Authors: Ron Franscell
Tags: #True Crime
TRUE STORIES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE WHO FACED
MONSTROUS MASS KILLERS AND SURVIVED
In memory of
He opened his heart to a stranger
and revealed why
these stories must be told
1. “THEY’RE ALL DEAD”: CHARLES COHEN AND THE INSANE SPREE KILLER HOWARD UNRUH
When shell-shocked World War II veteran Howard Unruh finally snapped, he embarked on a twenty-minute shooting rampage through his otherwise peaceful Camden, New Jersey, neighborhood, killing everyone he saw. Seconds after druggist Maurice Cohen ran into his pharmacy and told his family to hide, Unruh burst in. He shot Cohen dead, then rushed upstairs, where Cohen’s wife, mother, and twelve-year-old son Charles were hiding.
2. “TODAY IS GONNA BE VISUAL”: BRENT DOONAN AND THE ATLANTA DAY-TRADER SPREE
Mark Barton was a cocky, hotshot day trader obsessed with making a killing in the dot-com boom. But when his big dreams went spectacularly bust in 1999, the crazed misfit killed his wife and two children, then walked into two Atlanta day-trading offices, murdering nine more innocent people and wounding thirteen others in the bloodiest workplace massacre in American history. His friend Brent Doonan was shot four times and near death when he escaped the bloodbath, just ahead of the pursuing Barton.
3. SEVENTY-SEVEN MINUTES IN HELL: KEITH THOMAS AND THE MCDONALD’S MASSACRE
Twelve-year-old Keith Thomas had just sat down to a Happy Meal with a childhood friend and his family when deranged gunman James Huberty stormed into the San Ysidro, California, McDonald’s with an Uzi semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun. For the next seventy-seven minutes, he stalked men, women, and children, including survivor Keith Thomas.
4. NIGHTMARE AT NOON: SUZANNA GRATIA HUPP AND THE LUBY’S MASSACRE
Until the Virginia Tech killings in 2007, the deadliest shooting rampage in American history happened at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard crashed his pickup truck into the restaurant and began the calm, systematic killing and wounding of forty-three people inside. Suzanna Gratia survived, but her parents were killed in the carnage. A hundred feet from where they were gunned down was a handgun Suzanna had left in her car.
5. DEATH FROM ABOVE: TIM URSIN AND THE HOWARD JOHNSON SNIPER
After suffering racist abuse in the Navy, Mark Essex joined the Black Panthers and declared war on “honkies.” In 1973, he began a murderous spree in New Orleans, finally holing up in a downtown hotel, where he shot white guests, set fires, and then began firing at the police and firefighters who responded to the attack. Among the firefighters was young Tim Ursin, who climbed a ladder to get to a fire on an upper floor. But Essex leaned over a balcony and rained fire on Ursin.
6. THE DARKEST TOWER: ROLAND EHLKE AND THE TEXAS TOWER SNIPER
Roland Ehlke was walking across campus with two friends in 1973 when Charles Whitman opened fire from twenty-eight stories up in the University of Texas clock tower in Austin. He killed sixteen people and wounded thirty-one. Ehlke was hit twice and survived, but the course of his life was changed forever.
7. EVIL ON THE FRONT PORCH: DIANNE ALEXANDER AND THE SERIAL KILLER DERRICK TODD LEE
When Louisiana serial killer Derrick Todd Lee asked to use the phone in nurse Dianne Alexander’s trailer one night in 2002, she let him in. After attempting to rape her, he bludgeoned her and tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. Despite sustaining serious injuries, she was eventually the star witness in the serial-murder case against Lee.
8. THE DEVIL YOU KNOW: ANTHONY MAJZER AND SERIAL KILLER DAVID MAUST
Chicago gangbanger Tony Majzer first met David Maust in prison, and they became fast friends. Later, when their moment of freedom came, Maust was living in a dowdy Chicago apartment and Majzer was about to leave a halfway house—and be murdered. Maust tricked Majzer into getting drunk and beat him severely with a steel pipe, but the tough con Majzer didn’t die. Majzer forced Maust to take him to the hospital with a fake mugging story, where he received dozens of stitches but refused to stay the night. Astonishingly, he returned to Maust’s apartment instead.
9. A PRAYER BEFORE DYING: MISSY JENKINS AND THE WEST PADUCAH HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING
Fifteen-year-old Missy Jenkins had just said a prayer to begin a new school day when her fourteen-year-old classmate Michael Carneal opened fired with an automatic pistol in the foyer of their western Kentucky high school.
10. ALONE IN A DARK SEA: TERRY JO DUPERRAULT AND THE
A dream vacation aboard a chartered yacht turned into a nightmare when the hired skipper killed his own wife and four of the five members of the Duperrault family, set the boat on fire, and escaped in the
only life raft—leaving eleven-year-old Terry Jo Duperrault to drown or burn to death.
EMMA WOLF WAS ONLY EIGHT MONTHS OLD
on April 22, 1920, when an angry neighbor murdered her father, mother, five sisters, and the chore boy on the family farm in Turtle Lake, North Dakota.
The berserk killer left little Emma in her crib, where she lay for two days until the slaughter was discovered.
