Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Trials of Christian Longo

Christian Longo, age 17 meets Mary Jane Baker in the Jehovah’s Witness Church that she and her mother attended. She is eight years older than he is. At 18 he moves out of his parents home, gets a job at a local camera store. Mary Jane works as a secretary and is not only very devout, but very active in her church’s activities.
Christian is caught stealing from his employers. As a result, church elders refuse to allow the couple to marry in the church.
1993 - March 13 - Mary Jane Baker, marries Christian Longo in Huron School Auditorium by a minister.
Mary Jane is described as ”quiet and easy going.” Christian is described at this period of time as a self employed construction cleaner who is “charming” and businesslike.”
1997 - February – Zachary Michael Longo is born.
1997 – Christian & Mary Jane Longo purchased a brick ranch style home.
1998 - April - Sadie Ann Longo is born. Mary Jane Longo quits her secretarial job.
1999 October – Madison Jeanne Longo is born.

2000 - January Christian Longo quits his job. He  utilizes the market value of the house ($80,000) as collateral to open his own construction cleaning firm, “Final Touch Construction Cleaning.” It’s soon apparent that they are living beyond their means, purchasing expensive cars, boat, and snowmobiles. They have no health insurance.
February 16 - ”Jason joseph Fortner” takes a new red minivan for a test drive. He provides the salesperson with a driver’s license which is photocopied. Christian Longo drives the Pontiac Montana minivan home and replaces the license plate with a plate from another vehicle.
Spring – Longo engages in an affair with another Jehovah’s Witness. Mary Jane becomes aware of the affair.
2001 - May – Christian & Mary Longo sell the house (in need of repairs) to Aretha Evans and her husband. Shortly thereafter, former clients with complaints show up on their doorstep. Court documents for Christian Longo are pinned to their door. A Sheriff’s Deputy and one of Longo’s former clients comes to their door.
June - Christian Longo commits check forgery. His main client, Wexford Builders isn’t paying him “fast enough” to meet his mounting debts. Longo begins to forge checks to himself from the Wexford account. Between mid- June & mid= July Longo writes 6 fraudulent checks to himself, about $30,000. He cashes them in at various banks. Wexford Builders notify police.
July 14 - Longo tries to cash another Wexford check. The bank calls police. Longo leaves the bank but he’s left his ID behind. He is arrested that afternoon. He admits forging the checks. He justifies his actions by saying he was taking what was rightfully his because Wexford had been slow in paying him. Mary Jane Longo picks him up at the police station in the stolen red Montana van. Police soon decide Mary Jane was not in on Longo’s check scam.  Longo is “disfellowshiped” from the church. This means they all cannot go to the church, all of their friends and his workers from the church shun them.
He defaults on loans. He hires workers and doesn’t pay them. He steals two construction trailers and a forklift. He sells the forklift. He is sued by the equipment dealer who purchased it when he finds out it was stolen.
Longo’s mother in law, Mary Jane’s mother, forecloses on Longo after he stops making payments on a house she had sold him in Ypsilanti, Michigan. (About 30 miles west of Detroit.)
August - Christian Longo forges a driver’s license. He takes $8,000 from the house equity and moves his family to a warehouse in Toledo, Ohio. He has run away from 2 warrants, 6 lawsuits and $60,000 of debt. In his possession are a stolen construction trailer, forklift, boat and trailer and the stolen minivan. The rent on the warehouse is $1,650 a month. He uses it as a showroom to sell the stolen goods. He also returns to forging checks. He arranges to sell the forklift (value $32,000) for only $5,000. The buyer becomes suspicious and calls police.
Mary Jane’s sisters try to convince her to move back home. They are not successful. Jim Baker (Mary Jane’s father) “I told them “you’re just overdramatizing this. There’s no way he’s going to harm these children and my daughter, he just loves them too much.” Yet he renovates the lower level of his home in case Mary Jane and the children need a place to stay. Mary Jane’s sisters return to Toledo, Ohio and inform Police of Christian Longo’s probation violation.
August 30 – Toledo Police Dept. Stolen Vehicles Section Supervisor arrives at the warehouse. He finds Mary Jane and the children in the van. He checks serial numbers on a forklift and rental truck, neither of which were reported as stolen. He also sees a boat, boat trailer, construction trailer. By the time police are onto the fact that the items weren’t yet reported as stolen but were missing, Longo was gone with the mini van and rental truck.
Police find stolen goods along with many boxes of the Longo’s household items. Photo albums, clothing and toys are also left behind. Mary Jane’s sisters decided to visit her. They arrive at the warehouse. It is empty and there is no forwarding address. They file a missing persons report.
Christian Longo moves his family west. In South Dakota he rents a large storage locker and drives the rental truck half full of their household items inside. He paid a month in advance. Then he takes the family and continues driving westward.
August - Christian Longo commits larceny – he opens a credit card account in his adoptive father’s name, Joe Longo. He runs up a debt of $100,000.
September 12 - Christian Longo moves his family to Oregon in a stolen van. He takes a job as a Starbucks barista in Newport, Oregon. He flimflams his way into a rental home at Ocean Odyssey Vacation Rentals. Longo has pawned Mary Jane’s wedding ring so he can pay in cash.
October – Longo rents a house in Waldport for $300 a week.
Jim Baker receives a post card with an Oklahoma postmark stating that Christian found a job and that things are going well.
Christian Longo is placed on 3 year probation for forgery and writing bad checks in Washtenaw County.
November - After a couple of weeks they move to a $22 a night motel in Newport.
November 30 -Longo moves the family into “The Landing” an upscale condo on Yaquina Bay in Newport. He negotiates the rent to $1,200 a month. The payment is almost his entire paycheck for a month at Starbucks. Longo lies to the manager and tells him he is working for QWest and he’d pay the rent when he was paid. He had no money to pay.
December – 11 - Lincoln County Circuit Judge Robert J. Huckleberry denies a motion to issue a warrant for Christian Longo’s arrest. Longo is charged with a crime dating from September 12, 2001.
December – 14 – There’s no money, the rent is due, there are no groceries for the family.
December 16 - Longo later claims that he and Mary jane had a serious argument after he “came clean to her about past lies and criminal acts.”
December – 17 - Longo later would claim that Mary Jane was “morose” when she picked him up from where he worked at Starbucks. He claims she cried as they walked towards the condo and he became alarmed. He claims he found Madison lying unconscious on the bed and Zachary and Sadie missing. He claims she said “You did this, it’s your fault.. she used the word kill and that was the first time I suspected that the children were dead.” “She said “They’re in the water, they’re by the house.”  “That’s when I lost it.” He claims he strangled Mary Jane with one hand, then with two, dropped her body when he could no longer hold it up. Instead of calling the police he decided to dispose of the bodies in suitcases. Longo placed Madison’s baby clothes into a suitcase and then found she was still alive. “Even though she was breathing, I thought of her as dead. I couldn’t put her in the suitcase like that. He strangled Madison. When asked why he didn’t summon help when he found the child unconscious Long stated “I was hysterical at that point.”
REALITY: Christian Longo was facing eviction from the condo on Yaquina Bay.
December 17 - Christian Longo murders Mary Jane, Zachary, Sadie Ann and Madison at the condominium where they are living. He stuffed their bodies into suitcases with comforters and then throws them into shallow coastal inlets. A person who later becomes a witness at trial, sees a red minivan stopped on Lint Slough bridge at about 4:30 A.M. and speaks to the man in the vehicle, asking if he needed help. The man tells him no and the person went about his business.
Several days later he flees to San Francisco, California in a stolen Dodge Durango.
December 18 – Motel employees at the $22 a night motel find Mary Jane’s Michigan ID, baby books and clothes, family photos, Mary Jane’s clothing in their dumpster. When he’s notified his family photos and baby items were found, Longo claims that “the children must have left some of their stuff when they moved.” He does not pick up the items.
December – 19 Wed- Longo tells a co-worker at Starbucks that his wife had been having an affair for 3 years and had taken the children and moved to Michigan.
That same day, a Dodge Durango is missing froma dealership south of Portland, Oregon. Left in its place is a stolen red Montana Minivan with toys, sleeping bags, cell phones and diving gear inside. There were pillows and one pillow without a pillow case. There is also a book “Running from the Law.”
Longo drives to San Francisco. He’s there for a few days and applys for a job at a local Starbucks. He provides the Newport, Oregon Starbucks as a reference. The manager calls Newport to check on the reference. Employees of the Newport Starbucks notify police.  San Francisco police are notified and they find the stolen Dodge Durango in the airport parking lot.
That same day - Zachary Longo’s body, clad only in underwear, with a pillow  case tied around his ankle, is found floating two feet from shore near the mouth of “Lint Slough” which empties into Alsea Bay.
Saturday – Sadie Ann Longo’s body is found submerged about 150 yards from where Zachary was found. She is in 9 feet of water, her ankle tied to a pillowcase full of rocks which keeps her body on the bottom.
Retouched photos of the children are placed on posters. A co-worker from Starbucks who had babysat the children went to police and then identified both children at the morgue.
December 22 – Jim Baker, Mary Jane’s father is notified that his grandchildren Zachary and Sadie Ann were found dead, floating in the bay.
December 25 – Investigators following leads. Autopsies of the children have been completed. Although the results are not released, authorities did state that they had not died from trauma. The Autopsy reports stated that the cause of death was “consistent with drowning.” Speculation is that the children were weighted down and then shoved into a sleeping bag and thrown off into the slough while still alive.
Police go to the condo and find it empty.
December 27 – Mary Jane Longo and their youngest child, Madison, age 2, are found in two suitcases at the bottom of the bay. Divers find the dark green suitcases in the water, mere yards from the condo. Mary Jane Longo, aged 34, exhibited signs of blunt trauma to the head and strangulation. Her body was forced into a fetal position inside the suitcase. Madison, age 2, had been strangled and was clad in a diaper inside the other suitcase.
Lincoln County charges Longo with seven counts of aggravated murder. (Any murder of a child under 14 carries two counts).
That same day, December 27 – A woman from Montreal, Canada arrives in Cancun, Mexico and meets a man named “Brad” at a hostel. Later he tells her his name is “Mike.” Longo has been telling his German girlfriend and others that he is a journalist named Mike Finkel, a person who’s identity he has stolen.
December 29 – The woman from Montreal leaves the hostel.
Jim Baker described Mary Jane as “strait laced” and states “Mary Jane would never have approved of Christian’s lawbreaking. “Yet she was naive and trusting and would have pretty much believed anything he told her.
“I suspect she finally put her foot down. I think that’s when he killed her. She wanted to go home. She’d had enough of living out of cars.” ”There was no history of him beating on her, being abusive verbally or physically. And then to turn around and kill his family – I think he had a nervous breakdown. Something snapped. I think he’s sick.”
2002 – January – 5 – Ypsilanti, Michigan, a funeral service for Mary Jane, Zachary, Sadie Ann and Madison is held.
Washtenaw County Circuit Court issues a warrant on Christian Longo for probation violation.
January -   Friday – Montreal, Canada resident telephones FBI. She had been traveling in Cancun, Mexico and recognized Christian Longo. Longo is sharing a cabana with his photographer girlfriend from Germany in Tulum, Mexico.
January 12 – Longo is placed under surveillance.
January 13 – Sunday - Christian Longo is arrested 6:20 PM Pacifici time in Tulum, Mexico (60 miles south of Cancun, Mexico.) Immigration police, FBI, Mexican State and Federal police other Mexican officials are in on the arrest. Police kick in the door and Longo thinks it is a drug raid. Police find a credit card belonging to Mary Jane Longo, Argentine pesos (stolen from other hostel guests in Cancun), and a notebook.
He pays no attention to his girlfriend as he is arrested.
January 14 – FBI agents transport Christian Michael Longo to the United States. He is locked up in Newport, Oregon jail. Later he would state “I didn’t understand the enormity of my crime until I was locke dup. I saw news photos of the makeshift memorial on the bridge at the Slough. Up until then, I was feeling an amazing amoutn of self pity.”
Investigators digging into Christian Longo’s background find that for years he’s been a con man. He told elaborate lies, stold cars, boats and construction equipment. He was also cheating on his wife.
2002 - Jim Baker “I have no desire to see Christian again. As far as I’m concerned the laws will take care of it and justice will prevail. They have the death penalty out there.”
2003 – January 23 - Christian Longo’s 28th birthday - he is indicted on 7 counts of aggravated murder. He pled guilty to Mary Jane and Madison’s murders, but not guilty to Zachary and Sadie Ann’s murders.
April –  Christian Longo convicted of killing Mary Jane, Zachary, Sadie Ann and Madison Longo. Four counts of aggravated murder. The jury takes less than 5 hours to convict.
2003 – April 17 – Christian Longo sentenced to death by lethal injection. The jury deliberates 6 1/2 hours. He tells the court “he condemns his “monstrous acts” and expects no forgiveness.” He spends 23 minutes in a rambling statement to the court. Longo apologizes for “telling lies about his wife Mary Jane during the trial” but he does not recant his testimony that she killed the older children.  “They deserved the best, and that’s something I didn’t provide. I was the one, in fact that they needed protection from.”
Prosecutors say his appeals are likely to take 20 years.
2003 – April 19 – Christian Longo is removed from Lincoln County Jail and processed into the Oregon State penitentiary in Salem Oregon for his transfer to Death Row.
2005 – Christian Longo is engaged to a woman with two small children. She visits him regularly on Death Row.
2006 – The Oregon Supreme Court upholds Longo’s death sentence.
Willamette Week, Aug. 14, 2002
published: 8/14/2002Sometime around two in the morning of Dec. 17, 2001, 27-year- old Christian Michael Longo allegedly drove his stolen red Pontiac Montana van onto the narrow bridge over Lint Slough on the outskirts of tiny Waldport, Ore. There, according to authorities who have charged Longo with four murders, he tied pillowcases weighted with stones around the ankles of two of his children, put them inside a sleeping bag, then threw the bag over the rail into the Stygian waters.
Based on what police apparently told Longo’s in-laws, 4- yea r-old Zachary and 3-year-old Sadie were still alive when their father cast them into the rainy darkness; both children followed their mother, Maryjane Baker Longo, and their baby sister, Madison, already on the far side of the divide between the living and the dead.
And if the state of Oregon has its way, Christian Longo himself will someday join them, courtesy of a publicly owned hypodermic needle.
While such family massacres are hardly new, the Longo case stands out primarily because of what the accused perpetrator did not do: take his own life as the last act of whatever desperation had driven him to such extremes–witness, for example, the murder-suicide of the six members of the Bryant family in McMinnville just three months after the Longo madness. Instead, as is now well known, Longo headed for the Mexican Riviera for an apparent fun-filled vacation.
After his arrest Jan. 13 at a grass shack on a beach some 60 miles south of Cancun by Mexican authorities and the FBI, Longo was returned to Newport, where he has been in the Lincoln County jail for the past eight months. As things now stand, Longo has yet to enter a plea to seven counts of murder (the kids count double under Oregon law). That will happen, it appears, sometime this fall, when Circuit Court Judge Robert Huckleberry has scheduled a round of hearings on a series of motions brought by Longo’s public defenders, Kenneth Hadley and Steven Krasik.
At this stage, of course, only part of the Longo story has been told; as the October hearings unfold, a defense to the charges will doubtless be erected, possibly in the area of diminished capacity. It is even possible–although it doesn’t seem likely–that Longo’s lawyers may show that Longo is factually innocent: that the murders were committed by someone else. But the brutal facts of the case seem to indicate otherwise.
Thus, the Longo trial will almost certainly come down to the so-far-unanswered question: Why? Why would a 27-year-old father of three, by all accounts a bright, extroverted, socially skilled, good-looking young man with marvelous potential, suddenly decide to murder his beautiful wife and three lovely children?
This is hardly an academic matter: Indeed, the answer to the question may help determine whether Longo himself lives or dies.
But killing Chris Longo won’t resolve all the culpability that the tragic case has engendered: It won’t do a single thing to improve the indifference and incompetence in the nation’s law-enforcement network that helped permit the horror to come to pass. And in a nation where the capacity of law-enforcement agencies to connect the dots may be critical in preventing the next 9/11, the official failures in the Longo case are most disquieting.
Christian Michael Longo was born Jan. 23, 1974, somewhere in the state of Iowa. According to his in-laws, the Baker family of Michigan, Christian was the elder of two sons born to a young woman and her abusive husband.
When the boys were still quite small, the Bakers said they were told, Christian’s mother, Joy, obtained a divorce from Christian’s natural father. Soon thereafter, she became involved in the Jehovah’s Witnesses church, where she met Joseph Longo, the man who became her second husband and apparently adopted both boys. As a result, Christian and his younger brother were both raised within the strictures of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, a circumstance that would eventually have significance for both the Longos and the Bakers.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in earthly resurrection: that at some point in the future, all the dead of the earth will be raised to join the living, and all will be as it was in the time of Adam and Eve.
“The children and Maryjane are basically asleep, and they’re not dreaming,” said Joseph Flowers, a member of the church, at the Longos’ funeral services in Ann Arbor last January. “They’re not suffering. They’re not in Purgatory…. They’re just asleep, waiting for the resurrection.”
As a millenarian sect, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the earth is in its “last days” and that the world is now under the grip of Satan, but awaiting redemption by the resurrected Jesus; as biblical literalists, they accept Satan as real, not a myth, and believe in the possibility of demonic possession.
The pertinent question here, from a defense point of view, is not whether these assertions are true or false, but whether a man like Longo might actually believe them–or indeed, even act on them. In other words, if Longo were to say that he intended only to spare his wife and children from suffering the tribulations of Satan’s Rule, or even that the Devil made him do it, who would be able to authoritatively say he was wrong? Depending on the Longo defense attorneys’ final strategy, it is thus possible that the stage might be set, in Longo’s forthcoming trial, for a discordant clash between the rule of law and the rule of religion.
Three weeks after Chris’ guilty plea, Farkas began hearing from a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses Chris had hired to work for Final Touch; they complained that the paychecks Chris had given them were made of rubber. Farkas contacted Chris, who assured him that he would make all the checks good before his formal sentencing; he did not do so, however.
Sometime in the first week of June 2001, Chris Longo packed his wife and children into their stolen red Pontiac Montana van and drove south down State Route 23 to Toledo, Ohio. There near the banks of the Maumee River, within the shadow of the new Toledo Mud Hens baseball stadium, Chris and Maryjane Longo set up housekeeping in a decrepit brick warehouse. Chris was on the lam, and Maryjane and their three children were on the lam with him.
Today, Christian Michael Longo awaits his fate in the Lincoln County jail, charged with one of the worst crimes in recent Oregon history. Sometime this fall, Longo will face his accusers in Newport, where the dead bodies of his victims, his own family, were discovered during the two grisly weeks of Christmas last. But if justice is to be done, there will have to be an answer to the paramount question of why.
By June of 2001, there had already been numerous opportunities to stop Chris Longo before the final tragedy: On probation in Ann Arbor for forging bad checks, under investigation for writing still more bad checks, for stealing trailers and construction equipment, and for selling stolen property, Chris Longo and his serial frauds were well-known to law enforcement.
In addition, given what the cops, at least, knew about Longo–that he was a thief–why on earth did Maryjane Longo go with him?
As perceived by the brother and sisters she left behind, Maryjane, herself the product of a broken home, steeped in the traditions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that put a wife completely in the power of her husband, chose to go with Chris Longo to the ends of the earth, or at least until death did them part, as Jehovah commanded.
In going to Toledo, it appears that Chris hoped to establish a temporary base while bringing several new scams to fruition.
“[The police] told us,” Mark Baker said later, “that he just ran out of suitcases.”

