Clark pleads guilty in Yale grad student slaying


Year
2011
Month Day
March 17

On March 17, 2011, 26-year-old Raymond Clark III, a former animal research assistant at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, pleads guilty to the murder and attempted sexual assault of 24-year-old Yale graduate student Annie Le. On September 13, 2009, Le’s partially decomposed body was found stuffed behind a wall in the university research building where she was last seen five days earlier.

Le, a doctoral student in pharmacology from Placerville, California, was found dead on the day she was scheduled to be married, prompting initial speculation after her September 8, 2009, disappearance that she could be a runaway bride. However, that theory soon appeared to be largely ruled out by investigators. Surveillance video showed Le entering the Yale lab building, which was accessible only by electronic keycard, but never leaving it. Her money, cell phone and ID were found in her office, located in a separate building. Le’s disappearance set off a massive investigation that included more than 100 officers from university, state and local police and the FBI. The case also garnered national media attention. A break came on September 12, when investigators found bloody clothing above ceiling tiles in the lab building. The following day, Le’s body was discovered behind a wall in the building’s basement. It was determined the 4-foot-11-inch, 90-pound Le had been strangled.

Middletown, Connecticut resident Raymond Clark, who cared for the animals in the lab where Le worked, soon sparked the suspicions of police after he was observed scrubbing the seemingly clean floor in the room where Le was last seen. On September 17, police arrested Clark, after finding DNA and other evidence they said linked him to the crime. Among the evidence was a bloody sock with both Clark’s and Le’s DNA on it, as well as a pen found under Le’s body with Clark’s DNA. Additionally, investigators discovered scratches on Clark’s body (which he claimed were from a cat), and found keycard records placing him and Le in the same room in the lab building on the day she was reported missing.

In January 2010, Clark pleaded not guilty to murder. However, on March 17 of the following year, after negotiations between the prosecutor in the case and Clark’s lawyers, the former lab technician pleaded guilty to charges of murder and attempt to commit sexual assault, in order to avoid a trial. He did not specify a motive, and the reason for his actions remains unclear. On June 3, 2011, Clark was sentenced to 44 years in prison without the possibility of early release.

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Best-selling Millennium trilogy author Stieg Larsson dies at 50

Year
2004
Month Day
November 09

On November 9, 2004, Swedish writer Stieg Larsson dies suddenly of a heart attack at age 50, only months after turning in the manuscripts for three crime thrillers—“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl who Played with Fire” and “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”—which would later become international best-sellers. Known collectively as the Millennium trilogy, the novels feature the characters Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a young pierced and tattooed computer hacker with a troubled past. Larsson, who never lived to see his books’ success, died without a will, setting off a protracted legal battle for the rights to his work.

Larsson was born on August 15, 1954, in the town of Skelleftehamm, in northern Sweden. His parents soon relocated to Stockholm in search of better job opportunities, leaving their son to be raised by his maternal grandparents. Larsson eventually joined his parents and younger brother in Sweden’s capital city in the early 1960s. He went on to work as a graphic designer for a Swedish news agency, and later became an investigative journalist who focused on exposing right-wing extremist groups.

In 2002, while vacationing with Eva Gabrielsson, his longtime live-in companion, Larsson began writing what would become the first book in the Millennium series. Over the next two years, he completed three manuscripts for a Swedish publisher. There has been speculation that Gabrielsson, an architect whom Larsson met at an anti-Vietnam rally in Sweden in 1972, helped him with the books; however, the exact nature of her collaboration is unknown. Within months after delivering the manuscripts, Larsson, a heavy smoker and junk food fanatic, died of a massive heart attack after a broken elevator forced him to climb the stairs to his office.

In August 2005, the first Millennium novel was published in Sweden under the title “Man Som Hatar Kvinnor,” or “Men Who Hate Women.” The English-language version of the book would go by the title “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In May 2006, “Flickan Som Lekte Med Elden” or “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” was published in Sweden, followed one year later by “Luftslottet Som Sprangdes” or “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” The books were best-sellers in their author’s homeland before going on to become a publishing phenomenon and sell millions of copies around the world. Several Swedish and English movie versions of the books have been made.

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Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor dies at 79


Year
2011
Month Day
March 23

On March 23, 2011, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who appeared in more than 50 films, won two Academy Awards and was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, dies of complications from congestive heart failure at a Los Angeles hospital at age 79. The violet-eyed Taylor began her acting career as a child and spent most of her life in the spotlight. Known for her striking beauty, she was married eight times and later in life became a prominent HIV/AIDS activist.

