Lori Ann Auker: New CSI Breakthrough Catches a Killer

Welcome to the hundredth post in the Old Crime is New Again blog! Last week, I reported the case of Corey Parker, a young Florida coed murdered by an obsessive stalker. This week, we look at the death of Lori Ann Auker, a young Pennsylvania mother killed by her ex-husband. It took sophisticated technology—and her cat—to solve her murder.

Lori Ann Auker

Lori Ann Auker was only 19 but she had a child and an ex-husband. She told friends and coworkers that her ex, Robert “Bob” Auker was stalking her. This became significant on May 24, 1989. That day, Lori Ann didn’t show up for work at a pet shop in the Susquehanna Valley Mall. Her parents found her 1976 Pontiac Le Mans in the mall parking lot and alarmed, reported her missing to police.

Lori Ann Auker
Lori Ann Auker

Three weeks later, on June 12, a woman walking along a dirt road to her grandparents’ house discovered a body. Despite severe decomposition, dental records identified the body as that of Lori Ann Auker.

Ex-husband Robert Auker was naturally a suspect. For one thing, he had a shaky alibi. Also, witnesses saw him meticulously scrubbing his 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity on the evening of May 24. He traded in the car three days later. And if that weren’t enough to raise suspicions, Auker took out an accidental death and dismemberment policy on Lori Ann. He took out the policy even though the couple been divorced for six months. But police lacked hard evidence to link him to Lori Ann’s death.

Robert Donald Auker in 1989
Robert Donald Auker in 1989

Who Killed Lori Ann Auker?

In 1989, video surveillance cameras were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. But one place that did have cameras was bank Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). And it was a bank ATM camera that captured a telling image. It was Auker’s Celebrity pulling in front of Lori Ann as she tried to walk from her car to her job. When his car drove away, Lori Ann was gone.

Unfortunately, in 1989, surveillance cameras recorded their images on video tape, recording over old images with new ones. The tape in this ATM was almost worn out. But with help from NASA, they had enhanced images to work with. Unfortunately, the license plate was still not readable. But automotive experts identified the car in the picture as the back end of a 1983 or 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity.

Entrance to the Susquehanna Valley Mall where Lori Ann worked at a pet shop
Entrance to the Susquehanna Valley Mall where Lori Ann worked at a pet shop

Even though Auker had sold the car immediately after the murder, investigators tracked it down. They were able to locate the car and prove it was the car in the bank ATM video.

Technicians also recovered several hairs that were “similar” to Lori Ann’s (decomposition prevented establishing an exact match). Moreover, three cat hairs found in the Celebrity’s trunk proved to be an exact match for Lori Ann’s cat.

Epilogue

Robert Donald Auker went on trial on October 26, 1995. The video of Lori Ann disappearing into his car destroyed his alibi. The cat hairs proved Lori Ann’s body had been in his trunk. And a forensic entomologist testified that insect activity on the body proved death had occurred very close to May 24, the day Lori Ann disappeared.

Robert Auker in a 2021 prison photo (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)
Robert Auker in a 2021 prison photo (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

The jury found Auker guilty of murder. He was sentenced to death for murder plus a consecutive sentence of ten to twenty years for kidnapping. On July 31, 1996, an appeals court vacated the death sentence, but Robert Auker will spend the rest of his life in prison. He currently (2022) resides in State Correctional Institute Phoenix in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

SCI Phoenix in Collegeville, Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)
SCI Phoenix in Collegeville, Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

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Shirley Allen: Her Obsession with Murder for Money

Last week, I presented the sad case of Tera Smith. Tera was only sixteen when she vanished from Redlands, California. More than twenty years later, her disappearance remains unsolved. This week’s case is that of the many-married Shirley Allen. In 1982, Shirley poisoned her sixth husband with ethylene glycol. She probably poisoned at least two of her previous husbands as well, one fatally.

Shirley Allen

Shirley Allen entered the world as Shirley Elizabeth Goude in 1941 in St. Louis, Missouri. Little information exists about her early life, but she was obviously unlucky in love. She married a total of six times to five different men. Several of her husbands developed health problems shortly after the wedding.

In October 1968, Shirley married her first husband, Joe Sinclair. Eight months later, Shirley tried to get rid of him with rat poison. Sinclair informed authorities, but they did not file any charges. Instead, Sinclair wisely divorced Shirley and got away from her.

