Serial Killer’s Home Becomes Tourist Site

Dorothea Puente home
ilvadel, Flickr

Between the beaches, national parks, vineyards and theme parks, California has plenty of tourist draw cards, but now an unlikely attraction has made the list — the home of a serial killer.

The boarding house run by Dorothea Puente, a Sacramento woman convicted of killing her elderly residents, became a tourist attraction when the city decided to add the building to its local tour of featured and historic homes.

Although the building has undergone some updates in the three decades since the gruesome murders, visitors are still able to see the room where the killer drained the body fluids from her elderly victims.While the home of a serial killer may seem like a strange attraction to visit during a vacation, macabre tourist sites are nothing new. Here are a couple other dark attractions that visitors flock to:

Choeung Ek. More than one million people were slaughtered during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and Choeung Ek is one of the most well known Killing Fields. Nearly 9,000 bodies are buried in mass graves here, and visitors can see a giant glass memorial filled with 5,000 human skulls.

Auschwitz. This World War II concentration camp in Poland saw the deaths of more than 1 million prisoners at the hands of the Nazis. Each year, millions of visitors pass through the gates of the memorial and museum located at the site.

Fukushima Nuclear Reactor. It’s not quite an attraction yet, but a proposal is being considered to turn this Japanese disaster site into a tourist destination. Tourists would stay in hotels designed to protect them from high levels of radiation and would be able to take photos of the reactor while dressed in protective suits and respirators.

Newlywed Shoves Husband Off a Cliff in Glacier National Park, Charged with Murder

dancingnomad3, Flickr

What better way than to spend your honeymoon in the great outdoors? And if you don’t have time for a honeymoon, how about a nice weekend hike?

Unfortunately, when newlyweds Jordan Linn Graham, 22, and Cody Lee Johnson, 25, headed to Glacier National Park on July 7 for a hike, their week-old marriage had a tragic ending. After an argument on the Loop Trail, in a moment of anger Graham pushed Johnson and he fell face-first off a cliff.

After the dispute, Graham failed to call police, and it was not until Johnson did not show up at work the next day that he was reported missing. A few days later, Graham reported that she had found the body, claiming that she knew of the location because “it was a place he wanted to see before he died.”

That seemed suspicious, and when she was questioned by authorities later in the month she admitted that the two had begun to argue while on the trail and, as stated in the affidavit, “due to her anger, she pushed Johnson with both hands in the back, and as a result, he fell face first off the cliff.”

The charging documents suggest that Graham was already having reservations about her new marriage, and that she texted a friend on July 7 indicating that she was off to have a chat with her new husband about her concerns. Graham is now facing second-degree murder charges.

Pakistan Halts Mountaineering Expeditions Following Base Camp Murders

Pakistani mountaineering expeditions to Nanga Parbat asre suspended
Daniel Martin via WikiMedia

In the wake of the brutal killing of 10 climbers in Base Camp on a remote peak in Pakistan this past weekend, the country has suspended all mountaineering expeditions to the region. This unprecedented move has forced dozens of alpinists to abandon their climb as the Pakistani government scrambles to ensure they can keep visitors safe following the tragedy.

Early Sunday morning a team of armed gunmen dressed as local police stormed Base Camp on Nanga Parbat, the ninth tallest mountain in the world at 8126 meters (26,660 feet). The attackers reportedly pulled 10 climbers from their tents, bound their hands and shot them execution style. A Pakistani guide was also killed in the massacre while another Chinese climber was shot and wounded, but survived. Afterward, a militant group known as Junood ul-Hifsa, a relatively new splinter group from the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the killings, which they say were in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike back in May.

