Pregnant Samira Watkins Found Dead in Bayou Grande in Florida; Navy Sailor Zachary Littleton Convicted of 1st Degree Murder, Sentenced to Life in Prison (November 3, 2009)

Pensacola, Florida resident Samira Watkins’ body was discovered stuffed inside a duffel bag floating along the west bank of the Bayou Grande on November 3, 2009. Samira, 25, was 2-months’-pregnant and the mother of one child; she was reported missing by her family on October 29, 2009. After an investigation, Navy sailor Zachary Littleton, 26, was arrested for homicide at the Pensacola Naval Air Station on November 23, 2009 and held without bond. A search of Zachary Littleton’s computer showed that he planned Samira Watkins’ murder.

Prosecutors allege Littleton could no longer juggle his affairs with other women: Samira was pregnant with his child and would not have an abortion; his wife, who was also in the Navy, was about to move to Pensacola to live with him; and, if the Navy found out about Samira’s pregnancy, it could end his military career. Adultery is a crime in the military and punishable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In June 2011, Zachary Littleton was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Littleton’s attorney said the evidence in the case was circumstantial and maintained his innocence.

According to prosecutors, the crime happened like this:

  • After breaking it off with Samira Watkins, Zachary Littleton made several phone calls to Samira.
  • He lured her to his home under the guise of working things out and discussing the pregnancy.
  • When she arrived, he strangled her until she was unconscious.
  • He put tape on her mouth and then stuffed her inside of duffel bag.
  • After that, he drove to the Bayou Grande and dumped her body from the bridge.
  • He later dumped her car in another area, before calling a taxi to pick him up at the Waffle House.

Investigation Discovery:

ID Go: A young mom falls for a married military man after a chance meeting at his naval base. -The Girl with the Gold Earring, Forbidden: Dying for Love (S2,E8)

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Missing Pregnant Woman Washed Ashore in Pensacola, Florida
Pregnant Pensacola woman’s body found stuffed in duffel bag, aunt says
Samira Watkins murder arrest
Samira Watkins murder investigation arrest
Pensacola military officer charged in death of pregnant woman
Navy Officer Gets Bail In Case of Slain Pregnant Woman
Bond denied for Pensacola NAS MP as new details emerge in pregnant woman’s death
Sailor Accused of Murdering Samira Watkins to Appear in Florida Court Feb 16
Trial Begins: Man Allegedly Killed Girlfriend Refusing Abortion
Man gets life for killing pregnant mistress
Concerned Citizens of Pensacola Florida Facebook Post (October 15, 2013)
Samira Watkins: Navy Husband Dumps Pregnant Lover In Bayou On ‘Forbidden: Dying’
Samira Watkins: Navy Husband Dumps Pregnant Lover In Bayou On ‘Forbidden: Dying’ (2)
Zachary Littleton vs State of Florida (2017)
Zachary Littleton, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent (2017)
Devil in Uniform | Fatal Attraction (Investigation Discovery)
The Girl with the Gold Earring | Forbidden: Dying for Love | Investigation Discovery (S2,E8)
The Girl with the Gold Earring | Forbidden: Dying for Love | Investigation Discovery (website)
The Girl with the Gold Earring | Forbidden: Dying for Love | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)

Army Sgt. Christina Smith Murdered by Richard Smith & Matthew Kvapil; Both Fort Bragg Soldiers Sentenced to Life in Prison (September 30, 2008)

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Sgt. Christina Loehrke Smith, U.S. Army

Army Sgt. Christina Smith was stabbed to death on September 30, 2008 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Sgt. Smith was stationed at Fort Bragg with her husband Richard Smith, also a soldier. After an investigation, Fayetteville authorities learned that Richard Smith hired Army soldier Matthew Kvapil to kill Christina. Richard Smith set up the murder by asking Christina to take a walk with him. Matthew Kvapil was hiding in the bushes waiting for the pre-planned moment to attack her. Both soldiers were arrested and charged with the first degree murder. Civilian prosecutors sought the death penalty for both soldiers in this case. In 2012, Richard Smith and Matthew Kvapil plead guilty to Christina’s murder and were sentenced to life in prison instead. Christina Smith’s death was the fourth murder involving military personnel in North Carolina in 2008. Pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach disappeared from Camp Lejeune in 2007 and her remains were found in early 2008. She was murdered by fellow Camp Lejeune Marine Cesar Laurean. Fort Bragg Army Lt. Holley Wimunc was murdered by her Marine husband John Wimunc on July 19th. And pregnant Army soldier Megan Touma was murdered by her lover Edgar Patino, a married Fort Bragg soldier, on June 21st.

