Episode 27: These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Actually, it’s my most favorite thing, my most favorite building in Philadelphia: City Hall.

This is my self-indulgent episode, the 6 month special episode for me, because it’s the story of the largest municipal building in the country and what was destined to be the largest building in the world when it was constructed, but we never quite got there.

City Hall cost $25m to build, over $7b in today’s economy.  And it would have cost just as much to tear it down, which is exactly what the city wanted to do over 50 years ago because they thought it was a eyesore.  To me, it’s nothing short of magnificent, rich with history and turmoil, and seedy stories like you’d never believe.

I love this building so much, and it’s history, I made it my logo.  That’s dedication (some would say obsession but I tell those people to STFU!)

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City Hall under construction

The artist and his muse; Calder and the head of William Penn

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Calder’s statue of William Penn as it stood in the courtyard before it’s final resting place atop the clock tower

Epsode 26: Heidnik’s House of Horrors

I cannot believe I’ve been doing this for 6 months already, and at the same time I cannot believe it’s only been 6 months.When I launched TwistedPhilly I wanted to share stories that meant something to me, stories that I loved or stories that scared me, stories that made me consider another perspective, sometimes stories that make me mad as hell or even make me cry, but all of them about this city and state, many of them about the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection.  Yes, I’m getting my intro updated to reflect that too, it’s just not ready yet.

This is a tale listeners have been requesting since day one.  It has history, it has true crime, it has some seriously dark twisted shit and there’s even some movie trivia in here too.  There’s even a little personal anecdote in here that’s twisted in it’s own right. It’s a story I wanted to wait to tell until I had a number of episodes under my belt because I didn’t want to start with a big boy out of the gate – This my friends is the story of Gary Heidnik. Gary was one of the most notorious serial rapists, serial torturers and murderers in the United States in the late 80s and certainly he was the boogey man here in Philadelphia.  Gary was eventually caught and arrested in 1987, and there is a mother load of horrific events leading up to his capture.  On March 24, 1987, Philadelphia police received a call from a hysterical woman telling a wild, unbelievable story.  Her name was Josephina Rivera.  She claimed she’d been held hostage for over four months in a dirty house in North Philadelphia, chained in a pit with other women, at least two of whom were dead.  They’d been shackled, beaten, raped every day, tortured and electrocuted.  Gary Heidnik’s house of horrors began with Josephina Rivera.  And it ended with Josephina Rivera. 

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Episode 25: The Good Doctor – Part 2

(If you haven’t listened to part one, go back and listen to that first.)

The good doctor is the story of Doctor Lois Farquharson. Lois was a psychiatrist at Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry in 1971 when her girlfriend, Gloria Burnette, murdered their neighbor, Dr. Leon Weingrad who was also a colleague of Lois’ at the hospital.

Weingrad made life difficult for Lois and Gloria, in part because of his disdain for their relationship.  Whether they were at home or at work, Weingrad spread his negativity about Lois and Gloria, including complaining to their superiors at Byberry about their romantic relationship and Lois Farquharson’s abilities as a psychiatrist.

Although Gloria Burnette is the one who pulled the trigger, not once but three times, killing Leon Weingrad in the parking lot of their Society Hill Towers apartment complex, Lois is the one who was sentenced to life.  Lynne Abraham, who was an assistant district attorney at the time, argued that Lois was the mastermind behind the murder scheme, and treated Gloria like a puppet.  And although Gloria initially told police Lois had nothing to do with the murders, she testified against Lois in exchange for a lighter sentence, then recanted her testimony admitting she made it up for leniency.  And it didn’t matter.

Lois Farquharson was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Not conspiracy to commit murder, man slaughter, or even second degree murder.  Murder in the first degree.  And in Pennsylvania a life sentence means there is no possibility for parole.  In 2016 Lois Farquharson was the oldest living female inmate serving a life sentence, until she passed away in early January, 2017, at the age of 91.

Through my research about Lois Farquharson’s case I learned about organizations in Pennsylvania that promote education and awareness about rehabilitation and reconstruction within our prisons, and advocate for improved qualities of life for inmates serving life sentences.

This is what I love most about hosting this show – unexplored territory.  I’d never head of Reconstruction, Inc., or the Fight for Lifer’s before researching Lois Farquharson’s case.  I’d seen the video of the lady lifers, it was something I watched when I was perusing other Ted Ex videos and it’s a beautiful, powerful song, but I hadn’t given it much more thought than that.