The Trials of Christian Longo

Two Tragic Deaths

Map of Oregon with Newport locator

Map of Oregon with Newport locator
On December 19, 2001, a young boy’s body floated up in Lint Slough, not far from the coastal town of Newport, Oregon. He seemed to be about 4 years old and wore only his underwear. Three days later, divers found the body of a slightly younger little girl, still in 9 feet of murky water, under the Lint Slough Bridge, still tethered to the bottom by a pillowcase full of rocks tied around her ankle. Divers found a similar weighted pillowcase, which had apparently been tied around the boy’s ankle. Also in those waters was a sleeping bag full of rocks. Authorities never released a cause of death for the two children, but said they had not died from trauma. Speculation has it that the two children were weighted down by their own cartoon pillowcases full of rocks, both shoved into the sleeping bag and thrown off the bridge into the slough—while still alive.
Lint Slough BridgeLint Slough Bridge
Thus began the largest crime investigation in the history of Lincoln County, Oregon.

The Boy, the Family, the Religion

It’s hard to say when Christian Longo learned the art of standing politely, passively, while smooth-talking his way out of trouble. This calmness served him well from the time his financial troubles began by stealing a roll of quarters from his father’s dresser in ninth grade to the day 20 Mexican police and FBI agents crashed into his Caribbean hideaway and arrested him for the murder of his wife and three children. Had he been the aggressive sort—resisting arrest, showing his temper when faced with the evidence of his crimes—things might have turned out much differently for Christian and his family. As it was, he passively submitted to handcuffs as his horrified German girlfriend looked on. He was not who he’d said he was — the New York Times journalist Michael Finkel. Instead, she was informed, he was Christian Longo, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted, and he was headed for death row.
Longo’s crimes began as a simple, perhaps even logical way out of his financial woes and escalated into one of the most heinous stories to capture the country’s imagination. Longo’s crimes, pursuit, capture and trial made headlines coast to coast, were highlighted on “America’s Most Wanted” and are now the subject of Michael Finkel’s book, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.
Book cover: True Story
Book cover: True Story:Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.
Born in Burlington, Iowa, Christian and his younger brother moved several times around the Midwest with their mother and father, following employment opportunities. Eventually, that marriage crumbled, and Joy, the mother, remarried and settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when the boys were still small. The entire family embraced the Jehovah’s Witness religion of Joe Longo, the boys’ stepfather. The small Jehovah’s Witness community in Ypsilanti seemed an oasis for the Longos—it provided a code of ethics, a community in which to socialize and marry—a manner of behavior that was a refreshing dose of sanity to the reconstituted family with a harsh past. It was within this insular religious community that Christian, at 17, met MaryJane Baker, seven years his senior. Deemed by his parents still too young to date girls at age eighteen, Christian got a job at a local camera store and moved out of the house to pursue the beautiful MaryJane.
Joe Longo, father
Joe Longo, father

The Love Story

MaryJane Baker, a sweet, unassuming young woman, had a sheltered, religious upbringing, living with her parents until her wedding day. She had only one future in her mind: wife and mother. She wanted to marry a religious man who would take good care of her and her children, and in return, she would make a comfortable home and a good life for him. She wanted the ideal Christian life. When she met Chris, MaryJane worked as a secretary. According to Finkel, she spent every Wednesday proselytizing door to door for the Witnesses, and Chris, smitten, joined in, just to be near her. Apparently, Christian’s smooth talk, handsome face and charismatic nature assured her that their dreams melded perfectly.
MaryJane Longo
MaryJane Longo
Perhaps she should have paid closer attention. As they were seeing each other, Chris was caught stealing from his employer, which did not sit well with the church elders. They refused to let Chris and MaryJane marry in the church. He approached her father, smooth-talked him into giving them his blessings, and on March 13, 1993, in Huron High School auditorium, a minister married Christian Longo and MaryJane Baker.
Zachery Michael LongoZachery Michael Longo
In 1996, they joyously proclaimed that they were to have their first child. Zachery Michael Longo was born in February 1997, followed by Sadie Ann, 14 months later. MaryJane quit her job to be the full time mother she had always wanted to be. Eighteen months later, in October 1999, little Madison Jeanne joined the family. MaryJane focused entirely on the children, keeping them tidy and dressing them well.

