I love watching true crime shows…as long as they are about murder…, and I watch them every night. (Since I write suspense, thriller, and mystery, it’s not a waste of time…it’s research, right? 🙂 Each week, I blog about some of the recent episodes I’ve seen and I’d love to know your thoughts. (this is a 20/20 episode, rather than an Investigation Discovery episode)
One of my short stories, Blood and Breakfast, is about a crime junkie who gets a little closer to murder than she anticipated. You can buy the Kindle version here for only $1.99 Blood and Breakfast – It’s also part of a print book with 6 other scary stories: A Collection of Friday the 13th Stories…
American Monster, Season 5, Episode 7, “Have you Seen this Woman?”
Calera, Oklahoma. January 10, 2009
I’m always surprised and intrigued when I begin watching an ID show and learn the murder took place in Oklahoma, as happened with this episode of American Monster. I’ll have to say, the first half of the show was a bit slow. As American Monster often does, much of the episode focused on the family’s past and showed several home videos before it got to the murders.
Vivian Pierce grew up in a home where her father, when drinking, was abusive to her mother. She met and married Kevin and they had two children together. Their marriage didn’t work out, and they divorced. Vivian began seeing Damon Butler, who had two children of his own. They moved in together and all seemed to be going well. Vivian’s family liked Damon and was glad Vivian had found someone who treated her so well. (Damon appeared in several of the home videos.) One night in January, Vivian went out with her friends. She told her best friend that she and Damon were having trouble and she was planning to leave him and getting back with her husband.
Vivian’s sister, Kimberly and her husband Dustin kept Vivian’s kids overnight while she went out. When Vivian failed to pick the kids up the next morning, they tried to reach her but couldn’t. They called Rebecca, Vivian’s mother, and asked her to check on Vivian. Rebecca arrived at the house and Damon told her that Vivian and he had argued and she took off walking. The two of them got into Damon’s truck and went looking for Vivian.
Later that day, the employees of the steakhouse where Vivian worked were concerned because she hadn’t shown up for her shift. They called her friend, who went to Vivian’s house to check on her. There, they found a horrific sight. Vivian was in the bathtub with her throat cut. In another room was another body, but they didn’t know who it was.
Police arrived and were working the scene when Kimberly and Dustin showed up. Dustin was asked to identify the victims. He ID’d the second body as that of his mother-in-law, Rebecca Pierce. Both women had been stabbed and severely beaten. A baseball bat and knife were found at the scene. Vivian’s neck wound was so deep, she was nearly decapitated.
The Chief of Police, Don Hyde, called in the OSBI to help with the case. Their first priority was to find Damon. They didn’t know if he was a suspect or another victim. The next day, they received a report of a man walking along the side of the road. Chief Hyde approached him and discovered it was Damon. He took him into custody. On the show, the police chief was interviewed. He said he was actually afraid while he was driving Butler to the station. I found that a little odd, that a police chief would be frightened of a hand-cuffed suspect.
Photos were found at the scene that showed Damon dressed in drag. He’d shaved his goatee and put on make up and women’s jewelry. The photos were strange and creepy. At first, Damon claimed that he didn’t kill the women. He claimed that two men broke in and murdered them, making him watch, but he was able to escape. Later, Damon called and said he wanted to confess. He killed Vivian because she was leaving him. Then, after he and Rebecca had gone looking for Vivian and Rebecca returned to the house with him, he attacked and murdered her, most likely afraid that she would find Vivian.
He worked out a plea deal to avoid the death penalty and was given two consecutive life sentences. Vivian’s sister, Kimberly, asked the DA if she could speak to Damon. He agreed to talk with her. She had two questions for him, one – Did their mother see Vivian? He told her that she had not, which brought a measure of comfort. Then she asked him why he did it. He told her that he didn’t want to lose Vivian. I’m always flabbergasted at the mindset of killers. He didn’t want to lose her so he savagely murdered her??
Ironically and sadly, in 2015, Kimberly’s sister Amanda lost her life to domestic violence. Her death was ruled a suicide, but Kimberly and others are certain she was murdered by her abusive boyfriend at the time, an illegal immigrant who disappeared while she was still on life support. “Amanda that night called a friend and said he’s going to kill me if I’m not gone. She had her bags packed; she had a ride,” Mullens said.
Their father died in 2000 and their brother in 2007. What a series of tragedies poor Kimberly has had to endure.