News of the attack sent a shockwave through the closely-knit mountaineering community, which has been coming to Pakistan to climb in the summer months for decades. The Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, which is where Nanga Parbat can be found, is normally considered to be very peaceful and welcoming of foreigners, which has only added to the sadness and confusion that has come with this massacre.Immediately following the attack, the Pakistani military moved onto the mountain and secured a safe exit for the other climbers, most of whom were further up the slopes at the time. At the moment, only one team remains on Nanga Parbat – a Romanian squad that is attempting an ascent along a different route. Their camp is located far from the scene of the attack and they are awaiting word to see if they will be allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, back in Islambad, other climbers are stranded in the city while they wait for an opportunity to travel to their targeted peaks. A number of teams hoping to make an attempt on K2 – the second highest mountain in the world – are now left wondering if they’ll even get a chance to climb at all. The Pakistani government want to make sure it can guarantee their safety before letting them depart for the mountains and as a result it is erring on the side of caution. While there have been no other attacks on mountaineers elsewhere in the country, an armed presence now exists on the trekking routes that lead to those peaks.

Summer is typically the busy climbing and trekking season in Pakistan and the economy there depends on visitors feeling safe. This attack is likely to make adventure travelers and mountaineers think twice before they travel to the region in the future, which could have a big impact on the poor people that live in these remote areas.

Belgian Trekker Murdered In Nepal

Langtang National Park, site of a murder in NepalA 23-year-old Belgian trekker who had been missing for ten days was found murdered in a popular national park in Nepal. The decapitated remains of Debbie Maveau were discovered on June 14, but authorities remain baffled as to who could have killed her and why.

Maveau was traveling solo through Nepal when she elected to visit the popular Langtang National Park, located along the border of Tibet. The park is a popular destination for hikers and independent travelers who have frequently visited the region over the years. But it seems that it is an increasingly hostile place for female trekkers, as this isn’t the only case of violence in recent months. Back in December, two women, one Korean and one American, were both assaulted in Langtang within a week of one another, which has prompted travel warnings for those visiting the region.

What is most troubling about this latest case, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear motive behind the brutal killing. Police say that Maveau wasn’t sexually assaulted, nor was she robbed. They found 8000 rupees (about $93) and a digital camera on her body, which indicates that who ever murdered her wasn’t looking for cash. Authorities also said that local residents haven’t been helpful in generating leads either, which has left them with few clues as to how to proceed with their investigation.

This is a sad story to say the least and probably one of the worst nightmares for many travelers. While something like this can obviously happen anywhere, it is always a bit disturbing when it takes place while someone is visiting a foreign country.

Our condolences go out to this young woman’s friends and family.

[Photo credit: Yosarian via WikiMedia]

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: Help us get away with murder

police tape

For Bashkim, a 25-year-old Albanian-American dishwasher, the trouble all started after he started having an affair with his boss’s wife. When his boss heard the rumors, he immediately confronted his wife.

Luljeta claimed that Bashkim, who was nearly 20 years younger than her, had raped her in the diner, after hours, on several occasions. Her husband, Illir, called the Anchorage police, who investigated the claims and discovered that Luljeta had actually paid for motel rooms used for afternoon trysts with Bashkim. The police dropped the charges but Ilir was irate and unsure of whom to blame.

Several months later, Bashkim traveled to Kicevo, a small city in Macedonia, the country of his parents’ birth, for the first time, along with his father, Nick, and cousin, Tony. Arranged marriage is still common amongst Albanian-Americans and Nick wanted his son to meet a woman they wanted him to marry.

The trio met with the young woman and her family in a café in downtown Kicevo, a shabby, provincial city with a substantial ethnic-Albanian community, and wedding plans were sealed over coffee and cigarettes in the traditional Albanian custom. But as the group walked out of the café, a masked man dressed in a joggers outfit opened fire on them, with bullets hitting Nick and Bashkim in the head.

Tony was hit in the buttocks, but managed to disarm the gunman, who fled into a getaway vehicle. The victims were rushed to a local hospital, where Nick, 46, was pronounced dead on arrival. Bashkim was seriously wounded but made a full recovery, as did Tony. A few months later, Ilir was extradited from Alaska to Macedonia to stand trial for murder.

