True Crime

The Dark Days of Dryden: Village of the Damned

The Dark Days of Dryden: Village of the Damned

15 miles from Ithaca, New York is Dryden: a quiet, cloudy upstate town with a population of less than 2,000 people. In fact, it’s rumored that Frank Capra was inspired by Dryden when scouting locations for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Still, the dark days aren’t just the cloud cover, it’s a pallor over the town that’s existed in earnest since the mid-1990s, when a series of truly horrifying and morbid deaths all connected to the local high school changed the town forever. 

Dryden High School was a nice place for an education- the red brick building is welcoming and statuesque, it has a vibrant sports program including running tracks, an expensive football field and a skating rink. Its enrollment at the time was around 732 students, who would show school spirit by throwing bonfires in the fields and woods close by.

On September 10th, 1996, spirits were …high. Dryden Football team was coming off of a division championship the previous year, and the team had just won the local Preseason Invitational football game. The day culminated in practice, lasting until about 6:30 pm. Scott Pace attended that practice, and he’s a pretty big deal. Popular, handsome, and one of the most talented football players ever to attend Dryden high, really, the unofficial leader of the team, rushed out of the school after practice to meet his parents and… is immediately killed in a car crash.

It’s a tragedy in and of itself. But what makes it even more bizarre is that Scott’s older brother, Billy- similarly beloved and talented on the football field- was ALSO killed in a car crash almost EXACTLY One YEAR before!

Everyone is absolutely fucked up by both Billy and Scott’s death. People use words like “recovering from tragedy” community and “pulling together, but the truth is, it feels like a greek tragedy.  But it’s only the beginning. 

Three weeks later, Dryden had another home football game. This is Friday, October 4th, 1996. 17 year old Tiffany Starr, captain of the Dryden cheerleaders, arrived in pigtails in her purple uniform. She’s a math honors student, on student council, is the point guard on the girls’ basketball team, and has been voted “Best Actress” and “Class Flirt” by her peers. She’s preceded by her equally loved twin sisters, Amber and Amy, who graduated from Dryden two years before. If I haven’t emphasized what a big deal it is to be a cheerleader at Dryden, here’s a quote from Tiffany’s sister, Amber: 

“Being a cheerleader at Dryden is the closest thing to being a movie star as you can get. It’s like being a world-class gymnast, movie star, and model all in one. It is fabulous! Fab-u-lous! It’s so much fun! Because we rule.

They did rule. The Dryden High squad won their region’s cheerleading championships a whopping 12 years in a row. The leadership and spirit of the three Star sisters might be credited to their father, Stephen, the former Dryden High football coach. We’ll  jump back to the Starrs in a bit, another missing piece of this whole nightmare puzzle…

So on Friday, October 4th, 1996. Tiffany walked in, and huddled with her quad. One of them makes note that their friends and fellow cheerleaders, Jennifer Bolduc and Sarah Hajney, never showed up to school that day. Jennifer and Sarah are juniors and Tiffany is close with them- so much so that Tiffany knows that Sarah’s parents were out of town the night before, and that Jen spent the night at Sarah’s house, located in nearby McLean. The two would never miss a game, considering how high profile the cheer team is, and also, just knowing the girls themselves.

Jen Bolduc was 16, tall, popular, a varsity track star, a champion baton-twirler, and a volunteer at Cortland Memorial Hospital.

Sarah Hajney was as dependable and loved, beautiful, on varsity track and did volunteer work for children with special needs. 

The football team loses the game, and the anxious cheer team decides to spend the night at the Starr house. As they head back, New York state troopers William Foley and Eric Janie are inside Sarah Hajney’s house. Both live in Dryden- they know the family. But they aren’t alone in the house. 

“There are a lot of people, concerned family members, inside the house,” says Janie. “And the first obvious fact is: There’s a problem in the bathroom.”

In the bathroom, they see a shower curtain pulled down and the soap dish is broken off.  On the towel rack is Jen’s freshly washed purple-and-white cheerleading skirt. Sarah’s skirt is discovered twirled over a drying rack in the basement. 

Seeing signs of struggle, Janie and Foley treat the area like a crime scene, and Sarah’s parents- who were vacationing in Bar Harbor, Maine, are on their way back home. 

Seven miles from the house in a fly fishing store parking lot authorities find The Hajney’s Chevy Lumina. Inside the car is mud, pine needles, charred wood, blood, and diamond-patterned fingerprints suggesting the kidnapper wore gloves. Inside the trunk…is evidence that two bodies have been there. But nothing else. 

Waiting outside the Hajney home for information, along with many others, is Sarah’s best friend, Katie Sorvino. What nobody knew yet is that Katie had made plans to spend the night with Sarah and Jen but, at the last minute, decided to stay home.

So the town is losing their mind even more. State Troopers are everywhere, the high school is in an even higher state of tragedy and the investigation begins in earnest as to what happeend to the girls. The first people to be questioned are the Hajney’s neighbors- John and Patricia Andrews. Their six-year-old son, Nicholas, attends Dryden Elementary. From the Andrews’ upstairs bedroom, one can look down easily into the Hajneys’ bathroom.