“In a way, it’s surprising that there aren’t more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation” –The Fayetteville Observer (October 16, 2008)

In the News:

Steve Loehrke received Ohio’s first Military Sacrifice License Plate at the special license plate’s unveiling ceremony, June 9, 2015, at Ohio Department of Public Safety Headquarters, Columbus, OH. Steve is the proud father of fallen soldier Sgt. Christina E. Loehrke Smith and U.S. Boarder Patrol Agent Steven Loehrke. (June 21, 2015)

Related Links:
Army releases name of Fayetteville stabbing victim
Christina E. Loehrke Smith, Sergeant, US Army
Autopsy: Soldier fought attacker
Vigil highlights military women’s deaths
Fayetteville vigil to remember recent military murders
Soldier: Sgt. wanted wife slain
Suspect: Husband requested wife’s death several times
Husband of Slain Soldier Arrested in her Death
Husband arrested in soldier’s death; police find knife
Husband Held In Female Soldier’s Stabbing
Husband, 2nd man held in female soldier’s stabbing
Third female soldier killed; husband charged
Soldier’s Husband Charged with her Murder
Husband charged in N.C. soldier’s slaying
Fort Bragg soldiers appear in court on murder charges
‘My Daughter’s Dream Became a Nightmare’: The Murder of Military Women Continues
Murder of Military Women
The Fort Bragg Murders
Death on the Home Front
Prosecutors seek death for soldier accused in wife’s stabbing death
DA seeks death penalty in slaying of Fort Bragg soldier
2 Plead Guilty in Soldier’s Contract Murder
Two Sentenced for Fayetteville Murder for Hire Death
Former Army Soldiers Plead Guilty To 2008 Murder
Former Bragg soldiers get life in contract killing
Sentencing brings closure to friends, Family
Hundreds participate in Hero’s Ride to support military
Bill changes eligibility for Military Sacrifice license plate
New Ohio license plates honor service members who die outside of combat
New plate honors military who have died outside combat zone
Steve Loehrke receives first Ohio Military Sacrifice License Plate
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death & Suicide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina
What the DoD Doesn’t Want You to Know: 50 Shocking Military Homicides in the Last 30 Years
30 Domestic Abuse Cases in the Military That Ended in the Murder of Female Partners

Eddie Makdessi Convicted of Two Counts of 1st Degree Murder in Virginia; Given Two Life Sentences for the Homicides of Navy Sailors Elise Makdessi & Quincy Brown (March 16, 2006)

Eddie Makdessi.jpg

Eddie Makdessi, U.S. Navy Spouse (photo courtesy of 48 Hours NCIS)

Navy Petty Officer Elise Makdessi worked as an Air Traffic Controller at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. Elise was married to Eddie Makdessi for five years and they lived off base in Virginia Beach. Elise unknowingly helped plan, organize, and carry out her own murder and it is unclear if she was a willing participant in the original plot with Eddie to scam the government out of money or if she was controlled by Eddie. Eddie Makdessi murdered Elise Makdessi and Navy Petty Officer Quincy Brown on May 14, 1996 as part of an elaborate scam. The whole thing was a set up. Elise thought she was part of an arrangement where she would invite Quincy Brown to the house, have sex with him, then accuse him of rape. She also manufactured evidence to make it look like she was documenting sexual abuse in an effort to sue the Navy and make millions. She had journals and created what looked like a rehearsed video outlining what four Navy men, including Quincy Brown, did to her on the job.

Five years earlier in 1991 the Navy Tailhook scandal in Nevada made national headlines. Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin was one of the alleged victims who went public with her story. Two years before Elise and Quincy were murdered, Paula Coughlin won 1.7 millionafter suing the Las Vegas Hilton hotel where the Tailhook Association convention was held. Eddie must have convinced Elise that they too could make millions if they alleged that Elise was sexually assaulted on the job. What they didn’t realize is that you can’t sue the Navy; Coughlin won a lawsuit against the Hilton hotel. The Feres Doctrine prevents any soldier or their family from suing the Department of Defense for compensatory damages. Investigators believe that knowledge of this information gave Eddie and Elise Makdessi the motive to come up with the false accusation scheme to sue the Navy. Eddie was a scammer and always looking for new ways to make quick money. Elise didn’t know she was double crossed until Eddie was plunging the knife. A month before the murders, Eddie purchased $700,000 worth of life insurance on Elise.

