Tag Archive for firearm

Cold Feet

Porter and Giancola

If the groom is going to be murdered on his wedding day, we expect the killer to be a jilted lover driven to madness by a broken heart or a rival suitor of the bride who cannot stand to let another take his place. In these cases their crime is motivated by jealousy inflamed by passion. We do not expect that the woman who arranged the murder to be the groom’s sister who wanted him killed for the insurance money.
 
For doing exactly that Marie Porter holds the dubious place in history of being the first woman to die in Illinois’s electric chair. It is an honor she well deserves.
 
For acting as the actual triggerman in the 1937 murder, Angelo Ralph Giancola, 21, preceded Porter to the chair. His story is not new: A weak young man duped into committing murder by a stronger-willed older woman. He is unique in the annals of crime as the only killer whose case of poison ivy proved to be fatal.
 
For his lesser role in the plot, John, Anthony’s younger brother, received a sentence of 99 years.
 
The crime committed by the 38-year-old, 250-pound widow and her young lover was so heinous that even the state’s governor, staunchly anti-death penalty, refused to commute her sentence as he had done for every other woman condemned to be executed.
 
At their sentencing, the judge said the crime shocked the conscience.
 
“If there ever was a more deliberate, premeditated, cold-blooded and atrocious murder. I’ve never heard of it.” Judge Dick A. Mudge said in passing sentence. “I have earnestly, but in vain, examined the record to find some mitigating circumstance in connection with this crime.”
 
The seeds of Porter’s plan to kill her younger brother, William Kappen, were planted back in 1935 when Porter’s husband was gunned down by her father during an argument. The old man was judged insane and taken to an asylum. Porter collected a decent insurance settlement on her husband’s death, but with four children to feed and clothe, she was soon facing the threat of poverty. For reasons known only to herself she chose murder as the answer to her problems.
 
Her criminally insane elderly father was not much help — as a potential victim — so she began looking at other relatives. After careful consideration she settled on William. Her brother had never married and named his poverty-stricken sister as the beneficiary of a $3,000 life insurance policy (A bit more than 50K today).
 
In the early days of 1937 Marie became involved with the bricklayer Giancola, taking the young man as her lover. Almost immediately, she told police, she began planting the idea that Kappen needed to be “put away” (the term is hers).
 
Her main argument, to which Giancola testified at their trial, was not that they would live like royalty on a one-time 3-grand payout, nor was it that she would use the money to support her four daughters, the eldest of whom was 15. Instead, in between lovemaking sessions Porter said Kappen had been relying on her support for years and now it was time to pay back.
 
“I carried my brother through the Depression,” she later told police. “And when he told me he was going to get married, I didn’t want him to, because he still owed me a good sum of money.”
 
Once Giancola surrendered to her coaxing, the pair started researching various ways to kill Kappen. After her arrest for her brother’s murder, Porter discussed the mechanics of the crime with cold dispatch.
 
“We discussed drowning him but this didn’t seem advisable, for Bill was a good swimmer,” she said. “We also thought about pushing him off a bluff at Riverview Park. That was several months ago.”
 
On July 4 police in Belleville, Illinois, on east side of the Mississippi about 15 miles from St. Louis were alerted to the body of a man on a deserted stretch of road. Clues at the scene made it obvious that the man had been kidnapped.
 
“The man had dressed hastily, for he wore no underclothing,” a reporter in the American Weekly wrote. “Two blood-soaked handkerchiefs were found in a poison ivy weed. The gun was not found.”
 
St. Louis had a very active underworld at the time and the crime had all of the earmarks of a gang rubout. Thus the case was treated for about 24 hours by investigators, until a jilted bride came forward with a mysterious tale.
 
Irene Traub was the wife-to-be of Bill Kappen who, the day before, was left at the altar of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in St. Louis. She said she had not spoken to Bill since July 2, the day before the intended wedding. There was nothing in his demeanor that indicated he was getting cold feet.
 
Irene told police that after the initial tears had passed, her sadness turned into anger and she was determined to find Bill and hold him to account. At least that was her plan until she read in the paper that Illinois police had the body of an unidentified man whose description matched Bill’s.
 
Before taking her fears to the police Irene went to Bill’s apartment to see if it held any clues to Bill’s actions. The scene in the flat fit the clues at the crime scene the way a key fits its lock.
 
“Neatly pressed, the bridegroom’s wedding suit was laid out on the bed which had either been freshly made or not slept in the night before,” reported American Weekly.
 
Bill was interrupted in the process of getting ready for a bath. The tub was half-filled with water, but the washcloth and soap looked undisturbed.
 
