Friday, August 10, 2012

Larry Bellmore

Larry Bellmore
Until the night of June 30, 1985, on what should have been a peaceful Sun­day, attractive 46-year-old Donna L. Denney lived a typically quiet life in a rural area of Martinsville, Indiana. Mar­tinsville is a small town of less than 10,000 residents, located a few miles southwest of Indianapolis on Highway 44. Donna had lived in her gray, one-story, A-frame house, situated on a two-house lane about five miles from town, for many years. A small pond to one side enhanced the tranquility and beauty of the setting, and the fact that her home could not be seen from the road afforded Donna a good deal of privacy which, friends said, she truly enjoyed. At least until the night she was brutally slain, when no one was neither able to see her as­sailant approaching nor hear her screams for help.
Investigators were never precisely certain when the attack against Donna Denney occurred, but through their dili­gent efforts they were able to narrow it down to sometime between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. At some point within that time frame, according to police reports, Donna Denney answered a knock at her back door, and that’s when the carnage began. Since the dead tell no tales, no one, except the killer or killers, knows how long the horrible ordeal lasted.
It was some time later, though, that a close relative of Donna’s, having been asleep in the house during the entire at­tack, awoke. Sleepy and bleary-eyed, the relative called out Donna’s name as he walked slowly through the house. He could tell immediately that something was wrong because Donna didn’t answer his calls. When he found the massive smears of blood in the kitchen, the relative stopped dead in his tracks, aghast at the grisly sight and immediately aware that something dreadful had happened. He phoned other relatives and asked them to come over immediately.
Before leaving for the Denney residence, one of the relatives phoned the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department and reported the suspicious circumstances. Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Hicks was dispatched to the scene and he arrived, almost simultaneously, with Donna Denney’s relatives.
A cursory glance around the interior of the house indicated to Deputy Hicks that the residence had been ransacked. And when he observed the blood in kitchen, he had little doubt that extreme violence had occurred there.
Hicks immediately ordered everyone out of the house, sealed it, and then pro­ceeded out the back door into the yard. There were signs of a struggle outside as well, and the trail led the deputy to a small evergreen bush. There, beneath the bush, was Donna Denney’s brutal­ized body, a macabre, spine-chilling sight for all those present to view.
In an attempt to preserve and protect the crime scene, not to mention to spare the relatives as much of the gruesome sight as possible, Deputy Hicks allowed no one near the body. After determining that Donna Denney was indeed dead, the deputy radioed his grim findings into headquarters and requested assis­tance in the homicide investigation.
A short time later, Sheriff Paul Mason and Detective Robert Betts, the primary investigators, arrived at the rural home. They were accompanied by Lieutenant Robert Garner, an evidence technician, and Sergeant Roger Katter.
The investigators observed that the victim’s body was covered with blood and had numerous stab wounds over much of her upper torso and abdomen. It was also evident that she had strug­gled violently with her assailant and in so doing she had suffered a horrible death. The sleuths could easily see that much of the physical evidence visibly present was in the form of the victim’s own blood.
Initial observations indicated that Donna Denney had been attacked near the back door of her house. She had probably heard the intruder and went to investigate or, even more likely, simply answered a knock at the door. After stabbing Donna an as yet undetermined number of times, the intruder entered the house and ransacked it for items to steal, detectives theorized. At some point, reasoned the investigators, Donna must have partially recovered and made an attempt to get to the telephone to summon help. However, her attacker, evidently seeing her feeble attempt to preserve her life, stabbed her several more times to finish her off, after which he probably dragged her outside to the evergreen bush to die.
The detectives searched the house and the yard for most of the day in an attempt to find evidence that could be important to their case. They collected blood samples, fingerprints, hair and fi­ber samples and anything else they felt was pertinent. Despite an exhaustive search, however, no murder weapon, believed to have been a kitchen knife, was found. However, a piece of a neck­lace found near the back door by Ser­geant Katter turned out to be an important piece of physical evidence. The broken chain did not belong to the victim, relatives told probers.
