Evil Seasonby Michael Benson
Joyce Wishart was living out her life's dream, running her own art gallery in sunny Sarasota, Florida. But that dream ended in nightmare when a deranged drifter named Elton Brutus Murphy walked through the door with a knife in his hand and a voice in his head/b>
"Benson is a master of true crime." --Robert Scott
Joyce Wishart was living out her life's dream, running her own art gallery in sunny Sarasota, Florida. But that dream ended in nightmare when a deranged drifter named Elton Brutus Murphy walked through the door with a knife in his hand and a voice in his head commanding him to rape and kill. In the space of half an hour, Joyce was dead--brutally mutilated--and the tony arts enclave plunged into terror as a frenzied manhunt ensued. Told in the convicted murderer's own words, a chilling tale of one life spiraling into madness--and another gruesomely cut short.
"Difficult to put down. . .. This is one that I highly recommend." --True Crime Book Reviews on Watch Mommy Die
"Brisk pacing. . .shocking details." --Publishers Weekly on The Burn Farm
Includes the exclusive confession of Elton Brutus Murphy
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Read an Excerpt
By MICHAEL BENSON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Michael Benson
All rights reserved.
Sarasota County, Florida: a beautiful little section of Florida, but one with pretensions. Nothing sinister, of course, just a community that enjoyed casting itself as artsy. There was opera. Ballet. And a strip of art galleries on one of downtown Sarasota's main drags, North Palm Avenue.
More accurately, Sarasota considered itself still artsy. There was no argument that this had once been the case. Back in the day—historically—Sarasota had an artsy vibe oozing from its pores.
But that was before suburban sprawl turned much of Sarasota County into a world of McDonald's franchises and Kmart stores, largely indistinguishable from anywhere else in the United States.
Just how artsy Sarasota really was these days could be argued, but the important thing was that art and culture were important facets of Sarasota's self-image.
Members of Sarasota society distinguished their world from that of the riffraff, which was why it hit the town where it lived when the horribly carved body of Joyce A. Wishart was found on Wednesday, January 21, 2004, on the floor of her Palm Avenue art shop, the toney Provenance Gallery, a storefront at the base of the Bay Plaza Apartments.
James Jay McClelland had been a maintenance man at the Bay Plaza Apartments for four years. When there was a mess, he was the guy who had to clean it up.
At about eleven o'clock that Wednesday morning, McClelland received a phone call from Peter Delisser, one of the co-owners of Sage Capital Investments, a storefront space at the base of the Palm Avenue building.
"There's a foul smell coming from somewhere," Delisser complained.
He'd first noticed it on Tuesday. He didn't know if the smell was around before that. There had been a long weekend because of Martin Luther King Day and the stores downstairs had been closed on Monday.
Delisser explained, "I have smelled this sort of smell before. It usually has to do with the sewer system. Wherever it's coming from, they should run the water in all of their faucets for ten minutes. That worked for me."
McClelland said he would investigate, and he did. The odor was strongest when standing outside the front door of the Provenance Gallery, the space immediately south of Sage Capital. It didn't smell like garbage or the sewer to him. It was the pure horrible smell of putrefaction.
He informed Nancy Hall, the Bay Plaza condominium manager, of the situation. Deborah Anderson, the Bay Plaza concierge, tried to contact the Provenance's owner, Joyce Wishart. She didn't get an answer and left a voice message: If Joyce didn't call back soon, someone was going to enter her gallery to check on the odor.
Hall told McClelland to get a key to the Provenance at the Bay Plaza's front desk. He would also need the alarm code. At one o'clock, after almost two hours of dread, he asked Anderson for the key and security code. The keys for all of the spaces in the building were kept in a file cabinet, which itself required a key.
McClelland told himself that there was nothing to be afraid of. Once, when he first started working at the Bay Plaza, there'd been a similar odor. It turned out to be a rat that died in the ductwork. That was probably what it was this time, too.
At 1:18 P.M., he used a key to open the Provenance's front door; the odor was now overpowering. He immediately entered the four-digit code to turn off the alarm.
He expected silence, but instead heard classical music from the store's sound system—the soothing Muzak of a generic string quartet.
"Mrs. Wishart? Mrs. Wishart! Anybody home?"
McClelland took small tentative steps toward the back of the gallery. He glanced to his left into an alcove, briefly looked at the bloated gray-green body on the floor, and—without touching anything, his heart pounding from his chest and nausea churning in his stomach—he ran back outside, and didn't stop running until he got to Hall's office.
"Dead ... dead body," McClelland panted.
Hall called 911 at 1:20 P.M.
Death and Violins
The first responders, police officers and firefighters, were practically blasted backward by the smell. Veterans will tell you, you never get used to it.
They noted the classical music. Death and violins. That was different.
Detective Anthony DeFrancisco, of the Sarasota Police Department (SPD), observed possible blood on the front door's interior dead bolt handle and on paper, which was taped to the interior side of the front glass window, next to the door. He also noticed possible blood on the cover to the alarm panel, to the right of the front door.
