Tag Archive for Michigan

A Modern-Day Bluebeard

Lowell Amos

Carolyn Lawrence Amos might still be alive today if she had followed her instincts and not taken her estranged husband, Lowell Amos, back the day after his mother died.
 
Instead, in 1989, Carolyn was murdered by her husband, a modern-day Bluebeard, who collected $800,000 from an insurance company. Ironically, Carolyn threw Amos out in 1987 when he refused to cancel the overly large policy he took out on her life.
 
According to Amos, Carolyn was accidentally electrocuted by a hair dryer while she stood at the bathroom sink. However, the autopsy revealed no evidence of electrocution, but did show that Carolyn had ingested Valium and alcohol shortly before her death. The coroner ruled the cause of death undetermined and the case was closed.
 
In hindsight, it is surprising that the Middletown, Indiana, police did not look a little more closely at the circumstances of Carolyn’s death. It occurred less than a year after Amos’s mother, Mary Toles, died under mysterious circumstances only a few weeks after Amos moved in with her. Just what killed the 77-year-old woman was never determined. Because of her age no autopsy was performed.
 
But that’s not all. In 1979 Amos’s first wife, Saundra Heard Amos, 36, died after she allegedly fell and hit her head in the bathroom. Traces of Dalmane, a sleep aid, and alcohol were found in her blood during the autopsy. Again the coroner ruled the cause of death undetermined and closed the case. Amos collected $350,000 in life insurance.
 
Amos wasn’t finished, however. In 1994 his third wife, Roberta Wagner Amos, died of a drug overdose under circumstances that can only be called bizarre.
 
The couple were in Detroit for Amos’s consulting firm’s Christmas party. They spent the evening drinking and around midnight returned to their room in the Atheneum Hotel where they began using cocaine.
 
A friend of Amos’s business partner told police that she was with the Amoses until around 4:30 a.m., December 10. She said that Roberta looked tired and “like she was drinking” while Amos appeared to be “jumpy and talkative.”
 
Amos and Roberta went to bed and when he awoke later that morning he found Roberta dead next to him. She had apparently been dead some time because one employee called by Amos after discovering Roberta’s body said Amos graphically told him her corpse was cold.
 
“I touched her and she was cold,” an equally cold Amos reportedly said. “She’s laying in the next room — cold as a mackerel.”
 
Amos told them he had waited to call anyone so he would have time to get rid of the evidence of cocaine use. Amos handed the man an overnight bag and asked him to take the bag from the hotel before the police arrived. When the man got to his home he opened the bag to find a syringe without a needle, a “foul-smelling hotel washcloth with an unrecognizable substance on it,” according to reports, and a sports coat. He turned the evidence of — something — over to police.
 
Unlike the Indiana authorities, Detroit cops, who coined the phrase “routine murder,” opened a homicide investigation even before the results of the autopsy were in. Amos was talking with Detroit homicide detectives back at the hotel where he admitted the couple had used cocaine. Amos told the cops that the couple had inserted the coke anally and in Roberta’s vagina.
 
“Obviously, Roberta is a 37-year-old healthy female that had a completely unexpected death,” said Detroit homicide detective Patrick Henahan. “Then the following day we started getting calls from these other locales regarding the other wives and that’s what made us delve into it.”
 
Roberta’s autopsy revealed that she had a “tremendous” amount of cocaine in her body, according to Wayne County medical examiner Sawait Kanluen.
 
“It was 15 times the amount typically seen in a cocaine overdose,” he later testified. The ME pronounced her death a homicide.
 
There was good reason to rule the manner of death homicide: Roberta’s mother, Marie, testified that Roberta did not use drugs, and a professor of emergency medicine told the court during Amos’s preliminary hearing that Roberta’s symptoms as described by the friend who was with her that night did not fit with a cocaine overdose.
 
“The symptoms of a typical cocaine overdose include nervousness and hyperactivity,” said Dr. Suzanne White. “Mrs. Amos would not have simply fallen asleep or died quietly had she overdosed.”
 
In addition, other friends of Roberta’s told police that Roberta was afraid of her husband and preparing to leave him because he was seeing another woman, something that was part-and-parcel with Amos’s psyche. He cheated on his first wife, Saundra, with Carolyn Lawrence, who he married just months after Saundra died. Two days after Roberta’s death, Amos treated a pair of women to a $1,000 dinner. The women reciprocated the favor by engaging in a menage a trois.
 
