Vernon Booher: Man is Rare Canadian Mass Killer

With America’s epidemic of mass shootings, we sometimes forget that heinous acts occur in other countries. This week’s blog tells the story of Vernon Booher, who murdered four people in 1928.

Vernon BooherKills

The village of Mannville, Alberta, Canada, is a tiny dot about 100 miles east and slightly south of Edmonton. Even today, only about 800 people live in this isolated community. This is where the Booher family lived. Henry and Eunice Booher had four children: Fred, Vernon, Dorothy, and Algerto. Fred, the older brother, was more successful socially and financially, which Vernon appears to have resented, at least somewhat. Vernon and his mother were also on the outs, allegedly because she didn’t like Vernon’s girlfriend.

Vernon Booher mugshot (Alberta Police)
Vernon Booher mugshot (Alberta Police)

On July 9, 1928, Vernon Booher reported a horrible crime. Someone had shot his mother, Eunice, in the back of the head as she sat at the dining room table preparing dinner. His brother Fred’s body lay in the kitchen doorway nearby. Hired hands Wasyl Rozak and Gabriel Grombey were dead as well. Rozak, a Polish immigrant known as “Bill,” had been shot in the bunkhouse, while Grombey had been killed in the barn.

Henry Booher and the two Booher daughters were not home at the time of the killings and escaped the slaughter.

Police Investigate Vernon Booher

Investigators naturally suspected Vernon and grilled him intensely. He claimed he heard the shots while tending cows in the pasture and ran back to the farmhouse. When he found his mother and brother dead, he ran to a neighbor named Ross’s house to summon the police.

Mannville, Alberta, in 1913 (Bridgman Photos)
Mannville, Alberta, in 1913 (Bridgman Photos)

With Vernon denying his involvement and without the murder weapon, police were at a standstill. They consulted Adolph Langsner, a Viennese psychiatrist who claimed to be able to read minds. Using his supposed psychic powers, Langsner produced a sketch of the crime scene, including a rifle hidden under some bushes. It was an Enfield .303 bold-action rifle stolen from a neighbor named Stevenson.

Authorities soon found the rifle about 235 yards from the Booher house on July 19. Vernon apparently discarded it as he ran to the Ross home.

A Lee Enfield Mk I (1903) .303 rifle similar to the one Vernon Booher used to kill four people (Sweedish Army Museum)
A Lee Enfield Mk I (1903) .303 rifle similar to the one Vernon Booher used to kill four people (Sweedish Army Museum)

On the surface, it seemed Langsner scored a coup in “reading” where Vernon hid the murder weapon. However, the greater probability is that he accepted the police theory that Vernon Booher committed the murders and deduced a likely spot where he discarded the rifle. It is worth noting that there is no record that Langsner ever solved another criminal case using his alleged psychic powers.

Vernon Booher is Tried for Murder

Vernon’s trial for murder began on July 18, 1928 (justice was swift in rural Canada in 1928). Observers described the defendant as “cold” and “calm” and displaying no remorse.

With evidence mounting, especially the appearance of the rifle, Vernon confessed on July 22. He said he killed his mother because of her opposition to his girlfriend. The other three were collateral damage to eliminate witnesses. Booher also said he planned to stage the scene to make it appear Grombey had committed the murders but did not have enough time.

Given the evidence and the confession, the jury had no trouble returning a verdict of guilty with no recommendation for mercy, which mandated a death sentence.

Grave marker for Fred and Eunice Booher in Mannville Cemetery (findagrave.com)
Grave marker for Fred and Eunice Booher in Mannville Cemetery (findagrave.com)

Vernon Booher won a new trial on appeal based on the claim that Langsner had used hypnotism to extract his confession. A second trial with the confession suppressed also resulted in a guilty verdict and a death sentence.

Epilogue

Vernon Booher was hanged at the Fort Saskatchewan Provincial Gaol on April 24, 1929.