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London, England, on February 27, 1932, to an American art dealer and his wife, a former actress. In 1939, the family moved to Southern California, and in 1942 Taylor made her film debut in There’s One Born Every Minute. At age 12, she rose to stardom in 1944’s National Velvet, later moving on to adult roles such as 1951’s A Place in the Sun, for which she garnered strong reviews. As one of Hollywood’s leading stars in the 1950s and 1960s, her credits included 1956’s Giant, with Rock Hudson and James Dean; 1957’s Raintree County, with Montgomery Clift and Eva Marie Saint; 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Paul Newman; and 1959’s Suddenly, Last Summer, with Clift and Katharine Hepburn. The latter three films each garnered Taylor Oscar nominations, before she took home best actress honors for 1960’s Butterfield 8, with Laurence Harvey and Eddie Fisher, and 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, with Richard Burton.

Off-screen, Taylor’s colorful personal life generated numerous headlines. In 1950, the 18-year-old actress married hotel heir Conrad Hilton. The union lasted less than one year, and in 1952, she wed British actor Michael Wilding. The couple had two sons before divorcing in 1957. That same year, Taylor wed producer Mike Todd, with whom she had a daughter. A little over a year later, Todd died in a plane crash. In 1959, Taylor married singer Eddie Fisher (who left his wife Debbie Reynolds for Taylor); the union ended in 1964. Days after her divorce from Fisher was finalized, Taylor wed Welsh actor Richard Burton, with whom she co-starred in 1963’s Cleopatra. (Playing that film’s title role, Taylor became Hollywood’s highest-paid actress at the time.)

The public was fascinated by Taylor and Burton’s lavish lifestyle (among his gifts to her was a 69-carat diamond) and tumultuous relationship. The couple, who adopted a daughter, divorced in 1974, remarried the following year and divorced again in 1976. Taylor later called Mike Todd and Burton, who died in 1984, the great loves of her life.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Taylor Was ‘Still Madly in Love’ With Ex Richard Burton When He Died

In 1976, Taylor wed Virginia politician John Warner, who went on to become a U.S. senator. The pair divorced in 1982. In the 1980s, Taylor, who battled addictions to alcohol, drugs and overeating, spent time at the Betty Ford Center. In 1991, she married construction worker Larry Fortensky, whom she met at the treatment center. After a wedding ceremony at entertainer Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch in California, the couple divorced five years later. In addition to her addiction issues, Taylor suffered from a variety of health problems throughout her life, ranging from hip replacements to smashed spinal discs to a brain tumor.

In addition to her film career (her last silver-screen appearance was a cameo in 1994’s The Flintstones), Taylor’s legacy includes her work as a pioneering activist in the fight against AIDS. Starting in the 1980s, the actress helped raise millions of dollars to combat the disease.

Taylor was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, the same place where her friend Michael Jackson was interred.

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“Balloon Boy” parents sentenced in Colorado


Updated:
Original:
Year
2009
Month Day
December 23

On December 23, 2009, Richard Heene, who carried out a hoax in which he told authorities his 6-year-old son Falcon had floated off in a runaway, saucer-shaped helium balloon, is sentenced to 90 days in jail in Fort Collins, Colorado. Heene’s wife Mayumi received 20 days of jail time for her role in the incident.

The so-called “Balloon Boy” saga riveted viewers around the globe two months earlier, on October 15, when it played out on live television. At around 11 a.m. that day, Richard Heene, a handyman, amateur scientist and father of three boys, called the Federal Aviation Administration to report that a large balloon in his family’s Fort Collins backyard had become untethered, and it was believed his son Falcon had crawled aboard the craft before it took flight. Minutes later, Heene phoned a local TV station, requesting a helicopter to track the balloon. A short time afterward, Mayumi Heene called 911.

The homemade silver craft was soon being tracked by search-and-rescue personnel, as well as reporters, on the ground and in the air. The Colorado National Guard launched two helicopters to follow the balloon, and a runway at Denver International Airport was briefly shut down as the balloon traveled into its flight path. At around 1:35 p.m., the craft touched down in a Colorado field after drifting a distance of some 50 miles from its starting location. Rescue officials soon discovered the balloon was empty, prompting fears that Falcon Heene had fallen from the craft during its flight. A massive ground search ensued, and later that afternoon it was announced the boy had been found safe at home, where he reportedly had been hiding.

