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And Yet Another Look - Duane Samples

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  • And Yet Another Look - Duane Samples

    I have been reading some more of my neglected crime collection, and have recently continued through Robert Ressler’s classic ‘Whoever Fights Monsters’. Chapter 9, entitled To Kill Again?, contains the chilling and blood-spattered narrative of Duane Samples, one which should be of interest to ripperologists who seek motive or reason to explain the Whitechapel Murders.

    This is my main interest in the case at the moment, to identify motive or reason that could provide, with the known facts, a sort of Unified Field Theory for ripperology. None of the many books written on the Whitechapel Murders do this successfully, regardless of who the suspect at hand is. I believe that this is due to the fact that so few ripper authors credit the Ripper with possibly having multiple motives or reasons for committing the crimes; it always seems to be the same old same old – psychopathy, misogyny, sexual perversion, and so forth, but never a combination of them.

    One of my old Ripper Notes articles, Murder Most Foul, explores the concept of motive and reason in some detail and may be found piecemeal at Contained therein is this verbiage:
    No one suspect ‘stands out’ as a really strong candidate in the surprisingly weak field, and many Ripperologists feel that the Ripper is not listed among them anyway, he instead being a person completely unknown to us today. The situation can best be summarized by use of a meteorological metaphor: Many ‘violent thunderstorms’ were found in London during that autumn of 1888, but only one of them spun out a tornado. Which one was it?

    This last is the real point of discussing Duane Samples in this light. Read of his childhood and background, and decide if the following verbiage, also from Murder Most Foul, applies in his case:

    As we all know, a mixture of gasoline vapors and air is highly flammable and explosive, but it still requires a spark, flame, heat, or radiation to set it off. Until that occurs, its explosive power is only potential, being latent, and it may remain so indefinitely without incident until it is finally ignited by any one of the necessary stimuli. Was the Ripper in the same condition, a ‘human explosion’ waiting to happen, and whose legendary career was finally ‘ignited’ by some obscure personal incident now lost to history? Had a motive or reason for killing prostitutes always been lurking there in his subconscious, waiting patiently to be released, like the genie in the bottle? And, like the fabled genie, was it impossible to control or contain once it had been called forth?

    Following excerpted from ‘Whoever Fights Monsters’: Emphasis mine.

    Even though Duane Samples was not a serial murderer—he had been convicted of killing just one person—he was articulate, a college graduate with a degree in psychology, and seemed to have the sort of overwhelming violent fantasies characteristic of serial killers.

    Samples's crime had taken place during one terrible night in the small town of Silverton, Oregon, on December 9, 1975. Fran Steffens, her eighteen-month-old daughter, and her friend Diane Ross were in Fran's apartment, and a casual acquaintance, Duane Samples, came over for some beer, marijuana, and conversation. Samples was a counselor in a local drug clinic, a Vietnam vet in his early thirties who had knocked around quite a bit and had had fleeting relationships with several women in the area. He was interested in Fran, but his interest was not really reciprocated, though Fran did not send him away. As the evening wore on, the women became tired. Fran went to bed alongside her daughter, and Diane sat on the couch, listening to Samples. He was boring her stiff with his stories of Vietnam, and she finally told him that she was tired and that he ought to leave.

    Samples left. Diane drifted off to sleep on the couch, then woke up to a strange, warm, sticky feeling—and discovered she had been cut severely: on the throat, across her body under her breasts, and from the navel upward. Two feet of her intestines were hanging out. It wasn't even the cuts that had awakened her; it was Fran's screams as she was being dragged into the bedroom by a knife-wielding Samples. Diane somehow held her arms around her torso and ran out the door. With two hands wrapping her gut, she couldn't hold up her pants, which had also been cut. She stepped out of them and stumbled down the block and into a neighbor's house, through the kitchen and into the bedroom, where she told them, "I've been cut. Call a doctor; I'm dying." She worked hard at not giving in and falling asleep, thinking that she would die if she did. She remained alive, and was able to tell the police that Duane Samples was killing Fran Steffens.

    The police rushed over to Fran's residence but found Fran already dead, cut in a similar manner to Diane, around the neck and on the torso, blood and intestines spilled out over the bed she shared with her daughter, who managed to sleep through and escape Samples's slaughter. Blood was smeared on Fran's thighs, evidence of post-mortem attack on the body. There were also defensive wounds on the hands, showing that Fran had attempted to fight off her attacker.

