Tuesday, October 20, 2009
by Cathy Scott
Two murder cases with women as the accused killers have taken similar -- and unusual -- turns. Each was instantly labeled the “Black Widow.” And both women stood to gain millions should their husbands die.
In the first case, San Juan and Manhattan socialite Barbara Koganwas indicted late last year for the 1990 murder of her millionaire husband George. She stood accused of convincing her attorney to hire a hitman to kill George. Kogan’s estranged husband, with whom she was in the middle of a nasty divorce, was shot to death in broad daylight while George was walking from a neighborhood market to his live-in girlfriend’s high-rise apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Joel Seidemann, the Manhattan assistant district attorney who has been on the case for nearly two decades, is expected to refile a fresh charge against Kogan by the end of this year. During Kogan's arraignment in November 2008, Seidemann described the suspect as "a very angry woman."
"But when that anger became so overwhelming," he told the judge, "she decided to litigate the divorce through the bullets of a gun."
The second defendant is Margaret Rudin, charged and convicted of killing her husband, wealthy real estate investor Ronald Rudin, then driving the body to a remote area on the shore of Lake Mojave 45 miles outside of Las Vegas, stuffing him inside an antique truck and setting it on fire.
The commonalities with the two women, both of whom are now 65 years old, are many. Rudin, who was convicted of murder, has been granted a new trial. Rudin’s conviction was overturned in December 2008 by Clark County District Court Judge Sally Loehrer, who ruled that Rudin, who has spent the last nine years in a Nevada state prison, had “ineffective counsel” during her first trial.
And Barbara Kogan, accused of second-degree murder in the contract killing of her estranged husband, has had the charge dismissed on a technicality. In July, State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus ruled that because another grand jury had failed to indict Kogan in the 1990s, prosecutors needed judicial permission to empanel a new grand jury that handed down the indictment against Kogan last year. The prosecution, he said, failed to get that permission.
Both women are expected to be in their respective courtrooms on opposite ends of the country sometime next year. Rudin’s first trial, which was much publicized and lasted 10 weeks, was one of Las Vegas's highest profile murder cases. For Kogan, “48 Hours” and “Dateline” have already made arrangements to be in the courtroom for the trial, which is expected to last eight weeks.
While prosecutors in both crimes claim greed as the motive, in the Kogan case, the only evidence against her is circumstantial at best -- unless, by trial time, the prosecution comes up with more.
As for Rudin, it's mostly circumstantial as well, with hard evidence against her shaky. Her husband was missing in 1994, his car found at a strip club. Later, a boy and his father, out fishing together, discovered the burnt trunk and body near the shore of Lake Mojave on the Nevada side of the water. A gun, said to be the murder weapon, found months later in the lake, was not registered to Rudin or her husband, so that connection was never made, just conjectured.
After Rudin was granted a new trial, her new attorney, Christopher Oram, told reporters, "Obviously, we're very happy with the judge's ruling and look forward to going to trial.”
Kogan’s new counsel, high-profile criminal defense lawyer Barry Levin, said he’s looking forward to going to trial as well. “I intend to represent her zealously. I think she will be acquitted,” Levin said.
It all will unfold in their respective courtrooms. For the prosecution, both cases at this juncture appear to be uphill battles. But you never know what might happen as both sides sides duke it out in court.
Photo of Barbara Kogan in court (top) courtesy of the New York Daily News and photo of Margaret Rudin courtesy of TruTV.
Cathy Scott is writing a true crime book (St. Martin's Press) about the Barbara Kogan case.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Arrest Made? OMG, OMG, O-M-G, if this is true, hip-hop is about to go into a tailspin!!! According to BackSeatCuddler, Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada!!! It was there in Sin City 13 years ago (September 13 marked the 13th anniversary) where the legendary rapper was shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger seat of Suge Knight’s BMW after leaving a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tupac died six days later from respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest caused by multiple gunshot wounds. See Original Story For More.
The only news involving Tupac, who, besides being a rapper, was an actor and poet, is that the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, runs, is partnering with Woodruff Library to prepare Tupac’s writings and papers for scholarly research. The Tupac Shakur Collection is currently housed within the Woodruff Library's Archives and Special Collections Department. It features Tupac’s handwritten lyrics, personal notes and fan correspondence, among other items. Meanwhile, the rumor about an arrest in Tupac's case coincided with the 13th anniversary of his murder. As a result of the anniversary and the rumor, record sales for Tupac’s music went through the roof. And sales for books about Tupac took off too. The warehouse manager at Huntington Press, my publisher for The Killing of Tupac Shakur, said sales had jumped and orders from Amazon.com were especially high. Other than that, it's been fairly quiet on the Tupac front. So much for a “developing story.”
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
As a teenager, I regularly followed crime stories in the local newspaper and I was always interested in TV reports, although during that era growing up in San Diego County, there wasn’t much crime. I watched "Perry Mason" because it was one of my mother's favorite TV shows.