Like the story about Sylvia Seegirst, my thoughts and opinions become open to other options.  I’m not trying to change your mind about the prison system in Pennsylvania, or any other state for that matter.  I’m not trying to get you to reconsider how you feel about inmates serving life in prison.  I’ve never lost someone to gun violence, murder, or at the hands of someone else.  So it’s easy for me in a way to be open minded to perspectives I hadn’t considered.   I’m not suggesting every inmate serving a life sentence in our country, and especially Pennsylvania, deserves compassionate release, or special treatment, or a pardon.  I am suggesting there may be more to the stories we see in the headlines – not every story, not every inmate, but some, even if it’s just one.  And in the case of this story, it was one person, Lois Farquharson – who lead me to learn more.   For more information about the organizations I share in this episode, please click the links below:  http://www.reconstructioninc.org/    

http://www.reconstructioninc.org/programs/fight-for-lifers/

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Episode 24: The Good Doctor – Part 1

In some ways Philadelphia in 1971 wasn’t all that different from Philadelphia today. Well, the Flyers were totally different in the 70s than they are today. You could find kids playing kickball in the streets, streets littered with trash and abandoned cars.  Depending on which neighborhood you visit, those streets don’t look much different in 2017.

Back in the 70s state hospitals were still very much in business.  And in Philadelphia, one of the largest employers in the city was the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, or just Byberry as the locals called it.

Dr. Lois Farquharson was a psychiatrist working at Byberry. She and her partner, Gloria Burnette, had recently moved to Philadelphia from New Jersey and shortly after Lois took up residency as a doctor at Byberry she got Gloria a job there as an aide.  Although Philadelphia celebrated our first Pride Parade in the summer of 1972, the culture of the city wasn’t entirely accepting of LGBTQ.  Lois and Gloria were subjected to scrutiny, even harassment, especially by a colleague, Dr. Leon Weingrad.  Weingrad was also their neighbor at the upscale Society Hill Towers.

One hot summer day in August, 1971, Gloria had enough.  She followed Dr. Weingrad through the parking lot of their apartment complex and shot him three times at close range.  But it was Lois who did the time; Lois who wasn’t at the scene, Lois whom Gloria insisted was innocent of this crime.  Gloria pulled the trigger, but Lois was sentenced to life in prison.

Lois Farquharson was 48 years old when she entered Muncy Correctional Institute for Women back in 1973.  And she was 91 when she passed away in January 2017, denied appeals and denied pardons, even as recently as 2014 when she was88 years old.

Why was this woman sentenced to life in prison when someone else planned the murder and pulled the trigger?  In part one we discuss the relationship between Gloria, Lois and Leon, the trials and Lois’ time at Muncy.  Next week in part two we talk with someone form the Fight for Lifers group, an organization associated with Reconstruction, Inc., dedicated to improving the quality of life for inmates serving life sentences in Pennsylvania.

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Thanks to Emmy Cerra for the music in this episode.  You can find out more about Emmy on her website – emmycerra.com – and download her music on iTunes.

In Memory of Lois Farquharson, and in tribute to the Lady Lifers.

Bonus Episode: Toto, I Have a Feeling We’re Not in TwistedPhilly Anymore

As you may have guessed from the episode title, Toto I I have a feeling we’re not in TwistedPhilly anymore, we aren’t.

Well, technically we are, or at least I am, but last weekend I was not.  I was in upstate New York at the Snowtown Film Festival.  It was a much needed long weekend filed with creativity and making new friends, in beautiful, and freaking cold, Watertown New York.  I went to the festival for a couple of reasons.  I wanted to see Captain Fantastic on a big screen, I wanted to see Captain Fantastic on a big screen, and not only did I get to see this beautiful, powerful quirky film that makes you think and question your logic and view of society as a parent and as a human being, but I was in the same room as Viggo Mortensen. 

I was also super psyched to spend the weekend watching independent short films by unique, talented writers and directors, actors.   One of the films that caught my attention when I saw the lineup was Garrow.  It’s a short film, it’s chapter one of what will eventually become a longer film, about Robert Garrow, a serial rapist and murderer from upstate New York.  Granted, Robert Garrow isn’t from Philadelphia, or Pennsylvania but TwistedPhilly was on the road, and there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to talk with the production company of Garrow if I could.

I spent close to an hour with Lori Kelly, Garrow writer and director, also the writer, director and producer of the film Mineville about New York Iron Ore miners, and writer of Silent but Deadly, a dark horror comedy.  With Lori was the producer Joel Plue, who is also an actor, a writer, partnered with Lori on the films I mentioned, and is Lori’s son.  Plus I got to meet two cast members, Angus Andrews who portrays young Robert Garrow and Richard Waddingham, as Garrow’s father.  Please join me for a different kind of TwistedPhilly tale, one that take place out of state filled with beautiful scenery, creative new friends and a serial killer twisted enough to find a home in this podcast  You can find out more about Garrow, the film, on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/garrowfilm/ and you can support the film by visiting the Go Fund Me site and making a contribution at https://www.gofundme.com/garrow.  And you can watch Chapter 1 on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU92bqUhjWc

