A Second Shot at Justice: A brutal killer is acquitted of murder. The double jeopardy law means he can’t be tried again... or maybe he can.
Body Parts: Mutilated corpses start showing up around the city, casting the police into a race against time. Can they catch this psycho before he kills again?
Murder by Ouija Board: A woman receives a message from a Ouija board revealing the identity of her husband’s killer. Now she’s out for revenge.
Broken Vows: Adam claimed that his wife had tripped and fallen down the stairs. The evidence said different, uncovering a web of lies, deceit, and murder.
Pieces of a Puzzle: Tony had his quirks, but he was always good to her, and Norma loved him for that. Then some troubling secrets start to emerge.
Too Little, Too Late: Floyd was 15 when he committed his crime, 17 when he went to the gas chamber. The tragic tale of a young life gone terribly wrong.
Dead Cold: When you set out to commit the perfect murder, first be sure that you have capable accomplices...who can keep their mouths shut.
Murder Most Vile Volume 46
When Michele Ward first met Richard Starrett back in 1982, the attraction was instant. Michelle was working as a waitress at a diner in Martinez, Georgia at the time and the handsome customer made a big impression. Richard, known to family and friends by his middle name Danny, was polite and soft-spoken, a self-described introvert who worked as a design engineer at the Savannah River nuclear power plant, just across the border in South Carolina. He and Michelle started dating and things progressed quickly from there. They married in September 1982. It was, in many respects, a textbook romance.
As far as married life went, Michelle Starrett had very little to complain about. Danny was a loving partner, an attentive companion, a good provider. True, he had his quirks, but these were few in number and mild in nature. Danny could be broody and withdrawn. He sometimes drank too much but he was never a violent or abusive drunk.
But all of that was to change with the birth of their daughter in 1987. After that, Danny was often unable to perform sexually, only maintaining an erection for oral sex. He also wanted to film their lovemaking, something that made Michelle uncomfortable. Aside from that, he developed an obsession with pornography and designated a room in the couple’s three-bedroom bungalow for this compulsion. Michelle was not allowed to enter this room under any circumstances. She gave him his space. Marriage is all about give and take.
What Michelle didn’t know, what she’d have been horrified to learn, was just how deep-rooted this obsession was, how long it had been a part of her husband’s life. It had started back in 1970, when Danny was just 10 years old. The boy had been exploring an old, abandoned house when he came across a box of dusty old magazines. These were pornographic and immediately held Danny in their thrall. He’d later record in his journal, “I spent every free moment at that building looking at my secret treasure of magazines.” His addiction would only intensify as he got older.
But here’s the thing with addictions. The user becomes desensitized over time. He needs a greater input of stimuli to obtain the same rush of adrenalin. This is true of all junkies, and it was certainly true of Danny Starrett. Over time, his tastes came to encompass more extreme forms of pornography – sadism, bondage, horror, sexual violence, rape porn. He also developed a troubling admiration for Ted Bundy, America’s most notorious serial killer.
It wasn’t Bundy the killer that Danny Starrett admired, it was Bundy the rapist. He appreciated the man’s audacity, his ability to target any woman he liked, to lure her into his grasp and force her to do his bidding. Over time, Starrett’s imagination started to veer in this direction. He could see himself in the role of the abductor, gaining control over his victim, bending her to his will. Such fantasies play a formative role in the development of all serial sex offenders. It was only a matter of time before Danny Starrett brought them into the real world.
In December 1987, Michelle made a visit to California to visit her mother. Danny cried off, saying that he had to work. In truth, he could easily have taken some long overdue vacation time. But Danny had other plans. Over the prior few months, his rape fantasies had been building to a crescendo. They had gotten to the point where he felt that he might relinquish his grip on sanity if he did not act on them. Now, with his wife and daughter out of the way, he had his chance.
The method that Starrett employed wasn’t original, but it was effective. On December 28, he responded to an ad in the Carolina Trader. A young woman named Tammy Cranford was selling a couch, which Starrett arranged to view. Unfortunately for Tammy, she was home alone when he arrived. She quickly found herself threatened with a gun, subdued, and forced to perform oral sex. It was Danny Starrett’s first foray into sexual assault, and it had gone exactly as he'd hoped.
This now became Danny Starrett’s M.O. He’d scour the classified ads of the Carolina Trader looking for items offered for sale by female advertisers. He’d then set up an appointment to view the item. If the woman had company when he arrived, he’d simply say that he wasn’t interested and leave. If she was alone, she was in deep trouble. At least four victims were assaulted over the next year, one of them a 12-year-old girl. Yet, Starrett was still dissatisfied. His fantasy was to have a woman under his complete control, to do with as he saw fit. To achieve that, he needed to bring the victim somewhere secure, somewhere he could take his time with no risk of discovery. His chance came in December 1988, when Michelle again made a trip out to the west coast.