Sadie Ann Longo

This is where the trouble began.

Christian had an idea of himself, his family and his role as provider. He, too, wanted to live the ideal American dream. He needed to provide, and provide well. MaryJane looked to him, their babies looked to him, and the pressure to keep up with his ideal began to build. He wasn’t going to have a poor family, living in a rundown home. He wanted a new minivan every two years for MaryJane to drive. He wanted nice clothes, good toys for the children, nice vacations, and all of those things that telegraphed “success” to the outside world. He deserved that. His family deserved that. Christian Longo was a master of justification, and he resented the lengths he had to go in order to provide what he considered to be the mere basics.
And what of MaryJane’s involvement in Christian’s petty crimes? All the evidence pointed to MaryJane turning a blind eye to Chris’ machinations. According to later testimony, it was Chris’ job to provide for his family. MaryJane was continually fed lies and half-truths about their situation. She carried on, blissfully ignorant. According to Carlton Smith of Willamette Week, she stayed home and tended the household, and her husband brought home the money, the cars, the things they needed. She asked no questions, or if she did, she asked the wrong ones, because Christian had begun his life of conning, scamming, stealing and forging checks.
Longo family photoLongo family photo

The Trouble Begins

Madison Longo
Madison Longo
In January 2000, when baby Madison was only a couple of months old, Chris quit his job and opened Final Touch Construction Cleaning. The business cleaned up construction sites and made brand new buildings ready for tenancy. Business was good, but the payroll grew too fast, and soon he was forging checks on his customer’s bank account and bouncing payroll checks.
On February 16, 2000, a “Jason Joseph Fortner” took a new red Pontiac Montana minivan from a car lot in Sylvania, Ohio, for a test drive. The salesperson photocopied the phony driver’s license and handed him the keys. Later that day, the red Montana arrived in Ypsilanti, at the Longos’ home, where Chris replaced its license plate with one from another car. He would pay for the car, he rationalized, as soon as his undercapitalized business’s receivables gained ground on its payroll expenditures.
Red Pontiac Minivan
Red Pontiac Minivan
Things were not going well—already his crimes were escalating out of control—but instead of owning up to his bad boy behavior and cleaning up his act, he threw gasoline on the fire. According to Matt Sabo and Bryan Denson of The Oregonian, by spring of 2000, Chris had started an extramarital affair with another of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. MaryJane found out. The perfect family was decaying from the inside out, and the vise Christian had designed was beginning to squeeze him.
Financial difficulties began to grow exponentially. He obtained a line of credit in the name of Joe Longo, his adoptive father, and ran up $100,000 of debt. He defaulted on other loans and was passing bad checks. He hired temporary workers and couldn’t pay them. He stole two construction trailers and a forklift, and then sold the forklift. The used equipment dealer who bought it sued Chris when he learned the forklift had been stolen.

Drowning in Debt

In June 2000, Chris was drowning in debt, and Wexford Builders, the main client of his construction cleaning business, wasn’t paying him fast enough to keep the wolf from the door. Chris began to forge checks to himself from the Wexford account. Between mid-June and mid-July, he wrote six fake checks to himself for close to $30,000, and cashed them at various area banks. Wexford called the police.
On July 14, 2000, while trying to cash yet another bogus check, the bank called the police. Chris took off, but left his ID behind. That afternoon, the police arrested him. Chris, ever the calm pacifist, readily admitted forging the Wexford checks, justifying his actions by Wexford’s slow attention to the invoices Longo had sent them. He was only taking what was rightfully his.
MI State Police patch
MI State Police patch
MaryJane picked him up at the police station in the stolen red Montana van. According to Detective Fred Farkas, she was neither surprised nor upset by Chris’ arrest. At first the detective wondered if she was in on the scam, but eventually concluded that she was not.
The justice system went easy on Chris, since he had no previous criminal history, he immediately admitted his crime and pleaded guilty, he seemed apologetic and remorseful, and he was the sole support of his family. He pled guilty to four counts of fraud, was sentenced to three years’ probation, community service, and to pay restitution.
Kingdom Hall logo
Kingdom Hall logo
Chris was “disfellowshipped” from the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Disfellowship is another word for shunning, a practice considered archaic by most, but is a part of the Jehovah’s Witness ways. According to the Witnesses, shunning is an act of love intended to inspire repentance and a return to right living. For the Longos, especially MaryJane, this must have been a horrifically shameful thing; without her community, she had only her husband and children to cling to. With the disfellowshipping, Chris lost all his Witness employees, they lost all their friends, and even his family no longer spoke to him.
Christian Longo
Christian Longo

On the Run

For a year, it seems, Chris tried to toe the line. But in May 2001 desperation set them on the move. The world was closing in; they no longer answered the phone because the only callers were collection agencies. Longo sold their little house in Ypsilanti, forged a driver’s license, jumped probation and, with the $8,000 in realized equity, moved to a warehouse in Toledo, Ohio. He left behind a half dozen lawsuits, two warrants, and $60,000 in debts.
In Toledo, the Longos had the $8,000 in cash from the sale of their house, a stolen construction trailer, forklift, trailer and boat, along with the red Pontiac Montana van.
He was paying $1,650 a month in rent for the warehouse, which he was using as a showroom to sell the stolen wares. But a family of five is expensive, and he had no income until one of those high-ticket items sold. He went back to forging checks for a living.
He made a deal to sell the $32,000 forklift for $5,000, but the too-good-to-be-true deal made the buyer suspicious. He called the Toledo police, who came to the warehouse to investigate.
Toledo Police patch
Toledo Police patch
On Aug. 30, 2001, Sgt. Paul Hickey, supervisor of the Toledo Police Department’s stolen-vehicles section, arrived at the warehouse to find the forklift, along with a boat, boat trailer, construction trailer and a rental truck, and the red Montana. MaryJane and the kids were in the van, Sgt. Hickey realized in retrospect, packed and ready to leave.
True to his nature, Chris was calm and polite. The police checked serial numbers on the forklift and the rental truck, neither of which had been reported stolen. MaryJane seemed indifferent to the police presence. If she knew what Chris was up to, she remained aloof and silent.
By the time the police discovered that the forklift and construction trailer were indeed missing—not yet reported stolen—from a construction site, the Longos were long gone. Chris and his family had fled, along with the red Montana and the rental truck. Left behind were the stolen goods, along with boxes and boxes of the Longos’ household possessions. Photo albums, clothing, toys, everything.
With no word from MaryJane for some time, her worried sisters decided to visit her, but when they arrived at the warehouse, it was empty.
No forwarding address.
They filed a missing persons report. They were afraid that something bad was about to happen.

Desperation Takes Hold

Map of South Dakota with Sioux Falls locator
Map of South Dakota with Sioux Falls locator
With MaryJane and the kids in the Montana and Chris in the rental truck, the Longos headed west. In a couple of days they reached Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Chris rented a large storage locker, drove the rental truck half full of their household possessions inside, paid a month in advance, then jumped into the van with MaryJane and the children.
Longo children
Longo children
They continued west as far as they could go: the Pacific Ocean. They reached Yachats, Oregon, on September 12, 2001. Chris never considered it running away. He considered it making a change for the better. He’d make good on all those debts. He just needed a little breathing room.
The family stopped at Ocean Odyssey Vacation Rentals. Chris said he’d been transferred to a new job in Oregon, that his wife and children were beat from traveling, and that they needed to find a short-term rental. He’d pay cash.
He had cash, because he’d just pawned MaryJane’s wedding ring.
According to Carlton Smith of Willamette Week, the people at Ocean Odyssey felt sorry for the Longos. An exhausted MaryJane held the baby on her lap and said almost nothing. The two older children were quiet and well-behaved. The Longos rented a modest house in Waldport for $300 a week. They pulled that off for a couple of weeks, but eventually, the money ran out and they had to move to a $22 a night motel in Newport. Chris hated it. He hated having his family live in a “roachy” place and eat noodles for dinner. It went against every idea he had of himself, and how he would provide for his family. He’d get paid on Friday and be out of money by Tuesday, according to an interview published in The Oregonian.
“And now we’re, we are pulling pennies out of the ashtray,” Longo said. “Ah, to where that was almost empty. So it just, it never got any better. It never got any better.” “I mean, we could get bread and ramen noodles,” Longo said. “Which killed me. I mean we are used to eating whatever, going to the grocery store, spending $200 and not even thinking about it. And now we are trying to figure out how we can do it for five bucks.”

The Plan

Under such desperate circumstances, most people would take a serious look at where they are, where they want to be, and then make a plan for getting there. But Christian Longo didn’t think that way. His plan was more dramatic. He had a better idea. Success begets success. The family moved out of the motel and into The Landing, an upscale condominium on Yaquina Bay in Newport.
On November 30, he negotiated the rent down to $1,200 a month—almost exactly his monthly pay working at Starbucks inside the Fred Meyer department store in Newport. Longo told the condo manager that he was working for Qwest and he would pay the rent as soon as a check arrived. Longo described the second floor condo as a “perfect spot,” a place with a kitchen and washer and dryer and fancy enough to have friends over. “It was everything we needed,” Longo said.
They moved in, but Chris had no way to pay the rent that was currently due. Nor the following month’s rent. Again, his life was built on lies.
Lincoln CO Sheriff's patch
Lincoln CO Sheriff’s patch
On December 14 it all came crashing down. He came home from work about 11:30, fixed himself something to eat, then stood in the rain on the balcony of their apartment. According to an interview with detectives Roy Brown of the Oregon State Police and Ralph Turre of the Lincoln County sheriff’s office, “We didn’t have any groceries again,” Longo said. “And it was just payday and we were out of money that week on Sunday. I was thinking that [my family] were in that situation too long with me,” Longo said. “That,  that they deserved much better. I didn’t know if I could give it to them.”


