Kiss of Death: True Cases of Fatal Attraction
By Jean Ritchie
“The Giggling Blonde”: after being arrested for trying to kill her third husband with a baseball bat and a carving knife, Dena Thompson is convicted of killing her second by poisoning.
“Smiley Kylie”: Kylie Labouchardiere is murdered by Paul Wilkinson.
“One Go Was Not Enough”: Jill Cahill barely survives a first attempt on her life by her husband Jeff, who then sneaks into the hospital she is recovering in and finishes the job with cyanide.
“Lover in the Wardrobe”: Martha Freeman has a man living in her wardrobe for a month before her husband finds out (he hears him snoring). The two lovers then strangle the husband.
“All for a Life in the Sun”: Tina Strauss can’t handle moving from a Jamaican estate to the north of England and so threatens to leave the man she dumped her wealthy husband for. He kills her and buries her in the backyard.
“The Royal Aide Who Couldn’t Take Rejection”: Jane Andrews worked as a personal assistant to Sarah, Duchess of York. She didn’t like it when men rejected her, and kills Tom Cresswell (with a cricket bat and a knife) when he wouldn’t marry her.
“Left in a Car Boot to Die”: Joe Korp talks his mistress into killing his wife. She does a horrible job of it, with Maria Korp’s case becoming a controversial one in Australia when she was taken off life support in hospital.
“Not One Dead Wife, but Two”: Drew Peterson kills his third wife and disappears his fourth.
“If I Can’t Have You”: Bombay-born doctor “Buck Ruxton” kills his wife and housemaid and cuts their bodies into little pieces.
“Did She or Didn’t She?”: Carolyn Warmus falls for a married man and is convicted of killing his wife. She continues to maintain her innocence.
“A Fit of Conscience”: Lovers Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart conspire to kill their spouses and stage it as a double suicide. Their plan works, but twenty years later Colin confesses and they both go to prison.
“Body in the Fridge”: Laren Sims and gal pal Sarah Dutra kill Laren’s husband, storing his body in a fridge for a while before burying it in a California vineyard.
“Kinky Cottage”: Max Garvie lived a swinging lifestyle in the northeast of Scotland, but is killed by his wife and his wife’s lover.
“Killed by a ‘Bag for Life’”: apparently a “bag for life” is made of particularly strong plastic. Pharmacist Mitesh Patel uses one to suffocate/strangle his wife.
“The Go-Go Dancer and the Cat”: John Perry travels to the Philippines for some sex tourism and picks up a wife. He expects a submissive helpmeet, so when she starts showing signs of independence, including having an affair with a neighbour, Perry kills her. He has trouble getting rid of her body though.
“Desperate Measures”: Mary Pearcey kills her lover’s wife in Victorian London.
“The Exotic Dancer with Two Boyfriends”: Catherine Woods goes to NYC in the hopes of becoming a dancer. She’s killed by a jealous boyfriend.
“The Parachute ‘Accidents’”: two otherwise unrelated cases involving a woman sabotaging a rival’s parachute to get rid of her and a man doing the same to his wife. The wife actually survives.
“Killed by the Dog She Loved”: Dolly Kaplan is killed by a pet pit bull terrier that her boyfriend turned on her.
“The Army Wife”: Christina Dryland runs over her husband’s mistress in her Saab.
“Kinky Sex and a Brutal Murder”: a lesbian couple who are also professional dominatrices have a falling out and the one arranges the other’s murder.
“So Much for Rehabilitation”: John Tanner kills his girlfriend, an Oxford student, and is sent to prison, which does not lead to his reform.
“A Vengeful Suicide”: Paul Dunn is charged with killing his wife with a shotgun, but at trial he is acquitted because it may have been suicide.
A good selection of cases that stick close to the theme of fatal attractions. In fact, at least one of them, the Warmus case, was dubbed by the press “the Fatal Attraction killing.” Each crime is described in 10-15 pages, so the writing is pretty basic sketchwork. At the same time, since they tell such a familiar, and in many instances repetitive, story there’s little need to go into detail.
Most of the cases aren’t that well known. I suppose everyone will have heard of Drew Peterson, but aside from him the others are pretty obscure. Some were notorious at the time but have since faded from public memory, while some played more in local media. Still others, though tragic, don’t stand out as noteworthy at all.
As noted by Ritchie in her Introduction, you’re more likely to be killed by someone you know intimately than by a stranger. And the domestic killers we meet here fall into easily identifiable gender stereotypes. The men tend to be violent and controlling. They are looking for partners who are submissive and loyal, with John Perry being only the most blatant example: “What John wanted from a woman was the house kept clean, meals on the table and unquestioning obedience. He wanted to be lord of his own home, and he had been unable to find a woman who would treat him with the deference he felt he deserved.” There’s a lot of that here. Meanwhile, many of the women are chasing status and lifestyle, or are threatened by the loss of the same when their husbands go wandering.
Nobody gets what they want, so they take their frustrations out in violent ways.
Sticking with the book’s theme, I found myself wondering to what extent these could truly be called crimes of passion. A lot of the killers here, male and female, had hyperactive sex drives, but they were indiscriminate as well as insatiable and they didn’t kill for kicks. Another point is that the killings were frequently just a way of getting rid of a spouse or lover who had become a drag. It’s rarely the case that each man kills the thing he loves. People are more likely to kill someone they’ve stopped caring about at all.
Noted in passing:
Several firsts are included in the line-up. The body parts discovered in the Buck Ruxton, or “Jigsaw Killer,” case had maggots growing in them, which allowed an entomologist to date when they’d been tossed away. Apparently those maggots “are now preserved in the insect archives of the Natural History Museum because this was the first time insects had been used in forensic investigation.” Then the pit bull killing Dolly Kaplan is said by one of the investigating detectives to be “the first case in the history of the world where somebody was charged with using an animal as a murder weapon and successfully prosecuted.”
The “first” I found most interesting though was more recent. This was the use of the iPhone health app to track Mitesh Patel’s suspicious movements within his house on the day he murdered his wife. This could be done on a granular level because motion processors not only monitored the number of steps he was taking but the difference in going up stairs. I know tracking locations by way of phones had been used before in cases, but I didn’t know it could be used this precisely (yet). Patel’s trial was in 2018 and apparently it was the first time such evidence had appeared in a UK case.
When considering so many case studies of relationships gone bad it’s natural to look for any warning signs – the proverbial red flags – that were missed. I think there are clear patterns that stand out.
Some of these are so obvious they seem barely worth drawing attention to. Men who seem overly controlling or who show any proclivity at all toward violence should be avoided at all costs. If you find out people regularly lie or cheat (to the point of even adopting various aliases) you should also take that as a danger sign.
Perhaps less obvious, especially in an age where serial monogamy is now an established norm, is that someone (man or woman) who has been married and divorced two or three times before they’re forty, and has kids from at least a couple of those marriages, is probably a bad bet. Anyone can be given a mulligan for having one committed relationship going down the tubes, but if there’s a pattern you should take it as fair warning and pay heed to Samuel Johnson’s adage about second marriages being the triumph of hope over experience.