Tag Archive for Arizona

Blood Diamonds

Lemke, Hungerford, Chance

Everything Rick Chance did was bigger than life. He rose from farmer to millionaire faster than most; his marketing style was more brash, his marriages more passionate, his divorces rancorous, his death more violent. A paradox of personalities, Rick was part huckster, part born-again Christian, part genius, part fool. Labels did not seem to fit him, and he was constantly shedding one persona for another.
From his humble beginnings on a farm outside Tempe, Arizona, Rick built Empire Auto Glass into the Southwest’s largest glass repair business by bucking the conventional wisdom and not running from a fight. Rick knew how to market his company, and while sitting in an Arizona diner one day he hit upon the idea of giving away a free meal with every windshield replacement.
He figured it was a no-lose proposition. Empire would get more business, the customers would get a free meal, the restaurants would get free advertising, and the insurance companies would pick up the tab. In the beginning the insurance companies balked, but several lawsuits later his marketing plan had weathered the legal challenges and was taking off. Business was so good for a time that Rick had trouble finding restaurants willing to give away the volume of free meals his offer was attracting.
Rick starred in his own commercials and became a minor cultural icon on TV stations from Phoenix to Seattle. His spots were always in heavy rotation and the advertising paid off. Every market has a pitchman like Rick Chance, whether they are selling appliances, furniture, cars or auto glass. Their commercials seem louder than the rest and their repetitive catchphrases sear their way into the collective unconscious.
“People loved him or they hated him, or they loved to hate him,” Bob Hittenberger, president of the Arizona Independent Glass Association, told the Arizona Republic. “He got them talking about him non-stop whether it was good or bad. And it was good for business.”
In 1982 Empire Auto Glass was a one-man operation. Two decades later the operation had expanded into six states and was bringing in $13 million in revenue. Rick took home a salary of $2.1 million.
Business could not have been better, but Rick’s personal life was a mess. Rick liked the limelight, and that desire for recognition made his personal failings all the more public and humiliating. The first incident was an eerie dress rehearsal for Rick’s murder a decade later.
In 1993, Rick was focusing on his side business of jewelry design when he invited a woman he met at a resort back to his home to view his designs. She turned out to be a prostitute and not only did the woman look at the jewelry, she drugged Rick and stole his inventory. The loss of several hundred thousand dollars in jewelry by the TV pitchman made front page news and humiliated Rick’s born-again Christian wife, Christine. It caused his marriage to disintegrate in the public eye and the ensuing rancorous divorce proceedings provided everyone — particularly newspaper columnists — with no shortage of things to talk about
After the marriage ended, Christine took the children and moved to Colorado, where she owned the Denver Empire Auto Glass franchise.
Rick’s next marriage was a metaphor for his life — a fairy tale that served as cover for a soap opera existence. Jill Scott was a former Mrs. America and she had all the trappings of a beauty queen and then some: Big smile, big hair, and even bigger secrets. On Valentine’s Day 1996 Rick and Jill married before a national audience on “Good Morning, America.”
It was not to be happily ever after for this fairy tale couple. Stories about Jill surfaced. She had not been in compliance with the Mrs. America pageant rules because she was separated from her husband at the time, and worse, Jill had agreed to perform in a porno film, Mrs. XXX-America, shortly before she met Rick — something she kept from him.
The marriage was heavily discussed in public as Rick filed for an annulment in 1996, halted it a week later, and reinstated it in 1998. It got worse, with the National Enquirer weighing in on the matter. It turns out Jill lost a $400,000 lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment brought by her ex. She had a couple of bounty hunters pick him up and bring him back to California in handcuffs to settle an alimony dispute. The judge not only found in favor of the ex, he suggested that perhaps the district attorney might want to look at the case. Jill solved the issue by leaving town.
The divorce was finalized in 1999.
Brandi Lynn Hungerford was adopted from South Korea and brought to Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the most religiously and politically conservative areas of the United States. In parts of Grand Rapids, fast food restaurants cannot (or will not) open on Sundays, and woe unto the neighbor who breaks the Day of Rest to mow his lawn.
How Brandi went from having dreams of being a nurse to dancing nude for an outcall service to serving hard time for murder is a story of dashed hopes and tragic choices.
