintance from Virginia told me that she had heard through the grapevine that Howell once set fire to the apartment that he lived in with his girlfriend at the time. I asked him about it. He clarified, for the record, that he was incarcerated at the time of that fire. A child was playing with matches and accidentally lit the drapes on fire, he said.

"Why?" people constantly ask me. "Why did he kill his victims and leave their bodies behind the mall?" 

I have the answer to that question, at least in part, but I am afraid that you will have to wait until my book is published in 2018. Until that time, I am not willing to show all my cards. 

One local media outlet interviewed an older woman in New Britain who hired Howell in 2003 to do yard work. At the time, Howell ran a lawn care service from the back of his van, the infamous "Murder Mobile," where seven individuals met their demise. The law abiding woman sat in the passenger seat of that van and traveled with Howell to Home Depot to pick out bushes for her yard. She trusted him that much. Was she naive? No. I too would have felt safe to get into Howell's van and go to Home Depot were he doing yard work for me back in 2003. I can see why the woman in question, along with her husband, were absolutely shocked when the news came out that Howell was suspected of killing so many people and burying them behind the strip mall. He presents in our prison visits as a friendly, Southern gentlemen. He is easy going, courteous, and yes‒ even funny.
© 2017. Anne K. Howard, all rights reserved. 

"I am a nice guy, Anne," he once told me. "I'm the guy that opens the door for you at The Dollar Store." 

Thank God that I am not a drug-addicted prostitute, however, because Howell would not consider opening the door at The Dollar Store for any of his victims. For those poor souls he possessed an unbridled hatred and rage. They belonged to his "target group." I, on the other hand, like the woman who drove with him to Home Depot, and many of his prior girlfriends, am "a good girl." (His words, not mine.) He has an odd way of categorizing women as being "good" or "bad." The good girls follow the rules. They don't do drugs, they stay loyal to their man, and they certainly don't turn tricks along The Berlin Turnpike.     

How did Howell end up hating prostitutes? Again, I have the answer to that question, but it is a card that will be revealed in my upcoming book, and perhaps also revealed in my interview with Chris Hansen from Crime Watch Daily. (By the way, that show was set to air in November. However, Chris Hansen was not available to do the interviews at that time, so it has now been postponed and will likely air during Sweeps in May, 2018. I will keep you updated when I know more.) 

The Macdonald Triad aside, is there even such thing as a "typical" serial killer? If so, then Howell defies all the norms. I write in my book that Howell's childhood was relatively normal. No significant abuse- sexual, physical, verbal, or otherwise. A lot of spankings, to be sure, but he describes his parents as "old school." In 2015, Howell's older brother responded to a newspaper article, "Devin had a good childhood." Based on my research, that is an accurate portrayal. Nonetheless, as you will read in my book, the lengthy illness and death of Howell's mother when he was fifteen years of age had an emotionally devastating effect on him, and dramatically altered the course of his life‒ resulting in years of heavy drinking and incarcerations.

Yesterday an associate producer from The Dr. Phil show asked me if Howell was in touch with any of his family members. I explained that many family members are no longer alive, but the ones that are still around want absolutely nothing to do with him. She wondered if they might want to appear on the show to discuss how they feel about him, as the show is interested in bringing families together and reconciling differences in high conflict situations. The idea struck me as absurd. When a family member is a convicted serial killer, the last thing you want to do is talk about it on Dr. Phil. You just want to put the shameful situation out of your mind and go on living your life... maybe even change your name.

Disclaimer: William Devin Howell will be sentenced at the New Britain Superior Court on November 17, 2017. Anne K. Howard reserves all copyright to the photos and audio file contained in this blog post. 

   

Friday, September 8, 2017

William Devin Howell Becomes Connecticut's Most Prolific Serial Killer

As many of you know, I am writing a book about William Devin Howell and the heinous crimes that he has been charged with committing. Shortly after I connected with Howell in July 2015, he was officially charged with the remaining murders of six individuals whose bodies were found behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut. Three of the bodies were discovered in 2007, and four more were discovered in 2015. At that time of his arrest for the six remaining murders in 2015, Howell was serving a fifteen-year sentence for the murder of Nilsa Arizmendi. Her body was found with other remains in April-May 2015, thus confirming investigators' prior suspicions that he was the culprit.