On that rainy night on the Oregon coast, Christian Longo broke down. He was financially and morally bankrupt. He came home from work to a home with the five mouths to feed, house and clothe, and he had no food, nothing but a trail of debt, deception and crime, and no prospects of paying the rent or buying groceries. The world had closed in on him.  He’d been in that situation too long and taken his family on the wild ride with him. He knew they deserved better. They deserved better than he could provide, and based on his track record, he didn’t think he could give it to him.
But there was a better place he could send them. They’d be better off, and the pressure would be lifted from his overburdened shoulders.
On December 18, employees at the motel where the Longo family had stayed for a while in November, found baby clothes, women’s clothing, family photos, the Longo children’s baby books and MaryJane Longo’s Michigan identification in their dumpster. An employee at the motel left a message for Chris at the Fred Meyer, where he worked at Starbucks. When the manager delivered the message that his family’s photos and baby items had been found, Longo responded that his kids must have left some of their stuff when they moved.
He never picked up the belongings.
The next day, December 19, Longo told co-workers that MaryJane had been involved in a three-year affair. She had taken the children and moved home to Michigan. They would not be back.
Also that day, a Dodge Durango was discovered missing from an auto dealership, just south of Portland. In its place was the stolen red Montana minivan Longo had been driving. Inside it were toys, sleeping bags, cell phones and diving gear. The van also had a book titled Running from the Law, and pillows—including one without a pillowcase.

The Unthinkable

Later that same day, December 19, 2001, 4-year-old Zachery’s body floated up in Lint Slough. After Sadie’s body was found, police distributed posters with the children’s retouched photographs, and the Longos’ Newport babysitter immediately recognized the children. She and her husband went to the morgue and identified the two Longo children. The autopsy report said that the cause of death was “consistent with drowning.”
When police went to the Longos’ condominium, they found it empty.
The first people the police wanted to question were the parents, but they were not to be found. And where was the baby?
Dr. J. Reid Meloy
Dr. J. Reid Meloy
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and author of The Psychopathic Mind and Violent Attachments, says that family murders occur as the result of a build-up of anger and frustration, which threatens to crush the father’s already-fragile ego. They can’t take failure or humiliation. With no way to relieve stress, they let the frustration and anger build until it explodes into violence. A defenseless family is usually an easy target and convenient outlet for the rage. Once it’s over, these fathers, if they don’t also kill themselves, often feel much better.
Book cover: The-Psychopathic Mind
Book cover: The-Psychopathic Mind
Two days after Christmas, divers raised two dark green suitcases from Yaquina Bay in Newport, Oregon, mere yards from the Longos’ expensive apartment at The Landing. In one was the body of 110-pound MaryJane Longo, 34, forced into a fetal position and crammed into the suitcase. She had suffered a blunt trauma to the head and had been strangled. In the other was 2-year-old Madison, wearing only a diaper. She, too, had been strangled.
Book cover: Violent Attachments
Book cover: Violent Attachments
That same day, Christian Longo boarded a flight in San Francisco, headed for Cancun, Mexico.
He’d been in San Francisco for a couple of days, long enough to apply for a job at a local Starbucks. He put the Newport Starbucks down as a reference. When the San Francisco manager called Newport, Newport employees called the police. The stolen van was found in the airport parking lot.


In Mexico, Chris carried his own ID, didn’t alter his appearance, and sometimes went by the name Michael Longo, his middle and last names. He stayed in Cancun while Lincoln County authorities charged him with seven counts of aggravated murder—the murder of a child under fourteen years of age carries two counts—but he didn’t want to see any U.S. newspapers or hear any news. He had determined that the pressure would be off, and so it was.
But one Canadian woman that he met in the $10 a night hostel thought it was odd that one day he referred to himself as Mike and another time told her his name was Brad. Being carefree, he wasn’t shy about his plans: he said that soon he intended to take off for Tulum, 60 miles south, to visit some Mayan ruins.
Longo family gravesite
Longo family gravesite
On January 5, 400 people packed a flower-filled Ypsilanti, Michigan high school auditorium to mourn the deaths of MaryJane and her three children. The funeral service was emotional for all involved. After the service, her father spoke with reporters who said that, outside her family, the church had always been the most important thing in MaryJane’s life.
Map of Mexico with Tulum locator
Map of Mexico with Tulum locator
Meanwhile, Christian, outwardly freewheeling and blissfully ignorant of the Ypsilanti goings-on, headed to Tulum on January 7; right after other hostel guests reported that their money had been stolen.

New Persona

Michael Finkel
Michael Finkel
At some point, he decided to adopt the persona of Michael Finkel, a discredited journalist, formerly of The New York Times. He says he crafted the persona not because he thought police were looking for him, but because he didn’t want to talk about himself. Longo had long admired Finkel’s work; the journalist wasn’t too famous, nor was he too obscure. Longo kept a notebook, told people in Tulum that he was researching Mayan ruins for a New York Times travel feature, and hooked up with a female photographer from Germany. Handsome, charming, charismatic Chris spun a dream of a successful photographer and journalist traveling the world together, and instantly, he had a whole new life, complete with girlfriend. No debts. No pressure. No problems. He told her he was divorced; that he had no children. She was thrilled at her luck.
He began to believe that if he could fool his girlfriend into believing he was a real journalist, if he could fool their friends, perhaps he could fool an editor.
Christian Longo, Wanted poster
Christian Longo, Wanted poster
On January 11, Longo was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. The following day, “America’s Most Wanted” television show aired a segment on him. John Walsh, series host, said, “He’s very, very charming. He’s very, very smart. He’s very calculating. He’s really, really good at disappearing.”
America's Most Wanted
America’s Most Wanted
The Canadian woman who had met Chris in Cancun saw the publicity, went to the FBI Web site, recognized Chris’ photo, and called the FBI. Two FBI agents stationed in the Mexico City office went to Cancun, talked with local police and interviewed guests who may have come in contact with the fugitive. They printed posters with his photograph and circulated them on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula.
Meanwhile, in Tulum, Chris was living the life of the unburdened. He was drinking beer, smoking marijuana, snorkeling, dancing in a disco and sharing a rustic beach cabana with his new girlfriend. Those who met him saw him as a funny, articulate guy who seemed to come from money. He made friends easily, and he and his girlfriend were obviously in love.
Nobody had a clue as to his true nature.


On a tip from a tour guide who’d seen the posters, FBI investigators and some 20 Mexican officials, including state and federal police and immigration officials, had Longo in surveillance on January 13 at the Tulum beach camp.
Early in the morning of January 14, Longo was relaxing at a beachside cabana with some English friends. They were drinking beer and passing around a joint when the police arrived, kicking in the door and making everyone lie down on the floor. Chris assumed it was a drug raid.
But one of the policemen referred to a photo and went directly to him. “Are you Christian Michael Longo?” As always, Chris was calm when confronted, and confirmed his identity. He was given the option of going back to the US immediately, or fight extradition, which meant he may have to spend up to six months in a Mexican jail. Longo opted to return to the U.S.
In searching Longo’s cabana, police found one of his wife’s credit cards, Argentine pesos—which they believed had been stolen from the hostel guests in Cancun—and a notebook in which he had taken notes about the Mayan ruins and other travels.
Christian Longo, arrested
Christian Longo, arrested
The police confiscated his belongings, and as they did, he didn’t even glance at his horrified girlfriend. He left the camp in handcuffs.
On January 23, 2003, his 28th birthday, Longo was indicted on seven counts of aggravated murder.
As the country held its breath, Longo, in a move that surprised everyone, pleaded guilty to killing his wife and 2-year-old Madison, and not guilty to killing the two older children.

The Trial

Christian Longo’s murder trial began March 10, 2003. His amazing defense: his wife was the one who had the breakdown. She killed the two older children, throwing them off the bridge, then tried to smother Madison, but didn’t complete the job. In a fit of rage, Longo murdered his wife, and then completed the job on the 2-year old, either to keep her from living a traumatic life, having seen her siblings murdered in cold blood, or to keep her from living a brain damaged life, having been half-strangled to death by her mother, it was never clear. Regardless, an odd defense, to be sure.
Christian Longo, profile
Christian Longo, profile
The prosecution contended that Longo thought his family was in his way and killed them to enjoy a more uninhibited, free-spending lifestyle than was favored by his careful, conservative Jehovah’s Witness church. They presented a witness who saw a red minivan stopped on the Lint Slough bridge at about 4:30 a.m. on December 17. The witness spoke with the lone male occupant, to see if he needed assistance. The man said that he did not, and the witness went on his way.
Longo’s court-appointed public defenders made no opening statement. Christian’s testimony on the stand was his defense. According to The Oregonian, Longo said he wanted to “be on the stand for as long as possible to be able to air what needed to be aired, to be able to tell, unfortunately, what took place.” He was in charge. His attorneys, it seemed, helplessly sat by to watch him hang himself.
His four-day testimony included his determination to never ask for money of family members, due to pride. “Pride has always been an issue for me,” he said.
According to The Oregonian, Longo appeared relaxed and spoke easily, frequently smiling and occasionally laughing slightly in recounting his life through the birth of his third child, Madison. And then the testimony turned dark.

Bizarre Testimony

As MaryJane’s grieving family looked on, Longo recounted that on December 17, he and MaryJane had an emotional, four-hour early morning discussion, in which he revealed his lies and crimes to her for the first time. Devastated, heartbroken by the deception, MaryJane had refused to communicate with him for the rest of the day.
Christian Longo in custody
Christian Longo in custody
That night, Longo testified, MaryJane picked him up from work at 11 p.m., wearing only her bathrobe. She turned away from him in the car and wouldn’t speak. When they reached home, MaryJane was crying and mumbling, and then she backed up against the railing, refusing to go inside.
“That’s when I started to get alarmed,” Longo said. He hauled MaryJane into the apartment and she became hysterical, then fell to the floor. He ran through the condo, to find tiny Madison motionless on their bed. “I ended up grabbing her shoulders and shaking her, and she wasn’t moving at all.” He went back to MaryJane, picked her up and began shaking her violently against a hallway wall in an attempt to find out what had happened to Zachery and Sadie.
“She started to say, ‘You did this to us. You did this. It’s your fault,’” Longo testified. “It wasn’t until she said, ‘You killed us,’ and that’s when it became extremely difficult. That’s when she said something about, ‘They’re by the house. They’re in the water by the house,’” he said. “That’s when I lost it.”
With one hand on the lapel of her robe and the other hand around her neck, he lifted her off the floor and began squeezing, then dropped her. Then he grabbed her around the neck with both hands, lifted her off the floor and again began squeezing.
“I didn’t stop until I couldn’t hold her up anymore,” Longo testified. Then he went to Madison and saw her chest move. During the course of a few minutes he said he watched her draw breaths periodically. He shook her again, trying to revive her, but she remained unresponsive.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Longo said. “Even though she was breathing I thought of her as dead at that point.” He said he put his hand on her throat to cut off her air supply and squeezed until “I knew she couldn’t breathe anymore.” And then he detailed putting their bodies into the suitcases, carrying them down the dock and throwing them into the bay.
In closing statements, the defense pointed to the fact that the bodies of MaryJane and Madison were 12 miles from the bodies of the two older children, indicating the distinct possibility of two murderers. All the evidence against Longo, they said, was circumstantial.

