Murder is an all too common occurrence, and it can be carried out in a multitude of ways. The phrase “murder weapon” generally conjures mental images of firearms, knives, blunt objects, and so forth, but what about water? Simple water. Murders by drowning happen, too, and they can be hard to prove.
Killing someone by drowning takes commitment. This isn’t a split-second squeeze of a trigger but a drawn-out action. Whether the murderers held their victims underwater until they ceased to struggle or facilitated their immersion through other means, they had time to think about what they were doing. The drowned suffer cruel deaths, often at the hands of someone they loved and trusted and in a familiar setting, their last moments terror, their last sights and sounds a confusion of water.
SEE ALSO: 10 Torture Murders That Will Curdle Your Blood
10 The Murder Of Cynthia Hrisco
In February 2000, Frank Buschauer and his wife Cynthia Hrisco were not getting along. Their home in the suburbs of Chicago had been constructed poorly, and Cynthia wanted to sue the house’s builder, Frank’s cousin. Things were tense, and they had also recently adopted a 13-month-old boy.
At around 2:30 AM on February 28, Frank called 911. First responders found 47-year-old Cynthia facedown on the floor of their bathroom. She was showing signs of rigor mortis. Frank claimed he had gone to bed but was stirred by the crying of his son. He said he found Cynthia under the water in the tub and pulled her out. Bryant Haniszewski, one of the responding police officers, noted that both Cynthia and Frank were dry by the time the police arrived. The cause of her death was ruled as drowning, albeit in an indeterminate manner. The death was considered suspicious, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Frank, who later moved to Pell Lake, Wisconsin.
In 2010, Haniszewski, now a detective, sought to have the case reopened. In 2012, pathologists reviewed Cynthia’s autopsy file and decided that her death was indeed a homicide. Frank was finally arrested in 2013.
During his interrogation, Frank repeated his story that he’d gone to bed while his wife was bathing and later woke up to find her drowned. He also admitted that he’d once put his hands on her shoulders or neck and said, “I could kill you.” Frank claimed to have later regretted saying that. After being asked to explain the scrapes on Cynthia’s knuckles, chin, and nose, not to mention a bruise on her neck, Frank simply claimed he couldn’t remember what had happened that night. He said, “It was one of three things: either a suicide, an accident or I killed her.”
In August 2019, Frank Buschauer, now 70 years old, was convicted of drowning his 96-pound (44 kg) wife while their baby son slept. His attorney vowed an appeal.
9 The Murder Of Emily Sizemore
Devin Sizemore spent a few days with his 21-month-old daughter, Emily, in mid-July 2016. The end result would appall the tiny Oklahoma town of Krebs.
Earlier that week, the 21-year-old father had taken Emily from his mother’s home. Nothing seemed too amiss at first, and Devin’s mother even saw him pushing Emily in a stroller on Wednesday. The next day, however, Devin spoke to a relative, claiming that “God brought the storm” and that he was God’s herald, sent to tell everyone of the apocalypse. When asked where Emily was, Devin simply responded, “Emily is with God.” The police were called.
They spent the rest of that day searching for Devin. At around 3:30 AM the next morning, Devin drowned Emily in a pond. Police arrived soon after. Upon seeing the small child floating facedown in the water, they rushed in, pulled her out, and tried to save her. After Devin was approached, he ended up struggling with an officer in the pond before ultimately being subdued. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation would later characterize this as an attempt to drown that officer.
Devin later claimed that he’d “baptized” Emily by holding her head underwater for 30 seconds but had then “revived” her before the police arrived. It also came to light that the day before he drowned his little girl, Devin had dug a hole in the barn they’d been staying in. Prosecutors managed to convince a Pittsburg County jury that this hole had been intended for burying Emily.
In September 2018, Devin Sizemore was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
8 The Murder Of Annemarie Fitzpatrick
In 2012, Annemarie Fitzpatrick, 43, had become suspicious of her husband, 39-year-old Joseph Fitzpatrick III. He had reportedly been involved in an “emotional affair” with another woman. There were also life insurance policies on Annemarie, totaling $1.7 million.
