Sunday 27 December 2020

Murder Most Vile Volume 32


18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

18 Shocking True Crime Murder Cases From Around The World, including;

The Man She Thought She Knew: Sheila was growing increasingly suspicious of her husband’s cagey behavior. There are some secrets, you don’t want to know.

Somewhere in Middle America: A troubled teen with suicidal tendencies. He’s checking out of this life. But he’s not going alone.

Because He Said So: How far would you go to please your lover? As far as murder? As far as child murder? As far as your own child?

True Detective: The killer was clever; he was cunning; he was ruthlessly efficient. But he’d met his match in a brilliant detective.

Taken: Three young girls go missing from a small Spanish town in the middle of the night. What happened to them will shock the nation to its very core.

The Devil You Know: Luis was a good friend. He listened, he cared. He was also hiding lustful thoughts about Missy, thoughts that would soon become actions.

Over Your Dead Body: Rose was a sucker for a man in uniform. Unfortunately, her police officer boyfriend comes with baggage - a strange and terrifying family.

A Special Place in Hell: A precious little girl falls into the hands of a monster, the aunt who promised to take care of her and give her a better life.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume 32

The Man She Thought She Knew



When Sheila Janutolo met James Cruz Jr. at a Country and Western bar in Ohio, it wasn’t love at first sight. Not exactly. Sheila was a divorced mother-of-three. She’d been burned before. She was taking it slow. Still, James was handsome and charming and fun to be with. He had a decent job as a long-haul trucker and he was clearly interested in her. Over a series of dates, she began to reciprocate his feelings. When he asked her to marry him, she said yes.


The family settled down to life in Jim’s hometown of New Waterford, Ohio. Over the next few years, they were blessed with three new additions, including twins. Life wasn’t always easy back then. Jim was frequently on the road and usually only home on the weekends. The family sometimes struggled for money. That would turn out to be the source of the couple’s first major fight. After Sheila’s mother sent over some clothes for the kids, Jim angrily told her that he could provide for his own family and didn’t need charity. He then told her that he didn’t want her communicating with his wife or children. At around that time, he also had the phone cut off, telling Sheila that she wouldn’t be needing it any more.    


Sheila wasn’t sure what to make of this change in her husband’s demeanor. She’d always thought of him as caring, giving, the perfect family man. Now he was perpetually angry, flying off the handle at the slightest infraction. He frequently berated her in front of the kids, calling her “stupid,” “fat,” “useless.” Occasionally, he’d also get physical with her, once slapping her so hard that she tripped over a chair and hit her head. Sheila thought of leaving him then, but where was she to go with six kids to take care of?


There was something else that bothered Sheila about her husband’s behavior during this time. He had become increasingly secretive. When he was home, he’d frequently sneak down to the garden shed, locking himself in and spending hours doing God knows what. Then he’d return to the house, but not before he’d snapped a large padlock on the shed door. The message was clear. Keep out!


Sheila was desperate to find out what was troubling her husband, what had happened to turn their once happy marriage into an attritional grind. One day, while taking dirty clothes from Jim’s bag for washing, she thought she’d found the answer, a box of condoms. So that was it. He was having an affair. Confronted with this accusation, Jim flatly denied it. He said that he was holding the condoms for a co-worker; that he loved Sheila; that he would never want to be with anyone else. Desperate for things between them to be right again, Sheila believed him.


But the next evidence of infidelity was more difficult to refute. One day, while Sheila was at work, she got a call from her eldest daughter, Jenny. Jenny was quite obviously upset. “If you’re going to keep stuff like this in the house, at least put it somewhere that I can’t find it,” she told her mother. Sheila was perplexed at the outburst and told her daughter so. “The tape,” Jenny replied. She then went on to explain that she’d found a videotape on her mother’s dresser and that its content was “disgusting.” Sheila told her to return the tape to where she’d found it. When she got home that night, she slotted it into the VCR. It showed Jim having sex with one of her friends.


Sheila was devastated by this discovery. When Jim returned home a few days later, she confronted him. His explanation was stunning in its audacity. Although his face was clearly visible on the tape, he denied that it was him.


If Sheila could have left right then, she would have. But again, there was the problem of the children. Where would they go? How would she be able to support them on her minimum wage job? The answers to those questions always came out the same. She was trapped. And since there was no way in hell that she was leaving her kids behind, she was forced to stay with her philandering husband.


But at least Jim appeared to have mellowed. Perhaps he was just being contrite because she’d caught him in a lie, but he now entered what she’d later think of as his “generous phase.” Every trip he made, he brought gifts on his return. These were usually trinkets, bangles, necklaces for the kids, none of them wrapped, all of them quite obviously used. Still, it was the thought that counted. Then there was the time that he brought home a cassette recorder for Jenny. This was surprising because there was no love lost between Jim and his eldest stepdaughter. Still, Jenny gladly accepted the gift and carried it back to her room. It was then that she discovered that there was a tape in the machine.


Jenny pressed play and heard the voice of a young girl who identified herself as “Dawn.” In a diary entry of sorts, Dawn was saying that she was a runaway but that she was street smart and knew how to take care of herself. She also said that she’d met a boy with “dreamy eyes” who she was in love with. Later, Jenny would question her stepfather about the origins of the recorder. Jim said that he’d found it lying on the ground at a truck stop.