The next day, following an autopsy, the medical examiner reported that Donna Denney had died of numerous stab wounds, as many as 16. It appeared she had been stabbed initially then choked into unconsciousness, after which she was stabbed again numerous times. She did not appear to have been sexually assaulted, the M.E. said.
The case moved slowly at first. The relative in the house with Donna at the time of her brutal assault was described as a sound sleeper and could not provide investigators with any information about the killing, other than to say he found the blood and the ransacked con­dition of the house. To make matters worse, analysis of the physical evidence (with the exception of the necklace piece) was all accounted for. There were no unidentified fingerprints, hair sam­ples, traces of clothing, or footprints: just a dead body and lots of blood.
The detectives thought it strange that the victim’s relative was able to sleep through the entire ordeal. Hadn’t Donna screamed? The sleuths wondered. Hadn’t she attempted to violently fight off her attacker(s)? And if so, why hadn’t the relative heard anything? At this point, the probers couldn’t help but view him suspiciously. But the relative appeared truly shaken and broken up over what had happened, and seemed to be telling the truth. Also, his story of being a deep sleeper was corroborated by other fami­ly members and, with the absence of physical evidence and lack of a motive on the relative’s part, the investigators had no choice but to look elsewhere for a suspect.
Relatives and friends of the victim told the detectives that Donna was well- liked and respected in the community, and no one knew of any enemies she might have had. But, judging from the fact that she was killed with such un­leashed savagery, the detectives knew she had at least one. But who?
She did not date often, the detectives learned. But as they dug deeper along those lines, they eventually ferreted out the fact that Donna had once been en­gaged to a man, David Blanchard Young, but had broken off the engage­ment for reasons that were not initially clear. The only details that surfaced sug­gested that one of her relatives might have been responsible for breaking up the relationship.
When the detectives interviewed David Young, he appeared sincerely broken up over Donna’s death. He told them of the engagement and the subse­quent break-up, but said he hadn’t been in contact with Donna for some time prior to her death. He did not offer sleuths any additional information.
After running down all available leads and exhausting virtually all avenues of inquiry, the case began to look more and more hopeless. Some on the case doubted it would ever be solved. They were of the opinion that it would simply remain in the unsolved files to become a cold case. Sleuths were behind the eight ball on this one, and they knew they simply had to wait and see if any new leads sur­faced.
In the meantime, on February 28th, detectives went to the Bruno’s cottage in Springfield to obtain hair samples from Mrs. Bruno’s hair brush, and they attempted to find out what her blood type was by conferring with her husband. But he simply repeated that he didn’t know her blood type, and all that detectives left with were a few strands of long blonde hair and the frustration of knowing that it was likely to be some time yet before positive identification of the severed thigh and breast could be made.
According to Dr. Ed Wilson, deputy Lane County medical examiner, investigators knew that the female victim had not been dead for long, unless the thigh and breast had been preserved by freezing, which they seriously doubted. He also said they could only retrieve a small blood sample from the body parts, but stressed that it would be enough for the Oregon State Police Crime Labs to establish the victim’s blood type, the results of which would soon be known.
If the scientists could have obtained more blood, said Wilson, they would have attempted to measure the amount of prolactin (a hormone) in the blood and could possibly have determined whether or not the victim had been nursing a child, a clue that could have been of vital importance to an investigation of this nature. But considering the small amount of blood they had to work with, the blood type identification was the best they could hope for.
The first real breakthrough in the case came when detectives finally learned Mrs. Bruno’s blood type through her medical records in Vancouver, Washington, which they wouldn’t release to the press. And almost as soon as they had discovered the missing woman’s blood type, the Oregon State Police Crime Labs reported to detectives that their samples were of the same blood type as Mrs. Bruno’s type.
Considering that detectives now knew that the victim was a female Caucasian, 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 7 inches in height, and that she weighed approximately 140 to 160 pounds, they now felt Pamela Bruno might be the victim that had been so savagely butchered.
A short time later, Springfield police Detective Don Bond paid a visit to the Bruno apartment. He told Mrs. Bruno’s husband that it was likely his wife was dead, and that it was now believed that the thigh and breast were parts severed from his wife’s body, although they were not one hundred percent certain Mrs. Bruno was the victim. While Detective Bond was relating the details to Mr. Bruno, Bruno’s dog came barking into the room, at which time Bruno became irritated and angry with the animal.
