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As the adage goes, just because you're paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you. Walter K. Sartory was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic whose brutal end was one of his fears.
Sartory was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1935 and was fascinated by the sciences as a boy. After high school, he attended Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a doctorate in chemical engineering.
In 1962, Sartory began working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Most of the work he did there remains classified but co-workers remember him as a brilliant scientist and problem solver, according to "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Sartory held three patents, one of them for a blood centrifuge widely used at plasma centers. For all his professional success, however, he suffered from debilitating mental illnesses. He was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who at one point believed the CIA trained ants to spy on him. He also dealt with social anxiety disorders. Through psychiatric care and medications, Sartory effectively managed his conditions. He would work at ORNL for 30 years, retiring in 1992.
Sartory’s restless intellect wouldn’t allow him to go quietly into retirement, though. He developed an algorithm for investing in the stock market which would help him amass a $14 million portfolio.
In March 2008, Sartory moved to Hebron, Kentucky, outside Cincinnati. He chose the area for its proximity to Cincinnati /Northern Kentucky International Airport and enjoyed traveling to scientific conventions.
Inside his living room, Sartory set up a bank of computers. Some monitored his investments while others analyzed radio signals from outer space in search of extraterrestrial life. Encouraged by his doctors to develop personal relationships, Sartory began frequenting online chat rooms. In an online mental health forum, he befriended a woman named Ann Cartee and would later visit her and her husband, Robert, in Virginia.
Whether by phone or over email, Ann and Sartory communicated almost daily. In the middle of February 2009, however, he stopped responding to her calls and messages.
On March 2, 2009, the Cartees called the Boone County Sheriff’s Department in Hebron and asked them to perform a wellness check on Sartory. A sheriff's deputy found no one at home. Several days later, he returned and entered through an unlocked door.
“We found some medications that would be consistent with a mental illness, schizophrenia. At that point we have a deeper concern for their personal safety. When you suffer from schizophrenia it’s very important that you have your medication,” Boone County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Cochran told “Snapped.”
Ann said the last time she had spoken with Sartory he told her about a disturbing encounter. He had recently traveled to New York and returned home after a winter storm to find someone had cleared the snow out of his driveway.
Shortly thereafter, he was approached by local cleaner Willa Blanc. She said her son had cleared his driveway and handed him a stack of his own mail, which included his banking and investment statements. She campaigned for a job cleaning his home, staying two hours.
“I do not trust her,” Sartory wrote Cartee in an email obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “I suspect she might be running some sort of confidence racket. Or she might be casing my house to see if it is worth robbing.”
On March 9, investigators located Willa Blanc in Union, Kentucky, where she lived with her husband, Paul Blanc, and her 27-year-old son, Louis Wilkinson. Willa claimed she had seen Sartory two days earlier at a local grocery store. She said he was traveling and had asked her to keep an eye on his house.
“He’ll be back, and he’ll be fine,” she told them, according to the monthly periodical Cincinnati Magazine.
Investigators looked at Sartory’s finances and were surprised to find out how much he was worth. They also learned that on February 18, Willa had obtained power of attorney over his banking and brokerage accounts, according to the Los Angeles Times. Soon after, she began emptying them out.
“First a $10,000 wire transfer and then a $200,000 wire transfer had been caused to occur between Walter Sartory’s main investment accounts and Willa Blanc’s checking account,” former prosecutor Linda Talley Smith told “Snapped.”
Willa would ultimately try to obtain $1.3 million from Sartory’s investment accounts before they were frozen by authorities, according to the Oak Ridger newspaper of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Detectives interviewed Paul Blanc, who told them he met his wife in 2001 after she cleaned his home. Born in 1961, she grew up in Cincinnati and had given birth to Louis when she was 19.
Months after they met, Paul and Willa were married and she and Louis moved into his home. Willa had a passion for cars and Paul indulged her. She also had a passion for gambling. Paul said his wife had run up $500,000 in debts. As a result, they had defaulted on their mortgage.
Paul said that on the morning of February 22, 2009, Willa totaled his Chevrolet Trailblazer. She had spent the previous night gambling at a casino in Indiana. Responding officers had noted a large heavy trash can in the back of her truck, which she said was full of firewood for a friend named Dwayne Lively. Following the accident, Willa called Wilkinson, who rented a minivan to pick up his mother and the trash can. The Trailblazer, meanwhile, was taken back to a car dealership in Kentucky.
At the dealership, detectives spoke with sales manager Jon Perron, who said Willa came to him on February 17 to purchase a brand new top-of-the line Corvette ZR1. “She told me, ‘Jon, I’m going to come into a lot of money real soon,'” Perron told “Snapped.”
According to Perron, Wilkinson came in while they were talking and told her, “Mom, the old man wants to get out of the car.” Perron says he looked outside and saw an older man with glasses sitting in the back seat of Willa’s vehicle.
“Willa’s response to Louis was, ‘Tell him to stay in the f--king car or he’ll pay for it later,'” said Perron.
Detectives spoke with Dwayne Lively, who knew Willa from the casinos. Lively said on February 22, Willa and Wilkinson arrived at his home and offered him $1,000 to help them dispose of a trash can which they said contained a dead dog Wilkinson hit with his car, which belonged to an elderly man she was taking care of.
Willa and Wilkinson accompanied Lively to his cousin’s Indiana farm, where they poured gasoline over the trash can and set it on fire. At one point Lively thought he saw part of a spine and told Willa, “This better be a dog,” according to Cincinnati Magazine.
Authorities retrieved charred human remains and a pair of burned metal-rim glasses from the burn site, according to the Los Angeles Times. DNA matched the remains to Walter Sartory.
On March 14, 2009, Willa Blanc and Louis Wilkinson were arrested and charged with kidnapping, murder, knowing abuse or neglect of an adult, knowing exploitation of an adult, tampering with physical evidence, abuse of a corpse, and theft by deception.
While Willa was defiant under questioning and asked for a lawyer, Wilkinson broke down and described a lifetime of abuse and manipulation at his mother’s hands.
“I had no control. I’m just a weak person … I need help,” Wilkinson told detectives during his videotaped interview, which was obtained by “Snapped.” “She’s bad, she’s bad, she’s bad.”
Wilkinson said in mid-February he came home and found Sartory gagged and duct-taped to a chair in the basement of the Blancs' home. Wilkinson removed the gag, and Sartory asked if the “terrorists had been paid,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“[Willa] told him that she needed him to stay in the basement and care for Mr. Sartory. She then went upstairs and deadbolted the door to the basement,” explained Smith.
Wilkinson said Paul Blanc was unaware of the horrors unfolding in his basement. Willa would bring down food and Wilkinson was expected to feed Sartory.
“Louis had indicated that Mr. Sartory would throw up right after being fed. It could have potentially been because he was being poisoned,” said Cochran.
During a search of the Blancs’ home, police found a book owned by Willa titled “How to Choose Your Prey,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Inside her car was a photograph of Sartory and copies of his financial records.
The circumstances of Sartory’s kidnapping, when he died, and the cause of death remain unknown.
In order to avoid the death penalty, Willa Blanc pleaded guilty to all charges and in January 2012 was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Cincinatti Fox-affiliate WXIX.
Louis Wilkinson pleaded guilty to kidnapping, abuse of a corpse and exploitation of an adult. In September 2012, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, according to Cincinnati NBC-affiliate WLWT. He will be eligible for parole in 2029.
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