John Andrews is acting weird and it doesn’t look good at all. And his questionable history is reason for suspicion. 

Andrews is a shy, car-loving guy who went to Dryden High and came from an unstable family. His father is an abusive alcoholic who later commits suicide. John, trying to escape is situation,  quickly marries his high school sweetheart, Patricia and then joins the Air Force. Twice at his German base, John attacks two young blonde women who are his neighbors. He’s found guilty of the second assault, dishonorably discharged and then buys a house for his family in Mclean.

A year later, in August 1996, the Hajney’s buy the house next door to the Andrews, and John quickly becomes obsessed with their beautiful, outgoing daughter Sarah. 

The search for the killers of Sarah and Jen alarms Tiffany Starr and the whole cheerleading squad. “We keep hearing different rumors all day. The house where I live is five minutes from the place where Sarah and Jen have been kidnapped. Of course I go wild, thinking they’re coming to get me next. We’ve been imagining that they’re after cheerleaders. And Saturday night and Sunday it’s just me and my mom at home, and everybody knows that. By Sunday, I’m freaking out. And I say, ‘Mom, we have to leave now! We have to get out of here!’ And my mom says, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ And we throw our stuff in a bag. I can’t be in that house another minute. I’m terrified. I’m sure somebody is gonna break in, and we just get in the car and go.”

To fully understand Tiffany’s absolutely warranted fear, we need to go back two years and examine what happened December 29th, 1994. We’ll definitely do that, after the BREAK. 

On December 29th 1994, things feel good with the Starr family. Tiffany is a sophomore, her sisters are seniors, and their father, Stephen is the star Dryden High football coach….

The Starrs live in Cortlandville, which, like McLean, feeds into Dryden High.Stephen Starr is happy being the football coach along with teaching sixth grade, loves his wife judy and his three successful daughters- whom he affectionately called Pinny, Bamber and Shrimper. It’s a good life. 

After a dinner with his family, Stephen Star grabs a plate of cookies and milk. Says Amber: 

“So I’m on my way up to bed, and he’s on his way downstairs, he has a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, and for some reason this really overwhelming feeling comes over me. And I say, ‘Dad! Wait!’ And I say, ‘Stop! I love you!’ And I give him this really big hug, and he’s like, ‘I love you too, kiddo.’ And he goes on downstairs. And that’s the last time I see him alive.”

Yes, Another person affiliated with Dryden High is killed.

Earlier that year, a moody teenager named J.P. Merchant moves from Truxton, New York to Dryden, and meets the charming and beautiful Amber Starr. She’s aggressive, dynamic, intelligent. J.P falls in love with her, and Amber…while finding him attractive in that emo way, doesn’t reciprocate the feeling. They date briefly but she breaks it off wit him, and things quickly starts to get weird. He calls, shows up at her home, harasses her friends. He says if they dont’ get back together he will kill himself. Amber is accommodating; she talks to him, is still nice to him, tries to let him down gently. But she moves on, and soon starts dating someone else. J.P. doesn’t like that- and in late december he threatens to kill Amber’s new boyfriend. Tiffany and her mom go to the County Sheriff on December 27 and file a complaint.

The sheriff arrests JP, but his family posts the $500 bail. Right after his release he threatens amber AGAIN, and this time Amber goes with Tiffany and their mom back to the Sheriff’s department, begging for help and protection.  

On December 29, a sheriff’s officer watches the Starrs’ house during the day time, but after his shift ends, Stephen starr returns from a conference and the whole house is unguarded. That’s where Stephen Starr says goodnight to his kids, eats his plate of cookies, drinks a single beer and heads to bed. Hours later, J.P. Merchant shoots the locks off the Starr’s back door, climbs the stairs, and sees Tiffany standing in her bedroom doorway.

At that point, he aims the Ithaca 20-gauge shotgun at her. “I am ready to die,” Tiffany says. “I think for sure this is it. But something as simple as shutting my door keeps me alive. He is not after me. He wants Amber. He just isn’t going to let anyone get in his way. And I don’t try. I shut my door and let him go.”

Seconds later, J.P. wakes Amber up and Stephen, hearing movement, runs to protect his daughter. Turning, J.P fires two shots and kills Stephen Starr. 

The girls and their mother scramble out of the house, and  Merchant reloads his shotgun and follows. He fired into the woods at the edge of their house, thinking they were hiding there. But the family goes in the opposite direction instead, racing across the yard to a neighbor’s. J.P. spotts them and almost follows…but instead, he drives to the grave of his high school sweetheart, Shari Fitts. Shari committed suicide three years before this, while she was dating JP. There, he puts the gun to his head, pulls the trigger, and kills himself.

Let’s get back to October 6th, 1996. After Sarah and Jen go missing, Tiffany and Judy pack their backs and go to TIffany’s grandparent’s house in Pennsylvania, not wanting to deal with any more tragic and fatal bullshit. At the same time, the police are narrowing the suspects for Jen and Sarah’s murder down to four—the Hajneys’ neighbor, John Andrews, and three others. At 10 P.M.a call comes in from a woman in her early 30s named Ann Erxleben, another Dryden alumni. She works with Cheryl Bolduc, mother of Jen Bolduc. 