Suspicions that the entire incident had been a hoax intensified that night, after Falcon Heene told his parents during a live interview on CNN: “You guys said we did this for the show.” Mayumi Heene later confessed to police the incident had been staged to help the family get a reality TV show. (The Heenes had previously appeared on the program “Wife Swap.”)

In November 2009, Richard Heene pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public official (“to initiate a search-and-rescue mission which in turn would attract media attention,” according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors), while Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of making a false report. Richard Heene later claimed he pleaded guilty only to placate authorities and prevent his wife from being deported to her native Japan. In addition to jail time, the Heenes were required to perform community service and Richard Heene was later ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution for the search effort.

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Amanda Knox convicted of murder in Italy

On December 4, 2009, 22-year-old American exchange student Amanda Knox is convicted of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007 in Perugia, Italy. Knox received a 26-year prison sentence, while her 25-year-old Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, who also was convicted in the slaying, was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. The sensational, high-profile case raised questions in the United States about whether Knox, who always maintained her innocence, received a fair trial. Then, in October 2011, in a decision that made international headlines, an Italian court reversed the murder convictions of both Knox and Sollecito and they were freed from prison.

On November 2, 2007, 21-year-old Kercher of Coulsdon, England, was found fatally stabbed in the bedroom of the home she shared with Knox and two other women in Perugia, the capital city of the Umbria region in central Italy. Investigators said the British exchange student had been slain the previous night. After questioning by police, Knox, a Seattle native and University of Washington student doing her junior year abroad in Italy, was arrested. She denied any wrongdoing, saying she was at computer science student Sollecito’s house the night the killing occurred. Police claimed Knox later gave them conflicting statements about her whereabouts at the time of the crime, and said she also accused her boss at a bar where she worked, who turned out to have a solid alibi, of Kercher’s murder. The American student, who was first questioned without an attorney or professional interpreter, said police coerced her into making the accusation as well as other incriminating statements. (The false accusation would later result in an extra year tacked on to Knox’s prison sentence.)

READ MORE: Amanda Knox: A Complete Timeline of Her Italian Murder Case and Trial

During the nearly yearlong trial that followed in 2009, Italian prosecutors charged that Knox, along with Sollecito and a third person, Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native, had viciously attacked Kercher in a sex game gone wrong. (Guede was convicted for his role in Kercher’s death in a separate, fast-track trial in 2008. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced to 16 years on appeal.) The prosecution’s main evidence against Knox included tiny traces of her DNA and that of Kercher’s on a knife discovered at Sollecito’s home. Traces of Knox’s DNA were also found on a bra clasp belonging to Kercher. Knox’s attorneys argued the bra clasp was found over a month after the murder at a contaminated crime scene, and that the knife blade couldn’t have made the wounds on the victim.

The case received extensive media coverage in the U.S. and Europe, where the attractive Knox was dubbed “Angel Face” and “Foxy Knoxy” by the tabloids. In the Italian and British press, Knox was painted as a promiscuous party girl. However, in America, she was often portrayed in the media as an innocent abroad, a young woman who had worked several jobs to earn money to study in Perugia, where she had been railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor.

Knox and Sollecito appealed their convictions, and at their subsequent trial court-appointed experts testified the original DNA evidence was unreliable and did not definitively link the young American and her former boyfriend to the crime. On October 3, 2011, a court in Perugia acquitted the two defendants of murder. The 24-year-old Knox, who been jailed in Italy since her 2007 arrest, flew home to the U.S. the following day.

In March 2013, in a new twist in the case, Italy’s highest court overturned the acquittals of Knox and Sollecito and ordered that they be retried. In January 2014, the two were re-convicted in Kercher’s death. Knox, who remained in America during the trial, was sentenced to 28 1/2 years years behind bars, while her former boyfriend received a 25-year prison sentence. Lawyers for the two appealed the convictions. Both were fully exonerated in 2015. 

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Pilot Sully Sullenberger performs “Miracle on the Hudson”


Year
2009
Month Day
January 15

On January 15, 2009, a potential disaster turned into a heroic display of skill and composure when Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III safely landed the plane he was piloting on New York City’s Hudson River after a bird strike caused its engines to fail. David Paterson, governor of New York at the time, dubbed the incident the “miracle on the Hudson.” Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot with decades of flying experience, received a slew of honors for his actions, including an invitation to Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration and resolutions of praise from the U.S. Congress.

