This year, CrimeCon took place in “The Big Easy” between June 7-June 9 and New Orleans was the perfect place to host the convention because it’s a mysterious city full of ghost stories and tales of murder. As many attendees discovered, an aura of other-worldiness permeated the air all around us well into the witching hours as we descended upon the Hilton Riverside hotel. Opening the conference was Golden State Killer investigator, Paul Holes. His presentation at CrimeCon in Nashville last year proved so popular that the convention committee invited him to kick-start this year’s event. Paul has a good stage presence and it’s not hard to imagine him working on a case. He welcomed us to New Orleans and reminded everyone to remember the victims of violent crimes as opposed to glorifying the criminals. He pointed out that during the first CrimeCon in 2017, he was still looking for the Golden State Killer. By 2018, Joseph DeAngelo had been identified using familial DNA and since then, over 50 cold cases had been solved using the same revolutionary method of identification. Paul told us he wanted more unidentified criminals to be unmasked and stressed the importance of laws allowing familial DNA to be used in police investigations. The crowd was utterly charmed by the handsome law enforcement agent and applauded vigorously as the session ended.
The first session I attended was for fans of the Netflix documentary, “The Staircase.” David Rudolf, who defended author Michael Peterson accused of his wife’s murder, discussed the bad reputation of defense attorneys and said he wanted to find a way for people to view them in a more positive light. He talked about the documentary and the decision to allow a camera crew for follow his client and defense team. He gave them strict boundaries, including downloading the film every night to a server in Europe so the prosecution would have a harder time subpoenaing the video, if they chose to try. Then he asked the audience if we wanted to hear more about the “blow poke,” which if you remember, was a very controversial piece of evidence to show that Peterson bludgeoned Kathleen after pushing her down the stairs in their home. The audience replied with a loud “YES!” and Rudolf commented that he hadn’t even heard of a blow poke until this case came along. Getting serious, he said the blow poke wasn’t even considered a murder weapon until approximately two months before the trial began. Investigators found the blow poke in the Peterson’s yard and moved it to the garage where the defense team found it more than a year later. Rudolf said that he was appalled to discover that investigators searched Peterson’s house in 2002 without knowledge of the defense team. He ended the session stating he didn’t care if we thought Peterson was guilty (his murder verdict was overturned and changed to manslaughter in 2017), but that the system was broken because he never should have been found guilty of murder in the first place.
David Rudolf, discussing the blow poke in the Peterson case
Between sessions, I visited Podcast Row. This is by far my favorite part of CrimeCon and consists of many podcasters convening at separate tables, offering swag, conversation, and lots of selfies with their fans. The first face I saw this year was also the first face I saw last year, that of Mike “Morf” Morford. Morf is a Zodiac killer expert whose podcast, “Criminology,” is well worth a listen. Partnering with Mike Ferguson, of “True Crime All the Time” fame, they were lucky enough to have me write season 3 of their podcast about Ted Bundy. (I wrote the entire script covering 3 episodes.) I was thrilled to run into Mike “Gibby” Gibson and Mike Ferguson, who both present “True Crime All the Time”, and Mike Browne who hosts the Canadian podcast, “Dark Poutine.” His co-host, Scott, was also kind enough to grant me a photo, for which I know he was thrilled. I met the fabulous and very gracious Warbabyyy, host of “Murderous Minors,” whom I nicknamed “Ava Cherry” for her bleach blonde hair! Justin and Aaron from “Generation Why” were as friendly as ever and posed for more than one selfie with me. Podcast Row didn’t just include podcasts. There was a taser demonstration (I’ll never get that jarring taser sound out of my head), books and publishers, a K9 presentation, and merchandise to buy including t-shirts, silver handcuff necklaces, and wine glasses. Nancy Grace was on hand for pictures with her fans along with various meet and greets to meet some of your favorite writers and presenters. Depending on how things go, you may just see me on Podcast Row next!
Some of the amazing podcasters I met on Podcast Row and Mike Patty on the bottom left, grandfather of Libby German!
I was already enjoying being at CrimeCon, but to make things even more fantastic for me was that I met one of my heroes, Ted Bundy survivor, Kathy Kleiner Rubin. She thanked me for writing such a wonderful article about her (Scroll down on this blog to see my article about Kathy) & invited me to hang out with her. We went to several sessions and since she is a New Orleans resident, she was my tour guide. We saw an incredible drag show on Bourbon Street and ate some delicious cajun food. I am in love with alligator meat now!
Kathy and me hanging around town!
Kathy also co-hosted a CrimeCon session dedicated to Ann Rule. Investigator Sheryl McCollum started off the conversation about how Ann Rule affected her life and Leslie Rule, Ann’s daughter, told tales of Ann’s youth and how she met Ted Bundy when both volunteered for a suicide hotline. Kathy’s story was the most compelling part of the Ted Bundy legacy. She stood and very confidentally told her story of survival after being left for dead by at Florida State University’s Chi Omega sorority house. She was only twenty and had never even heard the name Ted Bundy. After Bundy murdered her sorority sisters, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, he came into the darkened room she shared with Karen Chandler armed with a piece of oak firewood, high on adrenaline. Kathy heard him stumble over a footlocker between their twin beds and became aware of his darkened frame leaning over her, his arm raised. She felt a “thud” on the right side of her face, but no initial pain. When her roommate stirred nearby, Bundy began hitting Karen with the firewood. “Bundy was good at killing people. Because he didn’t kill me, I was alive and making noise…he came back to my side to come and kill me.” After returning to attack Kathy again, carlights from the back parking lot lit up the small room and Bundy got “spooked,” running out of the room. “Now I felt the pain of being hit so hard in the face. I remember sitting up and rocking back and forth, screaming for someone to come help us. The next thing I remember, there was a police officer in my room, and I felt so safe.”