Yesterday, Howell phoned my law office to inform me that he would be pleading guilty of the charges today. We have discussed the possibility of his pleading guilty at great length during our prison visits in the last year or so. I hope that this development brings some kind of closure to the family members of the victims. That said, there is never closure to losing a loved one- especially when that individual's life was taken in such a senseless and violent manner.

Anne K. Howard

Here's the video that was done just prior to the guilty plea.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

To Castrate or Not to Castrate? That is the Question.

Who among us would not like to punish convicted pedophiles or extremely violent rapists, Lorena Bobbitt-style? Alas, physical castration won't solve the problem. But mandated chemical castration- now there's an idea.

In 1996, California was the first state to set forth the use of chemical castration as a punishment for child molestation. The law stipulates that anyone convicted of child molestation with a minor under 13 years of age can be forced to take the testosterone lowering drug, Depo-Provera, if they are on parole after their second offense. At least eight other states have mandated the treatment for repeat offenders since then. Connecticut is not one of those states- but it should be. One state representative is currently proposing the legislation. Not coincidentally, Kevin Skulczyck is a retired Department of Corrections Officer and therefore familiar with the dangerous threat that high-risk sex offenders pose to society when they are released from incarceration. Just as a leopard does not change its spots, a pedophile or a serial rapist does not change his (or her) sick ways.

While on death row in Connecticut, Michael Ross voluntarily took Depo-Provera. Read the book, The Man in the Monster, and you will get a sense of just how deranged the mind of a serial killer and rapist can be. Ross couldn't even watch a television show without later fantasizing about sadistically harming the female characters. He masturbated with such frequency that his penis skin was raw and bloody. I mention this disgusting image to bring home a larger point- sexual predators like Ross are monsters, and they need to be subdued. With Ross, the daily Depo-Provera treatment resulted in a significant diminishment in his sexual thoughts and urges.
Recommended summer reading....

The arguments against mandated chemical castration for repeat and violent sexual offenders are weak, at best. Yes, it would be a grave injustice if a man was wrongfully convicted of a sex crime and forced to temporarily or even permanently alter his libido and suffer potential negative side effects from the drug. However, take a close look at the current laws on the books and you will see that this treatment is administered to repeat offenders whose actions are of the most heinous variety- the ones that you cannot believe are ever released from prison in the first place....

Many Americans feel that pedophiles and violent sex offenders should be put to death. That option aside, what are some other ways to constrain these men (and women), after they are released from prison?

The New Britain serial killer suspect that I am currently writing a book about gave me a box full of The Whole Shebang potato chips and cheese curls after our last visit. I went back to my office and looked at the ingredients, wondering if saltpeter (a term referencing either potassium or sodium nitrate) was on the list. According to popular myth, the chemical was put into soldiers' food to reduce carnal urges. (It was not, but it is an interesting tale.) In any case, The Whole  Shebang chips, sold only in prison commissaries across the nation (unless you want to buy a rare bag for $12.00 on Amazon), did not contain saltpeter- and they were extremely tasty chips. So we can rule out The Whole Shebang chips as a treatment alternative.
Very good chips when pared with box Chardonnay. 
Seriously though, why not put a small chip (silicon, that is) in the forehead of a dangerous repeat sex offender to provide real time video, not unlike the SeaChange cameras depicted in The Circle, starring Tom Hanks? Parole officers could then see what the parolee is doing 24/7. Should he deliberately approach a child, sirens would go off immediately at the local police station. The idea may seem ludicrous, but it is in fact a technological possibility. Civil rights lawyers would scream foul, of course, stating that doing so is a privacy violation. I would counter that the repeat and violent sex offender gave up the right to privacy when he (or she) committed a second offense. We already put them on registered sex offender lists. This would simply take the precaution one step further. Just imagine the impact that it would have on the escalating crime of child trafficking, worldwide.