One clue was difficult to explain, however. Bill was not a smoker, but several cigarette butts were crushed into the carpet in his bedroom. This indicates someone else was in the apartment, of course, but were they lying in wait or did they arrive after Bill?
 
If the killers were waiting to kidnap Bill, why was he allowed to start a bath? If he had been in a long conversation with someone he knew, why had he dressed so quickly? Why would he allow someone to grind out their cigarettes on his rug?
 
Irene was taken to the morgue where she identified Bill’s body.
 
Police quickly established that Kappen was in no way connected with St. Louis organized crime and had no known enemies. There was only one person who would benefit from his death and that was his sister, Marie Porter.
 
She was brought into the station for an interview that quickly turned into an interrogation. The cops had done their homework in a very short time and confronted Porter with their knowledge of her young lover, and said he was being interviewed in a nearby room. If they had hoped this would loosen her tongue they were sadly mistaken.
 
Down the hall Giancola was quite uncomfortable, and not just because of the bad case of poison ivy that was driving him crazy. It was his scratching that really broke the case wide open because it unquestionably put him at the scene of the crime and was something he could not explain away. One does not simply walk around urban St. Louis and catch a case of poison ivy.
 
Confronted with this, Giancola gave his first confession which was mostly bogus.


I met Mrs. Porter on the night of the murder and she gave me $10 to hire an automobile. She told me to drive to Kappen’s home. I waited outside and half an hour later she and Bill came out together. She got in the back seat and Bill got in front with me. We stopped at a roadside tavern for some drinks. Bill was getting worried, for he was going to be married the next morning. We told him we would get him back in time. As we drove out toward Belleville, Mrs. Porter called to Bill. As he turned around I heard a shot and he slumped over toward me…

Parts of the confession are truthful: he explained that he caught the poison ivy after using the handkerchiefs to wipe blood off his hands and clothes, and the murder occurred where he said it did — at least in the geographic sense.
 
The immediate destruction of the relationship between the widow and the bricklayer, forged with such fragile bonds, probably happened like Giancola said.
 
“She told me if I said anything it would be too bad for me,” he confessed.
 
There was no blood in the car and the amount at the scene indicated Bill was standing beside the car when he was shot point-blank. No witnesses could be found who could place Porter with either Bill or Giancola.
 
This looked as if it was going to be one of those cases where guilt could be established everywhere except in a court of law.
 
Murderers must lack two emotional traits to be successful. They must not possess any moral compunction against killing and they must not fear being caught and punished. Those who kill know this by consciousness — without thinking about it at all — while the rest of us shake our heads in bafflement. But one thing that people who play close attention to crime instinctively know, but which killers do not count on, is that murder brings on feelings of guilt and a never-ending feeling of impending doom.
 
In this case, those unexpected emotions proved too much for one young man to bear, and in an attempt to ease his conscience, Giancola’s brother, John, whom police had not even considered as a suspect, appeared at the detective bureau and promptly confessed everything.
 
John not only implicated himself in the crime, he said his brother pulled the trigger while he stood by as a willing participant. The motive was $800 promised by Porter. The timing was the forthcoming nuptials.
 
“Last Friday night she said she couldn’t wait another day because Bill was going to get married,” he confessed. “He would probably sign over his insurance to his wife. Mrs. Porter said she would bury her brother and give us $800 out of the insurance money.”
 
Giancola and Porter quickly folded and confessed.
 
At trial the goal of the Giancola brothers was to make sure Porter shared whatever fate was in store. Both men took the stand, confessed their guilt, pointed a finger at Porter as the ringleader and threw themselves on the mercy of the court.
 
Porter’s “They Acted Alone” defense was a miserable failure and three guilty verdicts were returned. Appeals were quickly dismissed and the punishments were allowed to stand.
 
The executions were placed on hold after the mother of Giancola, desperate to save her son’s life, convinced the lieutenant governor who was acting as temporary governor in the absence of his boss that she had new evidence that would save her child. The new evidence — Porter gave Giancola a sexually transmitted disease — was not enough to tilt the scales of justice in the young man’s favor.
 
On January 27, 1938, the governor of Illinois said he could not find any justification for granting clemency to “stolid Mrs. Marie Porter or to Angelo Ralph Giancola, the handsome youth she hired to kill her brother,” the Associated Press reported.
 
The next day, shortly after midnight, Giancola and Porter died, one after the other, in the electric chair. From start to finish the executions took under an hour. The two condemned prisoners, who had not seen each other since the trial, made similar statements expressing remorse for their crime and praying for God’s mercy.

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.