|Ore. v. Longo: A family's murder
|Christian Longo is escorted by police after being charged with murdering his wife and three young children. |
— With his boyish good looks, well-spoken demeanor and religious upbringing, Christian Longo seemed an unlikely candidate for the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. But when the bodies of his wife and three small children were discovered floating in waters near their Newport, Ore., home, Longo vanished and quickly became the prime suspect.
When authorities finally caught up to him in Mexico — where he had been staying on the beach allegedly impersonating a New York Times travel writer and courting a young German photographer — the 29-year-old Longo returned to Oregon to face charges that he murdered his 34-year-old wife Mary Jane and the couple's three children — Madison, 2, Sadie, 3, and Zachery, 4.
Prosecutors called Longo an ice-cold, calculating serial liar who grew tired of his family. The defense, however, contended Longo was broken by extreme financial hardships — and that he was not responsible for two of the deaths.
Though Longo faced the death penalty if convicted, he pleaded guilty to murdering his wife and youngest child before his trial even began on March 10, 2003. In a bizarre move, Longo admitted to Mary Jane and Madison's murders without any plea deal being offered by prosecutors.
A Lincoln County jury was left to decide whether he was also guilty of murdering his two elder children, and whether he deserved to die by lethal injection. In weighing their decision, jurors considered the words of Longo himself, who offered chilling testimony from the stand. During his testimony he revealed for the first time his claim that it was his wife who murdered Sadie and Zachery, which he said prompted him to strangle Mary Jane and then kill his youngest child.
A House of Cards
Raised in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., by strict Jehovah's Witness parents, Longo told investigators that he had a happy childhood. Actively involved in his church, he received training at a young age to participate in the door-to-door ministry.
Though he didn't date until his late teens, he was married at 19 to a woman seven years older, Mary Jane Baker, whom he first met in the church parking lot.
Even before the wedding, Longo began to experience money problems when he bought Baker a three-and-a-half carat diamond engagement ring on a payment plan. One month, he didn't have enough money to cover both the rent and the ring payment, so he stole $108 from the camera store where he worked. When the employees were questioned about the missing money, Longo kept quiet.
But the next morning, he said, his conscience got to him and he left a check for the missing money on the counter along with a letter of resignation. Rent didn't get paid that month.
Longo's roommates, also Jehovah Witnesses, informed congregation elders of the incident and Longo was sanctioned, losing some of his responsibilities within the congregation. Mary Jane stood by him, but because of the sanctions the two were not able to get married in the Kingdom Hall. Longo says he was repentant, and felt he'd learned his lesson.
"I was determined that I would never do anything along those lines again; anything that was not only illegal, but immoral, unsavory."
But Longo's admitted addiction to new cars, nice clothes and tropical vacations tapped out most of his credit even before the birth of the couple's first child, Zachery. Things only got harder financially since Mary Jane Longo stopped working to take care of the baby, and two more children came within the next two years. While the couple was thrilled about the kids, finances continued to deteriorate. Longo says he could not go to his parents for help, because of pride.
Christian Longo started a construction clean-up subcontracting business with another Jehovah's Witness. The business took off quickly, but despite a booming start was soon in debt because of a too rapid expansion.
The Longo family's credit cards were maxed out and nothing was coming in, but to their relatives and other church members, everything seemed fine. To keep up appearances, Longo exaggerated the success of his company — so convincingly that his own father invested tens of thousands of dollars in the business.
Soon after, Longo was showing off a boat and two jet skis he told friends he'd won in a contest and bought two cars. But the Longo's money problems were far from over. One morning, Longo said, he was awoken to the noise of a tow truck in his driveway, repossessing his Ford Taurus. When their other car broke down, he made himself a fake driver's license, presented it to take a Pontiac Montana for a test drive and never returned the car to the dealership lot.
When his wife began asking him why they hadn't received any billing statements in the mail for the new vehicle, Longo created bogus ones on his computer and mailed them to their address.
Things were not going well in the Longo marriage either. In May 2000, Mary Jane Longo called her sister, saying she had discovered e-mails from her husband to another woman. When she confronted him about them, he allegedly told her that she hadn't been any fun since having children and that he didn't love her anymore. In spite of the troubles, Mary Jane Longo stayed with her husband. She did, however, tell the elders in the congregation about the situation. Though there is no indication that Longo had a physical relationship with another woman, Longo was sanctioned by his church once again.
Soon, the cash-strapped Longo put his computer to more use. He printed false checks from companies that owed his business money and cashed them. Before long, the companies contacted police, and Longo found himself in a courtroom for the first time in September 2000.
