Deadly Affection: The Suzanne Parsons Story

With the purity of hindsight, the warning signs are easy to see. John St. Angelo was always going to kill one of his wives. He was a loaded weapon, just waiting to go off, and when he finally did explode, all his rage and fury was directed at the newest ex-Mrs. St. Angelo, Suzanne Parsons. As prosecutor Allenna Bangs would later say, “She wanted to leave that house, and John St. Angelo didn’t want her to. But she did leave that house and didn’t come back. That was the beginning of the end for Suzanne Parsons. You just don’t leave a man like John St. Angelo until he’s ready for you to go.”

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St. Angelo and Suzanne married in Florida in 2010. They had known each other for many years, but the romance was new. It was the third marriage for St. Angelo and the second for Suzanne. At first, everything was golden. Both were extremely successful, professional people and business owners. St. Angelo’s children from his second marriage often lived with them, something that added stress into the relationship. Another source of stress was St. Angelo’s explosive temper.

That temper had gotten him into trouble before. In 1986, while living in Lebanon, New Hampshire, St. Angelo was arrested and charged for assaulting a man and damaging his vehicle. The man’s crime was he had previously dated St. Angelo’s new wife. This wife (whom I have decided not to name because everyone deserves some privacy) was in the vehicle with St. Angelo when he spotted the ex-boyfriend outside a fast food place. The man spotted St. Angelo heading for him and tried to leave, which enraged St. Angelo. He wanted a confrontation so he kicked and damaged the man’s door until he got him to open it. Other people saw this and called the police. The wife insisted she didn’t see anything. Although she never filed a complaint, people who were close to her have said they were alarmed by his controlling ways and suspected things were not good. The couple divorced and St. Angelo soon had a new woman in his life.

I am going to refer to this second wife as “K” rather than her name. K suffered such extreme abuse at the hands of St. Angelo that it greatly exacerbated her mental health issues. She has repeatedly been hospitalized for these issues and deserves some peace. In 1990, K and St. Angelo were both living in Lebanon, NH. Neighbors heard a violent assault and called the police. When the police arrived, they found St. Angelo gone and K with a bleeding face.

She admitted to police that “every day I pray not to get hit,” but at the same time, she cried, refusing to tell police the name of her boyfriend. He was arrested anyway and ordered to stay away from her, but repeatedly violated that. He insisted he “accidentally” struck her face with his watch. He told the police that he just had a bad temper. While he minimized his actions, the officer noted in his report that St. Angelo was “extremely argumentative.” He was ordered to join a counselling program. Not that it helped much. St. Angelo didn’t want to be helped. He just wanted what he wanted.

The happy times for John St. Angelo and Suzanne Parsons wouldn’t last very long. His business floundered and when K had another breakdown, the kids were added into the mix. In an effort to save their new marriage and make a fresh start, they moved to the DFW area in 2010 to be closer to Suzanne’s family.

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Abusers like to keep their victims away from support and their family and this move backfired on St. Angelo. He continued to bleed money. Suzanne thrived in the Fort Worth Real Estate market. She had her realtor’s license for 8 years and her warm, friendly personality made her a favorite at the ReMax on Heritage Trace in Fort Worth. Suzanne loved living near her family, but the happier she became, the angrier and more bitter St. Angelo became. She finally had enough and the couple separated, although she continued seeing her husband. May of 2013, they took a trip to Mexico and that is where things went horribly wrong.

After an evening of drinking, St. Angelo became angry and called Suzanne “a spoiled whore.” He began punching her. “Where are your brothers now, bitch? No one can save you here.” He then strangled her until she lost consciousness. Police were called to restrain him. When Suzanne arrived back in the airport, her daughter Jessica hardly recognized her mother. One eye was purple and swollen shut. She had severe bruising to the sides of her neck and petechial hemorrhaging on her face. Petechiae are tiny blood vessels that burst and are often a classic sign of manual strangulation. The restricted blood flow causes pressure to build until delicate capillaries rupture, resulting in red marks.

Suzanne immediately filed for a protective order in which she described this incident. She also wrote that he “breaks things, screams, and has threatened me.” She filed for divorce. In June, while St. Angelo was moving items from the house, he got into an angry confrontation with Suzanne’s brother. He hit her brother in the head and arm with the claw end of the hammer leaving bloody gashes. St. Angelo claimed it was in self-defense, that her brother had attacked him and he had to defend himself. Two of his children were there to back up his claim, but there were numerous witnesses unrelated to the parties involved who told police that Suzanne’s brother was down on the ground while St. Angelo was standing over him swinging the hammer. St. Angelo was arrested and later plead guilty to the charges.

