In recent years, as violent crime rates in the United States have seem to be on a drastic incline, the violent crime rates in Connecticut saw the second largest decrease in the number of rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. In 2015, Connecticut experienced its lowest number of crimes since 1967. That being said, the number of murders in Connecticut increased by 32 percent, the 7th worst ranking in the country. The latter stat is not abnormal.
Much to many people’s surprise, Connecticut has a rich criminal history, one full of murder, counterfeiting, poison and revolt. From Joseph “Mad Dog” Taborsky—a wayward murderer who died via the electric chair—to the young Killingworth man who was convicted of counterfeiting but later went on to engrave the first U.S. made map of the United States, the state’s criminal history is a colorful one indeed. However, though the nature of past crimes may vary, one thing seems to connect them all, and that is the vast indifference and callous brutality with which many were committed. Keep reading to learn more about just some of the crimes that have shaken Connecticut residents to their very core over the past 250 years.
Hannah Occuish was just 12 years old when she killed a 6-year-old girl for stealing some of her strawberries and getting her in trouble in the process. Hannah was hanged in 1786 for murder. She was the last female criminal to be executed in Connecticut and possibly the youngest person ever to be hung in the United States.
Oliver Watkins, a Brooklyn, Conn., man, strangled his wife, Roxana, in 1829, claiming that he was “driven by a temptress” to do so. Several thousand men, women and children turned out to watch the public hanging of Watkins, the last public hanging in Connecticut.
In 1878, Rev. Hayden was charged but never convicted for the murder of a young North Madison woman who claimed the dear reverend impregnated her. His trial ended in a hung jury. When asked about it later, one juror revealed that they didn’t feel comfortable convicting a man with such a beautiful wife.
The Mysterious Shoebox Murderer
On the morning of Aug. 8, 1886, Edward Turrill was walking his dog through the Parker farm district of Wallingford when they discovered what appeared to be a box of shoes. However, as Turrill and his canine approached the box they noticed a peculiar smell. They left the box in place and went home to retrieve the assistance of neighbors. A group of them then went back to the box with the necessary tools to pry it open. Once they got the lid off, what they discovered horrified them. What first appeared to be portions of an animal turned out to be, upon closer inspection, the body of a man sans his head, legs and arms.
Next time you want to joke about somebody being unable to take a joke, consider first the story of John Cronin. According to sources, Cronin was having breakfast with an employer when his employer made a joke at his expense. Cronin killed the man for it. This was in 1893, after public hangings were a thing of the past. Cronin was the first man to be executed in the state’s automatic gallows.
Amy’s story inspired the comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace,” as it is believed it was she who poisoned as many as 20 people with arsenic. Though she was sentenced to death by hanging in 1917, she ultimately lived out the remainder of her life in an insane asylum.
Gerald Chapman was considered a dashing young man by those who knew him, but even dashing young men can be criminals. Chapman was sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence for a $2.4 million postal truck heist in Atlanta, after which he was dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1.” However, thanks to the help of several “inside men,” Chapman escaped and went on to commit a slew of other robberies. It wasn’t until 1926 that he was finally caught during an attempted burglary of a department store in which he shot a police offer. He was hanged in New Britain, but did not go down without first swearing profusely at the hangman.
In 1924, Rev. Hubert Dahme was shot to death during a silent movie showing. Israel, who was also in theater attendance, was brought in for questioning. At first, he maintained that he knew nothing about the incident, but after 28 hours of interrogation, Israel caved and admitted that he killed the priest out of a desire to take another person’s life. He even lead the police on the trail that the killer had taken and to a bullet casing that was from his own gun. However, after a lengthy trial, it was determined that Israel could not be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so he was set free.
William Curtis Colepaugh & Associate
Erich Gimpel and William C. Colepaugh were convicted of being Nazi spies in March of 1945. They were both sentenced to die by hanging.
Joseph Taborsky was convicted in June of 1957 on two counts of first-degree murder. He was the first person to die in Connecticut’s electric chair three years later.
Reardon was a renowned endocrinologist in West Hartford throughout the 1960s to 1990s who ran a “growth study” outside of St. Francis Hospital. Sadly, and to the horror of parents and U.S. residents everywhere, Reardon’s program was just a pretext for something much more sinister. Instead of studying the growth of children, Reardon used his position within the community to sexually abuse and photograph hundreds of children. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Reardon was never reprimanded. Photographs of his victims weren’t discovered until after his death in 1998, which were behind a false wall in his former home. The hospital has since been sued hundreds of times over.
In 1969, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, members of the Black Panther Party decided that Alex Rackley, one of their own and just 19 at the time, had betrayed them. Members of the party kidnapped him and tortured him for days at the Panthers’ New Haven headquarters on Orchard Street. They beat him with sticks and threw boiling water him. When he ultimately confessed to the betrayal, they gave him a fake tape-recorded trial and drove him to Middlefield, where he was shot and dumped into the Coginchaug River.
Though several Panthers were arrested for the murder, New Haven State’s Attorney Arnold Markle wanted to prosecute Panther National Chairman, Bobby Seale, with ordering Rackley’s murder in the first place. However, because it was a time of civil unrest, it took 17 weeks and over 1,000 interviews to select a jury of 12. Even after all that time dedicated to juror selection, the trial was hung. Markle wanted a retrial, but the next day, Superior Court Judge Harold M. Mulvey, stunned the crowed by declaring he believed it “impossible…that an unbiased jury could be selected without super-human efforts, efforts which this court, the state and these defendants should not be called upon to make or to endure.” He then went on to dismiss Seale’s charges as well as those of his co-defendant, Ericka Huggins.