Edward Butts’ Murder: Twelve True Stories of Homicide in Canada includes the Booher murders case.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this. Join the newsletter mailing list today.

Jaclyn Dowaliby: Sensational Murder of Girl Still a Mystery

Murder is tragic, but even more so when the crime remains unsolved. This week’s blog post presents the case of Jaclyn Dowaliby, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1988. The case officially remains unsolved.

Jaclyn Dowaliby

Jaclyn Dowaliby was just seven years old in the fall of 1988. Her parents separated shortly before her birth, and Cynthia Guess, Jaclyn’s mother, obtained custody of her after a protracted struggle. By 1988, Cynthia had remarried. Jaclyn’s stepfather, David Dowaliby, adopted the little girl in 1983, six months after marrying her mother. The following year, Jaclyn’s half-brother, David Jr., was born.

Jaclyn Dowaliby (Missing Leads via The Crime Wire)
Jaclyn Dowaliby (Missing Leads via The Crime Wire)

The Dowalibys lived in Midlothian, Illinois, a suburb southwest of Chicago. The family appeared to be loving and close-king, and Jaclyn bonded tightly with her little brother.

Jaclyn Dowaliby Abducted

On September 9, 1988, Cynthia Dowaliby took her children to a Kentucky Fried Chicken store for dinner. David Dowaliby went to a bowling alley in nearby Blue Island with friends, returning home at about 9:20 p.m. Cynthia and the children were home, entertaining two visiting family members. The visitors soon left.

Around 10:30, Jaclyn kissed her mother goodnight and climbed into her bed with a Sears Catalog. David Sr. went to bed at about the same time.

Cynthia checked on Jaclyn at about 11:00 p.m. Finding the girl sound asleep, she turned off the lights and went to bed herself, leaving the doors to both children’s bedrooms slightly open.

David and Cynthia Dowaliby (Missing Leads vi The Crime Wire)
David and Cynthia Dowaliby (Missing Leads vi The Crime Wire)

David Dowaliby rose at 8:00 a.m. the following morning. He was surprised Jaclyn wasn’t already watching cartoons (it was Saturday). Upon checking, he saw that Jaclyn was not in her bedroom. He assumed she was outside playing with friends and settled in to watch cartoons with his son.

Cynthia became alarmed when she awoke. A search of the house and yard revealed that the girl was missing. The parents then called the Midlothian police.

What Happened to Jaclyn Dowaliby?

Investigators initially suspected that James Guess, Jaclyn’s biological father, may have been responsible for her disappearance. Guess tried at least once to break into the Dowaliby home to kidnap his daughter after losing the custody fight with Cynthia. However, authorities soon discarded Guess as a suspect when they learned he had been in a Florida prison since May 23.

Police subjected the Dowalibys to intense scrutiny and questioning in the days following Jaclyn’s disappearance. David willingly went to Chicago to submit to a polygraph examination. According to David, the FBI examiner told him he passed the exam.

Four days after her disappearance, one Michael Chatman discovered Jaclyn’s body near a garbage container. The container served a small apartment complex, the Islander Apartments, in Blue Island, Illinois, about 6 miles from Jaclyn’s home.

A photo of the Dowaliby home at 3636 W. 148th Place taken in 2022 (Google Maps)

An autopsy revealed that someone had strangled Jaclyn with a two-foot section of twine, which was found still wrapped around her neck. She wore the purple nightgown she had worn to bed the night before, although her underwear had been removed and dumped nearby. Decomposition prevented the medical examiner, Dr. Robert Stein, from determining whether she had suffered a sexual assault before death.

Jaclyn’s Parents as Suspects

Detectives located an eyewitness named Everett Mann. Mann claimed to have seen a dark-colored Chevrolet Malibu at approximately 2:00 a.m. Although he could not be sure of the Malibu’s color, he later identified a photograph of David Dowaliby from a police photo array.