When Americans are locked up abroad, American Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) will visit them in prison and will typically attend their trial, if possible. But what many travelers and expatriates often fail to understand is that Americans are always subject to local laws and judicial proceedings – even if they are capricious and backward.

FSO’s can provide detained Americans with a list of local attorneys, help the American get in touch with people in the U.S., and try to ensure that the American isn’t being mistreated in the prison. They can also explain the local law and what the court proceedings are likely to entail but they can’t do much more than that, and this often creates friction.I once had to deal with a recently naturalized American citizen from Bulgaria who was arrested in Macedonia on an Interpol warrant for mail fraud, among other offences. He spoke no English and his ties to the U.S. were sketchy at best, but his son was on the phone every day harassing us about why we weren’t “doing more” to get his father out of prison.

“He’s an American citizen,” the son cried. “You are the American embassy! Do something. Get him out!”

The son kept telling me that his father’s imprisonment was a violation of the Geneva Convention and he encouraged me to study that document more closely to find ways to get his father released. I wanted to tell him that there were no special provisions for Bulgarian mafia thugs in the Geneva Convention and that I hoped his dad rotted in prison, but as a civil servant tasked with “helping people” I would simply mutter platitudes like, “Geneva Convention, OK, I’ll look into that.”

America may be the world’s lone superpower, but, no, we do not have the power to get oversea Americans out of prison, even if we believe that they’re innocent. (And in that case, there was overwhelming evidence against the Bulgarian-American and he was convicted.)

Shortly after I arrived in Macedonia for a two-year tour at the American embassy, my boss asked me to follow Illir’s trial in Kicevo, a two-hour drive south from the Macedonian capital, Skopje. Despite the fact that Illir owned two restaurants in Alaska, we found out that he was actually living in the U.S. illegally, on a long-expired tourist visa. So as representatives of the U.S. government, he wasn’t our problem. But since the victims were U.S. citizens, we wanted to follow the trial.

Two years before I arrived in the country, Illir was acquitted of the murder charge. But in Macedonia, the prosecution can appeal an acquittal, and a year later, in the appeal he was found guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. As Bashkim exited the courtroom, a 65-year-old woman, who was later identified as Luljeta’s mother, lunged at him with a large kitchen knife but was knocked down by a bystander.

Illir appealed the conviction and I was in attendance for the court proceedings, along with a local employee from the embassy named Ljupka. It was my first time in a Macedonian courtroom and I couldn’t help but wonder why there was a huge pile of at least 100 old typewriters in the corner of the room.

“This is Macedonia,” Ljupka said. “Who knows?”

After getting shot on his first visit to Macedonia, and nearly getting stabbed by Luljeta’s mother on his most recent visit, Bashkim elected to stay in Alaska for Illir’s appeal, so Illir was the focal point of the proceedings. He had two defense strategies. The first was to highlight his illegal status in the U.S. He argued that he couldn’t have left the U.S. to come to Macedonia to kill Bashkim because then he wouldn’t have been able to re-enter the country to attend to his restaurants.

But after the prosecutors showed evidence that Illir had used his old Macedonian passport to cross into Macedonia by land from Albania less than 24 hours before the murder took place, he tried a different tact. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read off a list of names.

“What’s going on?” I asked Ljupka.

“He says that he’s spent the last year trying to bribe his way out prison,” she said. “And he’s naming all the people he gave bribes to and how much he paid.”

Some of the people he was naming were in the room but it didn’t matter. The conviction was upheld and Illir spent the next seven years in prison. I’m told that Bashkim, the former dishwasher, now owns his own restaurant in Fairbanks. His father is gone but not forgotten.

Twelve years have passed since the murder took place and I’m told that Illir, who never confessed to the crime, more or less has his old life back. He somehow found a way to get back into the U.S. and is keeping a low profile in Alaska, presumably keeping a close eye on his wife.

Note: the names of the individuals mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

Photo via Tony Webster on Flickr.