Eddie and Elise Makdessi invited Petty Officer Quincy Brown over to the house under the guise of having a threesome. DNA evidence revealed that Elise and Quincy Brown had sex. Investigators would learn that Eddie shot Quincy first, then stabbed Elise. He hurt himself to make it appear that Quincy invaded the house, knocked him out, raped and killed Elise, and then he awoke from unconsciousness and shot the intruder. Eddie staged the crime scene and he almost got away with it. But investigators figured out this was a ‘set up’ based on the crime scene evidence, interviews with Elise’s co-workers, the video tape, and the large insurance policy. They were also savvy enough to recognize that this was a copycat case. Elise’s sexual harassment and sexual assault claims were in fact fabricated. All the men she accused of sex crimes in the video passed a polygraph examination and her supervisors testified that Elise never reported sexual harassment or sexual assault like she claimed in her video testimony. Unfortunately Quincy Brown was the pawn they used in their game and he never got the chance to see that the allegations were proven false.

Eddie was indicted in 2001. But by the time investigators were ready to arrest Eddie Makdessi for the murder of Elise Makdessi and Quincy Brown, Eddie had fled the country. They eventually caught up with him in Russia. Unfortunately, Russia did not have an extradition treaty with the United States so police could not force Eddie to come back to the states. Mike Mather, an investigative reporter, went to Russia to interview Makdessi and learned that he was remarried with a child yet things weren’t going so well for Eddie financially in Russia. After that interview, Eddie decided to leave his wife and child in Russia and go back to America to face the charges. He was going to prove his innocence and clear his name. He was sure he would beat the charges. It would be ten years after he committed the first degree murders of Elise and Quincy Brown before he went to trial. On March 16, 2006, Eddie Makdessi was convicted of two counts of murder, sentenced to life in prison, and ordered to pay a $202,500 fine. The motive was the life insurance money. He used the $700,000 payout to travel the world before settling in Russia. Eddie continues to deny committing the crimes.

Elise Makdessi’s sister, Dawn Crosby, asked the jury to “show Eddie Makdessi that my sister’s life was worth more than $700,000.” –The Virginia-Pilot (March 17, 2006)

Victims:


Forensic Files:

Full Episode: Virginia Beach police arrive at the Makdessi apartment to find Elise Makdessi and her lover, Quincy Brown, dead. Elise’s husband Eddie had reported that he killed Quincy Brown in self-defense after Brown had murdered Elise. Eddie gave the police a videotape Elise had made a week before, alleging that she had been the victim of sexual harassment. -Double Cross, Forensic Files (S13,E5)

Investigation Discovery:

Paramedics respond to a horrific crime scene – a woman is found tied to a bed with slashes across her body. Next to her on the floor, a man with three gunshot wounds. Detectives spend the next several years unraveling this bizarre mystery. -Last Man Standing, Solved (S2,E10)

When a Naval Officer is apparently raped and stabbed by a coworker, a mysterious VHS tape suggests the victim may have been silenced to prevent a scandal. Dogged investigation and cutting edge forensic science reveals a shocking murder plot. -Deadly Accusations, Unusual Suspects (S7,E4)

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Tailhook Plaintiff Wins Suit (1994)
DSS Returns Double Homicide Suspect to U.S.
Man accused of killing wife, her lover a decade ago finally to go on trial
Forensic Expert Uses Blood to Re-Create 1996 Slayings
Jury recommends life sentence for Makdessi
The word of a jailhouse snitch: Can it be trusted?
Officer, paramedic recall Elise Makdessi’s death
You’ll never believe what a convicted killer is requesting from a judge
State of Virginia: Adib Eddie Makdessi v. Harold Clarke (2016)
Eddie Makdessi Wiki: Sex, Lies, Videotape, Murder, and Conviction
Updates on James Kidwell and Eddie Makdessi | Forensic Files Now
Female sailor’s false rape allegation, plot fails | A Voice for Men
Navy Petty Officer Elise Makdessi Double Crossed & Murdered by Husband; Eddie Makdessi Found Guilty of Murder for the Life Insurance, Sentenced to Life in Prison (May 14, 1996)
Navy Petty Officer Quincy Brown Murdered by Military Spouse Motivated to Kill by Wife’s $700,000 Life Insurance Policy (May 14, 1996)
Press Release: Department of State Returns Double Homicide Suspect Adib “Eddie” Ramez Makdessi to U.S. (July 22, 2003)
Solved Premiered ‘Last Man Standing’ on ID: Navy Sailors Elise Makdessi & Quincy Brown Found Murdered in Makdessi’s Virginia Home (October 26, 2009)
Unusual Suspects Premiered ‘Deadly Accusations’ on ID: Navy Sailors Elise Makdessi & Quincy Brown Found Murdered in Makdessi’s Virginia Home (January 25, 2015)
48 Hours NCIS Premiered ‘The Double Cross’: Navy Sailors Elise Makdessi & Quincy Brown Found Murdered in Makdessi’s Virginia Home (April 25, 2017)
Forensic Files Sex Crimes Double Cross 1
Forensic Files Sex Crimes Double Cross 2
Deadly Accusations | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (Amazon Video)
Deadly Accusations | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (S7,E4)
Last Man Standing | Solved | Investigation Discovery (S2,E10)
Last Man Standing | Solved | Investigation Discovery (website)
Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance is a Common Motive for Murder