On September 19, police again searched the home, confiscating the family car (a light blue Malibu) and several household items. The Dowalibys then retained two attorneys, who advised them to stop speaking to investigators.

On November 22, 1988, police arrested David Dowaliby as he drove to work. Cynthia was arrested at the Dowaliby home. A grand jury indicted the couple the following day for the first-degree murder of their daughter. It took a month, but family members were able to raise the bond fees to allow David and Cynthia to be released on bail.

Cynthia gave birth to a second daughter, who she named Carli. Authorities placed the infant in the guardianship of Cynthia’s parents with Cynthia’s consent.

Trial for the Murder of Jaclyn Dowaliby

David’s and Cynthia’s joint trial for murder began on April 5, 1990. Despite confident opening statements from the prosecution, both defense attorneys stressed the lack of evidence. And indeed, there was little to connect either parent to the murder except for Mann’s eyewitness account.

Courtroom sketch of a hearing the Dowaliby case (Reddit r/truecrime)
Courtroom sketch of a hearing the Dowaliby case (Reddit r/truecrime)

Over forty witnesses testified at the trial, and lawyers introduced almost two hundred exhibits into evidence. Presiding judge Richard E. Neville conferred with prosecutors and defense attorneys shortly before the trial ended and said there was insufficient evidence against Cynthia. She was formally acquitted on May 2. However, the case against David continued.

The jury deliberated for three days before convicting David of murder on May 3, 1990. He was sentenced to forty years for murder and another ten years for concealing a homicide. He would serve the two sentences consecutively.

Jaclyn Dowaliby's grave (findagrave.com)
Jaclyn Dowaliby’s grave (findagrave.com)

In October 1991, an appeals court overturned David Dowaliby’s conviction. The court found that the evidence against him was as insufficient to secure a conviction as the evidence against Cynthia. Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley appealed this decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, but that court found for David Dowaliby.

Epilogue

One year after her acquittal, Cynthia Dowaliby regained custody of David Jr. and Carli.

After his release from prison, David Dowaliby returned to live with his family. The couple later changed their names and refuse to cooperate with media requests for interviews.

Although the case remains open, it sees little activity these days. No one else has been arrested or tried for Jaclyn’s murder.

You can read more about the Jaclyn Dowaliby abduction and murder in David Protess’s and Rob Warden’s 1994 book, Gone in the Night.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this. Join the newsletter mailing list today.

Cassie Jo Stoddart: Astonishing Murder of Girl by Classmates

Almost all homicides are sad and senseless. But when the victim is a young person, they seem especially more so. In this post, I present the case of Cassie Jo Stoddart, who was killed in 2006 by two of her high school classmates.

Cassie Jo Stoddart House-Sits

In the fall of 2006, Frank and Allison Conteras engaged their sixteen-year-old niece, Cassie Jo Stoddart, to house-sit for a weekend. Her primary responsibility was to care for the couple’s three cats and two dogs.

Cassie Jo Stoddart
Cassie Jo Stoddart

On the evening of Friday, September 22, 2006, Cassie Jo was at the Contreras home outside Pocatello, Idaho. Around 6:00 p.m., her boyfriend, Matt Beckham, came to visit. Later, two classmates, Brian Draper and Torey Adamcik, both sixteen at the time, dropped by to “hang out.” Cassie Jo gave them a tour of the house, including the basement. The four then went into the living room to watch a movie, Kill Bill, Volume II. Draper and Adamcik left before the film finished, while Stoddart and Beckham remained in the house.

The house on Whispering Cliffs Drive in Pocatello, Idaho, where Cassie Jo Stoddart died (realtor.com)
The house on Whispering Cliffs Drive in Pocatello, Idaho, where Cassie Jo Stoddart died (realtor.com)

Unknown to Stoddart and Beckham, Draper had unlocked the basement door during the house tour. He and Adamcik later returned to the neighborhood and parked down the street. They donned dark clothing, gloves, and masks painted white. They re-entered the Contreras home and began making noises in the basement, trying to lure the couple downstairs “so they could scare them.” When that failed, the boys turned off all the power in the house at the circuit breaker box. When Stoddart and Beckham still did not come downstairs, they turned some lights back on.

