For I Have Killed: Decades after a beauty queen is murdered, detectives finally piece together the identity of her killer, a man no one would have suspected.
Madman at the Mall: It was a typically bustling Saturday afternoon at the Strathfield Mall. Then a man entered… carrying an assault rifle.
Copycat Jack: The year was 1888 and London was being terrorized by a knife-wielding madman. Now a mutilated body has been found hundreds of miles away. Has the Ripper shifted his killing ground?
A Monster in Our Midst: A shopping cart stands near the garbage chute, dripping blood onto the paving. What’s inside those neatly packed bags?
Bad Rabbi: Meet Fred Neulander, a rabbi with a rather liberal take on living one’s life by the Ten Commandments.
I Love You to Death: The victim stood over 6-foot tall; the suspect was a petite 4-foot-11. Was it really possible that she’d hacked and beaten him to death?
Motive Unknown: A senseless double homicide leaves NYPD detectives baffled. They know who the killer is. They just don’t understand why he did it.
Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of
Murder Most Vile Volume 24
Lt. Lee Hartley was gravely ill and the medical staff aboard the USS Forrestal did not have a clue as to what was wrong with him. The Forrestal class supercarrier had departed its home base of Mayport, Florida on June 8, 1982 for a five-month deployment to the Mediterranean. Now, four months later, Lt. Hartley was in such a poor state of health that the decision was taken to airlift him from the ship and then fly him back to the military hospital in Jacksonville.
Lieutenant Hartley’s symptoms had first appeared about one month into the deployment. At first, he’d reported severe stomach cramps and a strange tingling sensation in his extremities. A stint in the ships infirmary and treatment for gastroenteritis seemed to stabilize his condition but a couple of weeks later the symptoms were back – with a vengeance. Now, the lieutenant was in constant agony, he complained of being cold, sores began to appear on his lips and in his mouth, his complexion began to take on a peculiar gray hue. That was when the decision was made to get him off the ship.
But doctors at the Navy hospital in Jacksonville, with all of their advanced technology, fared no better in diagnosing Hartley’s illness. Their best bet was liver disease or hepatitis. And, whatever was ailing the lieutenant, his stint in the hospital did not improve his condition. On November 18, 1982, he eventually succumbed to organ failure. Given the agony of the previous five months, death must have been almost a relief.
Lee Hartley’s family, especially his wife of just one year, Pam, were devastated by his death. And they were soon to receive shocking news. Doctors had been unable to determine the cause of Lee’s ill health but an autopsy would quickly get to the bottom of it. Hartley’s liver, his kidneys and blood, contained nearly 1,000 times the natural levels of arsenic.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is a law enforcement tasked with investigating crimes in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. With the revelation that Lt. Hartley had died of poisoning, the agency was ordered to launch an inquiry, with Special Agents Jerry Whitacre and Walter O’Brien assigned to the case. Their initial theory was that Hartley may have come into contact the poison accidentally. But an audit of the ships inventory soon put paid to that idea. There was nothing on board that would account for it. And that left only one option. Lt. Hartley had been murdered.
But who among the Forrestal’s 5,000 crewmen might have wanted Hartley dead? As it turned out, quite a few. Lt. Hartley had been head of the ship’s disciplinary department so it had been his job to dole out punishments to wayward sailors. That had earned him more than a few enemies among the enlisted men. In fact, Hartley had told his father in a letter that one sailor had come at him with a sword. Strangely, though, he hadn’t reported the incident to his superiors.
NCIS, in any case, favored another suspect, the person who stood to gain most from Hartley’s death, his grieving widow Pam. The only problem with that theory was that Pam had been thousands of miles away at the time her husband was poisoned. Or had she? Further digging turned up the fact that the Hartleys had rendezvoused in Benidorm, Spain while the Forrestal was docked there and Lee was on shore leave. During that stop, they had hung out with another navy couple and Pam had made breakfast for the group, as well as several cocktails. A few hours later, both Lee and his navy colleague had both suffered severe abdominal cramps. The other man soon recovered but over the weeks that followed Lee’s condition got steadily worse.
The NCIS investigation uncovered other information to support their theory about Pam Hartley. Pam had once been enlisted in the Navy but now worked as an environmental technician with the Department of Energy. In that capacity she had access to various poisons, including arsenic. The Hartleys marriage was also not as blissful as it appeared on the surface. Lee Hartley was a jealous man and Pam a flirtatious woman. This toxic combination had led to a number of spats at the Naval Officer’s Club, which had not gone unnoticed.
Delving deeper, NCIS agents learned that Lee had been married before. But his apparently happy, 16-year marriage had come to an end after Pam had been assigned to his office as a clerk. The two had soon become involved in a torrid affair with Lee eventually divorcing his wife and marrying Pam soon after. Inquiries at the Officer’s Wives’ Club turned up more interesting revelations. It appeared that Pam could be quite forthcoming after a few drinks. She’d told more than one woman that she found it difficult to remain faithful while Lee was away at sea. And on one occasion she’d made a flippant comment about hiring a hitman to get rid of him.
Under questioning, Pam said that she could not recall making the remark and insisted that she loved Lee and would never do anything to hurt him. Asked to take a polygraph, she immediately agreed. The investigative team was certain that the test would back up their suspicions but the results threw them a curve ball. Pam Hartley passed with flying colors.
