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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Did MassMutual Executive Melissa Millan's Knowledge of Trade Secrets Result in her Murder?

Big banks routinely take out life insurance policies on employees.
Last week's blog post discussed the unsolved murder of MassMutual Vice President and mother of two, Melissa Millan. Based on the details that I provided, readers unanimously agreed with my theory that the stabbing that took place at a bike trail in Simsbury, Connecticut, on November 20, 2014, was the work of a professional hit man. Now it is time to delve into the question of who hired the hit man, and the motive behind said hiring.

I still plan to look at court documents regarding Millan's divorce, which was drawn out for two years and finalized in 2012, to see if there is any potential motive that can be gleaned on the part of Millan's ex-husband. That said, I find it hard to believe that a guilty ex-husband, albeit a smart guy with a law degree, could remain free from arrest for over two years after extensive FBI involvement. Perhaps I have too much faith in the FBI, but the solving of a murder carried out by a former spouse motivated by greed or revenge is usually (not always, but usually) a fairly straightforward task. Law enforcement knows to interrogate the suspect; speak with those that knew the suspect and the victim; trace the money trail to locate payments made by the suspect to a hit man; and hopefully get the hit man's family or friends to talk. Often, a rat or two will crawl out of the woodwork during the investigation to help speed things along. Frequently, the hit man is not a true professional, but rather, he is an ex-convict hard up for cash, not very bright; maybe he has a drug problem, and he also has loose lips.

The fact that none of this has played out in the Millan murder investigation makes me wonder if the MassMutual conspiracy theory, first posited in an article by Wall Street on Parade, has any merit. On its face, thinking that an agent or agents within the insurance company that employed Millan was somehow responsible for her murder sounds like the far-fetched plot in a Michael Connelly novel. As a member of MassMutual's Senior Management team, Millan was in charge of overseeing the general management of the company's Bank Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) accounts. That is no small thing. BOLI accounts, sold by insurance carriers like MassMutual make up significant tax-free revenues for "too big to fail" banks. As stated in the Wall Street on Parade article, in 2013, four of Wall Street's largest banks were the largest owners of BOLI, and the four banks' BOLI assets combined totaled $68.1 Billion dollars, with Bank of America leading the pack ($22.7B in BOLI); followed by Wells Fargo ($18.7B); JP Morgan Chase ($17.9B) and Citigroup ($8.8B).
Flowers mark the site on a bike trail where Millan took her final breaths. 

The entire concept of big banks owning life insurance policies on their employees, both high level, mid level, and even low level workers, is ethically questionable. Nonetheless, it is standard practice and the BOLI funds are relied upon by the banks when distributing company bonuses. It is an ugly business. Banks will look through the BOLI database of current and former employees annually and determine who died so that policies can be cashed in and proceeds can go to the entity that paid the premiums: not the family members, but the bank itself. How does the bank justify taking out an insurance policy on a worker in the first place? I am not sure, but I would certainly appreciate reader feedback concerning the reasoning behind how banks justify the necessity of BOLI accounts. To me, it seems like giving a worker a gold watch at retirement and then stealing back the watch, and a whole lot more, when the employee bites the dust.

So what could Millan have known about BOLI accounts and practices that would have put her life in danger? According to Wall Street on Parade, three years before her murder, Millan "assumed leadership of an expanded and centralized services observation division that included business underwriting and operations, as well as claims."  As suggested by blogger Dr. Joseph P. Farrell shortly following Millan's murder:  "Ms. Millan was in a position to see general trends." It is "not about banks offing their employees to collect on insurance." Rather, according to Farrell, where "there is a trend, there is information that someone desperately wants to keep secret."

I recently spoke with an individual who met with Millan and knew, firsthand, that Millan had problems with the power structure of MassMutual while she was working in that very system. Millan was something of a crusader, according to that source. She was frustrated with what she perceived as an "old boy" power structure and she longed to have a voice.

This leads me to the conclusion that a specific worker, probably one lateral to Millan in position and authority, knew that Millan could destroy him or her by unveiling their secret(s). I doubt it was a lesser-level employee. Someone under Millan would have simply quit the job. However, a person of equal if not greater authority to Millan would have the wherewithal to hire a seamlessly professional hit. Here, the hit man in question was no drunken slob that you meet at a biker bar. Imagine, instead, a guy like Gus from Breaking Bad: capable, experienced, and extremely intelligent. This was not the first time that he has murdered for money, and it probably won't be the last.  

