Tag Archive for murder for hire

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. Iā€™ve never heard of it.ā€ Judge Dick A. Mudge said in passing sentence. ā€œI have earnestly, but in vain, examined the record to find some mitigating circumstance in connection with this crime.ā€
 
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.

Mistakes Were Made

Buschkopf and Lucas mugs

The first mistake Carlene Buschkopf made was deciding that killing her husband, Theodore, for the insurance money was a good idea.
 
The second, and the one that ultimately took her down, was involving a near-stranger in the plot. Carlene and her lover, Arthur Lucas, would never have succeeded with their plan anyway, but Lucas really messed it up when he expected his alibi witness, a casual bar friend who did not like him, to stand up to a police interrogation. Not only did Judy Baker tell investigators everything she knew, she agreed to help the Winona, Minnesota, police put the case closed stamp on this murder for money.
 
There were plenty of other poor choices that feature prominently in this stupid crime. How stupid, you ask? Carlene was so deep in debt that the insurance policy she hoped to collect would not even bring her head above water. As for mistakes, they range from the common getting caught in a lie by police to the amateurish bungling of the first attempt to kill Ted Buschkopf.
 
The final proof that the gods looked down in anger on the conspirators is a fine example of irony. The second plan called for Carlene to be wounded in a random attack that killed her husband in the cheap hotel where they were living. To the conspirators the plan sounded good, but their poor execution ended up tacking on an extra attempted murder charge for good measure.
 
If investigators hear “a robber killed my husband but not me even though I was in bed beside him,” they start making wagers about how many hours are left until the wife confesses. That is not to say it is a crime most often perpetrated by a woman. It will only take a couple of clicks around the Register to find a surprising number of attempts at this crime with the most dire consequences. One man was double-crossed and died at the hand of his hired gunman. Three people — two men and a woman –are on death row, another two women will die behind prison walls and at least one spent the better part of her life in prison. Even these statistics pale in comparison to the murders where the spouse has an alibi, but that is a story for another day.
 
In 1983, Carlene, 33 years old at the time, was the manager of a failed restaurant that Lucas, 45, owned. The Buschkopfs were drowning in debt and were going down for the third time. They were borrowing money from Ted’s parents just to survive. In June, 1983, the Buschkopfs’ land contract on their home was cancelled and the couple was subsequently evicted from the apartment they had rented. On the day of the shooting, July 25, 1983, the Buschkopfs owed $50,000 on a signature note, were facing a tax lien of $4,700 and many judgments and creditors’ claims.
 
Testimony at Carlene’s trial showed on the day of the shooting, besides the clothes on her back, the only thing Carlene owned was half a pack of cigarettes.
 
Naturally the situation created troubles for the couple and that is how Carlene came to be Arthur’s lover.
 
“I always wanted a hug and kiss in life,” she testified at her trial. “Money never meant nothing to me. That’s why Art Lucas meant something to me.”
 
Lucas was in no better shape: He owed more than $82,000 in connection with his business by the day of the shooting, was obliged on additional debts of over $6,000, and was behind on his rent.
 
Things were looking up, or so the conspirators thought: Ten days earlier, Ted, 32, changed his life insurance policies to make Carlene the primary beneficiary. The value of the life insurance was $80,000 — barely enough to make a dent in the debts. Prosecutors presented evidence at Lucas’s trial that he and Carlene planned to use the money to reopen the bankrupt eatery.
 
Carlene and Arthur had been planning Ted’s murder for some time before the actual event, investigators said, and tried several times to kill him.
 
The most interesting attempt is what became known at the trial as “The Shive Road Incident.”
 
Enlisting the help of some friends, Carlene offered Patricia Balk and her boyfriend Peter Fraley a quarter of the insurance proceeds for their help.
 
One night shortly before the shooting while they were out driving, Carlene asked her husband to take a back road for a change. There they came across Balk lying in the middle of the road and a van parked nearby. Ted stopped the car and went over to Balk, assuming she was hurt. As he was bending down to render aid, Lucas and Peter Fraley left the van, intending to knock Ted out with a baseball bat. Their brilliant plan was to place Ted’s unconscious body in his car and leave it on some railroad tracks, where a train would finish the job.
 
Fraley changed his mind at the last moment, and according to testimony at Lucas’s trial, put the bat in Ted’s car. Lucas, however, was not ready to give up. He took the bat and hit Ted over the head.
 
At that point the plot fully collapsed. Rather than rendering Ted unconscious, the blow merely stunned him and his attackers fled in the van. The next day at work, Ted, an engineer at a plumbing company, told a coworker of the incident and showed him the lump on the back of his head. Ted put it down to a failed robbery attempt, not considering the fact he and Carlene were off the beaten path and not a lucrative spot for highway robbers.
 