Unlike with the other deaths, Amos did not benefit financially from Roberta’s death.
 
“It makes me wonder how much did he have to hate her to do this,” said Marie Wagner. “Or did he just think he could get away with it here? No one has that much bad luck.”
 
Roberta’s death did prompt Indiana authorities to reopen the cases involving the deaths of Saundra, Mary Toles, and Carolyn Lawrence Amos.
 
“When you have one situation, you don’t have a track record. When you have two you start looking,” Anderson Detective Michael Williams said. “When you have three you get into a situation where you may have some kind of pattern.”
 
It took the Detroit police 11 months to gather enough evidence to charge Amos with first-degree murder. He was arrested in Las Vegas, where he moved after Roberta’s death.
 
There was plenty evidence presented at the preliminary hearing to indicate that Amos was a serial killer. Similar to a grand jury, the rules of evidence in a preliminary hearing held before a judge in state courts are different than those at trial, so prosecutors were able to introduce evidence connected to the deaths of Amos’s previous wives.
 
Connie Alexander, a former neighbor of Amos and Saundra, said the night Saundra Amos died in 1979, Saundra and Alexander shared a beer at Alexander’s house in Anderson, Ind. Saundra Amos went home about 11 p.m. A few hours later, her young children knocked at Alexander’s door.
 
“They said, ‘Something is wrong with Mommy, and the ambulance is stuck in the snow,”‘ Alexander said. She said her husband helped free the ambulance.
 
Alexander testified she went to the Amos house after hearing Saundra Amos had died. She found Lowell Amos burning something in the fireplace.
 
Binding Amos over for trial, Wayne County District Court Judge Deborah Lewis Langston asked rhetorically: “Is Mr. Amos unlucky in love? I have my own opinion.”
 
Then she looked down from the bench at Amos.
 
“May God have mercy on your soul,” she said.
 
At trial, Amos testified that he loved Roberta and was heartbroken when he learned she planned to end the marriage.
 
His stepson told jurors that Amos knew he would be under suspicion because of the earlier deaths. Gary S. Lawrence, Carolyn’s son, said he talked to Amos outside an Indiana funeral home after his third wife died.
 
“He told me he was glad he had no life insurance on Roberta. I told him it wouldn’t matter because if she had stepped off the curb and got hit by a bus people would swear he paid the bus driver. He said, ‘I know it.'”
 
Amos’s defense attorney argued that the state had not proved its case in his closing argument.
 
“As horrible, as sordid, as unfortunate as this particular case is,” the attorney said, “it is not murder.” At most it was a case of manslaughter.
 
The jury was allowed to hear evidence involving the death of Carolyn, but not those of the two other women, which helped establish a pattern of behavior. Jurors did not take long to convict Amos of murder. In Michigan the penalty for first-degree murder is a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole.
 
At his sentencing Amos continued to proclaim his innocence.
 
“You’re a young judge,” Amos said. “I hope this is the first time and the last time you have to sentence an innocent man.”
 
Judge Jeffrey Collins was unmoved, describing the former General Motors plant manager as a dangerous killer without conscience.
 
“Thank God for the safety of our community you will be locked up for the rest of your natural days,” he said.
 
As of May 2014, Amos is serving his sentence in an Upper Peninsula prison. No charges were filed in the deaths of Saundra, Carolyn, or Mary.

An Unsolved Murder

There are many theories about the death of Lydia Shevchenko Thompson in 1945, none of which satisfactorily explains her unsolved murder:

  • Lydia was slain by (or at the order of) her estranged husband, Louis Thompson
  • Her plan to have Louis and his paramour killed backfired
  • Lydia arranged her own death to punish her husband who was seeking a divorce
  • Lydia was the target of foreign secret police
  • The Russian immigrant was murdered by a random psychopath

 
Louis Victor Thompson was a British military officer who met Lydia Shevchenko in Turkey after World War I. She had fled the Bolshevik revolution, leaving her family behind in Rostov-on-Don, and was working as a nurse. Lydia and Louis married in Constantinople in 1922. For the next few years they lived in Europe before emigrating to the United States in 1928. They settled in Highland Park, Michigan, a city now completely encircled by Detroit.
 