When Brandi was a teen, her family moved to Tempe and she planned to take classes at Arizona State. Looking for a part-time job one day, she happened across an ad that would change her life forever, and not for the better. It said, “Looking for Models.” Brandi was a pretty young woman with exotic good looks. But the modeling work she was hired for was not the kind that would put her on the cover of Vogue.
Using the stage names “Eden” and “Tiara,” Brandi was licensed as an escort in Maricopa County. The work was barely a step above prostitution. For a fee Brandi would travel to a hotel room or home and while she shed her clothes, the customer would do…whatever. A bodyguard would accompany her to make sure nothing got out of hand, so to speak.
At the top of her game, Brandi was bringing in $1,200, but she did not get to enjoy the money. Her father, a machine shop foreman, had developed cancer and the money Brandi brought in was needed for his care. His illness and the nature of her job changed Brandi, friends told the Republic. She became sullen, cold and materialistic. By the time her father died in 2001, she was almost a different person.
Professionally, things could not be going better for Brandi. In addition to the outcall business and was working at one of the area’s top strip joints, or gentleman’s club if you prefer, where she was a frequent choice for private dances in the VIP rooms.
It was at the club where she met 24-year-old Robert Donald Lemke II, a male dancer from the Pacific Northwest with a checkered past. Rob had been convicted of felony assault and ended up in Tempe by jumping bail after he pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm. Despite his criminal record, he had a fresh-faced, frosted-hair look that most people found attractive.
Friends told police that Rob liked living in the fast lane, drove a Cadillac and kept pit bulls. He was known in the adult entertainment business as a hustler and dealmaker, the Arizona Republic reported. He arrived in the valley as a skinny kid from Washington with a penchant for guns and violence. He discovered the world of exotic dancing and escorts and apparently had what it took to succeed. He bulked up from 185 pounds to more than 220, according to his escort license application.
In a little more than two years Rob managed to build his own escort business. Somewhere along the line he met Brandi. Friends recalled that the pair hit it off immediately. Business was still business, however, and Brandi continued to work outcalls and as an exotic dancer.
Trouble followed Rob, however. He was an aggressive dancer, sometimes taking his routine over the line of acceptability at the clubs. What was clear to everyone was that Rob liked the better things in life and was not averse to taking shortcuts to get them.
Rick was growing bored with the auto glass business, so he turned back to his avocation — jewelry design. He wanted to make it as big in diamonds as he had in glass, but he was reckless, naive and cocky, according to people in the business. He would carry around thousands of dollars in jewelry and gems and was proud to show them off. He told friends he was not worried because the jewelry was insured and could be replaced.
“But your behind can’t,” a friend recalled to the Republic
He had clearly not learned from past events, and it would cost him dearly.
While he was busy trying to crack into the very closed world of jewelry sales, Rick was marketing to the masses, as well. He placed several ads in the classifieds section of the Arizona Republic for diamonds at below-market cost. Asked where the jewels came from, Rick said sometimes people who owed him money would pay in gems.
Rob Lemke saw one of the ads where Rick was offering Rolex watches for sale (illegally, as he was not a licensed Rolex dealer) and thought he saw a good opportunity — not to get a great watch on the cheap, but to steal. He turned to Brandi. Rob wanted her to gain Rick’s confidence, drug him and then the pair would steal the jewelry. Brandi went along with the plan, later telling police that she liked Rick, but that he thought his money could buy her and that was not the case. Brandi was for rent, not for sale.
Rick and Brandi met several times over drinks, but she said the relationship was strictly platonic.
The pair’s first attempt to rob Rick was a comic failure. Brandi “ran into” Rick at a coffeehouse and he showed her some of his jewelry designs. A few nights later she called him and they met for Mexican food. After dinner, as she had planned, Rick asked Brandi to come back to his house. They talked and smoked some pot. At one point Brandi excused herself and while in the bathroom phoned Rob, who was driving around waiting for her call. Unfortunately, she later confessed, she was too high.
“And I couldn’t remember what street Chance lived on…’cuz he was aksking me which street does he live on, I told him I, I, I didn’t know,” she babbled to the cops. “I couldn’t remember.”
After that dismal attempt, Brandi and Rob formulated a better plan that not only would avoid getting lost, but preclude being interrupted by Rick’s family or staff.
