On this date, August 28, 2013, John Douglas White, a recidivist murderer, committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell. He was very similar to Leonard Keith Lawson and Barry Gordon Hadlow, as he played Christian to get out of prison and commit murder again.
John White (left), Theresa Etherton (top right), Vicky Sue Wall (middle right) and Rebekah Gay (bottom right).
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John Douglas White
Name: John Douglas White
Characteristics: He wanted to have sex with a dead body
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: July 11, 1994 / October 31, 2012
Date of arrest: October 31, 2012
Date of birth: May 20, 1957
Victims profile: Vicki Sue Wall, 26 (his mistress) / Rebekah Jane Gay, 24 (his fiancée's daughter)
Method of murder: Unknown / Striking her head with a mallet and strangling her with a zip tie
Location: Kalamazoo County/Isabella County, Michigan, USA
Status: Sentenced to 8 to 15 years in prison on May 8, 1995. Released on February 11, 2007. Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to 56 years in prison on April 18, 2013. Committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell on August 28, 2013
Mt. Pleasant murder suspect convicted of Kalamazoo slaying in 1994
By Rex Hall Jr. - Mlive.com
November 1, 2012
KALAMAZOO, MI – A man charged with beating and strangling a 24-year-old Mount Pleasant woman to death on Wednesday faced similar charges in 1994 in Kalamazoo.
John Douglas White, 55, was charged Thursday in Isabella County with one count each of open murder and first-degree premeditated murder in the slaying of his neighbor, Rebekah Jane Gay, who had been reported missing at noon on Halloween.
Police there say White killed Gay early Wednesday and then took care of her 3-year-old son that day. Police believe Gay was struck in the head several times with a rubber mallet and then strangled with a zip tie, although an exact cause of death has not been determined.
Police in Isabella County found Gay’s body in a large ditch behind tall pine trees about a mile from her home.
The circumstances of Gay’s slaying are similar to that of Vicky Sue Wall, a 26-year-old Comstock Township woman who disappeared in July 1994, according to MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette archives.
White was arrested in connection with Wall’s death and initially charged with murder. He later pleaded guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 8 to 15 years in prison.
Wall’s badly decomposed body was found in September 1994 in a wooded area in the 7400 block of East H Avenue. Kalamazoo County sheriff’s investigators later arrested White and charged him with Wall’s murder, alleging that he strangled her and dumped her body about two miles from the Meijer store on Gull Road.
At the time, investigators said security cameras at the Meijer store showed that Wall got into a truck owned by White on July 11, 1994.
Police alleged at the time that White, who was married, killed Wall because she was pressuring him over an affair the two were having. They had met each other while working together at a business in Oshtemo Township.
White checked himself into the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital hospital shortly after his meeting with Wall at the Meijer store and was arrested at the hospital in September 1994 about a week after Wall’s body was found.
At the time, investigators said Wall’s body was so badly decomposed they could not determine exactly how she died.
At his sentencing in May 1995, White said Wall’s death “was a tragic accident.”
“I love Vicky,” he said.
Prior to Wall’s death, White pleaded no contest in 1981 to a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm for repeatedly stabbing a woman in Calhoun County.
John Douglas White
Pastor charged with killing fiancee's daughter
Saturday, November 3, 2012
BROOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — As police frantically worked to figure out how his fiancée's 24-year-old daughter had vanished, a Michigan pastor who had turned to God to shed his violent past went to his flock with a request: pray for her.
But all along, authorities say, he knew the sordid truth about where the young mother was.
The pastor, ex-convict John D. White, later confessed to killing Rebekah Gay to fulfill a fantasy of necrophilia, police said Friday. White drank four or five beers before going to the woman's mobile home and repeatedly striking her head with a mallet and strangling her with a zip tie, according to court documents.
Police said White stripped her dead body but does not remember if he carried out his sexual fantasy. After dumping the body early Wednesday, he returned to Gay's home and dressed her 3-year-old son in his Halloween costume, then later dropped him off with the boy's father.
"He kept saying he's a bad person, he's a pastor, he felt bad for the people in his church. ... I don't recall him bring real remorseful at all with regard to the victim or anything else," Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski told The Associated Press.
"He just basically said he was attracted to her, thought she was a very cute girl. It's a crazy, tragic situation," the sheriff added.
The case shocked the pastor's roughly 14-member congregation and raised questions about how a man who had found religion after a criminal past could return to his dark past.
White was in jail without bond Friday, a day after he was charged with first-degree murder in Gay's death in a rural area in Isabella County, 85 miles northwest of Lansing. The 55-year-old has asked for a court-appointed attorney.
