The Murder of Kathy Bonney

This is a case in which I have seen the made-for-TV movie, starring Tony Danza, as well as documentaries on the case so I knew quite a lot about it but after doing research I realized that not only did I not know a lot of the information but I also realized how much seems distorted.  Granted when stories like this are made into movies, or even often times when they are aired as a documentary, things are often exaggerated.  This is why it is so important to me to research each case as much as I can before I report them here.  Even still, I often find conflicting information, however, at least I can state that here as opposed to others that state them as facts.  I was lucky enough to come across the court documents from 1992 to settle a few of the issues. This is a case however, that reminds me that we may not be so far out of the "yellow journalism" era as I thought we were. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "yellow journalism" it was a term created in the late 1800's and went well into the turn of the century. It was based on the fact that two rival newspapers company's in New York were competing for the biggest sales. The New York World and The New York Journal were own respectively by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. First, their first goal was to have sensational headlines because that is what drew people in. Their articles were often filled with speculation and things that were not often facts.  This is not to say that everything that was printed was not true or researched but it was often riddled with errors, some intentional, again for circulation purposes. In today's age we have a lot less of that type of journalism, at least in what is to be considered respectable newspapers. However, that does not mean that the media does not stir things up today or report things as facts that are found to not be true.  I will not even mention anything specific but just in recent months we should all know this as a truth.

At any rate, while researching this case I had to determine what I believed to take as a fact based on what I was reading and comparing it with other information.  What we do know as a fact is that on November 21, 1987 Tom Bonney killed his nineteen year old daughter, Kathy by shooting her twenty-seven times, removing her clothes and dumping her body near a canal close to the Virginia/North Carolina border.  The following morning Tom when to his local police station in Chesapeake Virginia to report her missing.  He was told that due to her age they would likely wait twenty-four hours before filing a report and to basically come back then.  Around 3pm on November 22nd, Kathy's body was found, although at the time it was not known to be hers.  Within a short time Tom Bonney had recontacted the police about filing the report on Kathy.  The body found in the canal was identified as Kathy's on November 25th through fingerprints.  

When Tom Bonney initially contacted the police on the morning of the twenty-second, he informed them that the evening before he left his home with Kathy to meet a man by the name of "John" to see about buying a Blazer this man was selling.  He told police that he had driven his own wrecker to the meeting place at the local 7-11 store and that Kathy had gotten into the vehicle with this man to go for a test drive and had never returned.  At some point, but I cannot be certain that it was at this first meeting or not, he indicated that Kathy knew who this person was.  He stated he then went home to see if Kathy had returned and she had not. He stated that she had stayed out over night once before hence why he waited until the following morning to report her missing.

Later that afternoon, while crime scene investigators were at the scene of a body found, another officer was at the Bonney home taking the missing person report on Kathy.  The officer received a call about the body found and asked the Bonney family for Kathy's drivers license to help identify the body. As a lay person, but one who knows a little about crime, I would think that this could have possibly been the first time in which officers may have wondered about Tom's story, if they had not already.  I would have found it suspicious that Kathy had left the house without her ID. However, the license was not helpful and later that evening the police called the Bonney home asking if they could come by and get a picture of her to compare. Here is where the second suspicious thing occurred; Tom Bonney told the police that it was too late in the night and that they would have to wait until the following morning to come and get a picture.  It does not sit well that a parent is supposedly looking for his missing child and when a body is found and the investigators ask for a picture to help identify the body he does not immediately provide the information.  Apparently the picture did not help either and the following day the investigators obtained fingerprints from Kathy's bedroom which were ultimately used to identify the body.

Within these few days suspicion seemed to be growing, at least slightly, within the Bonney home.  Kathy's sister, Susan, had left the house not long after Kathy and Tom left on the 21st and she herself went to the 7-11 and saw Kathy and Tom in the parking lot.  Again on the 22nd she went out looking for Kathy at the 7-11 and she found it odd that her father was not out looking.  She also at that time looked inside their Chevrolet and found blood inside.  It is unclear if Susan knew that her father had told investigators that he was driving his wrecker when he was with Kathy or not but I am going to assume that she did not know he had told this lie as she knew they had taken the car.  Susan told her mother about the blood in the front seat but neither she or her mother asked Tom about it and assumed that it had come from some animal.