Ann and her fiance own a cabin out in the country, and a friend of theirs is staying there over the weekend. This friend notices a red puddle on the floor- something that looks suspiciously like blood. They go up to the cabin to check it out, and call a trooper because the puddle does, indeed, look like blood. THe trooper asks if anyone else had been to the cabin recently, and Ann searches her memory, realizing actually…her brother had been there not long before. Her brother was… wait for it…John Andrews, the Hajney family’s neighbor. 

John Andrews is arrested the next day and troopers start to find body parts all around the cabin. 

His confession is…chilling, and soon the story unfolds: Three days earlier, the day the girls never show up to the football game, John Andrews ducked under the Hajneys’ garage door and cut the phone wires. Wearing a ski mask and rubber gloves and carrying a bag with duct tape, six knives and even more gloves, Andrews entered the unlocked door from the garage to the kitchen, and crept down the steps to Sarah’s room. He tied Sarah up and putsduct tape on her mouth. 

Turning, he saw Jen, who had just taken a shower. Naked, she fought back as he ties her up too, and put both girls in the back of the Chevy Lumina. He drives an hour to Ann’s cabin, builds a bonfire and by the light of the bonfire tortures the two girls and cuts them into small pieces. He drives back down to civilization, throwing bloody body parts and his own clothes out the window as he goes. 

On Monday, October 7, Dryden High administration sends ominous notes to teachers in each first period classroom. “Each teacher has to read to the students that Sarah and Jen have been found and that they are definitely dead,” says Tiffany. “When the teachers read the notes to the classes, people jump out of their seats and run down the hallways, screaming. Everybody gathers in the gym and just screams and just cries and cries. And then people speed out to the parking lots, and they just, like… leave.”

Superintendent of Schools Donald Trombley is quoted in The Ithaca Journal: “It is unbelievable hysteria.”

Katie Savino, Sarah’s best friend, is taken out of class and told privately- after she hears, she runs toward Sarah’s locker and collapses.

On Saturday, November 2, one day after being indicted on 26 counts of murder, kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, auto theft, burglary, and criminal possession of a weapon, John Andrews hangs himself in his jail cell with his shoelaces.

Afer this, things get quiet…for a bit. Scott and Tiffany’s class graduates in 1997. Sarah and Jen’s class graduates in 1998. In June 1999, Gary Cassell, the young Dryden High athletic director and the man who became a surrogate father to the Starr sisters, dies of a sudden heart attack. Three days later, Judy comes home from work and sits down Tiffany and Amy, telling them that their friend and fellow cheerleader- the one survivor of of that fateful night of Jen and Sarah’s murder- Katie Sorvino is dead. 

Katie had been a huge part of what helped Dryden feel a little normal after Jen and Sarah’s murder. But on on June 11, 1999, 19-year old Katie Sorvino is killed by her college friend Cheryl Thayer in a drunk driving accident. Cheryl was pulled out of the burning car by a truck driver, but he couldn’t grab Katie in time, seconds later the car exploded. 

Twenty-three hundred people attended the memorial service for the popular Katie Sorvino, who for the short rest of her life was haunted by her best friends’ deaths. Says Tiffany “when Sarah died, Katie took a lot of her clothes and wore them. She wore Sarah’s belt every day. I think it really terrified her that she was supposed to have been [at Sarah’s house the night of the kidnapping]. And then on top of it, she lost her best friend in the most painful way that you could possibly imagine.”

Three months later, Katie’s good friend Mike Vogt, the class clown and Dryden High’s Division All Star middle linebacker, was so depressed by both Scott Pace and Katie Sorvino’s  death that he walks out to a cabin in the woods puts a 12-gauge to his head and shoots himself. 

I think a quote from a student at the time sums this whole episode up: “We felt like we’re living in the Village of the Damned,” “We’re like, ‘When is this going to stop?’”

Stephen Starr, Billy, Scott, Sarah, Jen, Katie, Mike…“It’s weird, but young death almost seems to be the norm here,” says a mother of a Dryden Elementary School student. It’s insane, intense, bizarre, mythic, and horrifying, all these deaths that seem to be interwoven with one another. The community, of course, will never be the same. 



Weird and Strange History

The Dark History of the Blackburn Cult

The Dark History of The Dark History of the Blackburn Cult

The Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven also known as the Great Eleven Club or later, the Blackburn Cult was, arguably, one of the strangest religious cults to have operated in Los Angeles.

The Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven, or The Great Eleven was founded in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles by 41-year-old Matilda May Otis Blackburn and her 24-year-old daughter, Ruth Wieland Rizzio. The two were failed actors – their most notable credit was starring in and producing a film called A Nugget in the Rough in 1917, Portland, Oregon’s first feature film. They’d moved to Los Angeles a year later, but by 1922, Ruth was supporting them by working downtown as a “taxi dancer,” the early 20th century’s version of an erotic dancer, like a host who works in cars. That same year, May and Ruth had a revelation: the two publicly proclaimed that the angels Gabriel and Michael appeared to them and declared them to be the “two witnesses” described in the Book of Revelation 11:3.

