Marvin Gaye: Murder of a Popular Soul Singer

Marvin Gaye was once known as the “Prince of Motown.” For almost a quarter-century, his music entertained millions, evolving as the times changed. Then, his career and life ended abruptly.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. was born on April 2, 1939, in Washington, D.C. His father was a preacher in the Hebrew Pentecostal Church. A strict disciplinarian, he enforced his moral code on his four children (two boys and two girls) and stepson with physical brutality. For a man of the cloth, the senior Gay embraced an odd moral code, as he was a hard-drinking cross-dresser. It seemed everyone in their D.C. neighborhood knew about the cross-dressing, which subjected young Marvin to bullying at school.

As Marvin entered his teenage years, his relationship with his father worsened, who often kicked him out of the house. In 1956, when he was seventeen, Marvin dropped out of high school and joined the United States Air Force. Military service didn’t suit him, mainly because his superiors gave him, like many of his peers, only menial tasks. He received a “General Discharge” in 1957.

Marvin Gaye in 1966 (Public Domain)
Marvin Gaye in 1966 (Public Domain)

Gaye began working in music after his brief stint in the Air Force, adding the ‘e’ to the end of his family name. It took several years, but he began to find success in 1962 as co-writer of “Beechwood 4-5789,” a hit for the Marvelettes. He recorded several successful duets with Tammy Terrell and sang the National Anthem during Game 4 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. He had his first number-one hit in 1968 with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

The Murder of Marvin Gaye

Success had a dark side for Marvin Gaye. Like many others before and after, he had trouble dealing with the fame he sought and developed a drug habit. He managed to get sober while sojourning in Europe as a tax exile. But he returned to the United States in 1983 for what would be his final concert tour. Under the stress of touring, he returned to abusing cocaine as a coping mechanism. When the tour ended in August 1983, Gaye moved into his parents’ home to nurse his mother, who had undergone kidney surgery.

Marvin Gaye in 1973 (Billboard)
Marvin Gaye in 1973 (Billboard)

By March 1984, Gaye and his father clashed constantly. Everything boiled over on Sunday, April 1. Marvin Sr. began berating his wife, Alberta, because he was upset about a missing insurance policy. Gaye intervened, ordering his father out of his mother’s room. When that didn’t work, he physically attacked his father. Alberta separated the two men, and Gaye returned to his room.

Minutes later, however, Marvin Sr. entered Gaye’s bedroom with a .38-caliber pistol, pointed it at Gaye, and shot him twice, one bullet piercing his right lung, heart, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and left kidney. Hearing the shots and screams, Gaye’s brother, Frankie, who lived in a guest house on the property, ran to the house and carefully walked the hallway to his brother’s bedroom. He held Gaye as he rapidly bled to death. Frankie said Marvin made a disturbing statement in a voice barely above a whisper. “I got what I wanted…I couldn’t do it myself, so I had him do it…it’s good, I ran my race, there’s no more left in me.”

Marvin Gaye's death certificate (State of California)
Marvin Gaye’s death certificate (State of California)

Epilogue

On September 20, 1984, Marvin Gay, Sr. pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Judge Ronald M. George agreed to the plea bargain based on the injuries Marvin Sr. sustained in the altercation and the levels of cocaine and PCP in Gaye’s system revealed by the autopsy. On November 2, Judge Gordon Ringer sentenced Marvin Gay, Sr., to a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. He died on October 10, 1998, at age 84.

Marvin Gay, Sr., in court (The Palms Weekend)
Marvin Gay, Sr., in court (The Palms Weekend)

You can read more about the life of Marvin Gaye in Divided Soul: The Life Of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz and Mercy, Mercy Me by Michael Eric Dyson.

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Jean Shrader: Victim in a Weird Murder Case

This week, I present the unusual case of the murder of Jean Shrader. The case is remarkable not for the murder but for its legal resolution.

The Murder of Jean Shrader

On the night of October 22, 1981, a man saw an unusual sight in a downtown Columbus, Ohio, parking garage. He watched in horror as another man dragged a woman’s body from her car into a fifth-floor stairwell. By the time police arrived, the man had disappeared, and they found the body of 25-year-old Jean Shrader in the stairwell.

