Too Close To Home: The Colt Family

Incest may be the ultimate taboo. While other acts seen as dastardly among humans- murder and cannibalism, for instance- run rampant in the animal kingdom, even plants avoid incest. There’s something embedded inside of us that makes incest repulsive, something only practiced out of absolute necessity. And in a world of over seven billion, it would seem that any need for it, any circumstance that it would be necessary, would be diminished.

But that isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule. Maybe necessity isn’t the motive with these cases, but nonetheless incest continues into today’s society.

“My sister is pregnant and we don’t know which of my brothers is the father”

Those were the words uttered out of a primary schooler’s mouth in rural Boorowa, New South Wales, Australia. The school officials were familiar with the child and her young relatives- they rarely attended school, and when they did, they were filthy and underweight. Reports had already been filed for child neglect against the family, and when they were discovered to be living on a squalid, isolated farm, officials demanded that living conditions be improved- and apparently they had. But the girl’s remark called for a reevaluation.

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One of the buildings the family was living in.

What investigators found was perhaps more disturbing than they could ever imagine. The extended family was living on the same farm, a compound of trailers, sheds and tents with no running water and unsafe means of electricity. Piles of trash were scattered across the property, a gas stove meant for outdoor was found enclosed in one of the trailers, and the children’s beds were soiled.

Yet their appalling living conditions turned out to be the least of investigator’s concerns.

Most of the twelve children living on the property were developmentally disabled, some had hearing, speech and/or vision problems or heart defects. Many had misaligned eyes or other physical deformities. They all had extremely poor hygiene with gum disease or fungal infections. They were underweight and had no sense of hygiene- they did not know how to shower or brush their teeth and they had never seen toilet paper. And they were all- including children as young as five- hypersexual.

A Twisted Family Tree

Upon further investigation, the family was traced back to a single couple, a brother-and-sister union that produced a daughter called June (all of the names have been changed for privacy reasons). June later married a man called Tim Colt, and they had seven children, five daughters and two sons (nicknamed Martha, Frank, Paula, Betty, Cherry, Rhonda, and Charlie). From there, June’s incestuous upbringing seemed to come full circle. The siblings engaged in sexual relations with one another, and at times even with their own parents and other family members. In total, the Colt siblings had twenty-four children. At least ten of these children were born out of incest. Another died shortly after birth, with her father unknown. As it is unknown how many of the grown children were genetically tested, the true number may not be known.

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The Colt family tree. Keep in mind that not all of the adults have undergone DNA testing and the true number born out of incest may be higher.

Even for the children born to unrelated parents, incest was ingrained on them. Two of Betty’s adult children, Tammy and Derek, had three daughters together, one of whom died from a rare genetic condition in infancy. As the sibling-couple was not living at the farm, their children were not counted in the total, although they were also removed from their parents. Another of Betty’s daughters had a thirteen-year-old daughter who was removed from the farm. The girl, Kimberly, claimed that she had the same father as her mother and grandmother, probably none other than Tim Colt. However, it is unknown whether or not Kimberley’s mother was born out of incest, so her true father remains unknown.

In total, twelve children under the age of sixteen were removed from the Colt property- five of Martha’s, five of Betty’s, Betty’s granddaughter Kimberly, and Rhonda’s daughter Cindy, who was the only one of the children whose parents were not related. From what the children told social workers, the farm was a sexual free-for-all. Charlie and Martha shared a bed as a married couple would (four out of Martha’s five living children were fathered by Charlie), and young boys would torture and mutilate the genitals of animals. The women were forced to give birth on the farm. Kimberly admitted to performing oral sex on her nine-year-old uncle Dwayne and claimed that several of her other uncles tied her to a tree and had sex with her. She was also observed inappropriately touching her nine-year-old aunt Carmen. The youngest, five-year-old Cindy, attempted to kiss her male caretakers and was found masturbating in the shower of her foster home. They were sexually inappropriate with each other, their foster siblings, and their schoolmates.