It wasn't a large space, with more depth than width. There was the gallery itself, where approximately two hundred works of art, both paintings and objets on consignment, were displayed.
In the back, where there was privacy from those who might look in through the front window, paintings were stacked up, or rested on the floor leaning against the wall. All the way back, there was an office and a storage room.
There was no back door.
It was a crime scene no one would forget—no matter how hard they tried. The body—an older woman, with red hair—was posed supine and obscenely spread-eagled. The body was stretched out on a carpet in an alcove, out of view from the street, on the north side of the building.
Her head was lying in the direction of the northwest corner. The alcove contained artwork both hanging on the walls and lying on the floor. The body, discolored and bloated from decomposition, had one arm stretched outward, and the left leg was partially covered with her clothing, which had been cut asunder.
Immediately visible were multiple stab wounds to the chest, and a slash wound at the throat all the way down to the bone. It looked as if the killer might have tried to behead his victim.
The most disturbing part wasn't what was there, but rather what was not. The victim's vagina and lower abdomen had been surgically removed. There was just a large raw hole between her legs, a grisly negative space almost impossible for even the toughest professionals to gaze upon.
But Detective DeFrancisco had to look. It was his job to see it all. The victim was an older white woman, approximately five-eight in height. Weight was more difficult to estimate because of the decomposition bloating.
The legs had been spread far apart, pointing eastward, toward the front of the store, demanding attention be given to her gaping crotch wound. In addition to the large throat wound and the many stab wounds in the woman's exposed breast area, he also noticed defensive wounds to both of her hands. Her forehead, shoulders, and back were also deeply cut.
The detective thought it was going to be impossible to tell if she'd been sexually assaulted. Of course, he meant in a conventional sense—rape. There was one small blessing, however. The crotch surgery appeared to have been postmortem.
A person who had been opened up like this, neck slit, would have bled out. Blood would have been in a large pool on the body. Instead, he noted, "The body had very little blood on the skin and around the injuries." It appeared the killer wiped the body clean.
DeFrancisco did however see blood and body fluids around and underneath the body. Plus, he could see, the victim's clothing was soaked with blood.
There was no blood spatter on the upper walls or ceiling of the alcove.
The victim had been wearing a green pantsuit. There was a green-and-brown scarf around her neck, a white shirt, white bra, white panties, tan panty hose, and bronze-colored shoes with gold trim. The shoes rested symmetrically, toes facing the victim's opened crotch. To stand in those empty shoes would be to hover over that horrible void. The scarf had been damaged in the attack. It had slits in it.
The victim's hands and bare feet were purple. Her suit top and shirt were pulled up above her chest. Her bra, panties, and panty hose had been cut away, and were partially lying beneath the body. On her left wrist the victim was wearing a watch mounted on a brown leather strap. Her other jewelry was a pair of earrings. Her clothing had been cut by a bladed instrument. The clothing wrapped around her lower left leg turned out to be her pants.
There were indications that the killer had played in his victim's blood. In some cases the artwork was stained by what appeared to be a combination of blood and bits of flesh. In some cases there was wiping across the spatter as if a halfhearted attempt to clean up had been made. Or, perhaps, the killer just wanted to "finger paint." The killer had lingered at the scene after the murder. Not only had surgery been performed, but there was blood in many places, indicating the killer had wandered around after the murder.
In the rear of the business were two bathrooms, a shower stall filled with boxes, a refrigerator, and a microwave.
On the floor in front of the refrigerator, DeFrancisco found a brown leather purse and a black nylon bag containing miscellaneous items. Someone had gone through their contents. The key to the gallery's front door was in the purse. Items were dumped out.
In the southwest bathroom there was an area of watered-down blood on the floor, near the door, in and around the sink, and on a plastic OPEN sign that was lying on the floor in the corner near the toilet.
The watery blood on the tiled bathroom floor had been smeared with an artistic, if not infantile, playfulness. Again, it appeared as if the killer had been painting—perhaps using his toe as his brush—in blood on the bathroom floor.
Otherwise, items in the room looked neat and orderly. There were no bloody items in the garbage can. The northwest bathroom, it seemed, was used mostly for storage, and contained a ladder and cleaning supplies. There were also some personal-care items in the sink.
The scene was so obviously organized that details, which might have been considered irrelevant at the scene of another murder, were carefully scrutinized here.
One of the pieces of art most spattered was a serigraph, hot stamp, embossed on black Arches paper, called New York, New York. The work was signed in all caps ERTE, the nom d'art of Romain de Tirtoff.
The work was part of the artist's 1987 "New York/ Monaco Suite." It was 28½ inches by 23½ inches inside a 45-by-38 frame. The price was $7,500.
That piece of art rested on the floor and leaned against the wall, right behind the victim's head. Her red hair was touching the glass near the bottom of the frame.
The glass front was pushed in—perhaps by the killer, perhaps during a struggle—and was speckled with blood and hair. The killer had intended for this work to be viewed as the scene's backdrop.