Unfortunately, as so many abused women do, Suzanne let St. Angelo back into her life. On Christmas day, she went to his house to spend time with him, but when she tried to leave, he slapped her and dragged her back into the house by her hair. He made her promise to return and bring all her jewelry to him before he would let her leave.
At the same time, K was lodging complaints that St. Angelo was calling her non-stop and harassing her with text messages. He was doing the same to Suzanne and it became a problem at the ReMax office. Things were now so bad for St. Angelo financially that he was working as a handy man. Suzanne asked her office manager to find work for him and she did. He was good at construction, but he just couldn’t leave Suzanne alone. He would send threatening emails and texts one minute, then turn around and apologize and send something conciliatory.

December 28th was classic John St. Angelo. He wanted to talk to Suzanne about something, or more likely accuse her of something. He called, texted and emailed, but she was busy at work. Finally he sent a threatening email demanding she respond. She told him who he could contact about work questions and that he would have to wait until the next day to talk about anything personal. She was too busy to deal with him.

Suzanne was also unsettled. Records show that she had called Fort Worth Police Department that morning to report a possible prowler. She thought there was a man lurking outside her house, but when the police responded, they found no evidence of a man and left. Suzanne would later go outside and discover a window screen pried open and a fire that had been set outside her pool. The fire damaged property, but given its proximity to the house, it could have been far worse. The Fire Marshall responded and determined the cause of the fire to be arson. Someone poured gasoline on Suzanne’s patio and lit it on fire. The backyard was securely locked—unless you knew the trick of accessing the door that opened to the alley behind her house. She told police and the arson investigator that she was suspicious of St. Angelo. He had become fixated on the idea that she was dating again and he was furious.

The next day was a string of furious emails with insults and threats. St. Angelo referred to her as a gold-digger, ironic since she was the financially sound one, and a whore. This last was in response to her refusing to meet him for drinks. In his head, if she didn’t want him, she must have someone else. Never mind that they were divorced, and she could see anyone she wanted. He sent her an email promising to be “that thorn in your garden forever” and saying he hoped she would “expire and karma will be your payback.”

The next day, December 30th, co-workers would remember that Suzanne was very nervous. St. Angelo was present at the Remax office on Heritage Trace. He taken a pair of Suzanne’s glasses as “collateral” and was demanding money for her car. She had a check for him.

Suzanne’s co-workers heard her screaming after 4:00. They ran to her door, but it was locked. A co-worker ran for the master key. She opened it to find St. Angelo kneeling over Suzanne, stabbing her with a large butcher knife. Blood was everyone and Suzanne wasn’t moving. The co-worker pushed a chair at him to make him stop what he was doing. “Well, that’s done,” he said.

The two female co-workers fled. They both called 911 and left the building. A third co-worker ran to get help from a male co-worker. They came back to find the door had been re-locked. St. Angelo had left through a window. Suzanne was clearly dead. At trial, they were asked how they knew. Did they check for a pulse? They did not. There wasn’t anywhere to check.

Suzanne had been stabbed 23 times and her throat slit. The majority of the violence was to her head, face, torso and neck. She had one deep wound to her back and defensive wounds to her hands. She was missing a nail. Another nail was torn.

Police were immediately looking for St. Angelo. They went to his house and found the car he had been driving, but his other car was missing. K was called to come over. She brought St. Angelo’s sons who were able to tell police that guns were missing. K was so distraught, she had to be hospitalized. St. Angelo was nowhere to be found.

New Year’s Eve at around 11:00 a.m., a call came into Fort Worth 911. On the line was a woman who has remained unnamed in news reports. She told police that she had met St. Angelo a few months before when he had done some work on her house and that they had become friendly. He showed her a knife and said he had killed his ex-wife. According to her, he had been there all night. She told the 911 operator that they had been “praying” but that he was armed and was suicidal. Later, she would admit that he had spent the night alternately praying and terrorizing her.