Jeannie Taylor McCrea was 15 years old and home alone when Danny Starrett knocked on her door. He said that he was there to view a table her parents had advertised for sale and so Jeannie let him in. We can’t say for certain what happened next. All we can do is reference the confession that Starrett later gave to the police. It seems fanciful at best.
According to Starrett, he did not have to use force to gain Jeannie’s compliance. The girl went willingly to his house. There, he initially locked her in a closet while he went to the store to pick up supplies. When he returned, Jeannie told him that he did not have to restrain her. She was happy to spend time with him. Thereafter, according to Starrett, they spent several days together playing video games and watching TV. They even took a short trip, “like a couple on vacation.” Whatever sex occurred between them (again, according to Starrett) was consensual.
But the situation could not continue indefinitely. Michelle was due back in a few days and that left Starrett with a problem. What was he going to do about Jeannie? Was he just going to let her go? What if she went to the police? He didn’t believe that she’d do that but still the question gnawed at him, pulling him in one direction then another. In the end, he decided that letting her go was not an option. On December 29, while he and Jeannie were in the shower together, he reached for a gun and shot her in the head. “I did it because I loved her too much and couldn’t be without her,” he later explained. Jeannie McCrea was wrapped in a green blanket and dumped in a creek bed near her home in Irmo, South Carolina.
Danny Starrett had now escalated from rapist to killer and had done so seamlessly. If he felt any remorse at all, there was none on display. When Michelle returned from her trip, she found him the same as he always was. If anything, he was more loving, more attentive. Meanwhile, Jeannie McCrea’s parents reported their daughter missing and fretted by the phone, desperate for news that would never come. Meanwhile, in Lexington, South Carolina, a carefree teenager named Shari Dawn Teets got on with her life, unaware that fate was steering her towards a terrifying encounter...with a very dangerous man.
On February 6, 1989, 17-year-old Shari Dawn Teets answered a knock on her door and found a stranger standing on the porch. The man was neatly dressed and well-spoken and introduced himself as an insurance salesman. Shari informed him that her parents weren’t home and would not return for a few hours. That was when the man produced a gun and warned her not to do anything foolish if she wanted to live.
What followed was a nightmare for the teenager. She was handcuffed, blindfolded, and forced into the backseat of a car. She was then driven a considerable distance before being dragged from the vehicle into a house. Here, she was forced to perform oral sex on her assailant while he held a video camera, capturing it all on film. Over the days that followed, she would be frequently abused, before being handcuffed and shoved into a closet, which served as her makeshift prison.
Given what we know about the murder of Jeannie McCrea, it seems highly unlikely that Shari Dawn Teets would have survived this ordeal. Sooner or later, Danny Starrett was going to be faced with his wife’s imminent return from California, where she was again visiting her mother. We already know how he had dealt with this situation in the past. It seems likely that he’d have stuck with what had worked before. But Starrett made a mistake on the night of February 11, four days into Shari’s captivity. He had been drinking heavily that day and passed out without cuffing his victim. Shari was able to force open a window and escape. Moments later, the Starrett’s neighbors were startled by a young woman banging on their door, screaming that she had been kidnapped. They immediately called the police.
By the time the first squad car arrived on the scene, Danny Starrett was gone, fled into the night in his distinctive red Camaro. But he was never going to escape. As a kidnapping, this was an FBI matter, with a national alert issued. Starrett was arrested two days later, asleep in his car at a rest stop in Texas. By then, the police had already searched his house, uncovering a treasure trove of evidence. Aside from videotapes documenting the sexual assault on Shari Dawn Teets, the detectives located the keys to a storage unit. This was found to contain thousands of magazines and videos, many in the most depraved sub-genres of porn. Most revealing, though, was Starrett’s homemade collection, which showed him forcing his juvenile victims into various sex acts. Among those victims was Jeannie Taylor McCrea, missing two months and thought at the time to be a runaway.
Now the police knew different. Pressed by his interrogators, Starrett confessed to seven counts of sexual assault, various counts of kidnapping, and one murder. He would later lead detectives to Jeannie McCrea’s body. Starrett entered guilty pleas to all charges at trial and received nine life sentences. He is currently held at the Perry Corrections Department in Greenville County, South Carolina.
Danny Starrett had followed a well-trodden path from sexual pervert to fantasist to serial rapist to killer. There is a wealth of research telling us what the next step would have been on that trajectory. But for Shari Dawn Teets’s escape, it is almost certain that he’d have become a serial killer. Thankfully, he was stopped in his tracks before adding to the terrible harm he’d already inflicted.
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