“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”

The two women swore that the angels visited them, directing them to write a book of divine knowledge and revelation that, upon publication, would foretell apocalyptic events. This book was supposed to be titled “The Seventh Trumpet of Gabriel”but was later changed to “The Great Sixth Seal.” Along with sharing future prophecies, this game changing book would also reveal “lost measurements” that pinpointed hidden riches and oil deposits around the globe. May later described being willingly chained to her bed for several months in conceiving of the book.

So what does the Great Eleven even mean? According to a LA times article from 1925 called (“Angel Gabriel Girls Quizzed,” it’s…more complicated than what you might expect.

“They had been taken to a spot outside of Bakersfield, where just below the surface of the earth they were shown huge stores of golden nuggets and precious stones—which was to be theirs upon the presentation to the world of The Sixth Seal. The Royal Family of the Chosen Eleven was to consist of nine ‘queens’ and Ruth and May. For each queen a marble palace was to be erected on the Mount of Olives [which, only enough, is present day Barnsdall Park] in Hollywood, and was to be supplied with eleven ‘kings’ chosen by the Angel Gabriel. The queens and their respective entourages were to rule the world with the advent of eternal life.”

May and Ruth called themselves queens and high priestesses, and people believed them. Los Angeles locals paid to hear their answers, with a small membership fee they would help produce the book and have privileged information to success and future events, and of course, an affiliation with the divine Great Eleven. May and Ruth could do this because, simply, the women were really attractive, and charming. As mentioned, they worked in entertainment and got things done. They were especially good at getting money from potential suitors and having men do whatever they wanted.

A man named Sam Rizzio was one of those men, until he wasn’t. Sam had only known Ruth and her work a short time when he married her in May of 1924. He moved into the organizations headquarters with his wife, where Koreatown’s MaDang Mall is today. But after realizing how intense the cult of the great eleven really was, he begged ruth to leave with him. In a heated fight he supposedly hit her so hard that he drew blood, causing her followers to form a wall around their queen. After the fight, Sam abruptly disappeared. He was never seen again, and a note to Sam’s mother ominously said that he “ is now a high priest, invisible to less spiritual eyes.”

Sam’s younger brother Frank Rizzio was suspicious of the whole thing. He decided to do his own snooping, infiltrating the Great eleven by getting May to hire him as her chauffeur. After only a few days, Frank discovered his brother’s clothes and suitcase, and confronted May. She tersely responded that maybe it meant Sam would be coming back soon.

The Rizzios threatened to go to the police, but never did, perhaps because they were trying to escape their own criminal past. Sam Rizzio had already served nine months in juvenile hall for altering checks, and his father had been wanted for a triple homicide in Chicago. So the Rizzio family backed off and things quieted down. Ruth and May honed in on the book, which was mostly just religious ranting on paper.

The irony of Ruth and May basing their religion on producing this book is that they were both horrible writers. One of the few people who actually saw a draft of the The Sixth Seal called it “the most astounding, bewildering hodge-podge of biblical and mythological references,” which is probably why its release was constantly delayed, and then it just never happened.

While the prophesied Great Eleven book was continually getting underway, One original Great Eleven follower was Clifford Dabney, a goofy nephew of an oil magnate, who turned over $50,000 in cash and assets to May Blackburn (worth approximately $750,000 in 2019). In return, he was promised to be among the first to see the Blackburn’s book (with its “lost measurements”, for more profit, of course) ahead of publication. Dabney also donated 164 acres of land in the Santa Susana area of Simi Valley in Ventura County so May and Ruth could construct a commune to preach their truths and way of life.
May Blackburn also married one of her followers, a handsome, much younger, mustachioed man named Ward Sitton Blackburn. The new couple instructed May’s followers to build cabins on the Simi Valley property where they would take up residence, and chill until Christ returned.

It was called Harmony Hamlet by the press, and the first thing constructed on the property was a temple featuring an elaborate guided throne that was reserved for Christ. Cult members residing at the property were told to leave their cars in the woods and walk up to the area, work at a nearby tomato-packing house and turn all their pay over to may and ruth. In the evenings, robed members gathered for rituals in a natural amphitheater on the property and sacrificed mules and, according to some witnesses, danced naked. Whatever May and Ruth said went, no matter how insane.
During this time, it was alleged that one sick member of the Great Eleven was placed in a hot brick oven in order to get over a common sickness, and she died as a result. Four other cult members were also reported to have mysteriously disappeared, likely poisioned- including Sam Rizzio.

On New Year’s Day of 1925, 16-year-old cult member Willa Rhodes died from a severe infection as a result of a toothache. MAY assured her grieving parents, also in the Great Eleven, that the girl would be resurrected to life after 1,260 days had passed and the book was published. All they had to do was preserve her body for the event. SO, THEY DID. Willa’s body was immediately placed in a bathtub filled with ice, spices and salt. Fourteen months later, when the girl’s parents moved back to Los Angeles and into a home in Venice, they brought Willa’s preserved body with them and placed it in a mental coffin beneath the floor of their house. Next to her coffin was another coffin containing the sacrificed bodies of seven puppies, said to represent the seven tones of the angel Gabriel’s trumpet.