On the morning of June 6, 2012, she wrote an e-mail to herself with the subject line “If something happens to me.” It read:
Joe and I are having marital problems. Last night we almost had an accident where a huge log fell on me. Joe was on the pile with the log and had me untying a tarp directly below.
That afternoon, she wrote a note on her day planner at work, dated it, and signed it. It said, “If anything happens to me—Joe.”
That evening, Annemarie and Joe had dinner at a picnic table by the Muddy Creek, which ran through a portion of their Chanceford Township, Pennsylvania, property. Afterward, according to Joe, they went for an ATV ride but then crashed into the creek, an accident which claimed Annemarie’s life. According to York County prosecutors, he forced his wife into the creek and held her under, murdering her. Then he rolled the ATV into the water.
At the trial, a pathologist testified that Annemarie’s injuries could have been indicative of either a vehicle accident or being assaulted. However, there was sufficient circumstantial evidence, such as the notes Annemarie left on the last day of her life, to convince the jury to find Joseph guilty of murder in May 2015. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There would be a coda to this miserable story, however.
In September 2015, a York County Court of Common Pleas judge overturned Fitzpatrick’s conviction, finding that the prosecution had failed to prove that Annemarie’s death was unlawful. Joseph was released from prison and was a free man . . . for a few hours. The district attorney’s office got the Pennsylvania Superior Court to grant an emergency stay in the case. In April 2017, the Superior Court reinstated the murder conviction. In October 2017, the state’s Supreme Court denied Fitzpatrick’s attorney’s request for an appeal.
7The Murder Of Mason Cuttler
Some people are motivated to drown children by profound mental illness. That fact makes such cases no less tragic, but a greater sense of disgust is arguably elicited when the motive is something as banal and callous as making room.
In August 2015, 17-year-old Bobby Woods Jr. of Lufkin, Texas, pushed his girlfriend’s nephew, three-year-old Mason Cuttler, into a pond. Young Mason couldn’t swim. Woods then turned away and ignored the boy’s cries for help as he drowned.
Woods claimed that he did this because his girlfriend was pregnant, so he needed to make room in their crowded home for his own child. At the time, Bobby and his girlfriend, Billie Jean Cuttler, lived in a home occupied by three families. Billie Jean was not, in fact, pregnant at the time.
Bobby ultimately confessed to leading Mason to his death. He claimed that his girlfriend had said she’d wanted Mason dead. At his trial, however, he stated that his confession was coerced. In June 2019, Billie Jean Cuttler pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and received 20 years in prison. In August 2019, Bobby Woods was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life.
6 The Murder Of Tara Pitts
In April 2004, Sergeant James Pitts of the US Army had been back home from Iraq for three months, but things weren’t okay. The 31-year-old sergeant had had an affair with a 20-year-old private, and James’s wife of nine years, Tara Pitts, 28, had reported this to the base commander. Their marriage was falling apart, and Tara had filed a restraining order against James. They had begun to talk about reconciling, but in the end, Tara wanted a divorce.
On the morning of April 21, James asked to have sex with Tara one last time, and she agreed. James had filled a bathtub beforehand. While the two were having sex, James pushed Tara into the tub from behind and held her head underwater for between three and five minutes. After murdering his wife, James placed her body in bed so that their nine-year-old son would not see her “like that.”
Afterward, James went to a bowling alley and drank the majority of an 18-pack of beer. Then he called Fort Lewis (near Tacoma, Washington) and said what he’d done. Not long after confessing, James was dismissive toward questions of his mental state, saying, “No matter how angry I am, if it was a man, if it was a dog, whatever it is, I took a life. A life that I wasn’t allowed to take.” Another statement implied that he forced Tara’s head underwater more than once: “After I dunked her once, I knew I would go to prison for attempted [murder] at least.”