    Samples was actually well known to the police in the area, principally through his counseling work, but also because he even played softball with some of the cops. An all-points bulletin alerted a pair of officers, who drove to the apartment Samples shared with two other men in a nearby town: he wasn't there, but they found him shortly, and he surrendered peaceably. In his pocket, the police found a handwritten note to Fran dated "Mon. Dec 8" in which he asked her to show the letter to the police so that she could be exonerated from killing him. It said that he "set forth to threaten Fran w/her life" unless she did as he instructed her, "eviscerates & emasculates me." She was instructed either to do this, or he would "gut & mutilate her & her kid." The note went on to say that being killed by a beautiful woman was a "life long fantasy come true," and that a part of him could "hardly wait to see" the blade cutting "murderously" into him.

    Samples claimed he had taken this note to Fran, who had refused to kill him, and this refusal had triggered his killing of her.

    Police and psychologists who interviewed Samples that night and in the following days said that he was oriented, knew who he was and where he was, knew right from wrong, and knew enough to ask for a lawyer. There seemed to be no evidence of psychosis as the basis for the crime. There was clear premeditation and thought involved in the crime: Samples had left the house, gone to his car, taken a fish filleting knife, and come back with the intent to kill both women. Diane even believed she had heard him coming down the block after her as she struggled to reach the neighbor's home. He was arraigned and charged with one count of murder and another of attempted murder.

    During the pretrial period, Samples and his attorney reviewed their options and Samples weighed the issues very methodically, even putting them down in rows and columns on a piece of paper later obtained by the prosecution. His very deliberate actions in this regard show that his mind was working rationally at that time. Samples faced three choices. He could plead not guilty, stand trial, and risk having Diane Ross take the stand against him. If he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, Diane could still be called to testify, and her story might outweigh his contention (supported by the note of "Mon. Dec. 8th") that he had not been in his right mind when he committed the murder. Samples and his attorney seriously considered the insanity defense for a time, and unearthed his diary and other evidence of his long-standing preoccupation with disembowelment for use in such a defense. The "Mon. Dec. 8th" note was also going to play a large role in that defense: It could be construed to show, more than premeditation, clear mental instability. (In my view, the note was actually too well composed and thought out to reflect real instability—it was the creation of a semitrained psychologist, working hard at creating an alibi.) The third option, which Samples eventually embraced, was essentially a plea bargain. He pleaded guilty to murdering Fran, in exchange for the charge of attempted murder of Diane Ross being dropped; this meant she would never be able to testify against him. In return. Samples received the maximum sentence available in the state of Oregon, fifteen years to life; with good time and a little luck, he figured, he might be out of jail in seven or eight years.

    After Samples pleaded guilty, was sentenced, and began serving his time, the media lost interest in his case. Diane Ross recovered and moved to California, and Fran's daughter was raised by other members of her family. The prosecutor's office later admitted that. because of the guilty plea, the prosecution had not looked extensively into Samples's background. Some evidence had been gathered, however. The note of December 8 referred to a lifelong fantasy of disembowelment by a beautiful naked woman, and this had indeed been a recurring theme in Samples's life for some time. At age five, he slept in a bed between his mother and his pregnant aunt. The aunt had a hemorrhage and lost of a lot of blood in the bed before miscarrying; the idea of spilling out internal organs seems to date back to this time. Later in childhood, he was stimulated by seeing an ant on his belly and felt that he wanted the ant to bore a hole through him. At the age of thirteen, playing Russian roulette, he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen. In a journal entry made after his experiences in Vietnam, he wrote that this was the fulfillment of a fantasy dating back to childhood, a "gushing compulsion to feel steel in his guts." Initially, the fantasy had been of his own murder, committed by an "Amazon" woman "spearing" him during the sex act. Fran Steffens had been a relatively large and tall woman. He told a psychiatrist that his activities in his youth included (in the words of the psychiatrist's later report) "pricking himself with pins or knives while enjoying these fantasies, which he found added to his erotic stimulation." Later, the fantasy included killing the woman. He had actually written out his intended MO in a threatening letter to a former lover, well before the murder of Fran Steffens. This letter had many linguistic similarities to his "Dec. 8" note. It warned her that when she was in bed with a new partner he would "erupt from the bowels of darkness to open with razor knife his taut throat." The letter goes on to explain in excruciating detail how Samples was going to disembowel both his former girlfriend and her new lover, sadistically torture them, and partake in their sexual act so that semen, blood, and other bodily fluids would all intermingle in orgasm and death. It would be the greatest sexual experience any of them had ever had, and it would be their last, himself included. After he had fatally wounded them, he also planned to turn the knife on his own gut, so that they would be "mutually dead together.''