 

Episode 23: Me, Myself and Irene

This week I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Philly author and public relations expert Irene Levy Baker, author of 100 Things To Do In Philly Before You Die.  And this is a very family friendly episode; nothing spooky, creepy or macabre, or too grown up for little one’s ears.  Ok well, we do talk about one ghost story……

This book is an absolute gem, filled with the best of the best restaurants, museums, concert halls, everything that’s wonderful about the city of Brotherly Love.  Leveraging her experience providing tours for travel writers, whom are not easily impressed, Irene presents the gems of our city – some hidden, and some well known but not the way Irene knows them – creating a guide book that’s great for visitors,  and equally as wonderful for Philly natives.

Yours truly found a few spots which not only had I never visited, I never even knew existed.  Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame.  Irene Levy Baker is funny and smart, curious and charming and I know you’ll love her as much as I do.

Irene is offering a special bonus for TwistedPhilly listeners.  When you order her book on her website – http://www.100thingstodoinphiladelphia.com/ – Irene will autograph your copy before mailing.  Thank you for such a great opportunity for our listeners!

You can also follow Irene on Twitter @100Philly

Special thanks to Emmy Cerra for the music in this episode.  You can find out more about Emmy at www.emmycerra.com and download her music on iTunes.

And that dessert over which we went gaga?  Its the  Salted Caramel Budino at Barbuzzo.   http://www.barbuzzo.com/

 

Episode 22: Indigo Locks and the Three Heads

Yeah, that’s a strange, convoluted episode title.  It went through two other iterations before landing on this one; Philly Gives Good Heads, and Baby Got Head.

‘Cause this episode is all about heads.  Missing heads, severed heads, brains that have been stolen from heads and animal heads used to insult and intimidate.  WTF is up with this state and severed heads?

In this episode we go back in time over 100 years for the tale of a severed head in Shamokin, PA, and then travel back to the future for the story of an embalmed severed head that sounds like something out of Phantasm. Did I mention the eye sockets of this particular severed head?  No?  Well, you’ll just have to listen and try not to get totally creeped out AF!

Huge What Ups to Justin Glawe of the Daily Beast for taking time to talk with me about the embalmed severed head of Economy, PA

Shout outs in this episode to the #PodernFamily, listeners, Book vs Movie Podcast, the Epic Film Guys Podcast and cool ass Aussies Wayne and Paul from the Countdown TV and Movie Podcast.  Plus we’ve got more music from Massachusetts singer/songwriter Emmy Cerra (emmycerra.com)

You can find TwistedPhilly on Twitter @Twisted_Philly and Facebook at the TwistedPhilly Podcast.

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The severed head of Shamokin, displayed in the Anthracite Heritage Museum in 1976.

Link to the Daily Beast article, “The Head With No Body – and No Answers” by Justin Glawe, our gracious TwistedPhilly guest on this episode.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/15/the-head-with-no-body-and-no-answers.html

Sculptural reconstruction of the embalmed severed head found in Economy, PA, in December, 2014.  The head has since been buried. Victim is a 50 something white female with curly gray hair, thought to have been residing in Western PA, Western MD, Ohio or NY State within 7 months before her death. Sketches show what the victim looks like today, and what she may have looked like 20 years ago.

Episode 21: Philly’s Unknown Children

Here’s the thing about Philly – it’s the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection – and sometimes we don’t demonstrate either of those traits.  There’s a lot to love about Philadelphia, and I do love this city of mine, yet sometimes it leaves me in tears.  And this couldn’t be more true than in this week’s episode about two of Philadelphia’s unknown children.

I know cities all over the world have cold cases, cases of unidentified victims, Jane and John does.  Sometimes those cases remain unsolved, and sometimes after years of unrelenting efforts by the police and the public, the victims are identified.  In the case of children these stories are that much harder, at least for me, because we are supposed to protect children. Not merely our own but everyone’s children.  And for two little souls in Philadelphia, protection was what they needed but never received. 

These are the stories of The Girl in the Trunk and the Boy in the Bag.  Yeah, we have more than the Boy in the Box.  I hate that our city has stories like this, stories of children who are considered to be disposable, tossed out like trash, discarded.  These are the stories of Jerell Willis and Aliyah Davis, two children who spent years without names, without families.  These are the stories of children who were on the radar of human service organizations before their deaths, yet no action was taken to protect them. 

Grab your tissues cause I sure as shit needed some while I recorded.  You can find TwistedPhilly on social media. Follow me on Twitter @Twisted_Philly and on Facebook by liking the TwistedPhilly Podcast.  Like what you hear?  Subscribe, rate and review – it helps other people find the show and helps me keep this dream going.  The other way you can help the show is by contributing to the show on Patreon.  For a $5 contribution, Patreon supporters will receive an original short story by yours truly.  Yeah, I’m a writer too.  https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4093396  

Frank Bender’s sculptural reconstruction of Jerell Willis, and Jerell’s headstone. 

