2020 has broken our ability to tell what's normal. We'll see some headline like "Cannibal Kills Prince William, Beams Away to Mothership," and we just sort of nod, saying, "Wow, first Kobe, then COVID, now this. 2020 be crazy!" And then we move on. But we want you to slow down and realize that some of these cases of people dying over the last few months are not normal by even the twenty-twentiest of definitions. They're strange and horrifying, and once we finish arresting everyone responsible, we have to arrest God next.
People who live in a $2 million luxury condo on Manhattan's Lower East Side probably feel thoroughly safe in their own building. But let's dispel any feeling of security you'll ever have by sharing with you what the cameras in one such building picked up from July 13. A resident, 33-year-old tech CEO Fahim Saleh, gets into the elevator. He's joined by a man dressed in a black suit, latex gloves, and a black mask. Fahim uses his key fob to send the elevator directly to his own apartment, and the other guy touches a button too, but he's just pretending. Fahim walks through the doors into his unit, and the man follows him. The last image of Fahim is the killer tasing him.
The next day, Fahim's cousin came by, having not heard from him a bit and wanting to check in. She keyed into the apartment, and this is your last chance to scroll away from this story to something more pleasant. She saw Fahim in the apartment all right -- at least, she saw his torso. His arms and legs were cut off. So was his head. These body parts were in plastic bags. An electric saw had evidently sliced them off him; it was still plugged in and bloody.
Judging from how fresh the cuts were, police surmise that the killer had been in the apartment chopping the body up when he heard the cousin arriving. So he fled through a back door, leaving her with both the most traumatic experience of her life and also a narrow escape from being murdered herself. He'd tased Fahim the previous day, stabbed him to death, then returned later to properly dispose of the body. As for who this costumed killer was, no one knew, but it sounded like a professional hit man. Maybe this had something to do with Fahim's job. Fahim had been speaking out about the Nigerian government overregulating his company -- maybe this was international revenge?
It's too early to say for certain, but police now think: No, the killer was probably instead the man who bought that electric saw the morning after the murder, Fahim's personal assistant Tyrese Haspil. Tyrese had embezzled $90,000 from Fahim, say police, and when Fahim discovered this, he ... didn't report him, just let him pay it back whenever he could, because Fahim was an incredibly nice guy. Then it seems Tyrese found an alternative to paying the money back. Police did arrest Tyrese quickly, but they couldn't identify him from the security video alone because he'd been wearing a mask. So, now you have two groups of people to fear in your everyday life. People wearing masks, and people not wearing masks.
When we watch a found footage horror movie, the kind with a shaky cam held by someone running from the Mayor of Axe Town, some of us have trouble suspending our disbelief. Sure, we say, we can buy the lizard ghosts that feed on darkness, but we can't buy that those characters are still filming. In real life, they'd stop the moment things got weird. Well, put aside those complaints forever as you watch these teens filming themselves as they stumble this past June on a suitcase containing a chopped-up human body.
It's edited, of course. Their hours at the beach and the aftermath are overlaid with spooky music and expertly cut down to 45 seconds, with economy that should stand as a lesson to filmmakers everywhere. But that's the conceit of found footage movies too -- clips are spliced together to make a movie, but the source footage is real.
In a plot that sounds like a screenwriter trying way too hard to be hip to what teens are into these days, this gang of friends were lured to this location by an app. The explorer app Randonautica generates coordinates with help from random numbers and invites you to trek toward them, role-playing being on an adventure. By a complete coincidence (we're not being sarcastic), these coordinates led the teens to a rocky bit of West Seattle beach where a suitcase washed up, a suitcase that just happened to hold decaying flesh.
Police took a while to respond to the teens' call -- 3 hours by the kids' count, while the police say 1.5 -- but in the end, they did confirm the stuff in the suitcase was human, and not just discarded ground beef from Little Big Burger. And then when they poked a little further, they found bags with more body parts, enough to make two whole people. These people were eventually identified as a couple: caregiver and mother of four Jessica Lewis and her boyfriend of eight years, Austin Wenner. Both died from gunshot wounds a few days before the kids found the suitcase.
As of now, police say they have no clue who killed them or why. It could of course be another of those classic Seattle serial killers, which would be only the second-scariest threat on the streets of Seattle on any given day this month.
The kookier parts of the internet are abuzz right now about a conspiracy to silence doctors, and let's assure you, the most popular conspiracy theory is complete bullshit. Doctors are not successfully treating COVID in secret and being silenced by a world that wants the plague to reign free. Everyone wants this pandemic over (even those making billions off it can make more once it ends). No one stands to benefit from hiding a cure, though some stand to benefit from spreading this precise conspiracy theory.
However, that's not to say there's nothing weird going on with doctors, if we expand our focus to all hospitals worldwide. Have you heard about how Russians have a nasty habit of falling out of high windows when they do something objectionable? And in the rare case where they survive and are lucid, they say that they were targets of attempted murder? It's enough that when any prominent Russians fall out a window, we raise an eyebrow and stroke our chin.
Prominent Russians like Natalya Levedeva, who led an ambulance station near a cosmonaut training facility. A bunch of people there came down with COVID, finally including Levedeva herself. Those close to her said she felt responsible for not doing more to protect those around her. She died after going out a hospital's window. This was definitely not a murder that officials called a suicide, because officials did not call it a suicide. They said it was an accident.
