The Murder of Charlene Hummert

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Charlene Hummert was a 48-year-old mother of three who had been married to her husband Brian for more than 20 years. She worked for the State of Pennsylvania as an administrative assistant. In the forensic file episode her son, David Hummert describes her as a good mom, a kind and helpful woman with strong religious values.

In 2001, Brian finds an envelope on the windshield of his car, inside they find something shocking. Within the envelope is a professional glamour shot of Charlene, like one she would have paid to have taken posted, as well as a worrying letter calling Charlene a “slut” and threatening revenge, here it is:

Here is the proof that your wife is a slut. Do what you will with it. Sorry it took so long. I only come occasionally back to the area on business. Merry Xmas. I will send you several copies of this so you get the information in case the slut intercepts one. Before I tell you how I got it, I want to tell you a little about myself. I played in a band back in the late seventies/early eighties. I had a one niter with your wife. She was a fine piece of ass that I enjoyed several times that night. Rumor had it that she occasionally took several guys at once and she sucked cock really well. I would have loved to have found out. A couple of days later she made sure my fiancée found out. She dumped me and then had an abortion. We have since patched things up and gotten married, but she can’t have any children. I blame your wife for that. The time is now right for payback. I hope to see your wife miserable the next time I am in the area. I ran into your wife back in September at Gabriel Brothers. I almost didn’t recognize her with her dyed hair. I have been following her around hoping she would mess up. On October 6, I followed your wife over to Capitol City Mall. She was dressed up more the usual for a Saturday of shopping. She went into the Picture People. This was around 10 AM. A couple of weeks later I went in and got copies of the pictures enclosed. On the negative holder she had written that the photo was a gift. There was no indication of which one she had printed up. I ask you who was it for? Also she does not have her wedding ring on. Why not? A red rose is a symbol of love. For who? I don’t think you know about these. Do you? Also she has purchased a lot of sexy bras and panties. Have you seen them or the red nightie? Were they brought for your enjoyment? You may also want to ask her about her Spencer Gift purchases. Do you love lubes with her? So you see once a slut always a slut.

Charlene was shocked, she claimed she never had an affair and had no clue who would have sent it. They reported the letter to the police and they put surveillance on the house, unfortunately, it did not help. More letters arrived. Understandably the family was terrified and constantly on edge. David said that a few times they even thought they saw people on their property, but nothing came of it.

Police began to test the letters but no fingerprints or evidence was discovered. They were stumped. Until another letter arrived. This letter was completely shocking, it said:


“Hey dumbass, I know about the camera. Your kids’ friends have big mouths. I know someone’s house code is 7805. This is the third packet.

At this point, I would be absolutely freaking out, I am not sure if I would even be able to stay in the house. But this is a big family with three kids, I’m sure it would have been extremely difficult to move your family. Because of the stress and constantly being on high alert, the marriage began to have some problems and arguments become more and more common

On the night of March 19th, one of these arguments occurred. When the argument ended, Charlene made a call and around midnight her husband said that she left with the person that she had called. That night her children were not at home, however, they knew something was wrong. David said he tried to call her multiple times but could never get in touch.

Later that night, Brian reported his wife missing and the police department issued an all-points bulletin for Charlene's white Land Rover SUV. It didn’t take long for them to find it. On March 20th police find the car in a supermarket parking lot. In the back of the car, they found Charlene's body hidden under a blanket. She had died from ligature strangulation. She had a distinct mark on her neck, at the time police were unable to place where it had come from.

Police said that Charlene had been startled and strangled from behind, there was nothing she could have done. However, they did assume that it must have been someone she knew since he was able to get so close.

The family immediately thought they knew who had done it, the person who had been sending her the letters.

During the autopsy, the forensic pathologist found something interesting, he discovered evidence that the crime scene had been staged. There were two major clues that he found, first Charlene’s pants were on backward, insinuating that someone had put her pants on after she had died. The second was that she was wet, nothing else in the car was wet, just her jacket. Meaning that she had gotten wet before she got into the car. He found a drag mark on her lower back with traces of dirt and gravel embedded with no evidence that she had been alive when it happened. After forensic testing, nothing unique could be found from the dirt and gravel however police did get another clue.

Employees of the grocery store mentioned that they had seen the SUV parked there before dawn, and the investigators had an idea, what if the driver of the car had gone into the grocery store to seem less obvious that they were up to something? They obtained video footage of the store and they found someone who looked very suspicious.

A man seemed to be attempting to avoid the cameras. He was wearing a parka, a wool hat, and red gloves. And he only made one purchase. Dog biscuits. Now we have dogs, and sometimes we have to get up early and make emergency dog purchases… but I’ll be honest I would never get up at dawn and buy dog biscuits! Unfortunately because of the quality of the footage, they are unable to distinguish who the man was. They decided to send the image to a photo grammetrist - photo gramitry uses a two-dimensional photograph to create a three-dimensional image.

The grocery store sent the dimensions of their floor tiles, they then took an image with the same camera and a height chart, because of this they were able to find the height of the mystery man - he was 5ft 5inches tall.

