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By Robert Muldoon
John Henry Everett, 67, has been having nightmares recently. Not about his quadruple bypass surgery—no, he can deal with that.
He’s lived half his life with a haunting question: who murdered his kid sister Karen Everett, affectionately called “Bucky”, because “it took her a few years to grow into her teeth.” Karen was found October 16, 1988, discarded down a steep embankment by the Naugatuck River off Valley Road in Harwinton, just off Route 8.
LaTanya Johnson sleeps fitfully, too. Not because of her military service, nor her husband Colonel Herman “Jay” Johnson’s 32 years, including with the 82nd Airborne Division. No, she can handle all that.
She has been living since childhood with the haunting question: who murdered her beloved mother Mildred Alvarado, her “Mama Bear”, known as “Millie”, who curled up in bed next to Tanya to comfort and protect her when she was sick. Mildred was found January 19, 1989 in the same spot as Karen.
Both Waterbury women were strangled. Police believe the killings are related. Both cases are linked on the Connecticut State Police “Cold Cases” site.
Both families are seeking answers. Both have pinned their hopes on DNA. But 34 years later, there are no answers—only nightmares and silent screams.
There’s lots to be frustrated about the police investigations—almost from the get-go.
Both women were from Waterbury, and were known there, but the bodies were found in Harwinton. Because of that, the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad, with no institutional knowledge of them, are responsible for the murder investigations.
The Waterbury Police knew Karen Everett well. At the time of her death, local detectives spoke on the record about her. Detective George Lescarde frequently spoke to Everett downtown.
“She was always courteous and never gave us a problem,” Lescarde said. “She was really friendly.”
Everett had been arrested multiple times in Waterbury in the weeks before her death. Yet when her body turned up in Harwinton, all that inside knowledge and insight was lost. The murder investigation went to state police.
Based in Litchfield, Western District State Police assist small towns like Harwinton, with resources to investigate major crimes. But Waterbury, with a large urban force and many detectives, needs no such help. But in the murder cases of Everett and Alvarado, Waterbury had to stand down. Harwinton was not in its jurisdiction. So state police essentially started fresh—at a disadvantage.
Moreover, in that era, rumors swirled that relations between the two forces were strained. Cooperation between the two departments may have been compromised. Had a rift formed?
In July 2004, Jessica Marie Muskus, of Waterbury, went missing. The Waterbury police began a missing person investigation. Two years later, her body was found in Harwinton near the locations of Everett and Alvarado. But in this case, because Waterbury had commenced the missing person investigation, the locals led the investigation.
But from the start, the Muskus family experienced outrage at the tone and tenor of the investigation. Police saw similarities between the three murders and labeled Muskus a “prostitute.” Her sister was furious.
“She didn’t always make the right choices, but she wasn’t a prostitute,” said Nicole Muskus Edmond, of Harwinton, noting she had never been arrested for that. “How dare they call her a prostitute?”
Waterbury police defended the characterization claiming Muskus had once made a police report after a man assaulted her, and used the term herself.
After Karen Everett’s death, two Waterbury detectives (Lescarde and Eugene Coyle) labelled Karen “screwed up” and “misguided” in news accounts. Harsh words spoken about a victim days after a murder, certainly harsh for grieving families to hear. On top of that, throw in “prostitute” and “drug addict” and it’s easy to read into all those words that the State Police investigation might not be top-notch.
Jay Johnson feels the same about the investigation into Mildred Alvarado’s murder: “Because she’s labeled these words, it’s like they don’t care,” he said. “They’re not putting in any energy due to her portrayed lifestyle.”
For decades, Tanya and Jay Johnson have been calling the state police (at least) twice a year on Millie Alvarado’s anniversary and birthday. When Jay calls, he is invariably addressed with courtesy as “Colonel Johnson,” in deference to his 32 years of service.
In the early years, the lead detective was responsive. But over time, detectives came and went, moving on to other cases or retiring. There have been multiple detective changes on their mother’s case. Rarely were the Johnsons given a courtesy call or informed of changes. Their patience has inevitably been replaced by frustration.
Nicole Muskus Edmond put it more bluntly to the Republican-American in 2006. “The case seemed to bounce from one uninterested detective to another,” she said. “Please let police catch who did this. She was a wonderful person.”
Fifteen years have passed since then without an arrest.
The Everetts, led by Karen’s aging father Robert, 90, have called at least once a year, and still have no sense of the investigation. The family fears that Robert will die with a broken heart—and without justice. Karen’s niece Corrine Everett Driggers recently joined the family quest for answers, and her phone call to the State Police have so far been ignored.Three generations are now seeking justice. Accountability, and human decency has been lost along the way.
The Waterbury Observer has been met with indifference as well. Freedom of Information requests on 6 different murder cases have been filed with the Connecticut State Police, and to date, we have also been ignored.