Military Spouse Kimberly O’Neal Found Murdered at Camp Pendleton Park; Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Archie O’Neil Jr. Sentenced to Life, No Parole (February 29, 2004)

USMC

Date: February 29, 2004
Victim: Kimberly O’Neal, U.S. Marine Corps Spouse
Offender: Archie O’Neil, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps
Location: Deer Park, Camp Pendleton, California
Circumstances: Archie O’Neil and Kimberly O’Neal engaged in a forbidden affair for a couple of years, before Archie was suppose to deploy to Iraq, they had one more tryst, Kimberly got angry when she learned Archie wasn’t going to leave his wife, Archie shot Kimberly O’Neal multiple times, during the investigation, Archie’s wife claimed Kimberly tried to run her down with her car but didn’t report it because no proof, Archie said he had severe headaches and shot Kimberly because she threatened to kill his family (most likely not true), Archie confessed to Kimberly’s murder but showed no remorse, charged with 1st degree premeditated murder, used PTSD defense to mitigate his crimes, defense claimed Archie had an abnormal startle response
Disposition: O’Neil sentenced to life in prison, no parole

Investigation Discovery:

ID Go: A decorated marine faces war at home when he falls for a married woman. Suspicion and jealousy plague their affair as they battle to keep their secret from their spouses but with the stakes so high it’s a truth they’ll stop at nothing to hide. -Love is War, Forbidden: Dying for Love (S4,E8)

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Marine held in Kuwait for Calif. shooting
Marine Charged With Shooting Death on Base
Marine faces murder charges in Pendleton slaying
Trial continues for Marine accused of murder
Trial continues for Marine accused of murder 2
Defense: Stress triggered shooting
Verdict: Guilty, sentence stalled
Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles 2008
Major NYT piece on homicides by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
Gunnery sergeant gets life without parole
The War Within | Los Angeles Magazine
Love is War | Forbidden: Dying for Love | Investigation Discovery (S4,E8)
Love is War | Forbidden: Dying for Love | Investigation Discovery (website)
Love is War | Forbidden: Dying for Love | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
Violent Crime, Non Combat Death, and Suicide at Camp Pendleton, California (US Marine Corps)

Keana Barnes Shot & Killed Air Force Sgt. Perry ‘P.J.’ Jennings in Louisiana; Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for 2 Homicides (2003)

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Keana Barnes murdered Air Force Sgt. Perry ‘P.J.’ Jennings on March 27, 2003 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Keana had been staying with her friend PJ temporarily while she got back on her feet. After PJ’s parents couldn’t get in touch with him for a couple days, they went to his apartment to see if they could find him. The building manager let them in the house and they found PJ with a single gunshot wound to the head, a pillow had been used as a silencer for the gun. It appeared that he had been killed in his sleep and did not suffer. He family reports that he actually looked peaceful.

Family had learned that Keana Barnes was also accused of murdering Jimmy Shepherd a year earlier. But Keana told PJ and others that she killed Jimmy in self defense because he tried to rape her. Actually, Keana brutally stabbed Jimmy 27 times in her rage attack. Keana Barnes was jailed for the offense but let out of the prison because the District Attorney didn’t file charges within 60 days. As soon as they realized their mistake, they put out a warrant for Keana who at this point couldn’t be found because she was bouncing from place to place including PJs.

After Keana Barnes murdered PJ Jennings, she fled the scene with his wallet, cash, and credit cards. She used the credit cards and it became obvious to police that she was heading for the Mexico border. Keana successfully entered Mexico but at this time the US Marshals were looking for her and were able to track her down based on her credit card usage. She was arrested and extradited back to New Orleans, Louisiana where she would face a first degree murder charge for PJ and a second degree murder charge for Jimmy Shepherd.