The pushed-in glass had blood smudging. Above it, below the spot where it had been hanging on the wall, there was blood running down to the floor. Perhaps, the detective thought, the victim initially fell into this picture, striking her head against the glass.
A second picture, called Eighteen Degrees, had also been knocked off the wall hanger and was lying on the floor in the same corner. There was blood running down the front of the picture frame and glass.
Nearby, on the floor, were a variety of items: a pair of blood-spattered eyeglasses and a Provenance Gallery news release from November of the previous year, announcing an exhibition of animal dolls by artist Linda Salomon.
The wall had scrape marks on it, some of which may have come from the falling picture. In that same area there were gouges and slice marks on the wall, which also looked as if they'd been made by a bladed instrument.
A key part of the scene was a bloodstained copy of the November 2003 issue of Sarasota Magazine. The body was posed, face turned to the left, left arm placed outward, hand resting atop the magazine, seemingly gesturing toward the magazine, which was opened to an article called "A Fine Madness, True Tales from the Days When Sarasota Was an Artists' Colony." The article described Sarasota in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when it grew from being a Gulf Coast fishing village into a small city with an affluent-yet-beatnik eccentric ambiance.
Noteworthy residents of the past included Julio de Diego (the onetime husband of Gypsy Rose Lee), who walked around town in a bizarre hat and cape; Boris Margo, whose artistic style twisted reality and was called decalcomania; Lois Bartlett Tracy, who brightened the world with her spontaneous abstract watercolors; Jon Corbino, whose heroic paintings depicted conflict and violence; Ben Stahl, the prolific magazine illustrator, who never threw stones, or hung paintings, because he literally lived in a glass house; and John Chamberlain, who had made art films showing himself and female Andy Warhol protégées making love in unusual places, such as in a tree. Sarasota residents lived their art through unconventional lifestyles.
Sarasota first leaned toward the artistic during the early 1900s when circus baron John Ringling spent much of his life scouring Europe for Baroque masterpieces to place in a Sarasota museum.
For generations circus folk speckled the population. It was not unusual to see "circus midgets" and their families, with chins held high, strolling down the city's most toney streets, while Rolls-Royces drove past them, with their occupants smoking cigarettes through long holders.
Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer moved to a ranch outside Sarasota and metamorphosed into a rootin'-tootin', ropin' and ridin' cowgirl as she bred prize-winning cattle. John D. MacDonald wrote his murder mysteries; MacKinlay Kantor wrote about the Civil War and won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The author known alternatively as Ed McBain and Evan Hunter placed his Matthew Hope series of murder mysteries in a thinly veiled version of Sarasota.
Back then, Sarasota was a true artists' colony, and everyone knew each other. It wasn't all business and creativity, of course. With all of those characters around, there was a lot of strange fun as well. That was the image Sarasota wanted to maintain, but it was hard with the annexation of sprawling suburbia that had grown there. Still, there were about sixty art galleries in Sarasota, the majority of those downtown.
The victim's hand was clearly gesturing toward the "Fine Madness" article. Plus, there was evidence that this article had been a deliberate choice.
Though the magazine was open to page 86, crime scene investigators (CSIs) would later discover blood on page 88, indicating the killer flipped pages to find the one he liked best. On page 88 was the portion of the article about Ben Stahl, the guy with the glass house.
Along with Sarasota Magazine, an old April 1971 issue of New Magazine was also placed near the body. (The victim had apparently been studying Sarasota's artistic history, so she could chat up the locals.) The second magazine had a photo of Ben Stahl on its cover, and appeared bloodstained. The victim's hand gestured most specifically to a black-and-white photo of a man in a sporty cap, with an impressive moustache. His photo rested beside the article's title and its caption, in a scripted-handwriting font, read, Fletcher Martin. Police subsequently learned that Martin was an American artist who had lived from 1904 to 1979, much of that time in Sarasota, where he had painted beautiful expressionistic paintings. Some of his better-known pieces were The Smoker, The Picador, and Young Girl at the Beach.
The victim's right hand was lying near a gallery art identification card. Also near the right hand was a white piece of paper, which had been used to wipe a bladed weapon clean.
The piece of paper had the name Werner Pfeiffer written on it. Police found Pfeiffer's "profile card" and learned he was an artist whose work was also for sale in the gallery.
All the people who saw the crime scene tried desperately to erase it from their minds, but it was seared into their memories. They knew they would never again get to sleep at night without first thinking of this moment, of this traumatizing attack on civilized sensibilities.
To see the victim in that condition, a person couldn't help but imagine the surgery that must have taken place, the feverish cutting by a killer who played in his victim's blood. To have viewed the scene was to have one's imagination run amok, visiting places the mind didn't usually like to go.
It wasn't like any crime scene the respondents had seen before. It was a set piece, a photo out of Fangoria magazine, a carefully constructed piece of horror-film art direction.
Detective DeFrancisco tried to make sense of it. Was this poor woman killed and posed this way as some sort of sick social commentary?
Excerpted from Evil Season by MICHAEL BENSON. Copyright © 2013 by Michael Benson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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