FOI requests to Waterbury Police, on multiple cases, including a murder at 69 Linden Street in 2002, have yielded one sheet of paper: a redacted, single paragraph report, containing less information than in the newspaper a day after the murder.
When Jay Johnson calls, he is reminded again and again that “open cases” take priority. When he and Tanya are given some small piece of hope or information, they feel that the police are “dangling carrots” in front of them—sparking hope, but with no follow-up communication. Nothing ever happens. Alas, there is no “stick” that victim’s families can wield to motivate those who dangle carrots in front of them. They are at the mercy of a rotating and indifferent monolithic force.
“We are told that active cases take precedent, and we have to stay patient,” Jay said.
When they take the initiative themselves—offering out-of-pocket rewards; filing FOI requests; contacting reporters; writing to politicians; requesting Millie’s photo appear on widely circulated “cold case” playing cards—they get no encouragement.
“For as long as I can remember, we have been trying to assist the Connecticut State Police with trying to solve this murder," Jay Johnson said. "There are four kids seeking justice and no one is reaching out to them.”
False Hopes of DNA
All the families pin their hopes on DNA. Why wouldn’t they? It’s impossible to watch television or read a newspaper these days without hearing of DNA being used to solve crimes, even decades old, cold cases.
But for the families, these have proven to be false hopes.
In calls to state police around 2009, the Johnsons learned of “a small amount of DNA” from the crime. The family’s hopes surged. Mildred had been wearing Filippo blue jeans, a black sweatshirt, a jean vest, and a black rubber bracelet. They pressed repeatedly for testing. But answers were evasive.
First, they were told there was a back-up in the state lab. Then they were told the DNA needed to be sent to an out-of-state lab in Pennsylvania. They pressed harder. As the line-up of detectives retired or moved on, and each new detective familiarized himself with the case, in the end they couldn’t get a straight answer.
Finally, Jay succeeded in setting up a meeting in Litchfield at the Western District Headquarters. He prepared to leave duty in Virginia to attend. At the last moment, it was cancelled.
John Everett, Karen’s brother, watches Nancy Grace shows. His sister was found in a gray tank top. “Why can’t DNA be used to solve these crimes?” he asked.
It was reported more than a decade ago that the Connecticut State Police had performed DNA testing on some of the evidence, but systemic problems at the state lab reasonably cast a doubt on those results. Additionally, DNA testing has advanced considerably in the past two decades. It's time to test again.
Credulous Cops (Lack of Skepticism)
When Frederica Spinola fell from a van going 50 mph on Route 8 in Harwinton, state police arrived at the scene. The driver, Albert Boyson, said Spinola had entered the van at MacDonald’s, on Thomaston Avenue, in Waterbury. He said he was en route to drop the GMC passenger van off at Kelley Transit in Torrington, where he was a driver.
A 1994 account of the tragedy described Frederica as “a recovering drug addict and prostitute from Waterbury.” She died of “multiple blunt trauma injuries” after being slammed by a second car, as she attempted to crawl off the road.
Sergeant William Longo was the on-scene investigator. “According to the driver (Boyson), she gave no indication whatsoever that she was going to jump, and I don’t have any reason not to believe him,” he said.
Boyson, 77, of Newtown, was not considered a suspect.
“The possibility of him ejecting her is physically remote,” Longo concluded.
Police quickly pivoted and sought the driver of the second vehicle. Police recovered a part of that car from Rica’s body, and were able to identify the make and model.
“Even if she had been dead in the road and he hit her, he’s obligated to stop,” spokesman Sergeant Scott O’Mara explained.
Still, state police were puzzled “why Spinola wanted to go to Torrington or if she even understood where she was going,” according to accounts. Boyson claimed she seemed disoriented on drugs.
“Spinola muttered something about the town of Harwinton just after the van passed a sign announcing the Harwinton exit,” Boyson said. Earlier she had been “freaking out.” She jumped out of the van at 45 or 50 mph in a dark, foggy section of the road in a sleet storm on December 9, 1994.
Harwinton, of course, was where Everett, Alvarado, and later Muskus were dumped. Boyson pulled over and dragged the body out of the traffic lane, he said.
“The physical evidence gathered so far seems to indicate that she was either trying to stand up or crawl away when she was hit by a second car,” police said. The investigation focused on a possible malfunction of the door and finding the other driver who struck her, and did not stop.
The driver of the second vehicle, Andrew F. Keene Jr, 53, of Cheshire, turned himself in days later. He was charged with “evading responsibility and negligent homicide.”
Boyson was taken briefly to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, but was released that night and went back to work next day.
What was Frederica doing in the van? Was she alive when she exited the van? Why would she fall or jump? Were physical tests conducted to confirm the driver’s statements?
Anyone who ever met Frederica Spinola, even once, as this reporter did, quickly learned she was trusting to a fault. Perhaps the same can also be said of investigating police that night.