The adults on the farm- the original seven Colt siblings and some of their adult children- condoned the actions of the children, even engaging in sexual relations with them. When Kimberly complained of pain after having sex with her uncle Dwayne, her mother Raylene simply scolded her for choosing a partner who was ‘too big’.

All in all, Martha, Betty, Rhonda, Charlie, and Betty’s daughter Raylene were all arrested for child abuse. They all denied any wrongdoing. Raylene claimed that Kimberly’s father was a backpacker from Sweden, while Charlie continued to insist that none of the children were born out of incest even after DNA testing proved otherwise and at least one of Martha’s children said that he was her father.

But the Colts were not going to go down without a fight. Charlie fled to the United Kingdom after a warrant was put out for his arrest. While her children were in foster care, Betty hatched a plan to kidnap two of her sons and sent sexually explicit text messages to fifteen-year-old Bobby. Her sons knew of and were willing to go along with the plan.

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Betty Colt on her way to court.

Charlie eventually returned to Australia in November 2014 and was arrested. In the same month, Betty was sentenced to twelve months in jail for attempting to kidnap her sons. It is unknown if Betty received further jail time for the sexual abuse of her children or the sentences Charlie, Martha, Rhonda or Raylene received. However, Charlie and Raylene seem to have been released, as police have released Apprehended Violence Orders against them in regards to Betty’s daughter Petra. Petra was not amongst the children removed from the farm; her age and whether or not she was born from incest is unknown.

It is unknown what became of the other adults on the farm. A family tree claims that Tammy Colt is deceased, although no other evidence of this. Her brother and the father of her children, Derek, was known to be abusive towards her but it is not known if he faced criminal charges. Nothing is known of the other adults (Betty and Rhonda each had four other children who were not mentioned).

Sure, the Colt case was a shocking example of how so many children in a developed country could fall through the cracks, but justice seems to have not been truly served. Two of the family members seemed to be released only to go back to terrorizing their young relative. Twelve months seems shockingly light for an attempted kidnapping, especially when the offender (Betty) was known to be neglectful and sexually abusive. One can only hope that the Colt children can move on from their shocking pasts and go on to live relatively normal lives.

Links of interest

Owlcation article

Daily Mail article

Sydney Morning Herald article

Thejournal.ie article

New Zealand Herald article

 

 

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In the Shadow of Jack the Ripper: The Thames Torso Murders

Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that many other unsolved cases in Victorian London are little more than an afterthought. After all, in comparison to Jack the Ripper, these were all pretty tame, right?

Perhaps not.

There may have been another serial killer terrorizing the London area at the time, with his method of disposal being just as, if not more, morbid than the Ripper’s. While the true body count of the so-called Thames Torso Killer may never be known- not much information is available for some of these murders- he certainly left behind a terrifying legacy.

The Murders

The first murder possibly committed by the Thames Torso Killer dates all the way back to 1873, when a woman’s dismembered body was found scattered across the Battersea area in London. First thought to be a prank by a medical student involving a stolen cadaver (the crimes of Burke and Hare were a few decades in the past, but not forgotten), it turned out to be something much more sinister. The woman had been murdered, sustaining blunt force trauma to the back of the neck before having her throat fatally slit. She had been scalped, her nose had been cut off, and part of her chin and one cheek had been carefully cut out. Most curious of all was the manner in which the limbs were removed, which occurred shortly after the woman’s death. Her limbs were opened at the joints and removed intact with almost surgical precision, with only larger bones being sawed through. The victim was never identified and the case went on to be known as the ‘Battersea Mystery’.

Another woman was found dismembered in the River Thames a year later, yet not much is available on this murder. The remains consisted of a torso and one leg; the rest of the body was never found. Her spinal cord had been opened, although no information has been found on how she was dismembered or if a degree of anatomical or medical knowledge was necessary. Her remains had been covered in lime to advance decomposition; her cause of death could not be determined. While there is not enough information (aside from the location and that they were both dismembered) to link them, either one of the women could have been the first victim of the Thames Torso Killer.

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1873 newspaper illustration detailing the discovery of the first Battersea victim.