But halfway up the hill, the same man we had seen blocks earlier stepped out of the darkness and under the light of a street lamp. He was naked from the waist down with his trousers around his ankles.
Monday, September 07, 2009
By Cathy Scott
As the 13th anniversary approaches of rapper Tupac Shakur’s murder in a drive-by shooting near the Las Vegas Strip at age 25, the media come out in droves to cover it. TV news magazines started weeks ago on their pieces. All want to help solve the crime.
The latest edition of The Killing of Tupac Shakur is expected before Christmas. Stay turned for updates.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
The Rough Guide to True Crime is the complete compilation of crime's most notorious villains, heinous acts and shocking misdemeanors. The Rough Guide to True Crime provides an unusually wide coverage of crime's most preposterous occurrences and heinous acts; combining in-depth accounts of the most infamous to the lesser known crimes, from conmen to cybercrime, with "at-a-glance" fact files throughout. From the Moors murders and Harold Shipman, to the murder of 2pac, this guide illuminates the psychology in play behind the most intriguing crimes in history, from the absurd to the appalling.
Written by award-winning journalist and author Cathy Scott, it features include extensive black-and-white still photographs, featuring profile boxes by forensic expert Professor Louis B Schlesinger explaining the psychology of serial killers, hit men, burglars and various types of murderers. Lesser violations provide a lighter touch, including Paris Hilton's traffic transgressions and Winona Ryder's shoplifting fetish. The Rough Guide to True Crime explores the best of the haunting genre of True Crime, thrilling the armchair voyeur and amateur criminologist alike.
The Rough Guide to True Crime (Rough Guide Reference)
Country: US & UK
Author: Rough Guides; Cathy Scott
Publisher: Rough Guides Limited
Publication date: August 31, 2009
Friday, September 04, 2009
With this week's release of my latest book, The Rough Guide to True Crime, it seems only appropriate to present on Women in Crime Ink an excerpt about Bertha Pippin, an elderly woman who was murdered by neighborhood teenagers for no apparent motive.
I know Bertha's son, Jerry Pippin, a veteran radio broadcaster who has had me on his show several times. The story of his mother's murder was barely touched on by local media, then forgotten. So I decided to give Bertha a voice and include her story in my homicide chapter in The Rough Guide to True Crime. Here it is, in part.
BERTHA LEE PIPPIN
On a rainy day in November 2000, Bertha Pippin, 85, was fatally beaten with a baseball bat inside the Muskogee, Oklahoma, home where she lived alone. Frail Bertha was utterly incapable of defending herself against her teenage attackers, one of whom was a local girl, Amanda K. Lane. Bertha paid an appalling price for taking an interest in the welfare of this troubled teen.
Bertha was a mother and grandmother. Bertha talked about Amanda and how she regularly called her the “old lady.” Despite that, Bertha expressed high hopes that by being kind to the teen, she could reform her. Bertha empathized with Amanda, because Bertha too had gone through a lot when she was young. She understood.
Her mother had died giving birth to Bertha.Her sharecropper father told her she wasn’t wanted. He shipped her off to her grandparents, simple farmers who had little money.
A few years later, Bertha went to live with an uncle she had never met. She attended a small protestant church and met her future husband, the son of a Baptist preacher. They married and had four children. They lived a quiet life while her husband made a meager living.
Bertha felt Amanda deserved a chance, but she didn’t like the boys Amanda hung out with. She thought they were a bad influence, especially after Bertha learned they abused a pit bull that lived across the street. But Bertha insisted her son Jerry not report the abuse to authorities. Bertha was afraid the boys would find out and retaliate against her. She had a good sense about people, and it turned out her feeling about the boys was right.
Bertha was comfortable living alone; only a narrow alleyway separated her from her daughter Beverly Robertson’s home. Bertha was involved in her neighborhood. Between 9 and 10 p.m. on Nov. 3, Amanda and two of her friends – Gary Rightsell and Travis Phillips – carried a baseball bat to Bertha’s house. Amanda knocked on the door, telling Bertha she was locked out of her house and needed to use a phone.
While Amanda pretended to call someone on the phone, Bertha went into the kitchen to get a glass of water for one of the boys. As Bertha walked back to her living room, Gary hit her over the head with the bat. Bertha reeled and landed on the sofa. They asked her for money. She told them to hang on because her head hurt, that she would get the money for them and she wouldn’t tell anyone. That’s when Gary began hitting her repeatedly.
Then the other teen took the bat and continued. Amanda later testifiedthat she was ordered to hit Bertha too. Otherwise, the boys might kill Amanda’s three-year-old daughter. So Amanda too took her turn. Bertha’s body was discovered after Beverly sounded the alarm and called her husband and brother. There was blood everywhere. In Bertha’s wallet, untouched, was $300 in cash.