Kathy Kleiner tells her story to the crowd
Kathy suffered a broken jaw, broken in three places and had damage to her shoulder. Her jaw had been hit so hard that it was dangling from her face. Blood was everywhere in the room. She was taken to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital to heal. Bark was pulled from her face, indicating that she had been beaten by the same oak log as her sorority sisters. After many weeks of recuperation and her jaw being reset, she finally made it home where she was informed that her attacker had been caught. Kathy was summoned by the Grand Jury to determine if Bundy would be tried in her case. “I looked at him and he looked at me. I stared him down because I had power now.” She felt he may have been looking at her in an attempt to intimidate her. Kathy admitted that “he had a cocky attitude” and she was relieved when he was charged by the state of Florida with three counts of attempted murder and two counts of murder. Kathy said she had been comforted by Leon County District Attorney Ken Katsaris saying that he “had been so kind to me.” Bravely facing the crowd of people, quietly riveted by her story, she ended with her personal mantra: “I don’t like the term victim, I’m actually a survivor. In my opinion, I’m a thriver.”
Kathy and I were personally invited to attend a presentation of the Natalie Wood investigation by one of the producers of 48 Hours, Ryan Smith. News reporter Erin Moriarty showed clips of Natalie Wood and introduced Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood to the stage. Lana reminded us that “Natalie Wood was one of the biggest film stars imaginable” and said “the Wagner/Wood love story was one of the great Hollywood love stories.” After a tumultuous marriage, Wood and Wagner divorced in April of 1962, but they remarried in July of 1972. Lana was both stunned and astounded when Natalie went back to Wagner after a decade apart. On November 28, 1981, Natalie, who was notoriously afraid of the water and was unable to swim, boarded Wagner’s yacht docked near Catalina Island for a night of drinking and relaxing. It later came to light that Natalie and Robert had a huge fight about where the boat should be docked overnight and by the next morning, Wood was missing. Her body was found floating in nearby waters, several hours after the fight. Her autopsy report indicated there were twenty-six bruises on her body. Some investigators speculated that “she looked like the victim of an assault.” Lana feared their relationship was violent, so she went by Wagner’s house and confronted him about the incident. She stated he told her, “It was an accident, you’ve gotta believe me.” She tried to speak to him on several occasions, but found herself no longer being allowed around Wagner’s family or Natalie’s daughters and claims Wagner blacklisted her from Hollywood. Lana made no secret that she suspected that Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, knows more than he has said about her sister’s mysterious death. Moriarty asked Lana if she thought the case would be solved, but Lana didn’t think the case would ever lead to an arrest. When asked how she wanted her older sister remembered, she recalled that Natalie was “highly intelligent, very loving” and she hoped her sister would be proud that Lana is trying to find justice for her death.
Still picture of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood
Ryan Smith of 48 Hours and Kathy Kleiner
The final session I was attended was an update on the Delphi, Indiana murders. On February 13, 2017, best friends Abby Williams and Libby German were found dead after being dropped off to spend time on the Monan High Bridge Trail. A short while later, neither girl was answering her phone. After a search and rescue party descended in the area, their bodies were found not far from the drop-off point the next day. Police have generated a sketch of the killer based on eyewitnesses and a short video recorded on Abby’s phone. A panel including Libby German’s sister Kelsi and grandfather, Mike Patty, and Abby’s grandparents were on stage along with a law enforcement officer working the case. Mike Patty believes that someone knows the identity of the killer and needs to come forward to help the girls receive justice. “Don’t play investigator. We want your tips.” Police insisted that the public resist the urge to investigate the crime and to trust in the process. (Tips can be sent to email@example.com based on their Wikipedia page.) Commentary was made about the recently revealed new composite sketch of the “Bridge Guy” and how much younger the suspect appears to be. He was seen by more than one witness and is thought to have brownish-red hair and police stated he does not have blue eyes. Wrapping up the session, the panel wanted people to keep their eyes opened for any information that could help lead them to the killer of two bright, energetic young women who had so much potential.
Delphi families on stage
If you missed CrimeCon in New Orleans this year, don’t sweat it. Two upcoming CrimeCon events are being held in Chicago and Seattle later in 2019. Chicago is hosting CrimeCon: On the Run which promises one night of sessions covering the arc of a case to the investigation and interrogation. In Seattle, CrimeCon is offering a “Crowd Solve” event over the course of a weekend to dive into the real-life case of Nancy Moyer, missing since 2009. You can also start saving your money to attend CrimeCon in Orlando, Florida next year from May 1-3 at the World Center Mariott Hotel. Tickets go on sale on Monday, June 17th. Get them early to ensure you get the best rates and I hope I’ll see you in Orlando!