The rituals were amping up, and inexplicably, plans for a large refrigeration unit began on the commune. One year before her arrest, May traveled with nine followers to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley to perform a ceremony. Although no details are known, it is believed that she equated the wells with “the bottomless pit” in the Book of Revelation, and police later investigated rumors that Sam Rizzio’s body was disposed of there, though nothing was found.

By 1929, Dabney and other Blackburn followers lost patience for the completion of Blackburn’s book and her promised apocalyptic events. They filed charges of fraud and theft against May and Ruth for as much as $200,000 (approximately $3 million today). As allegations also emerged of unreported deaths and disappearances, police expanded their interest, leading to the discovery of the mummified body of Willa Rhodes beneath her parent’s Venice home. It could not be determined that Willa had died from anything other than natural causes, but At the same time, Sam Rizzio’s disappearance- and others, could not be ignored.

Unfortunately, police were unable to uncover any viable evidence regarding the disappearances of the four missing cult members, including Sam Rizzio. Prosecutors also could not substantiate the allegations of a cult member’s death from being baked in an oven.

Nevertheless, in 1930, Ruth and May were charged with grand theft. The charges against Ruth were dropped, but May was sentenced to a minimum of eight years in 1930. She appealed, claiming that stories of Sam and Willa had been improperly admitted to frighten the jury, and had nothing to do with whether she’d committed theft. In 1931, a judge agreed with May and let her go. Remarkably, Ruth and May were never charged with any deaths or disappearances, and The Great Eleven continued to exist a bit, though the publicity and scandal eroded membership and credibility, as you might imagine. In 1936, May Blackburn actually did publish a book, called “The Origin of God.” Which was confusing and bad, riddled with weird religious imagery. It didn’t change the world or get anyone rich.

May Blackburn died in Los Angeles in 1951- I’m not sure about Ruth. To this day, you can check out the commune area in simi valley, though I don’t think you’ll find any jewels or gold.

True Crime Weird and Strange History

The Salomon Family Disappearance

The Salomon Family Disappearance

On October 13th, 1982, concerned neighbors went to the house of the Salomon family, a well liked, social family on their Northridge, CA street. Noticing that the Salomon’s pool had overflowed and it was spilling into their yards, she and a group of concerned friends found a locked door, cars in the driveway and the family’s cocker spaniel, Mishmish, hanging out in a soaking back yard. It was a puzzling scene. But this was only the start to a ten year nightmare, spanning Southern California to London, spawning three trials and countless legal hearings exposing family secrets and heartbreak. This is the the mysterious and unsolved disappearance of the Salomon family. 

True Crime Weird and Strange History

The Tetris Murders

The Tetris Murders

In the late 80’s and early 90’s the puzzle based video game Tetris took America, and eventually the rest of the world by storm. However, the history of one of Russias finest exports, has a very dark, complex, and deadly history.

This is the story of the co-founder of Tetris, Vladimir Pokhilko, and unfortunately this story ends in murder.In 1984 in Moscow, Russian scientist Alexey Pajitnov developed the first version of Tetris on an Electronika 60 terminal computer while working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Although Tetris had many versions, the Cold War born game found its way into the hearts of millions, as well as the Nintendo Game Boy, and made Tetris a household name. Tetris was released on June 14, 1989, and has sold more than 43 million copies worldwide.

Vladimir Pokhilko

Born in 1954, Vladimir Pokhilko was a Russian academic and entrepreneur. He worked as a clinical psychologist for many years using puzzles as psychological tests. This skill would prove quite useful when Pokhilko partnered with one of his close friends by the name of Alexey Pajitnov. Pajitnov demonstrated his invention to Pokhilko who would go on to convince Pajitnov that it would make an amazing video game. Tetris was based on an ancient Roman puzzle called Pentamino. Their final product would go on to become one of the greatest video games of all time, Tetris. Often referred to as co-creators and yet Pajitnov earned true fame and recognition as Tetris’ creator. Still living off its fame and wealth to this day while Pokhilko’s name quickly faded away. Even if you are to research the creators of Tetris on their own website you will not see Pokhilko credited.

Soviet authorities demanded that the pair sign over all rights to Tetris. After years of carefully searching for the right way to pitch their game to the right company they were able to broker a license agreement with Henk Rogers, whose Japan-based company Bullet Proof Software gained the rights to sell Tetris. In 1996, the Soviet restrictions expired and so full rights to Tetris moved to Pajitnov who had chosen to move to the United States five years before Pokhilko. The company that both Pokhilko and Pajitnov had made together, AnimaTek International Inc. would be led Pajitnov with Rogers as its chairman and largest stockholder. In 1996, when Soviet restrictions expired however, Rogers created a new company by the name of Tetris Co. Which bought the rights off Pajitnov for Tetris ultimately leaving Pokhilko completely uninvolved.

Through all the changing of rights, Pokhilko was left struggling with financial ruin. After moving with his wife Elena and 12-year-old son Peter to San Francisco to help run his software company AnimaTek he was slowly being pushed to the edge. A shortage of funds and the pressure to finance more “Hollywood” level computer effects led to a series of company problems. Polkhilko was left to watch as an outsider while Tetris rapidly grew in popularity and both Pojitnov and Rogers earned all the fame and wealth that came with it.