American Monster, Season 3, Episode 7, “The Last Valentine”
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – February 14, 2001
On Valentine’s Day in 2001, a frantic 911 call came in to the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Affluent OKC gynecologist, John Hamilton, was calling to report that he’d found his wife, Susan, dead on the bathroom floor:
John Hamilton: Please, please, send police, please send an ambulance, please.
Operator: What’s the problem?
John Hamilton: My wife’s, my wife, my wife I think my wife is dead. Please, please.
Operator: Sir, sir.
John Hamilton: Please, please.
He told the operator he was trying CPR.
John Hamilton: Listen, I’m a doctor, I’ve been trying CPR. Please send somebody quick.
EMSA: OK. Is she not breathing?
John Hamilton: No, she’s not breathing, I don’t get a pulse. Please, hurry.
EMSA: OK, you’re doing CPR?
John Hamilton: Yes, I’m trying. Yeah, I’m going to hang up so I can continue. Please.
EMSA: Alright. We’ll be right there.
John Hamilton: OK.
John and Susan married in 1987 and everyone who knew them felt they were a perfectly happy couple. Susan worked for Dr. Hamilton a few days a week, running his clinic. Seemingly the only dark cloud over their happiness was the conflict concerning the abortions Dr. Hamilton performed. Pro-Life advocates held several protests at his clinic and the couple received numerous threats.
February 14th, 2001, would have been their fifteenth Valentine’s Day together. But, it was also the day Dr. Hamilton returned home from his second surgery of the morning to find his wife dead—lying in a pool of blood. She’d been bludgeoned and strangled.
Investigators explored various theories—
~Robbery – The couple was wealthy and would certainly draw the attention of robbers.
~ Revenge for the abortions the doctor performed – Just the week before Susan was murdered, a wanted poster had been left for Dr. Hamilton that read, “A reward in heaven will be bestowed on anyone contributing to bringing this murderer to justice.” And both John and Susan had received threatening phone calls that week.
~ And, of course, the spouse – The morning of the murder, John went home after an early morning surgery to exchange cards with his wife. The hospital paged him at 9 a.m. to get back for another surgery. By 9:30, he was scrubbing up for the operation — a complicated removal of a tumor. The procedure came off without a hitch, and later none of the other doctors reported anything at all unusual in his behavior.
By 10:45, he was on his way home again, which is when he says he discovered Susan in a pool of blood. The timeline was extremely tight for the doctor to even be considered as a suspect. He’d have to have committed the violent murder in that narrow window between his two surgeries. His former medical partner, for one, doesn’t think that was possible. She didn’t believe he could do a surgery, go commit a violent crime, then come back and do another surgery, so calmly and without a hitch.
But investigators weren’t so sure, especially after finding a few clues that indicated the doctor might have been the killer. A card from his wife was found inside his Jaguar that read: “Obviously, I bought this before last Monday, so I guess now it doesn’t seem as appropriate. I do still love you though. Have a good day. Susan”
As is turns out, Susan suspected John of having an affair with a stripper—who was one of his patients–after finding numerous calls he’d made to the woman. But John explained to his wife that the woman had been having severe issues and had threatened suicide. He was only trying to help her.
In addition to the not so romantic card, investigators were suspicious of John because there were no bloody footprints leading away from the crime scene, and Susan’s blood and tissue were found in his Jaguar—which he explained away by saying he’d gotten in the car to move it while waiting on the ambulance after realizing they would need the parking space. However, his hands were shaking too badly to start the car.
The doctor’s strange behavior didn’t help ease their suspicions. Hamilton had told the 911 operator he was performing CPR. But when the first responder arrived on the scene, he thought there was something odd about the way the doctor was performing chest compressions. He had one hand on her chest and one hand on her abdomen, rather than interlocking his hands with the palm in the center of the chest. There were no signs that the doctor had attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
When investigators placed John in the back of a police cruiser, his behavior became more bizarre. He scraped his knuckles on the mesh screen in the police car and banged his head into it. Police took him to the station where they confiscated his clothing for evidence and placed him in an interview room. They kept him there for hours and taped him on the surveillance camera. Hamilton seemed to be checking out his shoulder area. Police wondered if he was checking for injuries and if his actions in the cruiser were so he’d have an excuse for any abrasions they might find. On the show, they played a video of Dr. Hamilton in the interview room. He was definitely acting strange.