Some of Jim’s gifts were not as welcome. He once gave his second stepdaughter, Lisa, a rather gory true crime book with detailed crime scene and forensic photographs in it. Somehow, he saw this as fitting for a girl still in her early teens. He also, occasionally, made off-the-cuff remarks that concerned his wife. Once, while standing at a lakeside with Sheila, he remarked that this would be a “good place to dump a body.” Sheila put the comment down to his sometimes off-kilter sense of humor.


One day in August of 1993, Jim came home from work in a particularly bad mood. He said that the police had been to his workplace and had taken biological samples from him and several other employees for DNA testing. According to Jim, “something” had happened in one of the trucks, a vehicle that was occasionally allocated to him but was also used by other drivers. He did not elaborate as to what that “something” was, saying only that he hated being harassed by the cops.


In fact, it wasn’t just the local police that had showed up at Jim’s workplace, it was the FBI. And it wasn’t “several drivers” they’d obtained samples from, it was only one – Jim Cruz. Their inquiries related to the murder of a 17-year-old runaway named Dawn Marie Birnbaum. Dawn had gone missing from a boarding school in Poland Springs, Maine, on March 21, 1993. She’d been found three days later, dumped in a snowbank between Pennsylvania State Route 550 and Route 26. She was naked from the waist down and her wrists and ankles were bound with a distinctive yellow twine. A length of the same twine was knotted tightly around her neck and tied in what was described as a “granny bow.” An autopsy would determine that the teenager had died of ligature strangulation. She had also been raped and sodomized.        


This was not the first murder of this type that investigators currently had on their plate. In fact, they had as many as eight open dockets on murdered prostitutes, all of them found beside Ohio freeways, strangled with yellow twine that had been knotted into a granny bow. But, in this case, there was evidence that the victim had been transported across state lines, and that is why the FBI was called in. Crime scene investigators soon picked up a number of clues. A set of semi-trailer tire tracks led away from the dump site, and there were two strands of black hair caught up in the victim’s natural blonde hair. They also retrieved semen from the victim, which could be used for comparison once they had a suspect in custody.


Murder investigations of this type, where victim and killer were probably strangers to each other, are seldom simple. The main thing that investigators had going for them in this case was the tire tracks. However, finding a match would be a long and laborious process. FBI, state, and local law enforcement had to call on every haulage company in the area, hoping to find a match. Their search led them eventually to New Century Trucking in New Waterford, Ohio, the company where James Cruz Jr. was employed.


A quick perusal of the driver’s logs showed that Cruz had been using the vehicle at the time that Dawn Birnbaum was killed, taking it on a run to Bangor, Maine, and back. That would have put him on the same route as the teenaged hitchhiker. Further evidence was obtained when CSIs went over the truck and found two long, blonde hairs, which were later matched to Dawn. The clincher was the blood sample taken from Jim Cruz. Compared to the semen found on the victim, it returned a 660 million-to-one match.


On September 8, 1983, five months after Dawn’s body was discovered, James Cruz Jr. was placed under arrest and charged with murder, kidnapping, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and theft. He did not fight extradition to Pennsylvania.


For Sheila Janutolo, the arrest and indictment of her husband came as a severe shock. Sure, Jim could be mean and angry and abusive, but he could also be a gentle, loving person, the very qualities that had drawn her to him in the first place. Despite everything that had happened between them, she found it impossible to reconcile her image of her husband with the heartless killer that the police were describing.   


Once Sheila sat down and thought about it, though, a lot of pieces began to slot into place. That tape recorder he’d given to Jenny had obviously been taken from Dawn Birnbaum. But what of the unusual gifts that he was always giving to the children, the bangles and necklaces? Had those also been taken from women he’d attacked and perhaps killed? The very thought of it made her shudder.


And what of the shed that he’d kept so tightly locked all these years? What was he hiding there? Much as she dreaded the answer to that question, she had to find out. Bringing a friend with her for support, Sheila entered her husband’s inner sanctum. What she found resembled a shrine, containing numerous items of jewelry, rings, bracelets, necklaces, and other trinkets. There was also a length of rope, similar to that used to strangle Dawn Birnbaum, a large hunting knife and a collection of books, mainly focusing on forensic detection. Additionally, there were the makings of a small bomb.    


James Cruz Jr. was found guilty of the murder of Dawn Birnbaum on March 13, 1994. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. After his conviction, a task force was assembled to look into eight prostitute murders that had occurred on his regular routes and closely resembled the Birnbaum homicide. They were hoping to prove that Cruz was a serial killer but, in the end, lacked the forensics to do so. The task team was eventually disbanded although none of its members have any doubts. They remain convinced that Cruz was the man behind the killing spree and believe that he is responsible for as many as 40 deaths. It is instructive to note that the Northeast Ohio prostitute murders stopped abruptly once Cruz was in custody.


Now into his third decade behind bars, Jim Cruz continues to insist that he killed no one and is falsely imprisoned. For Sheila Janutolo, those denials have a hollow ring. They remind her of his refusal to admit to a sexual indiscretion, even when it was caught on tape. The man she thought she knew turned out to be someone else entirely, someone she was lucky to escape.

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