Throughout the summer of 2002, Brandi and Rob continued to track Rick. Brandi made multiple calls to Rick, which later gave police a nice trail of evidence. She later told police she believed Rick was suspicious because he never returned her calls.
They apparently talked at least once. In August Rick agreed to meet Brandi for dinner at a local P.F. Chang’s and they went out on the town later. They apparently had a pretty good time: Brandi told police that at one point, they were “playing around on a statue.” According to Brandi, Rick tried to affix a hand-drawn penis to the statue.
“And then it wasn’t big enough, so he went and sketched out a penis with a pen on a piece of paper and taped it on the guy in Scottsdale,” she confessed.
A few nights later they met for dinner again. This time, according to Brandi, Rob would be waiting. She suggested that they get a bottle and have a few drinks at a hotel nearby. Not surprisingly, Rick agreed, not knowing that this would be his last bad decision.
On August 9, 2002, Rick and Brandi were captured on surveillance video checking into a Best Western motel. Rick looks relaxed in his print shirt, leaning on the reception desk. Brandi stands slightly apart from him, but she is also relaxed, one arm on the desk.
“Rick’s probably thinks he’s gonna get sex,” Brandi told police when they showed her a still photo.
When the pair got to their third-floor room, they kissed briefly. Rick lit a cigar while Brandi went into the bathroom. Like she did from Rick’s house, Brandi called Rob and this time was able to give him the room number. They agreed to meet out in the hallway. Brandi asserted in her confession and in her later allocution that no violence was planned.
Using the excuse of going to get ice and a drink, Brandi left Rick smoking his cigar in the room and met Rob in the hallway. She said she never returned to the hotel room. Instead, she stood in the hallway, “not even a minute and just fidgeting around.”
“And, uh, I peek around the corner and at some time I hear a pop and it scares me,” she said. “It sounded like a gunshot.”
Brandi’s claim, typical of someone minimizing their guilt, was contradicted by other witnesses. In her confession Brandi said Rob, wearing a mask and gloves and carrying a gun, was alone when he confronted Rick in the room. He took the jewelry Rick kept in a black bag.
But a witness told police she heard a woman say, “Don’t hurt him. He’s not going to say anything,” and then four gunshots. At first, the witness thought it was a dream. The woman told authorities she looked through the peephole and saw a man “standing in the hallway, as if standing guard.” Whether or not she identified the man as Rob is unclear — not that it was really necessary.
The killers left a wealth of forensic information in the hotel room. Brandi did not bother to wipe down her plastic room key or the courtesy hair dryer. She and Rick were recorded in the parking lot, at the front desk, and outside their room on the third floor. The images were good enough for the cops to share with the media. Police also had a security tape still of Rob Lemke, who lingered long enough in front of a camera to provide a perfect mug shot.
Within 24 hours they had hundreds of leads, many from people who recognized Brandi from her dancing days. One tip was stronger than all of the others and it came from the Maricopa County Jail. The tip did not come from an inmate, but from Brandi’s mother, a civilian employee who identified the suspect as her daughter. From there it was a hop-skip-and-jump to Brandi’s cellphone records and Rob Lemke. Police searching Rob’s apartment found tags unique to Rick’s jewelry brand, further increasing the evidence against him.
An NCIC check revealed Rob’s criminal past in Washington and authorities between Arizona and the Canadian border were alerted to be on the lookout for the pair, believed to be armed and desperate. It was clear the cops were on the right track and were not far behind their fugitives.
Brandi Hungerford was arrested five days after the murder in Tacoma, Washington. She was quickly charged with first-degree murder and waived extradition to Arizona. Once she was back in Arizona she immediately confessed, implicated Rob and led police to the murder weapon, which Rob had skillfully hidden in a pizza box and given to a friend. In return for her cooperation, prosecutors offered Brandi a deal: Plead guilty to second-degree murder and get a sentence of 11 to 22 years. Brandi jumped at the opportunity.
Lemke Hungerford todayRob was arrested two days after Brandi and fought extradition, unsuccessfully. He was returned to Tempe where, the needle looming large, he pleaded guilty and received a life term.