It was not until November 27th when Tom was interviewed again that he began changing his story. It was on this day he admitted driving the Chevrolet and not the wrecker with Kathy.  He also told the police a story that he had discovered that Kathy was having an affair with an employ of his by the name of John Hoskins and that he had found a letter in Kathy's diary discussing John and that it was rather "vulgar."  He also told investigators that he had fired John Hoskins about ten days before Kathy disappeared and that around the same time he had fired Hoskins a .22 caliber sawed off rifle was stolen from his wrecker.

On November 30th when asked Tom Bonney stated that he had sold the Chevrolet a few days prior and that all he knew was he had sold it to "a black man."  I find this comment telling because on December 4th, when interviewed once again he is asked if he owed a .22 revolver and again he said he used to but that he had sold it to "a black man." It was on the 4th that investigators first indicated that they suspected Bonney of killing Kathy as it was the first time they came right out and asked him.  Of course he denied.  Then on December 10th Bonney called the police and said that he had found the Chevrolet at a car lot.  The police immediately seized the vehicle.

Then, on February 1, 1988 Bonney was arrested in Indianapolis, Indiana and authorities in Chesapeake were informed.  I have been unable to find out through research what exactly he was arrested for but I am almost certain at least one of the documentaries I have seen likely stated it.  Although I cannot confirm it, the fact that Chesapeake was informed and the fact the Bonney stated to them he had left Chesapeake on December 11th (the day after calling the police about the Chevrolet) likely indicated that he could have just been ran on a routine check and was found to be wanted in Virginia.  He had been gone nearly a month and since investigators had been interviewing him every few days, already seemed to suspect him and and had likely gotten results from the Chevrolet I think it is a good bet there was a warrant for him.  Once investigators arrived from Virginia Bonney was interviewed once again.  It was then that he told them he had left Virginia on December 11th and although he did not consider it "running" he had traveled to several states.  He also now once again changed his story as to the night Kathy died.  He once again brought up the supposed "vulgar" letter he had found in her diary and claimed that on the night of November 21, 1987 he had confronted Kathy about that letter while sitting in the parking lot at the canal.  He stated that she lunged for the gun that he had in the car and that it "just went off" and he admitted shooting her.  He also stated that something "snapped" in his head after. The following day he again admitted shooting Kathy but claimed that he did not remember how many times or reloading the gun.  He also admitted to removing her clothes, throwing the gun in the river and putting the casing in the gas tank of his wrecker.  At some point he had sold the wrecker and the new owner found the casings.  They were later identified to match the the slugs in Kathy's body and were determined to be from the same gun.

At this point Bonney was charged with murder and taken back to Virginia.  This is where things start getting a bit shady as to what is fact, what is fiction, and which witnesses you are to believe.  Let's start with the medical examiner. He testified that he determined during the autopsy that Kathy had been shot twenty-seven times.  There were two shots to her forehead that we shot at close range; there were six other gunshot wounds to her face, some of which broke her teeth and jaw; there were three gunshots to her neck; there were ten gunshots to her chest, seven of those were near her left breast and four of those pierced her heart. There were also six shots to her lower legs.  The medical examiner believed that the shots to her legs were done after her death but it was likely the other twenty-one occurred while she was still alive. It is theorized that the two to the forehead occurred in the vehicle while the others were outside the vehicle. He testified that she was likely rendered unconscious after the first bullets and did not feel any pain as she died within about two or three minutes.