And as the detectives looked more closely into the doctor’s timeline that morning, they saw a hole — not a big one but maybe enough time to kill and get back. They’d learned that second surgery, originally scheduled for 9 am, hadn’t actually gotten underway until 9:40 because Hamilton was late. The surgical team was about to get started when they realized the doctor was not there. They had the patient under anesthesia, but no doctor, which is pretty much unheard of.
That same afternoon, police arrested Doctor Hamilton for his wife’s murder, and he was thrown in jail immediately and denied bail. As they worked to build their case against him, the prosecution was amazed at the support the doctor had. A crowd lined up to attend the proceedings — loyal patients, former employees, and fellow physicians — all standing behind the doctor.
But the prosecution contended he was guilty. The case they presented was that the doctor knew Susan was considering divorce. They argued and he snapped. He choked her and grabbed a nearby object and beat her to death. He now had to cover up his frenzy by going back to perform his second surgery as though nothing had happened. He had to have left the house by 9:20 to make it back to the hospital by 9:30, when he was seen scrubbing up for surgery. Susan, as it turns out, should also have left by 9:20, because she had a 9:30 meeting at a friend’s house ten minutes away. However, it appears she never had much of a chance to get ready — when she was discovered, she was still undressed, her hair still wet. Which means if he didn’t do it, whoever did had to have come in immediately upon his departure.
Nothing had been stolen, but a friend of Susan’s found expensive jewelry hidden in Susan’s underwear drawer, leading the prosecution to believe John had hidden it there to make her attack look like a robbery. Maybe he planned to go back and remove it, but he was arrested before he could do that.
The final nail in his coffin, though, was the blood spatter. Defense attorneys called a blood stain expert to testify that most of the spatter on John’s clothes and shoes could be explained by his attempts to perform CPR. Before he left the stand, prosecutor Wes Lane asked if there was any information about the spatter they were missing. After a brief hesitation, he stated: In my examination, I found additional blood that was not talked about anywhere, on the inside of the right cuff.
He went on to say that the only way he could see that it could have gotten there was when he was beating her with that blunt instrument that was driving the blood up inside his shirt. And this was a witness the defense had called—and paid.
Dr. Hamilton was sentenced to, and is serving, a life sentence without the possibility of parole. As a side note, he was also ordered to pay $11,104 for the cost of his stay in the Oklahoma County jail. It was the first such order in Oklahoma County. Talk about adding insult to injury. 😊
While I am usually one to think everyone is guilty, and it certainly looks as though this guy is guilty, one question nags at me. Logistically, I don’t understand how the doctor had on bloody clothes at the time he called 911 and emergency personnel and police arrived. Apparently the morning played out something like this…
7:00 a.m. – Dr. Hamilton leaves the house to head to the hospital where he performs a surgery. He is, I assume, wearing street clothes although he changes into scrubs at the hospital.
Appx 8:40 a.m.– In those same clothes, Dr. Hamilton returns home to exchange cards with his wife (he lives very close to the hospital) and it is then that he kills her. He attempts to clean up the mess. I would assume he changed out of bloody clothes. At around 9:20, he heads to the hospital to perform another surgery, wearing fresh clothes. Because, I am going to guess that he doesn’t arrive at the hospital for his next surgery wearing blood-soaked clothes, so yes, he changed. We’ll call the first outfit of the day, Outfit 1, which he was wearing when he killed his wife. The clothes he changed into will be called Outfit 2.
Appx 10:45 – Dr. Hamilton returns home wearing Outfit 2. He finds his wife on the floor, which he knew she would be because he killed her there. He performs CPR, so that it looks like he tried to revive her. He calls 911. He’s still wearing Outfit 2. Emergency personnel arrive, she’s dead. He’s covered in blood, in Outfit 2, because of trying to perform CPR.
Police investigate, they take Outfit 2 and it ends up being the blood evidence that hangs him, because of the spatter found inside his sleeve, of what I assume is Outfit 2. If all he did in Outfit 2 was pretend to do CPR, how did it get the spatter that eventually convicted him? I can understand that they would find that in Outfit 1, his ‘killing clothes’ -which I assume were never found – I find it unlikely that, at some point, he would change back into Outfit 1 after returning home in Outfit 2.
Am I making sense? What am I missing?
[I love true crime shows, and I watch them every night. (Since I write suspense, thriller, and mystery, it’s not a waste of time…it’s research, right? 🙂 ) I love Investigation Discovery and watch many of the various shows, although some are a little too cheesy. However, there are plenty of shows that are done well enough to feed my fascination with murder. Each week, I’ll blog about some of the recent episodes I’ve seen and I’d love to know your thoughts.]