Boyson died in 2006. His obituary noted he was an Assistant Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts and for several years a Constable in Newtown. He was surrounded by family when he died.
Hidden in Plain Sight
When Karen Everett’s body was found, her employer and landlord, Alan Lane, of Lane Financial, 2040 North Main Street, was quoted at length in the Waterbury Republican. Police, quoted also, had some similar talking points. Both concurred she had struggles. Both wondered where her nickname “Brandy” came from.
But Lane went further. He cast himself as a heroic figure in a vain attempt to save her. He hired her, rented her a room above his office, gave her use of the company car, offered her rides, marveled at her intelligence (“very brilliant”), took her to see horses, allowed her to care for his guard dogs, helped her into a methadone program, and sparked her interest in finance and attending college classes.
Moreover, Lane identified himself as perhaps the last one to see Karen on Friday October 14, 1988 at 5:30 p.m., when she went downtown. The company car was broken, he said, and she refused his offer of a ride because “it would be out of his way.” Lane believed she “may have hitchhiked’, even though he had warned her about hitchhiking in Waterbury’s North End. He also speculated “she was waiting for a bus.”
Two days later, Everett’s body was found by two hunters in Harwinton down a 40-foot embankment near the Naugatuck River. She had been strangled.
Even after her death, Lane and police wondered about the nickname “Brandy.” Waterbury Detective George Lescarde surmised she used the name “to escape who she was, for whatever reason.” Lane said, “She never did answer me on that.”
John Everett, Karen’s brother, could have cleared up the mystery, if only police cared to inquire. Growing up, he and Karen loved the song “Brandy” by Looking Glass, a haunting song about a girl who could not find love, though she had so much to offer.
"Brandy, you’re a fine girl
What a good wife you would be
Yeah, your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea"
Karen Everett died in 1988, a week after her 25th birthday. Brandy never had the chance to be a wife, a mother, or a grandmother.
Mildred Alvarado died at age 30, in 1989. Millie never had the chance to see her four children grow and spoil her grandchildren.
Frederica Spinola died at age 40, in 1994. Rica never had the chance to see her young daughter grow and blossom.
Jessica Marie Muskus died at age 22, in 2002. Jessica never had the chance to see her young daughter grow or her sister’s children.
All these families are left with nightmares, sleepless nights and silent screams.
“I feel we are in the exact same spot as we were in 1997,” laments Jay Johnson. “And Tanya started before that.”
If you have any photographs or memories or information about the lives and unsolved murder of these women, please contact the Waterbury Observer at 203-754-4238 or email John Murray at email@example.com.
The Waterbury Observer is investigating the deaths of...
1) KAREN EVERETT ("Brandy") -
10/16/88 (Valley Rd Harwinton) -
STRANGLED (age 24)
2) MILDRED ALVARADO -
1/19/89 (Valley Rd/Harwinton) -
STRANGLED (age 30)
3) MARIE THRASHER
Body found in Naugatuck River near Bank Street
4) MARY JO MARKIEWICZ -
11/25/92 -(Chase River Rd Wby) -
STABBED age 34
5) OLGA MARIE CORNIELES-UBIERA
11/01/94 -(Rte 262- Waterbury Rd in Thomaston - 8 miles south of Campville)
6) FREDERICA SPINOLA -
12/9/94 (Rte 8 Harwinton) –
RUN OVER (pushed/fell from van) (age 40)
Albert S. Boyson, age 77, van driver for Kelley Transit was driving
7) LORI DELGADO
41-year-old Waterbury resident
Notch Road embankment
Bludgeoned, blunt head trauma
Believed to be killed elsewhere and dumped
9) BERNADINE PAUL (Missing)
6/7/00 - Bradlees Parking lot (Chase Ave)
10) ELIZABETH GRZYWACZ
10/7/2002 - 69 Linden St – naked, bludgeoned (age 34)
11) JESSICA MARIE MUSKUS - age 22
found 11/14/2006 (Campville Exit Rte 8/ 300 yds from Valley Rd)
The next three women are Waterbury victims of convicted serial killer William Devin Howell, who murdered at least seven women, three from Waterbury. Were there others?
12) MELANIE RUTH CAMALINI (29) - missing 1/1/2003
13) MARILYN GONZALEZ (26) - mother of 2 (2003)
14) MARY JANE MENARD (40) – 10/2003
15) DEE-MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ –
Age 36 - Train Tracks - Thomaston AVE –
Medical Examiner ruled a drug overdose
16) KELSEY MAZZAMARO, 26, of Litchfield
Found murdered on May 6, 2018 in Burlington
17) BRIANNA BEAM age 20
Harwinton - 100 feet off Campville Rd
Ties to Waterbury, Thomaston, Bristol and RI
If you have any photographs or memories or information about the life and unsolved murders of any of these women, please contact the Waterbury Observer at 203-754-4238 or email John Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.