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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Reality of Being a Corrections Officer: Don't Become a Duck

The media is quick to expose stories of prisoner abuse at the hands of corrections officers across our nation- and rightly so. Inmate abuse is a real problem, and while our tax dollars should not fund prisons that resemble comfortable retreats, inmates should not expect to be harassed, beaten, or in extreme cases, killed, by the powers that be during their time of incarceration.

Last March, J'Allen Jones, a prisoner at Garner Correctional Institution's mental health unit in Newtown, Connecticut, experienced "sudden death during (a) struggle and restraint with chest compression," according to Dr. James Gill, the chief state medical examiner. Gill ruled the death a homicide. Jones also had a heart condition, and the use of pepper spray may have contributed to his death. His family is suing, stating that a handcuffed Jones was beaten by up to ten officers and his neck was broken in the attack. The lawsuit points to surveillance video which they allege supports their version of events. Prison officials argue that the use of force was not excessive. Jones was "noncompliant and combative with staff" before becoming "unresponsive" according to a statement by Connecticut's Department of Corrections following the incident.

Extreme cases like the one at Garner make front page news. But what the media rarely covers are the less sensational, but equally meaningful, stories of what it is like for the majority of prison workers to punch the clock every day and enter a dangerous environment where high risk and violent offenders are housed. According to Connecticut State Representative and former corrections officer, Kevin Skulczyck, "In a case involving handcuffing and pepper spray, you immediately escort the inmate to the shower so they can clean it off. Corrections officers exert that level of professionalism 99.9% of the time."

Skulczyck has over 20 years experience as a c/o in Connecticut and held a variety of positions in the Community Enforcement Division, supervising inmates during their transition back into the community. He says that the end goal is to keep the former convict from reoffending. Like most jobs, it has some bad actors. Nonetheless, he asserts that the overwhelming majority of c/o's "are responders, not aggressors." The men and women who staff the prisons of Connecticut are "cousins to the Blue Lives Matter Movement. It is a noble career that deserves the same kind of recognition that we give to cops." He concedes that misbehavior on the part of a few does happen, but it is not characteristic of the level of responsibility and restraint that most c/o's practice throughout their careers.

So what is it like to work a job that most would not consider doing, let alone for two decades? Skulczyck describes the start of the shift, "when you leave the fresh air, enter the Sally Port, and the doors close behind you." It starts with roll call, and you are assigned a team to work with. "From the first moment of your shift, you are entering hostile territory. You are giving direction to people who don't want to be told what to do. There's conflict: intimidating gestures, getting spit on, yelling, obscenities- you are on pins and needles until the end of your shift, sometimes that is 16 hours later. During your shift, you are vigilant, and there is always the fear of the unknown."

Male guards are quick to defend female c/o's. "The fear is real, specifically for women workers. Inmates do sexually deviant things and try to intimidate and control." He points out that female c/o's are "much more protected today than in the past but they are still subject to creepy things. It wears on them." His observation is further addressed in a front page article in last week's New York Times entitled "Hazing, Humiliation, Terror," in which female prison workers describe disturbing and repeated incidents of sexual threats and intimidation. They often wear oversized uniforms to hide their figures, apply no makeup, and put their hair up in buns since even a swinging pony tail can attract unwanted attention. Still, they feel like the inmates are seeing them naked.

Most civilians cannot imagine the level of darkness that exists in high max prisons. My eyes were certainly opened when writing my book, "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer". Over the course of three years, I visited a notorious criminal at three different high max facilities in Connecticut. It would take a day or so for me to shake off the unnerving monthly meeting. I recall one visit at Cheshire Correctional, observing a frail younger inmate as he openly wept while speaking with an older man who was visiting him. I sensed the inmate's abject terror and hopelessness. He struck me as a newcomer to high max and the experience was traumatizing him. Another high max inmate serving a life sentence recently wrote to me: "The common language of prison isn't english, spanish, or even ebonics... It's violence, intimidation and predation. You don't necessarily have to speak it... but you damn well better understand it. If you feel safe in prison you've got bigger problems than you know."