It is all so complicated and way above the heads of the Simsbury Police and even, it seems, the FBI, as evidenced in a Hartford Courant article one year following the murder, in which the Simsbury police Chief said that the renewed investigation involving the FBI "led us back to where we started."
In order to further explore the BOLI conspiracy theory, federal investigators will need access to the information known by Millan and see if there were, indeed, any secrets regarding the trends and patterns of BOLI accounts that could have threatened her life. Unfortunately, an automatic disbursement of any and all original documentation is not allowed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as the material is considered "privileged" or "contains trade secrets."Yes, shareholders are entitled to make inquiry, but the documents provided would no doubt be neatly edited and presented in a way that would offer little insight into possible misdoings.

Could a Federal Grand Jury Hold the Key to Solving this Case?
Perhaps, then, it is time for federal prosecutors to call a grand jury to look into the matter. Prosecutors do not need probable cause to form a grand jury. Mere suspicion of foul play can suffice. Then, under Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the grand jury can subpoena the information reflecting BOLI patterns and trends that Millan had access to prior to her death. MassMutual would have to turn over such information and the refusal to do so could result in a contempt of court finding involving three years of sentencing for the obstruction of justice. Since the investigation is clearly at a standstill, the formation of a grand jury to look into matter could be just what is needed to heat up a case that gets colder by the day.

Disclaimer: Law enforcement has yet to publicly name any persons of interest in the unsolved murder of Melissa Millan.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hit or Miss: The Unsolved Murder of Melissa Millan

A makeshift memorial marks the site where Millan was found by a driver. 

A big  tree tells the story. Perhaps. This is just one writer's hypothesis.
Nevertheless I will go forward in this blog and state what I think happened on the night of November 20, 2014, when Mass Mutual vice president Mellissa Millan was murdered.

When I went to the murder site, I felt like her voice was crying out from the trees and the rocks: find my killer and name my killer. Bring about justice. My life mattered and the truth should be known.....

Somewhere out there, a man is walking around with the knowledge that he killed Melissa Millan- and got away with it... for now.

On the evening of November 20, 2014, the 54-year old senior vice president for Mass Mutual was stabbed while running on a bike trail that runs alongside Iron Horse Boulevard in Simsbury, Connecticut. The slaying came as a shock to the upscale community. Until then, many people felt safe running on that trail at night. Although the street lighting is dim and shadowy areas course the paved path, a steady stream of traffic moves past. Millan was killed between 7:30- 8:00 PM on a Friday night, when people would be driving to restaurants and stores in the area on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

That the killer remains unknown to this day, despite extensive investigative efforts by the Simsbury police and the FBI, indicates that whoever killed Millan was highly intelligent. I personally believe that the murder was the work of a hired hit man who knew that Millan often ran that same route at that time of night. He was not just looking to ambush any female runner. Millan was his sole target.
A crescent-shaped Old Moon barely lit the sky that night. 

I recently visited the scene of the crime. Based on my observations, which are speculative, at best, the murder took place in the following manner:

Millan was running south from her home and had just passed the playground at Rotary Park. As an accomplished tri-athlete, she was moving at a good clip. She had just passed the green lamppost that emitted a dull, orangey light. A short distance ahead, a tree stood in the shadows, a few feet from the trail. The trunk of that tree is approximately 8-feet in height, and wide enough for someone to completely hide behind while simultaneously viewing his target through the cracks of the bulky branches.

Iron Horse Blvd is quiet for predictable periods of time. 
When I went to the site it was sunny out, and yet my companion had to purposely slip her body out from behind the tree for me to even see her, as the photo shows. Imagine how perfectly hidden the killer (likely dressed in black with a hoodie and gloves) would have been on that brisk night in November when only a waning crescent moon lit the sky.

But what about the cars driving past? As you can see in this photo, taken at 3:30 PM on a Friday afternoon in September, the flow of traffic along Hopmeadow Street comes in predictable waves. A short line of cars usually waits at the two intersections about 100 feet away from the murder site in both directions. When the light changes, the cars drive past Millan's makeshift memorial marking the spot where Millan took her final breaths. Then there is a short gap in time, about 20-30 seconds, when the roadway and two intersections are empty.