Two days later the conspirators tried again and this time they would have more success (so to speak).
 
Early on the morning of July 26, a guest at a Winona motel called the manager after hearing someone moaning and calling for help. The manager summoned police, who arrived moments later to find Carlene lying in the doorway of a motel room, clutching her stomach and claiming to have been coshed over the head as well.
 
In the bed police found Ted, unconscious from a .22-caliber bullet wound to the head. When medical personnel arrived, they found that Carlene had been shot in the lower back and had a knot on her head. The bullet had traveled into Carlene’s abdomen and surgery was necessary to remove it. The knock to the head would have been aggravated assault, but even though Carlene agreed to be shot and the shooter did not want to kill her, it is still attempted murder because it involved a potentially lethal weapon.
 
Ted never regained consciousness and died in mid-August, but by that time the entire plot had unraveled. Both Carlene and Arthur were advised while they were already in jail that the charges had been upped from attempted murder to first degree murder.
 
At her trial for killing her husband, Carlene told her version of what happened that morning.
 
“I was hit on the head,” she told the jury. “Well, I tried to get my head up but there was a pillow on my head. I laid there and then I heard a wrestle in the room. I didn’t actually see anything.”
 
She claimed that a man’s voice told her to stay still and when she called out for Ted, “I heard like a kid’s pop gun.”
 
Trying to save her own skin, Carlene threw Balk and Fraley under the bus, claiming the entire crime was their idea and that she and Lucas were merely pawns. She said Balk and Fraley frequently threatened her before the shooting and that Balk was trying to extort blood from a stone because of her affair with Lucas. That blackmail, she claimed, was why Lucas’s restaurant folded in the first place. He was making the payments from his daily receipts. She also claimed that “If I didn’t, they would kill me,” and said on the night of the Shive Road incident, Fraley had threatened her with a gun.
 
Facing the very serious charges of conspiracy to commit murder for hire, attempted murder for hire, and attempted murder for the shooting for Carlene, both Balk and Fraley claimed it was they who had been threatened if they did not cooperate.
 
But what really broke the case wide open was the evidence provided by Judy Baker, a bartender at the place where Lucas liked to run up his tab trying to drown his sorrows.
 
Lucas wamted to use Baker as his alibi, telling police that on the night of the shooting he had been at the bar with Baker and had accompanied her home. At first, Baker made the ill-fated decision to provide the excuse Lucas needed, but when her story failed to match his, she admitted she was lying. Then it all came out.
 
She said she first met Lucas in May of that year. Some time in June of 1983 he began telling her of the financial problems he and Carlene were having. In mid-July Carlene, whom Baker knew by sight only, visited Baker at her home. Carlene also told Baker of marital and financial problems during the visit, but said she hoped to have those problems taken care of soon.
 
Sometime during the week of July 10, Lucas told Baker that he and Carlene had a plan to get out of their financial problems by “getting rid” of somebody, but that previous attempts to carry out the plan had failed. He also told her that the motive to get rid of this person was to collect insurance money. On July 23, he asked Baker to help him with an alibi and offered her $1,000 if she would be seen with him on a particular evening.
 
Two days later, on July 25, he called her at the bar where she worked, again asked for her help, and said he would be coming by the bar. She hung up and said to a co-worker, “Oh, God, that man is coming up here.” He arrived around 7:30 and asked to spend the night with her. She agreed, but said she never saw him again after he left around 9 p.m.
 
She received two phone calls from Lucas, however. She said he called her at about 6:30 on the morning of July 26, and said “It’s happened, it’s over, it’s done.” He went on to tell her that she should tell the police he had been with her between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. that morning.
 
While her little white lie could have made her part of the conspiracy and subject to charge as an accessory, she managed to escape with a stern talking-to about the importance of being honest when talking to the police and a little request. Police asked Baker to make some phone calls to Carlene and Lucas where they each made incriminating statements. In one, Lucas admitted being at the scene of the crime, but he minimized his participation by denying that he fired any shots. His sole purpose for being there, he said on the tape, was to dispose of the gun.
 
Carlene and Lucas were both arrested on Aug. 1, 1983 and subsequently convicted at separate trials and sentenced to life in prison. For their role in the crime, Balk and Fraley each received three years.
 
In 1984 Carlene walked away from the women’s prison where she was doing time and managed to stay on the lam for a week. At a 1992 parole hearing, prison officials said that she was “not a model prisoner” and had apparently become involved in an on-going feud with another inmate.
 
She died of a lung disease in 2010. Lucas, now in his 70s, remains behind bars.