Categotry Archives: Criminals

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Osama bin Laden

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Categories: Criminals

The world’s most wanted terrorist is dead.

Born in Saudi Arabia in 1957, Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden was the 17th of 52 children and the only son of tenth wife Hamida al-Attas. His father, Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden, became a billionaire after building his company into the largest construction firm in the Saudi kingdom.

As a young man, bin Laden attended King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, studying business and economics. He was always interested in religion, but his spiritual journey refocused into a political quest for power after coming under the wing of Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam. Azzam founded an organization to help the mujahedeen fighting to repel the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. In 1979, his protegee became the organization’s top financier. At 22, bin Laden volunteered to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan; in the second half of the war, he learned how to shoot and how to lead.

In 1988, bin Laden formed al Qaeda, an international organization that operates as a stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement. The goal of al Qaeda is to advance Islamic revolutions throughout the Muslim world and to repel foreign intervention in the Middle East. This last goal was particularly important to bin Laden, who became incensed when the United States sent troops to Saudi Arabia for battle against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.

After the war ended and American troops did not leave Saudi Arabia, bin Laden issued a “fatwa,” or a religious order, entitled “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf states “will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land,” it said. In the late 1990s, bin Laden declared a “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the United States and issued a new fatwa against all Americans, including civilians.

Bin Laden didn’t just incite violence, though. He orchestrated it. According to the FBI, bin Laden was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed over 200 people. He was implicated in a deadly firefight with U.S. soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and in the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in 2000. Most importantly, he was suspected of planning the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in 2001.

Although the U.S. offered a $25 million reward for information leading to the apprehension or conviction of bin Laden, he was able to elude authorities for nearly 10 years. The world’s most wanted man would occasionally release audio and video tapes to boost support for al Qaeda and to remind the world that he was still alive, albeit in hiding, but the U.S. eventually lost track of him. While many in the intelligence community believed he was hiding in the caves of Pakistan near the Afghan border, coalition troops never found a trace of the 6-foot-4 terror leader.

Bin Laden’s radicalism eventually cost him his Saudi citizenship. His brothers and sisters disowned him and cut off access to his inheritance. Yet his obsession with imposing Islamic rule throughout the region was all-consuming.

In his private life, bin Laden had a passion for poetry, farming and horses. He married four women and is believed to have fathered 25 or 26 children, though he lost all contact with his eldest son Abdullah when the teen swore allegiance to the Saudi regime.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden told his followers that his greatest hope was that if he died at the hands of the Americans, the Muslim world would rise up and defeat the nation that had killed him.

The U.S. assassinated bin Laden on May 1. He was 54.

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Dorothea Puente

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Categories: Criminals

Folks looking for a cheap place to stay in Sacramento during the 1980s would often end up at Dorothea Montalvo Puente’s Victorian-style home on F Street. And when the front door opened, potential boarders were greeted by a bespectacled woman who looked like a kind grandmother. Little did they know that Puente was a serial killer who had a habit of murdering her tenants and burying their bodies in the yard.

“She served as a living illustration of the notion that one cannot judge a book by its cover, the epitome of evil without a trace of evil appearance,” former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness told The Sacramento Bee.

Puente first began accepting boarders in 1980. After doing a short stint in jail for drugging her elderly tenants and stealing their Social Security checks, she returned home and reopened the boardinghouse. By 1985, she had developed a reputation as kindhearted landlady who gave the troubled or infirm an affordable place to stay. When she was in a good mood, she even made her tenants home-cooked meals.

Most of her boarders were “shadow people” — alcoholics, drug addicts, the elderly and the disabled — the kind that could go missing without causing much of a stir. So it wasn’t until 1988 that Puente’s actions caught up with her. That was the year social worker Judy Moise became concerned about the disappearance of a mentally impaired man she had referred to the F Street boardinghouse. Moise filed a missing persons report, which prompted the police to pay a visit to Puente’s home. The officers investigating the disappearance were just about to leave when one of the boarders passed them a note saying Puente had told him to lie.

