Monday, September 2, 2019

List Series: Accomplice Confessions

As explained in the 'Dangerous Duos' post, there are many criminals who do not act alone. There are numerous cases in which two people plot together to kill someone for a variety of different reasons--and there are also cases where criminals get help concealing the crime after-the-fact. In some of these cases, a criminal gains an accomplice by threatening and/or manipulating the person into helping commit and/or cover-up the crime. In other cases, two people plan to commit a crime together and come to a mutual agreement to cover-up the evidence. When two or more people commit a crime together, there is never 100% certainty that the crime will stay covered up an accomplice can confess at any time an implicate the other person(s) involved in the process. Below is a list of 7 such cases, where a murder was solved due to the confession of an accomplice.

7. The Murders of Ronkeya Holmes & MaSarah Ross
29 year-old Ronkeya Holmes (top left)  was murdered by the father of her child, Lester Ross (bottom left), on October 18th, 2009. Lester had custody of their 3 year-old daughter, MaSarah Ross (top right), and he lived in Haines City Florida with her...

Lester Ross (pictured bottom left) and Sharon Ross (bottom right) were married and living in Haines City, Florida during the year of 2009. Lester had custody of his three year-old daughter, MaSarah Ross (top right). At some point during 2009, Sharon stumbled upon Lester with MaSarah's dead body. Lester told Sharon that MaSarah's death was an accident, but for whatever reason he did not call the police. Instead, he did MaSarah's body in a freezer and threatened to kill Sharon if she ever told anybody about it.

On October 18th, 2009, MaSarah's mother Ronkeya Holmes (top left) planned to go to Lester's home to pick up MaSarah for a visit. In order to cover up the fact MaSarah was dead, Lester decided he needed to kill Ronkeya, as well. Upon Ronkeya's arrival at his house, Lester gave her a Coke with rat poison mixed in. Sharon later stumbled upon Lester attempting to move Ronkeya's lifeless body. At that point, Lester threatened Sharon once again--and this time, he forced Sharon to help move both Ronkeya and MaSarah's bodies into his car. Then, Lester forced Sharon to drive him to an orange grove in Winter Haven where they buried the two bodies.

Over a year later, Sharon finally told police what had truly happened to both Ronkeya and MaSarah. In December 2010, she led authorities to their graves.It took over a year for the remains of Ronkeya and MaSarah to be positively identified, but once they were, Lester was indicted on murder charges. In November 2015, Lester went to trial and was ultimately found guilty for all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. [read more]

6. The Murder of Justin Barnett

During the spring of 1995, an 18 year-old named Johnathan Abney was living with his older sister Tricia Abney (pictured right) and her boyfriend Jeff Martin at an apartment in Birmingham, Alabama. On the evening of June 3rd, 1995, walked into the apartment and stumbled upon a horrific scene: a man had been murdered, and his dismembered body parts were scattered on the bathroom floor. Johnathan soon learned that the deceased man was 23 year-old Justin Barnett (pictured left)—who he had only met once before, while buying drugs at a Southside apartment. 

Tricia and Jeff enlisted Johnathan's help in disposing of Justin's remains in Bibb County. Justin was later reported missing by his loved ones, but his case unfortunately went cold quickly. Nearly two decades passed before investigators finally got a break in January 2015. At that point, Johnathan went to the Birmingham police and explained that he had a secret he could no longer live with--and it was about the disappearance of Justin Barnett. Johnathan explained that Tricia and Jeff had lured Justin to their apartment on that June 1995 night with the intention of robbing him.  The robbery went bad, and the pair ended up stabbing Justin to death before dismembering him in the bathroom.

Johnathan worked with investigators over the next 5 months. He told them where to find Justin’s remains, but a search of the area did not recover them. Jeff Martin committed suicide before police were able to apprehend him, however they were able to take Tricia into custody and charge her with murder. In 2017, she was found guilty and given a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Johnathan received immunity for cooperating with the investigation. [read more]

5. The Murder of Jaray Wilson
Jaray Wilson was 16 years old when she vanished on October 14th, 2012. The teen was picked up from Hydro, Oklahoma by friends that afternoon, and never returned home. Shortly after she was reported missing, rumors began to circulate that Jaray had...