Shirley Elizabeth Goude Allen
Shirley Elizabeth Goude Allen

Shirley married for the fifth time in 1977, when she wed John Gregg. The following year, after being married to Shirley for less than twelve months, Gregg collapsed and died. Initially, authorities ruled it a natural death. Shirley had hoped to collect on Gregg’s life insurance. She was furious when she learned he’d recently changed the beneficiary of the policy, leaving her nothing.

Shirley Allen Poisons Husband Number Six

Lloyd Allen married Shirley in 1981, her final spin of the matrimonial wheel. Lloyd’s health soon began a precipitous decline. When he complained that his drinks tasted “off,” Shirley explained she’d added iron supplements “for his health.” Unfortunately for him, he took her at her word. Lloyd Allen died on November 1, 1982, leaving behind a $25,000 life insurance policy.

Lloyd Allen
Lloyd Allen

Whispers about the unnatural nature of Lloyd’s death began to circulate. An autopsy determined Lloyd’s body contained a lethal amount of ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is a sweet-tasting, odorless substance. It is the main ingredient in automotive antifreeze and is a deadly poison if ingested. With an autopsy confirming foul play, police arrested Shirly on November 6.

The old Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri where Shirley Allen stood trial for poisoning her husband, Lloyd
The old Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri where Shirley Allen stood trial for poisoning her husband, Lloyd

Shirley Allen went on trial two years later in Rolla, Missouri. Her two daughters from a previous marriage, Norma Hawkins, 18, and Paula Hawkins, 17, agreed to testify for the prosecution if they didn’t seek the death penalty. On the stand, the girls testified they’d seen Shirley put antifreeze in Lloyd’s drinks. They also said Shirley sent them to buy antifreeze so she could “finish him [Lloyd] off.” And they further testified that their mother sent them to look for tainted Tylenol capsules in the wake of the infamous Chicago Tylenol poisonings.

Epilogue

It took the jury less than three hours and only three votes to convict Shirley Allen of first-degree murder. With the death penalty off the table, the judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years. Shirly died in prison on April 2, 1998. She was 56 or 57 years old (her exact birthdate is uncertain).

Some sources report that another husband, Daniel Null, died mysteriously. Authorities exhumed the body, but an autopsy failed to reveal proof of ethylene glycol poisoning.

The Discovery Channel series Evil Lives Here featured the Shirley Allen case in Episode 11 of Season 5, Poisoned by Love.

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Frank Howard: Strange and Sensational Murder for Hire

Our past two cases have been about killer nurses Kristen Gilbert and Charles Cullen. This week we go to Texas. Everything is big in Texas and even the murder cases seem larger than life. Our case involves successful businessman Frank Howard (not to be confused with the former baseball player). Howard concocted a scheme to hire East Texas gangsters to murder his wife. One of them eventually shot Nancy Howard but she survived.

Frank Howard and Nancy Shore Howard

Born John Franklin Howard, Frank married Nancy Shore in 1983. They settled in Carrollton, Texas, north and slightly west of Dallas and near Lewisville Lake. Together they raised three children.

Frank and Nancy Howard in happier times
Frank and Nancy Howard in happier times

From the outside, the Howards seemed like a normal suburban couple. Frank coached his kids’ soccer teams and went to their musical theater performances. The couple sang in the church choir and hosted Bible study for youth groups in their home. Frank was a successful businessman with his own accounting firm and Nancy was a stay-at-home mom.

The Howards’ apparently idyllic life began to dissipate as their children grew up and left home. Frank started devoting more time to his work. He took on a new client, Colleyville businessman Richard Raley, who’d made millions as a defense contractor. He told his wife that this new business would require more travel. Nancy found herself at home with little to do. In most cases, this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but trouble was brewing.

Frank Howard Meets Suzanne Leontieff

It was the weekend of July 25, 2009. Frank was in Lake Tahoe on business and Nancy was on a mission trip to Africa with her youngest daughter, Brianna. At a casino named Harvey’s, Frank met a woman at one of the tables. She was Suzanne Leontieff, a dental hygienist. Suzanne was in her early fifties but had blonde hair, a youthful face, and a perky demeanor. She was in Lake Tahoe to watch her daughters compete in a softball tournament.

Suzanne and Frank met for dinner. Suzanne was married, too, but had separated from her husband and working toward a divorce. The next weekend, Frank invited Suzanne to meet him in Reno. She did.

