Saturday 13 April 2024

Murder Most Vile Volume 47


18 Chilling true murder cases, including:

As a child, he loved stories of vampires and the undead. As an adult, he turned those stories into reality.

The Happiest Man on Death Row:
Questions remained over his guilt, but Joe Arridy wasn’t bothered by them. He went smiling to the gas chamber.

Six Days of Terror:
His family claimed he was a gentle giant, full of “love and kindness.” Tell that to the five people he butchered.

Angry Young Woman:
Maria was tired of men, tired of their sexual innuendos and groping hands. Now she’s fighting back... knife in pocket, revenge in mind.

A sleep-deprived man drifts off one night and wakes up in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the frame. He has no recollection of what happened.

Prom Night:
The deeply troubling story of a prom date gone horribly wrong, with deadly consequences for an innocent young woman.

Something Sweet:
The split had been amicable but then one of the parties shows up dead, with anti-freeze in his blood. Who fed him the poison?

Dark Knight:
All his life, Julian wanted to serve his country as a soldier. When the military decides he’s not wanted, he brings the war to them.

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

Murder Most Vile Volume 47



With his black, slicked-back hair, sallow complexion, and dark, lifeless eyes, James Riva looked like he was straight out of central casting for some B-rate vampire movie. And such a role would undoubtedly have interested the 23-year-old Riva. Ever since childhood, he’d had a fascination with the undead. As early as kindergarten, teachers expressed concern over the dark images he conjured up in his drawings. While his classmates were sketching rainbows and butterflies, James’s pictures showed decapitated animals, haunted houses, and blood, lots of blood.


That should have been a red flag. And if the Riva family was hoping that it was a phase that he’d grow out of, they’d be sorely disappointed. The boy’s behavior only worsened as he got older. At home, he liked to mix up a gross concoction of ketchup and cooking oil, which he’d drink, claiming it had the look and texture of blood. He was also sneaking out at night, prowling the streets, catching and killing neighborhood pets, often torturing the poor animals and drinking their blood. In 1973, when James was 16, his family eventually decided it was time to intervene and took him to see a psychiatrist. The result should have surprised no one. James Riva was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.


Over the years that followed, Riva would be in and out of institutions. He claimed that he was hearing voices and seeing visions, having conversations with the devil, conversing with centuries-old vampires. Medication was prescribed to still these hallucinations, but Riva seldom took it. He also showed very little response to the counseling he received. Through it all, he had a family who loved and supported him, who were always willing to house and feed him and put up with his bizarre and sometimes threatening behavior. His main supporter might have been his grandmother, Carmen Lopez.


Carmen was 74 years old, enjoying a quiet retirement at her beachfront cottage in Marshfield, Massachusetts. She was still active for her years but then in January 1980, she was diagnosed with a spinal tumor that necessitated surgery. The recovery time was three months, to be spent in the hospital. It coincided with James’s latest release from a psychiatric facility. Since Carmen’s house was standing empty, family members suggested that James might stay there while he was finding his feet. Carmen was happy for him to do that and so James moved in. He was still living there when Carmen was given the all-clear to return home in April 1980.


The operation had taken a heavy toll on Carmen. The once-vital woman was now wheelchair-bound, and her weight had plummeted to just 75 pounds. What she needed was rest and recuperation, something she was unlikely to get with the hyperactive James in the house. Still, Carmen insisted that he should stay. It was only when James’s behavior got out of hand, when he started launching into bizarre rants about vampires visiting him at night and sucking his blood, that the family stepped in and made other arrangements. James was sent to live with one of his uncles while his grandmother was left to recuperate. He was not too happy about having to move.  


On the afternoon of April 10, 1980, the Marshfield Fire Department received a report of a house fire at Rexhame Beach. Units were rushed to the scene and soon had the blaze under control. Firefighters then entered the building to see if there was anyone inside. There was. 74-year-old Carmen Lopez was lying on the floor of her bedroom, curled into a fetal position, her body badly scorched by the flames. Already the experienced firefighters knew that this was no accident. The strong stench of methanol hung in the air, and it was clear where the fire had started. It appeared that someone had doused the elderly woman’s body with an accelerant and then struck a match. This looked like a case of murder. 


