2/7/19

Go to Play, End up as Prey - Gory Spring Break Murders


What was once the sole domain of American college kids, Spring Break has stretched its sandy fingers into other age brackets not only in the states, but abroad. Spring break is the term given to a short vacation taken at the beginning of spring. It is usually to some warm, tropical climate and is most often associated with copious amounts of alcohol, drugs, partying, and sex. It is also quickly becoming associated with kidnapping, rape, and murder as more and more criminals are taking advantage of spring breakers who are young, drunk, and on their own for the first time. There were 14 murders in Cancun, Mexico in less than 36 hours during spring break 2018. While we await the horrors of spring break 2019, here’s a look back on some of the most horrific murders of spring.

Christine Lazzaro
Christine was partying it up in Dayton Beach in 1993. She hit several night clubs the evening of April 10th and was never seen alive again. There was nothing for cops to go on, other than a vague description of a man she was seen with that night. Nothing ever came of it. Seventeen years later, her killer confessed after having a religious epiphany. Romalis Gordon, 38, recounted Lazzaro’s murder in great detail, telling investigators that he had arrived in Florida three or four months before the killing and was using an alias because he was wanted for armed robbery. 
He said he struck up a conversation with the victim at a nightclub and then they left together. Eventually, they ended up in Gordon’s motel room in the DeBary area, where the two had sex. Afterwards, he went into the bathroom to do some cocaine. When he came out of the bathroom, he found Lazzaro going through a pouch containing his fake IDs.

Fueled by the alcohol and cocaine, Gordon said he became paranoid and feared that Lazzaro was going to turn him in. So, he decided to kill her. He told Lazzaro that he was going to drive her back to Daytona Beach, but instead pulled off to the side of the road in DeBary, ordered Lazzaro out of the car and then got out after her and shot her dead.

Kim Vaccaro and Lisa Eisman
On March 29, 1985, Kim Vaccaro and Lisa Eisman, 20-year-old students from State University College were headed to Fort Lauderdale for spring break to meet up with a friend who had already arrived. They hadn’t told their families they planned to hitchhike. Armed with only kitchen knives for protection, Kim and Lisa climbed aboard a big rig for a ride. They’re known to have made it safely to Maryland, where Lisa sent a postcard to her boyfriend.

Four days after leaving they were discovered near a Tampa river. They were both beaten so badly that they had to be identified through dental records. It was determined that Kim and Lisa’s bodies had been in the water for two days. They were clad only in T-shirts. Their cash and other possessions were missing. The truck driver who picked them up was never identified.

Thirty years later, the murders remain a mystery.

Sarah Ottens

Just before midnight Tuesday, March 13, 1973, 20-year-old Sarah Ann Ottens was found dead in room 429 of Rienow Hall at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. She was lying partially naked on the floor under a clean bed sheet with her clothes strewn about the room. She died of suffocation from severely swollen neck injuries. She was also struck on the face and chest, possibly with a broom handle found lying nearby. The killer had washed her face and hair and left bloody water in the room’s sink. Sarah was found by Brenda Simpson, a student from Waterloo, who was the only other resident staying on the 4th floor in the coeducational dormitory during the university’s spring break.

A Grand Jury indicted 20-year-old James Wendall Hall for the murder. He was a part-time University of Iowa student from Toledo, Ohio, and a former football player who lived in a dorm across the street from where Sarah Ottens’s body was found. He was arrested on Wednesday, September 19, 1973. His bond hearing was attended by a large support group, mostly of Iowa City’s black community and fellow athletes. His bail was set at $50,000, which he could not raise. In December of 1973, he was charged with forgery in a separate case.

At Hall’s May 1974 trial, the Prosecution introduced hair evidence; the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation Lab said hair on Ottens’s body matched Hall’s and that hair on Hall’s shoe matched Ottens’s. A bloody fingerprint on a faucet in the murder room was identified as Hall’s. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years.

Appeals began shortly afterwards. Witnesses came forward saying that “most” jurors consumed alcohol with their supper at the University Athletic Club before going back for two hours of deliberation and finding Hall guilty. The defense claimed there was “a mystery man” seen with Ottens that day who was not black. There were also allegations of racial statements made during Grand Jury proceedings, as well as an alleged juror’s remark that Hall was guilty before a verdict was reached.
In late November 1983, Hall’s conviction was over-turned because the prosecution had withheld evidence. Hall was released from John Bennett Correctional Center at Fort Madison, Iowa, after spending seven years in prison for the murder. No one else was ever charged with the crime.
In 1993, a Davenport, Iowa, jury convicted James Wendall Hall of strangling 31-year-old Susan Hajek in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on March 20, 1992.

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