White was engaged to Gay's mother and regularly watched her young son while she worked, said Donna Houghton, a church elder who had a role in hiring White three years ago to be pastor at Christ Community Fellowship. Church members, she said, were "absolutely floored" by the allegations.
"I protested his innocence until I had the absolute news that he confessed. Then he had no leg to stand on," she told the AP.
Before his arrest Thursday, White called Houghton to ask that she contact other church members and start a prayer chain for Gay, who still was missing at the time.
"He was pretty shook up. He said the police were giving him a hard time," Houghton said.
White confessed that day after being told the woman's body was likely to deteriorate in the cold, wet weather, Mioduszewski said. He said his fantasy had been fueled by pornographic videos.
Houghton said the congregation was aware of White's criminal past when he joined the church. He was released from prison in 2007, after serving nearly 12 years for manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County, according to the Michigan Corrections Department.
He had previously been sentenced to probation for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old Battle Creek girl in 1981.
"He was absolutely contrite," said Houghton, 76. "All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He was doing a lot of good in the community. ... He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good and Satan got to him."
She said White got on her roof and cleaned her neglected gutters last week, a chore that inspired his Sunday talk. She recalled him saying during that sermon that "we need to check closely the seeds we sprout in ourselves. Nothing can be hidden from God."
At the trailer park on Friday, pictures of pumpkins and other Halloween decorations were still on Gay's home. Park resident Matt Brown said White regularly cut through his yard to visit Gay's trailer that was one street away.
Brown, 21, said White seemed to have scratches on his face when he told residents Wednesday that Gay was missing and that her car had been found outside a bar.
"It looked like he was in a struggle," Brown recalled.
Charles Kenworthy, another resident of the park about 11 miles west of Mount Pleasant, said the killing so close was "just scary."
"I would think they'd want to look into different people and their background before they let somebody live here," the 53-year-old said.
John Douglas White
John White: How a killer was set free
Courtroom error, plea deals gave him his freedom
By Ken Kolker - WoodTV.com
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - He stabbed a 17-year-old repeatedly until he was sure she was dead. Then, 14 years later, he killed a woman and dumped her body in the woods.
So, how is it that John Douglas White was free to fulfill a sick, childhood fantasy and kill again?
White, 55, has confessed to killing 24-year-old Rebekah Gay in her mobile home near Mount Pleasant as her 3-year-old son was in another room.
"I really hurt for that little boy," said Theresa Morris, White's first known victim. "I really hurt for her family. They trusted him, so I know exactly what they're going through."
Morris had also trusted him, until he stabbed her 15 times in 1980 in the basement of his Battle Creek home. She was 17.
For that, he spent two years in prison.
"I'm really upset with the system," she said.
And, so are the relatives of White's second known victim, who had predicted he would kill again.
"Oh, God, it tore my heart out, because I knew that girl wouldn't have had to die if they would have just kept him in prison," said David Axe, the uncle of White's second known victim, Vicky Sue Wall. "There's something wrong with the courts, there really is," Axe said.
Through old police and court records, and interviews with more than a dozen people, Target 8 found answers:
They include a courtroom mistake, plea deals and old laws that failed to protect victims, and technology that wasn't advanced enough to keep White behind bars.
Stabbing and smiling
In 1980, White was 22, married and living in Battle Creek when he invited his 17-year-old neighbor, then Theresa Etherton, to his basement to look at his race track. The first jab, from behind, was under her right shoulder blade. And, he kept stabbing, and smiling.
"He wiped my mouth off and he kissed me and he held my hand and he said, 'You're going to go now,'" she recalled. "He says, 'I'm really sorry you had to go like this.' He said, 'But what the f---, you're just a woman.'"
A jury convicted White of attempted murder. He apologized and asked for help instead of prison time.
"I wouldn't listen to people that tried to tell me that I did have a problem, and I realize that now," White told the judge.
"It is by the sheer grace of God, or whatever, that the victim in this case is still alive," Calhoun County Circuit Judge Paul Nicolich told White at sentencing. The judge sentenced him to five to 10 years in prison and recommended mental health counseling in prison.
"They sent him away, and they left me alone," the victim recently told Target 8. "They promised me he wasn't going to ever hurt anyone again."
But White wasn't gone for long.
An appeal and a deal
What Theresa didn't know was that White appealed -- and won -- claiming that his attorney had made a mistake by not raising an insanity defense. The defense attorney, James Tompert, was being paid by White's father, who didn't want to spend $1,000 or more for an independent psychiatric exam needed to claim insanity.