At that point, many in the area suspected something was wrong at the F Street boardinghouse. A foul stench sparked many complaints from her neighbors. Puente would always make excuses for the odor, blaming dead rats and sewage problems. Then she would try to cover it up by pouring lime and bleach in the yard and spraying lemon-scented air freshener throughout the house.

The authorities returned to the house four days later, carrying shovels. They began searching the property and soon made a grisly discovery: Seven bodies had been buried in the yard. Two more bodies, including that of a former boyfriend, were later found at off-site locations.

Puente looked utterly harmless, but the police soon learned that she was cold, calculating and methodical. As the authorities were digging up her yard, Puente politely excused herself to get some coffee from a corner store, then took off. She was captured a few days later in Los Angeles when a man she met in a bar recognized her face and turned her in. Puente had reportedly tried to befriend him after learning he was collecting disability checks.

During her 1993 trial, prosecutors accused the 64-year-old landlady of nine murders. They claimed Puente used drugs to overdose the victims, suffocated them with pillows and hired convicts to bury the remains, just so she could cash their disability and Social Security checks. The scheme earned her at least $87,000, which prosecutors said she spent on plastic surgery, expensive jewelry and tailored clothes.

The defense argued that Puente’s actions stemmed from a rough childhood. Her mother was a prostitute who died when she was 10, her attorney said, and her father threatened to kill himself. Puente married at 16 and had two children but gave them up for adoption. She ran a bordello known for offering cheap blow jobs and wed three other men before opening the illegal boardinghouse. Although she didn’t take the stand at her murder trial, Puente claimed the tenants died of natural deaths. She just didn’t contact the authorities for fear of violating her parole.

After five months of testimony, the jury found Puente guilty of three killings, but deadlocked on the other six murder charges. She was sentenced to life-without-parole for two first-degree murder convictions and a concurrent 15-years-to-life for a second-degree murder conviction. Puente always maintained her innocence for the slayings. Yet in prison, she collaborated with author Shane Bugbee on the 2004 cookbook “Cooking With a Serial Killer: Recipes From Dorothea Puente.”

Puente died on March 27 at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Cause of death was not released. She was 82.

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Arthur Shawcross

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Categories: Criminals

Arthur John Shawcross, a serial killer who terrorized the Rochester, N.Y., area from 1988 to 1990, died on Nov. 10 of a heart attack. He was 63.

Born in Kittery, Maine, and raised in Watertown, N.Y., Shawcross was an awkward child who frequently fought with other children, a practice that earned him a reputation as a bully. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, and enlisted in the Army, serving a tour of duty in the Vietnam war.

Upon his return to the states, Shawcross moved back to Watertown. In 1972, he lured Jack Owen Blake, 10, into the woods and sexually assaulted and murdered the boy. Four months later, he raped and killed an 8-year-old girl named Karen Ann Hill.

Shawcross later confessed to these slayings, but avoided a life sentence by cutting a deal with the prosecutor. In return for leading police to the bodies and pleading guilty to killing Hill, he would receive a 25-year sentence and no charges for the Blake murder. Shawcross spent 15 years in prison before being released on parole in 1987.

The following year, he settled in Rochester, N.Y., and began a killing spree that would earn him the name: “The Genesee River Killer.”

From 1988 to 1990, Shawcross murdered 11 women: Patricia Ives, Frances Brown, June Cicero, Darlene Trippi, Anna Marie Steffen, Dorothy Blackburn, Kimberly Logan, June Stotts, Marie Welch, Elizabeth Gibson and Dorothy Keller. Most of his victims were strangled and beaten to death; several were also mutilated, their body parts consumed. The press gave Shawcross the ominous moniker because most of the women’s bodies were dumped near the Genesee River.

With the assistance of several FBI profilers and experts, the police set up surveillance on the body of the final victim and caught Shawcross hanging out near the dump site. He confessed to the killing spree while in custody, telling police he was “takin’ care of business,” but later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

During the 13-week televised trial, the defense offered testimony from psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis that claimed Shawcross suffered from multiple personality disorder, brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder. The jury didn’t buy the argument and found him guilty and sane after only 6 1/2 hours of deliberations. He was sentenced to 250 years in prison, one of the longest sentences ever handed down in New York state.