One of the teens, Gary Rightsell, who weighed 200 pounds, admitted to helping kill Bertha using a baseball bat they had gotten from a friend’s house. He pleaded guilty in Muskogee District Court to two counts of accessory after the fact. Rightsell cooperated with prosecutors as part of a plea bargain, and he helped in the arrest of Amanda Lane. She was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery by force or fear. She is incarcerated at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma, where is she serving out her life sentence.
Two months later, Judge James E. Edmondson sentenced Rightsell to 30 years in prison on both counts, 10 of which were suspended. Rightsell could have gotten 45 years of hard time in a maximum-security prison instead. He is serving time at the Howard McLeod Correctional Center in Atoka, Oklahoma.
According to the prison’s website, Rightsell is eligible for parole and scheduled to appear before the prison board in March 2009. If he's not paroled, his release date is June 2016.
Travis Phillips, owner of the baseball bat used to bludgeon Bertha, received a year’s probation after pleading guilty to a charge of obstructing a police officer in the investigation. He has been in and out of jail and prison ever since, mostly for substance abuse charges, according to the Department of Corrections in Okalahoma. Today, Travis is a free man.
A subpoena to testify was about to be served on the fourth suspect, Randy Hughart, when he was killed in 2001 during a street fight with a drug dealer. Hughart died from blunt trauma to his head, the same fate suffered by Bertha Pippin.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
It's true. Hudson was the author of Dance of Death, the story of Kimberly Renee Poole, a North Carolina woman who was convicted of getting her boyfriend, John Frazier, to shoot her husband in 1998 while the couple walked on the beach in celebration of their third wedding anniversary.
Hudson also wrote Die, Grandpa, Die about Christopher Pittman, a 12-year-old boy convicted of murdering his grandparents in 2001. His last two books, released in 2007 and 2008, include All I Want To Do is Kill about the Holly Harvey case where she and boyfriend killed her grandparents because they ordered her to stop seeing him. The second was Kiss and Kill, about Rick Pulley, a highly a youth pastor and music director at his River of Life Church in Virginia, and the mysterious disappearance of his wife.
Hudson authored two more books with writer Billy Hills. They were An Hour To Kill, about the 1991 rape and murder of a Conway teenager Crystal Todd, considered at the time Horry County's most gruesome crime, and A Reason To Live, the story of Pawleys Island resident Wanda Summers, who survived the killing spree of two men in February 1979.
Hudson was a member of a true-crime online forum, of which I'm a member, but he had not been active since 2007. I never met him, but I feel like I knew him. We were, after all, fellow crime sleuths.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Beatrice got into a legal discussion with Victoria Pynchon (@vpynchon on Twitter), an attorney mediator-arbitrator. They were short discussion topics, of course, because the tweets are only allowed a maximum length of 140 characters. I looked to see who was followed by this Beatrice Bitcher person (notice I used the word "person"). One was Richard Prickman, listed as Beatrice's law partner at Prickman & Bitcher.
OK, it has to be a hoax, I thought to myself. But what was it, really? I went to what I thought was the Web site for the law firm Prickman & Bitcher and this is what I read, in part "Bitcher & Prickman is a weekly law comic strip. These female and male partners are from the dark side of law. They rag on associates about billing and make plans to buy city commissioners." Now, it seems, they'd jumped off the cartoon page and into Twitterland, where they were--and still are--being taken seriously some of the time. I'd been snookered, at least for a tweet or two. I tweeted something to the pair about being "comic characters." Beatrice responded with, "Ha. I'd expect a crime writer to come down on the side of truth and justice. You have exposed Beatrice's denial. Caution." I responded, ""It's the skeptic in me -- and the reporter." Beatrice added, "And I thought women stuck together." My answer? "We do. Do fictional cartoon characters stick together too? (Or are you based on a true character?)"
And so, Beatrice Bitcher was outed and exposed on Twitter for the cartoon character she is. A little while later, I wrote a post that said, "Meet & enjoy comic characters @BeatriceBitcher, her law partner @RichardPrickman & their creator @LawComix."
When Victoria Pynchon also realized Beatrice wasn't real, this is what Vickie posted on Twitter: "I'm tweeting 2 a cartoon character - someone slap a 72 hour hold on me!" Beatrice responded with this: "Sometimes, dear Victoria, fantasy is more real. 24-hour hold...DENIED."
It's a novel idea, taking a comic strip to Twitter and passing off the characters as real-life lawyers. And it's no doubt a first for Twitter. Clearly, Charles Fincher, Esq., the person behind Beatrice and Richard (or "Dick," as Beatrice fondly refers to him), is enjoying himself. He not only pulled it off; he's gaining a wide readership for his already-popular LawComix cartoons, bringing his characters to life on the pages of Twitter. In this case, Beatrice is right; fantasy sometimes does seem more real.
Cartoons of Beatrice Bitcher and Richard Prickman by LawComix.