On September 24th, 1998, Pokhilko went on to murder his wife Elena, son Peter and then in the end himself. Within their family home in Palo Alto, Pokhilko bludgeoned his family with a hammer before then stabbing them each repeatedly with a hunting knife as they lay in bed sleeping. Once they were both dead, he stabbed himself once in the neck with the knife, ultimately ending his life as well. A close family friend later notified the police at 3:30pm the next day after failing to reach the family multiple times and arriving at home. Police found the bodies of Elena and Peter in their beds. No signs of a struggle possibly indicating that they were attacked while asleep. Pokhilko’s body was found in Peter’s room with the knife still in his hand. Along with a hammer later retrieved by police they also found a note. The note reads, “I’ve been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that I am exist. The devil.” It is unclear if this note was intended as a suicide note from Pokhilko, or if it was written by someone else.

It is reported that the following Wednesday after the murders, large scale software company Squaresoft arrived at AnimaTek’s offices with an offer of $200,000 for the company’s services. This deal would have eased the company’s financial problems and possibly some of Pokhilko’s struggles. It is likely that due to Pokhilko’s actions his name has been steadily erased from most of the videogames industries’ history of any of his contributions. Pajitnov was able to regain the rights to Tetris and in turn earn his fair profits while Pokhilko was left to run a failing company alone. Without Pokhilko, it is likely that the world would not have ever seen Tetris, and without Tetris Nintendo’s Game Boy would not likely have been so successful.

True Crime

The Poughkeepsie Killer (Kendall Francois)

The Poughkeepsie Killer (Kendall Francois)

The town of Poughkeepsie, NY had a trophy-collecting serial killer by the name of Kendall Francois in it’s midst in the late 90’s: The Poughkeepsie Killer (Kendall Francois).

When young women began to disappear without a trace in late 1996, in Poughkeepsie, NY, police eventually came to the conclusion they might have a serial killer on the loose. After all, all but one of the missing women had one thing in common: they had been arrested for prostitution in the past.

Still, as there were no crime scenes and no bodies, it was not easy for the detectives to move on with their investigation. And so, one by one, more women vanished, leaving behind only confusion and fear. Eventually, after two years and eight missing women, people were too afraid even to come outside anymore. 

But then, on September 1, 1998, police hit the jackpot by chance. Detectives had pulled into a gas station when all of a sudden, a man came up to the car and told the police that a young woman had told him she had been assaulted just moments ago by a very large man. Luckily, police were able to locate the girl in question, who confirmed the story and gave the officers a name: Kendall Francois.

Kendall Francois was born on July 26, 1971, being one of four children of McKinley and Paulette Francois. Kendall was remembered by his neighbors as a large boy who taunted local children by his size but mostly kept to himself. By the time Kendall was 14, he had reached 6’4″ and weighed 250 pounds. Unsurprisingly due to his size, Kendall was part of both wrestling and football teams before joining the army after his graduation.

In 1994 Kendall was discharged, and he returned to Poughkeepsie. Just two years later, women began disappearing. 

Now, another two years later, police located Kendall Francois and took him to headquarters. Over the next few hours, as Kendall admitted many things regarding the missing women, it became evident they had just found their serial killer. Kendall had taken all those women from the corners of the streets to his home before strangling them, sometimes just because of disagreeing about the payment for their services. 

Kendall was arrested on August 25, 1998, and a search warrant was drawn up and signed by a Town court judge. Still, when a team of detectives and forensic investigators entered Kendall’s house at 99 Fulton Street, nobody was ready for the horrors they were about to find.

Kendall had hidden his victim’s bodies all over the house that he shared with his parents. Some were in the attic, some in the basement crawl space, many in such a bad stage of decomposition one officer reportedly ruined more than one pair of boots walking on human “sludge.” As if that was not enough, Kendall also kept his victim’s skulls in a plastic kiddie pool in the attic as if they were his trophies.

In August 2000, Kendall Francois was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That life lasted until 2014, when he passed away from “apparent natural causes” while incarcerated on September 11, at the age of 43.




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The Denver Spiderman (Theodore Edward Coneys)

The Denver Spiderman (Theodore Edward Coneys)

On Oct. 17, 1941, 73 year old Philip Peters was found dead in his bedroom, a quaint home in the highland district of Denver, Colorado. Near his body was a walking stick, broken in half, the butt of a pistol, and a stove shaker. Upon investigation, police reported that these three items were used to bludgeon Peters at least 30 times. But that’s only the beginning of the strange murder of Philip Peters by Edward Coneys, the man who would be known from then on, in life, and in legend as “The Denver Spider Man.” 

Theodore Edward Coneys was raised by a family of Canadian immigrants. After his father died, Coneys moved to Denver with his mother. His health was always bad…so much so that he was not  expected not to live past his 18th birthday. This created- a strange mental space for Coneys. He didn’t finish high school, was gaunt and tall and kind of lived every day like it was his last…in a not so great way.  Coneys was sick and homeless most of his adult life, mistreated by the public because of his sickly appearance. He roamed the Denver highlands area, intermittently working, finding temporary living situations and trying to survive…his health worsening and worsening. 