Siberian doctor Yelena Nepomnyashchaya went out her fifth-floor window the next day. Allegedly, this was right after a conference call in which she contradicted officials by insisting her hospital lacked protective equipment and qualified staff. She lasted a week in the ICU before dying. Then we had paramedic Alexander Shulepov, who made a video complaining about the equipment shortage and warning of the dangers of his being forced to work even after testing positive. One colleague who posted the video was charged with spreading "fake news" (penalty: five years in prison). State media posted a follow-up video in which Shulepov retracted his previous statements. He then went out a hospital window and cracked his skull open.
Listen, we don't have enough info for a serious armchair investigation of these incidents. These are stories from Russia -- good luck tracking down even detailed obituaries for these doctors telling us more about who they were beyond these short summaries. But three doctors went out the windows of Russian hospitals in just two weeks. If Kremlin assassins aren't knocking doctors off, well, that still means this pandemic has doctors killing themselves or losing it so hard they fall out the fourth floor, which is ... also not great.
We've talked about a few different chopped-up bodies now. Maybe you'll forgive us then if, this time, we don't go too much into the graphic details of the bodies themselves. Suffice it to say that when a couple of grandparents insisted police search a home for their missing grandkids, police did find bodies. "The manner of the concealment of one of those bodies," said the state's attorney with sinister vagueness, "the state finds to be particularly egregious both in aggravating factor and bears on character."
The kids were J.J. Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17. Their mother was Lori Vallow and the new stepfather was Chad Daybell, and it's possible that both these adults were already murderers before the children's deaths. Chad is Lori's fifth husband. When she married for the fourth time, she and husband Charles embraced the Mormon faith, but then things got weird. She read apocalypse-themed books written by Chad Daybell and started claiming she was a reincarnated god, while Charles was dead and now possessed by a demon named Nick.
In July 2019, Charles died (for real this time). The way Lori tells it, Charles attacked her, and then her brother Alex shot him in her defense. Both kids were in the house at the time and heard the shot; Lori dropped them off at school right after. Police who arrived said Lori and Alex seemed oddly nonchalant about what happened. Charles had previously warned the police about the increasingly unhinged Lori threatening to kill him and had filed for divorce from Lori, who was the beneficiary on his $1 million life insurance policy.
Chad meanwhile had been making a career writing books and recording podcasts about doomsday. He said it was his mission to select 144,000 Americans to save from the end of days, which would occur on July 22, 2020. That figure happens to be almost the exact number of Americans dead thanks to COVID by July 22, 2020, a time that feels like the end of days, but that means nothing, and neither does anything else Chad said. His wife Tammy died in October 2019. Natural causes apparently, but then just two weeks later, he married Lori, who'd bought a wedding ring for Chad two weeks before his wife's death, so now police are planning to give Tammy a new autopsy.
The newlyweds went honeymooning in Hawaii, falsely claiming to have left the kids with a family friend. Before leaving, they returned autistic son J.J.'s service dog, a move the kids' grandparents found inexplicable. Also, they moved the kids' things into a storage unit, but took teenage Tylee's ATM card and phone with them. The grandparents spent months pushing for a search for the kids before police finally arrested Lori and Chad and dug through the property.
As of right now, the charges against the couple include just stuff like "desertion and nonsupport of dependent children" and "destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence," but we're thinking authorities will be able to come up with something more substantial if they try really hard.
After learning of some very grisly deaths today, would you be relieved that we're ending on a relatively clean method of murder, involving injection from a sterilized needle? And would you be happy to learn that the victims were all very old and had already lived full lives? We hope so. Because in terms of plain numbers, the woman we're about to introduce you to is the worst murderer of the lot.
Reta Mays murdered seven people over the course of one year, and tried to kill one more. They were all patients at the Veterans Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and she killed them all using the same method: injecting insulin. Insulin pushes your blood sugar down, so if you get too much of it, you're dead. Some of the patients were diabetic and needed insulin (though not as much as she gave them), and some weren't. So, might this have been just mistakes from an incompetent nurse? Nope! She pleaded guilty this past July to murdering them all. She also carefully exploited a flaw in hospital software that tracked everyone's blood sugar to keep anyone from catching her sooner than they did.
Mays was a vet herself, having served in Iraq in 2003. She became a prison guard after returning home, racking up a few complaints for holding inmates down so other guards could stomp on their heads, and she went on to a few other medical jobs that involved no apparent homicidal activity. Her house burned down, which sounds tragic. But the insurance company thinks she burned it down, which sounds criminal. Her husband was busted for child porn, which was definitely criminal. Then Reta got the VA nursing position, and she seemed to do her job well, when she wasn't murdering people. Her victims were all vets. Two fought in World War II.
Why'd she do it? Her lawyers are expected to go with "PTSD." Cold-blooded, clinical murder is not generally a symptom of PTSD, but that's all they've got for now. One of her lawyers previously defended another nurse, Kristen Gilbert, who murdered four VA patients with injections in the '90s. When you happen to choose such a narrow specialty for your time in the legal profession, you have to grab every criminal like that you can find.
Top Image: Sara Kurfes/Unsplash