John St. Angelo Arrested
Swat vehicle during stand off, Photo credit: Waco News Tribune

 

Police coordinated with SWAT. A five hour stand off followed. St. Angelo shot at officers from both the front and rear of the house. Negotiators tried to talk him out, but he refused. Officers finally shot tear gas in through the windows. They rushed the house as St. Angelo shot himself in the face. He managed to knock out one of his teeth. That was all. In the bathroom where he had barricaded himself, they found the tooth, the bloody knife, and a meth pipe. If St. Angelo was on methamphetamine, that might explain his loss of control. He certainly seemed like a man on a downward spiral. They also found the check Suzanne had promised him for the car. Incredibly, around everything else that happened, he had remembered to take the check with him.

book in

At the hospital, officers briefly spoke to St. Angelo. He told them “I loved that woman to death.” He made another claim, one that his defense attorney would offer up as a legal justification at trial.

He claimed to have killed Suzanne in self-defense. He told a SWAT negotiator that Suzanne came at him with a knife, so he took it away and stabbed her “15 times” in self-defense.

At trial, he testified that all their problems were Suzanne’s fault. It was her drinking that caused problems. It was her relationship with his children that caused problems. It was her spending that caused problems. Somehow, she became the violent one. Somehow, she caused his million-dollar business to fail. He said that she pulled out the knife and threatened to kill herself. He initially took the knife away from her to save her life, but she attacked him and he was forced to stab her to save himself. He said he only recalled stabbing her three times. Assistant District Attorney Allenna Bangs played the recording of his conversation with SWAT negotiators in which he admitted to 15 stab wounds, still a far cry from the actual 23, but he claimed not to recall saying that. He couldn’t recall slitting her throat either.

St. Angelo claimed that Suzanne treated him differently when he was a wealthy man, but had little use for him after his business failed.

The defense called St. Angelo’s son to try and bolster claims about what a great guy his dad was. Prosecutors didn’t cross-examine the child much. There wasn’t any point. St. Angelo’s family has suffered enough. St. Angelo tried to bring K around to his side as a witness. He called her until he was blocked from calling her number and then wrote her letters. He apologized for yelling at her, but told her God wanted her to forgive him and help him. She testified for the prosecution, although she minimized the abuse.

The jury rejected his claims and sentenced St. Angelo to life in prison. There was little to celebrate. Suzanne’s family was relieved, but that wouldn’t bring her back. That wouldn’t undo the years of harm to K or the children. As prosecutor Bangs said, “John St. Angelo terrorized the women in his life for 30 years and it culminated in Suzanne Parson’s death.”

Source Notes:

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article16527941.html
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article16221680.html
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article16341110.html

https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/St-Angelo-Folo-SG-010114_Dallas-Fort-Worth-238398521.html
https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2015/03/26/fort-worth-man-found-guilty-of-killing-ex-wife-after-jury-rejects-his-claims-of-self-defense

Fort Worth Man On Trial For Ex-Wife’s Murder
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/crime/article3850894.html
https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/second-court-of-appeals/2016/02-15-00107-cr.html
https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/SWAT-Surrounds-Fort-Worth-Home-on-Tip-of-Realtors-Killer-238273931.html

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/crime/article16384868.html

 

 

 

When Evil Lives Next Door: The Bathtub Killer

He looks harmless enough. Photos show a man with an earnest,  slightly nerdy face. He wasn’t an imposing figure, standing a mere 5 foot 9 with a slender build. He liked dogs, cooking, and fishing. He had no criminal record and held down a job. In the mid-1990’s he was working office jobs and living in Arlington, but he had done warehouse jobs and sometimes he drove a forklift. He was the sort of man you might notice, or you might not. There was nothing that stood out about him. But in 1996 and again in 1999, he caused waves of panic for women in the DFW area, because Dale Devon Scheanette was a serial rapist and a brutal killer.

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Christine Vu

25 year-old school teacher Christine Vu lived with her Fiancé, Thang Khuu at the Peartree Apartments in Arlington, Texas. On Tuesday,  September 17, 1996, Khuu got off work early and came home. He was surprised to find their apartment locked and dead-bolted from the inside. Thinking Christine might be in the bathroom, he went and smoked a cigarette and then came back, only to find the door still locked. He went to a payphone and called but there was no answer. He came back to try one more time, but found the door unlocked.

 

 

 

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Vu’s bathroom

He went inside where he discovered a scene from his worst nightmares. Christine was naked, face down in the bathtub. Her hands and feet were bound with duct tape, with a strip of the tape connecting them down her back, as if she had been “hog-tied” with duct tape. Detective Ed Featherstone was assigned the case. Initially he was very suspicious of Khuu. After all, we know it’s usually someone close to the victim. Khuu was extremely cooperative and DNA from semen recovered from Vu’s body excluded him as the rapist and killer. In addition, police discovered a fingerprint off the deadbolt lock on the front door. Heartbreakingly, Thang Khuu was most likely sitting outside smoking a cigarette while his fiancée was being killed.