So how do corrections officers do it day in and day out and manage to return home to live a normal life? "If you are going to be effective in the role, you cannot take it personally," Skulczyck says. Nevertheless, c/o's are human, and there is no denying the unique emotional stress that can come from a meritless lawsuit filed by an inmate, or the fear for your family's safety. "I received threats," Sculczyck states. "'I know where your kids are. I will find your wife...' If you are at a grocery store, for example, you tell your wife and kids to move on while you deal with a confrontation by a former inmate. You have to document them, sometimes contact the state police to file a charge. Unfortunately, some c/o's deal with the psychological issues by escaping through alcohol, drugs."

Despite all of the headaches, Skulczyck says that he loved his career and misses it. "I was part of a team that was a service to the community. Some of the offenders were murderers, others were petty criminals. I may have inspired that one person to be a better person." He also points out the many policy changes that he was instrumental in effectuating: third person phone monitoring, mail review, and video surveillance, all of which can expose criminal activity on the inside and the outside, and prevent drugs from getting in. The cameras are just as important in protecting c/o's as the prisoners that they guard. "There's something we call 'Drowning the Duck,'" he says. "Inmates can be so conniving. They try to get a c/o to do caring things for them, bring them treats, cigarettes..." This can escalate to requests for drugs, or assistance with escape. "We tell new c/o's, 'Don't let them drown you. Don't become a duck.'"
My next blog post will include an interview with Lt. Gary Cornelius, a retired Sheriff who now provides consulting and training to jails and criminal justice academies throughout the United States. He is the author of many books on corrections, including "The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation," and "Stressed Out! Strategies for Living and Working in Corrections, 2nd Edition."      

For those interested in reading my true crime book about Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, it is available at Bookbub on November 28, 2018, for the deeply discounted price of $1.99 (Kindle version.) Here's the link:

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Burial Ground of a Serial Killer, Photos Included

Search parties measured the depth of the graves. 
Serial killer William Devin Howell went on a nine-month killing spree in 2003. He left all of his seven victims in shallow graves behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut. He told me that he did not dig the graves deeper than one to two feet because the water table was high in that swampy earth. It astounds me that he was brazen enough to bury all of his victims in broad daylight. He explained to me that he needed the sunlight to see in that dense forest. He was terrified that he would be caught in the act by a hunter wandering in the forest (although hunters are not allowed there) or that someone would see him from above, from a low-flying piper cub plane.
The forest behind the mall in New Britain, CT. 

As you can see in this arial view of the strip mall (contained in crime scene photos,) it is located along a busy, four lane roadway. There are fifteen acres of state-owned forest behind the mall. The location of the burial ground, which Howell allegedly called "his garden," is in a 3/4 acre section of the forest about two to three hundred yards away from the busy strip mall. The strip mall contains a liquor store, a restaurant, and a hair salon. Howell's girlfriend during the time of the murders worked at the hair salon. It was under different ownership back then.

One day Howell visited his girlfriend at the Great Cuts salon for lunch and saw that people had been dumping trash and yard debris into the ravine behind the mall. A lawn care worker, he decided to dump the hedge trimmings and grass collected from his work into that ravine, just beyond the guard rail that is pictured with police tape in the photo, below. He told me that when he decided to carry out the murders, it made sense for him to drop his victims' lifeless bodies into that same ravine, wrapped in trash bags, and then return the next day to drag their remains to "his garden" a few hundred yards away.

I have visited the strip mall and the forest many times in the last few years. What strikes me is the sharp contrast of the surroundings; the traffic is heavy- Westfarms Mall is located diagonally across the street, and the adjacent McDonald's parking lot, where Howell parked his van while burying his victims, frequently has a long line of customers waiting at the drive thru- and yet, the forest itself is quite secluded. "No Trespassing" signs mark the chain link fence that lines its border; hunters and hikers are not allowed entry. While Howell dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen, he certainly possessed a high level of cunning in choosing this peculiar location to conceal his grisly crimes.