James eventually claimed that as he drowned Tara, he was remembering being beaten by his father. Later, he began to say that he’d been reliving mortar attacks in Iraq. He said he’d filled the tub that day because he’d planned to take a bath. James’s attorney stated that the sergeant had depressive disorders and “features of PTSD.” His family said that his time in Iraq had made him a “killing machine.” The jurors were not swayed by the defense’s arguments, and in April 2005, James Pitts was convicted of first-degree murder.
5 The Murders Of Jackson And Jacob Telnas
In 2008, Sherri Jackson tried to drown her baby boy, Jackson, in the Clark Fork River in Montana.She later claimed that “bad thoughts or voices” told her to do it. Sherri ended up in a state psychiatric hospital, while her husband, Jacob, divorced her and raised Jackson. However, Sherri and Jacob eventually reconciled and had another boy, Jacob Jr. They ended up living in Strathmore, California.
On June 29, 2019, Tulare County deputies responded to a call about a woman who was acting strangely and had led two boys into a cornfield. Within the corn, they made a gut-wrenching discovery. Jackson, 12, and Jacob Jr., seven, had been drowned by their mother. The boys were rushed to the nearest hospital. Jackson died there, and Jacob was moved to Valley Children’s Hospital. He’d suffered brain damage. Sadly, he died eight days later.
Sherri, now 45, told authorities that she drowned her sons because they were possessed by demons. She also “threw spit” at one of the officers questioning her. Sherri’s case is ongoing, and she may face the death penalty. On August 15, her attorney requested that Sherri’s preliminary hearing be delayed due to new discoveries in the case. Her next court date is January 10, 2020.
4 The Murder Of Lorie Musil
The Bridge Bar and Sunset Lounge in Gulf Breeze, Florida, sits on the shore of the Pensacola Bay near the southern end of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. As you might imagine, there is a dock nearby for boats. It was here on November 22, 2015, that 44-year-old Christopher Alexander Lindsay met Lorie Musil, age 55. The two got to talking, and Lindsay offered to show Musil his boat. Surveillance footage shows them leaving the bar at 10:35 PM.
At 11:16 PM, Lindsay returned without a shirt or shoes. His jeans were dry, but his hair and torso were wet. The clearly intoxicated man spoke of having been pushed into the water and stated that he’d drowned Musil. Despite Lindsay’s aggressive demeanor, the bartender told him he couldn’t be in the bar without a shirt or shoes and sent the drunk on his way. Lindsay was later seen sitting in a breezeway and screaming. When approached, he only offered more belligerent babble about having been pushed into the water by a woman. Lindsay ended up checking into a nearby hotel.
The next night, Lorie Musil’s body was found on the rocks along the bay’s shore. Her corpse appeared to have been placed there. She had clearly been assaulted, exhibiting numerous bruises on her arms and legs. The autopsy would show internal bruising as well, but the cause of her death was drowning by facial immersion. Records would show that Musil’s phone had stopped transmitting location information at 11:07 PM the previous night.
Christopher Lindsay was arrested and ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder in December 2017. He was sentenced to life in prison.
3 The Murder Of Laura Letts-Beckett
Peter Beckett was once a city councilor in Napier, a seaside community on New Zealand’s North Island. Though charming, he had a bit of a reputation. He was prone to anger and once slapped someone at a bar for failing to recognize him as a local official. Napier’s mayor at the time recalled how Beckett would call him in the middle of the night to yell at him. Peter left that all behind, though, when he met Laura Letts, a Canadian on vacation in New Zealand. In 2004, Peter moved to Canada, and he and Laura married.
In 2010, tragedy struck. The two were boating in British Columbia’s Upper Arrow Lake when, according to Peter, Laura fell into the water. Peter, a very fat man who weighed more than 400 pounds (180 kg), tried to save her but found himself too buoyant to do so. He was able to retrieve his wife’s body only after he found a large rock to use as ballast. Foul play was not suspected, and Laura’s death went down as a terrible accident. A year later, however, Peter was charged with murder.