About a minute after taking off from New York’s La Guardia Airport on January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 collided with one of the aviation industry’s most threatening foes: a flock of geese. Crippled by the bird strike, both engines lost power and went quiet, forcing Captain Sullenberger to make an emergency landing. When air traffic controllers instructed the seasoned pilot to head for nearby Teterboro Airport, he calmly informed them that he was “unable” to reach a runway. “We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” he said simply, and then told the 150 terrified passengers and five crew members on board to brace for impact.

Ninety seconds later, Sullenberger glided the Airbus 320 over the George Washington Bridge and onto the chilly surface of the Hudson River, where it splashed down midway between Manhattan and New Jersey. As flight attendants ushered passengers into life jackets, through emergency exits and onto the waterlogged wings of the bobbing jet, a flotilla of commuter ferries, sightseeing boats and rescue vessels hastened to the scene. One survivor suffered two broken legs and others were treated for minor injuries or hypothermia, but no fatalities occurred. After walking up and down the aisle twice to ensure a complete evacuation, Sullenberger was the last to leave the sinking plane.

In October 2009, the now-famous pilot, known to his friends as “Sully,” published a book about his childhood, military background and career entitled “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.” He retired from US Airways after 30 years in the airline industry on March 3, 2010, and has since devoted his time to consulting, public speaking and advocating for aviation safety.

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“Preppy Murder” stuns New York

Year
1986
Month Day
August 26

On August 26, 1986, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin is found dead in New York City’s Central Park less than two hours after she was seen leaving a bar on the city’s Upper East Side with 19-year-old Robert Chambers. The tall, handsome Chambers was soon arrested and charged with murder. The tabloid media dubbed Chambers, who had attended Manhattan private schools, the “Preppy Killer.” The case shocked the city and raised questions about underage drinking, drug use and casual sex among New York’s privileged youth.

In the early hours of August 26, Levin, a graduate of a Manhattan private school, was with friends at Dorrian’s Red Hand, a bar popular with prep-school students, where she encountered Chambers, with whom she was casually acquainted. Chambers, a college dropout, had grown up on Manhattan’s mostly affluent Upper East Side, although his family was not wealthy. A former altar boy, he became involved in drinking and drugs as a teenager—allegedly stealing to pay for his drug habit—and was kicked out of several private schools he attended.

After meeting up at Dorrian’s on August 26, Levin and Chambers left there together around 4:30 a.m. and headed to Central Park. Levin’s lifeless body, badly bruised and partially clothed, was discovered under a tree in the park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art around 6:15 a.m. by a cyclist. When police arrived, one eyewitness later recalled spotting a man who would fit Chamber’s description standing in the vicinity observing the scene. That afternoon, after speaking with Levin’s friends, police questioned Chambers, who denied any knowledge of the crime and claimed the scratches on his face were from a cat. However, later that day, he made videotaped and written statements to police indicating he might have accidentally killed Levin because she hurt him during rough sex in the park. An autopsy report concluded that Levin died from asphyxia by strangulation.

A highly publicized court trial followed, and on March 25, 1988, with the jury at an impasse on its ninth day of deliberations, Chambers withdrew his plea of not guilty and agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

During his time behind bars, Chambers proved to be a less-than-model prisoner. He committed numerous drug and weapons infractions, and spent nearly five years in solitary confinement. In 2003, after serving his full sentence, Chambers was released. However, in 2008, he was convicted of selling drugs and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

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Three-year-old Madeleine McCann goes missing in Portugal

Year
2007
Month Day
May 03

On May 3, 2007, less than two weeks before her fourth birthday, Madeleine McCann of Rothley, England, vanishes during a family vacation at a resort in southern Portugal. McCann’s disappearance prompted an international search; however, she has never been found.

In May 2007, the McCann family—parents Gerry and Kate McCann, Madeleine and her 2-year-old twin siblings Sean and Amelie—were vacationing with a group of friends at the Ocean Club resort in Praia da Luz (“Beach of Light”), a tourist village along Portugal’s Algarve coast. On the evening of May 3, Gerry and Kate McCann went with friends to the Ocean Club’s tapas bar, leaving a sleeping Madeleine and her brother and sister in the family’s ground-floor apartment, located near the tapas bar. The McCanns and their friends agreed to check on the children every half hour. At around 10 p.m., Kate McCann went to the apartment and discovered Madeleine was missing.

