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On December 8, 2011, Rosemary Garnett, who lived at the Four Freedoms retirement complex in Seattle, Washington, called her beloved friend and fellow resident Francis “Patrick" Fleming.
She needed orange juice from his fridge to take medication. When Fleming didn’t pick up the phone, it struck her as odd.
Garnett walked to his apartment, where she noticed that his door was ajar. That was also out of character for the 70-year-old Navy veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient, she told “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
She pushed the door all the way open and saw Fleming in his bedroom. There was blood everywhere. He was staring at the ceiling, his eyes open.
“I knew that he was dead,” she told producers.
Seattle Police Department Detective Cloyd Steiger responded to the scene. He considered a homicide in a senior residence highly atypical and was struck by the extreme brutality of the slaying. He was certain that the victim had suffered as he was attacked, he told producers. There were gaping cuts on both sides of Fleming’s neck that nearly left him decapitated.
The wounds also indicated that there was more than one assailant.
In addition to stabbings on this chest and abdomen, Fleming had defensive wounds on his hands. His apartment had been thoroughly trashed, as if the perpetrators were looking for something.
Garnett told investigators that her friend had a valuable rare coin collection that he proudly boasted about. The coins along with a brown briefcase were now missing from Fleming’s apartment.
Steiger observed that a folding chair in the crime scene had traces of blood on it. He sent it to the crime lab to see if any of the DNA belonged to anyone besides Fleming. It eventually revealed genetic material from another male.
Investigators also got to work questioning residents for leads. Multiple witnesses recalled seeing three women who kept to themselves, refused to make eye contact with anyone else, and just seemed out of place in the complex's lobby. Unfortunately, the residence had no security camera in the area that could have helped identify the trio.
Detectives continued searching for clues by canvassing the neighborhood, including pawn shops, and listening intently for buzz on the street about the brutal crime. Nothing bubbled up.
Eventually, though, they learned that Sylvia Sutton, a former Four Freedoms resident in her 80s, had fallen victim to a Seattle street-fair psychic who called herself Lady Monica. The so-called seer bilked the elderly mark out of more than $1 million. The palm reader had told Sutton she needed the cash to transform her “gray aura.”
By the time the huckster was done, Sutton was destitute.
Sutton and Fleming had Four Freedoms in common, so investigators looked to see if there was an overlap between the fraud and the murder. After all, as Shemena Johnson, PsyD, LMFT, told producers, con artists often “graduate” to higher levels of sociopathy.
Sutton provided police with a phone number for the palm reader, who was named Brenda Nicholas and the subject of an investigation in Kirkland, Washington. They learned that that case had turned up papers in Nicholas’ possession that belonged to Fleming.
Steiger contacted Nicholas’ parole officer, who said that he and Nicholas had a meeting date set. Steiger covertly followed Nicholas after that meeting to a palm reading shop.
Detectives secretly monitored the comings and goings of individuals from the shop. Focus fell on Gilda Ramirez, who was confirmed by witnesses to be one of the women in the lobby of the Four Freedoms the day Fleming was killed.
Ramirez, investigators learned, had had a bad romantic breakup. Nicholas manipulated her to help her get over the heartache — but at a price. Ramirez borrowed so much money from her family to give to Nicholas she alienated herself from them. She became dependent on Nicholas, who used that power position to her advantage.
Soon, Charles Jungbluth, a low-level associate of Nicholas, became another person of interest and was questioned by police. They learned that he had feelings for Nicholas and she, in turn, used him like a pawn. He denied ever being inside Four Freedoms, but agreed to a DNA swab that eventually revealed that it was his blood on the chair at the crime scene.
When detectives brought Jungbluth back in for further interrogation, they took a hardball strategy. Steiger told him he knew he was guilty — and Jungbluth’s subservience to Nicholas made him all too ready to take the fall.
However, he eventually revealed Nicholas and Ramirez were part of the murder. They wanted to get their hands on the valuable coins Fleming owned. Nicholas and Jungbluth stabbed Fleming to death with kitchen knives while Ramirez was present.
Nicholas, who was deemed “a ruthless manipulator” and the mastermind of the crime, Ramirez, and Jungbluth were arrested. Ramirez, 51, and Jungbluth, 49, were then given deals to testify against Nicholas, 46, at the trial.
Jungbluth pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was given 22 years in prison, reported the Seattle Times in 2013. Ramirez, meanwhile was sentenced to over six years in prison for robbery, burglary and trafficking in stolen property.
Nicholas was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 34 years in prison, the maximum punishment possible.
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