It was not until a hunter (illegally) looking for a place to hunt found the first skull in 2007 and reported it to the authorities that police got wind of the fact that there was a body out there. They searched the land and found 50 bones of 3 unknown victims. The victims were gradually identified, although a major computer malfunction in the state's crime lab caused significant delays in that process. In late April of 2015, authorities went on to discover the bodies of four more victims. This development was the result of Howell's former cellmate, Jonathon Mills, himself a serial killer, who reported to authorities that Howell gave him a diagram outlining all seven of the graves.

FBI cadaver dogs helped locate human remains. 
Howell reports going back to the burial ground following his release from prison in July 2004 to check up on the graves. He told me that he "freaked out" when discovering that one of the bodies was missing. He wanted to search the grounds for the remains and bury them again, but he was afraid of being caught. So he left the forest. It's a good thing that he did not stay longer and find those remains, because the missing skull in question was what the hunter discovered in 2007. But for that discovery, it is possible that the remains of seven individuals would be hidden to this day. Sadly, the elements and animals in the forest took their toll on the graves. Based on the crime scene photos, it  appears that only one of the bodies was found intact. I have purposely not included that horrific image in this post.

For more information about Howell and his crimes, here is the link to my book, "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer." As I stated in the book's preface, while Howell exclusively confessed the details of his crimes to me, I have no way of knowing if those confessions are accurate. That is for the reader to decide.

All but one of the photos contained in this post were given to me by Howell when he turned over his legal discovery to me in 2017. I purposely did not include the more disturbing photos; including items that Howell used to bring physical harm to his victims.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pics of Women's Belongings Found in CT Serial Killer's Van

Bracelet found in the "Murder Mobile" of William Howell. 
Serial killers often keep souvenirs that mark their horrendous crimes: physical items that can remind them of their "triumphs." Ivan Milat hoarded his victims' camping supplies. Jerome Brudas collected their shoes. It is all very sick- that a human being can come to a place in which causing the suffering and death of another human being gives them a sense of victory, coupled with a desire to memorialize their heinous feats. Nonetheless, it happens.

So here you go. I am posting "never before seen" crime scene photos regarding Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, William Devin Howell. They have not been publicly shared until today. I even hope that some of the items will be recognized and assist in answering the question of whether Howell has more than seven victims. For example, the bracelet above has not been linked to any of Howell's victims. He told me that it was given to him by his local bank in exchange for opening a checking account. That seems odd; perhaps he is telling me the truth, or perhaps he is lying to conceal the identity of the bracelet's owner. As I have stated in the past, it is entirely possible that Howell has more victims in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Connecticut. He lived in all of those states in his adulthood.
Tarnished ring of Howell's first victim. 

According to Howell, the ring pictured to the right belonged to his first victim. He initially told me that he kept the ring because it contained a dark stone and he thought the ring might have monetary value. However, he later informed me that he kept the ring because it marked the day when he "turned into a monster." According to Howell, strangling his first victim was something that he struggled to do- when she begged for her life, he almost backed down. He had to remind himself of the consequence of letting her go- she would no doubt report his multiple rapes to the authorities. He therefore went through with the murder. After that, he told me, it was "game on," and he had no difficulty whatsoever in killing his remaining six victims. While he states that he could not look his first victim in the eye as the life went out of her, he made a point of looking all of his other victims in the eye in the minutes that it took to strangle them to death. 

Hairbands found in Howell's van.
These hairbands, found in the "Murder Mobile," interest me. While women wear such bands, they are more commonly worn by children. Howell told me that he does not recall where the bands came from, or why they were in his van when it was searched by the police. He speculates that they may have belonged to the young daughter of an ex-girlfriend. His explanation does not sit right with me. Some of the elastics are broken, and he never referenced driving an ex-girlfriend's daughter around in his van until I specifically asked him about these hairbands.   

