Richard Hammer was an Edgar Award-winning author of books several pivotal books about true crime. He passed away in hospice care on October 17, 2021. He was 93—and his legacy lives on. His writing brought a sense of warm empathy into a subject which can often be cold and calloused.
Hammer's book Beyond Obsession dives into a daughter’s conspiracy against her mother, a young boy’s deadly infatuation, and the brutal murder that shocked a small town.
When former social worker Joyce Aparo was found strangled in 1987, the people of her community in Glastonbury, Connecticut were shocked. Who would want to kill her? But the truth about who murdered Joyce, and why, was much darker.
For over a year, Joyce’s teenage daughter Karin had conspired with her boyfriend Dennis Coleman to murder her. The motive? Karin claimed to have suffered years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her mother. “She had to go,” Karin told Dennis, and she’d do it with or without him. In a dangerous game of manipulation and lies, Karin had Dennis wrapped around her finger. And he’d do anything to satisfy her—even murder.
Read on for an excerpt from Beyond Obsession, and then download the book.
He needed help. He was faced with a dilemma. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for Karin, but this was just too much, this was incomprehensible. He went to his father, told his father that Karin was having terrible problems at home, that she was saying it was essential that she get out, that she was even talking about killing her mother and having Dennis help her. It was such an incredible story that his father wasn’t sure he was serious. Kids always have trouble at home. Kids are always talking about running away. But murder? That was carrying it too far. If Karin was in so much trouble at home that her mind was even toying with such an idea, Dennis senior said, then she could come live with them; he would even, if necessary, adopt her. But he didn’t really believe it could be that bad.
Dennis brought his father’s offer to Karin. She turned it down. It couldn’t work, she said. As long as Joyce was alive, she could never escape.
But if Joyce were dead, then Karin would be free. And if Joyce were dead, there would be plenty of money to live on. A year before, her mother had told her that if anything were to happen, there would be enough for her and that she wouldn’t have to worry about having to live with her father. It all was spelled out in Joyce’s will. Karin went to the closet where Joyce kept that will and other important papers, took them out and glanced through them.
Now she wrote to Dennis that they would do what had to be done soon, the sooner the better. School was to start in a month, and her problem should be taken care of long before that. They should get together and look over what she called “the crucial papers. Legal ones I mean.” She had them, and when they examined them, they would be able to see just what they would have in the future.
Karin later said that what she was writing about in that note was her never-ending plan, her fantasy, that she could run away with Dennis. All her notes dealt with that and nothing else, certainly not the murder of her mother. As for the crucial legal papers, she said she could not remember what they were.
Dennis, however, maintains that the note had nothing to do with running away. That plan had vanished. A new one had replaced it. The papers, which he says he himself never saw, were Joyce’s will, insurance policies, deeds and other documents. Joyce’s estate, Karin told him, was sizable, and she offered to split the proceeds with Dennis if he helped her. Best of all, there was the fantasy that the condo would be hers and they could live there together.
On August 3 the plot became more than talk, more than oblique references in notes. “We had just been shopping, the three of us—Joyce, Karin and me,” Dennis remembers. “We had just come home, and we were sitting in the living room. Joyce asked Karin to make her a sandwich, and Karin went off, first to the bathroom and then to the kitchen. She had a bottle in her hand. I got up and followed her. She said, ‘You wouldn’t do it. Now I’m going to do it myself.’ I didn’t help her then, but I didn’t do anything to stop her. She got a plate and put the sandwich on it and carried it back to the living room, and she gave it to Joyce. I thought, oh, God.”
Karin had taken a bottle of Joyce’s prescription medicine, Seconal pills for her migraine headaches, from the medicine cabinet, carried the bottle into the kitchen, taken the pills from the bottle, crushed them and mixed the powder into the sandwich for her mother. She said later that she had crushed only two, perhaps three or four, just enough to calm her mother down. Dennis says he isn’t sure how many pills she crushed for the sandwich, but the bottle was empty when she showed it to him, and there was enough in the sandwich to kill Joyce.
What’s more, Jill Smith, the woman who had taken care of Karin when she was small and with whom Karin lived for a time during the winter after Joyce’s death, says that one night that winter, on a ride home from Hartford to her house, she talked to Karin about the pills, talked about the quantity that Karin had put in the sandwich, perhaps as much as the whole bottle. “You could have killed your mother,” Jill Smith said to Karin. “I know. I know,” Karin replied. And Karin’s friend Kira Lintner later said that Karin wrote her a note about the attempt, saying, “I almost had my mom dead.”
But Joyce did not die from the pills. She took one bite of the sandwich and made a face. “The damn relish has gone bad,” she said. “Throw it out, and the two of you go to the store and buy some fresh relish.”
This time it would not be Karin acting on her own. This time they would work in concert. It was now the second week of August 1986.
It would go this way: Of an evening Karin would lure Joyce into the kitchen of the condo. Initially it was decided that Dennis would be lurking in a nearby closet, ready to come to her aid. Before it was over, Joyce would be dead, Karin doing the killing and Dennis supporting her in a claim of self-defense. Then that scheme was dismissed, and a new plan emerged, though with essentially the same elements. In this one Dennis would be watching from his window across the way. At the appropriate moment, when Joyce was distracted, Karin would take a kitchen knife and kill her. She would then flick the lights in the kitchen on and off to summon Dennis, and he would come running. The police would be called. Dennis would tell them that he had heard loud noises and come rushing across the parking lot. As he arrived, Joyce was viciously attacking Karin. In self-defense Karin had grabbed a knife and acted to protect herself.
When they finally agreed on this method, Karin wrote another note to Dennis, telling him, “I will do whatever is necessary. It is a decided thing and I will do it even if you won’t help me. It is just another thing to do on my ‘priority list’ & right now it has a very high billing.” As for the lights, she would take care of them, unless, that is, he wanted to help.
Out of nowhere, a non sequitur, she added that she had his socks, that school began on September 3 and she had her school schedule, was going to be taking chemistry even though she hadn’t finished algebra.
Then, on a line by itself, she wrote, “My God, do you realize what we’re thinking?”
Now Karin announced that she couldn’t carry out the plan herself. Joyce was her mother, she said, and much as she hated her and wanted to escape from her, she couldn’t kill her. Dennis said, “Okay. I understand. I could do it.”
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