Portuguese police initially believed the little girl had wandered off and would be quickly found. As a result, they failed to promptly distribute a description of the missing child or search cars crossing the Portugal-Spain border, less than two hours from Praia da Luz.

McCann’s disappearance generated widespread media coverage in Europe and beyond. English soccer star David Beckham made a televised plea for her safe return, and “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling reportedly donated millions to help find the little girl. Gerry and Kate McCann, observant Catholics, also had an audience in Rome with Pope Benedict, who blessed a photo of Madeleine.

On September 7, 2007, Portuguese officials named Gerry and Kate McCann, both of whom are physicians, as suspects in their daughter’s disappearance. Soon after, authorities leaked word that Madeleine’s DNA had been discovered in the trunk of the car her parents rented in Portugal almost a month after she vanished. There was speculation that the McCanns, in order to enjoy an evening out, had given their children sedatives and that Madeleine had a fatal reaction to the dosage she received. Afterward, the McCanns faked her abduction and hid her body for weeks before transferring it to the trunk of their rental car. Gerry and Kate McCann labeled this theory ridiculous, particularly given the fact that they were under intense media scrutiny and constantly followed by reporters. The local Portuguese police chief later admitted that the DNA tests were inconclusive.

In July 2008, Gerry and Kate McCann were formally cleared by Portuguese officials of any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance. A third person who had been considered the case’s only other formal suspect, a British man living in Portugal, was cleared as well. Additionally, Portugal’s attorney general said there was insufficient evidence for police to continue their investigation.

The McCanns hired private detectives to keep looking for their daughter and have made publicity tours throughout Europe and the U.S. to raise awareness about her plight. 

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Oprah launches influential book club

Year
1996
Month Day
September 17

On September 17, 1996, daytime talk show host Oprah Winfrey launches a television book club and announces “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard as her first selection. Oprah’s Book Club quickly became a hugely influential force in the publishing world, with the popular TV host’s endorsement capable of catapulting a previously little-known book onto best-seller lists.

When Oprah’s Book Club first launched, some in the publishing world were skeptical about its chances for success. As The New York Times noted: “Winfrey’s project—recommending books, even challenging literary novels, for viewers to read in advance of discussions on her talk show—initially provoked considerable skepticism in the literary world, where many associated daytime television with lowbrow entertainments like soap operas and game shows.” However, the club proved to be a hit with Winfrey’s legions of fans, and many of her picks sold over 1 million copies. (She earned no money from book sales.) Winfrey’s ability to turn not just books but almost any product or person she recommended into a phenomenon came to be known as the “Oprah Effect.”

Winfrey gave her stamp of approval to books by first-time novelists, including Mitchard, Wally Lamb (“She’s Come Undone”) and David Wroblewski (“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”), as well as established authors, such as Maeve Binchy (“Tara Road”), Cormac McCarthy (“The Road”) and Jeffrey Eugenides (“Middlesex”). Toni Morrison had four works selected for the club—”The Bluest Eye,” “Paradise,” “The Song of Solomon, and “Sula”—more than any other author.

In 2001, after Winfrey chose novelist Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” he famously offended her by publicly suggesting that some of her selections were “schmaltzy” and that being picked for the club might alienate a book’s potential male readership. Franzen’s invitation to appear on Winfrey’s TV show to discuss his work was rescinded; however, he got a second chance nine years later, when his best-selling novel “Freedom” was selected for Oprah’s Book Club. In December 2010, he went on her show to talk about his novel, which Winfrey called “a masterpiece.”

In 2003, Winfrey switched her recommendations from contemporary titles to classic tomes, including “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck, “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. In 2004, when Winfrey chose “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, the novel’s publisher printed an additional 800,000 copies.

In 2005, Winfrey reversed her nothing-but-the-classics policy, in part so she could have in-person discussions with the authors whose work she endorsed. Her first contemporary title was James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” a 2003 memoir about addiction and recovery. After appearing on Winfrey’s show to promote the book, Frey was later forced to admit that parts of the story were fiction. He appeared on the show again in early 2006 and faced tough questioning from Winfrey. Frey’s fabrications sparked a national debate over the definition of memoir.

By the final season of Winfrey’s TV show,” in 2011, more than 60 titles had been chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.

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