On the afternoon of October 14th, 2012, 16 year-old Jaray Wilson (pictured left) was picked up in Hydro, Oklahoma by Tucker McGee (top right) and Cody Godfrey (bottom right) and never returned home. Jaray was later reported missing by her family, and it was originally suspected that she had been forced into sex trafficking. Tucker and Cody denied knowing Jaray's whereabouts, and they were not immediately named as persons of interest in her case. However, about a year after her disappearance, Cody finally told police that he knew exactly what had happened to Jaray.

Cody explained that, on the night of Jaray's disappearance, she had asked Tucker to pick her up in Hydro and drive her to Weatherford. Tucker agreed, and Cody, who was already with Tucker at the time, accompanied him as he went to pick Jaray up. On their way there, Tucker continuously complained that he felt Jaray was annoying. At a certain point, he showed Cody a gun and said "we should just go kill Jaray." Cody later would tell investigators that he thought Tucker was joking. After picking Jaray up, the three of them smoked synthetic marijuana together and chatted for about two hours. Towards the end of the evening, as Jaray was looking at her phone, Tucker pulled out his gun and shot her twice in the head. The following day, Tucker, Cody and another friend helped dispose of her body. After Cody confessed all of this to police, he led them to Jaray's remains. He also agreed to testify against Tucker.

In 2015, Tucker was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Cody and their other friend who helped dispose of Jaray's body pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact. Caleb was sentenced to 10 years and Cody was given a suspended sentence. [read more]

4. The Murder of Reina Swierski

Reina Swierski (pictured left) vanished on March 9th, 2005. She was reported missing by her boyfriend, Ted Mattman. Despite the fact that Reina and Ted were in a relationship, Reina was actually married to a man named Gary Swierski (pictured top right) at the time, and she lived with him and his daughter Eva Swierski at his home in Sunnyvale, California. Gary was reportedly abusive towards Reina and he was initially investigated once she was reported missing. At the time, though, investigators were unable to find any evidence of foul play.  Three years later, Reina's skull was found in a wooded area of Boulder Creek, California. Once the remains were identified, authorities immediately began investigating Reina's death as a homicide. However, they did not make any arrests at the time as they did not have any further evidence. 

Finally, in February 2011, 21 year-old Eva Swierski walked into a police station and said that she had a secret she could no longer live with. It was about her stepmother's death. Eva explained that back in 2005, when she was only 16, she lived with Gary and Reina. On the day Reina was reported missing, Eva was out of the house for most of the day, until she received a phone call from her father frantically asking her to come home. Eva complied, and when she arrived home, she saw her stepmother Reina's lifeless body in a bag on the floor. Gary explained to his daughter that he strangled Reina to death after finding out she was having an affair. According to court documents, Gary then grabbed Eva "by the shoulders and threatened to kill her if she did not assist him in disposing of the body."

Shortly after Eva's confession,  Gary was arrested and charged with Reina's murder. He went to trial in 2012, where he tried to argue that he killed his wife in self-defense. Still, it only took the jury a day to convict him on the murder charges. Gary was sentenced to 25 years to life. [read more]

3. The Murder of Mike Williams

During the late 90s-early 2000s, Denise Williams (pictured left) was having an affair with Brian Winchester (pictured right). Denise was married to Mike Williams (pictured center) when the affair began, and Brian, who was also married, happened to be one of Mike's best friends. At some point during the affair, Brian and Denise decided that they wanted to be with each other rather than their respective spouses. However, Denise refused to get a divorce because she did not want to ruin the 'perfect image' she portrayed of herself and her family. Together, Brian and Denise decided that Mike had to die in order for the two of them to be together. 