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Christine Vu’s door

Christine had been sexually assaulted, strangled, and drowned. The print on her door didn’t match anyone who had a reason to be in Christine’s apartment leading police to conclude that they might have that rarity, a stranger killing on their hands. Within a few months, this would be confirmed.

 

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Wendie Prescott

Wendie Prescott also lived at the Peartree apartments while she saved her money to go to beauty school. Wendie was expected at a Christmas Eve shopping trip. Her family became concerned when she didn’t appear and didn’t answer repeated calls so her aunt and uncle went over to check on her. She was left exactly like Christine: naked, bound by duct tape, floating in her bathtub. Detective Tommy Lenoir was called to the scene but it didn’t take him more than a minute to know what he was seeing, the genesis of a serial killer. He immediately called Featherstone to tell him they had another one.

 

 

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Prescott bathroom

 

 

Not only were the two women killed in an identical way, but the apartments had identical floorplans and décor. Then there was another piece of evidence that confirmed it if there was any doubt. Once again, the killer left behind a print, this time in the dust on a TV stand. He also left behind DNA that would match back to Vu’s rapist and killer. Police were hopeful that the prints or DNA would lead to a suspect. Surely the killer was in the system. This couldn’t be a first crime.

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Thumbprint left on Prescott’s TV Stand

Christmas morning at the Peartree apartments was chaos. Word spread rapidly and all the single women were breaking their leases and moving out. Family members had descended, loading up cars with possessions. It made getting statements or canvassing potential witnesses extremely difficult. The exodus also made it easy for the killer to move out without attracting attention.

To the police’s consternation, the DNA and prints led nowhere. The ran the prints through AFIS, the American Fingerprint Identification System and were surprised to get no hits. For months, police pursued promising suspects, obtaining DNA samples that they hoped would lead to a resolution, but again and again, they got no match. They did clear over 200 suspects. They held their breath, wondering when he would strike again, but nothing. Gradually, they began to breathe again. What had happened to him? Perhaps he moved away. Perhaps he had died. Whatever the reason, he seemed to be gone.

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AKA Sorority House, UTA

 

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Chima Benson

February 23, 1999, 22 year old Chima Benson was a senior at UTA. On that night, she went to sleep in the AKA sorority house. She awoke with a man on top of her. He put a gun to her head and he told her, “Do what I say, and I won’t kill you.” He raped her orally. Chima wasn’t the sort to give up easily and she bit him, hard enough that he would forever carry a scar. Unfortunately, this enraged him and he beat her so severely she would need two facial surgeries to repair the damage. He raped her and left her naked, incapacitated and bloody on the floor of her bedroom. Police got a DNA sample from the semen and one more clue. He wasn’t wearing a mask. Chima got a good look at his face. She has been outspoken about her ordeal, even discussing it while she was on the Big Brother TV show. She now works as a TV host.

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Survivor Chima Benson’s face

Detective Lenoir soon received a tip. He heard from Wendie Prescott’s best friend and the last person to see her alive that until recently, she had lived in the AKA Sorority house, in the very same room that was now Chima Benson’s. “That should have been me,” she said. She believed the killer might be her ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. The tie between Peartree and the AKA house couldn’t be ignored. When the crime lab compared the DNA of Chima’s attacker with that of the Bathtub Killer, it was a match. He was back.

They were hopeful when comparing it to the boyfriend that the case would finally be solved, but he was excluded. The killer was still at large. But at least they now had a physical description of the man, as well has his fresh injury. They went back and began checking the DNA against other sexual assaults. They got another hit, a sexual assault from Grand Prairie. Then another.  It’s unusual for a killer to de-escalate from murder to rape instead of the reverse, but the Bathtub Killer had done just that. Forensics would tie him five rapes following the two murders. The killer had morphed into a serial rapist.

Victims included Adrienne Fields, who has also been outspoken as a minister for other victims. In the Source Notes, I’ve included a link to an interview with her.

Adrienne_Fields
Adrienne Fields

Adrienne had seen the story of the murders in 1996. She had a feeling of doom, so strong that she moved out of Arlington to Grand Prairie. Although she couldn’t explain it, she was sure that man on the news would come after her. She was right.  October 26, 1999, she woke up in the night to the sound of someone running. She sat up in time to see a man in a mask rushing at her. For two hours he sexually assaulted her.