The murders subsided for a decade- either the person(s) behind the Battersea murders went dormant or a new killer emerged. Either way, in 1884 a woman’s torso showed up behind a near constantly patrolled armoury; the killer had apparently disposed of the remains during a changing of the guards. More body parts belonging to the same woman were found were found across the Tottenham Court area, including a skull and an arm with a tattoo on it, which suggested the victim was a prostitute. According to the coroner, she had been dismembered with precision.

Not much on the so-called “Tottenham Court Road Mystery” is available today, another murder was connected at the time to this case. In December of the same year, an arm and the feet of a woman were discovered wrapped in a parcel. According to a Dr. Jenkins, a surgeon who had conducted a review of the remains, she had been ‘skillfully dissected’. He also determined that they belonged to a different woman than the one that had been found mutilated earlier in the year.

Yet again, the killer went dormant. Unlike Jack the Ripper, whose spree was over in a matter of months, the Thames Torso Killer was more methodical. Not only did he take longer periods between kills, he took victims who were already on the fringes of society (as evidenced by the Tottenham Court victim) and made them even harder to identify. He also killed his victims at a secondary location before taking daring approaches to disposing them.

He resurfaced yet again in 1887. The lower torso of a woman was pulled from the Thames in the village of Rainham, wrapped in some sort of paper or fabric. Eventually more of the woman’s remains were found across London. Only her head and upper torso remained undiscovered. The police surgeon who examined the body, Dr. Thomas Bond, determined that while some medical knowledge was likely required to perform such a dismemberment, but it was not done for anatomical purposes. Despite the grisly disposal of the body, no signs of antemortem violence was discovered on the woman, and there was not enough to prove she was murdered. Because of this, the case was never investigated further.

Could this alleged victim actually be a prank by a medical student, as the first Battersea victim was originally thought to be? Possibly. As previously stated, her head and upper torso were never found. If she sustained trauma to the these areas (keep in mind that the 1873 victim, the only thus far whose cause of death had been proven, sustained trauma to her neck before having her throat slit), it would not be visible from the remains that were discovered.

The next year was the infamous year of Jack the Ripper’s killings, and it seemed the Torso Killer took some inspiration from him. The frenzy that the Ripper conjured up and the amount of press dedicated to him, compared to the minimal coverage dedicated to his crimes, perhaps motivated the Thames Torso Killer. Likely in September 1888, in the midst of the Ripper’s murders, the Torso Killer struck again, planting a woman’s torso, wrapped in paper,  where part of the now famous Scotland Yard was under construction (perhaps in lieu of the Tottenham Court victim, who was discovered in a heavily patrolled armoury). Her arms were later found in the River Thames. Dr. Thomas Bond, the same surgeon who conducted the autopsy of the Rainham victim, concluded that she had indeed been murdered, likely due to some sort of blood loss. He noted ‘several incisions’ around the woman’s shoulders to remove the arms, and, like the other victims, she had been dismembered with a degree of precision. A second doctor concluded that the killer likely had some sort of medical knowledge.

On June 4th, 1889, a woman’s body parts, wrapped in cloth, were found in the Thames. Unlike the other victims, her stomach was cut open, with her internal organs removed and her genitals mutilated. Some of the remains were found in Battersea Park, eerily close to the first victim.

The mutilation suggested that the woman had undergone an illegal abortion, with whoever performed it hiding what he had done after the woman died of complications. However, this theory was disproven. It also pointed that she may have been a Ripper victim- a letter signed ‘Jack the Ripper’ was delivered to the press. However, since there had definitely been some forged Ripper letters in the past, it didn’t carry much merit.

The woman was identified as a prostitute named Elizabeth Jackson. With the abortion theory unlikely and the disposal and dismemberment different from the Ripper’s, the motive or the cause of her death was never known.

But the Torso Killer was active in Battersea. His victims of choice were prostitutes. He wrapped his victims’ remains in paper or fabric and disposed many of them in the Thames. While the abdominal mutilation stands out in this case, the Torso Killer mutilated the face of the first Battersea victim. There is no information on Jackson’s cause of death or the level of skill necessary to perform her dismemberment, but there is enough evidence to tentatively label her as a Torso Killer victim.