Philip Peters was almost…Coneys’ opposite. Peters was in good shape, friendly, dependable and well-respected person in Denver society. He worked for Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad for 40 years until his retirement in 1930, where he lived with his wife Helen and had a close relationship with his son and daughter in law who lived in Grand Junction, about 250 miles away. He was social, even playing in a local mandolin band after his retirement. 

The one thing Peters and Coneys did have in common- aside having pluralism last names- was that both had money problems. Though Peters was financially independent, all of his money was going to his wife Helen’s care- she had been hospitalized two weeks before with a broken hip. Coneys, was particularly hard up- desperate for food and shelter. 

On a walk by his home one evening In September 1941, The 78 year old Peters ran into Coneys, who was then 59. While Peters thought it was just coincidence, it was not- Coneys was tailing Peters, and asked him for money. Peters, off-put, but knowing he couldn’t help politely declined Theodore’s request and kept walking. Coneys, however, wasn’t satisfied. While Peters went on with his walk,  Coneys walked up the drive, broke into Peters’ home and stole food and money.

But before he left…Coneys discovered a small trapdoor in the ceiling of a closet that led to a narrow attic cubbyhole. So he decided to just…go up there and live in the attic. For approximately five weeks, Coneys remained in the attic, coming downstairs to grab shit when he needed it, living undetected in the house.

On October 17, 1941, Coneys believed Peters was out visiting his wife in the hospital so he snuck into the kitchen.  In what would be anyone’s worst nightmare, Peters awakened from a nap, and walked to the fridge for a snack. There, he discovered Coneys at the refrigerator. Peters struck at Coneys with a cane he carried, but Coneys clubbed him with an old pistol he had found in the house. After the gun broke apart, Coneys continued to beat him with a heavy iron stove shaker, killing him. Coneys then returned to the attic cubbyhole. 

Peters was discovered an hour later by his neighbors after he didn’t show show up for a dinner, and the Denver Police were called. They searched the house but the doors and windows were locked, and found no evidence of a murderer, let alone a break-in. Eerily, the police did notice the trapdoor, but believed no person could fit through it. 

In April 1942, Peters’ wife Helen came back to 3335 Montcreif Ave and hired a live-in housekeeper. Both women would often hear strange sounds in the house, and it got so bad that The housekeeper eventually resigned, convinced the house was haunted. Helen Peters eventually moved to western Colorado to live with her son, and the house was considered vacant. Of course, the neighbors would see lights going on and off, and once a while would attempt to knock on the door just to see if someone was inside. 

Of course, Coneys was inside. He stayed in the house undetected as Police continued to make routine checks. On July 30, 1942, during one of these checks, an officer heard a lock click on the second floor. Running upstairs, the police caught the sight of Coneys’ legs as he was going through the trapdoor to the attic. and pulled him down. He was arrested and quickly confessed to Peters’ murder. 

Of course, media loved it. Local newspapers dubbed him the “Denver Spider Man of Moncrieff Place” after the Denver police detective said  “A man would have to be a spider to stand it long up there.” Coneys was tried and convicted, then sentenced to life imprisonment at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City, Colorado.where he died on May 16, 1967.

Of course, now this murder is kinda the stuff of Denver legend, especially around Halloween. It’s referenced in CSI, the Simpsons and lots more. It’s not much to look at, but this dark history on a cute, historical block is how Denver does weird history. And boy is it terrifying.

Videos Weird and Strange History

MTV’s Toxic Pink Houses John Cougar Mellencamp Contest

MTV’s Toxic Pink Houses John Cougar Mellencamp Contest

John Cougar Mellencamp’s MTV Pink Houses contest included a pink house, pink jeep, and a toxic waste dump.

MTV was in full swing in 1984, and along with the music videos, MTV was obsessed with contests. Specifically, contests based on homes. Giving you a home, turning your home into a party house, or living in someone else’s.

In 1983, the John Cougar Mellencamp song Pink Houses, about the so-called American dream, lyrically situated in his home state of Indiana.

The 1984 contest “Paint the Mutha Pink” involved sending in a postcard, and if there’s was selected, the lucky winner in 25 friends were flown to Bloomington Indiana, John Cougar Mellencamp his hometown for a house party hosted by John Cougar Mellencamp, Mellencamp would play a live concert and the winner got to keep the house, which of course had been painted pink. Other prizes included a pink Jeep and a garage full of pink colored Hawaiian Punch.

What was the catch? Initially the whole prize was a catch. The house is more of a shack than a house. MTV bought the property for $20,000, which is not a bad price considering it was across one of the country’s worst toxic waste dumps. According to the June 25th, 1984, Lakeland ledger:

“Rock and roller John Cougar, Mellencamp and music television thought they had the perfect little house in the country to give the winner of a nationwide contest until they found out it was across the street from a toxic waste dump.

The music video maker bought the house and painted it pink. In honor of Mellencamp’s popular song, Pink Houses, which mentioned little pink houses he recalls seeing while growing up in Indiana. A promotional ad for the MTV party house contest was filmed featuring Mellencamp and the house, only then did promoters learned that the houses across the street from a 40 acre landfill, that made the environmental protection agencies in 1981. It was one of the nations 115 most hazardous waste dumps. So MTV bought another house in the country near Bloomington to give away and put the original one story wood frame house on the market for $38,900.”