The Verdict

On April 7, 2003, an eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated only four hours and 20 minutes before finding him guilty of murdering Zachery and Sadie.
With this verdict, the jury had three options for sentencing: They could sentence him to death by lethal injection; life imprisonment—a so-called “true-life” sentence; or life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years.
On April 16, the same jury, after deliberating only six and a half hours, sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
Minutes later, Longo addressed the packed courtroom to publicly condemn his acts and say that he expected no forgiveness.
“They deserved the best, and that’s something I didn’t provide,” he said. “I was the one, in fact, they needed protection from.”
Journalist Michael Finkel established and carried on an astonishing year-long relationship with Longo after his arrest. At first intrigued by Longo’s choice of his identity to usurp, the two fell into weekly telephone conversations and over a thousand pages of shared correspondence, in which Longo serves up several different post-verdict versions of who killed whom and when. One of these is a full confession of throwing the two children, still alive, off the Lint Slough bridge.
According to Michael Finkel, Longo carries horrible memories that haunt him still.
Christian Longo in court
Christian Longo in court
During his emotional post-sentencing statement, Longo said he did not fathom the enormity of his crime until he’d been jailed in Newport. While there, he saw newspapers and photos of the makeshift memorial that appeared on the bridge over Lint Slough.
“Up until then,” he said, his chin trembling, “I was feeling an amazing amount of self-pity.”

How I Convinced a Death-Row Murderer Not to Die

Eight years ago, Christian Longo murdered his wife and three children. On the lam, he assumed the identity of the author, a man he’d never met. Now their long, twisted relationship culminates in a final, chilling bargain.
By Michael Finkel
Marc Holcomb
Death row: over the course of four hours in October, Finkel, far right, asked Longo about life on death row and the murders to which he had never fully confessed.

