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18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;
Raising Hell: Two warped brothers on a mission to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. Woe betide anyone who gets in their way.
The Murder of Sweet Fanny Adams: An innocent little girl is lured to a field by a prowling paedophile. What happens next is shocking beyond belief.
Mr. Meticulous: Meet Israel Keyes, the man the FBI considers to be the most meticulous serial killer in history.
Till Death Do Us Part: A beautiful young woman is murdered on her honeymoon. But did her husband really order her death? And if so, why?
The Fifth Commandment: Father Hans Schmidt was selective about which commandments he chose to obey. Thou shalt not kill did not make the cut.
Unlucky in Love: Mary Wilson’s husbands had an unfortunate habit of dropping dead soon after the nuptials. But was the elderly widow really a mass murderer?
The Phantom of the Opera: A beautiful violinist goes missing during a performance and ends up dead in a ventilation shaft, leaving the NYPD with a conundrum to solve.
40 Days in Hell: A teenaged girl is kidnapped by a gang of miscreants in this barely believable tale of torture and horrific death from Japan.
Plus 10 more shocking, bizarre and horrific true murder cases.
The Mokelumne River is a scenic waterway that wends its way through the deep granite canyons and dense pine forests of Northern California, emptying eventually into the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. It is a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts and sightseers alike, especially during the hot summer months, when kayakers, jet skiers, and birdwatchers abound.
Saturday, August 5, 2000, was just about the perfect day to be down by the water. Around mid-morning a man was powering his jet ski along the river when he spotted a black duffle bag washed up on the bank. Curious, he guided his vehicle over and retrieved the bag. Whatever was inside was quite heavy, but he managed to haul the bag up onto his jet ski and slide back the zipper. The gush of foul air that escaped the bag caused the man to pull back slightly. Recovering his composure, he peered inside. Instantly, he recoiled, causing the bag to drop back into the water. Leaving it there, he powered up his jet ski and raced towards a nearby jetty to summon help. The bag had contained a lump of pale flesh, a severed human torso.
And that was just the first of the day’s macabre discoveries. A few hours later, a marina employee found another duffel bag bobbing in the water under a dock a half-mile away. This one contained a head. A third bag was later discovered washed up on an island in the river. By then, police forensic units were racing towards the scene. They would eventually pull nine bags from the water, containing the intermingled body parts of three people, later identified as Ivan and Annette Stineman, 85 and 78 years old respectively, and Selina Bishop, the 22-year-old daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. All three (as well as Bishop’s mother Jennifer Villarin and her companion James Gamble) had been murdered by brothers Glenn and Justin Helzer. The motive? The brothers wanted to speed Christ’s return to earth, in order to spread “joy, peace and love.”
Glenn and Justin Helzer were born into a devout Mormon family and raised in Martinez, California, a small town about a 50-mile drive from downtown San Francisco. The boys had, by all accounts, a happy childhood and were active in school sports and in their church. After graduating high school, each of them fulfilled the Mormon requirement of two years mission work. Glenn (known to family and friends by his middle name Taylor) went to Brazil. Justin accepted a posting to Texas. Thereafter they returned to California, where Justin found work as a cable installer and Taylor became a stockbroker at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.
The Helzer boys appeared to be living the American dream, especially Taylor, who married in 1993 and fathered two daughters. But behind the façade of suburban normality, a storm was brewing. Taylor was soon seduced by the trappings and fringe benefits of his stockbroking career. He began staying out late, drinking and drugging and having sex with other women. Within three years his wife had filed for divorce and the Mormon Church had excommunicated him.
Despite his decidedly un-Christian behavior, the excommunication hurt Taylor more than he liked to admit. He reacted angrily, criticizing the church at any opportunity. He also began formulating his own belief system, based on the philosophy that good and evil do not exist. According to Taylor, these concepts had been invented by religious leaders as a means of controlling the masses. He began to believe that he was a prophet, tasked by God to lay the groundwork for Christ’s return to earth.