For most people of Tempe Rick Chance’s legacy will be that of a murder victim who ignorantly placed himself in danger by letting his base instincts get the better of him. Whether it was the lure of sex with Brandi or just a chance to make a few more dollars, Rick’s gluttony put him in a position to get himself killed.
But for others who knew Rick better, the loss was painful. After he died dozens of people came forward with stories of Rick’s compassion and generosity. Candess Hunter, a friend, told the Republic how Rick was responsible for paying for the care and board of his 96-year-old former babysitter, even though she no longer recognized him. Still, Rick visited the woman he called “Mama Doll” every week.

The Murder of Old Man Mathis

Eva Dugan

It was the false teeth that tripped up Eva Dugan and sent her to the gallows in 1930 as the first woman to be hanged in Arizona.
Like so many killers, Dugan, a 50-year-old nurse, thought she knew more than investigators about how to administer a fatal dose of poison and make a body disappear. She was wrong and paid for her crime in a gruesome way.
There were other factors besides A.J. Mathis’s dentures that contributed to her being caught: the relentless pursuit of the truth by Pinal County sheriff Jim McDonald, a Sonoran Desert dust storm, and an anonymous man who happened to make camp atop the shallow grave that held the remains of the murdered rancher.
In early 1927, friends of the 60-year-old wealthy rancher were the first to bring the mystery to Sheriff McDonald, a sombrero-wearing, horse-riding lawman who seemed to be a throwback to the halcyon days of the Old West.
Although Mathis pretty much kept to himself on his remote ranch near Vail, Arizona, he was friendly with neighboring ranchers and known as a man with fixed habits and not prone to do things at the drop of a 10-gallon hat. Therefore, when his friends noticed that he hadn’t been seen in some time, they checked with his housekeeper, Eva Dugan.
Dugan, who was Mathis’s self-proclaimed “common law wife,” told them that Mathis had picked up stakes and moved to California.
The ranchers were unconvinced by her explanation.
“Seemed funny that he’d light out to California without telling anybody,” one rancher testified later.
But without anything else to go on, there was little they could do.
Then Dugan began to sell off Mathis’s stock and when she had collected all the cash, she disappeared in the rancher’s car. That prompted them to go to Sheriff McDonald who immediately began poking around.
McDonald and his deputies visited the now-abandoned ranch house and went over the place looking for evidence of foul play. He found nothing, but that didn’t mean he was satisfied.
“It was funny that he disappeared like that,” he told the local paper, concealing the fact that his investigation was far from over. “Still, old men do queer things.”
Sheriff James McDonaldMcDonald took a day trip to Tucson, where he visited Mathis’s bank. The head cashier was more than happy to answer any questions about one of his best customers.
It takes money to travel, McDonald knew, and Mathis had not made any withdrawals before his “trip.” For his part, the cashier was concerned that Mathis had also not made any of his regular deposits. Therefore, McDonald reasoned that Mathis was not in California but “someplace where he had no expenses.”
“The only places I could think of like that were jail and the cold ground,” he testified. “And I knew A.J. was not in jail.”
Dugan had a head-start on the sheriff and he had no clue as to where she was headed. But word travels fast in those close-knit communities and when the postmaster heard that McDonald was wanting to talk to the ex-housekeeper, he told the sheriff who Dugan typically communicated with locally. The postmaster was put on alert to let the sheriff know if anything from Dugan came in.
Acting as if she hadn’t a care in the world, Dugan continued to correspond with friends, and soon McDonald had a trail to follow. At first it looked like she was making a break for the Mexican border, sending a post card from Douglas, Arizona. Then she reversed course and headed east: Texas, then Oklahoma, followed by Kansas City. Then the trail went cold for a couple of weeks until she surfaced in White Plains, New York, where she had taken a job with a hospital as a nurse.
While McDonald headed to New York to question Dugan, more than 1,000 volunteers began going over Mathis’s farm and the surrounding desert, looking for what everyone figured would be Mathis’s grave.
In White Plains, Dugan smugly withstood a withering third-degree from local cops who had arrested her.
“The old man is in California,” she told them. “Someday he’ll wander home and make a fool of that sheriff.”
Unable to extradite Dugan for murder, McDonald settled for something he knew would force her back to Arizona and keep her where he could see her: grand larceny for stealing Mathis’s car. She returned to Pinal County and was convicted of larceny by a jury of the rancher’s friends who knew she was also guilty of something more sinister. They deliberated for 4 minutes before finding her guilty.