Suzanne Leontieff (MSNBC/Dateline)
Suzanne Leontieff (MSNBC/Dateline)

Over the next three years, Frank and Suzanne saw each other often. Sometimes he met her in California, while others he flew her to Dallas. Then there were expensive trips to the Bahamas and prime sporting events. Frank also bought a condo in Lake Tahoe and Suzanne a house in Santa Cruz. When Suzanne’s divorce came through, she lost her health insurance. So, Frank put her on the payroll of Raley’s company (by now he was Chief Financial Officer).

An Attempted Murder

On Saturday, August 18, 2012, Nancy went to the First Baptist Church in Carrollton for a women’s tea. She didn’t know it, but someone followed her into the parking lot. That evening, she went back to the church for the baptism of a family friend. When she left the parking lot at about 7:30, it was raining. A silver Nissan trailed her out of the lot.

On her way home, Nancy stopped at a Taco Bueno and picked up a steak fajita dinner at the drive-through. From there, she drove home, a two-story brick house on Bluebonnet Way. In the garage, she got out of the car with her purse and the Taco Bueno bag in her hands. Someone grabbed her from behind, put a gun to her head, and demanded her purse.

The Howards' house on Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, TX
The Howards’ house on Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, TX

Startled, Nancy turned around. The intruder, a man in his twenties demanded her purse again. Confused, she handed him the Taco Bueno bag instead. Seeing the man becoming angry, she shoved the purse at him with both hands. He backed up a step, pointed the gun at her face, and fired. He then fled, leaving the bag of food on the rain-soaked driveway and Nancy bleeding in the garage.

A Bizarre Plot

Frank was in Reno with Suzanne when he got the news that Nancy had been shot. He broke down crying and Suzanne had to help him walk. Since there were no more flights to Dallas from Reno that day, Suzanne drove Frank four hours to San Jose where he caught a flight home.

But while he may have shed tears, investigators soon learned that Frank was not exactly the grieving husband. Far from it. Frank, it turns out, had been paying money to East Texas gangsters for years to kill his wife. Somehow, Frank managed to connect with a shady character named Billie Earl Johnson. Calling himself “John,” Frank gave Johnson an envelope with $60,000 cash and a picture of Nancy, telling him to “make it look like an accident.”

Billie Earl Johnson (L) and his nephew, Dustin Hiroms (R). Hiroms shot Nancy Howard in her own garage on August 18, 2012.
Billie Earl Johnson (L) and his nephew, Dustin Hiroms (R). Hiroms shot Nancy Howard in her own garage on August 18, 2012.

Johnson and his cadre of relatives and associates strung “John” along for months on end, extracting more and more money from him. But there were always excuses. Either something slowed them down, they were too wasted, or they were in jail. Nancy lived on. Johnson estimated they squeezed over $2 million out of “John.”

All this would have been funny if Johnson’s stepson, Dustin Taylor Hiroms hadn’t tried to carry out the plot. He’s the one that accosted and shot Nancy.

Frank Howard Goes on Trial

Nancy Howard survived the attack, although she lost her left eye. She divorced Frank and went back to using her birth name, Shore.

John Francis "Frank" Howard
John Francis “Frank” Howard

Frank Howard went on trial in August 2012. All three Howard children testified for their father and sat behind him when they were in court. Nancy testified for the prosecution. The defense claimed Frank had been blackmailed and attacked the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. They did have a point: the East Texas crew had an astonishing number of arrests and convictions. However, the jury took only two hours to return a guilty verdict.

At the sentencing hearing, Frank’s former boss, Richard Raley, testified. He told the jury that Frank had embezzled over $30 million from him over a three-year period. He used the money to finance his affair with Suzanne Leontieff and to pay his meth-addled hitmen. And apparently, according to a later lawsuit, he donated over $200,000 of it to the First Baptist Church! He received a life sentence with no possibility for parole until after 30 years.

Epilogue

Today (April 2022) Frank Howard is 62 years old. He spends his time at the James V. Allred Unit of the Texas prison system near Wichita Falls, Texas.

You can read more about this case in Allice Matthews’ book, The Shooting of Nancy Howard: A Journey Back to Shore.