    From an initial look into Samples's background, a picture emerged of a smart man, in the top 5 percent on the intelligence scales, a Stanford University scholarship student who had received his degree in psychology in 1964, then gone into the Army. He claimed to have served in Vietnam as a "forward observer," calling in artillery strikes against Viet Cong positions. He came back to find life in America had drastically changed, enough so, he later said, to dash his idealism. After his Vietnam service in 1966 to 1967, he had become a drifter, with his own drug and alcohol problems.

    We welcome discussion of this case as it may pertain to JACK.

  • #2
    Exceptional story & thread,Tim.

    Interesting that Samples was a war veteran. His murder of Fran Steffens occurred a decade after his stint in Vietnam. It might be worth remembering that the Zulu War occurred 9 years before MJK's murder and year shy of a full decade.

    I wonder whether the "Diary" he kept had ever been verified as having been written during the time it was alleged to have been written. Not that it matters now in regard to this murder,but if he premeditated the murder to that extent...of planning all of this to that degree....

    I wonder if the man is out and about today.
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    • #3
      Hi Admin,

      How do you feel about professional hit-men, who couldn't give a flying fig why a certain person has to die? All they want to know is where, when, how much, subtle or high-profile [money up front, no cheques].

      If JtR was a professional killer, all your multiple motives driving his murderous personality go "up the pictures" [a unique English expression which translates as "broken"].

      Are you over-intellectualizing JtR?




      • #4

        I'll have to defer a lengthier reply until a later time, but we did discuss the possibility of Jack being a Victorian hit man at one time:
        Yet, there were other, less obvious methods of profiting from these crimes. Could the Whitechapel Murders have been the work of a Victorian hit man, for example, someone who had been hired to do grisly deeds that another was himself afraid, unable, or unwilling to do?

        This is why we distinguished between motive and reason, since the WM may well have had no real motive, only a reason. My personal favourite appears later in this same article, concerning diversion:
        Were there other crimes for which the Ripper might have been covering? One strong possibility that comes immediately to mind is that of espionage, which was certainly of interest to many foreign governments at the time. Conan Doyle alludes to exactly this sort of crime in several contemporary stories of the Holmes Canon, such as The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans and The Naval Treaty. Could agents of a hostile foreign government have committed or commissioned the Whitechapel Murders as an integral part of some complex espionage scheme within England? Certainly, England had outright enemies in late Victorian times, and there were also numerous, more 'friendly' governments that nonetheless might have felt the need to spy upon England, as Israel has within the United States upon numerous occasions.

        I am not over-intellectualizing JTR, simply because I have not accused anyone or selected any one motive or reason, instead just proposing a myriad of possibilities that exist, some of which have surely never occurred to most ripperologists. I do think that the ultimate solution would prove to be more complicated than most expect, but that's just me.


        • #5
          Hi Admin,

          Thanks for that. My hackles rise whenever psychological motives and reasons are put forward. I didn't know JtR the hit-man had been posited. I'd read the smokescreen theory before, but couldn't think of anything it might have been hiding, except perhaps police, special branch and ministerial connivance in whipping up evidence for the Special Commission.

          You have to admit that the timing of JtR is interesting, coming as it did with Warren on vacation, Monro's resignation, Anderson's Swiss "health trip", Superintendent Arnold and Inspector Reed's annual leave, and parliament in recess. That's what I call a power vacuum.

          Somebody put a lot of thought into the Whitechapel Murders.




          • #6
            Originally posted by Simon Wood
            Thanks for that. My hackles rise whenever psychological motives and reasons are put forward. I didn't know JtR the hit-man had been posited. I'd read the smokescreen theory before, but couldn't think of anything it might have been hiding, except perhaps police, special branch and ministerial connivance in whipping up evidence for the Special Commission.

            You have to admit that the timing of JtR is interesting, coming as it did with Warren on vacation, Monro's resignation, Anderson's Swiss "health trip", Superintendent Arnold and Inspector Reed's annual leave, and parliament in recess. That's what I call a power vacuum.

            Somebody put a lot of thought into the Whitechapel Murders.
            Well, there's a good reason that you never saw that before; it first appeared in Ripper Notes. But the Motives and Reasons forum is chock-full of meaty goodness; just ask Howard.

            Yeah, it's a shame that there was no really magnificent heist of the nearby Bank of England during that time, but it still could have been something obscure. As Jacques Futrelle said, really great criminals are never found out, for the simple reason that the greatest crimes – their crimes – are never discovered. Why not?

            You make a very good point about the power vacuum, and I do wonder if any of that influenced Jack's timing. I too think a lot of planning went in the WM; no one disorganized killer could have been that lucky.