An autopsy revealed that Jean Shrader had been strangled with a thin rope or perhaps a wire.

Jean Shrader (Columbus Dispatch)
Jean Shrader (Columbus Dispatch)

Jean’s husband, John J. Shrader, came under suspicion almost immediately. He had slender red marks on his hands that investigators—and Jean’s parents, Dale and Carol Wolford— believed he received while murdering his wife. Despite suspicions, authorities never obtained enough evidence to charge him with murder.

In 1983, John Shrader sued Equitable Life Assurance Society for more than $100,000 in insurance benefits. Jean’s parents countersued, claiming he shouldn’t collect the money because he was the killer. Thus, the stage was set for what the press called Shrader’s “civil murder trial.”

The “Civil Murder Trial” for the Death of Jean Shrader

John Shrader’s job was cleaning airplanes. He claimed he got the suspicious marks when he burned himself on an electrical cord while buffing a plane. He even had a witness who had seen the injuries the day before the murder.

Shrader’s case came apart like a cheap suit when his witness recanted and said Shrader had offered him $50,000 to testify. Shrader clammed up and refused to answer any more questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The court ruled for Jean’s parents, determining that John Shrader had “unlawfully terminated the life of his wife.”

Epilogue

The Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor’s office said after the ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Mr. Shrader.

In May 1985, John Shrader was convicted of perjury and bribery and sentenced to six years in prison.

Robin Yokum, a former police reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, includes a chapter on the Shrader case in his book, Dead Before Deadline.

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Valerie Pape: Fascinating Case of the Scottsdale Torso Murder

My previous blog post involved the still-unsolved murder of five people in a Las Cruces, New Mexico bowling alley. This week, we look at a bizarre case from Scottsdale, Arizona, where, in 2000, beautician Valerie Pape killed and dismembered her husband.

Valerie Pape

In 2000, Valerie Pape was 47 years old and owned a beauty salon in Scottsdale, Arizona. She also had a husband, Ira Pomerantz, 60, a Chandler, Arizona bar owner. They married in 1995. Theirs was not a happy union, as friends and family knew the couple had a volatile relationship. On more than one occasion, the police had been called to their McCormick Ranch home.

Valerie Pape and Ira Pomerantz on their wedding day (Arizona Republic via azcentral.com)
Valerie Pape and Ira Pomerantz on their wedding day (Arizona Republic via azcentral.com)

Valerie contended that her husband was an abusive alcoholic. He denied this, but friends reported seeing Valerie with bruises. She filed for a protection order against him in 1999, claiming he’d thrown knives at her during a fight over bills. Pomerantz admitted the argument but stated he’d never “been physical” with his wife. For whatever reason, Valerie withdrew the request a week later, maintaining the couple had reconciled.

Valerie Pape's salon in Scottsdale, Arizona (Arizona Republic via azcentral.com)
Valerie Pape’s salon in Scottsdale, Arizona (Arizona Republic via azcentral.com)

Reconciliation or not, the bills continued to pile up. Pomerantz complained that his wife was bleeding him dry financially. Moreover, he suspected her of having an affair with a Frenchman staying with the couple (the man had a stake in her salon). Friends later told police he planned to file for divorce.

Valerie Pape and Murder

On January 27, 2000, Valerie Pape pulled her Jaguar beside a dumpster behind a Mesa, Arizona grocery store. Removing a heavy-duty plastic bag from the car, she managed with effort to heave it into the trash bin. Unfortunately for her, a deliveryman saw this strange episode and notified the police. Inside the bag, investigators found Ira Pomerantz’s headless, limbless body. The media naturally dubbed it the “Torso Murder” case.

A week after discovering Pomerantz’s torso, police arrested Valerie Pape. At first, she claimed she found her husband shot to death on the kitchen floor of their home. She dumped the body, she said, because she feared she’d be blamed for his murder. But she eventually confessed to shooting him during an argument on January 23, then disposing of his body four days later.