Peter Riley, 18-years-old at the time, found his mother dead and covered in blood in their Falls Village home. When investigators arrived, they dealt Riley some pretty tough questions, resulting in an interrogation that lasted for more than eight hours. At the end, the police walked away with an awkwardly worded confession.
However, supporters of Riley rallied in his defense and money was raised to buy the best lawyer they could afford—which actually turned out to be a pretty good one: Ms. Catherine G. Roraback, the same lawyer who had defended Black Panther Ericka Huggins. However, the case seemed to be open and shut, and Riley was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison. Riley won a retrial, after the same judged who sentenced him to prison ruled that the teenager was a victim of a “grave injustice” in the handling of his defense. He was given a new trial. Eventually, the discovery of suppressed evidence lead Judge Simon Cohen to throw out the charges entirely. The murder of Riley’s mother remains unsolved, but one good thing did come from the teen’s arrest: just a few years ago, when he was in his late 50s, Riley testified at the legislature in favor of a bill that would require police to record their interrogations in serious felony cases. His recorded interrogation was played back, and most of the community were appalled by the conduct of the police demonstrated in the recording. The bill passed.
Until December of 2012, the 1977 slaughtering of a mother, her seven children and one young family friend, was the largest mass murder in Connecticut history. In a forced confession, Acquin admits to first killing his foster brother’s wife, Cheryl Beaudoin, with a lug wrench and knife, and then killing her seven children and a friend. Before killing 10-year-old Sharron Beaudoin, he molested her. Though the prosecution tried to get the confession thrown out, he was convicted on nine counts of murder and sentenced 105 years in prison. Prosecutors speculate that Acquin’s motivation may have stemmed from the sexual assault; did Cheryl catch Acquin molesting one of her daughters and, out of fear that she would press charges, Acquin decide to murder to whole family before that could happen?
In 1981, Johnson was convicted of stabbing Alan Bono to death, claiming that the devil had possessed him to do so. It was the first time that such a defense was used in an United States court room.
In 1983, Victor Gerena, a young Puerto Rican militant and some of his comrade, stole $7 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford. They declared that the money was to be used to fund their war for independence. At the time, it was the largest cash robbery in U.S. history. The money and Gerena have yet to be found.
Richard Crafts was accused of and convicted of killing his wife, Helle, in 1986 and then disposing of her body with a woodchipper. It was the first murder trial to take place without a body, and the first time DNA evidence was used in a criminal case.
In 1997, Alex Kelly was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the 1986 raping or Adrienne Bak.
In August of 1987, Joyce Aparo, a 47-year-old social worker, was found strangled under a bridge in Bernardston, Mass., 80 miles from her home in Glastonbury. Dennis Coleman, the 19-year-old boyfriend of Joyce’s 16-year-old daughter, Karin, was tried and convicted. However, Karin wasn’t off the hook just yet. She was arrested and tried for being an accessory to murder, and Coleman was the star witness. According to Coleman, Aparo manipulated him with sex, insisting that her mother was trying to keep them apart. He testified that Aparo begged him to kill her mother until he eventually agreed. The defense argued that Aparo was just an emotionally damaged little girl who may have fantasized about killing her mother but would never have actually done it. The state formed two opinions, with some seeing a vulnerable and scarred girl, and others seeing a cold-blooded manipulator who used sex to turn her boyfriend into a killer—even while she was sleeping with someone else. After nine days of deliberation, the jury failed to reach a verdict and acquitted Aparo of being an accessory to murder. However, there is question as to how the decision came to be, as the foreman supposedly winked at the pretty young teen before delivering the decision.
On the March 8, 1987, Bernice Martin was brutally attacked in her Manchester apartment. She was raped, strangled and stabbed 11 times before her home was set fire. After some investigation, the police came to suspect Richard Lapointe, the husband of Martin’s granddaughter and a man with a neurological defect known as Dandy Walker Syndrome. Lapointe was subjected to an unconventional police interrogation in which police convinced Lapointe that his DNA and other evidence linking him to the crime had been discovered at Martin’s apartment, despite the fact that all he could remember from that night was being in his own home watching television with his wife and son. The only time he left the apartment, he says, was to walk the dog. He only went to Martin’s apartment that night, he claims, to check on the elderly woman after a concerned neighbor called. However, Lapointe eventually agreed with the police, saying, “If the evidence shows that I was there, and that I killed her, then I killed her, but I don’t remember being there.”
Lapointe was eventually convicted of the murder and has since spent his days in prison. However, several advocates of the mentally impaired remain infuriated by his mistreatment and as a result, Lapointe has received nine retrials—some of which he won and some of which he lost. Lapointe’s case proves to be yet another in which a recording of the interrogation would have been handy. In the most recent court battle, the state Appellate Court overturned the lower court’s ruling and ordered a retrial for the now 68-year-old man.
In the early 2000s, seven members of the Hartford Police Department were convicted of sexual crimes. In 2001, Julio Camacho was sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping a woman while on duty.
Philip A. Giordano
In an attempt to rid the city of corruption, investigators held a covert investigation and discovered that then Waterbury mayor Giordano was sexually assaulting two young girls. He was convicted on federal charges of using his position of power to violate the girls’ civil rights and sentenced to 37 years in prison.
As you can see, CT’s criminal history is a vast and colorful one. Though the state has been successful in eradicating a good deal of crime, criminals continue to haunt the streets of Connecticut, a fact that will probably remain true so long as people inhabit this earth.
Do you know of any unsolved mysteries or strange crimes that have happened here in the Constitution State? If so, share with us on social media!