Denise and Brian set their plan in motion on December 16th, 2000. That morning, Brian took Mike duck hunting on Lake Seminole in Tallahassee, Florida. While the two were on Mike's boat in the middle of the water, Brian pushed Mike in the water and then shot him to death. He later buried him in waste near the boat landing. When Mike never returned home, Denise reported him missing--even though she knew that her husband would not be coming home. Investigators initially believed that Mike had drowned in Lake Seminole and then had been eaten by gators. Mike was then declared deceased and Denise was able to collect his large insurance policy. Then, she and Brian eventually got married.

The pair had a rocky marriage that resulted in Denise filing for divorce in 2015. Despite their issues, though, Denise and Brian always promised to keep the truth about what really happened to Mike a secret. That all changed in 2016, when Brian kidnapped Denise at gunpoint while she was behind the wheel of her car. Denise promised Brian she would not call the police if he let her go. He ended up complying, but Denise still immediately called the police and subsequently had Brian arrested for kidnapping. Denise still upheld her promise about keeping the truth about Mike's death a secret. Brian, however did not. Once he was behind bars for kidnapping Denise, he ended up confessing to Mike's murder, implicating Denise in the process. Mike's remains were found shortly thereafter, and Denise was arrested and charged for her role in the murder.

In December 2018, Denise was found guilty of all charges. She was sentenced to life in prison. 

2. The Murder of Skylar Neese
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Skylar Neese (pictured left) was murdered by two of her best friends, Rachel Shoaf (center) and Shelia Eddy (right) during the early morning hours of July 6th, 2012. Around midnight that night, Shelia and Rachel asked Skylar to sneak out of her Star City, West Virginia home to meet up with them for a joyride. Skylar accepted, and Shelia and Rachel subsequently picked her up in Shelia's car. The three girls drove around 40 miles away before parking and walking into a wooded area, where Shelia and Rachel told Skylar they'd be smoking marijuana. However, when Skylar turned her back to walk to the car, Shelia and Rachel attacked Skylar and began stabbing her to death with knives they had hidden under their shirts. The two girls then hid Skylar's body under some tree branches before disposing of their bloody clothes and heading back home. 

Over the next few months, Shelia and Rachel feigned concerned for Skylar and pleaded for her safe return on social media. The two clearly had a plan to keep what they had done a secret, but people were beginning to grow suspicious of them. Many people both online and offline were putting pressure on Shelia and Rachel, which ultimately lead to Rachel having a mental breakdown in late December 2012. She ended up receiving treatment at a mental health facility for a few days, and upon her release in January 2013, Rachel immediately confessed to police about what truly happened to Skylar. In exchange for implicating Shelia, Rachel was offered a plea deal where she would receive a 30 year sentence if she pleaded guilty. Rachel accepted the deal and was formally sentenced in 2014.

Shelia initially pleaded not guilty, but ended up switching her plea to guilty shortly before trial. She was sentenced to 20 years to life. Both Rachel and Shelia are incarcerated at the same prison and neither have revealed a true motive for killing Skylar. The only explanation they offered was simply that they "did not want to be her friend anymore."

1. The Murder of Sarah Stern

Sarah Stern (pictured center) was murdered at the age of 19 by her longtime friend Liam McAtasney (pictured right) on December 3rd, 2016. Their other friend, Preston Taylor (pictured left) was aware of Liam's plans and he actually ended up helping Liam dispose of Sarah's body hours after the murder. Liam was motivated by finances; Sarah had recently inherited money that Liam wanted to get his hands on. His plan was to strangle Sarah to death and then leave her car at the Belmar Bridge in Neptune City, New Jersey to make it look like she has jumped into the river. Liam was unable to move her on his own, so he enlisted the help of Preston. 

Two months after Sarah was reported missing, Preston admitted to police that he knew what happened. He ultimately admitted that Liam had been planning to kill Sarah for months, even though all three of them were friends--Preston had even taken Sarah to their junior prom. However, he eventually pleaded guilty for his role in Sarah's death and agreed to testify against Liam at his trial. Liam maintained a plea of not guilty, but a jury found him guilty in February 2019. Preston was sentenced to 20 years in prison while Liam was sentenced to life. [read more]

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