Valerie Pape's salon in Scottsdale, Arizona (Arizona Republic via azcentral.com)
Valerie Pape in court (Arizona Republic via murderpedeia.com)

How the petite blonde dismembered the body remains a mystery, as Valerie never offered an explanation. Detectives believed she had an accomplice who they never identified. They also found a receipt for an electric saw bought just before the murder, but not the saw itself.

Instead of going to trial, Valerie Pape pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2002. She received a sentence of sixteen years with no chance for parole.

Epilogue

In 2006, the Arizona Department of Corrections arranged a deal to transfer Pape to a prison in France (she was a French citizen). She was flown to a holding facility in Oklahoma City in preparation. However, Pomerantz’s daughters objected, fearing the French would release her on parole. The Arizona DOC had her transferred back to Arizona.

Valerie Pape served her sentence and was released on January 26, 2016. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported her to France on March 7, 2016.

Investigators never found Ira Pomerantz’s missing body parts.

The Oxygen network’s show, Snapped, aired an episode on the Valerie Pape case on January 7, 2018.

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Larry Rudolph: Popular Dentist’s Evil Murder Plot

In my last blog post, you learned about a critical care nurse who used succinylcholine to murder his politician wife, Kathy Augustine. This week’s case is, sadly, another domestic homicide. In 2016, Pittsburgh-area dentist Lawrence “Larry” Rudolph killed his wife, Bianca, while on a safari in Zambia. He then claimed Bianca had accidentally shot herself.

Larry Rudolph and the “Accident”

Larry Rudolph was a successful dentist. His clinics, Three Rivers Dental Group, had made him a wealthy man by the mid-2010s. In 2016, he and his wife had been married for thirty-four years. They shared a passion for big game hunting and often went on safaris in Kafue National Park in Zambia. The couple was wrapping up one of these trips when tragedy struck.

Bianca and Larry Rudolph (Larry Rudolph/Facebook)
Bianca and Larry Rudolph (Larry Rudolph/Facebook)

Larry and Bianca were in their hunting cabin at about 5:00 a.m. on October 11, 2016. Bianca was packing when, according to Larry, her shotgun accidentally discharged, killing her instantly.

Zambian authorities investigated and ruled the shooting accidental. An FBI agent reported the ruling, and the case was closed. Rudolph had Bianca’s body cremated before leaving Zambia.

Larry Rudolph shared a passion for big game hunting with his wife, Bianca (From Facebook)
Larry Rudolph shared a passion for big game hunting with his wife, Bianca (From Facebook)

Larry Rudolph Goes On with Life

After Bianca’s death, Rudolph collected nearly $5 million on life insurance policies from multiple insurers. Documents suggest that the insurance companies did conduct their own investigations before paying up.

In most cases, that would have been that. However, Larry Rudolph had been conducting a long-term extramarital affair with one Lori Milliron, who he eventually placed in charge of managing his dental clinics. In addition, Bianca’s friends had suspicions of foul play. After all, how could Bianca, an experienced hunter, have been so careless as to leave her shotgun loaded? And why did her husband hurriedly have her body cremated? Bianca was a devout Catholic and opposed cremation.

Lori Milliron
Lori Milliron

In 2020, Larry Rudolph learned that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Bianca’s death. At dinner at the upscale Steak 44 in Phoenix, Arizona, a bartender overheard Larry say, “I killed my f***ing wife for you!”

Larry Rudolph Goes Down

In December 2021, Larry Rudolph was arrested in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he owned a home. He went on trial in July 2022, charged with murder and mail fraud (for defrauding the insurance companies). The trial took place in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, because it was the home location for several of the insurers.

On August 1, 2022, a federal jury found Rudolph guilty of murder and defrauding multiple insurance companies. They also convicted his mistress, Lori Milliron, of being an accessory after the fact, obstruction of justice, and two counts of perjury before the grand jury.

Epilogue

Lori Milliron received a sentence of seventeen years in prison. Today (2023), she resides at the Federal Correctional Institution Marianna in Marianna, Florida.

Larry Rudolph’s sentencing was postponed. He could receive either life in prison or the death penalty. He awaits sentencing (2023) at the Federal Correction Institution Englewood in Littleton, Colorado.

Dateline NBC aired Safari Story, an episode about Bianca Rudolph’s murder, on December 2, 2022.

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