“I’ve got to get rid of that damn dog, too,” Bruno remarked to Bond. It was at that precise moment that Bond began to suspect that Bruno killed his wife, although he didn’t immediately acknowledge Bruno’s apparent Freudian slip of the tongue. Instead, he acted as if he hadn’t noticed and asked Bruno to visualize the severed thigh found in the trash bin. Astonishingly, Bruno described to Detective Bond precisely how the thigh had been severed!
The investigation continued, and finally, on March 10, the severed thigh and breast were positively identified through laboratory analysis as being parts of what was once Pamela Lee Bruno.
With this sudden new development, police went to the Bruno apartment with search and arrest warrants, but in spite of their efforts they could find no traces of blood or other physical evidence that would indicate the murder occurred inside the Bruno’s residence.
Police arrested Johnny Charles Bruno just the same, and took him to Springfield Police Headquarters for further questioning. Bruno was cooperative for the most part, and seemed to want to help the police. On a “cop’s hunch,” Detective Bond told Bruno that they thought someone else was also involved in the grisly murder.
“Well, you know, don’t you?” Bruno told the cops. He then broke down and cried, making a full confession of how his wife was repeatedly stabbed and dismembered, and implicated one of his friends and co-workers, Charles Haynes, 31, and Haynes’ wife, Lionetti Anita, also 31. The two men worked together for nearly three years as tree planters for a local firm, and Mrs. Bruno and Mrs. Haynes were known to associate with each other when the Brunos would visit the Hayneses.
On Saturday, March 11th, police went to the Haynes’ rented house in Eugene, located in the 800 block of West Fifth Avenue, a poor area of town, and arrested Charles Leroy Haynes. The next day, when Mrs. Haynes appeared at Springfield Police Headquarters, she too was arrested.
All three suspects were accused of “acting in concert” with each other when the stabbing of Mrs. Bruno occurred, which police alleged was on or about February 21st, and each allegedly participated in the subsequent ritualistic dismembering of the victim’s arms, legs, breasts, and head.
District Attorney Pat Horton would only describe the murder weapon as a “stabbing instrument.” “There is a certain uniqueness in this case which I think is unparalleled in Lane County,” said Horton. Springfield Police Chief Brian Riley stated he couldn’t remember a murder case as gruesome, and went on to praise the cooperative efforts of the Springfield and Eugene Police Departments.
“I’ve seen a lot of investigations of crimes involving more than one jurisdiction done in other places,” said Eugene Police Chief Pierce Brooks, a former detective division commander at the Los Angeles Police Department. “But I’ve never seen it done as effectively as here.”
In the meantime, Lane County District Court Judge Gregory Foote ordered the suspects held without bail at the Springfield city jail, where they would be appointed attorneys by the court.
Police now alleged that Pamela Bruno was killed and “slaughtered” at the Haynes’ residence in Eugene, and Chief Brooks sent crime lab supervisor Mary Ann Vaughn to the house to investigate.
Wearing an oxygen mask and tank inside the house, Ms. Vaughn used special chemicals that emit toxic fumes to search for “trace evidence” in each of the rooms of the house. Brooks said they were looking for evidence “so minute that it might not be visible to the naked eye.”
However, District Attorney Horton and police officials refused to comment further on the case, saying only that a Lane County grand jury would be asked to indict the three suspects. When asked whether additional body parts had been found, Horton replied, “To my knowledge, (additional) body parts have not been found.”
On Thursday, March 16th, a Lane County grand jury returned murder indictments against Johnny Charles Bruno, Charles Leroy Haynes, and his wife, Lionetti Anita Haynes. The three suspects were transferred to the Lane County Jail in Eugene, where they were held without bail.
As the weeks passed and turned into months, detectives continued their investigation of the butcher-murder of Pamela Lee Bruno, but chose to remain tight-lipped about their results, preferring to save the details for the soon-to-begin trials.