As the saying goes: "Desperate times call for desperate measures...."

The Circle, 2017. Although the movie is getting bad reviews- the concept is interesting.
For more information on present day Connecticut laws regarding the involuntary medication of prisoners with mental illnesses, start with Connecticut General Statutes 17a-566 and keep reading....http://law.justia.com/codes/connecticut/2012/title-17a/chapter-319i/section-17a-566

Friday, May 12, 2017

Jury Selection in the Murder Trial of Robert Honsch

The defendant makes eye contact.
There was no shortage of irony during the opening hours of Robert Honsch's murder trial today. With Mother's Day around the corner, the 73-year old is being tried for killing his wife, Marcia Honsch. Twenty two years ago, Marcia's body was found at Tolland State Forest. One week earlier, on September 28, 1995, Robert and Marcia's adolescent daughter, Elizabeth, was discovered wrapped in plastic garbage bags and a sleeping bag at the back of the same strip mall in New Britain, CT, where serial killer suspect William Devin Howell is said to have disposed of his seven victims in 2003. Both women had been shot in the head.

The 72 potential jurors that entered the courtroom this morning represented a living snapshot of America: young and old, varying in race, education, and social status. Most shared one common interest, however: family. This became abundantly clear as they were individually questioned by Judge Constance Sweeney and counsel regarding reasons for excusal from service. Since Judge Sweeney previously informed the group as a whole that the trial would likely run for at least four weeks, many stated that family obligations would interfere with their ability to serve. Some were parents of young children, others were caregivers for elderly parents. Judge Sweeney accepted these reasons for excusal, and also let many jurors go based on the fact that their employers would not pay for more than 3 days off for jury service.

In contrast, others seemed downright eager to get on the jury. When asked if he had seen or read anything about the case, one man said no, he spent all of his time at the computer and didn't even watch television. Defense counsel inquired, "Do you read the news online?" The man said no. Later, when asked if he would find it difficult to see forensic photos displaying graphic images, the same man answered that it would not be a problem as he was used to seeing those things on television shows like C.S.I. and Bones.  

Based on the witness list alone, this promises to be a very interesting trial. Civilian witnesses will arrive from numerous states: Virginia, New York, Florida, Ohio, and New Hampshire. One of those witnesses will be Honsch's ex-wife from Ohio, Sheryl Tyree. An even larger list of DNA analysts, criminologists, fingerprint experts, and law enforcement officers will testify, some of them coming from as far away as England, Australia, and South Africa.

When questioning jurors who had not been excused, Assistant District Attorney Karen Bell asked if any of them had an unfavorable or distrusting view of law enforcement, especially in light of the media's coverage of some high profile cases in recent years. Defense counsel's questions were a little more substantial and focused on two issues. Firstly, did the prospective juror understand that Honsch was not being tried for the death of his daughter, Elizabeth, even though evidence would be presented regarding her death? The current trial is for the murder of Marcia, not Elizabeth. Evidence regarding Elizabeth could be evaluated for "limited purposes" such as indicating that both were killed pursuant to a scheme or plan. Secondly, did they understand that behavior indicative of a "guilty conscience" was not enough, in and of itself, to prove actual guilt? This was obviously asked in anticipation of facts emerging that Honsch left the country, and then moved to Ohio, following the murders. He also took the last name of his new wife in Ohio, Tyree, making it hard for the Honsch family to locate him.

When the prosecution discussed my presence in the courtroom off record and Honsch realized that I was "press," he seemed to come to life. He stared at me face on for extended periods of time, as if to say, "Make sure you take my good side." His hair is an unusual shade of platinum grey, long and held back in a pony tail that barely covers the bald spot at the back of his head. His shirt was oversized and hung loosely from his aging frame. Pass this guy in a Litchfield County Coffee Bar and you wouldn't think twice. And here he was, sitting feet away from me, charged with murdering the mother of his child... and his child. 