Even in jail Dugan retained her composure and refused to answer any questions about the disappearance of her “common-law husband.”
The evidence that Mathis was dead mounted. Rent money from his tenants went undeposited, and bills went unpaid. But this was only circumstantial evidence, and without a body, proving murder with such evidence would be impossible. Mathis’s rancher friends might convict Dugan, but an appeal would undoubtedly overturn the verdict.
Then Fate took over in the form of a desert wind storm.
It was an anonymous traveler who finally broke the case (All of my research has failed to turn up the man’s name). The man was on vacation with his “motor camper” and stopped for the night in the Sonoran Desert near Vail. A heavy wind coming across the open desert picked up sand and tossed it around the camper during the night.
The next morning when the man stepped out to see if there was any damage, he saw something white that had been uncovered. Looking closer, he realized that it was a grinning skull.
Journalists said that when the sheriff broke the news that a body had been found near the Mathis place, Eva simply smiled. She was confident that she had covered her tracks well enough, having covered the body with quicklime. The bones could belong to some poor cowboy who had been lying under the dirt for years.
She had not counted on the fact that while quicklime might (or might not) aid in decomposition, it has no affect on porcelain. Her face fell when Sheriff McDonald presented her with Mathis’s dentures, made shiny by a combination of the calcium oxide and sandblasting.
Every set of dentures is unique to the wearer, and the local dentist was quick to identify the teeth as a set he had made for Mathis.
Dugan’s trial lasted for just two days and her claim that some cowhand named Jack had done the killing was not believed by the jury. According to Dugan, who took the stand in her defense, Jack, with whom she was intimate, had a quarrel with Mathis and punched the old man in the heart, killing him instantly. The panic-stricken couple buried Mathis in a shallow grave in the desert. Dugan said Jack had abandoned her in Douglas and went over the border. However, the prosecution presented some of Dugan’s post cards that said she and Jack were traveling to New York. No one knew of a ranch hand named Jack and no evidence of his existence was ever found.
The jury quickly returned a guilty verdict to the murder charge and did not recommend mercy for Dugan. The judge had no choice but to sentence her to hang — the first woman in Arizona history ever to receive a death sentence.
Appeals dragged on for three years before Eva Dugan ran out of options and time. Toward the end her tough resolve failed her.
“She displayed emotion for the first time as the steel doors clanged behind her, and sobbed as she walked down the cell-lined corridor that leads to the death chamber,” wrote one reporter. “In her cell she gave way to hysteria, necessitating a call to the prison physician to quiet her.”
While awaiting her fate she sewed her own shroud and spent her final days sewing hand-made artificial flowers to the garment.
The mother of two (she had a lawful husband who kept the children) wrote farewell letters to relatives and sent a bizarre telegram to her father:

Have to die Friday STOP Wire warden $50 STOP Will be buried in Florence STOP Eva FULL STOP

The money was to pay the balance she owed the undertaker. She had also recently purchased a lot in a local cemetery.
Dugan recovered her composure as the day of her execution drew nearer. On Feb. 21, 1930, in the company of her minister, a jail matron, and the prison warden she called “Daddy Wright,” she ascended the steps of the gallows, blindfolded.
Shortly before Dugan was brought into the death chamber, Warden Wright revealed to reporters that a vial of what he said was “deadly poison” had been found in Dugan’s cell.
It was a notable day for Arizona. Not only was it executing a woman for the first time, this was the first non-public execution where women were allowed to assist on the gallows. Six women participated in the ritual of stretching the rope and making sure the gallows would function correctly.
Unfortunately — not because of the female participation — it was a botched execution.
On the scaffold, a black hood was placed over her blindfolded face and the noose affixed behind her ear. The hangman had apparently underestimated Dugan’s weight and planned for a six-foot drop. When the trap opened, Dugan fell through. At six feet below the scaffold, the rope stopped but Eva kept going. She was decapitated.
Arizona protocol normally required the body to hang for at least 20 minutes before the condemned could be pronounced dead. This time, the doctor pronounced her immediately as Warden Wright demanded that the numerous witnesses leave the death chamber. Reporters in attendance said that no one protested his order.