Justin Helzer had always been in awe of his older brother and was an easy convert to his bizarre beliefs. And there was soon a third member of the fellowship, Justin’s girlfriend, Dawn Godman. A high school dropout, Dawn was married at 18 and divorced at 21. She had birthed two sons, one of whom had died in infancy. The other was placed in the custody of his father after the divorce (a wise move by the court, since Dawn had a history of suicide attempts).
Dawn Godman and Justin Helzer were, however, the passive members of this ill-matched alliance. The driving force was Taylor, and he was leading the group in ever-more extreme directions. He now believed that God was talking to him directly, instructing him to assassinate the leaders of the Mormon Church and place himself at the head of that organization. In order to achieve this, Taylor planned to recruit and train Brazilian orphans to be his “soldiers.” But such a move would take money, he told his followers, money they didn’t have.
Taylor’s first fundraising scheme involved recruiting young women to work as prostitutes and drug dealers. He even began handing out fliers at raves and nightclubs, in an attempt to recruit call girls. When this met with limited success, he started plotting to bring in underage girls from Brazil and offer them to wealthy businessmen. He and his followers would then raise money by blackmailing the men. This scheme too, came to nothing.
Finally, Taylor settled on a more practical plan, extorting money from his former clients. As a stockbroker, he had managed the financial affairs of a number of wealthy clients and he still had a database of their details. What he was looking for was an elderly person with whom he had developed a solid relationship. Someone who trusted him enough to allow him into his home; someone who could be easily overpowered and intimidated. He settled eventually on 85-year-old Ivan Stineman.
But before making his move, there was one key detail that needed to be ironed out. Taylor was savvy enough to know that he might become a suspect if Stineman suddenly disappeared. If the cops then checked his bank accounts and found an influx of unexplained cash, he’d be in deep trouble. What he needed was a third party to channel the money through - enter Selina Bishop.
Selina was the perfect mark. The pretty 22-year-old had met Taylor at a rave in the spring of 2000 and had been instantly smitten. Little did she know that her new boyfriend had been lying to her from day one. He told her his name was Jordan and set about separating her from her friends and family. He encouraged her to move out of her mother’s home and into a studio apartment. He refused to be introduced to anyone she knew. Selina’s mother, Jennifer Villarin, became so curious about her daughter’s new beau that she made an excuse to arrive at Selina’s apartment while Taylor was there so that she could be introduced to him. That would prove to be a fatal mistake.
With Selina now firmly under his thumb, Taylor began to sow the seeds for the next part of his plan. He told her that he was due to inherit a substantial sum of money from his grandmother and that he needed to hide it from his ex-wife. Would she be prepared to open four bank accounts in her name as a place for him to “park” the funds? Selina, of course, agreed, and in doing so sealed her fate. In the days that followed, Taylor made several purchases, including the reciprocating saw he'd use to cut up his girlfriend's body and the duffel bags that would hold her remains.
On July 30, Taylor and Justin Helzer, along with Dawn Godman, drove to the home of Ivan and Annette Stineman. Taylor had been the Stinemans’ stockbroker and they liked and trusted him, so when he knocked on their door on that fateful day, they readily invited him in. Taylor and Justin, wearing suits and carrying briefcases, entered. Once inside, however, things quickly turned nasty. The elderly couple was overpowered and handcuffed. Annette was then forced to call the manager at the local branch of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. She told him that she wanted to liquidate her investments and although the request was unusual, he agreed to carry it out. The manager would later recall that Annette Stineman had sounded “nervous.”
Once Annette hung up the phone, she and her husband were forced to write two checks – one for $33,000, the other for $67,000 – both in favor of Selina Bishop. They were then given several Rohypnol pills, a sedative that has gained infamy as a “date rape” drug.
Taylor had expected that the Stinemans would die from the overdose of Rohypnol, but they didn't. They merely slipped into a deep sleep. The brothers then decided to move things along. They dragged the elderly couple to the bathroom, where Justin bashed Ivan Stineman's head against the tile floor and Taylor slit Annette's throat with a hunting knife. Then they left, returning the following day to hack the bodies apart with a power saw. When this macabre task was done, Taylor stood over the dismembered corpses and thanked the Stinemans for “being willing to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause.”