White had claimed "partial amnesia."
The state Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict and remanded the case.
"Defense counsel was more concerned with the desires of defendant's father, who retained him, than with the best interests of his client," the appellate judges wrote.
Instead of a new trial, though, White got a deal -- two years probation, no more jail time, as long as he got mental health treatment.
Morris, the victim, said she knew nothing about the deal.
Then, a couple years later, at a Secretary of State office: "I was standing in line, and I heard his voice," she said. "And, I'd been hearing that voice in my head almost every day."
"I turned around, and he's just smiling."
The defense attorney whose mistake led to the appeal died recently; so did the judge who handled the case.
The prosecutor who approved the plea deal, Conrad Sindt, is now a Calhoun County judge. He said he only vaguely recalls the case.
White likely would get more prison time if this had happened under today's sentencing guidelines, Sindt said. Judges had no guidelines back then.
"Under today's guidelines, it (probation) would be inconceivable," Sindt said.
He also said it's possible they approved the plea deal out of fear that White would have won his insanity defense.
Also, this was just a few years before the state's Victim's Rights Act, which requires courts include victims every step of the way. It also allows victims to sign up for notices when a defendant is released from prison.
An evasive suspect
In July 1994, nine years after White's probation was up, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall disappeared from Comstock Township near Kalamazoo.
White had recently quit his job as a long-haul truck driver, and was working maintenance at Textile Systems Inc. in Oshtemo Township, where Wall once worked.
He was still married, with two children and one on the way. He had met Vicky Wall at work, and they were having an affair.
Surveillance video showed Wall getting into a black pickup with a bearded man in the Meijer parking lot on Gull Road. It was 3 o'clock in the morning, the last time she was seen alive.
Then-Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Dunithan was the first to question White, behind Galesburg City Hall. The deputy knew him from around Augusta, where White grew up.
White was evasive.
"He at first said he didn't know what I was talking about," Dunithan recalled. "He hadn't seen her, and when I confronted him with the video of him up there, he said he did see her up there, did meet her up there."
But, he told the deputy, she was alive when he left her.
"I knew that he had killed her," Dunithan said.
Within days, White tried to kill himself with pills and booze. Later, he told detectives he may have hurt Wall during one of his blackouts.
"John advised that he has blackout spells and that he thinks he does violent things when he has blackouts," a detective wrote after interviewing White early on in the investigation. "I asked him if it was possible that he had done something to Vicky or hurt her. He indicated that was possible."
White's wife told a friend about his "multiple personalities" and how, when he's doing things, he "feels like he is watching from somewhere else."
At the same time, it appeared detectives were closing in. Detectives couldn't see any blood in his pickup truck, but they checked it with luminol, a chemical that emits a blue glow when it mixes with iron found in blood.
It glowed in several spots.
"He'd done a pretty good job of cleaning it," Dunithan said.
At the time, DNA testing was in its infancy. A state police DNA expert told Target 8 they needed 500 nanograms of blood -- enough to cover part of a dime -- to test for DNA. And, it had to be fresh.
"It had to be something quite visible and sizeable," said Jeff Nye, biology program coordinator for the Michigan State Police Crime Lab.
Today, instead of 500 nanograms, they need just half a nanogram, and it doesn't have to be as fresh, Nye said.
A source close to the 1994 investigation told Target 8 that prosecutors might have gotten a murder conviction had they confirmed it was the victim's blood.
Relatives, in the meantime, kept searching for Wall's body.
"I knew she was close by because he didn't have much time to get rid of her," her uncle, David Axe, said.
A gruesome discovery
Six weeks after the disappearance, Kalamazoo County resident Thomas Meskil was walking down a two-track on land next to his parents' home in the 7400 block of East H Avenue, two miles from the Meijer store parking lot.
"I noticed two drag marks on this side of the drive," Meskil told Target 8.
He followed the marks down the two-track. "As I got farther, I seen a white tennis shoe."
A trail of bent-over weeds led to a pair of women's underwear.
"Right then, when the odor hit me, and I noticed the skull was showing, that's when I turned around and high-tailed it out of here," Meskil said.
The body was naked, except for a shirt and bra around the neck. But, it was so badly decomposed that an autopsy couldn't determine a cause of death, though the pathologist said that the "manner of death was suggestive of homicide."
Prosecutors charged White with open murder.
In a jail letter written to his wife, and obtained by Target 8, even White was preparing for life in prison.
"I am just feeling some relief now that things are starting up," he wrote, adding he was coming to grips "on the possibility that I may go to prison for the rest of my life, and I can't help but think it may be for the better for you and the kids."