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Carol Ege: Horrific Murder of a Love Triangle Rival

In our previous case Eugene “Cotton” Thompson hired a hitman to kill his wife, St. Paul housewife Carol Thompson. This week, we stay in the Midwest, Michigan this time, for another domestic murder. In 1984, Carol Ege brutally murdered Cindy Thompson, jealous over Cindy’s involvement with Carol’s boyfriend, Mark Davis.

Carol Ege, Mark Davis, and Cindy Thompson

Cindy Thompson and Mark Davis dated in high school but broke up before graduation. Both moved on. Mark got a new girlfriend, Carol Sanders (as Carol Ege was known at the time). Cindy married Ken Woodward and together they had a son and daughter. After six years, though, the marriage fell apart. So, in 1982, Cindy found herself a single mother with uncertain prospects. She moved in with her friend Cheryl in her hometown of Lake Orion, Michigan and let the children go with their father.

Cindy Thompson
Cindy Thompson

Cindy happened to run into Mark and their old romance rekindled. Supposedly, Mark told Cindy that he and Carol had split up. However, he continued to live with Carol and pursued relationships with both women. That should have been drama enough but, of course, it wasn’t. In October 1982, Cindy and her friend Barb came home to find two women in her apartment. She caught Carol and another woman ripping up T-shirts and a watch case Cindy had bought for Mark.

Carol Ege Takes Action

In the summer of 1983, Cindy learned she was pregnant with Mark’s child. It would be her third but his first, and he was excited about the prospect of fatherhood. Mark’s mother, on the other hand, disliked Cindy and was unhappy about the pregnancy.

Carol Ege mugshot
Carol Ege mugshot

Carol, as one might imagine, was furious. She wanted Mark to convince Cindy to abort the pregnancy. Failing that, she insisted that she and Mark should adopt the baby.

In December 1983, Cindy was at her sister’s house. A man and woman forced their way in. Cindy and the woman fought while the man kept Cindy’s sister and her fourteen-year-old niece from intervening. But Cindy happened to be on the phone with a friend. She shouted for the friend to call the police and the man and woman fled. The woman was Carol Sanders (Carol Ege).

Carol Ege Murders Cindy Thompson

In February 1984, Cindy, seven months pregnant, moved into a house her friend Barb owned in Pontiac, Michigan. Mark had begun moving some of his things into the house as well. People who knew the couple believed he planned to commit to Cindy and raise their child together. What happened next destroyed that chance forever.

Cindy Thompson shortly before the murder
Cindy Thompson shortly before the murder

In the early morning hours of February 22, 1984, Mark went to Cindy’s house and discovered she’d been brutally slain. She had severe blunt force trauma to her head from a ball peen hammer and had suffered multiple stab wounds. And if that wasn’t enough, her killer had disemboweled her, ripping out the fetus and some of her organs.

Not surprisingly, Mark was initially the prime suspect, but no physical evidence pointed to him. His alibi was strange, though: he had been at Carol’s drinking heavily and smoking weed. Police investigated Carol as well since her hatred for Cindy was no secret. They also considered Cindy’s ex-husband, Cindy’s friend Barb’s boyfriend (he disliked Cindy), and Mark’s mother. After the initial investigative flurry, Cindy’s case went cold.

New Evidence Points to Carol

In the early 1990s, investigators took another look at the now cold case. In the autopsy photos, they noticed a pattern of bruising on Cindy’s cheek they hadn’t made note of before. Forensic odontologist Dr. Allan Warnick determined that this was a bite mark. Comparing the mark with potential suspects, Dr. Warnick identified Carol Sanders (now Carol Ege) as the person who made the mark.

An undated photo of Carol Ege
An undated photo of Carol Ege

Based on the bite mark and other evidence, a jury convicted Carol of murder. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Epilogue

In 2005, an appeals court overturned Carol’s conviction based on unreliable evidence. Bite mark evidence in general has fallen out of favor with forensic scientists. But in this case, Dr. Warnick has seen his expert opinion successfully refuted and even proven wrong. In this instance, a pathologist testified that the bruising was not a bite mark at all. Instead, it was livor mortis, the natural settling and pooling of blood in a body after death.

The State of Michigan retried Carol in 2007 using the same evidence minus the bite mark. The result was the same: guilty and life without parole. She is currently (March 2022) incarcerated in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Investigation Discovery produced an episode in Season 4 about the Cindy Thompson murder. Kiss of Death first aired on April 6, 2020.

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