When Christian Longo asked if I wanted to watch him die, I told him I did.
He asked me this over the phone, calling collect from inside his prison cell — the yellow cordless passed down the line, cell to cell, hands reaching through bars — on death row at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The reason he wanted to die, he said, was fairly simple. After half a decade spent sealed inside a white concrete box for more than twenty-one hours a day, with only other murderers as neighbors and with no hope of ever again seeing the outside world, he’d had enough. He was sick of prison and sick of himself, and he thought there might be a way to make his death meaningful. So he was dropping his appeals, he told me, and would likely be executed, by lethal injection, in a matter of months.
Why he was calling me — and why I wanted to watch him die — was not so simple. By the time I received this call, last February, as I was watching a Dora the Explorer video with my children early on a Saturday evening, I’d known Christian Longo for seven years. In all this time I’d never been able to make sense of him, to reconcile the bright and dryly funny person I knew (he calls the yellow cordless his “cell” phone), the guy I sometimes referred to as my friend, with the man who’d been convicted of the most unimaginable of crimes. In 2001 he had strangled his wife and two-year-old daughter inside their condominium on the Oregon coast, stuffed them in suitcases, and sunk them in a bay. Then he drove his four-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to a nearby bridge, tied rocks to their legs, and tossed them into frigid water, alive.
I was drawn into Longo’s life through the most improbable of circumstances — after the murders, while on the lam in Mexico, he took on my identity, even though we’d never met. Starting from this bizarre connection, using charm and guile and a steady stoking of my journalist’s natural curiosity (he was innocent, he was framed, he had proof, he would show me), he soon became deeply enmeshed in my own life. In the first year, we exchanged more than a thousand pages of handwritten letters. I wrote a book about him.
After I started a family of my own, I didn’t communicate with Longo anymore. But I was not disentangled from him. I remained haunted by Longo, by what he’d done; nearly every day, as I held my own kids, images of his crime — a child locked in a suitcase, or falling from a bridge, or fighting for air — would flit through my mind and I’d flinch, as if I’d brushed against a hot burner on the stove.
Then he phoned me last February, the first time in more than two years. “I’m not going to make it to my thirty-sixth birthday,” he announced. A Will Smith movie, he said, had changed him. He saw it on the seven-inch flat-screen TV he keeps in his cell, a picture called Seven Pounds, about a guy who’s so distraught after killing his fiancée and six others in a car accident that he decides to commit suicide and donate his organs to people in need. The movie, Longo said, felt like a punch in the gut. It made him weep. For years, he said, he’d sat in jail wondering how he could do anything worthwhile, anything at all to help even one person, rather than just rot away on death row. The movie gave him an answer. He would carve himself up. He’d give away his heart and lungs and liver and corneas and bone marrow and whatever else could be salvaged. His “finale,” he called it. Let others live; let him die. That’s what he wanted.
He’d reached this conclusion, he said, after conducting a strange, self-administered psychological test. Recently, for the first time since he’d been incarcerated, he hung up a photo of his children in his cell. It was a studio shot, one I’d seen at his trial, the three kids gazing smiley and wide-eyed into the camera, heartbreakingly cute.
“Every time I turned around or rolled over, there they were staring at me,” Longo wrote in a letter he mailed me on May 8, 2009, nine weeks after the call. He had vivid recollections of the moment the picture was taken. “The only way that we could get them all to look at the camera at the same time was to have me behind it playacting a Barney phrase, ‘Super-dee-duper!’ ” But his reaction to the photo disturbed him. “I’m not really feeling what everyone else feel’s,” he wrote, tossing in, as he often does, an extra apostrophe. “What should be most difficult to stomach is what I’ve done, yet somehow that part is still palatable.” Lately, he added, when he looked in the mirror, he was “beginning to see a monster.” He’d determined that the best solution was to give away his organs and “end on a good note.”
First, he needed a favor. That’s why he was calling. He asked if I’d be willing to help him formulate a plan to donate his body parts. I said, once I wrapped my mind around the idea, that it was something I could do, but first I needed to clear my conscience. If I was going to help him die, I had to hear the full story of the night his family was killed. Even though he was convicted of the four murders, he had never fully confessed nor provided some essential details about his motivation and what actually happened. I needed to know he was completely guilty. Longo asked that I come to the penitentiary, where we could meet in person. He’d tell me everything, he promised, if I helped with his plan. Here was a chance, I believed, to extinguish Longo from my life forever. I admit I felt some relief. So I said yes.
MaryJane Longo in the front seat of a stolen minivan.
The first time I heard the name Christian Longo was in February 2002, when a reporter from the Portland Oregonian called and asked what I knew of the Longo-family murders. I had no idea what he was talking about. I soon learned that two months previous, the body of Zachery Longo had been found floating facedown in a muddy pond near the coastal village of Waldport, Oregon. When police divers searched for clues, they found, beneath a low bridge, his sister, Sadie. Tied to her right ankle was a flower-patterned pillowcase. Inside it was a large rock. Also in the water was a second pillowcase containing another rock — Zachery’s body had slipped free and risen to the surface.
Police searched the Longo family’s last known residence, a rented condo in the nearby town of Newport, where it appeared someone had left in a hurry. Divers explored the marina outside the unit and discovered a pair of large, dark-green suitcases. Inside one was the naked body of Longo’s thirty-four-year-old wife, MaryJane. A chain of fingerprint-sized hemorrhages encircled her neck — she’d evidently been strangled before she was stuffed in the suitcase. In the second suitcase was the youngest member of Longo’s family, his two-year-old daughter, Madison. Only Longo himself was missing.
He was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Eventually, his car was found in the short-term-parking garage at the San Francisco airport. By deftly exploiting flaws in an online travel site, he’d purchased a plane ticket to Cancún, Mexico, using a stolen credit-card number.
The FBI distributed wanted posters around Cancún, and a tour guide who’d led Longo on a snorkeling trip spotted one. Longo was arrested at a beachfront cabana, where he’d been drinking beer, smoking dope, and sleeping with a young woman who had aspirations of becoming a professional photographer. The woman thought she was sleeping with a fellow journalist — a writer who just happened to need a photographer for an article about Mayan ruins. Longo had always dreamed of becoming a roving journalist, and while in Mexico he attempted to fulfill that fantasy. He called himself Michael Finkel. Which happens to be my name. And he told everyone he met that he was a writer for The New York Times. Which happened to be my job.
Actually, it wasn’t my job anymore. Christian Longo entered my life at a moment of extreme weakness for me. At the same time I learned that Longo had become Michael Finkel of The New York Times — I mean the exact day — I was officially no longer Michael Finkel of The New York Times. I’d been fired by the paper because I fabricated an article I wrote about child labor in West Africa, combining quotations from several individual laborers into one fictitious composite character. A local aid agency uncovered my lie, and after it was reported to my editors, my career there was finished. At this instant of panic and vulnerability and shame, along came Longo.
I became obsessed, past any point of healthy distance, with understanding Longo. Over the following year, as he awaited trial in county jail, we exchanged letters nearly every week. We spoke on the phone for a total of more than fifty hours. I visited him in jail ten times. I rented a cottage in Newport, Oregon, and moved from my home in Montana so I could attend every minute of his murder trial.
What did I learn? Everything and nothing. At first, Longo had blamed a drug-addled intruder for killing his family. Then he accused MaryJane of initiating the murders. Then he said he wasn’t really sure of the details. He testified for four days but never convincingly explained what happened that night — or fully confessed what he seemed to have plainly done.
I can tell you with certainty, however, Longo’s favorite coffee drink (hazelnut latte) and the first R-rated movie he ever saw (Tango & Cash) and the name of the first girl he kissed (Georgina) and his favorite cut of beef (prime rib) and his jail nickname (Short Stop, the opposite of Long Go). I know that his IQ has been measured at 130, which is above the ninety-eighth percentile. His letters, written on thin yellow jailhouse paper, sometimes topped sixty pages, line after precisely printed line, detailed and poignant and horrifying and droll, almost completely without cross-outs or erasures, an epic stream-of-consciousness unspooling of his life story. He once told me that I knew him better than his own parents do.
Longo grew up in the Midwest, where his father worked as a manager for Target department stores. He has one sibling, a younger brother, Dustin. He met his wife, MaryJane Baker, soon after the family moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and began dating her when he was eighteen years old. MaryJane was seven years older — a petite, pretty, quietly pious woman who, despite concerns about their age difference, told Longo she found him exceptionally mature, and agreed to go out with him.
They were married five months later, over his parents’ deep disapproval, and by the time Longo was twenty-five, he had three children. He started a construction-cleanup business called Final Touch, and when it grew swiftly — at one point Longo had seventy-two employees — he believed he would become a millionaire.
This is when the break with reality happened. Longo so badly craved success — to prove his parents wrong, to make his wife proud, to be viewed as a big shot — that when his company began struggling, he claimed to everyone, including his wife, that it was rolling in profits.
Then the family car broke down. Such a small thing. MaryJane assumed they could afford a new one, and Longo assured her they could. So he booked a one-way rental car and drove to an out-of-state auto dealer. He asked to test-drive a maroon minivan. He’d created a fake license that was photocopied as proof of identification. Longo drove off the lot and never returned.
This was not a violent crime. In fact, I could not unearth a single violent incident in Longo’s life before the murders, apart from a minor scuffle his freshman year of high school. I looked everywhere; I spoke with everyone I could. I didn’t even find an occasion when he lost his temper, when he so much as raised his voice. He hardly swore; he never fought with his brother. A woman who attended his church said she used to tell her friends, “I wish my husband could be more like Chris Longo.” But the one thing he could never do was admit to his wife that he was anything less than a success.
To maintain the facade, he began counterfeiting checks, then forging credit cards. These are not scams you can get away with forever. Soon enough, arrest warrants were issued and creditors were hounding him. Longo, sensing doom, convinced MaryJane — who was aware her husband was overstating the family’s financial stability, though she seemed to have no idea how greatly — that they needed to leave Michigan and seek even greater fortune out west.
They drove, in the stolen minivan, until in the autumn of 2001 they ran out of road on the Oregon coast. The best job Longo could find was making $7.40 an hour at a Starbucks inside a Fred Meyer department store. He needed to rent a home and support a family of five. There was no way he could afford it, and he was too proud to ask his parents for help or accept welfare or confess to MaryJane that she’d been duped. He resorted to petty crime and realized, once again, that the family would have to flee.
But you can’t keep running when you have three children. You can’t keep writing fake checks. You can’t earn any real income when there are outstanding warrants for your arrest and you’re unable to pass a background check or even give out your Social Security number. And you can’t admit that you’ve been deceiving your wife for years, that in reality she’s married a loser and a liar and a thief. That you can’t afford a tank of gas, let alone housing and diapers and clothing and food. You’re trapped.
At work one evening, at the Fred Meyer, he reached his breaking point. When he got home late that night, he killed his family. It was a week before Christmas, 2001. He fled Oregon and later flew to Mexico. On January 13, 2002, he was arrested in Cancún, where he was posing as me. His trial began in March 2003 and ran for a month. The jury took less than a day to find Longo guilty and sentence him to death.
Longo’s existence, like that of the other thirty-one men on Oregon’s death row, is largely confined to a six-foot-by-eight-foot cell, with three walls of pale white concrete and one wall of steel bars interrupted only by a tray slot through which meals are pushed. Inside is a narrow bunk, a porcelain sink and toilet, a stackable plastic chair, and a tiny metal desk. The floor is unpainted gray concrete. A small bulletin board is the one spot where photos or decorations are permitted to hang. The sole splash of color is on the fourteen bars — down the three long hallways of death row the cells’ bars alternate pastel hues: “canary yellow bars, powder blue ones, & seafoam green,” in Longo’s precise description. His cell, which he always refers to as his “house,” is number 313, with blue bars. There are no windows.
Except for two brief daily walks, during which an inmate can pace the hallway outside the cells, and a ninety-minute break in an encaged outdoor weight room or rec yard, the day is passed alone — no one has a cellmate on death row. “All of the in-cell time is horrible,” Longo wrote me. He’s jealous that another wife murderer, Scott Peterson, is incarcerated in California and “only stuck in his place for 19 hours/day.”
Longo keeps his cell spotless and meticulously ordered — every spice bottle, every jar of lotion and shampoo, every book (Bible, dictionary, encyclopedia, a couple of Vonneguts, Infinite Jest) has a particular spot. Other cells, he writes, are littered with “remnants of the previous meal, salt & pepper flakes everywhere, a half dozen roll’s of partially used toilet paper, a pile of plastic items in the sink, an unmade bed at 4 pm & and nothing but a menu on the bulletin board.” Still, there are general rules of etiquette. It’s polite, for example, to mask particularly audible flatulence by simultaneously flushing your toilet.
An odor repellent is also essential. Inmates tear out scent strips from magazines, or spread deodorant on their bars, or hang popsicle sticks dipped in frankincense. Frankincense oil is purchased ($4.99 an ounce) from the prison commissary; it’s on the order sheet under Religious Items, alphabetically categorized between Elder Futhark Runes ($19.97) and Haindl Rune Oracle Cards ($12). A tallith is $35.99. He also bought his television at the commissary, for $216; deliveries to death row are every Wednesday. Funds are transferred from a prison account, in which outsiders can deposit money.
Some inmates, whom Longo in his death-row taxonomy calls “slugs,” essentially do nothing all day. They eat, watch TV, sleep. The “kids,” on the other hand, are generally “argumentative, disrespectful of everyone, short tempered, dirty.” The “matures” — Longo considers himself somewhere between the kids and the matures — obey the rules, pursue prison-appropriate hobbies like learning the guitar, playing chess, and creating elaborate pen-and-ink drawings, and have sensible workout routines. (The kids just try to lift the heaviest possible weight. Longo says he spends so many hours in his cell doing sit-ups, push-ups, and toilet-seat step-ups that his resting heart rate is as low as forty-six beats per minute; at times he also avoids “breads, desserts, butter, gravy.”) The remainder of the inmates are “sailboats.” They “go with the prevailing wind, not really fitting in anywhere.”
Everyone, though, seems to agree on the importance of porn. On Oregon’s death row, there are no contact visits — you’re sealed behind a pane of bulletproof Plexiglas — so for the rest of your life you can’t so much as hold a woman’s hand. Longo’s porn stash, he writes, is relatively tame: “Where I might be content with the Playboy-esque spreads, somebody else needs something involving fists.” The inmates sell it to one another; the going rate is between fifty cents and a dollar per page.
Also, Longo says, you get to claim your favorite actress or two, and once you do, it’s understood that no one else on death row can have her. Longo has dibs on Jennifer Connelly and Alyssa Milano. “Every time a movie comes on with one of our actresses,” Longo writes of the prison film channels, “it’s common courtesy here to yell it down to the one who’s claimed her. ‘Hey Chris, A Beautiful Mind just came on 3!’ ” If there’s a nude scene in a movie, the men will count down the seconds out loud.
The second-most-prevalent obsession is food. Longo says he actually has two photo collections: nude women and gourmet cuisine. His letters to me are filled with food cravings: “a salt bagel with a full plain cream cheese schmeer from Einstein or Brueggers — toasted, of course”; “a cinnabon with a good cup of coffee”; “a pizza”; “honey-dripping baklava.” To make the institutional meals more palatable, the men sometimes hold death-row dinner parties. Several inmates will pass their trays down the row to one cell — frequently, to Longo’s. He’ll combine all the food together, add commissary-bought items like hot sauce, peppers, and shredded cheese, then rebuild the plates “Cadillac style,” as it’s called, and send the trays back.
A few guys will sometimes watch a television show together — each in their own cells but at the same time. This season, Survivor was popular (they bet Little Debbies on who’d be eliminated), and for the show Longo would often concoct a group snack. Caramel popcorn was a favorite, prepared by unwrapping a bunch of caramels (fifty-seven cents each at the commissary) and melting them in what passes for an oven on death-row: a plastic pencil box ($1.99) placed in the sink and bathed in the penitentiary’s surprisingly scalding hot water.
Real death-row parties, however, require a batch of pruno, the prison hooch: Take the grapefruit that comes with Saturday breakfast, peel, crush, and place in an empty milk carton. Enzymes remaining inside the carton, combined with natural yeast from the air, trigger fermentation within a few days. Dump into a garbage bag and add a pound of sugar and a pound of canteen-bought prunes per person. Let sit for a week, occasionally (and when no guards are around) burping out excess gas. Strain pulp through a sock. The alcohol content, Longo says, is as much as 12 percent, and the taste is about what you’d expect from something filtered through a sock. Still, if you can stomach a couple of twenty-ounce cups, pruno provides “a good escape.”
Generally, Longo says, everyone on death row gets along, at least on the surface. “There’s a weird pseudo-cordiality thing here,” he writes. “But you know that given the opportunity to get away with it a few here would have no compunction about stabbing someone where they sleep.” In truth, he writes, nobody trusts anyone. Several men were transferred to death row from the general prison population after murdering other inmates. A few are serial killers. “I’m surrounded,” Longo writes, “by so much degeneracy and perversion.” The death-row barber, Dayton Rogers, was convicted of killing six women (though he may have murdered more) and liked to cut off the feet of his victims with a hacksaw while they were still alive. I once asked Longo if he thought anyone on Oregon’s death row was innocent. “No,” he replied.
In some ways, Longo says, you get to know the other people on death row extraordinarily well — their favorite fishing hole, the name of their childhood pets — but it can be challenging to separate their real lives from the fantasy version. One inmate told Longo, in intricate detail, how he’d scuba dived in Lake Michigan to see the shipwreck Griffin. But Longo knew this person “never got out of the state of Nevada until they were 18, where they were promptly arrested for murder & have lived here since.” He’d also just watched the same show about the Griffin, on the Science Channel, from which the inmate had cribbed every fact. The reality, Longo writes, is that on death row “nobody is what they seem.”
This includes Longo himself. Money is an important asset in prison — not only to purchase snacks and supply your cell with the best possible television and guitar and Game Boy and headphones but also to garner status and respect. Longo’s facade in prison is the same as it was in the outside world: a successful businessman. On death row, people think he’s a stock-market whiz. And on the surface he seems to be. He subscribes to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s (using frequent-flier miles left over from his former life) and often keeps his TV tuned all day to CNBC. He supposedly calls his broker with picks and earns big profits. It’s actually an elaborate ruse. “All of that pretend stock market playing is believed to be real,” Longo writes. “I’ve never told anyone that it’s not. And I use the phone for sufficient amount’s of time to all for that thought to seem legit.”
Longo is, indeed, making money on death row. But not on the market. He’s really providing titillating letters and phone sex to a couple of gay men. This is a rather common fetish, it turns out; whenever a new inmate arrives on death row, according to Longo, he’ll be inundated by letters from men (who’ve followed the case through the media) seeking a prison lover, perhaps turned on by the thought of an amorous murderer. Such men — known as “ATMs” — will return the favor with generous deposits in a prison account.