It is likely that Millan ran this trail in circuits each night, repeating the route two or three times before finishing her work-out. Thus, if the killer saw or heard oncoming traffic, he could simply wait for the next opportunity when Millan would run past the tree.

Just as Millan passed the tree, the killer jumped out, blade in hand. Millan was a strong woman, but she was also petite, Slowing her pace, she turned to see what was behind her, and the killer gave a strong, clean thrust of the knife into Millan's chest. It must have been a big knife. Perhaps a hunting knife. He got the blade in deep and pulled it out, turned quickly, and headed for the area of grass beside the playground, located just a few feet north of the tree where he had hidden.
A grass path leads directly to the parking lot.

Again, this is all speculation on my part, although I suspect that law enforcement shares my theory. The killer's car was parked in the corner of the dark, empty lot that was rarely patrolled by police and yet open to the public 24/7. He jumped in the car, still clutching the knife, and rushed to the lot's entrance. If he turned right or left, he would go onto Hopmeadow Street. Instead, he went straight ahead, crossing Hopmeadow and getting onto a quiet, unlit roadway that leads directly to Route 10.  As the killer turned on to Route 10, Millan crawled to the guardrail and passing motorists stopped to  help.

Millan was taken to St. Francis Hospital where she died. In the hours that followed, it was thought that Millan had been hit by a car. As for Milan's ex-husband, the couple had separated in 2010 and their divorce was not finalized until 2012. Millan was a woman of means, and the court ordered her to pay her ex-husband $8,000.00 a month in spousal support even though the ex-husband once practiced law in California and owned a microbrewery in Farmington that went bankrupt prior to the divorce. I have not looked at the actual divorce decree, but it is likely that the $8,000.00 monthly in alimony was rehabilitative in nature- ordered for a specific period of time so that the ex-husband could establish another career.

Across from the park, a secluded road leads to Route 10. 
Law enforcement has consistently told the media that Millan's ex-husband is not a person of interest and has been ruled out as a suspect. This comes as a surprise to many, as there is no mention in media reports of a solid alibi or any specific reason as to why Millan's ex has been cleared. On one hand, police have searched his home, and very likely his vehicle, and nothing incriminating has been found- but is that enough to clear someone? I trust that law enforcement, including the FBI, has carried out a detailed search of the ex-husband's finances in the year or so leading up to the murder and found no indication of a pay-off to a third party, whether it be in a lump sum or in increments over time.

Assuming the ex-husband is 100% innocent, who else could have hired the hit on Melissa Millan? Stay-tuned. At a future date, I will post a new article regarding the very real possibility that Millan's murder is related to her job at MassMutal and her knowledge of "Trade Secrets" in relation to the company's Bank Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) accounts, a controversial practice where banks purchase life insurance policies on all of their workers.

Disclaimer: There are currently no suspects in the unsolved murder of Melissa Millan and it appears that law enforcement has reached a dead end in the investigation. The theory posited by the author in this post regarding the performance of the crime is based solely on the author's personal observations of the crime scene and is purely speculative in nature. The facts are as follows: Millan was stabbed in the chest at the location referenced above at about 8:00 PM on Friday, November 20, 2014. She was discovered on the ground by a passing motorist and thereafter pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital. Although this blog post refers to the killer as a man, there is no indication of the killer's gender. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Getting to know a serial killer suspect is a headtrip of the highest degree

I recently read Ann Rule's bestseller, Stranger Beside Me, about the crimes of serial killer Ted Bundy. In it, the author describes her personal relationship with Bundy as it evolved over the years. Rule experienced conflicting emotions towards her subject; a man who eventually confessed to the savage killings of 30 women (although the true number of Bundy's victims is said to be more than triple that number). In an odd way, the story reassured me that I am on the right track concerning my efforts to understand and write about serial killer suspect, William Devin Howell, with the end goal being the publication of a true crime novel about him when the trial is over and the verdicts are in.
Bundy: the well-dressed, college-boy Rule first met. 

