Hometown Murder 1: Stay Out of the (New Jersey) Forest - THAT'S WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Hey Ladies!!!

Ok, here's some hometown murder action for ya, sorry if this is a bit long! 

When I was about 10 years old my family moved from CA to New Jersey. The Sopranos was at the height of it's popularity so the reputation of NJ was a bit weird (somehow, New Jersey's respectability would manage to sink further still thanks to the Jersey Shore, Chris Christie, the list goes on.... ughhhhh) The Sopranos used locations all around my new neighborhood to film so jokes about mob hits were very common. 

For years I heard people mention that the forest area that borders my town, called South Orange Reservation, would have made a great mafia body dump site, but to my knowledge there weren't any actual bodies found in there (spoiler alert: I was wrong, obviously.) As I got older, the reservation was a nice place for a hike or dog walk, but at night would transform into a far less wholesome place for teens to park and hookup, get drunk, you get the idea. 

Quick side note from Wikipedia - Turns out the Sopranos production team was denied a permit to film in at the South Mountain Reservation by the Essex County commissioner who called The Sopranos a "disgrace to Italians". The same commissioner was later incarcerated for corruption.

As I was about to graduate high school they actually DID FIND A BODY IN THE FOREST THERE!!!! Or, I should say, they found several plastic bags along the road through the reservation with various limbs in them, but no head or torso - fun! As just a wee, budding murderino back then, I was fascinated. 

They eventually used DNA to identify the victim: Viktor Alekseyeva, 35, of Brooklyn. Turns out he was one of 3 victims of Dmitriy Yakovlev, a Russian immigrant and trained surgeon and identity thief. Dmitriy personally knew all 3 of his victims, stole their identities, stole their money and personal documentation, and then killed them off. The personal documents of his 3 victims were found in his possession and experts testified that the dismemberment of Victor's body suggested an expertise with anatomy, like, you know, a Russian surgeon identity thief might have. He was sentenced in 2011 for a whopping 30 years (ummm wut???) His wife was also sentenced for her role helping him in credit card fraud and ID theft, but doesn't sound like she got any time for murder... Crazy.

While looking up the details for this particular murder, I found that this is not the only body found there. Guess the joke was on me. For example, a handful of missing persons (not ruled as homicide) but also several dead bodies found in suitcases - FUN?!

Ok, that's all. Shoutout to websleuths for consolidating a whole bunch of this info for me to obsesses over! And shoutout to you two for being hilarious and managing to make us crime loving weirdos feel connected. I binge-listened to all your episodes over the last few weeks and I kind of feel like you're my good friends now - as in I've picked up some of your speech patterns (bYEEE, i'm SORRY, fuck everyone, etc) Thanks for doing what you do, bravo!

Anna C

Hometown Murder 2: BRO ON BRO CRIME BRO

Hey ladies!

My name is Liz and I absolutely love your podcast! You guys crack me up and your friendship is just the BEST.

OK, so I'm going to tell you about the biggie murder around South Central PA: Zachary Witman and the murder of his brother, Gregory.

On October 2, 1998, 15-year-old Zachary stayed home sick from school at their house in New Freedom, PA, a tiny town in Pennsylvania near the Mason-Dixon line.

Zach's 13-year-old brother Gregory got home from school and before he could even remove his backpack, he was stabbed like, over 100 times. That's some major stabbing so someone had a LOT of rage toward this poor kid.

Obviously, Zach was the prime suspect. I mean, he was home sick, duh. But he swears to God even now that he did NOT do it, he was upstairs and heard a kerfuffle and thought it was like, his bro and some friends roughhousing. 

So after hearing that, he came downstairs and found his brother in a pool of blood with his head almost severed from the body and blood EVERYWHERE. Poor little 13-year-old kid. Zach was FREAKING OUT and called 911 and tried to resuscitate him but alas, Gregory was dead. 

