Blood Money: It was a seemingly uncrackable case, with no trace evidence and a solid alibi for the prime suspect. Dogged police work would unlock the puzzle.
Unfriended: A social media spat turns ugly and escalates into threats and accusations. Soon it will spill over into the real world. With deadly consequences.
Trust No One: When Toni met Harold through a Christian dating site she thought she had found her ideal man. But when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Grosse Pointe Bob: Why give up half your fortune in a divorce when $20,000 to a mentally challenged hitman frees you of all marital obligations?
Motive and Opportunity: When a custody battle turns bitter, an estranged husband recruits his mother and father to help him carry out a truly horrendous crime.
Million Dollar Murder: A billionaire Swiss banker with plenty of enemies is found shot to death, wearing a latex S & M outfit. Who killed him and why?
Bad Intentions: A young woman vanishes from a suburban street in broad daylight. What happened to her is the stuff of nightmares.
Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of
Murder Most Vile Volume 26
Kill or Be Killed
On the evening of January 18, 2003, an attorney named Neal Davis walked into the District Attorney’s office in Houston, Texas, and handed over his business card. “There’s an address written on the back,” he said. “You’ll find a body buried there. I can’t say any more at this time.”
Tip-offs are, of course, an important tool for law enforcement. But, as any investigator will tell you, they probably field a hundred false leads for every one that turns out to be true. This one, coming from an attorney with one of Houston’s most respected law firms, was immediately taken seriously. Officers from Harris County Precinct 4 were dispatched to check it out. They arrived after dark at a modest family home to the north the city. There they soon discovered that this was no hoax. An area of earth near the patio had recently been disturbed. Digging there, officers quickly uncovered the corpse of a large man, buried just a couple of feet below the surface. It was obvious how he’d died. The body had been perforated by multiple knife wounds.
With the area cordoned off, officers got down to working the scene and soon discovered a mattress, box spring, and comforter hidden in the yard, all of them liberally soaked with blood. Inside the house, there was evidence of an attempted cover-up. A wall had been recently painted and a section of carpet had been cut out. Scissors, a box-cutter, and painting supplies were stacked in a corner, along with a two-gallon vat of bleach. In the bathroom, officers found a towel and a pair of women’s jeans soaking in a bleach solution that was tinged brown with blood.
The body, meanwhile, had been removed to the morgue. The police knew by now that he was Jeff Wright, a married father-of-two who lived with his family at the address where he’d been found. Wright had not died easily. The medical examiner would count a total of 193 knife wounds inflicted on his face, neck, chest, abdomen, arms, legs, and penis. Two knives had been used, and the blade of one of those had broken off in the victim’s skull. There was also evidence that Wright had been restrained at the time he was killed. The corpse had been found with ligatures (two neckties and a bathrobe sash) around the wrists and the right ankle. Death was estimated to have occurred on January 13, 2003, five days before the body was found. As to who had killed Jeff Wright, there was only one suspect – his wife Susan. She was currently in a psychiatric ward, having been placed there by her attorney.
Jeffrey and Susan had met on a blind date back in 1997 and had been instantly attracted to one another. Jeff was a handsome and outgoing man, who stood 6-foot-3 and had a way with the ladies. Susan was a pretty and petite blonde who was working at the time as a waitress and supplementing her income by performing as a topless dancer. It would be safe to say that she was swept off her feet by the charming, good-looking man who inundated her with phone calls, flowers, and gifts. Before long, Susan was pregnant and, in 1998, she accepted Jeff’s proposal. Their son, Bradley, was born just a month after the nuptials. A second child, Kaily, would be born three years later. By then, Susan had long abandoned her dancing career and was a stay-at-home mom. Jeff, meanwhile, worked as a sales representative for a carpeting company.
On the surface, the Wrights seemed to have a happy marriage. Jeff appeared to be a loving husband and a devoted father. But all was not as it seemed. According to Susan’s later testimony, her husband was an extremely controlling man. Susan was required to keep him informed of her whereabouts at all times and was only allowed to leave the house with his permission and for short periods. Any deviation from this and Jeff would fly into a rage and accuse her of cheating on him. He also expected the home to be perfect at all times and would become angry and abusive if Susan’s housework did not match up to his exacting standards. She’d be verbally abused, physically battered and subjected to spousal rape on a regular basis.
Jeff was also a drug user and a philanderer. His drug of choice was cocaine, and it often drove him to manic fits of rage. As for his sleeping around, Susan might have looked the other way if Jeff had not infected her with an STD and if his many lovers had not called the house at all hours of the night and day.
And yet, despite the mistreatment, despite the affairs and the drug taking, Susan stayed in the marriage. Her primary concern was for her children. She would endure anything on their behalf. She would not, however, stand by to see them endure the kind of abuse that she suffered.
On the evening of January 13, 2003, Jeff Wright arrived home from a boxing lesson. Susan could see immediately that he was under the influence of drugs, but for once the cocaine had not affected his mood. He seemed decidedly upbeat as he started playing with Bradley, teaching the four-year-old some boxing moves and encouraging him to spar. However, when Bradley tired of the game, Jeff became angry and lashed out at the boy, punching him in the chest. He then stalked off, leaving his son in tears.
To Susan, this was the last straw. After comforting Bradley and then putting him and his sister to bed, she decided to confront Jeff about his problems with drugs and violence. She knew better than to challenge him head on, so she tried appealing to his better nature, begging him to consider rehab and anger management sessions for the sake of his children. That seemed to get through to Jeff, but then Susan made a crucial mistake. She warned her husband that if he did not get help, she’d be forced to leave, taking the kids with her.