After Keana’s affluent family found out she was charged with two homicides, they backed her and paid for the best attorney money could buy. The attorney recommended a plea deal that was initially secret until the judge and the families of PJ Jennings and Jimmy Shepherd found out. Keana’s attorney wanted to reduce the charges to manslaughter and give her a sentence of 7 to 25 years in prison, eligible for parole in three years. The judge refused to accept the terms of the plea agreement and changed the sentence on the spot to 25 years in prison, no parole.

In a stunning twist, less than half way through her sentence, Keana Barnes successfully escaped from the St. Gabriel’s Prison in New Orleans, Louisiana. She headed out west to California and about three months after the successful escape, she was stopped by some L.A. police officers who asked for her identification. Keana didn’t have any identification so she was placed in the back of the police cruiser where she admitted to who she was. She was again extradited back to New Orleans, Louisiana to face additional time for the prison escape. Keana will be released in 2027 and she will be 44 years old when she is released.

Related Links:
Woman serving time for manslaughter escapes prison
Investigator: Escaped killer Barnes is street-smart, cold-blooded
Escaped Louisiana Woman on the Run After Jail Break
Louisiana fugitive Keana Barnes added to U.S. Marshals’ Most Wanted list
Police still hunting a two-time murderer who bounded a barbed wire fence to escape a Louisiana prison on New Year’s Day
New information about escaped female inmate
Murder victim’s father afraid for family, public after woman escapes St. Gabriel prison
Murder Victim’s Family Concerned After Keana Barnes Escapes Prison
Murderer Keana Barnes Escapes Prison Murder Victims family worried after Woman Escapes Prison
St. Gabriel escapee caught in California
Louisiana fugitive Keana Barnes found in Los Angeles
Killer who escaped women’s prison nabbed on Los Angeles’ Skid Row
Keana Barnes returns to prison after capture
Prison escapee Keana Barnes back behind bars in Louisiana
Keana Barnes on Snapped | Oxygen
Snapped: Preview – Keanna Barnes (Season 22, Episode 3) | Oxygen
Snapped: After the Verdict – Keana Barnes (Season 22, Episode 3) | Oxygen
Snapped: Bonus Clip – A Cookout with Keana Barnes (Season 22, Episode 3) | Oxygen
Snapped: Bonus Clip – Keana’s Temper Tantrums (Season 22, Episode 3) | Oxygen


Two deceased men both helped out a damsel in distress. Did playing the good samaritan cost them their lives, and should authorities be worried that she could put someone else at risk? -Snapped on Oxygen

Air Force Veteran Penny Brummer Found Guilty of the 1st Degree Murder of Sarah Gonstead; Sentenced to Life in Prison with Possibility of Parole After 50 Years (October 1, 1994)

Air Force veteran Penny Brummer was convicted on October 1, 1994 of murdering her ex-girlfriend’s best friend 21-year-old Sarah Gonstead in Madison, Wisconsin. On March 14, 1994, after a night of heavy drinking with Penny, Sarah was shot in the back of the head execution style and found three weeks later in a secluded field. Detectives theorized that Sarah most likely trusted her killer. On this episode of Investigation Discovery’s Reasonable Doubt, Penny’s mother, Nancy Brummer, turned to Detective Chris Anderson and criminal defense attorney Melissa Lewkowicz to help her prove Penny’s innocence. Nancy believes the prosecution had no concrete evidence except for circumstantial evidence and she also believes the the jury was biased and led to believe that lesbians are inherently violent. Detective Anderson and Melissa Lewkowicz worked with Nancy Brummer by taking a second look at Penny Brummer’s case featured in the ninth episode of Reasonable Doubt aptly titled ‘Failure to Remember’. It’s their job to investigate the cases that family members swear are wrongful homicide convictions and in the end the duo share their assessment of guilt or innocence based on meticulous investigative work.

Nancy Brummer has been fighting to free her daughter for twenty-two years. She told Detective Anderson and Melissa that they were her last hope. The two learned that Sarah Gonstead left her mother’s house to go out for a night of drinking to celebrate her 21st birthday with her friend Penny but Sarah never came home. Twenty-five days later, Sarah was found in a secluded field in Madison. Sarah had been shot execution style in the back of the head and Penny was the last known person to see her alive. Eight days later, Penny was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Penny claims she pulled over to clean up some beer that spilled in her vehicle and Sarah exited the vehicle to walk half a block to her best friend Glenda’s house. But prosecutors painted a darker picture. They theorized the two got drunk and Penny drove Sarah out to a empty soy field and murdered her. Prosecutors believed the motive was jealousy because Glenda had just broken up with Penny and Penny blamed Sarah for the break-up. They claimed Penny wanted revenge and the jury bought it. Penny Brummer is currently serving life in prison and her first opportunity for parole is in 2045.