The following day, Dawn Godman rolled into a Walnut Creek bank in a wheelchair and deposited the two checks into Selina Bishop's account. It was now imperative to the plan that Selina be eliminated.
On August 2, 2000, two days after killing the Stinemans, Taylor arranged to meet Selina at the Bison Brewing Company, a trendy bar in Berkeley about midway between their homes. A bartender at the bar would later recall that the couple sat in a booth holding hands and leaning in to each other as they spoke. Selina had appeared in a particularly good mood, he said. After a couple of beers, the couple left the bar, walking hand in hand. Later that evening, a neighbor saw them entering Taylor’s home. There Selina Bishop was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. The next time anyone saw her was when her dismembered body parts were found floating in the Mokelumne River.
Taylor Helzer’s killing spree was far from over, though. Selina’s mother, Jennifer Villarin, had made the tragic mistake of insisting on being introduced to him. That insistence would cost her life, as well as that of her boyfriend James Gamble who happened to be visiting when the Helzers came calling. Both were shot at point-blank range with a Beretta 9-mm pistol. The bodies were left where they fell.
But the Helzers still had three bodies to dispose of. Their initial plan had been to feed the remains to a couple of dogs they'd adopted from a pound for that purpose, but the dogs refused to touch the human flesh. Instead, the Helzers stuffed the body parts into gym bags and weighed them down with rocks. Those bags were deposited in the Mokelumne, where they would surface just days later.
By the time of that discovery, the Marin County Sheriff's Department had already received a spate of missing person calls. First the Stinemans’ daughter reported her parents missing after her persistent phone calls to their home went unanswered. A few hours later, Selina Bishop’s boss reported her missing when she failed to show up for work.
The net, meanwhile, was rapidly closing on the Helzers who despite all their careful pre-planning had made a number of glaring mistakes. In the early morning hours of August 4, their truck had been captured on surveillance footage crossing a bridge over the San Joaquin River. The truck was towing a trailer with Jet-skis and several duffel bags could be clearly seen in the bed. Then, on Sunday, August 6, the Stinemans’ Chevrolet Lumina minivan was found in an industrial neighborhood in Oakland. A chainsaw and a sawhorse were inside, and police were able to lift two clear sets of fingerprints. One belonged to Justin Helzer, the other to Dawn Godman. Later that day, the Helzer brothers contracted a carpet cleaning company to remove a suspicious looking stain in the living room.
By early morning, the police had a match on the fingerprints and arrived at the Helzer’s home with a search warrant. They were hoping to find a murder weapon. Instead, they found enough drugs to arrest the Helzers and Godwin on possession charges.
Taylor, however, was not about to be captured that easily. He bolted for the back door and managed to cover several blocks before he was eventually run to ground. Even then, he put up a fight before being restrained. At the Helzer home, meanwhile, investigators had found a set of handcuffs and other evidence linking the trio to the Stinemans disappearance. The following day the duffel bags surfaced in the Mokelumne River and the case became one of homicide.
Eighteen felony counts, including murder, extortion, and kidnapping were levied against the defendants. Faced with the very real prospect of the death penalty, Dawn Godman struck a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to five counts of murder and testifying against the Helzer brothers, she'd receive a sentence of 38 years to life in prison.
With the prosecution prepared for a protracted courtroom battle, Taylor Helzer surprised everyone by pleading guilty to all charges in March 2004. Three months later, Justin Helzer was convicted on eleven counts, including murder, extortion, and kidnapping, despite entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
On August 4, 2004, four years to the day that the last victims were killed, Justin Helzer was sentenced to death for three of the murders he’d committed. On December 15, 2004, another jury handed down five death sentences for Taylor Helzer.
Justin Helzer committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell on April 14, 2013. Taylor Helzer remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison in California.
Murder Most Vile Volume Nine features another 17 shocking true crime stories.