Today, Judge Sweeney ruled that the jury's upcoming visits to crime scenes would be divided into two separate days. On one day, a bus would take them to Tolland State Forest, to the location where Marcia's body was found. The next day, the bus would take them to the back of the strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut, where Elizabeth was found swaddled like an infant; not exactly something a stranger would do to his victim. It's more of a paternal gesture, in my opinion.

One final observation about today's proceedings: this is a class act courtroom; controlled, professional, and set on abiding by bedrock, Constitutional principles. I have practiced in front of well over 100 judges in my legal career and I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Judge Sweeney wears a white hat, thus far. She is friendly with the jurors and counsel, and competently expresses complicated legal concepts in a way that the everyday Joe or Jane can grasp. Hampden County is lucky to have her on the bench.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

When the System Fails: The Unsolved Murder of Mary Badaracco

Mary's daughter, Sherrie Passaro, won't stop fighting for justice
It's called a travesty of justice- when the legal system not only fails to bring about justice, but also provides wishy-washy explanations to the extent that one wonders if some kind of cover-up is going on.

When Sherrie Passaro found out that her mother, Mary Badaracco, was missing, she felt in her gut that her mother's husband, Dominic Badaracco, was involved. Although police initially approached it as a missing person's case, Sherrie asserted that her mother would never leave her daughters and her beloved grandchild without saying goodbye, and she certainly would not permanently cut them out of her life. She also told them that her mother's relationship to Mr. Badaracco contained a long history of domestic violence, and that, one week before Mary went missing, the couple met with a lawyer and planned to divorce due to Mr. Badaracco's ongoing affair with another woman. In the weeks and months following her mother's disappearance, the grieving daughter metaphorically led authorities into a small room containing a giant elephant. In response, the assortment of men gazed out the windows and stared at the walls- and failed to look upon the beast standing right before them.

Why didn't law enforcement immediately suspect foul play and approach the sudden departure of Mary Badaracco as a possible homicide? According to Sherrie, local officials knew that messing with Dominic Badaracco could lead to problems down the road. He was not only a man of means- he also had connections in high places. He and his business partner, Ronald "Rocky" Richter, even golfed with judges. Who golfs with judges? Men with power.

Dominic Badaracco divorced his "missing" wife, Mary, in 1986 on grounds of desertion. That came as a blow to Sherrie and her sister- that a court of law would conclude that her mother deserted the ones she loved. A few years later, a former Hells Angel in the federal witness protection program told authorities that club members killed Mary Badaracco. The informant died in a motorcycle accident shortly after divulging that information.
Mary Badaracco

In 1990, Connecticut State Police reclassified the missing person's case as a homicide. Sherrie thought that progress was finally being made when she met with the new lead investigator. He shared her desire to get to the bottom of the mystery and initiate searches. More hope arose in 2010, when a one man grand jury was formed and carried out a detailed, 18-month probe into the matter. The experience was traumatic for Sherrie and her sister. They were called to testify on numerous occasions and rehash all of the pain surrounding their mother's disappearance. Still, they felt that it was worth it if their mother's murderer could be named and prosecuted. Their hopes were dashed, however, when the grand juror, Judge Arthur Hadden, failed to render any public finding of fact, and the Chief State's Attorney, Kevin Kane, did not pursue the matter any further.

According to Passaro, nothing was ever enough for authorities to find probable cause. They always needed more, more, more- but would not say what more meant. Many murders are solved without finding a body or a weapon, where a mountain of circumstantial evidence is enough to obliterate reasonable doubt. Hadn't investigators presented the grand jury with a virtual mountain of circumstantial evidence: a marriage on the rocks with a history of domestic violence; an impending divorce that would result in the division of a substantial amount of assets not to mention alimony; the fact that the victim's car (with a smashed in window) went missing weeks after she disappeared; and a former Hell's Angel alleging that club members carried out the murder, soon after dies? Sherrie and her sister felt that the court system was turning a blind eye to the elephant in the room- but why?  