In Highland Park the Thompsons opened a small laundry and over time the business thrived. It was the accumulation of wealth that caused the first rifts in the Thompson marriage.
 
Louis bought a $40,000 home in Orchard Lake (about a half-million dollars in 2007), a community between Detroit and Ann Arbor, complete with swimming pool, tennis court, and billiard room. Louis also hired a chauffeur to ferry him and his wife to their laundry in Highland Park.
 
While Louis enjoyed the luxuries that wealth brought, Lydia’s Old World work ethic and refugee experience prevented her from doing the same. While Louis golfed and enjoyed Detroit’s bustling nightlife, Lydia continued to work in the damp heat of her laundry. She berated Louis for wasting money and complained about the time he spent away from the Orchard Park home.
 
Lydia’s anger at her husband’s liberal spending habits turned to jealousy when he began spending time with younger women who were more than willing to enjoy his largesse. She hired private detectives to shadow her husband, who had developed a close relationship with his secretary, Helen Budnik.
 
After 22 years of marriage, shortly before Christmas 1944, Louis asked Lydia for a divorce. She adamantly refused and told her husband she would never agree to end their marriage.
 
On March 31, 1945, Lydia followed her husband to a club in Detroit where he was having dinner with friends. Although it appeared as if Louis was on a double date, the dinner was quite innocent and Helen Budnik was not present. Entering the Capitol Cafe, Lydia stormed over to her husband and accosted the group. She reached into her purse and pulled out a vial of acid that she threw on the women. One was burned on her face and the other received splashes of acid on her legs.
 
The attack ended any chance of the Thompsons reconciling. Louis called Helen, who was vacationing in Florida, and arranged to meet her in Miami. Lydia’s private detectives tailed him there and reported that Louis and Helen were occupying adjoining rooms in their Miami hotel. Lydia flew down to confront them.
 
“You can’t have my husband,” she reportedly told Helen. “If you take him, I’ll haunt you all my life. I’ll kill myself.”
 
Lydia wasn’t bluffing. She swallowed a handful of sleeping pills while in Miami, which only succeeded in making her ill. After she recovered she climbed out on a ledge outside her hotel room and threatened to jump.
 
“Please, Lydia,” Helen called to her. “I promise I’ll never see Vic again!”
 
Louis convinced Lydia to return to Michigan with him, but he resumed his relationship with Helen. Again, Lydia confronted her rival.
 
“If you try to marry my husband, I will never give you any peace,” Helen reported Lydia as telling her.
 
This time, however, Helen told Lydia that she intended to continue to see Louis.
 
Louis remained away from the Orchard Park house but he and Lydia saw each other about once each week until late autumn 1945.
 
It was October 11, 1945 that Lydia Thompson was last seen alive. She had breakfast with two friends, the sisters Nina Gentile and Josephine Latona in Highland Park. She expressed fear for her life, but according to a contemporary report, “in such a vague way that they smiled.”
 
That afternoon Lydia sent a mysterious cable to Rostov-on-Don that read “Send your address. Am mailing package soon. Wire immediately.” Just who the telegram was meant for or why it was sent was never explained. Police theorized that she sent it to family members behind the Iron Curtain. After that she apparently returned to her home in Orchard Park because the clothes she was seen wearing earlier in the day were hanging in a closet.
 
Police believe that by 7 p.m. that night she was dead.
 
On October 12, Lydia’s car was found in a parking lot in downtown Pontiac. The parking lot attendant later told police that the vehicle was not there when he left work at 10 p.m. Two waitresses, however, told investigators that the car was in the lot when they parked there at 11:30 p.m.
 
No one realized that Lydia had met with foul play until her body was found on October 13 by mushroom hunters about 12 miles west of Pontiac.
 
It was a particularly violent death. She had first been knocked unconscious and then stabbed four times in the breast and abdomen with a knife. Her killer then took an ice pick and drove it into her body 13 times. Finally, the assailant nearly decapitated her with a hatchet. Any footprints or tire tracks at the place where she was found had been obliterated by rain on the night of October 12.
 
Lydia was not murdered where her body was discovered, authorities decided based on the blood found at the scene. However, there was no blood or signs of a struggle at the Orchard Lake house or the Highland Park laundry. A search of the home indicated that no robbery had taken place — about $3,000 in diamonds and other jewels were found in the home. Police were unable to locate a handgun Lydia owned, her ration book, her driver’s license or any of her keys.
 