Shawcross’ crimes were chronicled in the 1992 book “Arthur Shawcross: The Genesee River Killer” by Joel Norris, which included a recording of his confession, and in the 1993 book, “The Misbegotten Son” by Jack Olsen. He was also featured in several programs dealing with serial killers as well as the 2003 HBO documentary, “Cannibal: The Real Hannibal Lecters.”

While behind bars, Shawcross married and later divorced Clara D. Neal. He also reconnected with his only daughter, Margaret Deming of Brooklyn, N.Y., and began painting portraits that were included in an annual inmate art show at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y. The “Corrections on Canvas” show, which had been staged for 35 years, was discontinued in 2002, after the public protested that Shawcross was profiting from the sale of his pictures.

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Kenneth Parnell

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Categories: Criminals

Kenneth Eugene Parnell, one of California’s most notorious child molesters, died on Jan. 21 at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif. Cause of death was not released. He was 76.

The Texas native spent most of his adolescence in and out of juvenile detention facilities. At 19, he was convicted of impersonating a police officer and sodomizing a young boy for which he spent three-and-a-half years in prison. An armed robbery charge in the 1960s briefly landed him back behind bars in Utah.

Then on Dec. 4, 1972, Parnell abducted 7-year-old Steven Gregory Stayner as the boy was walking to his Merced, Calif., home. The pedophile, who coaxed the child into his car by pretending to be a preacher, took him to a cabin in the woods and held him there for several hours. When the second-grader asked to be returned home, Parnell said Stayner’s family didn’t want him anymore. He gave Stayner a new name — Dennis Gregory Parnell — and spent the next seven years pretending to be his father. During that time, he also repeatedly molested the boy.

When Parnell snatched 5-year-old Timmy White in 1980, Stayner began to plan their escape. He knew he couldn’t let Parnell hurt White too. A month after White’s abduction, the boys snuck out in the middle of the night, hitchhiked to Ukiah, Calif., and told the police what happened. In his written statement, Stayner said: “My name is Steven Stainer (sic). I am fourteen years of age. I don’t know my true birthdate, but I use April 18, 1965. I know my first name is Steven, I’m pretty sure my last is Stainer, and if I have a middle name, I don’t know it.” The following day, the boys were reunited with their families.

Stayner’s story became the basis for a true crime book written by Mike Echols and a TV movie called “I Know My Name Is Steven,” which earned four nominations for Emmy Awards and one for a Golden Globe. Stayner received $30,000 for the film, and made a cameo appearance as one of the police officers who returns the boys to their families. He later married and had two children, a son and a daughter. In 1989, he was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24. Timmy White, then 14, served as one of the pallbearers at Stayner’s funeral.

Parnell was convicted of both kidnappings in 1981 and received a seven-year prison sentence; however, he was paroled five years later. Parnell spent the next decade living quietly in Berkeley, Calif., where he rented a modest studio, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and received food from the Meals on Wheels program. Local police kept an eye on him, but many of his neighbors never knew they had a sexual predator in their midst.

In 2003, an informant told police that Parnell had sought her help in trying to buy a four-year-old boy for $500. Moments after the money changed hands, police arrested him. Parnell was sentenced to 25 years to life under California’s “three strikes law.” He died in the prison’s hospice unit of an undisclosed illness.

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Leona Helmsley

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Categories: Business, Criminals