Longo said he has two ATMs. One is an accountant in San Francisco: “He saw me as the chick in the relationship and constantly tried to force the wife title on me.” The other is a schoolteacher (and grandfather of three) in New York City: “His fantasy was to have me crucified, Christ style, so that he could pull me down and tend to my wounds.” He’s had these two “on the hook” for more than five years, and in return they’ve given him thousands of dollars, though he says he recently ended the relationships.
Maintaining the stock-market lie, Longo writes, is getting “exhausting.” But he can’t be honest, he explains, because of “extreme embarrassment.” It’s a similar combination, I believe — too tired to keep lying, too ashamed to reveal the truth — that led him to murder his family. Only this time, he wants to kill himself.
“I’m in a place,” he writes, “where you’re surrounded by similarly messed up people with only one mission. To do time. Something I’m more than worn out on already.” There’s really no point in continuing, he says. He’s ready to carve himself up. “After looking at my neighbors who have been here for a dozen years or 30, it’s all an exercise in futility. So you can play the guitar well enough to be in a band & entertain millions. Or you’ve studied magic as a hobby & now you can dazzle the group… . Five, ten, fifty years later you’re still living in a box amongst a bunch of other boxes within a bigger box.”
Longo holding Zach as a newborn
As the months passed from the time Longo told me he was planning to die, he explored, over the course of a dozen dense letters — his handwriting a sort of small-caps style, neat as a font — the peculiar environment of death row and, more intimately, the complicated landscape between his ears. The only time he’d been thoroughly examined by a psychologist, shortly before his trial, the ensuing report labeled him a borderline psychopath.
Longo did not disagree with the assessment. But he did debate precisely which side of the line he was on. After hanging up the photo of his children and hardly reacting, he called himself “dead inside” and “more cold-hearted than I could ever imagine a human could be.” Other times, he was convinced he was just as capable of emotion as anyone else: “If I am a monster how could I have ever loved them as I felt I did?” he wrote about his family. “It didn’t equate. When thinking back about times in life where my heart was squeezed in my throat, nothing hurt more than when Sadie fell off the swing that I was pushing her on. To see tears fall from your child’s face that you are the direct cause of was more painful than anything that I could remember. It’s still painful. How could I be so horrible & still have that sort of pain?” Also, he noted, as further refutation of his psychopathy, “I got choked up during E.T. & Titanic.
The longer he thought about all this, the more confused he became. He said he felt “nearly constant guilt over not feeling guilty enough for what I did” and that his attempts to understand his behavior seem “like trying to unscramble really rotten eggs.” Eventually, he gave up. His letters turned darker and more fatalistic. “It does feel very much,” he wrote, “like the day’s are ticking by time-bomb fashion.” Longo agreed to put me on the witness list for his execution and said he’d be willing to meet with me in the week leading up to his death. I found myself wondering what he’d order for his last meal, or say in his final statement, while strapped to the gurney.
Then my wife stepped in. Jill has known about Longo from the start; we were dating when he first came into my life. She’s always been sickened by his crimes, but now her revulsion was even more acute. Less than a month after Longo called me anew, she gave birth to our third child, a girl. The fact that I, a man who now has a wife and three young kids, was speaking with a man who killed his wife and three young kids greatly disturbed her. She was particularly upset whenever Longo bantered about my fatherly duties — “I’m sure there’s a diaper that needs changing, or a car seat to clean out. I know,” he once wrote. He occasionally referred to my home life as “Finkelwood.”
And yet my apparent enthusiasm for — and ancillary participation in — his execution also troubled her. She felt, in essence, that I was helping kill a person with whom I’d had a profoundly intricate relationship, and that this would weigh on my conscience. She said what I first needed to do, before I agreed to witness Longo’s death, was try my hardest to talk him out of it.
I realized she was right. So I wrote Longo a letter. I knew, innately, that any emotion-based argument would accomplish nothing. But I did have an idea. Longo, I believed, really wanted to “enhance someone else’s life,” as he wrote, by sacrificing his own, a real-life version of the Will Smith movie. However, I’d spoken with a transplant surgeon and learned that the execution procedure — sodium pentothal then pancuronium bromide then potassium chloride poured into the veins — rendered all organs useless. Some skin tissue could be saved. Maybe the heart valves. Then his body could be donated to a medical school.
It wasn’t much — it didn’t seem to fulfill his goal — and I told him so in my letter. The problem, I wrote, was that the state-administered death cocktail produced heart failure. If you were able to change the procedure (the law isn’t specific about the precise drugs used) so that it induced brain death instead, the organs could be transplanted. And then, I continued, if you signed up other inmates and the idea went national, you might save the lives of dozens of people who would’ve died on organ waiting lists. “Sounds like 10 years work to me, minimum,” I wrote, though I also noted that he could quit, any time, and resume his current plan. “What’s your reaction?”
Longo was astounded. When he read my letter, he told me, something inside of him clicked. A switch was thrown. He felt an enthusiasm he hadn’t experienced in years. He felt inspired. It’s “giving me goose bumps,” he wrote.
And so, in his single-minded way, Longo promptly dedicated himself to making the idea a reality. He came up with a name: GAVE. Gifts of Anatomical Value from the Executed. With the help of his brother, he set up a Web site — A photo on the first version of the home page showed a family riding a merry-go-round: Mom, Dad, two grinning kids. “I am a death row inmate who wants to save lives,” Longo wrote on his site. “Not to set right my wrongs — as this is unfortunately impossible — but to make a positive out of an otherwise horrible situation.” Instead of needing my help to distribute his body parts, Longo now wanted me to devote time to his new project.
a studio portrait, from left, Sadie, Madison, and Zachary
First, though, we had some unfinished business. Longo had vowed, in return for my assistance with his Seven Pounds plan, to tell me the truth about the murders —a truth he had never revealed. And though my side of the bargain may have changed, his had not. So I traveled to Salem, Oregon, to the cement-walled penitentiary. I walked beneath the klieg lights and guard towers and loops of razor wire (“killer Slinky,” in prison parlance) and placed my belt, car keys, and cell phone in a dented metal locker near the officers’ desk. I passed through a metal detector and walked down a ramp toward the underground visiting area. Escorted by a guard, who set in motion enormous steel doors, sliding on tracks —the slam and the boom, the big skeleton keys, all the prison clichés that happen to be true —I moved through a cinder-block hallway and into an area of cubiclelike visiting booths.
I was assigned booth number 9, but before going there, I stopped at a small wooden table at the visiting-room entrance. There, beneath a hand-lettered sign that said LIFERS CLUB PHOTO’S —again with the apostrophes —was a potbellied man wearing a standard blue prison uniform and holding a digital camera. His name, he said, was Marc Holcomb. Through good behavior, he had earned permission to work as a kind of house photographer on the visitors’ side of the booths, and I hired him to take four photos of Longo and me for two dollars each. (One appears on pages 120 and 121.) Later, I looked up his crime. In 1999, Holcomb shot and killed a man during a home break-in; he was serving a sixty-nine-and-a-half-year sentence but wasn’t on death row.
I sat in a red-cushioned chair parked in front of a Plexiglas window, an old black telephone receiver mounted on the right-hand wall, and looked into an empty booth, where another receiver hung, waiting for Longo to arrive. My heart was racing and I felt a prickle of sweat on my forehead. I wiped my palms on my pants. Then the light-green door opened up on the inmate side of the booth and Longo walked in, his hands cuffed behind his back, and the door closed, sealing him into the booth, and he backed up a step and bent his knees a little and stuck his wrists through a slot in the door and an officer uncuffed him, and he sat on the stool across from me and smiled and picked up his receiver.
It had been five years since we’d seen each other. He was wearing a light-blue button-down shirt that said INMATE in orange letters over the left pocket and faded blue jeans and shiny white Nikes and had a tiny soul patch of pale red hair centered just below his lower lip. He was thirty-five years old but still possessed a youthful, slightly freckled, frat-boy look, with wide-set ears and a sharp, prominent Adam’s apple. The photographer quickly snapped his shots and left us alone. We started casually, jocularly —always the easiest mode to slip into when speaking with Longo.
“So, do I look older?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “You look as old as you’ve always looked.”
He put down the receiver and ran his hands through his hair, to show me that it had started to thin, and I feigned horror and then leaned over to show him my far-more-advanced bald spot.
“I blame my children for my hairline,” I said. The last time I’d seen him I didn’t have any. “Three kids in thirty-seven months will do this to you.”
Longo said he’d had three kids in thirty-one months, and it was the sort of opening I was looking for. I said I knew how quickly he’d built up a family, and how young he was, and that I had personal insight into all the work, and the energy, and the money a trio of young children requires. I told him I now intimately understood the pressures and the exhaustion, the desire to be a great father but also, just out of your grasp, the desire to every once in a while be free again, just go to a bar and get drunk and flirt with girls rather than come home at five o’clock to help cook a dinner you’ll soon end up, on hands and knees, scrubbing off the floor.
Then, with that play at empathy, I swiftly reviewed the last few months of his family’s life —the fake checks, the drive west, his job at a Starbucks, the realization that there was no way he could support his family. That he’d reached the end of the line.
“How long before that final night did you know you were going to kill your family?” I asked.
He said it was only a few hours before, while at work, that he came to a decision. He said he couldn’t see any other solution. He couldn’t call his father and ask for money —he was too ashamed. He couldn’t kill himself —he was too weak. He was a failure, he told me, “and I didn’t want to leave any witnesses to my failure.” He said he didn’t know how, exactly, he was going to do it, but that he’d made up his mind. “I knew before I came home that night I was going to kill my family. I was locked on that thought.” Maybe I knew this already, but the words still surprised me. Never before —not at his trial, not in our long correspondence —had Longo admitted this.
When he came home from work, though it was quite late, MaryJane initiated lovemaking, he said, and soon he was naked and she was naked and they were in the small one-bedroom condo —a nice place overlooking Yaquina Bay, on the Oregon coast, with his two older kids asleep in the living room on a pullout couch and little Madison in their bedroom, on a sleeping bag on the floor. It was past midnight. He was making love to his wife. She was on top. He told me this in a clear, steady voice, but he would not make eye contact. He was staring at the visiting-booth floor, at the worn industrial carpeting.
And it hit him, he said, it dawned on him right then, that this was the opportunity. This was the time. As they were having sex. And he reached up and took her throat. Longo said that he didn’t see any surprise in her face. He grasped his wife by the throat, grabbed with both hands. He said she didn’t resist at all. It’s possible, he said, that she thought it was a little sudden, sexual kinkiness.
But he never let go. He squeezed and didn’t stop squeezing. Longo told me that if he’d had a gun, he would’ve used it, but then immediately he changed his mind. Too messy, he said. He didn’t want to make a mess. He said MJ —that’s how he always refers to his wife —didn’t really struggle, didn’t kick or claw at his hands or make any noise at all. He said it was silent. “She seemed to relax into it. She never looked at me. Her eyes were closed. She didn’t fight me, she didn’t seem terrorized.” The TV was on, softly. Longo couldn’t recall what was playing, but he remembered the flickering blueness across the room, across his naked body and hers; he was still on the bottom, he was reaching up, grabbing his wife’s neck with both hands, grabbing so hard his fingers dug deep, forming the scars that would be found when the divers opened the suitcase.
It takes quite a long time to kill someone by strangulation. Like five minutes. Longo said it was long enough for him to think, during the act, that maybe he ought to stop. But then he figured he’d already begun, and if he stopped and MJ survived —then what? His wife would leave him and he’d still be in trouble.
When she was dead, he got up, put on some clothes, and strangled their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Madison, who was sleeping on the floor. He strangled her with one hand. This was how Longo described the feeling of strangling a two-year-old, her neck so soft and thin: “To hold on to a little girl’s neck is the most weird, uncomfortable, disgusting thing in the world. It tore me up to put my hands around something that small.” It was so difficult, he said, that he could not strangle the two older children. And in fact, he said he didn’t finish the job on Madison. He said he remembered hearing her gasp and cry through the suitcase as he carried it out of the condo and dropped it in the December-cold water, where police divers found it nine days later.
Longo insisted he loved his family, that he never wanted harm to come to them. To this day, he said, seeing violence toward children on TV makes him angry —”and then I remember, Oh, yeah that’s what I did.” Even on the night he’d decided to murder his family, if he had come home from work and an intruder was there, trying to hurt his family, he said he would’ve tried to kill that intruder.
Longo was clearly uncomfortable telling me this story —he kept switching the phone receiver from ear to ear —but he remained composed. He talked about returning to the condo after dumping the bodies of his wife and baby, in suitcases, off a dock and into the bay. He had no stomach for strangling anyone else, so he lifted Zachery and Sadie gingerly from their sleep, one at a time, and nested them in their car seats in the stolen minivan, which had the license plate KIDVAN. He knew he was going to kill them, he said, but still he made sure they were properly buckled in. That was just the procedure. The kids never woke up.
It was a chilly and wet December night, just a few degrees above freezing. As he started driving, he began to think that maybe he didn’t have to conclude this. “Okay,” he remembered thinking, “the worst is over and we’ve survived.” Maybe just the three of them could go on. He recalled wondering if they’d wake up and ask for Mommy. How would he explain it? How would he get away with it? He couldn’t answer those questions and so decided it was too late, he’d started it and now he had to finish. “I was committed to this thing,” he said. “I wanted a clean do-over.”
He pulled over on a residential street and picked up a couple of bowling-ball-sized rocks. Then he drove to the bridge over a coastal inlet called Lint Slough, stopped halfway across, slid open the minivan doors as quietly as he could, and turned off the dome light so that his children wouldn’t wake up. He placed each rock into a pillowcase. And then, with the weighted pillowcase tied in a quick overhand knot to an ankle, he threw one child off the railing of the bridge, walked around the van to the second car seat, again tied on a pillowcase, and dropped the other child off the opposite side.
Here Longo stopped his story. He put down the phone and rubbed his forehead with both hands. He picked it up again but didn’t talk. He looked confused. Then he told me that he couldn’t recall which child he dropped in the water first, Zachery or Sadie. He moved the receiver away from his ear again and was silent for a long couple of beats.
“I can’t remember,” he said.
His eyes grew glassy. He was quiet again.
“I can’t remember who I threw in first.”
He stared ahead, not looking at anything, it seemed. In a daze, hardly blinking.
“I can see the kids so clearly in my mind now,” he said. “You know when you catch a whiff of somebody’s scent and how vividly it brings back so many images? That’s how I feel about my kids now, I can feel them, smell them, touch them in my mind. I can hear their voices. See their faces. But I can’t remember who I killed first.”
A tear escaped from his left eye. Just one. He wiped it away quickly.
“I can’t remember who I killed first.”
Probably a full minute passed. His jaw trembled. He was pressing the phone so tightly to his head that his right ear turned scarlet. His knuckles, as he gripped the receiver, were white. I watched him struggle and squirm and try to recall which child he murdered first. I didn’t say anything. He just couldn’t remember.
And that was how we left it. When I walked away from the visiting room, out of the prison, I felt sickened; I was mentally and physically exhausted. I couldn’t even start my rental car, my hands were shaking. There was a leftover half sandwich in the passenger seat and the smell made me nauseous. The crime still made no sense. Why didn’t he just abandon his family? Kill himself? Call his parents? Call his wife’s family? Call a help line? These are the same questions I had seven years ago, soon after I first heard Christian Longo’s name from the reporter at the Oregonian. They were the same questions I wondered about five years ago, at the conclusion of his trial. And the exact ones I had last winter, too, when I set out to get his final answers.
It’s never been easy to say how I feel about Longo. I’ve been tugged, from the start, between revulsion and fascination, between hoping to know the truth and wanting to imagine that Longo couldn’t actually murder his own family. But after hearing this story, there was no doubt. Hate seems too flat a word, too glib, but that is what I felt. I hated the crime, I hated hearing about it, thinking about it, imagining it, and I hated the person who did it. And it was the worst kind of hate, too, because it really didn’t matter. There was nothing anyone could do to bring back MaryJane or the children, or make the man who killed them, with his porn stash and his caramel popcorn, ever face adequate punishment, even if he is executed and carved into pieces.
Longo on death row in Oregon State Penitentiary around 2003. He and the other prisoners are granted ninety minutes of “yard” — basketball or weight lifting — every day.
His days, he says, are now a flurry of letter writing and research, poring through law journals, gathering statistical data. He’s contacting law schools, hospitals, legislators, attorneys, organ-donation groups, transplant officials, anesthesiologists. He’s seeking a support staff, hoping a law student or two is willing to take on Gifts of Anatomical Value from the Executed as a pro-bono project. He constructed and mailed me an intricate eight-page outline of things he had to accomplish to make GAVE a success — by my count, there are 311 separate bullet points and 85 questions that need answers, covering everything from inmate transportation to hospital security to the cost of follow-up care. (Under “Organ Donation — Road Blocks — Scientific:” “Any research org’s currently testing for brain death applications?” From “Organ Donation — Road Blocks — Perception:” “Will there be any industry squeamishness surrounding the donor being a convicted murderer?”)
Longo’s hope is that inmates, and not just those on death row, will be allowed both to make living anatomical donations — kidney and liver lobes and bone marrow — and then, for those who are executed, to give away all the major organs. More than a hundred thousand Americans are on organ-transplant waiting lists. The median time to receive a kidney, the organ most in demand, is 1,219 days. About fourteen thousand people donate organs every year. There are 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States. Longo’s goal is to inspire 1 percent of them to participate in the living-donation program each year. That’s nearly twenty-four thousand people. If he even came close to achieving that, it would more than double the nation’s supply of available organs.
But is this possible? I asked a couple of veteran Oregon attorneys. Yes, it is technically possible. But highly improbable. As one lawyer said, summing up the consensus, Longo’s endeavor is “harmless” — unlikely to get anywhere, but won’t cause any damage.
Longo works on the project every day, from breakfast (served at 5:00 A.M.) to midnight, with notes left on his desk reminding him where to start in the morning. “Yard was cancelled today & I’m actually grateful for the extra 90 minutes,” he wrote in one letter. I have never, in all the years I’ve known him, seen him so driven, so excited about something.
And yes: so happy. He has a mission, a focus, a purpose. In a way, the project has transported him beyond the prison walls. He decided not to drop his appeals after all; rather he’s aggressively pursuing them full force, likely putting off his execution date by at least a decade. He needs the time, he says, to work on GAVE. He wants to live. It’s odd. He was the one person on earth I wanted to die, and instead I’ve helped to save his goddamn life.


