The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, December 4
December 4th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill Murdered: 1995. Roxanne and Michelle had had it up to here with living in Colorado Springs, where they felt that the atmosphere was very hostile to gays and lesbians. And after seven years, they decided that it wasn’t going to get better anytime soon, so they packed up and moved to Oregon’s Rogue Valley, just north of the California line. They quickly adapted to their new home in Medford, where they started a property management business, became board members at their church, began restoring their old Craftsman home, and visited Roxanne’s thee-year-old granddaughter as much as possible. They also became active in state politics, working to defeat Measure 9 in 1992 (which would have amended the state constitution to declare homosexuality “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse” and prohibit its “promotion.”) and Measure 19 in 1993 (which would have restricted library access for materials related to homosexuality).
On December 4, 1995, Roxanne met with a potential tenant to show him an apartment. At about 5:00, Michelle left the office, saying she had gotten a call from Roxanne saying her pickup wouldn’t start. Neither Roxanne nor Michelle were seen until their bodies were discovered four days later in the back of Roxanne’s pickup. Both had been shot in the head, and their bodies were covered with drapes and cardboard moving boxes.
That prospective tenant, twenty-seven year old Robert Acremant had just moved to Medford with his mother three weeks earlier. A witness had seen Acremant park the pickup truck and walk away. When police circulated a composite sketch based on the witness’s account, his mother recognized the face as her son who, she thought, was acting strangely. She called the police. When detectives matched the address labels on her moving boxes to those covering Roxanne and Michelle’s bodies, they new they had their man.
He confessed to the murder, claiming it was a simple robbery. But the district attorney was skeptical. After all, victims’ purses, wallets, jewelry, cell phones and money were left at the crime scene. Acremant also confessed to killing Scott Gordon in Visalia, California two months earlier. Later in 1996, he wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper stating that while he had intended to rob the couple, he found it was easier to just kill them knowing they were lesbians. He also wrote that he killed Gordon because Gordon had made a pass at him. He later recanted his story about why he killed his victims, but the reasons he gave remained incoherent. Perhaps the best indication of the state of his mind is the one part of his story which remained consistent: He was trying to raise money so he could afford to resume his relationship with his “girlfriend,” a call girl in Las Vegas who had broken off contact with him after he ran out of money and began stalking her.
On September 11, 1996, Acremant pleaded guilty to the murders of Roxanne and Michelle, and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. It would emerge later that he had been complaining for years that he heard voices and that there was a transmitter in his head so others can control him. On February 18, 2011, his sentenced was reduced to life imprisonment after he had been found mentally delusional and unable to assist in his own appeals.
Samuel Butler: 1835-1902. The English novelist was both the son and grandson of Anglican clergy. Naturally, his family expected him to continue in the family business. After studying in Cambridge, Butler worked briefly as a lay minister in a poverty-stricken London neighborhood. In 1860, he decided to put off the question of ordination and moved to New Zealand, where he became a successful sheep rancher and writer for the local press. While there, Butler met Charles Paine Pauli, and they returned to England together in 1864. Butler supported Pauli financially for the next 30 years. When Pauli died, Butler discovered a terrible betrayal: Pauli had amassed a fortune from being supported by two other men, and he excluded Butler from his will.
Butler’s more notable works included Erewhon (1872), a futuristic parody of Victorian England; The Fairhaven (1875), a satire of Christianity; and his posthumously semi-autobiographical The Way of All Flesh (1903). Written between 1873 and 1884, Butler dared not publish The Way of All Flesh in his lifetime, as he considered its attack on Victorian values too controversial. It also included a sham marriage by one character who struggles with his feelings toward other men (a mistake which Butler, a lifelong bachelor, avoided in real life). While The Way of All Flesh had to await Butler’s death before it could see the light of day, Butler’s 1899 Shakespeare’s Sonnets Reconsidered put forth Butler’s belief that Shakespeare wrote several sonnets to a younger man who had betrayed him, perhaps a reflection of Butler’s own experience with Pauli.
Ed Flesh: 1931-2011. If you’ve ever watched the game show Wheel of Fortune, then you’ve seen Flesh’s most famous handiwork. The prolific art director designed the famous horizontally-spinning wheel that is the show’s trademark. He also designed the sets for Jeopardy!, the Newlywed Game, The $25,000 Pyramid, and Name That Tune. Ed died in 2011 at the age of 79, leaving behind his partner of 44 years.
A. Scott Berg: 1949. The biographer has won numerous awards in his career, beginning with his first book in 1978 about editor Maxwell Perkins, which won a National Book Award. He also wrote the story for Making Love, the groundbreaking 1982 film which was the first major Hollywood release to deal with homosexuality in a serious way. In 1998, his highly acclaimed best-seller, Lindbergh, about the famed aviator, won him the Pulitzer. In 2003, he published Kate Remembered which appeared in print just twelve days after Katharine Hepburn’s death. The memoir about his twenty-year friendship with the actress remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for eleven weeks. Berg currently resides in Los Angeles with his film producer partner.
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