Leona Helmsley, a Manhattan hotelier with a reputation as the “Queen of Mean,” died on Aug. 20 of heart failure. She was 87.
Helmsley was born Leona Mindy Rosenthal in Ulster County, N.Y. The daughter of a hat maker, she attended college for two years before dropping out to become a model. Leona wed attorney Leo E. Panzirer, and had a son Jay Robert Panzirer. The pair divorced in 1959; their son died at the age of 40 in 1982. She later married and divorced garment industry executive Joe Lubin. Their union lasted for seven years.
Leona was working as a real estate agent in 1969 when she met Harry Helmsley at an industry ball. Within a few weeks, she went to work for the “King Kong of Big Apple real estate.” Leona and Harry wed in 1972 after he divorced Eve Helmsley, his wife of 33 years. Society pages soon filled with glamourous images of the couple, who were said to be utterly devoted to each other. Leona annually hosted a party for his birthday in which all of the guests donned buttons that read “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” His button said, “I’m Harry.” For her birthday in 1976, Harry spent $100,000 to have the Empire State Building illuminated in red, white and blue lights.
The couple lived in a 10,000-square foot penthouse high above Central Park, a mountaintop home near Phoenix and a penthouse in Palm Beach. The Florida estate lost some of its luster in 1973 when the Helmsleys were stabbed by an intruder. The assault resulted in two life changes: the hiring of bodyguards and a reconciliation with Leona’s son, with whom she’d been estranged for five years.
The Helmsleys increased their fortune by selling commercial and residential properties in Manhattan. Their $5 billion empire included management of the Flatiron Building, the East Side residential complex called Tudor City, the Empire State Building, the Palace Hotel, the Park Lane and the New York Helmsley. In 1980, Harry made Leona president of Helmsley Hotels, a subsidiary that operated more than two dozen hotels in 10 states. Her appearance in glossy advertisements promoting the hotels’ first-rate service helped increase occupancy from 25 to 70 percent.
Leona was also a generous philanthropist, giving away millions to those in need. Her charitable activities included a $25 million gift to New York Presbyterian Hospital, $5 million to Katrina relief and $5 million to help the families of firefighters after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Despite these activities, Leona was known in the New York press as the “Queen of Mean.” She had a reputation for being a harsh task master with a hair-trigger temper. Employees were so afraid of Leona that they created a warning system to signal her comings and goings. Detractors say she also nickel-and-dimed merchants on her personal purchases and stiffed contractors who worked on her summer house in Greenwich, Conn.
Then in 1988, federal and state authorities indicted the Helmsleys on more than 200 counts of tax evasion. Leona was also charged with defrauding Helmsley stockholders by receiving $83,333 a month in secret consulting fees. Although 80-year-old Harry was deemed too ill to stand trial, Leona faced the music, and the wrath of the public.
In the highly publicized court proceedings, prosecution witnesses described Leona as extravagant, stingy, mean and spiteful — the kind of woman who terrified everyone around her. Her former housekeeper, Elizabeth Baum, testified that she heard Leona say: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Leona denied having said it, but the statement cemented her reputation and helped convict her of evading $1.2 million in federal taxes.
The judge gave Leona a four-year prison term and fined her $7.1 million. She also had to pay $1.7 million in back taxes. When the trial ended and the couple left the courthouse, a crowd taunted and jeered them. The infamous case, which showcased the “greed is good” mentality of the 1980s, became the basis of several books and the 1990 TV movie “Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean” starring Suzanne Pleshette.
Leona was incarcerated on April 15, 1993, and spent 21 months behind bars. Although she was ordered to do 750 hours of community service, a judge added 150 more hours after learning employees had done some of the chores for her. Upon her release from prison, Leona relinquished all executive involvement in the Helmsley Hotel organization because as a convicted felon, she could not be an officer, shareholder or partner in any entity holding a liquor license.
When Harry died in 1997, he left Leona his entire fortune, worth about $1.7 billion at the time, and made her the chief executive officer of Helmsley Enterprises. During the final years of her life, she managed the company’s real estate and hotel portfolio, sold most of her property empire and fought off numerous law suits from former employees.
Despite all the bad press, Leona truly loved her dog, Trouble. In her 14-page will, she bequeathed the 8-year-old Maltese to her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, and provided a $12 million trust to pay for the dog’s care. Rosenthal will also get $10 million in a trust and another $5 million outright. Her grandsons, David and Walter Panzirer, will receive $5 million each outright and another $5 million in trusts, provided they visit their father’s grave every year. Her other two grandchildren, Craig and Meegan Panzirer, and all 12 of her great-children were disinherited. The rest of her fortune, including the proceeds from the sale of all her residences and belongings, will be given to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

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