Frank’s sculptural reconstruction of Aliyah Davis.

Special Announcement: For the Love of Gracie

This is Deana Marie, the host of the TwistedPhilly Podcast.

If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve been following the story of a beautiful young lady from Abington, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.  It’s the story of Grace Packer, or as I recently learned, Gracie, as she liked to be called.

Gracie loved butterflies, so much so that she even drew butterfly wings in her name. She loved the colors pink and purple.  She loved spending time with her cousin who lives out of state.

Like many children in America, Grace Packer and her younger brother were in foster care when they were very young, and adopted.  Unlike so many children who are taken from their families and placed in a new home with the expectation of love and protection, Gracie was let down.

Grace Packer was reported missing on July 11, 2016.  She was just 14 years old and for months she was considered a runaway.  From the very beginning, something didn’t sit right about her story.  For almost over five months we heard very little about Gracie’s disappearance.  School friends wondered and worried, parents in the Abington community, filled with close knit supportive neighborhoods, looked for answers where there were none.  Until December 22 when we learned Grace Packer’s remains had been found along a wooded area in upstate Pennsylvania, over 100 miles from where she lived.  What started as a missing persons case became a homicide investigation spanning three counties.

Early today, January 8th, parents in suburban Philadelphia awoke to the news the Bucks County District Attorney charged two suspects in Gracie’s murder – her adoptive mother Sara Packer and Sara’s boyfriend Jacob Sullivan.

How did this happen?  How did our systems in Pennsylvania established to protect children fail this beautiful little girl? What compels a parent to be so allegedly depraved and despicable? Was there no one Gracie could turn to for help? 

Over the next few months I’ll be brining you a special series called for the love of Gracie.  In this series, I’ll cover Gracie’s story – and I’ll try to bring you more than her tragic ending.  Because as sad as Grace’s story is, there’s beauty emerging from devastation, like a caterpillar when he transforms into a butterfly.  Gracie wasn’t unloved and unwanted, she just didn’t know it.  the community of Abington, and in particular five amazing, captivating mothers, is determined to show their love and commitment by honoring Grace Packer’s memory.

We’ll talk about Grace’s life, I’ll talk with people who knew her, or knew of her, we’ll understand why she often walked with her head down in the hallways of her junior high, and why she smiled even when it may have seemed like she had no reason to be happy.

We’ll follow the investigation – the tireless work of law enforcement in Montgomery, Bucks and Lucerne counties who worked together to solve Grace’s murder, and the trials of her murderers.  throughout this series we will remember and Honor Grace Packer, Gracie, and do everything we can to keep her memory alive.  I hope you’ll take this journey with me.  You’ll be able to find out more about For the Love of Gracie on Twisted Philly.

Episode 20: H. H. Philly

Happy New Year, Twisters!  Yeah, about that break I was going to take this week…… I just couldn’t stay away!  And I have a break coming up in mid to late January because of some cross over episodes with other podcasters and interviews I’m hosting so I couldn’t skip a week now when I’ll have to skip one later this month.

So what are we talking about today?  I want to tell you the story of an infamous serial killer, probably one of the most notorious and prolific serial killers in American history.  No, I’m not talking about Gary Heidnick.  I told you I don’t want to talk about him yet.  I want to tell you the story of H.H. Holmes.  Now you’re probably thinking WTF?  He’s not a Philly serial killer.  Maybe not, but there is a significant Philadelphia connection, in fact it was a crime he committed right here in TwistedPhilly that stopped his reign of terror, scams and bigamy. And it was in Philadelphia where he spent the last year of his life, incarcerated at the old Moyamensing Prison.  It was here in Philadelphia where he stood on the scaffolding and spoke his last words before a noose slipped around his neck.  And it was here in Philadelphia where suspicious deaths surrounded many of the players associated with Holmes and his trial for almost 20 years.

This is a history lesson about the life and eventual death of H.H. Holmes which you may not yet have heard.  And you know me, I love taking a walk down the twisted path of history, especially when we’re walking those streets in Philadelphia.

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You can also own your very own piece of TwistedPhilly with a TwistedPhilly tee!  We’ve got styles for the entire family, even the little twisters.  And we just released a new design “It’s Never Just a Mannequin” ’cause,  ya know, how many stories start with police saying “I thought it was a mannequin?”

H. H. Holmes in 1895, “Accused of more crimes than any other man living.”

Moyamensin Prison, where Holmes spent the last year of his life in South Philadelphia, PA.  The prison was closed in 1963, and torn down in 1968