They weren't going to give up on the dirt samples though, they really felt that it would be the connection to the murderer. So they sent it to a forensic microscopist to see if he could find something the forensic scientists didn't, and he did. Using a tuning fork - like the one used to tune instruments - the microscopist was able to extract evidence that was compared with dirt found near Charlene's home and elsewhere and he got a match. The dirt matched the dirt in the Hummert family driveway. He described it as “a perfect match”, one of the best matches of his career.

They now knew that Charlene had been killed on or near her own driveway and had been dragged over it and put in her own car. Police issued a search warrant for the family home and a search ensued. They weren’t disappointed with what they found. They saw A piece of cable on the floor, the Hummert family used it as a dog leash, investigators realized something. The distinct mark on Charlene's neck matched perfectly with a metal piece that was connected to the cable. They concluded that the “dog leash” or something very similar was used to kill Charlene.

Upon this discovery, Brian changed his statements on his wife's murder. Through his lawyers, he claimed that David, his son, was the real killer of Charlene.

But the investigators weren’t dumb, they knew that this claim was absolutely not true, in fact, one of the prosecutors said that this insinuation was “preposterous”. They knew this could not be the case because of how close Charlene had been with all three children but in particular with David.

Her relationship with her husband Brian, however, was not as great. Charlene was actually preparing to leave the marriage. This was actually not the first time she had done this, claiming abuse from Brian towards the kids.

And suddenly, another letter arrives, this one claimed responsibility and was sent to the police department. It claimed responsibility for the murder of Charlene and specifically said her husband didn’t do it:

I killed Charlene Hummert, not her husband. We had an affair for the past nine months. She wanted to break it off. So I broke her neck! I wrote letters to her husband and to Det. Loper. I used a white nylon rope to kill her they won’t find me I am leaving. I am writing because of Easter. I am sorry I killed her. They won’t find the cell phone she used to call me, it is in the river and not under my name. I carried her into the kitchen and then dragged her outside to her car. This is the fifth woman I killed. I am getting good at it. Cops have no idea how easy it is to pin husband when they only look there. She knew about pictures on PC. She told story to set up husband for the Divorce. Ha Ha ByeBye for now John.

The police start to get creative, they decided to send the letter to forensic linguist Dr. Robert Leonard who was a founding member of the Rock and Roll group Sha Na Na - he said his first experience of forensic linguistics was reading the contracts for this group, he said that often they said one thing but it really meant another.

When comparing the stalker letters to the letter that arrived at the police department, Dr. Leonard was able to find a clue, a unique rhetorical clue in both letters - known as an Ironic Repetition which is using the same verb in two consecutive sentences but changing the context. Dr. Leonard concluded that the letters were written by the same person

Dr. Leonard then looked at writing samples known to be Brians and although he didn’t find ironic repetition, he did find something else, negative contractions but no positive contractions. Most people use both, the only person Dr. Leonard has ever seen only use negative contractions was Brian Hummert.

What's more, Brian matched the height of the unknown male in the grocery store and a blue parka was found in his home with a receipt for dog treats. They also found evidence that Brian had written the letters on his computer.

The investigation lasted 7 months before they finally made the arrest. Brian was arrested at his job and charged with criminal homicide, hindering apprehension or prosecution, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and false reports to law enforcement. Brian Hummert was arrested and brought to trial.

Prosecutors believed that Brian saw his marriage falling apart and that if he would write these letters to scare his wife, he could be the hero and reconnect with her. However the letters only caused arguments, and prosecutors believe that Charlene might have known that he was sending the letters. After an argument, Brian snapped, grabbed the closest item he could find, strangled Charlene, dressed her and dumped her car and body at the grocery store.

Brian was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. David never believed that his father would have done this, but it didn’t take long for his mind to be changed.

In 2019 on an episode of I Lived with a Killer, David finally spoke out about his father

Although from the outside it may have seemed like Brian was a wonderful father, the truth was far off. David said that his father was violent and Charlene was stashing money to escape with her children at the time of her death. David said that at one point his father broke his nose with a bike frame, he threw it in his face.

Here's a quote from The Sun “But on the evening of March 19, 2004, David, then 18, and his teenage sister Tracey went out, leaving Brian and Charlene alone in the house David says: "I was out until approximately 4 am. When I came back my dad was up sitting in his computer room with all the lights off. "I asked him why he was still up and he said that he and my mother had got into a fight and she left and he was waiting for her to come home so they could talk about it. "I was pretty tired and just wanted to go to bed and figured if it was anything super serious, she would have called me or texted me or something." But the following morning when Charlene still hadn't returned home, David began to panic. David says: "It just did not feel right."

David said immediately when his father stopped being cooperative with the police he knew something was wrong. He said that Brian started acting differently, treating him nice and saying if he needed anything he would help - it wasn't right.

One extremely interesting thing about the trial is that Brians's sister actually sided with her father. She refused to help in the investigation and when she was on the stand she insinuated that David could have done it and that he had a tempter.

The murder basically ended the family and David says he hasn't spoken to either his sister or his brother since the trial which is absolutely horrible. These crimes affect way more than the victim or the murderer.

Resources:

1. http://www.robertleonardassociates.com/PDF/NewYorker_iPad_extra.pdf

2. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/9736478/i-lived-with-a-killer-dad-stalked-strangled-mum-to-death-brian-hummert/

3. https://www.pennlive.com/midstate/2013/05/notorious_murder_charlene_humm.html

 

 

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