Murder of Cassie Jo Stoddart

The power outage frightened Cassie Jo. Beckham called his mother and asked if he could stay overnight at the Contreras house, but she refused. Instead, she offered to have Stoddart stay overnight at the Beckham house. However, Cassie Jo felt it was her responsibility to stay with the animals, so she declined the offer.

Brian Draper, one of Cassie Jo Stoddart's killers
Brian Draper, one of Cassie Jo Stoddart’s killers

Beckham’s mother picked him up at about 10:30. Draper and Adamcik, still in the basement, heard him leave. They then turned the power off again, hoping Stoddart would come downstairs to turn the lights back on. She did not. After waiting a while, the two boys went upstairs. Cassie Jo was lying on a couch in the living room. Draper opened and slammed a closet door to scare her before attacking the defenseless teen. Draper, using a dagger-like weapon, and Adamcik, with a hunting knife, stabbed Cassie Jo about thirty times. Twelve of the wounds could have been fatal.

Torey Adamcik, one of Cassie Jo Stoddart's killers
Torey Adamcik, one of Cassie Jo Stoddart’s killers

Arrest and Trial of Draper and Adamcik

Draper and Adamcik were arrested on September 27, 2006, and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Unsurprisingly, each teen blamed the other. Draper claimed he was in the same room with Adamcik when he killed Stoddart but denied stabbing her. He later admitted to stabbing her under alleged commands from Adamcik. He led investigators to where the teens had partially burned and buried the clothing, masks, and weapons they used for the murder. There, police recovered a partially burned videotape. After restoration, the tape showed video footage of the duo making plans to kill Stoddart.

Draper and Adamcik tried to burn the videotape that recorded them plotting the murder of Cassie Jo Stoddart (YouTube)
Draper and Adamcik tried to burn the videotape that recorded them plotting the murder of Cassie Jo Stoddart (YouTube)

At trial, the prosecution revealed that Draper had said he was inspired by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who committed the Columbine High School massacre. Adamcik was said to have been inspired by the Scream horror film franchise. Draper was convicted on April 17, 2007, and Adamcik on June 8, 2007. On August 21, 2007, based on the first-degree murder convictions, each received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and thirty years to life for conspiracy to commit murder.

Both teens appealed their sentences. Draper’s conviction for conspiracy was overturned because of improper jury instructions, but his murder conviction was upheld, as was the life sentence. All other appeals have failed.

Epilogue

Today (2024), Draper and Adamcik reside in the Idaho State Correctional Facility in Kuna, Idaho.

Brian Draper (L) and Torey Adamcik (R) (YouTube/Snag Films, idahostatejournal.com)
Brian Draper (L) and Torey Adamcik (R) (YouTube/Snag Films, idahostatejournal.com)

The Stoddart family sued the Pocatello School District in 2010, claiming negligence by school authorities. Both the civil court and the Idaho Supreme Court dismissed the case, saying the actions of the killers were not foreseeable.

Dateline NBC featured the Cassie Jo Stoddart murder in a February 18, 2024, episode reported by Keith Morrison.

You can read more about Brian Draper, Torey Adamcix, and the Stoddart murder in Mormon Sons—Brian Draper Torey Adamcik, by Pamela Lillian Valemont.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this. Join the newsletter mailing list today.

Sam Cooke: What Was the Truth About His Death?

Sam Cooke was a famous singer in the early 1960s. His 29 top 40 hits included “Cupid,” “You Send Me,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” and “Another Saturday Night.” But a bullet ended his life and his career in December 1964 under circumstances that remain murky to this day.