Howell claims that the ring above is the only item in his van that belonged to one of his victims. He says that he was meticulous about getting rid of all of his victims' personal effects immediately following the commission of the crimes. He would distribute the clothing, shoes and jewelry in random public trash cans located at gas stations and dollar stores in and around Hartford and New Britain. All of his victims, he states, were stripped naked before he buried them. Although he wrapped their bodies in trash bags bound with duct tape when initially depositing their bodies into the ravine behind the strip mall in New Britain, the bags and tape were removed when he placed each body into a shallow grave.
Green poncho/sweater belonging to an unknown female. 

I got to know a handful of family members of three of Howell's victims while writing "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer," and they were gracious enough to give me more information about their loved ones so I could add those details to the book. It was important for me to depict the victims as good and loving human beings who were caught in the clutches of addiction. Since the book was released in July, I have met more family members of the victims. I deeply appreciate the support that many of them have expressed. It cannot be easy to have a stranger write about your loved one and the pain of your family member's final hours on this earth. 

Muddy sneakers belonging to Howell. 
I find myself walking away from our conversations with a heavy heart- and a growing sense of outrage toward William Devin Howell. Who knows what his six female victims and one male victim could have gone on to do with their lives, had he not cruelly stolen them from this earth? He found each one during a desperate and dark period. It was a window of time, and not at all reflective of the potential that each one had. I believe many of his female victims could have successfully gone through drug rehab and lived productive, happy lives. But we won't ever know what their future could have been because Howell stole that future away. 

For those interested in reading more about Howell and his crimes, here's the link on Amazon to "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer."
Glass "turtle" figurine; an odd item to keep in a van. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

New crime scene photos indicate a serial killer's sexual addiction- and sadism

Howell claims these women were friends.
I am often asked if I think that serial killer William Devin Howell has more victims beyond the seven individuals that he has been convicted of murdering back in 2003. It is entirely possible. Many photos found by detectives while searching Howell's van indicate that he knew a lot of different women, and he was interested in hanging on to their images. I asked Howell about the photos that were included in the collection of crime scene photos that he gave to me from his legal discovery. He states that most of the women were friends or former girlfriends, and he never laid a hand on any of them. If investigators want to give him a polygraph, he will tell them the names of each one. He assures me that they were all safe when he knew them.

Can you trust a serial killer?

The grainy image below, shown in the episode that I did with Crime Watch Daily after Howell was sentenced for his crimes, depicts a woman who Howell states was part of a sex video that he made. He paid her to be in the film; it was consensual, he says, and she was never harmed. Unlike the other women, Howell does not recall this woman's name.

Unknown woman in Howell's sex tape.
Seeing some of the items found in Howell's van brings home the reality that he was a sex addict who apparently loved some women- the "good girls" who did not work the streets, and hated others- the "bad girls" who struggled with heroin addiction and were repeatedly raped and ultimately strangled in the back of his 1985 Ford Econoline van, where he lived during the 9-month killing spree in 2003.

I write in my book, "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer," that Howell's sexual sadism seemed to stem from a deep rage that he kept hidden from his girlfriend, Dori Holcomb, and others who knew him. He presented to most as an easy-going, friendly lawncare worker from the south. But make no mistake about it, there was a violent storm brewing inside of Howell, starting in his early twenties when he was incarcerated in Virginia and when, he tells me, he began to fantasize about raping prostitutes. The fantasies, I believe, were fueled by the fact that Howell had no power in his life. He had no job skills besides basic landscaping, no education, and was deprived of the opportunity to visit his two young children because of his chronic incarceration. Rather than face that anger and powerlessness head on and do something constructive about it, he numbed it with drinking and nymphomania. "I failed at everything in my life," he told me during one prison visit. "I was a success at being a failure." As crazy as it sounds, the only thing that made him feel potent and gave him a sense of control was raping vulnerable women. It makes no sense to a normal person- but we are talking about a deviant mind, here. We are talking about a monster.
In my book, I delve into the roots of Howell's sexual addiction. At the age of 14, he stole off with his father's car in the middle of the night and visited the red light district of Newport News, Virginia. His first encounter with a prostitute flipped a switch in his brain. His mother was very ill at the time- she would die one year later. Howell told me that after that first encounter with a prostitute, he was "hooked" and could not get enough of soliciting women on the streets. He describes it as his "secret addiction." No one knew about it, not even his long time childhood sweetheart, the mother of his two children. He went on to tell me that he has solicited more than 1000 prostitutes over the years- which really boggles the mind when you consider the fact that he was locked up during the majority of that time. Howell was a busy man in the brief windows of time when he was a free man living in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Connecticut. He may have other victims along the east coast.
Condoms found in "The Murder Mobile." 

