• Rod Kackley

A Doctor, A Killer, A Shocking True Crime Story

February 24, 1928

It only took a Los Angeles jury a couple of hours today to return with the verdict that prosecutors said Dr. Charles M. McMillan deserved: life in prison with no chance of parole.

The middle-aged physician, convicted of killing a wealthy widow, sat just as calm and relaxed as he had for every beat of his murder trial while the verdict was read by the jury foreman.

The widow, Amelia Appleby, the wife of a Chicago inventor, was discovered dead wrapped up in a canvas sack and dumped along a highway near L.A. in the San Fernando Valley last December.

McMillan and the dearly departed had been traveling together as man and wife for months last year, with the physician acting as Mrs. Appleby's business manager.

When McMillan was arrested inside an Arizona hotel room, police said he was furiously working on a mass of Mrs. Appleby's private papers, including her will.

That's the document that created a debate in McMillan's trial. The will showed Mrs. Appleby leaving every penny to her name to the good physician.

McMillan admitted drafting the last will and testament but claimed he only did what his client requested, the way she wanted it done.

Of course, the lady was dead, bagged and tagged, while McMillan was up to his elbows in her private papers. So, she couldn't testify as to the veracity of that claim.

Although the doctor pled not guilty, when he surprised everyone by taking the stand in his own defense, he never denied the charges from the witness stand.

Even though he'll be sentenced next week, McMillan stood tall as he was led from the courtroom by court deputies.

He didn't seem phased by the prospect of spending every day of his life behind bars.

That's no surprise.

After all, it won't be McMillan's first visit to the state penitentiary. He's already done time on a narcotics charge in his past.

Revenge From Beyond The Grave

A general practitioner in Germany, identified only as Dr. Joern K., was killed in March 2019 when a package exploded as he picked it up in front of his medical office in Enkenbach-Alsenborn.

Then, a woman and her daughter were injured when they touched a bomb hidden in the firewood they used for their stove. The device exploded inside their home in Otterberg, not far from Dr. K's office.

Police immediately investigated, shared notes, and concluded that the woman, her daughter, and the G.P. all shared one thing in common.

The victims all knew Bernhard Grauman, a 59-year-old gardener who died a few days before the death of Dr. K.

Grauman was found dead in his bed in the small town of Mehlingen. At the time, it was thought he might have poisoned himself.

Could Grauman be involved in the doctor's murder along with the wounding of the woman and her little girl?

Very possibly.

Grauman had experience working with black powder, used in both explosive devices, as part of his association with groups that staged medieval festivals and reenactments.

And the dead and injured had run-ins with Grauman in the past.

Udo Gehring, with the Kaiserslautern public prosecutor's office, said he wouldn't be surprised to find Grauman planted more bombs before he died.

"It is all about clearing up the cases around the explosives. What is behind it? Might there be something else behind it? How did it come to it? And most of all, whether there might be more explosives out there," Gehring said.

Because of that, police immediately set up a hotline for people who might have had personal or business relationships with Grauman that went bad.

Talk about a big club. Grauman must have had plenty of enemies, or at least people he'd felt wronged him.

More than sixty people who were concerned enough that Grauman might have targeted them called a special hotline.

The police found no other bombs, but the investigation remained open as this was written.

In addition to his exploding presents, Grauman left behind a wife and two children.

The Murder of Thora Chamberlain

The most fascinating true crime story I have written has to be that of the abduction and murder of Thora Chamberlain. Just a few days shy of her 15th birthday, Thora made the fatal mistake of getting into the car of a man who said he needed a babysitter.

He waved a $5 bill in her face, and Thora drove off with him, never to be seen again.

Well, Thora was seen by one woman, a lady out to get her mail. She said she saw a teenage girl desperately screaming for help and clawing at the passenger side window of a speeding car.

This story is filled with memorable characters, including the FBI agent who tracked down Thora's abductor, Special Agent Earl "E.J." Connelley,

It's November 1945…

Days drag by with no sign of Thora. Neighbors and her parents continue to walk the streets of Campbell looking for the girl, but with less enthusiasm and in lesser numbers than the day Thora vanished.

Local police officers, county deputies, and even state police do what they can. But other than her friends saying she'd gotten into a blue Plymouth driven by a man dressed in U.S. Navy clothing and Ella Beaudoux of Saratoga telling police about a child matching Thora's description speeding past her in a blue sedan, no one has a clue as to the whereabouts of the teenager.

So, local authorities reach out to Washington D.C. for help. They call the FBI.

In response to the abduction of Charles Lindbergh's baby and other high-profile kidnapping cases, Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act in 1932. The new law granted authority to the FBI, then known as the Bureau of Investigation, to work on kidnapping cases that crossed state lines.

As the years progressed through the 1930s, the FBI would also look for missing children of so-called "tender years," usually thought to be the age of twelve or younger. Those cases were pursued by federal agents even if they didn't cross state boundaries.

The FBI's work in kidnapping investigations was not limited to "tender years" nor interstate cases. Agents would also offer assistance to local and state officials when requested.

That brought the FBI's top kidnapping investigator into Campbell, California, to look for Thora Chamberlain.

None other than Earl "E.J." Connelley, the assistant director in charge of investigations in the field, strode into Campbell to take over the investigation into the disappearance and suspected homicide of Thora Chamberlain.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, E.J. joined the U.S. Army as a private in 1917. Two years later, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.

Once out of the army, E.J. completed his law and accounting studies in New York and joined the FBI as a special agent on January 16, 1920.

By 1927, he was appointed an inspector. Four years later, he rose to Assistant Director in Charge of Major Investigations in the Field.

As an on-the-scene supervisor, E.J. worked only on the FBI's top cases, the most critical investigations.

Law enforcement across the nation stands in awe of E.J., if only because, despite FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's objection to facial hair, E.J. refuses to shave off his pencil mustache.

If there was anyone to stand up to the living legend of J. Edgar Hoover, it is E. J. Connelley. Even J. Edgar can't argue with success.

E.J. is an expert in kidnapping investigations and is renowned for his work in cases like the kidnapping-slaying of a retired Chicago businessman, Charles S. Ross.

Then there was the abduction of George Weyerhaeuser, a nine-year-old boy, taken from his family in Tacoma, Washington, on May 24, 1935. His family paid a $200,000 ransom for the boy's safe return, and eight days after he vanished, George was back in the loving arms of his mother.

But the kidnappers were on the run, constantly looking over their shoulders, with E.J. and a team of special agents in hot pursuit.

The three people who abducted little George made the mistake of spending some of the ransom money. The bills led E.J. and his team to the trio of kidnappers, who would all be arrested and convicted.

E.J. also had direct supervision of the Duquesne espionage case that resulted in the arrest and conviction of 33 German agents in 1941-42.

In addition, E.J. played a significant role in the FBI taking down one of the nation's most notorious gangsters, John Dillinger.

He also led the investigation that led to the deaths of gangsters Ma and Fred Barker following kidnappings in 1933 and 1934.

So, to say E.J. Connelley and his team drove into Campbell, California, with star power would be a tragic understatement.

Today, Thora's friends and family have new hope because now, E.J. Connelley is on the case.

The Murder of Thora Chamberlain, A Shocking True Crime Story.

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