Sam Cooke

The singer the world knew as Sam Cooke was born Samuel Cook on January 22, 1931, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Perhaps his association with Clarksdale and its rich blues tradition led him to become a musician. Then again, maybe it didn’t. After all, the Cook family moved to Chicago in 1933 when young Sam was only two years old. Instead, it might have been singing in his minister father’s church choir that propelled him into a musical career.

Sam Cooke (Billboard)
Sam Cooke (Billboard)

Regardless of how he got into the business, by the early 1960s, Sam Cooke had established a track record as a reliable producer of top 40 songs.

Death of Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke met a tragic end in the early hours of December 11, 1964. The official story goes like this. The evening before, Cooke had dinner and drinks at Martoni’s Restaurant in Hollywood. At the restaurant, he met a young woman, Elisa Boyer, and the two hit it off. According to Boyer’s story to police, she spent the evening in his company. Upon leaving, she asked to be taken home. Instead, an apparently intoxicated Cooke drove down the Harbor Freeway, stopping at the Hacienda Motel in south central Los Angeles. Once inside one of the motel’s rooms, Boyer said Cooke removed most of her clothing. She believed he was about to rape her.

The Hacienda Motel where Sam Cooke died
The Hacienda Motel where Sam Cooke died

While Cooke was in the room’s bathroom, Boyer grabbed up her clothing (and, by mistake, most of Cooke’s as well) and fled. Unable to get a quick response from the hotel manager, she left the motel. She dressed, hid Cooke’s clothes, found a telephone booth, and called police.

Elisa Boyer (thevintagenews.com)
Elisa Boyer (thevintagenews.com)

Meanwhile, motel manager Bertha Franklin claimed Cooke repeatedly hammered on her office door, demanding, “Where’s the girl?” an apparent reference to Boyer. When Franklin responded that she was alone, Cooke, naked except for one shoe and a sports jacket, forced his way into the office. He grabbed her, and the two struggled, eventually falling to the floor. Franklin retrieved a gun and shot Cooke once in the torso. Franklin stated that Cooke exclaimed, “Lady, you shot me,” in a perplexed tone before coming after her again. She said she struck him on the head with a broomstick, and he fell to the floor dead.

Bertha Franklin (samepassage.org)
Bertha Franklin (samepassage.org)

Did Sam Cooke Die That Way?

Motel owner Evelyn Carr confirmed Franklin’s account of events, saying the two were conversing on the telephone when the struggle and shooting occurred.

Cooke’s friends and associates immediately disputed these accounts of the incident and believed his killing occurred in a completely different manner. Employees at Martoni’s reported that Cooke had been carrying a large amount of cash that night. However, a search of his Ferrari found only $108 in a money clip and some loose change. Boyer had a $20 bill in her purse.

Singer Etta James saw Cooke’s body before his funeral and noted that the injuries he suffered didn’t match the “official” version. She later wrote that he appeared to have been badly beaten. His hands were broken and crushed, and his nose mangled.

Epilogue

Carr’s testimony supported Franklin’s, and both Franklin and Boyer passed polygraph tests. Lacking any concrete evidence to the contrary, the coroner’s jury had little option but to accept Franklin’s version and return a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Bertha Franklin quit her job at the Hacienda Motel after receiving—she claimed—multiple death threats. She later sued Cooke’s estate for physical injuries and mental anguish suffered as a result of Cooke’s attack. Barbara Womack countersued on behalf of the estate, seeking $7,000 to cover funeral expenses. In 1967, a jury ruled in Franklin’s favor in both cases and awarded her $30,000 (over $280,000 in 2024) in damages.

A month after Cooke died, Elisa Boyer was arrested for prostitution. Years later, she was convicted of second-degree murder in an unrelated incident.

Don’t Miss Out! Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to True Crime in the News, a monthly email newsletter that looks at recent news stories that will interest any true crime fan. There is also a summary of the previous month’s blog posts. You won’t want to miss this. Join the newsletter mailing list today.