But, White refused to talk again with detectives or to take a lie detector test.
Without evidence, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
"They felt they were lucky to get that because it took so long to find the body," said Dunithan, the retired Kalamazoo County deputy. "She was so decomposed that they couldn't even figure out a cause of death.
"You'd like to see him go away for life, but you know, you get what you can get," Dunithan said.
At sentencing, White apologized to Wall's family, calling the death a "tragic accident." He didn't provide details. And, he added: "I love Vicky very much."
Kalamazoo County Circuit Judge John F. Foley sentenced White to the most time he could: 8 to 15 years in prison.
"It appears from your previous violent acts against a woman and this unexplained violent action, that you have a dangerous level of self-control," the judge told him.
Sources told Target 8 that White later told a prison psychologist about his fantasies -- to kill the prosecutor, Carrie Klein, and his defense attorney, Kathleen Brickley, and have sex with their bodies. The prison warned both women.
Both declined to comment. Klein is still with the prosecutor's office; Brickley is now a judge.
In 2007, after serving nearly 13 years for Wall's death, White was a free man. Prison officials say he went through group therapy sessions, as well as violent offender treatment.
His son, Gabriel White, said his father didn't change.
"He knew that he was mentally sick but he refused to engage it and tell people about it, accept help for it," the son said.
He moved to Mount Pleasant, became pastor of a small church and got engaged.
"He was completely crazy until the end," his son said.
On Halloween Day, White killed his fiance's daughter, 24-year-old Rebekah Gay, then dumped her body in a ditch. He told police it was part of a sexual fantasy involving dead women.
The death has left a retired deputy shaking his head.
"I knew that he would do it again," Dunithan said. "It was inevitable."
John D. White is arraigned in the Isabella County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 in Mount Pleasant,
Mich., wearing a "suicide prevention suit."
(Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis / AP)
John White, convicted of killing Rebekah Gay, commits suicide in prison
By Jessica Fleischman - Mlive.com
August 28, 2013
SAGINAW, MI — John Douglas White, convicted of murdering Rebekah Jane Gay last year, has killed himself in prison, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.
White was found dead during the morning hours of Wednesday, Aug. 28, having hanged himself in his prison cell.
White, 56, was housed in the Michigan Reformatory correctional facility in Ionia at the time of his death, stated written correspondence from MDOC spokesman Russell Marlan.
After accepting a plea deal for second-degree murder as a habitual offender in the death of the 24-year-old Isabella County woman, White was sentenced to 56 years and three months in prison during his April 2013 sentencing.
White was initially arrested on Oct. 31, 2012 on charges of first-degree murder and open murder after police say he confessed to Isabella County Sheriff deputies that he killed Gay inside her home at a trailer park on Coldwater Road in Broomfield Township earlier that morning. The two were neighbors, and White was engaged to Gay's mother.
Police believe White went inside and attacked Rebekah Gay in the hallway, using a rubber mallet to hit her several times on the head and tightening a zip-tie around her neck to stop her breathing.
Police have said Gay's son, Conway, who was 3 at the time, was home during the attack and that White cared for the boy before delivering him to his father after dressing him in his Halloween costume.
Prison staff tried to revive convicted Isabella County murderer John White, found hanging in his prison cell
By Jessica Fleischman - Mlive.com
August 28, 2013
MOUNT PLEASANT, MI — The Michigan Department of Corrections has released additional information surrounding the apparent suicide of inmate John D. White.
White was sentenced in April to 56 years and three months in prison after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as a habitual offender in the 2012 death of 24-year-old Rebekah Gay, a neighbor of his in Isabella County.
According to a written statement from the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, where White was jailed, the 56-year-old was found by facility officials after 4 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, suffering from self-inflicted asphyxiation.
White was pronounced dead at 4:38 a.m., the statement said, after attempts were made to resuscitate him.
"Every attempt by correctional staff, health care professionals and emergency medical technicians to revive Mr. White were unsuccessful," the prepared statement said.
The Michigan Department of Corrections previously stated that White hanged himself in his cell.
According to Russell Marlan, spokesman for the MDOC, a total of seven inmate suicides occurred in Michigan prisons in 2012. There have been seven inmate suicides in 2013, the department said.
Police have said White, who served as the pastor of a small Mount Pleasant church, killed Gay inside her home on Oct. 31, 2012, using a zip-tie and a mallet.
Gay's 3-year-old son was present at the time of the murder, police have reported, stating White dressed him in his Halloween costume after the murder and transported the child to his father's home.