In September of 1889, he struck again. London residents were finally moving on from the Ripper’s crimes, and the discovery of a woman’s torso, with arms attached, under a railway arch struck fear that he may have resurfaced. However, everything about this murder seems to show that there was still another serial killer on the loose.

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Newspaper illustration on the discovery of the ‘Pinchin Street Torso’.

Dubbed the ‘Pinchin Street Torso’ from the road she was found on, she is the only Torso Killer victim included in the Whitechapel muders (a series of women, including Jack the Ripper’s victims, murdered between 1888 and 1891 and considered as being Ripper victims at the time). However, as the case was investigated, it was determined that she was more than likely not a Ripper victim and similarities between this case and the Torso Killer’s victims were quickly pointed out. She was discovered by a patrolling constable, and was apparently placed at the scene when the constable was out of sight. No other parts of the woman’s body were found.

What is particularly odd about the case is that the coroner did not believe the killer had any anatomical knowledge, which contradicts the other torso cases. She was not wrapped in fabric or paper; instead a chemise was thrown over the body. The arms were also still attached to the body, as opposed to the other murders, where they had all been carefully removed. It could be that the killer had less time with this victim and therefore dismembered her more quickly. Or this murder could have been isolated, committed by someone trying to cover their tracks by emulating the Ripper or Torso Killer. Overall there are still enough similarities between the Pinchin Street Torso and the other Torso Killer victims to consider her a likely victim.

With this victim the Torso Killer’s reign of terror seemed to finally end. He may have been institutionalized or imprisoned for an unrelated crime. He may have skipped town. He may have passed away. Even if his spree spanned over two decades and he took the lives of up to eight women, there is still not enough information to draw conclusions on who the killer might have been. His medical knowledge suggested that he may have attended medical school or he learned the craft from someone else, possibly a family member. He could have attended public anatomy lectures where cadavers were dissected.

Yet we may never know what drove this man to kill. All but one of his alleged victims remain unidentified, and with the police and press dedicated to Jack the Ripper, important information on the killer may have been passed up or looked over. It seems a case that is now impossible to solve, yet it is an interesting and surprisingly little-known mystery.

Links of Interest

Article by Gerard Spicer

Quester Files article

The Murder of Elizabeth Jackson by Debra Arif

Dr. Thomas Bond’s report on the 1888 victim

1889 inquest into the Pinchin Street Torso

Who Was Little Jane Doe?

The date was February 28th, 1983. Two men were searching for scrap metal in the basement of an abandoned apartment building in St. Louis. Their search was uneventful until one of them lit a cigarette- and the light from that revealed something a lot more profound than metal.

On the ground was the headless body of a young girl, dressed only in a bloody yellow sweater. Police were on the scene within minutes. It was determined that the girl was bound and strangled to death, and was decapitated post-mortem before being dumped in the basement. It seemed like an open and shut case (a murder and dismemberment this brutal, especially of a child, isn’t one to go unnoticed), but there were a few problems. There were no missing children matching the description of the child (an African-American girl, aged eight to eleven, and tall for her age at a height of 4’11” to 5’6″), and there were no girls who had transferred out of the school district who matched that description either. Nobody came forward with any leads or tips, and the girl’s head was never found. She remains unidentified to this day.

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The building where the body was found. It has since been demolished.

“Little Jane Doe,” as authorities called her, stands out among the cases of other unidentified children. With few exceptions, they all follow the same pattern: these children are much younger than Little Jane, too young to be in school, and all signs point to the families being involved. Many appeared to have been abused and/or neglected, and with the responsible party never reporting their child missing, they can easily slip through the cracks. (See the cases of Erica Green, Jon-Niece Jones, Anjelica Castillo and Bella Bond, formerly unidentified children that fit into this pattern).

But Little Jane was old enough to be in school, where teachers would have noticed her absence. She was well-nourished, and no scars or previously broken bones were found. With no previous signs of abuse or neglect, her murder seemed to be an isolated event. It is likely that the killer knew the St. Louis area well, but Little Jane was proven to not be native to the area. Isotope testing conducted in 2013 revealed she had lived most of her life in Georgia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, or Michigan.