“We had the well tested and the water samples came out. Okay. But we did not want to take a chance.” Said Priscilla Mellencamp, Mellencamp’s ex-wife and MTV’s real estate agent in Bloomington.

“Basically John did not feel right about it.”

The winner was Susan Miles from Seattle, Washington. According to a 1991 article in the Herald times online, it turned out that Susan Miles had only kept the house long enough to reap some tax advantages from owning a property. She never actually lived in the house. She went back to Bellevue, Washington after the contest was over.



True Crime

The Horror of Halloween Killer Ronald Clark O’Bryan

The Horror of Halloween Killer Ronald Clark O’Bryan

Halloween night on October 31, 1974, in Deer Park, Texas, was cold and misty. It had been raining that day, but 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan and his 5-year-old sister Elizabeth were determined to go trick-or-treating. Their father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, was watching over his children as they went from house to house looking for candy. With them were also two other minors and their father, Jim Bates.

Eventually, the group came across a house that did not have a single light on. However, that did not stop the children, who still tried their luck and banged the door. Not getting an answer, the minors moved on together with Jim, but Ronald remained behind. When he caught up with the others less than a minute later, Ronald had good news. Someone had come to the door after all and handed him a handful of 21-inch tubes of powdered sweet and sour candy called Pixy Stix. Ronald gave each of the children one tube and another to a 10-year-old boy Ronald had recognized from the church as they walked home.    

Around 9 PM, Ronald told Timothy and Elizabeth that they could have one piece of candy before bed. Timothy picked out a sucker, but his father said:

“No, no. You don’t have time to eat a sucker. Here, try this Pixy Stix.”

Immediately, Timothy complained about the weird, bitter taste of the candy, which Ronald helped him wash away with a glass of Kool-Aid. Within moments Timothy experienced severe stomach cramps and violently vomited in the bathroom before going limp in his father’s arms. Ronald called for an ambulance, but unfortunately, Timothy died on the way to the hospital less than an hour after eating the powdered candy.

Timothy’s autopsy revealed he had been poisoned with potassium cyanide with a dosage high enough to kill two adults. Fortunately, the authorities were able to recover the remaining Pixy Stixs from the other children before they were consumed.

At first, everybody thought someone had a sinister plan to kill as many children that Halloween as they could. But when the man living in the house where Ronald claimed to have gotten the sweets in the first place had a solid alibi, the suspicion quickly changed to Ronald himself. The police discovered that he had recently taken out $30,000 life insurance policies on both of his children and had debts of over $100,000. When it was found out that Ronald had called the insurance company about collecting on his son’s policy just a day after Timothy’s death, authorities felt they had a solid case against him.

Ronald was arrested on November 5, 1974, and charged with one count of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. He claimed to be innocent but was eventually found guilty on June 2, 1975, and sentenced to death. Right after midnight on March 31, 1984, the 39-year-old Ronald O’Bryan was executed by lethal injection. He maintained his innocence until the very end.

Even though Ronald’s crime was targeted at his own children and their friends, urban legends of randomly distributed poison candy live strong almost 50 years later. The so-called Candy Man truly left a stain on Halloween, as his own attorney said:

“…my client was convicted of killing Halloween…”

True Crime Videos

The Reality TV Murder | Ryan Jenkins & Jasmine Fiore | Megan Wants A Millionaire | True Crime

The Reality TV Murder | Ryan Jenkins & Jasmine Fiore | Megan Wants A Millionaire | True Crime

The reality television show Megan Wants A Millionaire and a grisly murder intersect in 2009.

The Reality TV Murder involved the death of model Jasmine Fiore occurred on August 15, 2009. Her body was discovered on August 15, 2009, strangled and stuffed into a suitcase. Her remains had been mutilated to prevent recognition; she was eventually identified by the serial numbers of her breast implants. Fiore was 28 years old.

Fiore was married within 48 hours to Ryan Jenkins, after a 48 hour courtship in Las Vegas. Jenkins recently was a contestant on VH1’s Megan Wants A Millionaire,  and the only suspect and was formally charged with the murder. On August 23, 2009, Jenkins was found dead in a hotel room in Hope, British Columbia, Canada. Jenkins was 32 years old.

True Crime Videos Weird and Strange History

The Tragic Case of Charemon Jonovich & Robert Pastorelli

The Tragic Case of Charemon Jonovich & Robert Pastorelli

The Tragic Case of Charemon Jonovich & Murphy Brown actor Robert Pastorelli leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

The death of Murphy Brown actor Robert Pastorelli’s girlfriend in 1999 was an open and shut case. Until it wasn’t. Pastorelli’s overdose in 2004 was on the heels of his upgrade from grieving boyfriend and father, to suspect.

According to a story in the National Enquirer, “police were about to reverse the decision of death by accidental gunshot to murder, in the death of Pastorelli’s ex-girlfriend, Charemon Jonovich. The original claim was that Jonovich threatened to kill herself with the gun when it accidentally went off, but according to the story, “Insiders say the DA never believed Pastorelli’s version” of events, particularly when gunpowder residue was found on Pastorelli’s hands.”