And thus it would prove. Autopsy results showed that the victim had been shot four times. She had also been stabbed. Nonetheless, Carmen Lopez had still been alive when the fire started. There was soot in her lungs. Aside from that, there was one interesting detail to emerge from the coroner’s report. The bullets that had killed Carmen Lopez had been painted gold.


So who had done this terrible thing? Who had shot, stabbed, and set ablaze a frail old woman, and to what purpose? The answer wasn’t hard to find. Neighbors had seen someone exiting the property just before the fire started. It was Carmen Lopez’s grandson, James Riva.


Brought in for questioning, Riva did not deny that he’d killed his grandmother. According to him, he’d arrive at the house around 3 p.m. and headed directly to the basement. There was a gun down there, a weapon he’d hidden while he was living in the house. Now, he loaded it up from his box of special gold-painted bullets. His grandmother was sitting in her wheelchair, looking out on the beach, when he walked up on her, the gun in his hand.


Carmen must have guessed by his demeanor what was about to happen. She screamed and threw her glass at him. That was when he opened fire, pumping four bullets into her. Then he drew a knife and started stabbing the elderly woman’s prone form. Finally, he lifted her out of her wheelchair and carried her into the bedroom where he laid her out on the floor and emptied a canister of dry gas over her. One match was all it took to get the blaze going. Riva was not aware that his grandmother was still alive when he struck that match. It would have made no difference to him had he known.


That explained the how of this terrible crime. What investigators still didn’t get was the why. It was here that the case took a sharp left to the twilight zone, into territory that would ensure its infamy for years and decades to come. According to Riva’s convoluted explanation, his grandmother was a 700-year-old vampire who had been visiting him at night to feast on his blood. He was also a vampire and needed blood to survive. By killing his grandmother, he could free himself from enslavement while at the same time being able to “feed.” He admitted that he’d tried to drink his grandmother’s blood after killing her but said that he couldn’t because she was too “dry.”


Riva would offer even more bizarre stories once the matter got to trial. He was now claiming that he’d received instructions to kill from the “lords of the netherworld,” and that they’d promised to reward him with money and a nice car and make him irresistible to women. It was they who had instructed him to paint his bullets gold, since a gold bullet “cannot miss.” He was also claiming childhood abuse, saying that his mother was a powerful sorcerer who had performed “weird witch’s rituals” on him when he was a child and had forced him to drink “witch’s brew.”


With such a catalog of bizarre testimony on offer, it should surprise no one that Riva and his legal team were pursuing an insanity defense. In fact, Riva’s lawyer filed a motion to have the case dismissed, since his client was incompetent to stand trial. That motion was denied with the jury ruling that Riva was responsible for his actions. The state then outlined its case, rejecting the vampire narrative as a smokescreen. According to prosecutors, Riva’s real motive was revenge. He was angry about being ejected from his grandmother’s house and had decided to kill her in an act of vengeance.


That was the case that prosecutors presented and the case that the jurors chose to believe. After seven hours of deliberation, they found James Riva guilty of second-degree murder and arson. He was sentenced to life in prison.


But Riva’s run-ins with the law were far from over. He would prove a difficult inmate, almost uncontrollable when he did not take his medication. It culminated in a near-fatal attack on a guard in 1990, during which Riva slashed the officer’s throat with a prison shank. In the trial to follow, he defended his actions by saying that the guard had been sneaking into his cell at night to tap his spinal fluid. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.


James Riva has come up for parole four times since his incarceration and has been turned down on each occasion. The most vociferous voices speaking against his release have been members of his own family, who believe that he remains a danger to society. Riva’s response has been to claim childhood abuse, not by the witches and vampires of his previous tellings, but of the more mundane parent/child variety. Among other things, he claims that his earliest memories are of his mother forcing his head into a tub of water and holding him under until he nearly drowned. He believes that this is what triggered his schizophrenia. Members of his family have roundly rejected these claims, insisting that he was never abused and that everything was done to help him. He repaid that kindness by murdering a gentle old woman who adored him. 


The “Schizophrenic Vampire” will remain behind bars for the foreseeable future. The people of Marshfield, Massachusetts should be thankful for that.

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