It's a wonder he did not get an STD or HIV. However, Howell told me that he always used condoms. Certainly, there were a lot of condoms found by detectives when they searched Howell's van. One police report indicates that DNA was found on a condom. There were other items found in Howell's van that point to a working man's "ordinary" day-to-day life: for example, a childcare flyer that likely belonged to his girlfriend, whose daughter was young at the time. Howell would join his girlfriend and her children to fly kites at a local park. In one newspaper article, his girlfriend's daughter described Howell as a "kind-hearted giant."

"She was a sweet little girl," he told me from prison. "She always wanted her mother's approval." He also kept this black and white photo of his girlfriend, Dori, in the van. When we met for our monthly visits, he would frequently weep when describing how much he still missed her. She died in 2014.

Howell kept Dori's pic in his van. 
Howell handed out lawncare flyers, stored in his glove compartment, to residents in middle class and upscale communities in Connecticut. One of his customers, an older woman, actually got inside of Howell's van and felt safe enough to drive with him to Home Depot to pick out bushes for her yard. When she saw the photo of Howell in the newspaper article stating that Howell had been charged with the murder of Nilsa Arizmendi, the woman was shocked. She said to her husband, "That's our Devin."

When it comes to serial killers, one thing is irrefutable: they often do not present as deranged psychopaths- mad dogs frothing at the mouth. Many, like the BTK killer, lead respectable lives as upstanding citizens. Others, like William Devin Howell, may be transient drifters, but they have friends and jobs and convince the people who interact with them on a day to day basis that they are decent human beings. During the three years that it took for me to get to know Howell during prison visits, phone calls, and through hundreds of pages of written correspondence, he frequently reassured me that he was "a good guy." He could not believe that he had turned into a serial killer. His state of denial regarding his mental illness and the pain that he has caused so many will never go away, in my opinion. He is too far-gone. His evil will go with him to the grave.

Carpet saturated in blood, removed from Howell's van.
For a deeper analysis into the mind of Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, William Devin Howell, here's the link to my book about him on Amazon. The audio version will be available soon.

I will post more crime scene photos, given to me by Howell, in this blog in the weeks to come.
Howell as he appeared after his arrest in 2005. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

New Crime Scene Photos re Connecticut Serial Killer William Howell

The floor of Howell's van was drenched in human blood.
During a prison visit in April 2017, Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, William Devin Howell, told me that he planned to plead guilty to killing his six remaining victims. Not wanting to interfere with an open case, I held that information close to the vest. By the time the guilty plea hearing took place several months later, I had gotten used to the idea- and so it seemed strange that the media presence outside of the courthouse on the morning of September 8, 2017, was negligible.  Aside from me, only Howell's lawyers and the prosecution knew for certain that it was a monumental day.

After our April visit, Howell gave me a large box of legal discovery for my future book, "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer." He started to confess his crimes to me in great detail following the guilty plea, and he gave me two more large boxes that contained police interviews, forensic reports, and crime scene photos. In the weeks ahead, I will publish blog posts that contain some of the photos included in Howell's legal discovery. Many of these photos have not yet been seen by the public; some of them I shared with Crime Watch Daily after Howell was sentenced.
Blood and hair roots found on a comb in Howell's van.