It was Tuesday, May 23, 1978, and the Lane County Circuit Court of Judge Roland Rodman was filled to capacity, with hopeful spectators being turned away. Johnny Charles Bruno was the first to go on trial for the brutal slaying and butchering of his wife, a trial that the people of Eugene and Springfield would not soon forget. Inside the courtroom, opening arguments were being heard.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Barnes’ opening statement was a recounting of the events of the February 24th discovery of the severed thigh and breast, a synopsis of the investigation leading to the arrests of the three suspects, and details of Bruno’s confession.
“At the end of this case,” said defense attorney Harry Carp, “no matter what evidence the state presents, you’re not going to have a pretty picture. You’re going to be looking at a charnel house.”
“I suggest to you it was more than a charnel house,” countered Prosecutor Barnes, “which, as I understand it, is a place where dead bodies and bones are deposited. It was more like a slaughter house, an unparalleled ritualistic killing involving blood, guts, and gore. It’s something you will not easily forget.”
It was noted that Carp had filed notice of intent to argue his client’s defense of extreme emotional disturbance or mental defect which, under Oregon status, is the same as an insanity plea. However, he reserved the right to change his defense theory if necessary.
When Prosecutor Barnes described how Mrs. Bruno’s body had allegedly been strung up over the bathtub in the Haynes’ residence and “disemboweled and butchered like an animal,” Mrs. Bruno’s mother, grandmother, and aunt all left the courtroom hurriedly.
To visualize how a loved one had been drained of her blood, and had her entrails scraped out into a cold porcelain bathtub, then to hear details of the grisly dismemberment, was understandably more than a relative of the deceased could bear.
In his statements, Barnes said the state would prove that Mrs. Bruno’s death was caused intentionally by her husband and Mr. and Mrs. Haynes during an evening of alcohol, marijuana, and group sex which included sadomasochistic acts.
Dr. David Myers, assistant Lane County medical examiner who examined the tissue of the thigh and breast, told the court that the breast was so mutilated by human teeth marks that he could not immediately recognize it. He also told the court that the body parts had almost no blood, leading him to believe that Mrs. Bruno’s body had been drained of blood through a cut or a wound caused by the woman’s killers.
The feeling in the courtroom was cold and dismal in a psychological sense rather than physical. It was generally felt that in order for Mrs. Bruno’s body to have been so completely drained of blood, her killers would have had to have her strung up over the bathtub for quite some time, a clear indication that her killers were in no hurry to get rid of the body, and that they might well have even enjoyed the ritualistic killing and subsequent hacking up of the victim’s corpse.
Following jury selection in the early part of January 1986, Larry Bellmore’s murder trial opened in the courtroom of Morgan County Circuit Judge James Harris. It was packed to capacity and in­cluded several members of the victim’s family. Bellmore’s attorney, Ron Tedrow, began his defense by placing an empty chair in front of the jury box.
“I was saving this chair for the man who killed Donna Denney, but the chair is empty,” he said. “They (the prosecu­tors) want to put Larry Bellmore in the electric chair, but the killer’s chair is empty.” In following up his dramatic opening, Tedrow told the jurors that his client was being blamed for the murder of Donna Denney by two people who needed a deal with the prosecutor to escape punishment for their part in the crime. Stopping short of an outright ac­cusation, Tedrow suggested that David Blanchard Young was a more likely sus­pect in Denney’s death.
“I suggest to you that lots of people have killed for love or because they have been rejected in a love situation,” said the defense attorney. Explaining the “love situation” between the victim and David Young, Tedrow contended that Young had the motive and the oppor­tunity to commit the crime. Tedrow also maintained that Young committed sui­cide three months after the murder as a climax in acting out his guilt over his former fiance’s murder.
In an attempt to discredit Young’s de­position, Tedrow pointed out what he called several inconsistencies in Young’s actions. As an example, Tedrow told the jurors that Young had told several people about combat experiences he was supposed to have had in Viet­nam, yet his military record revealed that he never served there.
“Was he in Vietnam on the night of July 30, 1985?” asked Defense Attor­ney Tedrow. “Maybe he was operating in a state of unreality.”