All evidence shows that her killer may have known her or her family, but her direct family was likely not involved. Her disposal was methodical, and because her head was never recovered, she has never been forensically reconstructed. Whoever killed her did not want her to be identified; she was not dismembered out of convenience. Even the sweater she wore had its tags cut out so its brand or where it may have been from could not be determined. She may have been taken a great distance to her disposal site.

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The sweater the victim was wearing and the rope used to bind her hands.

Could Little Jane have never been reported missing? Could her family be protecting the killer if they happened to be someone close to them? Both are possible, but aspects of this case make it seem that she was reported missing and the body was simply too unrecognizable to be connected to any missing girl (a tall African-American preteen isn’t much to go off of). Somewhere, her family may still be looking for her. Her story was broadcast widely throughout the country, and her fingerprints were collected, but children aren’t commonly fingerprinted and the body itself wasn’t that helpful without a reconstruction or a head to match it to. Her DNA wasn’t processed until 2013, and many missing girls from the time Little Jane was discovered have no DNA on file.

No persons of interest (whether they be the suspect or the victim) have been officially tied to the case. Serial killer Vernon Brown has been theorized by some to be her killer. He was active in Missouri and Indiana (the state of Little Jane’s discovery and a state she may have been from) in the early-mid 1980s. He was charged with the murder of nine year old Janet Perkins, who he lured into his St. Louis home, sexually assaulted and strangled her, and dismembered her post-mortem. There are certainly some similarities between the murders of Perkins and Little Jane. They were both African-American and in the same age range, and they were both strangled to death. Perkins was sexually assaulted, and while there was no definitive evidence that Little Jane was, she was nude from the waist down. They were both dismembered, yet this is a looser connection. Little Jane was decapitated with a  long-bladed knife, her head was never found, and she was well hidden in the basement of an abandoned building. Perkins was more crudely dismembered (the tool used to do this was not specified), and all of her body was recovered. She was found in two trash bags in an alley near Brown’s home, so her disposal was not nearly as methodical as Little Jane’s. The exact year of Perkins’s murder is also not specified, although Brown was active between 1980 and 1986, so he could have theoretically murdered Perkins first and gained more finesse with his disposal method by the time he killed Little Jane. So while there are some things that point to Little Jane being murdered by Vernon Brown, her method of disposal seems much more sophisticated.

Brown was sentenced to death and was executed in 2005.

So who was she?

A few missing girls have stuck out as possibly being Little Jane Doe, yet they have all been ruled out through DNA or fingerprints. I’ve searched NamUs for African-American girls age 6 to 14 (a few years give or take from her age range) and none of them stuck out to me. So Little Jane could have not been reported missing, or her file may have simply not been added onto NamUs.

All it would take is one person to blow this case open. Little Jane certainly had friends, classmates, neighbors, family members- at least one of these people would notice she was gone. If only one of them could step forward, wondering whatever became of that little girl, she might get her name back.

Or she already has people looking for her and missing her. As sad as it seems, the disappearance of one girl may have slipped through the cracks, especially in a time before any sort of missing persons database. Her loved ones may be deceased by now, or have simply given up on trying to find her. Unless someone comes forth with information, her case may never be solved.

Links of Interest

Fox News article

St. Louis Today article

Reddit thread connecting Vernon Brown to the murder

Vernon Brown on Murderpedia

 

Everything We Know About Robert Evans and the Bear Brook Murders

The small town of Allenstown, New Hampshire was in for a shock when two dismembered bodies were found in a barrel in Bear Brook State Park in 1985. They were determined to be a woman and a female child, aged five to eleven, and maternally related–likely mother and daughter. They both were murdered by blunt force trauma to the head. Despite the gruesome nature of the crime, the victims were never identified.

And things just kept getting weirder.