In Chapter 16 of "His Garden" I discuss at length the search and seizure of Howell's van by law enforcement. I wrote: "When it comes to convicting a murderer, it is less about finding a body and more about finding the blood. As fate would have it, there was plenty of blood to be found in Bill's van." Exhibit 47, above, depicts the plywood floor of Howell's infamous "Murder Mobile." Sadly, his first victim bled out post-mortem for two weeks in the back of the van before Howell deposited her body in the ravine behind the strip mall in New Britain. Hers was not the only blood found in Howell's vehicle. Law enforcement discovered DNA samples belonging to 6 of Howell's 7 victims.

Howell's ghastly "home on wheels" 
Investigators seized Howell's van from Bertie County, North Carolina in April 2004 and towed it back to Connecticut. After that, the van was searched on numerous occasions. Here, the 1985 Ford Econoline is pictured in the Sally Port of the Wethersfield Police Department. Howell told me that the front fender is falling off because he had previously taken a baseball bat to it after fighting with his girlfriend Dori Holcomb, who had title to the van. Although Dori held title (because Howell drove without a valid license), Howell was the only person who drove the van. He had previously purchased it from an ex-girlfriend's parents for $400.00, removed the old engine, and installed a better engine from a mini-van. Howell claims that the van got him into a lot of trouble because it gave him the freedom to carry out the murders in the early morning hours, undetected by his girlfriend and closest friends. He removed the license tag when he was about to commit each rape and murder.
It's a wonder that Howell had enough room to kill in his van. 
 As you can see in these photos, the van was full of stuff and reportedly had a "foul odor." Howell lived in it at the time of his 9-month killing spree, so it contained not only his personal effects, including clothing and pornographic videos, but also the equipment that he used in his lawn-care service- some of which he also used in the commission of his grisly crimes. By the time police had finished their numerous searches during an investigation that lasted approximately 12 years, the van had been stripped down to a cavernous death chamber.
Is it possible that the van contains blood from more victims?

One disturbing item, given to me by Howell, is a page from a log book that he kept in his van that documents the names of his lawn care customers in 2003, and how much they paid him. Ironically, the amount paid for mowing a lawn was about what Howell paid the prostitutes that he solicited in his off hours. On May 17, 2003, he wrote "Funeral," referencing the day that he killed his second victim, Marilyn Gonzalez, and buried her behind the strip mall. Alongside that log book, he kept a black and white photo of his girlfriend, Dori. He also stored his lawn care flyers in the glove compartment of his van, along with photos of other women that he had been with over the years.
Howell wrote "Funeral" indicating the day he killed a victim.
For the full story about Connecticut's most prolific serial killer and the confessions that he exclusively gave me regarding his 9-month killing spree in 2003, visit this Amazon link: "His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer." William Devin Howell is presently where he belongs: locked up in a high-max prison facility where he is serving a sentence of 360 years. He has repeatedly told me that he wants to die, and he wishes that Connecticut still had the death penalty.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Serial Killings in Springfield, MA: Did Police Do Enough?

Ernestine was a loving mother, sister and daughter.
Frederick Snell is not just grief-stricken- he is outraged. The body of his 47-year old sister, Ernerstine Ryans, was discovered at purported serial killer Stewart Weldon's Springfield home last May, along with the bodies of two other women. When police officers pulled Weldon over in late May for driving without a tail light they found a woman being held captive in his vehicle. She had apparently been repeatedly raped, beaten and stabbed over the course of the last month. The police did not go to Weldon's house to search for other possible victims immediately after the arrest. Three days passed with Weldon in jail before they received a report from his mother of a foul odor on the premises. It was that report that finally prompted them to search Weldon's house.

"Why didn't the police go after this guy at his house months ago?" Snell asked me in an interview on June 5th. "They knew he was dangerous, and he cut off his ankle bracelet in February. Didn't anyone look into that? If they did, my sister would be alive today." Snell also wonders if Weldon's mother knew more than she let on. Was that the first time she smelt a foul odor?