Rule struggled with the fact that she truly liked Ted on many levels- especially in the early stages of their friendship, before he was even charged with the crimes. Similarly, I am perplexed and confused about feelings of genuine concern that I have felt for Howell in the past 18 months, not unlike the concern that I feel for a disability client suffering in extreme mental anguish. It is not uncommon for me to drive away from prison visits with a heavy heart; my thoughts immersed in a cloud of profound depression.

On the most basic of levels, I just cannot believe that I live in a world where human beings can be accused of such atrocities and need to be locked up like mad dogs for the protection of society. Whether it was Bill Howell who killed those seven victims and buried their dismembered bodies behind the strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut, or whether it was someone other than Bill, the fact remains that that kind of evil exists.  

If Howell is guilty of the charges against him, and that is for a jury to decide, then the friendly man that I meet with at Walker Correctional Institute is a monster. There is no saying what he would do to me in a non-supervised setting without plexiglass separating the two of us. I am petite, and he is a stocky, strong man. He could turn on a dime: jovial and kind-spirited one minute, then frothing at the mouth with pure hatred in his eyes the next. For me, there would be nowhere to run.

And so, I experience a certain dual-mindedness during our visits. On the one hand, I feel relaxed and I actually enjoy our exchanges. It is fair to say that I like the man. On the other hand, I am wondering, always wondering, about what is not being said. We may be discussing Trump's victory, for example, how the events unfolded on election night (Bill went to bed before the final results and awoke for his Insulin injection at 5 AM to hear Sarah Palin talking on the television about a Trump administration. Like me and many other Americans, he was shocked) and as I look into his bulging hazel eyes, I cannot help but think: WTF? Images of events described in the prosecution's court filings trip through my mind. They are all just allegations at this point. The evidence has yet to be presented in a court of law. Still, those mental images exist and they are horrific.

Readers of this blog have asked some recurring questions and I would like to answer them now:

1. Has Howell confessed to you?

God, no. He maintains complete innocence, even with respect to the crime that he is currently serving time for- the murder of Nilsa Arizmendi. Our letters, phone calls, and visits are permeated with the mutual and keen awareness that members of the Prosecution and the Department of Corrections likely read and/or listen to every word exchanged. Bill has every intention of going through the trial process and fighting the charges.

2. Does he come across as a psychopath, a narcissist, or a sociopath?

I am not a mental health professional, so I will let the experts opine on that at trial. For now, I am willing to say two things that strike me about Bill's overall personality. On the surface, he is a sociable person both in and out of prison, but there is a strong antisocial component to his character. For example, he thoroughly enjoyed the transient lifestyle that he had while living in Connecticut. Most of that time he lived out of his van. He often worked two jobs and would shower at the YMCA between shifts. It was a relief to him to not have to pay rent or deal with roommates in low income housing who often had drug addictions. He is, at core, a self-sufficient loner who does not play by society's rules. Put him in a World War Z setting and he would survive. He has told me that he could build a house from ground up. He probably could.

Secondly, he is intensely loyal to the people that he loves. The circle is small: two or three childhood friends; two former girlfriends, one of which is deceased; and even the memory of his father, who he calls "Pops." In reference to the two girlfriends, he admits to making mistakes and having regrets. He frequently weeps when he discusses these two women, especially his first love. However dysfunctional the relationships may have been, he loved her then and he obviously loves her now. I don't think that is an act.

3. Other prisoners call him "Hillbilly." Would you agree with that label?

Not really. Bill speaks with a mild Southern drawl, a product of growing up in Hampton, Virginia (not exactly the Hills of Appalachia.) His accent must strike inmates in the Connecticut prison system as funny and so he is given the name Hillbilly. He did frequent establishments with country line dancing and mechanical bulls, such as Cadillac Ranch, while living in Connecticut, and he met two future girlfriends at those places. He likes heavy metal music, including the work of Ronnie James Dio. He listens to station 99.1 PLR, on his radio. He watches the nightly news, and has a decent knowledge of current events. He also likes watching Family Guy, and American Greed. He is not into sports. While his letters contain spelling errors and he did drop out of high school, his writing is neat and he has sound reasoning skills. If I could rate his intelligence on a scale of 1-10, I would assign a 3 or 4 for verbal and writing capacity, and an 8 for reasoning and logic. There are times when he has out-argued me, a lawyer. He is also shrewd. He usually knows when to speak, and when to shut up, in his own best interests.      

4. Does he have nightmares?

So do I.