He pleaded guilty and received three years' probation, but because he exaggerated his income out of his persistent concern for appearances, he was ordered to pay restitution payments far greater than he could handle. When elders from the congregation read about Longo's check forgeries in a local newspaper, Longo was finally disfellowshipped from the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Longo claimed the incident led to a "watershed moment" with his wife, in which he promised her he would be truthful and that they'd straighten out their finances, but not before giving "one last present to each other" — corrective eye surgery for Mary Jane and scuba diving lessons for Longo.
With their finances in shambles and their credit run out, Longo obtained a credit card in his father's name. He amassed nearly $100,000 in debt in Joseph Longo's name without his knowledge.
On the Move
With friends and church members concerned about Mary Jane stopping by and creditors relentlessly calling, Christian Longo decided it was time to make a new start. Though moving out of state would violate the conditions of Christian's probation, the Longos picked up and moved from Michigan to a warehouse in Toledo, Ohio.
Longo said he planned to renovate the warehouse into a loft-style living space. But in the meantime, the family of five had to make due without kitchen facilities or adequate plumbing. Longo lied to his wife, telling her the rent had been paid for six months, but meanwhile was cashing more forged checks around the area to stay afloat.
After the move, Mary Jane Longo drifted out of touch with her family. Her sister, Sally Clark, finally managed to find them by driving to Toledo, canvassing the area and spotting their dog outside the building. According to Clark, she spoke to Mary Jane to make sure everything was all right, but Mary Jane refused to leave her husband and return to Michigan.
Longo was unnerved when cops caught on to stolen machinery he was attempting to sell. Before he could be charged with receiving stolen construction equipment and passing bad checks, Longo had already picked up his family moved once again.
At one point, Mary Jane and her husband were driving separately down the road in the stolen SUV and a stolen Penske moving truck, essentially running from the law. Mary Jane, he says, had no idea that anything was wrong. They kept moving, staying at campsites and motels, spending little. Later, they hocked Mary Jane's wedding ring for a few hundred dollars.
Mary Jane's siblings had by this time filed missing person's reports with authorities. Christian Longo's parents were also worried, and his mother said she told one federal agency, "Does somebody have to die before you do something?"
The Longos eventually went to Oregon, where they rented a small vacation house in Waldport. Only a few weeks after their arrival, however, he fell behind on payments and was denied a reprieve.
He pawned some "crab rings" he stole from the property before leaving, and used the money for a room at a Newport, Ore., motor inn.
They moved onward and upward when Longo convinced the manager of a nearby bay-front condominium complex that he was a telephone company employee waiting for a paycheck. The manager bought his story, and allowed the Longos to move in to the $1,500 a month condo with no money up front.
Longo found a part-time job at the Starbucks counter in a Fred Meyer variety store. Humiliated, he told his boss and fellow employees that he lived off a lucrative Internet business but took the part-time job because he liked Starbucks coffee.
The family struggled, running out of money only days after paychecks arrived. The rent on the condo did not get paid and groceries were scarce. Longo says he was forced to pump a tank of gas and drive away without paying. In a police interview after his arrest, Longo described standing on the balcony of his condo with his family sleeping inside, looking out over the dark bay.
He knew they would soon have to leave the condominium but hadn't broken the news to his wife yet. Longo would later describe this night on Dec. 16, 2001, as "the beginning of the end."
On Dec. 19, 2001, a man in a Waldport RV park notified police about a gruesome find — the body of a small boy floating face down in the water near his lot. The boy's digitally enhanced photograph was quickly released to the news media.
A couple who occasionally babysat the children came forward and told police that the child in the photo looked like 4-year-old Zachery Longo.
Three days later, as divers searched the shallow slough where Zach was found, the body of a small girl was discovered weighed down with a rock in a pillowcase tied to her ankle. Both children were clad only in underwear.
On Dec. 27, divers deployed to search local waterways in the days that followed found two suitcases under a dock at a marina adjacent to the condominium complex where the Longo family had been staying. One contained the tiny body of Madison, 2, some clothing and a dumbbell. Wisps of hair stuck out of the other, which contained the naked remains of Mary Jane Longo.
Autopsies later determined the four victims had likely died of asphyxia, and that there was evidence of blunt force trauma on the face of Mary Jane Longo. There was also some evidence, although disputed, that Zachery and Sadie died from drowning.
Police initially sought Christian Longo for questioning as a witness. But by Dec. 28, the missing Longo had been charged with murdering his family. He made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, while Longo's parents cooperated with "America's Most Wanted." A tip led authorities to the Mexican cabana where Longo was staying with a German photographer, whom he allegedly identified himself to as Michael Finkel, a former travel writer for the New York Times.
On Jan. 13, 2002, Mexican federales and FBI Agent Dan Clegg nabbed Longo.
He allegedly admitted to a federal agent that his looks and speaking skills had helped him get away with innumerable cons and crimes along the way. "That's been my downfall," he said.