According to an article in the Daily Mail published on June 5, 2018, Stewart Weldon has a long criminal history dating back to adolescence and at the time of his arrest on the charge of kidnapping and rape to assault on May 27th, he was already known to authorities as a high risk offender in the community. He had outstanding warrants for assault and traffic violations, and he had just served two months for beating a woman on the street in October of 2017. At the time of that arrest, he tried to flee from police and 9 officers had to subdue him. Weldon bit one of the officers as he was being handcuffed. Police did not track the woman down for follow-up questioning. He was released in December to witness the birth of his child, and given an electronic ankle bracelet.

Ordinarily, a probation officer would get a signal indicating that an ankle bracelet had been removed, and there are procedures in place whereby the officer notifies the court to seek a warrant for immediate arrest. Did Weldon's probation officer contact the court about this development, and was anything done to locate Weldon? I contacted the Public Relations Department for the Commissioner of Probation in Massachusetts on June 6th and spoke with Coira Holland. She advised me to send her my questions in an email. Here are the questions that I asked Ms. Holland on June 6th:

Weldon reportedly cut off his electronic ankle bracelet in February 2017. Did his probation officer or any other member of law enforcement know about it? Do they receive some kind of a signal in such events? If they did not know, why not? If they did know, did anyone contact the court to request that an arrest warrant be issued in the matter? If not, why? If actions were taken regarding the destruction of the bracelet, what did those actions involve? What is normal procedure in such matters? Was that procedure followed?

 I am still waiting for her answer.
Ernestine is deeply missed by her family.

According to Snell, a resident of Torrington, Connecticut, his sister Ernerstine Ryans had been missing since early March of 2018. She lived right around the corner from Weldon in Springfield. He states that when his mother first went to the police to file a Missing Persons Report, "They did not even take it." He states that the police initially told his mother that because his sister was a drug user, she had probably just fallen off the radar and would show up eventually. According to Ryan Walsh, a Public Information Officer at the Springfield Police Department, a Missing Persons Report was filed on March 18th stating that Ryans had been missing since March 8th. "We do not have a 24-48 hour requirement before filing the reports," he told me. "In 2017, our department received 1270 Missing Person Reports on Juveniles, and 274 on adults. Each one was investigated."

Snell said that his family knew that something was seriously wrong in the weeks and months following his sister's disappearance. His sister would sometimes be out of touch with everyone- but never for more than 3-4 days. "She did have a drug problem, we knew that, but she always stayed in touch with her two daughters. One of them is 13 years old. There's no way she would go a week without talking to her daughters. And she sent messages to our sisters on Facebook all the time." Snell recently saw that his sister's last post on Facebook was in February. It was a photo of him and his son. "That just upset me so much," he said. "That we were the last ones she posted about."

He stated that his mother visited with the police multiple times and a Missing Person Report was eventually filed. Snell states that no Missing Persons Report was filed on the other victim with ties to Bristol, Connecticut, and he wonders why no report was filed. Did anyone contact the police about her? In the months that followed his sister's disappearance, people would tell family members that they thought they saw Ryans around Hartford, and this gave the family hope. Still, they could not help but wonder if the reports were false, and if something terrible had happened. Now he is haunted by the reality that his sister probably suffered for months at the hands of a deranged serial killer, and that she could possibly have been rescued by the police before dying. "We didn't get served justice," he said. "Ernerstine was a sister and a mother, a grandmother, a great friend and a big part of my family. Those girls suffered slowly."


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Debunking Myths About Serial Killers

Howell with his girlfriend one year before the the killing spree.

Since getting to know Connecticut's most prolific serial killer, William Devin Howell, and writing a book about him, I have been faced with the reality that there is no such thing as a "typical" serial killer. They come in all shapes and sizes, with backgrounds and personalities that are as unique as the day is long. Best selling author and forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland addresses this disconcerting reality in her Psychology Today article, "Persistent Myths About Serial Killers." Ramsland was kind enough to write an endorsement for the back cover of my book, His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer. I am glad that she read the manuscript before I sent it off to the publisher, because she corrected me on one myth that I included in the book as though it were gospel truth. Specifically, serial killers are not defined as individuals who kill at least three times with at least a one month cooling off period in between incidents. In fact, the FBI defines serial killers as killing at least twice with a one month time period in between the crimes.