At his trial, prosecutors argued that Peter had drowned Laura and made the death appear accidental. He did so in order to collect both life insurance and his wife’s inheritance. Both this trial and the subsequent one bore witness to some strange antics on Beckett’s part. In one instance, he performed a Maori dance in the courtroom. He repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the court and accused the judge of colluding with prosecutors. At one point, his pants also fell down while he was being led out of the courtroom.
The first trial ended in a hung jury, but Beckett stood trial again. Despite his antics, disturbing information managed to come to light. One of his friends testified that not long after Laura died, Beckett became curious about whether Google Earth could record events on Upper Arrow Lake. A former cellmate said that Beckett had offered him money to “take care of witnesses.” A statement to police by one of Laura’s cousins, which was deemed inadmissible in Peter’s first trail, revealed that Peter had told Laura how she’d die:
This is how you’re going to die. You’re going to drown. You won’t know when, where it’s going to happen, you won’t know when it’s going to happen, but you’re going to know how it’s going to happen.
In September 2017, Peter Beckett, 62, was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison with no possibility of parole.
2 The Murders Of Kenneth And Lakeitha Joseph
On March 10, 2014, the bloated, nearly nude body of Lakeitha Joseph was found floating in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near New Orleans. A nylon rope was tied to one of her legs. On March 22, her husband, Kenneth, surfaced as well. His leg also had a nylon rope, this one still attached to a 30-pound (14 kg) kettlebell. The couple had been missing since February. Though they had been beaten, it was concluded that they had drowned.
In 2017, 41-year-old Horatio Johnson was convicted of murdering them. This conviction was largely made possible by the testimony of his ex-girlfriend, Brittany Martin, age 28. Johnson had previously gone to prison for manslaughter. There, he met Brittany, a guard at the prison. Johnson was released in 2011.
According to Martin, on February 18, 2014, she walked into a recording studio owned by one of Johnson’s colleagues to find him choking Lakeitha Joseph. She ran outside but ended accompanying Johnson as he drove to a remote area to burn his clothes, which were bloody after he’d beaten the Josephs. The two then went to a Walmart, where Johnson bought two kettlebells, nylon rope, and cleaning supplies. Surveillance footage confirms this.
Martin then went with Johnson and two other accomplices, a local rapper and the owner of the recording studio, drove onto the Interstate 510 “Green Bridge,” tied the Josephs to the kettlebells, and threw them over. The victims fell more than 100 feet (30 meters) to the water below, and Johnson watched over the side to make sure neither came up.
Horatio Johnson was sentenced to life plus 60 years. Brittany Martin had initially been charged with murder as well, but those charges were dropped after she agreed to cooperate. She received a ten-year sentence, with five years suspended, for obstruction of justice.
1 The Torture And Murder Of Kentae Williams
Ten-year-old Kentae Williams wasn’t just drowned in a bathtub. His adoptive father, Leon Williams, felt the need to hurt the boy beforehand.
According to witnesses, on April 28, 2017, Leon began yelling at Kentae, grabbed him by the neck, and then dragged him into their Decatur, Georgia, apartment. The autistic boy had apparently previously cursed at a teacher and was refusing to take a bath. Inside the apartment, Leon beat Kentae with a belt and then forced him into the bathtub. Leon proceeded to run hot water into the tub, hot enough to cause second-degree burns. Twice Kentae complained about the temperature of the water, and twice Leon held Kentae’s head under for doing so. Then Kentae lost consciousness. Emergency services were called, but Kentae died at the hospital.
In July 2017, Leon was charged with aggravated assault/family violence, aggravated battery/family violence, three counts of cruelty to children in the first degree, felony murder, and malice murder. The defense argued for conviction on lesser charges, pointing out that Leon had admitted his guilt and showing pictures of Leon and Kentae together, happy. The prosecution showed pictures from Kentae’s autopsy, which detailed the bruises and burns inflicted by Leon.
In July 2018, Leon Williams was found guilty on all counts. The juror who delivered the verdict cried while doing so. He was sentenced to life without parole the next month.