Tedrow also pointed out that the pros­ecution lacked physical evidence that placed Bellmore at Denney’s home on the night of the murder. He added that the prosecution had no fingerprints, footprints, hair samples, or traces of clothing.
“At least I have tried to supply you with a motive, which the state has not done,” said Tedrow. Referring to the plea-bargain arrangements between the prosecution and David Young and Ran­dy Lewis, Tedrow said that Lewis “will do what he has to do under his deal…the state needed a solution to a murder and the (other two defendants) needed a deal…then they launched the official version in the mainstream of public opinion.”
In her opening statement, Prosecutor Jane Craney said that investigators be­gan suspecting Larry Bellmore, David Young, and Randy Lewis because of in­formation provided by tipster number 525. She detailed how investigators had come to believe that Donna Denney was slain because of a plot formed by her former fiance`, David Young.
She further explained how Young had offered at least $300 to Bellmore and Lewis to beat up a relative of the victim’s. She also conceded that Randy Lewis’ testi­mony was critical to the state’s case against Bellmore. She further acknowl­edged that much of her case centered on the deposition provided by David Young a short time before his death. Prosecutor Craney added that circum­stantial evidence and corroborating tes­timony by others placed Larry Bellmore at the murder scene. The prosecutor re­minded the jury that Randy Lewis had admitted to stabbing Donna Denney two times, but insisted that it was Bellmore who had inflicted the fatal wounds. She said Lewis had told police that Bellmore appeared “orgasmic” after the murder, and exclaimed, “We did it! We did it!”
In yet another dramatic move, Pros­ecutor Craney took a videotape from her briefcase, and said that it was taken at the crime scene and included gruesome scenes of the victim’s body. Defense Counselor Tedrow immediately objec­ted to the showing of the tape, contend­ing that it might prejudice the jury. Judge Harris had the jury escorted from the courtroom after which he overruled the objection, but warned those present that the tape would be “gruesome and emotional.”
“I will not allow any outbursts in front of the jury,” said Harris during the jury’s absence. “Anyone who does will be excluded at least until that portion is concluded.” Several of the victim’s rel­atives then left the courtroom and the jury returned to their seats. When the tape was shown, many on the panel were clearly taken aback by the graphic scenes, but there were no outbursts. At least not until Prosecutor Craney put Sam Lacey on the witness stand.
Lacey was the owner of the apart­ment that had been shared by Bellmore and Lewis at the time of Donna Den­ney’s murder. He testified that Bellmore had said he “had to finish the job,” re­ferring to the Denney slaying. He then revealed that it was he who was tipster number 525. This provoked an immedi­ate objection from Defense Attorney Tedrow, who asked for a hearing outside the jury’s presence. Tedrow subse­quently asked for a mistrial, and asked Judge Harris to impose sanctions against Prosecutor Craney for withhold­ing Lacey’s role in the case.
Prosecutor Craney countered by ask­ing to be placed under oath, after which she explained the unusual circum­stances to Judge Harris.
“The first time he had ever revealed to me that he was tipster number 525 was today during the lunch hour at approximately ten minutes to one,” she said. “I swear to God that I did not know until today who number 525 was.” Tedrow, how­ever, was still not satisfied.
“The days of trial by ambush are ob­viously over,” he said. “But maybe not in Morgan County.”
The judge responded that the pros­ecutor should have informed the de­fense attorney of Lacey’s identity before the trial resumed, but he added that the information came as a surprise and Craney might not have had enough time to think the situation out. Then Judge Harris denied the defense’s mistrial mo­tion.
Jim Sanders, the relative of the defen­dant’s who had contacted Indiana au­thorities after Bellmore and Lewis had shown up at his Florida home, told ju­rors that he learned of Bellmore’s in­volvement in the crime from Lewis. Tedrow quickly attempted to discredit Sander’s testimony, contending that Sanders was at odds with his family and was trying to “get back” at them with his testimony.
Tedrow then went a step further by placing another of the defendant’s rela­tives on the stand. This witness was a woman who testified that Sanders had been committed to various mental insti­tutions and lived in a fantasy world. At one point, she said, he proposed to run for mayor of Winter Garden, Florida, which she contended, given his back­ground, was absurd. She also accused Sanders of being a homosexual.