Susan should perhaps have anticipated how Jeff would react to this ultimatum. He grabbed her by the hair, beat her to the floor, kicked her repeatedly in the stomach. Then he dragged her to the bed and raped her. This time, however, Jeff was not going to stop there. After the sexual assault, he walked out of the room, leaving Susan lying on the bed. When she opened her eyes moments later, he was standing over her, holding a large kitchen knife.
Jeff Wright stood almost a foot taller than his wife and outweighed her by 100 pounds. But self-preservation can trigger an extraordinary response, and it did in this case. Susan fought desperately for the knife and managed to wrest it from Jeff. Then she straddled him, pinned him to the bed and started stabbing.
“I stabbed him in the head and I stabbed him in the neck and I stabbed him in the chest,” she’d later testify. “I stabbed him in the stomach, and I stabbed his leg for all the times he kicked me, and I stabbed his penis for all the times he made me have sex when I didn't want to.” A total of 193 wounds were inflicted on Jeffrey Wright. It was only when the blade broke off in his skull that Susan stopped.
If Susan Wright’s story is to believed, then she killed her husband in an act of self-defense. But her actions after the fact did not reflect that. She could have called the police and reported the killing, claiming justification. Instead, she loaded Jeff’s body onto a dolly and hauled it out into the yard where there was already a hole dug – Jeff had planned on installing a fountain. Over the days that followed, she bought potting soil to fill in the grave and set about cleaning up the crime scene, painting, ripping up carpet, disposing of the blood-stained mattress and box spring. She did all of this, according to her testimony, “in a fog.” She barely ate during this time, hardly slept. Eventually, five days after the killing, she told her mother what had happened. Susan’s mother then contacted attorney Neal Davis, who had Susan admitted to a mental-health facility before going to the District Attorney.
Thus far, we have examined the story mostly from Susan Wright’s perspective. But the State would offer an entirely different version of events at trial. Prosecutor Kelly Siegler rejected Susan’s battered wife story, contending that such abuse would have caused serious injuries, broken bones, concussion and the like. Yet Susan had never once, during the course of her seven-year marriage, required medical treatment for such injuries. The prosecutor also ridiculed Susan’s version of her husband’s death. Susan stood 5-foot-5 and weighed 120 pounds; Jeff was 6-foot-3 and weighed 220. Was it reasonable to believe that she’d somehow overpowered him, especially when he was hopped up on coke and she had just suffered a savage beating and rape?
There was also the issue of defensive wounds. Jeff had cuts to his hands and arms but Susan had none. In a violent struggle for the knife, against a much stronger opponent, surely she would have sustained some injuries? Why then did she have none? The prosecutor had a ready explanation. Jeff had been lured by his wife with the offer of kinky sex and had allowed himself to be tied up. Then, while he was thus restrained, she had attacked, stabbing him to death in a vicious and sustained onslaught. That would explain how Susan could have overpowered her much bigger husband; it would explain the lack of defensive wounds; it would explain why Jeff was discovered with ligatures around his wrists and ankle.
In order to drive its theory home, the prosecution then took the extraordinary step of bringing the bed on which Jeff Wright had died (including the heavily-stained mattress) into the courtroom. Prosecutor Siegler suggested that she was about the same size as the defendant while her colleague, Paul Doyle, was similar in height and weight to the victim. Siegler then had Doyle strapped to the bed and straddled him to show how the murder had been committed. The judge upheld an objection from the defense when Siegler attempted to recreate Susan’s version of events.
The point, however, had been made. And it was a powerful one. Siegler had demonstrated the only way in which Susan Wright could have gotten the better of her bigger, stronger victim.
What the prosecution had yet to demonstrate, though, was a motive. If spousal abuse was removed from the equation, what possible reason did Susan Wright have to murder her husband? The oldest reason in the book, according to Siegler. Jeffrey Wright was insured for $200,000 and Susan wanted to get her hands on the money. There was evidence to support this, albeit tenuous and hearsay. One of Jeff’s co-workers testified that she’d overheard Susan berating Jeff about getting the paperwork for the life insurance policy signed. Susan had also cleared out the couple’s joint bank account in the days following the murder, a period during which she was supposedly “in a fog.” During that same time frame, she had filed charges of assault against Jeff at a local police station. She had also told several neighbors that Jeff had beaten her up before taking off. She’d later repeated the same story to Jeff’s mother. According to Siegler, this was an attempt at establishing motive after she had already committed murder.
Defense attorney Neal Davis was left with the unenviable task of undoing the powerful case presented by the prosecution. Some of his thunder had already been stolen. Prosecutor Siegel had been wily enough to admit that Jeff Wright had been no angel. He’d certainly had a drug problem, and cocaine had been found in his system at the autopsy. And he definitely had a propensity for violence; even his close buddies admitted that. He also had a conviction for assaulting a stripper, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to believe that he might have made a habit of beating his wife. The defense, in any case, put forward several witnesses to testify that they’d seen Susan sporting bruises and black eyes.
That Susan Wright was an abused wife was therefore not in question, at least in the eyes of most observers. The problem for the defense was that her version of events simply did not ring true. There is a vast difference between killing a man during a violent struggle and knifing him to death while he is tied to a bed and unable to defend himself. The jury might have felt some sympathy for the abuse Susan had suffered, but in the end they found her guilty of murder.
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