Detective Anderson and Melissa met with the Nancy Brummer first to hear her plea for justice. Nancy stated that she wanted to find the person who committed the crime and free Penny so she can come home. Nancy confirmed that Glenda and Penny were dating and broke up about a month prior to Sarah’s disappearance. Sarah was Glenda’s best friend and the three of them would hang out and party together. Penny was in her early twenties at the time of the homicide so her behavior was typical of most young people at that stage in their life. Nancy Brummer described Penny as very social and happy-go-lucky. She said Penny was really into sports and she was on the softball team and volleyball team in high school. Nancy opined Penny was a typical teenager and started drinking around the age of seventeen. After high school, Penny joined the Air Force and shared with her mom that it was hard being in the military because of the secrecy she had to maintain regarding her sexual orientation. Nancy Brummer believes that the jury was biased and led to believe that a lesbian is more prone to violence. She referenced a questionnaire that Melissa agreed was inflammatory and would need a second look.

The prosecution painted a picture that Penny was jealous of the friendship between Glenda and Sarah. The two were strictly friends and Sarah was straight. Nancy observed that Penny was sad and disappointed about the break-up but not what one would consider obsessive. She reminded Detective Anderson and Melissa that the prosecution had nothing: no physical evidence, no DNA, no blood evidence, nothing that tied Penny to the murder. The prosecution said the gun that was used in the commission of the crime was a 22 handgun that belonged to Penny’s father. Nancy admits that her husband’s gun did go missing and was never recovered. When Sarah’s body was found, Nancy said a witness came forward to the police and said that he had driven by the scene of the crime a day or two after the murder and saw a suspicious vehicle along the side of the road. He saw a man standing behind the vehicle with what looked like a pink and purple duffle bag and as it turns out, Sarah’s jacket was the same pink and purple color. Nancy said this evidence was ignored. Nancy informed both Detective Anderson and Melissa that even if they don’t find Penny innocent, she will keep fighting for her release.

Detective Anderson and Melissa began their investigation. Detective Anderson started with the man who was the eyewitness. This man told Detective Anderson that he did in fact see a vehicle by the side of the road near the location of where Sarah’s body was found in the field. He claims he made eye contact with the man in question but that was about the extent of it. He said after the man made eye contact with him, he put his head down. The eyewitness was concerned that this man was trying to move the body, after all it was only a couple days after she had gone missing. He said the police informed him that they already had a suspect in the case and he felt that his testimony was largely discounted and ignored. Melissa investigated the prosecutors jealousy motive. One of Penny’s close friends described her as a great friend and a someone she went bar-hopping with. Penny’s friend believes that she was a binge drinker and most likely an alcoholic because she would drink until she blacked out. Penny’s friends said she hoped she would get back together with Glenda but certainly didn’t act like a jealous ex-girlfriend. Penny’s friend Mary believes she is innocent.

Detective Anderson met with a forensic expert to go over the physical evidence or lack there of. The two examined the crime scene photos and other evidence available. The forensic expert didn’t see any signs of struggle and it appeared Sarah’s body fell forward after she was shot in the head. There was no sexual assault and no beating. It was an execution style killing and Sarah most likely knew and trusted the person who shot her. Sarah was walking in front of the perpetrator when she was shot in the back of her head. Detective Anderson visited the last known location of both Penny and Sarah, a local bar in Madison. A witness said Sarah and Penny were celebrating Sarah’s birthday because she had just turned twenty-one. The two had been drinking prior to their arrival at the bar but the witness didn’t think either appeared to be drunk. She said they showed up at the bar around 10:30 p.m. and left a couple hours later; they had a couple drinks while they were there. The witness observed they were both in great spirits and having fun and they were both able to carry on a conversation. On the night in question, Sarah was kind of quiet while Penny appeared to be enjoying herself with others at the bar. Neither of them were agitated or upset; they both appeared to be in a really good mood.