The Bear Brook case, as it came to be known, was reopened in 2000, and the initial crime scene was reexamined. The investigation took an unsettling turn when another barrel was discovered, hosting another two bodies. They were both young girls, one two to four and the other one to three. They had likely been killed at the same time as the victims discovered in 1985 and also died from head trauma. The youngest girl was related to the first two victims, probably also the woman’s daughter, but the middle child was not maternally related.

Despite these new revelations (and new victims), investigators got no closer to discovering the culprit. An entire family had been brutally murdered and nobody seemed to notice. Forensic reconstructions were released of the victims, yet nobody recognized them. Other missing people were ruled out as being the decedents. It seemed as the case would go cold yet again.

And it did until until October of 2016 (the information became released to the public in January 2017). DNA tests had been run on the victims, confirming that the woman and two of the children were related as well as pinpointing where they may have lived. The three related victims were likely native to the Northeast, but the other girl may have been from as far away as Wisconsin. DNA evidence was also able to eventually identify the father of this girl, blowing the case right open.

His name was Robert Evans. He was convicted for the 2002 dismemberment and murder of his wife, Eunsoon Jun, and died in prison in 2010. He was also a suspect in the disappearance of his girlfriend Denise Beaudin. The three vanished along with Beaudin’s infant daughter in 1981 (the Bear Brook victims were likely killed between 1978 and 1984). While the daughter was found alive and abandoned in an RV park in 1986, Beaudin was never found and Evans seemed to go off the grid until the murder of Jun in 2002.

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1985 mugshot of Robert Evans.

The Bear Brook case is still active and developing, yet surprisingly little has been discovered. Evans was known to use multiple aliases (Robert Evans might not be his legal name) and absolutely nothing is known about his personal life, and the four Bear Brook Victims are still unidentified. But this is what we do know:

  • All four victims died in between 1978 and 1984 (likely during or after 1980), and were likely placed in barrels and dumped at the same time. The second barrel was overlooked during the first investigation, as the area was a popular dumping ground for chemicals and other hazardous materials.
  • Denise Beaudin and her infant daughter disappeared from Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1981. It is unknown which event took first- this one or the Bear Brook murders.
  • Beaudin’s daughter was discovered alive in California in 1986. She was determined not to be Evans’ biological daughter, yet he kept her alive and traveled with her for years. She was later adopted and is living under a new identity. She is known to news sources as ‘Lisa’.
  • Beaudin was thought to have disappeared voluntarily and was not reported missing until December 2016.
  • The adult Bear Brook victim is not Denise Beaudin.
  • ‘Lisa’ is not related to any of the Bear Brook Victims; Beaudin is not the mother of the middle child.
  • Evans is only the father of the middle child.
  • The middle child is not related to the other two children or the woman.
  • The middle child’s mother is not known or accounted for and may have also been murdered.
  • Evans was a drifter who was known to have lived in at least eleven states, plus Quebec, Canada. He was an alcoholic and may have been ex-military.
  • He was known to have used the aliases Curtis Kimball, Gordon Curtis Jenson, Gerry Mockerman, and Lawrence “Larry” William Vanner.
  • After an arrest in 1980, Evans stated that he was married to a woman named Elizabeth. This may have not been her legal name, and her true identity and whereabouts are unknown. She could have been the adult victim or the mother of the middle child.
  • Evans had previously been arrested for driving under the influence and child abuse, but was not connected to any murders until he killed his common-law wife Eunsoon Jun in 2002. Like the Bear Brook victims, Jun was killed by head trauma. She was found buried under cat litter in the crawl space of the couple’s house.
  • Evans died in prison of natural causes in 2010.

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Latest forensic reconstructions of the Bear Brook victims. Robert Adams’ daughter is on the top right.

Everything points to the fact that Robert Evans- or whatever his real name might be- is more than likely the culprit behind the grisly murders in Allenstown. Yet unmasking the killer is only part of the puzzle in this case. The identities of the four victims are still unknown, and there are no leads as to who they may be. And this discovery posed even more questions. What happened to Denise Beaudin? Who and where is the mother of the middle child? Did Evans claim more victims? This wave of new discoveries seems to have brought more questions than answers.

Links of Interest

Fox 25 article

CBS Article

Forensic Magazine article

WMUR article