50 American Serial Killers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of Volume 2

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Richard Biegenwald

Richard Biegenwald had a troubled start to life. The son of an abusive alcoholic, he suffered regular beatings as a child. In retaliation, he burned down the family home and was sent for psychiatric observation. He was just 5-years-old at the time.

By age eight, Richard was a habitual drinker and gambler; at 11, he received a series of electroshock-therapy treatments at New York's Bellevue Hospital. A year later, he lit himself on fire in an apparent suicide attempt. Sent to the State Training School for Boys at Warwick, New York, he was soon in trouble again, for theft and for inciting other inmates to escape.

With a background like that, it was always likely that Biegenwald would turn to a life of crime, and so it proved. Arrested at 16 for transporting a stolen car across state lines, he spent a few months in a juvenile correctional facility. It did little to discourage him. Shortly after his release, he and another youth stole a car and held up a liquor store. In the process, Biegenwald shot and killed the proprietor, Stephen Sladowski, a 47-year-old father of four.

Biegenwald and his partner were arrested in Maryland two days later, after Biegenwald fired a shotgun at state troopers who had pulled them over for speeding. Convicted of murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released on parole in 1975, having served just 17 years.

Back on the streets, Biegenwald worked a number of odd jobs, but he soon fell foul of the law, first for failing to report to his parole officer and then for a 1980 rape. The charge was eventually dropped, but he was returned to prison to serve six months for the parole violation.

Biegenwald had married in the interim and upon his release he and his wife moved to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he found work as a maintenance man. Also living in his new apartment block was ex-con, Dherran Fitzgerald. The two men struck up an acquaintanceship and began hanging out together.

On January 4, 1983, the body of 18-year-old Anna Olesiewicz was found behind a restaurant in Ocean Township, north of Asbury Park. She’d last been seen on the Asbury Park boardwalk on August 28, 1982. Anna had been shot four times in the head, but police were confused as to the motive. The corpse was fully clothed and there was no evidence of rape.

Upon hearing of the recovery of the body, a girlfriend of Biegenwald's wife placed a call to the police and accused Biegenwald of the crime. Biegenwald was arrested on January 22, along with his cohort, Dherran Fitzgerald. A search of his apartment turned up pipe bombs, pistols, a machine gun, knockout drops and marijuana, a live puff adder, and the floor plans of various local businesses.

In custody, Fitzgerald quickly rolled on his partner and told police about two corpses buried at the home of Biegenwald's mother, on Staten Island.

Following Fitzgerald’s directions, investigators dug up the remains of 17-year-old Maria Ciallella, last seen in October 1981, and Deborah Osborne, also 17, missing since April 1982. Ciallella had been shot twice in the head; Osborne had been stabbed in the chest and abdomen.

Fitzgerald later led officers to another grave, that of 17-year-old Betsy Bacon. She’d been shot twice in the head and buried to the north of Asbury Park. Another excavation yielded the body of William Ward, a drug dealer and prison escapee. Like the other victims, Ward had been killed by gunshot wounds to the head, five in his case. He was found buried outside of Neptune City, New Jersey. Biegenwald was also suspected, but never charged, in two other murders.

Biegenwald was indicted on five counts of first-degree murder, and with Dherran Fitzgerald testifying for the prosecution, the outcome was always a formality. He was found guilty and sentenced to die by lethal injection. The sentenced was later overturned by an Appellate Court and commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Richard Biegenwald died at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey on March 10, 2008. Cause of death was given as respiratory and kidney failure. He was 67 years old.

50 American Serial Killers You've Probably Never Heard Of Volume Two includes another 49 riveting stories of America's lesser known serial killers