Detective Anderson interviewed Penny via the telephone. Penny said she dated Glenda for 8 or 9 months and admits she fell in love with her. She also claimed to have a nice friendship with Sarah. She shared that Sarah never did anything bad to her and never meddled in her relationship with Glenda. Penny said Glenda just decided one day to end things and told her she was going back on birth control. Penny assumed Glenda wanted to go back to guys. After the break-up, Penny was heartbroken. She admitted she got physical with Glenda one time; they pushed each other during an argument. On March 14, 1994, Penny said she got out of work around 7:30 p.m., got some beer, and went to Sarah’s house. Penny said they stopped at a couple bars and drank more beer. Penny said she doesn’t remember being at Jakes (the bar where the eyewitness last saw both Penny and Sarah at around midnight). Penny admitted she was an alcoholic then and was very intoxicated. Penny and Sarah were on their way to pick up Glenda when Penny spilled some beer in her car and stopped to clean it up. Penny said Sarah wasn’t feeling well so she started walking to Glenda’s house which was about a half a block away. Penny told Detective Anderson she doesn’t know why she didn’t take Sarah to Glenda’s house but she went home after cleaning her car. Penny reminded Detective Anderson that she isn’t the type to kill anyone, she didn’t have a weapon, and she had absolutely no reason to hurt Sarah.

In the meantime, Melissa looked at the questionnaire that was given to the jury asking them about their thoughts about lesbians and violence. Melissa said, as a criminal defense attorney, she would insist that the jury not be subjected to or see the questionnaire because it is inflammatory. Melissa also spoke with Glenda who was the glue that held the case together. Glenda claimed she dated Penny for about a year but wasn’t necessarily in love with her. Glenda claimed Penny drank a lot but could still function; she just wouldn’t remember it. Glenda described Sarah as a shy, soft-hearted, and loyal friend. Glenda believed that Penny was jealous of her friendship with Sarah. Glenda admitted that Penny did in deed find her birth control pills and assumed that she was breaking up with her so she could date men again. Glenda admitted she broke up with Penny because she was way too controlling. Glenda also claimed Penny was pissed that she broke up with her. When Glenda ended it, Penny shoved her and she shoved her back and kicked her out of her house. Glenda said the look in her eyes scared the crap out of her and she began to cry. Glenda believes they have the right person and is still grieving the loss of her friend.

Detective Anderson and Melissa met with Nancy Brummer to share the results of their investigation. Nancy claimed the jury was bias because of Penny’s sexual orientation and Melissa believes she was absolutely right. Melissa said the questions asked of the jury were highly prejudicial. Penny’s close friend felt that the motive of jealousy was crap but Glenda was 100% convinced Penny was the killer. Glenda claimed the motive in this case was vengeance. Glenda declared that if Penny gets out of jail, she is moving to another state because she is scared of her; if Penny did this once, who is to say she won’t do this again? Nancy doesn’t believe Glenda and said she is a good actress. Detective Anderson told Nancy he followed up with the eye witness at the scene of the crime and said this was a problem because each and every lead needs to be taken seriously. He also shared that only one of the detectives was alive and he refused to meet with him. Melissa confirmed that there is no physical evidence tying Penny to the crime. Detective Anderson addressed the gun they believed was used in the commission of the crime and Nancy confirmed the 22 they owned had indeed gone missing. Detective Anderson addressed the autopsy photos and shared that the forensic expert did not observe any signs of struggle. It was a cold night and if someone ran towards Sarah, she definitely would have heard it. Detective Anderson deduced Sarah was shot by someone she knew or was led into the field at gunpoint.

“Circumstantial cases are a series of little things that add up until they point in one direction.” -Detective Chris Anderson, Reasonable Doubt

Nancy Brummer said there was no way her daughter would have shot Sarah in the back of the head. But Detective Anderson had some serious issues with the fact that the only person who claims Penny was in a black out that night is Penny. He spoke with a bartender who claimed that Penny appeared to be functional. Jake’s bar is significant because it is less than two miles from where Sarah’s body was found. Detective Anderson noted that Penny said she couldn’t remember being at Jake’s that night but she remembered very specific things earlier and later that night. Detective Anderson felt it was suspicious that Penny remembered everything really well that night except being at this bar. Is this a form of convenient amnesia? Melissa empathized with why Nancy felt a sense of injustice all these years. The biased questionnaire, the ignored witnesses, and the overall investigation had major problems; the evidence was highly circumstantial. Penny was the last known person to see Sarah alive that night; Penny was last seen at a bar with Sarah which is located less than two miles from where Sarah’s body was found; Penny said she can’t remember being there but does remember a lot of details earlier and after Sarah went missing; Sarah was killed with a 22 and Penny’s father owned a 22 that was now missing; Penny was a military vet who was trained to shoot guns; and Sarah wasn’t trying to run away, she didn’t struggle, and she most likely knew and trusted her killer.