During the ordeal that followed, he told her that the “The Devil kept making him do it.” and also “You’re not like the others.” She knew then that this was a serial rapist. He knew her name and other information, making it clear he had been stalking her. When he was done, he simply walked away. DNA testing confirmed that the Bathtub Killer had indeed attacked her. The fear would hold her prisoner. At night she roamed her house, checking locks on the doors and windows.  She didn’t sleep soundly until a year later when police would call her to say they had the rapist in custody.

As so often happens, it was an advance in science that dropped the final puzzle piece into place. The FBI had a new AFIS system: I-AFIS.  This system could rotate prints and locate points of comparison where none had been matched before. The best latent print was the dust print from Wendie Prescott’s TV Stand, so Sgt. Gary Kohn submitted that print. Two weeks later, he had a result, and a name: Dale Devon Scheanette. Scheanette had been recently arrested on a burglary charge. Crime Scene Officer Joel Stevenson examined the prints and confirmed they were a match. But what about the print from Christine Vu’s door? He  compared those, and again: match. Excited, the two men took the information to the detectives. They had a suspect.

Detective Lenoir quickly checked the name against the case book. Dale Scheanette had lived in Peartree Apartments during the murders. Nothing had ever stood out about him and at the time he had no criminal history. He hadn’t voluntarily donated DNA. Police quickly located Scheanette still living in Arlington. He denied ever having been in the victims’ apartments, but he couldn’t answer why his print would be in both locations. Once again, he refused to voluntarily give a DNA sample or to allow inspection of his penis for damage. But now police had the evidence needed for a Search Warrant to compel him. They found the scar to his penis and DNA matched. He was charged, indicted, and brought to trial in 2003.

There wasn’t much Scheanette’s defense team could do. J.R. Molina, lead attorney for his defense team summed it up saying, “We put on our defense that the evidence was insufficient, but we were fighting that science … fingerprints in the apartment, and they had DNA. That’s some pretty strong stuff.”

January 8th, 2003, sentence was pronounced on Dale Devon Scheanette. The rape victims all testified against him at the punishment phase. They told the jurors similar stories of rape, beatings and sodomy. They were threatened should they ever come forward. After what they suffered and the threats, it’s important to remember that these are only the known victims. It’s entirely credible that others suffered at this man’s hands, but were too afraid to report the crime.  The women formed tight bonds during that trial. They supported one another through the grueling process and hugged and cried when the jury sentenced Scheanette to death by lethal injection.

Scheanette never spoke about his crimes. Not to detectives, not to reporters. He never admitted guilt, so we will never know what was going on in his head.  Why did he de-escalate? How did he choose his victims? He remained a cipher.

He filed numerous appeals, all based on sufficiency of evidence and procedural matters. He didn’t assert actual innocence, but he didn’t offer an alternative explanation either. As his own attorney noted, there wasn’t much to say about the strong forensic evidence. He asked for pen pals on an anti-death penalty site. Again, he complained about capital punishment being wrong and how the system was flawed. The irony is thick there.

After he had exhausted the legal process, his sister wrote appeals on his behalf, but his time ran out on February 10, 2009. Members of Wendie Prescott’s family chose to attend. Christine Vu’s family did not. Scheanette ignored them all.  According to ClarkProsecutor.org, his last words were not a statement of love for his family or plea for forgiveness. “My only statement is that no cases ever tried have been error-free. Those are my words. No cases are error-free.”

I have mentioned my ambivalence to the death penalty before, but I think I can speak for women everywhere when I say I feel safer without that man in the world. We all fear the monster in the night, but it is hard to feel safe when you see him and realize that anyone could be a monster inside. You can’t tell by the face he wears. He could live anywhere. Even next door.

SOURCE NOTES;

From <https://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/37367103.html&gt;

19 years later, ‘bathtub killer’ survivor speaks – YouTube

https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Arlington-Bathtub-Killer-To-Be-Executed-Tuesday-Night.html

https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Bathtub-Killer-Executed.html

https://mylifeofcrime.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/monsters-among-us-d-scheanette/

http://murderpedia.org/male.S/s1/scheanette-dale-devon.htm

http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/scheanette1146.htm

Cold Case Files: Déjà vu, Season 4, Ep 15,

Scheanette v. State, 144 S.W.3d 503 (Tex.Crim.App.,2004) (Direct Appeal).
Scheanette v. Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2005 WL 3147874 (N.D.Tex. 2005) (Pro Se).
Scheanette v. Quarterman, 482 F.3d 815 (5th Cir. 2007) (Habeas).