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The Nanette Toder murder investigation

Some of the most famous cases from my book, Blood Secrets, involved celebrities, but these aren’t always the most interesting cases. The following murder investigation I took part in was that of a woman named Nanette Toder, a thirty-three-year-old aerobics instructor traveling to the Miami, Florida area for a new job opportunity. Nanette checked into the Hampton Inn, where she stayed for several days. One morning, Nanette failed to answer her wake-up call from the hotel. Several hours later, housekeeping found her dead, partially clothed body on her hotel room bed.

Although nobody initially knew who killed Nanette Toder, a hotel maintenance manager, Christopher Richie had been seen at the hotel on his off-duty time, using the computer where guest information was stored. He had also been closely monitoring Nanette’s room during the initial investigation. It wasn’t until later in the murder investigation when Richie and his past were more closely scrutinized.

When Nanette was discovered, she was laying on her back on the floor between the two hotel room beds, propped up on her elbows. Her head was tipped back and her robe was hanging open so her breasts and pubic area were exposed. A pair of pantyhose was tied tightly around her neck. A phone cord had been used to bind her left wrist and her feet. An autopsy would later reveal that Nanette had been strangled and slashed on the back of the head no fewer than seven times with a heavy blade that had caused massive bleeding. Initially, nobody knew what caused the gashes to the back of Nanette’s head. It was also unknown what type of weapon had caused several large bloody transfer prints on the bed sheets beside her. It was only after I was hired by the prosecutor’s office to scrutinize the evidence and more than four hundred photos, that I discovered the source of these unique wounds and transfer prints.

When I examine evidence, I often conduct a number of experiments to recreate patterns and blood transfers like the ones seen on the sheets of Nanette’s bed. In this case, I dipped a number of machetes and their handles in stage blood and pressed them against white fabric to test my theory. The machete patterns were identical to those seen on the bed sheets. Also, the wounds on Nanette’s head were parallel, which suggested she did not fight back. Judging from the blood all over her bindings, the killer tied Nanette up and strangled her after the initial attack, then pulled her to the floor and posed her body. While there was a handprint found on sheets near one of the bloody transfer prints, it had no fingerprints, which led me to believe the killer was wearing gloves. The murder scene was also devoid of any DNA, hair or fibers.

Nanette Toder’s body and lack of forensic evidence weren’t the only key parts of the investigation. The hotel room in which she was found was also locked from the inside. The main door leading to the hallway had her large heavy suitcase blocking the doorway. The adjoining hotel room door was locked from the inside with a deadbolt. It looked as if the killer had appeared out of thin air and vanished back into it. However, it wasn’t long before Christopher Richie became the prime suspect in the investigation, for several reasons. First, as the maintenance manager, he was one of only four employees who had a master key to the guest rooms. Second, on the night of her murder, he was seen at work on his night off looking at the guest room computer. Third, Richie had injected himself into the murder investigation by hanging around the scene of the crime, something murderers often do. Also, it had been discovered that Richie had a criminal past of stalking a female co-worker and had weapons charges as well. Richie’s girlfriend at the time also told investigators that he had shaved all of his body hair the week of Nanette’s murder. This and his use of gloves could account for the lack of fibers and DNA at the scene. His girlfriend also mentioned that he had once asked her to lie nude on her back, propped up on her elbows with her head tilted back- the same pose in which Nanette’s body was found. Richie’s good friend also told investigators that Richie’s machete, which was kept in his bedroom at all times, was not where he had always kept it, and it now had a broken and missing handle.

Other acquaintances of Richie’s later told tales of his abilities of breaking and entering. In the past, he had broken into video arcades, golf courses, businesses, apartment doors and he was currently serving time on an unrelated burglary charge. His ability to pick locks helped investigators determine how he managed to enter Nanette’s room on the night of her killing. Richie had previously rigged the deadbolt of adjoining door to Nanette’s room to look as though it were unlocked so he could enter her room, kill her and leave again without detection. The next day, when housekeeping discovered her body, he slipped back into the room and managed to genuinely lock the deadbolt before investigators arrived. Richie had used the guest room computer on the night of the killing to assure the adjoining room was still vacant before he went upstairs to kill Nanette. He had also removed all of his clothing except for gloves and a shower cap before he entered her room.

Christopher Richie made two fatal mistakes on the night he murdered Nanette Toder. First, Richie had left the bloody machete transfers on the hotel room sheets. These were later connected to the prominently displayed machete in his home. Second, he failed to notice the suitcase, which Nanette had used to block the hotel room door for added protection. These clues led myself and investigators to the murder weapon and means of entry that night. Christopher Richie was later convicted of the first-degree murder of Nanette Toder and was sentenced to life in prison in 2002.