Why would Penny do this? Melissa shared that she read through the police reports and noted that Penny admitted she was heartbroken when things ended with Glenda. Penny also admitted that after the break-up she wondered who Glenda was with, where she was, and what she was doing. Penny also said Glenda was in her head 24 hours a day (obsessed) and that she resented Sarah because she assumed Sarah was trying to drag her back into the straight world. On the night of March 14, 1994, Penny did what she always did. Melissa explained Penny got really drunk, the break-up was fresh, her feelings were raw, and she spent the entire night with the person she believed came between her and the woman she loved. Melissa asked, “did Penny plan to walk Sarah into the woods or was it just a horrific idea fueled by fifteen drinks? Did she remember shooting Sarah, does she remember her falling to the ground, or does she not remember anything at all?” Ironically, Penny admits that prison saved her life. Penny believes she would not have made it to thirty had it not been for prison. Penny said she turned her life around behind bars. Based on the leads Nancy provided and an independent investigation, Detective Anderson and Melissa revealed there was nothing new in the investigation that would bring Penny home. They both suggested Nancy ask her daughter the tough questions and then she will know, even 22 years later.

“The problem is that the things Penny remembers are the things that will help her and the things that she can’t remember are the things that would potentially hurt her.” -Melissa Lewkowicz, Reasonable Doubt

Source: Failure to Remember, Reasonable Doubt, Investigation Discovery

Investigation Discovery:

Penny Brummer, a military vet, is accused of murdering her ex-girlfriend’s best friend in a jealous rage. However, Penny was so drunk that night she was in a blackout state. Can Chris and Melissa help fill in the gaps of her memory to prove her innocence? -Failure to Remember, Reasonable Doubt (S1,E9)

In The News:

Twenty-one years ago a jury found Penny Brummer guilty in the murder of Sarah Gonstead. The family of Brummer has spent those 21 years working to prove her innocence. Dave Delozier reports. -Channel 3000 / News 3 Now (December 14, 2015)

Related Links:
Who Killed Sarah?
Seeking justice for Penny Brummer
New Trial for Penny Brummer, Wrongfully Convicted | Petition
Penny Brummer Defense & Support Fund by Truth in Justice

1994
Sarah Gonstead Murder

1995
Reasonable Doubt by Ingrid Ricks | The Advocate

1997
State of Wisconsin v. Penny L Brummer

2003
A short history of exposing misconduct

2005
Chapter 1: A tale of three young women
Chapter 2: A hole in her story
Chapter 3: A surprise witness appears
Chapter 4: Defense sows seeds of doubt
Chapter 5: Emotional debate ends in guilty verdict
Chapter 6: Supporters of Brummer offer their theories; they say the evidence was too thin and question makeup of jury
Gift enables investigative journalism class to probe old murder case

2012
Dane Co. DA Approves DNA Testing in 1994 Killing
Wisconsin DA approves DNA testing in 1994 killing
Will DNA Save Penny Brummer?
Spring Green woman could be cleared

2013
Innocence project founder promotes cause of Madison woman convicted of murder
Did Homophobia Convict a Wisconsin Woman of Murder?

2014
A Look Back After 20 Years
A look back at a 20-year-old murder and if the right person was convicted

2015
Who killed Sarah? The trial of Penny Brummer
Group questioning conviction of Penny Brummer in 1994 death of Sarah Gonstead
Reward offered in 21-year-old homicide conviction
$10,000 Reward Offered in Wrongful Conviction Case
Person of Interest Hits Wrongfully Convicted for Serving in U.S. Military
On Wrongful Convictions and Penny Brummer

2016
Penny Brummer’s fight for justice
The Lynching of a Madison Lesbian: Wisconsin’s Wrongful Conviction of Penny Brummer
Wrongful Conviction: Penny Brummer Is Innocent and Still in Prison
Richmond Crime Author Sheila Berry Takes on Wrongful Convictions Nationwide

2017
Penny Brummer convicted of murdering Sarah Gonstead, but is there Reasonable Doubt?

Books:
Who Killed Sarah? by Sheila & Doug Berry (2005) | Amazon
Who Killed Sarah? by Sheila & Doug Berry (2005) | Walmart

Video Links:
Reward offered in 21-year-old homicide conviction
Reasonable Doubt | Investigation Discovery | Amazon
Failure to Remember | Reasonable Doubt – Investigation Discovery
Failure to Remember | Reasonable Doubt | Investigation Discovery (S1, E9)

MJFA Links:
Sarah Gonstead Shot Execution Style on 21st Birthday; Friend & Air Force Veteran Penny Brummer Found Guilty of 1st Degree Murder, Sentenced to Life in Prison (March 14, 1994)
Reasonable Doubt Premiered ‘Failure to Remember’ on Investigation Discovery: Penny Brummer Maintains Innocence in the 1994 Homicide of Sarah Gonstead (June 21, 2017)