And then there was another setback to the investigation. The toxicology report was in and it revealed something startling. An analysis of Lee’s hair follicles allowed pathologists to determine the pattern of his arsenic ingestion. It showed that Lee’s first exposure to the toxin had come weeks before he hooked up with Pam in Benidorm and had continued at regular intervals long after Pam had returned to the States. That seemed to get Pam off the hook and sent investors back to the formidable tasks of assessing the 5,000 suspects aboard the Forrestal.
But who among them had both motive and opportunity? Could it possibly be Lee Hartley’s cabin mate, Lt. Samuel Yates. The two men had an apparently good relationship. Then again, they were rivals for promotion to Lieutenant Commander. And Yates may have had another motive. It appeared that he had begun keeping time with the grieving widow soon after Lee’s death. Some reports even suggested that he’d seduced her at the funeral.
So was Yates their man? The early signs said…maybe. Blood tests on Yates showed elevated levels of arsenic, consistent with having handled the poison. But there might have been another explanation. Yates had been Hartley’s cabin mate over several months and thus would have been exposed to the same environmental factors as the dead man. He might have ingested the poison this way. In any case, Yates was soon ruled out as a suspect. Tests carried out on his belongings showed no trace of arsenic. Had he handled the poison, those traces would almost certainly have been transpired to the other objects he’d touched.
All of the main suspects had now been eliminated, forcing investigators to consider some bizarre theories. One was that Hartley had committed suicide by purposely dosing himself with arsenic. That idea was quickly discounted after a psychologist analyzed Hartley’s recent letters and said that he found no suggestion of suicidal thoughts. The ingestion of small amounts of poison over an extended period also did not fit with the typical pattern of suicide. Why subject yourself to months of agony when there are faster, less painful methods?
A more plausible theory was that Hartley had taken the arsenic not to kill himself but rather to make himself ill. According to his family he had recently spoken about being fed up with long deployments and wanted to be assigned to a desk job back in Florida.
Perhaps he’d taken the poison to get himself off the ship and back to shore where he could be with his wife. If that was the case, then Hartley could not have chosen a worse toxin. Once taken, arsenic is not expelled from the body. Instead it accumulates in cells and tissue and its effect becomes multiplied over time.
This theory, like the others, would ultimately discarded. If Hartley had handled arsenic, there should have been traces of it on his possessions. No trace was found. Aside from that, Hartley had continued to ingest the poison even after he was airlifted from the Forrestal. If his intention had been to get off the ship, why wouldn’t he have stopped taking the poison once that goal was achieved? The simple answer was that he wouldn’t. One year into the investigation and with no more leads to pursue, the case went cold. It would remain so until 1995.
That was the year that NCIS formed a cold case unit. One of the first cases it was assigned was the unsolved murder of Lee Hartley. However, the investigative team soon hit a major roadblock. In the intervening 13 years, all of the physical evidence had been destroyed. All that was left were medical records and the written reports of the original investigative team.
Undeterred by this setback, the agents set about re-interviewing as many of the original witnesses as possible. Soon a pattern emerged. Almost everyone they spoke to seemed to think that Pam was somehow involved. There was no real evidence, of course, but the young woman’s behavior, during the time that Lee was in the hospital, had definitely raised eyebrows. While her husband lay dying, Pam could often be found hanging out in the parking lot, joking and horsing around with hospital staff. The investigators got another disconcerting piece of intel. Pam’s brother, Ron, revealed that she had once approached him with an offer of cash in exchange for killing Lee. It was time to interview the widow Hartley.
Pam had benefitted handsomely from her husband’s death, receiving a $35,000 insurance payout, $10,000 a year in veterans’ benefits and free military medical care for life. But the interceding years had not been good to her. After blowing through the insurance money, she’d lapsed into a cycle of alcohol and drug abuse. Currently she was receiving treatment for addiction at a hospital on a military base. It was there that investigators tracked her down.
Under interrogation, Pam soon broke down. According to her, her marriage to Lee Hartley had not been a happy one. Lee was extremely possessive and stifled her in everything she wanted to do. Within a year, she had grown to despise him. Despite this, she was not about to walk away. She loved the status attached to being a Naval officer’s wife and was not prepared to give that up. And if she couldn’t be a Navy wife, then the next best thing was to be a Navy widow. By the time Lt. Hartley departed on his final deployment aboard the USS Forrestal, his wife had decided to kill him.
The way that she went about it was ingenious. Pam knew that Lee had a sweet tooth and so she started to send him care packages of home-baked cookies and his favorite, whiskey cake. All of these treats were generously laced with arsenic, a colorless, odorless poison. She firmly believed that he would be dead within weeks.
But to her surprise, Lee didn’t die, not even when she upped the dosage. It was time for a new plan. When Lee had shore leave in Benidorm, she flew to Spain to spend time with him. There, she dosed his food and drink with arsenic, accidentally poisoning his navy buddy in the process. Even after Lee was airlifted to the hospital in Jacksonville, she continued her campaign, feeding him poisoned apple juice as he lay in his bed. That, as it turned out, was the fatal dose. Lee Hartley died the next day.
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