Well, for one thing, the case got particularly ugly (and potentially scandalous) when Dominic Badaracco's former business associate, Richter, solicited the assistance of an old golfing buddy, Judge Brunetti. Telephone records subpoenaed by state police indicated that Richter and Brunetti spoke on the phone six times in October 2010; during that time, Brunetti was also talking to colleagues in the New Britain judicial district where he worked, and found out that a grand jury had been formed. He then told Richter about the existence of the grand jury- something that any judge knows not to do.

It remains unclear why it took weeks before Brunetti became concerned enough about Richter's phone calls to report the problem to his lawyer and seek advice. Did he sense that someone was onto him, or was his conscience just getting the better of him? Moreover, why did he have to ask a lawyer for advice on what to do? Wasn't it obvious that the first time Richter called wanting the inside scoop about grand jury proceedings that could result in Dominic Badaracco's indictment for murder, that he should have hung up and reported the matter to law enforcement ASAP? Keep in mind, the man was a judge.    

Brunetti's lawyer instructed him to inform the authorities that Richter was calling him. Police then tapped Brunetti's phone lines. On November 17, 2010, Dominic Badaracco called Brunetti from Richter's cellphone and offered the judge a $100,000 bribe in exchange for "help" in the matter. Badaracco was eventually arrested and served a very short period of time in jail for attempting to bribe a judge with the end goal of influencing a grand jury.

Sherrie Passaro and her sister subsequently attempted to obtain sealed transcripts of the grand jury's proceedings in hopes of showing that evidence had been presented that showed that Dominic Badaracco's current wife, Joan, along with his former business partner, Richter, were also directly involved in the bribery. Unfortunately, grand jury proceedings have been shrouded in secrecy since the 1600s. The theory is that disclosing that kind of confidential information could jeopardize an ongoing, active case. Here, however, the reality is that there appears to be nothing active or ongoing about the ice cold case involving Mary Badaracco. It seems to me that any danger that could come about by unveiling the grand jury's transcripts to the public, and especially to the daughters of Mary Badaracco, is far outweighed by the possible gains that would come from full disclosure. As the saying goes, "If you have nothing to hide, then why try to hide anything?" Information gleaned from grand jury transcripts could likely assist in future investigations and media coverage.

Does Sherrie Passaro hold out any hope that her mother's homicide will someday be solved and that the killer(s) will be brought to justice? Yes, there is always a chance that justice will prevail. Miracles happen. On the other hand, these days the answers seem more concrete to her on a spiritual level than in the realm of the court system. Sometimes she awakens from a deep sleep to feel her mother's face hovering just over hers, as if about to kiss her as she did when she was a small child.

Several years ago, she took a break from work and stood outside to get some sun. In the far off distance, a yellow butterfly floated directly her way and began circling around her head. She sensed her mother's spirit so strongly, in that moment. The next time she stood outside on break, a butterfly came and circled her head once again, and she felt her mother's presence. Now she has a flower garden designed to attract butterflies. They float to her balcony and stay still for unusually long periods of time while she takes their photos. Even the simplest of things can invoke her mother's presence. Recently, she made Mary's favorite recipe for cherry chocolate chip Bundt cake; the aroma, the taste, the memories of childhood birthdays.... all of this brought Mary's presence into the room. In a world where the court system can fail and murderers can get away scot-free, at least butterflies and cake can comfort a wounded soul.

Disclaimer: The information in this week's post was derived from a second interview with Sherrie Passaro, dated April 8, 2017. Ms. Passaro has read this article and approves of its contents. All other information contained in this article was derived from online sources including the following articles: Cool Justice: Pretend Investigations The Norm In Badaracco Homicide For 32 Years, by Andy Thibault, August 16, 2016; Judge Took Calls About Grand Jury Investigation, by Rick Green, The Hartford Courant, April 30, 2012; and Victim Advocate Makes Bid For Testimony, by Dirk Perrefort, CTPost, September 7, 2012.  To date, the homicide of Mary Badaracco remains unsolved and no suspects have ever been named. 

Mary Badaracco's famous cherry chocolate chip cake.



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