The worst murderers are the thrill killers.
While no killing is ever acceptable, it’s possible to understand at least what drives a sexual sadist or desperate criminal to slay someone. The ones that make absolutely no sense and cannot be justified under any set of morals are the killings where someone does it just to see if he or she can get away with it.
In January 2006, Christopher Richee pleaded guilty to murdering Nan Toder at a suburban Chicago hotel and received a 40-year prison term. The 39-year-old former hotel handyman could be out of prison in a little over a decade because of time he has already served.
Richee was convicted once before of plotting Toder’s killing and sentenced to a term of natural life behind bars, but his conviction was overturned after the appellate court ruled that evidence at his trial of other crimes introduced show to a common method of operation only served to inflame the jury against him.
Normally, one’s prior bad acts are not supposed to be brought before a jury, but Illinois law has a modus operandi exception that allows for mention of a pattern of criminal behavior so distinct that separate offenses are recognized as the work of the same person. The offenses need not be identical but must share features which are distinctive when considered together.
The state brought up a series of burglaries that Richee committed, but the appeals court found that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the burglaries under the modus operandi exception because they did not share with each other or with the murder such distinctive features that they tended to prove the defendant guilty of murder.
Although he pleaded guilty to murder, Richee handed out a statement to the media denying any connection to Toder’s 1996 murder.
“I stand here today and still maintain my innocence. But as prepared as (my lawyers) are, I still have no faith in the system that charged me with the crime in the first place,” Richee’s statement read. “I just can’t risk spending the rest of my life in jail for something I didn’t do.”
Richee could not make such a statement in court when he pleaded guilty, as such a plea requires the defendant to admit he really committed the crime.
Toder was in Chicago for a training seminar in December 1996 and was alone in her motel room. Sadly, she had taken precautions to safeguard herself from harm — but she had no idea that there was really nothing she could have done to protect herself from a man whose sole motivation to kill was to see if he pull off the perfect crime.
Nan had turned down a dinner invitation from the president of her company, choosing instead to work out at a local gym and pick up fast food for a meal in her room. After entering her room, she placed her suit case against the front door of room, locked the deadbolt and probably considered herself to be secure for the night.
At around 10 p.m., she called her mother in Pennsylvania just to check in and the retired for the night.
Unknown to her, Richee had been planning his crime for weeks. He wanted to commit the perfect locked-room murder as if this was some sort of Agatha Christie detective novel. Nan Todor was tragically a victim of opportunity. As head of maintenance at the motel, Richee had just learned that the next day a new lock system would be put in place that would allow the hotel to create a computer trail of entry and exits into rooms. The existing system did not have any tracking mechanism.
Nan was in room 227, which shared an adjoining door to 229, a room specifically adapted for handicapped guests and often left vacant. She requested a wake-up call for the next morning so she could catch a flight back to Florida.
Richee believed he was smarter than everyone else and Nan just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Nan went to sleep, not knowing that Richee had previously rigged the door between 229 and 227 in such a way that it would appear locked, but that would allow him to slip into the room to commit the crime.
Two wake-up calls to room 227 went unanswered on December 13, 1996 before the housekeeper and her supervisor managed to force open the door and enter the room.
There, they found Nan lying on her back on the floor between the beds, her body posed by the killer for shock value. She lay propped up on her elbows, her head back, and her feet bound by telephone cord. Her panty hose had been tied around her neck. The killer used a machete as his implement of murder. She was nearly nude, but there was no evidence of sexual assault, and the room appeared to have been burglarized. A bloody washcloth that contained DNA from someone other than Nan was left in the room. Prosecutors said Richee grabbed it from another room sometime earlier and left it at the scene to throw police off the track.
Police were summoned and Richee led them to the crime scene. Three times, the responding officer had to tell Richee not to enter the crime scene, but he repeatedly disregarded those orders.
The night before the murders, Richee showed up at the hotel despite the fact that he was off-duty. Using the pretense of turning on the Christmas lights, he showed up dressed in a dark sweater, jeans and white tennis shoes. The night desk clerk testified that the bright white tennis shoes struck her as being unusual because prior to that evening she had seen him wear dirty shoes. Richee told her that he got them for Christmas from his mother and rarely wore them. They then went to the back office to talk. Later, she saw Richee looking at the hotel’s computer, where he could determine which rooms were occupied.
She last saw him at 12:30 p.m. His presence at the hotel when off-duty was unusual, she said.
Richee was a suspect from the beginning, but there was no evidence to arrest him. It would take several years for detectives to piece together enough circumstantial evidence to implicate him in the killing.
On the night of the murder, he complained of a stomach ache and sent his girlfriend home around 11 p.m. Four days after the killing, she asked Richee if he had gone out that night after she left, and he said yes, he had gone out to buy a burrito.
He had previously shaved off all of the hair from his body except from his head. Prosecutors believe he did this to avoid leaving trace evidence.
A week after the murder Richee called a friend and told him that the police were going to search his house. Richee asked the buddy to remove a bloody towel from his bedroom, which he did. Later, the friend went to Richee’s house. He noticed that the machete that Richee normally kept in a cargo net was no longer there. Later, in the garage, he saw the blade of a machete that resembled the one he had previously seen in the cargo net, but the handle was missing. The friend asked what happened to the machete and Richee told him he was “screwing around with it and the handle broke.”
Most telling, when the friend asked Richee if he had “killed the girl,” Richee asked what he thought and, when the friend said “no,” Richee said “stick with that.”
The friend, however, eventually went to police with his suspicions and Richee’s perfect crime began to unravel.
Just for the Thrills
The worst murderers are the thrill killers.