“I believe Larry is innocent,” said the relative. “He told me he had no part in it. He doesn’t have the kind of per­sonality to do that.”
Another witness, who initially gave authorities a deposition in which she stated that she saw Bellmore at an Indi­anapolis store at the approximate time of the slaying, reversed her testimony on the witness stand. Even though the witness now faced possible perjury charges, her new testimony was a move that successfully impeached the defen­dant’s alibi.
At another point in the trial, the neck­lace piece found at the crime scene was identified as being similar to a necklace worn by Bellmore. The prosecution contended that it had been broken into two pieces during a struggle with the victim.
Tedrow, however, quickly dismissed the necklace as evidence. He went to great lengths to show the jurors the way in which the necklace was broken and insisted that it could not have happened the way the prosecutor suggested. He pointed out again that the prosecutor had failed to produce enough evidence that linked Bellmore to the crime, and were not able to produce the knife used in the slaying. Prosecutor Craney, how­ever, pointed out that investigators had been told the knife had been thrown into the White River after the murder.
“He points the finger at everybody but where it belongs, right there at the killer’s chair which has been filled since July,” said Craney. “You can go around and around, but you come right back to find Bellmore was in that house. The motive was money, money, money. You can deliberate as long as you want, but don’t let the smoke get in your eyes…you can throw out everything but (Randy Lewis’) testimony, and you can still reach a verdict. Everything he (Lewis) has said has been corrobo­rated.”
Finalizing her closing argument, Prosecutor Craney picked up an empty chair and, using the same dramatics that Tedrow had employed at the start of the trial, slammed it down in front of the jury box. She then dropped a file copy of Bellmore’s statements onto the chair and reminded the jurors that they should not even think about the death penalty while they decided Bellmore’s guilt or innocence. As a final gesture, Craney displayed a photo of the dead woman and told them they didn’t have to live with it. She then tossed the photo to­ward Bellmore, seated next to his attorney, and said, “You live with it!”
Defense Attorney Tedrow again pointed the finger at others without making outright accusations during his summation. He attempted to make the jury doubt the idea of a plot, insisting that Bellmore had no motive to commit the murder. He said it was the prosecu­tion’s responsibility to prove Bellmore guilty, and they had failed.
“The state has failed and cannot do so,” said Tedrow. “Bellmore is inno­cent. Don’t add Larry Bellmore to the list of victims.”
The jury deliberated six hours over two days before reaching their verdict. When they returned to the courtroom, the jury foreman announced they had found Larry Bellmore guilty of murder as charged. They asked the judge for the death penalty.
“I never doubted he was guilty,” said Prosecutor Craney afterwards. “First of all he showed absolutely no remorse at the trial. Second, he is very cold and calculating…I felt the jury was a very conscientious jury and that they would deliberate for a period of hours.”
“Everybody that knows Larry knows he’s getting the shaft,” said a relative. “He’s getting a raw deal.”
After Bellmore’s conviction, but prior to sentencing, it was made public that he had bragged to other jail inmates that he had killed people in Tennessee and Mis­souri. It was reported that an effort was made by Morgan County authorities to track any evidence of other killings Bellmore might have committed, but they came up empty-handed.
“If he has, it wasn’t known, or he wasn’t a suspect, or he used an alias,” said Detective Robert Betts, who head­ed the Denney murder investigation.
While awaiting sentencing, according to Prosecutor Craney, Bellmore had a large tattoo of a dagger, dripping with blood, put on his left upper arm which, she contended, only served to further display the defendant’s lack of remorse.
Although the judge initially leaned against imposing the death penalty, Craney continued to argue Bellmore’s lack of remorse and evidently changed the judge’s mind. On February 20, 1986, Harris sentenced Bellmore to death in the electric chair.
Editor’s Note:
Randy Lewis, Sam Lacey and Jim Sanders are not the real names of the persons so named in the foregoing story. Fictitious names have been used be­cause there is no reason for public inter­est in the identities of these persons.

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