HOWEVER, there was no blood trail inside or outside of the home that was linked to Zachary, and no blood found on towels or in the drains. Police found bloody gloves and a knife buried outside of the house in a mound of dirt, approximately 10 hours after they arrived at the crime scene. But get this: EVERY ITEM of evidence collected EXCLUDED Zachary as a source of DNA. They had a great relationship by all accounts, so no motive could really be established.

Like I said, Zach SWEARS up and down he didn't kill Gregory, but he he was convicted anyway and went to prison for life without parole. He's been in there for 15 years and has maintained his innocence the whole time. AND HIS PARENTS BELIEVE HIM. 

There are billboards on the highways asking for people to submit tips if they know ANYTHING and people have been trying to get the Innocence Project to look at the case because of how freaking weird it is. I mean, the PARENTS believe their son didn't do it.

The kicker? Zach Witman's lawyer during the trial was Cristina Gutierrez, the lawyer who originally represented Adnan Syed in the case of the murder of Hae Mae Lee, the subject of the 1st season of Serial. She was found to have provided ineffective counsel for Adnan and the case has been recently reopened.

Could the same thing have happened with Zach Witman?

WHO KNOWS.

There's SO MUCH MORE detail I could go into but I already need to edit the shit out of this so that you'll maybe read it.

Stay Sexy, Don't Get Murdered, and give Elvis an extra cookie for me.

Liz

Hometown Murder 3: I Found Out That My Cousin is a Murderer on Discovery ID!

Hi ladies! You are awesome, this is my new favorite podcast, blah blah blah. On to the murder! I just discovered this earlier today, so forgive me if I’m still kind of freaking the fuck out.

I was off work for four days straight this weekend and it was abnormally cold here in New Orleans, so I decided I’d just stay in all weekend and binge watch true crime shows, as you do. I finished ’The Killing Season’ (awesome), moved on to ’The Killing Fields’ (which takes place in Louisiana and is also awesome), then settled in this afternoon for ’The Vanishing Women’, which takes place in Chillicothe, OH and focuses on the disappearance of 6 women from May 2014 to May 2015. Chillicothe is where the majority of my great aunts, uncles, and a multitude of distant cousins live, and where I lived off and on during the first 6 years of my life. FYI, myself and my family are Black. This will become important in the next paragraph.

In the 2nd episode, the first body is found in the teeny weenie town of Massieville, just outside of Chillicothe and the very place where my great-grandmother and her siblings settled. A potential suspect, a Black man named Jason McCrary is mentioned. Chillicothe is a small enough and white enough town that it’s not weird for me to wonder if any Black McCrary is related to me. And his picture looked...familiar. They also mentioned that he had a prior conviction for sex with an underaged girl, and a couple of armed robberies.

Flashback time! I have a cousin named Curtis who is five years older than me. I think technically he is my 2nd or 3rd cousin or something removed - his mom and my mom are first cousins. He was always in and out of juvie, for what I don’t know. I do know that my most vivid memory of him is him chasing me and his sister around my great grandmother’s backyard with a broom. Which doesn’t sound so bad, but I think we were both terrified because we KNEW that he wasn’t playing and would actually beat us with the broom if he caught us. I also remember that I was never left alone with him. A few years ago I looked him up in Ohio’s criminal database (because nosy) and discovered that he’d been convicted of sex with a minor, along with several armed robberies.

It’s been twenty years since I’ve been to Chillicothe, though, and the name Jason doesn’t sound right. So I text my Mom. She said his name was Curtis. I asked if there were any Jasons in that generation. She said ‘wait, I think his real name was Jason’. I send her a picture from the internet. "That's him, just older. He was a troubled child his whole life.” I think he went by a second name to avoid the sex offender registry. I do more googling and find out that this August he was convicted of killing the first woman who was found, Timberly Craytor, and sentenced to 28 years in prison. It appears to have been a drug dispute, and they never found evidence that he’s responsible for killing the other 5 missing women.

This is why I should go to the family reunions: so I don't find out via a Discovery ID true crime show that my cousin is a fucking murderer.

-Denise