At trial the defense never attempted to say Bonney did not kill her but claimed he was mentally ill.  As far as if he had mental issues is less at dispute than what the actual diagnosis was.  The mainstream media has reported and claimed that Bonney suffered from multiple personality disorder, or MPD.  There were video tapes made of a hypnotic session that have been released that boost these claims.  In fact a psychologist by the name of Dr. Paul Dell testified that Bonney suffered from MPD and that it was caused, in his opinion, by the death of his grandmother when he was ten.  There is a problem with Dr. Dell however.
He, himself, admitted that he came to this diagnosis before every evaluating Bonney. He had come to this conclusion based on newspaper reports and video'd interviews with reporters. He was later contacted by defense attorney's to evaluate Bonney. It was argued that he went into those evaluations with bias and a pre-conceived idea.  It was reported that in his initial evaluation that he did not see signs of MPD, nor did he see them soon after when he first hypnotized Bonney.  His interaction with Bonney was video taped and apparently it was shown at one point where Dell told or at least indicated to Bonney that if he indicated or showed he had MPD that he would not be sentenced to jail but to a hospital.  Subsequently Bonney began expressing ideas that he did have MPD both with and without hypnosis.  Dell ultimately testified that he found ten different personalities.  Most newspaper and article reports state that the personality called "Hitman" was responsible for Kathy's murder.  Some reports state that Bonney has claimed this also.  However, other reports say that Bonney has stated that he has never stated this and at trial Dell testified that although there was a personality called "Hitman" the one responsible for Kathy's death was named "Demian." 

As a rebuttal witness at his trial the prosecution called psychiatrist Dr. Phil Coones.  Dr. Coones was instrumental in writing the legal definition and diagnosis of MPD for APA manuals.  He never evaluated Bonney himself personally but he watched the interviews Dell had done and highly criticized him in several areas. In his opinion, by going into the situation with a pre-conceived idea of MPD he felt Dr. Dell did things that led Bonney to 'create' the symptoms. Dr. Coones testified that because of these things Bonney could have been led to believe those things and that under hypnosis show them. Dr. Coones also stated that he did not believe that the death of a loved one was a significant enough event to manifest MPD.  When confronted with these allegations Dr. Dell admitted that he quite possibly did not do the evaluations the way they should have blaming the fact that he had limited time. He stood by his diagnosis however.

Ultimately initially Bonney was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.  Most things indicate that only the sentence was later thrown out due to the belief that whether it was MPD or not, Bonney was not competent to assist in his trial. However, other records indicate that there was a retrial (possibly in 1992) of some sort, or maybe it was me that was confused and this was the initial trial.  In the end the conviction stood but instead of death Bonney was sentenced to life in prison.  

Before researching this case for this blog, I wondered about the MPD diagnosis. It really is a rare disorder and one that can be manipulated.  After doing the research and finding the information, especially pertaining to Dr. Dell, I am still left wondering if it was a true diagnosis or possibly a defense tactic.  The murder took place in 1987 and there apparently were signs of some sort of mental illness.  Even Bonney's former business partner testified to Bonney's apparent abrupt mood swings especially concerning the bible and religion.  This crime also took place in the middle of the Bible Belt.  I believe this could have played a large role in his defense.  I find it quite possible that Dr. Dell integrated himself into the case and the defense, knowing Bonney had some issue, allowed him to come in and take over.  I think it was clearly evident that his tactics to come to the diagnosis were questionable but he qualified as an expert and the defense saw it as their way out. Whether Bonney manipulated the situation and showed the signs later (either on his own, or because he was told to) is up for debate.  There have often been cases in which mental illness is claimed when it was not present and claims made to as attempt to make the defendant less responsible for their actions and then later when the results were not what was hoped for stories were changed.  It has been reported that Bonney remains in prison and much of his time is spent in isolation but I found no indication as to why this is.  He has spent the last 26 years in prison.

Comments

  1. This was so interesting. I have seen the movie and was curious about the real man. He had to be sick to kill his child and shoot her so many times. I guess we just won't ever know for sure. I am also curious about the wife.

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  2. I JUST WATCH HIM ON SWAMP MURDER ID DISCOVERY TV SHOW AND TOM BONNEY SHOULD HAVE DIED BY NOW ON DEATH ROW AND MAY SHE CONTINUE TO RIP... No decent human stab some 1 a few times or one time, let alone almost 3 dozen times, i am sicken by this for a while and each time i watch the movie with HEATHER TOM and TONY DANZA i am sad all over again but more angry he did not die by lethal injection and or the electric chair or whatever. He is pitiful and i am sure God is continuing to let Kathy RIP so sad.

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