There was a letter to an Andrew Shevchenko found on her desk.

If after this day you don’t see me and you don’t hear anything of me, then go on Jefferson and find a man by the name of Perrone and ask him where I am. This is the doings of my husband. He is tired of me and wants to marry her. Everything that belongs to me I leave to you, father. Lydia

Shevchenko turned out to be Lydia’s 70-year-old senile father who lived in Detroit. No one who knew Lydia had any idea that her father had left Russia. Shevchenko could shed no light on his daughter’s activities.
 
Police tracked down three men on Jefferson Avenue named Perrone, all of who denied knowing Lydia.
 
Of course the primary suspect was Louis Thompson; he denied knowing anything of the crime and offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to her killer(s).
 
“Isn’t this terrible,” he told the press. “Some maniac did it and I wish I knew who.”
 
In addition to the letter, police found Lydia’s diary that hinted at a convoluted plot to make her husband pay for leaving her.
 
“I shall drag two people into my death with me,” she wrote.
 
A carpenter who worked on Lydia’s house came forward and helped point the finger of blame at Louis. While repairing some shelving, he said Lydia told him that Louis had attacked her several times with an ice pick.
 
“If I dared, I would show you the places,” Lydia reportedly told the man.
 
Louis and Helen Budnik each had an alibi for the time of Lydia’s murder and both took and passed lie detector tests. For a little while, however, Louis became a suspect again when dirt and hair were discovered on a pair of golf shoes in his car. A chemical analysis revealed that the hair was animal hair and the dirt was dissimilar to that at the scene of the crime.
 
Two weeks after his daughter’s death, Andrew Shevchenko left Detroit for New York, claiming that he feared for his life. This prompted speculation that he and his daughter might have been foreign agents of some kind. Those rumors were never borne out.
 
The investigation revealed that in the last months of her life Lydia was spending money like crazy. She spent a total of $6,400 and less than a month before her death she borrowed $1,500 from a friend. Some theorized that she was being blackmailed by Soviet agents who threatened the lives of relatives still living in Russia. Lydia told her friend that she needed the $1,500 to set her father up in business. Her father denied that she had ever made such a suggestion to him.
 
While police were tracking down a number of false leads, Louis Thompson married Helen Budnik in February 1946. She readily agreed to move into the Orchard Lake house. In preparation for the couple’s return to the house, relatives were cleaning up after the numerous police searches and found a package beneath the refrigerator: wrapped in one of Louis’s handkerchiefs were Lydia’s keys, her driver’s license, and her ration book. Police denied that the package was in the house when it had been searched earlier.
 
In the summer of 1946, Thompson himself found a property envelope belonging to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department behind some pipes in a closet. Inside the envelope was Lydia’s gun.
 
“I’m beginning to think that Lydia paid that $1,500 to have herself killed and arranged to have the blame put on me,” Louis told police when he handed over the weapon.
 
Helen had a different theory.
 
“Personally, I think that Lydia was arranging to have us killed,” she told the press. “In an argument with the person she hired she got killed herself.”
 
In 1947, acting as a one-man grand jury investigating the Detroit racket scene, Wayne County Judge George B. Murphy issued a subpoena for Santo Perrone, one of the Peronnes on Jefferson Avenue who had denied knowing Lydia Thompson. Shortly after speaking with Perrone, Murphy handed up indictments against Louis and Helen Thompson.
 
The story that came out, however, had nothing to do with Perrone, but did involve an Italian ex-con from a Detroit suburb who told a girlfriend that he had been hired by Louis to “get rid” of his wife. The ex-con claimed that the story was made up to scare the girlfriend so he could return to his wife and children.
 
After 12 days of testimony at the Thompsons’ preliminary hearing, the judge threw out the case against them on a technicality: there was no evidence to show that the murder occurred in Wayne County.
 
The last time police had any public comment on the case was in 1949 when a “weak-minded, borderline psychopath” arrested in Atlanta, Georgia on a bad-check charge said he was paid $500 to drive the car for the man who killed Lydia.
 
The man claimed that Lydia was killed by a man whom she hired to spy on her husband.
 
Police discounted his claim and after a cursory probe, returned the investigation to the cold case files, where it remains.