Within days, the Wolfs’ neighbors set to the bleak task of burying the family. Before the eight caskets were lowered side by side into the prairie earth on a windswept hill, the good people of Turtle Lake posed behind them for a grim photograph. One of the womenfolk held little Emma—and standing among the mourners was the killer.
Weeks later, the killer—a nearby farmer infuriated by the Wolfs’ wandering dogs—was identified, and he quickly confessed. A jury sent him to prison for the rest of his life, which wasn’t long; he died behind bars in 1925.
For the rest of her life, Emma was known by the locals simply as “the girl who lived.” As a young woman, she worked in a local mercantile where strangers would sometimes come just to gawk at her. She was a living reminder to people of the horror they were trying not to talk about. Not because they wanted to forget, but because they didn’t want anyone else to know.
Even now, more than ninety years later, the curious still drive past the old farmhouse or the cemetery and whisper about it.
Emma had already died when I found her son Curtis, a hospital chaplain who lives today in Turtle Lake and still owns the family farm where the horror happened. He says Emma grew up never trusting anyone, never feeling love. After the murders, she was put in the care of an aunt and uncle with their own big family. Later, she was adopted by a family of strangers in Bismarck, who forestalled her threats to run away by locking her in a closet. She was eventually returned to her aging and ailing aunt and uncle, who handed her off to a local store owner, who made her work in his mercantile business. She eventually married and had three children—and for the first time in her life felt love.
Emma died at age eighty-four in 2003, and she almost never spoke of her family’s mass murder or her survival.
But the ethereal Emma’s vapors encircle each of the ten survivors in this book. They are all connected, even if each is unique. They speak for Emma—and so many others—when they speak about forgiveness, persistence, and mourning. We might hear Emma’s voice when they talk about the strange calculus of grief and hope. We get a glimpse into Emma’s heart as these survivors try to articulate the role of God, luck, or fate in one deadly moment.
What they all understand about life, deep down in their wounded hearts, might just be the key to prevailing over not just the ghosts of killers, but all of life’s great sorrows.
BABY EMMA WOLF, HER BLANKET MARKED WITH AN “X,” IS HELD BY A NEIGHBOR AT THE FUNERAL OF HER FAMILY AND THEIR CHORE BOY, WHO WERE SLAUGHTERED BY AN ANGRY NEIGHBOR IN 1920 IN NORTH DAKOTA. STANDING AMONG THE UNSUSPECTING MOURNERS IS THE KILLER, HENRY LAYER, FAR LEFT, AN “X” ABOVE HIS HEAD. FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE, EMMA WOLF WAS KNOWN AS “THE GIRL WHO LIVED.”
Courtesy of Thanatos Archives
We know plenty about mass murderers and serial killers, but we have not yet developed any science that can foil a murderous rampage that is hatched inside a maniac’s head and leaves no trail until too late.
And that means we will continue to have victims and survivors, about whom we can predict even less. They are the rest of us.
Worse, most of us can’t even name the victims who’ve gone before. Oh, we know the names and crimes of Charlie Starkweather, James Huberty, Dylan Klebold, Richard Speck, Charles Whitman, George Hennard, Charles Manson, and Nidal Malik Hasan. But who among us can identify Merle Collison, Lauren Townsend, Debra Ann Gray, Thomas Ashton, or Amy Krueger—just a few of the people they killed? Alive or dead, victims become mere cameo players in these real-life horror shows, a fact that only compounds the tragedy.
I spent more than a year with the survivors you will read about in these pages, and a few truths rise from the tumult of memories, documents, and interviews. For one, time erodes feeling and creates indifference. Society is condemned to be shocked, to grow complacent, then to forget …then to be shocked all over again.
Is it not fascinating that one of America’s deadliest public rampages—a madman’s 1927 school bombing in Bath, Michigan, that killed forty-five people, mostly children—is all but forgotten in the twenty-first century? That every generation since then has been stained by a mass murder that invariably is labeled as the deadliest (Howard Unruh in 1949, Charles Whitman in 1966, James Huberty in 1984, Seung-Hui Cho in 2007), even though none equals the horrifying death toll in Bath? It’s either because our memories fail us or because every generation wants its own monsters.
Another truth is that forgiveness is more difficult than we can imagine. Most of these survivors understand that without forgiveness, they rot from the inside out—and the people they can’t forgive don’t care. These survivors don’t excuse the behavior of monsters nor deny their own pain, but rather have revoked permission for their monsters or their feelings to darken the rest of their lives. They don’t make nice with their would-be killers, but instead they move beyond them. It is more about unburdening than absolution.
All of these survivors feel some debt to the dead. They are aware that to squander this gifted life would be to betray what the victims lost. If the dead trust the living to preserve their memory, the living must trust the dead to help us know who we can be. They give us a past so we can have a future.
No magical formula exists for their inclusion in this book. Fortunately, true survivors of mass murders and serial killings are few. I sought people who were not mere witnesses to a monstrous crime, but who had been directly in the line of fire, so to speak. To harvest their perspective and wisdom, it was
important that some time had passed, so the survivors’ “second life” would at least be well begun, and the process of contemplating their interrupted lives had simmered.
So these ten stories explore the moments when the survivors and killers crossed paths, but they also examine how the survivor has coped with the trauma and its ripple effects over the years. Each story is as much about surviving life after such tragedies as it is about the tragedies themselves.