  1. Great reading! And the best ending sentence I've read in a long time.

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  3. What grounds can he possibly have for all these appeals?

  4. Quite a story. It is amazing, bewildering, gross and dilapidated. The grossness of this man's life outside is deplorable and the most disgusting thing. I think bluntly that his idea would be great. We do need organs for the good people outside that will live and do fantastic things. So I pray to God in Heaven-Oh precious HEAVENLY FATHER...DO TAKE CHRISTIAN LONGO'S IDEA TO HEART AND ACTUALIZE IT NOW IN JESUS NAME. AMEN Lord please care for each and every one of us on this earth in this fallen world. Father...we can't overthink everything. Your celestial call to Gentle Loving Kind and Good is enough. Please allow Christian's idea to work-AMEN. I am horrified HORRIFIED BY THIS MAN. He is not a good person. This man deserves death penalty. Father God Please find a way to execute those that are sentenced to death in a way that their organs will be ready for life saving transplants. Be near the Dear and Beloved ones That You Love and Let no curse come forth in associating these criminals with it. AMEN

  5. After one hour after my first comment on Christian Logo's idea about organ donation I changed my mind. We can not help people by doing this. It is punishment that these culpable offenders are getting. These offenders are being punished. Punishment is just what it is defined as in the Websters Dictionary. I totally retract any comment I made in favor of anyone on DP donating organs. I also think that DP is to be carried out as it has been. There are no second chances in regards to misconduct and people get what they pay for. If you like bad you get bad. Thank You. Changing your mind is permissible and encouraged, in fact if Mr. Logos would have changed his, he would not be on Death Row. He would have sought help, he would have changed his mind. Thank you for listening. You may forward both of these comments to Mr. Logos. You may print both my comments with this as a (Disclaimer) if you so desire.

  6. Shocking story that I just heard about today. Thanks for the page but some of the info on Jehovah's Witnesses is incorrect.
    When a person is disfellowshipped that means that he was given ample opportunity to stop the bad things he is doing and get back straight, but he has decided, yes decided, not been forced, to stay in the lifestyle that is getting him in trouble, and reject his former clean way of living, his friends and family, and his God. A disfellowshipped person rejects us, not the other way around. They walk away from us, not the converse.
    Also, Longo's wife would not have had to give up her friends, family, meetings, social life, worship or anything else. She was not the one disfellowshipped. And, anyone, yes, ANYONE, is welcome at our meetings in the Kingdom Halls, especially disfellowshipped people. We want them to come back to us and to Jehovah and when we see them at a meeting we rejoice and feel very encouraged, because we know there is still hope.
    Just wanted to clarify those few points for anyone interested.
    I look forward to seeing my sister Mary Jane and her children in the new world, where none of this will be remembered or worried about anymore. We will be happy and busy cleaning up the earth and making it fit to live on again. I hope you will join us.
    Thanks, again.

  7. Why is longo still breathing so many years later?

    1. Yeah they should just chop his head off then donate his heart, that's what he wants, let him have it!

  8. Actually everything written regarding the Jehovah's Witness religion is spot on in these articles. The shunning practice is archaic and demoralizing. Disfellowshipping is a complicated process to explain to outsiders. Basically when wrongdoing is suspected the person(s) involved must meet with three elders for what is called a "committee case". After many meetings and deliberations the elders then behave as judge and jury guided by prayer and their elders book which is written by the Watchtower society to make a decision regarding whether or not the person has displayed enough remorse or not. Again there is too much to write here to explain how it all works. Some are not disfellowshipped. They receive a slap on the hand in the form of losing good standing in the congregation and the right to do things like go in service or make comments at meetings or give talks. The worst tool of conformity they employ is by far the act of disfellowshipping. While the previous commenter would love for you to think that they rejoice when a disfellowshipped person returns to a meeting this is not the case in reality. What happens is that they behave as though that person does not exist. This can go on for months and in some case years. During this time the person trying to "come back" is ignored completely by the only people they have been allowed to associate with for perhaps their entire lives. They are expected to come to these meetings. Sit quietly. Meet with elders and again try to show that they are repentant and truly love Jehovah. When the elders finally believe them and have it announced that they have repented THEN they will be openly hugged, smiled at and spoken to by friends and family again. Until then though they are basically non-existent. Witnesses do this to "save" wrongdoers. Out of love they cut them off. They feel they show loyalty to God by doing this. It is a very old cult technique and sadly employed by this religion as a tool of coercion and to ensure that elders and the Society maintain power and authority and so that they can try to uphold a pristine image (as they believe they must be a reflection of God). This religion is anti-gay rights, its anti-choice and truly hates higher learning and discourages it completely. Elders rarely if ever recommend a witness in need get actual help from a qualified counselor and instead believe they have all the answers but they are simply unable to help sociopaths or anyone with mental health issues. I am not surprised this happened to this family. She was put in an impossible and insanely embarrassing situation. To remain going to meetings with a husband who would be ignored entirely by everyone else she loves OR do as she has been instructed over and over again to stick to her husband. Either way this congregation and this religion missed an opportunity here to help this family that was sadly missed. Shunning does not make anyone come back to anything for a good reason. Shunning only creates fear to leave or question. It does not induce love for God or the ability to see a faith as factual. Shunning only produces pain and fear. If someone should return it should be for love of God or belief in the teachings. Shunning has nothing to do with this. It is pure manipulation. As for protecting the congregation from evil doers the congregation could not protect Mary Jane or her children by shunning. In fact it just made everything worse. It is the law's job to protect not the congregation (don't get me started on the Child abuse that goes unreported in this religion because they believe they can handle it from within).

    1. None of this is true.

    2. I take it you have had some affiliation with Jehovah's Witnesses before in your life time. Lol

  9. I agree first of all they are plenty of JW who come from educated backgrounds. They come from all walks of life. Secondly socio paths/psychopaths come in all races and religions. In fact some deathrow inmates are highly educated intellectual and come from good families. Ex Ted Bundy and Douglas Feldman. Third and final point as far jw being a end of times mllenial group that effected Christian Lingo thoughts of murder or had influence on him is hog wash. He decided to commit these horrible crimes. Free wiil its called mentioned in the Bible several times. JW are not the only Christian that believe in Gods second coming.