Here are some of the myths that Ramsland references in her article, as applied to the subject of my true crime book about William Devin Howell:

1. Serial killers are all dysfunctional loners. I write in my book that Howell had many friends and girlfriends over the years, and he maintained an active social life during his nine month killing spree. Former friends came out of the woodwork as I wrote the book, telling me that they were shocked to learn about his unspeakable deeds. Many described him as "the nicest guy in the world." Bill loved a good party. He once told me that he hated to be alone. Thus, his present-day isolation in a high max prison only enhances his despair. Ironically, he frequently admonishes me for being such a loner, and choosing to spend most of my free time reading and writing when I could be out having fun with friends. "Go tubing down the Farmington River," he says. "Get out of your house and go line dancing at The Cadillac Ranch."
Howell enjoyed the company of women- at times.
©2018 Anne K Howard All Rights Reserved

2. Serial killers are all white males
. While Howell is a white male, serial killers come from all ethnic origins. Take, for example, Stewart Weldon, the African-American who was recently arrested in Springfield, Massachusetts for holding his victims captive, torturing, and eventually killing all but one.

3. Serial killers cannot stop killing. Howell swears that he only has seven victims. Perhaps he has lied to me; who knows? But he claims that he just stopped killing in late October of 2003.

4. All serial killers are insane or evil geniuses. I believe that Howell was in a heightened state of disassociation when he carried out the repeated rapes and strangulations of his victims in the back of his infamous "Murder Mobile." He tells me that he felt like he was playing the part of a bad guy in a movie. Does that make him insane? Sick, yes. Evil, to be sure. But no, not insane. His acts were highly premeditated and after each death, he went on to live a normal day-to-day life; working, spending time with his girlfriend and her children, and hanging out with friends. Also, while I believe he has an average if not slightly above average IQ, he is hardly a genius.

5. Serial killers want to get caught. Howell tells me that he did everything possible to avoid getting caught and I discuss measures that he took in the book; from removing the license plate on his van during the murders, to burying his victims in a burial ground that was inaccessible to the public. He does admit to doing careless things that eventually led to his arrest, such as continuing to drive a vehicle that contained the DNA of 6 of his 7 victims when he knew that Detective Robert DeRoehn was on the hunt for it. "Why didn't I just get it crushed?" he now wonders.
Copyright 2018, Anne K. Howard, all rights reserved. 

6. Serial killers are only motivated by sex. It is true that Howell is a sexual sadist and his crimes were motivated, in part, by his insatiable sexual appetite. However, the overriding motive was not lust- it was the need for power. He had no power in his life, but torturing his victims gave him a sense of omnipotence that he lacked in his everyday world. It was also a means of venting the suppressed rage inside of him.

Inmate #305917 as he appears today.
7. All serial murderers travel and operate interstate. Howell did travel back and forth from Connecticut to Virginia and North Carolina at the time of his killing spree. Perhaps he does have more victims down south. On the other hand, the evidence that led to his convictions indicates that all of his crimes took place with in an approximately 40 mile radius, ranging from Waterbury, to Torrington, to Hartford, to Wethersfield, to New Britain, Connecticut.

In her article, Ramsland also discusses the fact that there is no set formula for determining how much is nature and how much is nurture when it comes to the creation of a serial killer. My book is divided into two parts. Part I discusses Howell's childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in an attempt to figure out what events may have contributed to Howell's downward spiral into darkness. Part II comprises Howell's detailed confessions that he exclusively gave to me after pleading guilty in September 2017. In relaying those confessions, I frequently reference the fact that there is something neurologically wrong with Howell. Whether it is chemical, or genetic, or the result of doing too much LSD or drinking every day starting at the age of twelve is a mystery that will never get solved.

As you can see in Howell's most recent mug shot, he does not possess the exterior markings of a monster. Perhaps that is what terrifies me the most about him. Pass him on the street and you wouldn't think twice.

To purchase His Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer, go directly to the publisher's link ( or the Amazon links: or  . The book will be released on Tuesday, July 10.