*Disclaimer: this post contains graphic and explicit content that may be unsuitable for some readers. This post contains details of axe murders and some gory descriptions. Please continue at your own discretion*
Hello and welcome to the first installment of my new Spooky Lil’ Bitch blog series! I figured for the first chapter, I wanted to go all out and talk about my absolute favourite true crime case of all time… The Porco Axe Murders.
This case is something I talk about whenever I have the opportunity to do so; because although the details of this case are horrifying, they are also so unbelievably fascinating that I probably still think about it on a daily basis.
Peter Porco was a happily married, middle aged father of 2 with a successful and well respected legal career and, at the time of the attack, he was working as a clerk for an appeals court judge. He was married to Joan Porco, who was a children’s speech pathologist, and the two lived in Delmar, New York.
On the morning of Monday 15th November 2004, Peter Porco did not come into work, which was highly out of character for him. He did not answer the phone calls from his office, so a colleague, Michael Hart, called round to check on them both. When Michael arrived, he found the front door slightly ajar with the key still in the lock as well as drops of blood on the front steps. Michael did not enter further into the house, instead he called the police and officers were immediately dispatched to the house, where a grisly scene awaited them. At the bottom of the stairs, was Peter’s lifeless body as well as bloody footprints around the downstairs. Based on the forensics and blood spatter evidence, it was later determined that Peter Porco had been attacked in the upstairs bedroom. He had been struck 10-30 times in the head with an axe and had ended up bleeding out. Upstairs, Joan was clinging to life in the master bedroom. She too had been severely bludgeoned with an axe, this time to her face, 3 times with the 3ft fireman’s axe which was discovered next to her in the bedroom. Joan was barely conscious, her forehead had been completely caved in, her jaw was almost severed from her face and one of her eyes had been lost. The paramedics that arrived on the scene reported that they initially were unable to find where her mouth should be for them to be able to administer an oxygen mask to her.
But if the attacks occurred upstairs, why was Peter discovered at the bottom of the stairs? Sometime after the attack, Peter had come to and, in what appeared to be a daze, had gotten out of bed and started going about his usual morning routine. He got dressed, walked downstairs, poured himself a bowl of cereal and went outside to get the morning paper. At this point, the front door swung closed behind him so he retrieved the spare key hidden in a flowerpot and let himself back in before, sadly, losing consciousness and bleeding out at the foot of the stairs. While there is no definite timeline of this bizarre event, investigators can only assume that it was exceedingly early in the morning for no neighbours to see how injured he was. Forensic medical experts believe that the zombified state Peter was in was due to the severe damage that the outer layer of his brain (the neocortex) had sustained. The neocortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for complex thought and reasoning, sensory perception, motor commands, spatial reasoning and language, it also makes up about 76% of the volume of the human brain. However, the neocortex was so severely damaged by the attack, that the paleocortex (which was almost completely undamaged) took over completely. The paleocortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for primal instincts and second nature, routine habits. This, coupled with the adrenaline that was surely soaring through his body meant that he was most likely completely unaware of what had happened to him and Joan, and this would explain why he went about his usual morning routine.
Investigators had a few possible suspects in mind for the brutal attacks; Peter had once received a death threat from a disgruntled defendant who had lost custody of his children in a trial that Peter had been involved in, but he had an alibi and was cleared of suspicion.
Perhaps even more farfetched, at the time of the attacks Peter had a relative who was in federal prison for mob related crimes, who was known as Frankie the Fireman. As the axe that was found next to Joan was a fireman’s axe, it was suspected that the attack was a message from another mob member to Frankie as a warning not to switch. However, there was no additional evidence pointing to this theory and, as Frankie had never given over any information before, this was also ruled out.
The Porco’s also had 2 sons; Johnathon Porco who was 23 and was serving in the navy on a nuclear submarine at the time of the attacks, and Christopher Porco was 21 at the time and was a student at the University of Rochester which was about 3 hours drive from the family’s home. While they were able to clear Johnathon of all suspicion, they were not able to rule our Christopher due to his troubled past.
The Lead Up to the Attacks
Christopher had stolen various expensive items from his parent’s house on at least 2 different occasions; November 28th 2002 he had staged a burglary in which he stole 2 laptops and a camera, and July 21st 2003 he broke in again and stole another laptop. One month before the attack, his Ebay account had been frozen as he was flagged as a fraudulent seller, taking customer’s money and not shipping items.
In June 2003, Christopher was working at a veterinary clinic which was also burglarised, and the items taken included a mobile phone, a camera and computers. Some of the items taken were discovered in a safe in his room by detectives after the murder.
Christopher had previously dropped out of Rochester University due to his failing grades, and enrolled in Hudson Community College instead. He was away travelling Europe with his friends on Spring Break when his parents discovered that he was also failing out of community college. They sent him an email stating that “dishonesty is crumbling our relationship with you”, but they still did not cut him off from their money, wanting to salvage a relationship with their son.
The next Autumn term, Christopher reapplied to Rochester University using forged transcripts from Hudson Community College that stated he had gotten straight A’s in all his exams. When his parents questioned how he was accepted back into the university, he told them that one of his teachers had lost his final exam so the school had to take him back.
Christopher told his parents that he needed a co-signed $2000 loan to pay for his tuition, but after he obtained Peter’s personal and tax information, plus a copy of his signature that he could learn to forge, Christopher took out a high interest $31,000 loan as well as a $16,450 loan to purchase a yellow Jeep Wrangler - both co-signed by Peter Porco.
In November 2004, Peter ran a credit check where he discovered the forged co-signed loans, and he wrote an email to his son, threatening legal action against him:
"I want you to know that if you abuse my credit again, I will be forced to file forgery affidavits in order to disclaim liability and that applies to the Citibank college loan if you attempt to reactivate it or use my credit to obtain any other loan… We may be disappointed with you, but your mother and I still love you and care about your future”
However, all of this would simply be circumstantial evidence, except for the surveillance footage that was discovered by investigators showing his yellow Jeep Wrangler leaving the university campus at 10.30pm the night of the attack and returning at 8.30am the next day. This window gave him plenty of time to drive to his parent’s home 3 hours away, commit the murders and return to campus in time to not raise suspicion.
The Night of the Attacks.
As well as the surveillance footage that was discovered, investigators searched Christopher’s Jeep and found his E-ZPass (an electronic toll collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges and tunnels in the Midwestern and Eastern United States) had been removed from the interior windscreen where it was usually kept to automatically pay the toll as he passed. However it had been tucked under one of the seats so it did not automatically “ping” as he drove through the toll and he paid with cash to avoid detection. However, he did not take the security footage at the toll booth - it was unclear who was driving in the footage, but the jeep was unmistakable and it gave investigators an idea of what time he arrived and which booth he went to. All tickets were timestamped and only 12 tickets were stamped in the time window between the jeep arriving and leaving the toll booth, and it didn’t take investigators long to find a ticket with Christopher’s DNA on it.
More damning evidence that pointed to a family member committing these brutal attacks, was that investigators realised that, the night of the attacks, the home’s security system had been deactivated by someone using the master code and 2.5 hours later, the phone line had been deliberately cut.
One of the very first detectives on the scene of the crime the morning of November 15th was Christopher Bowdish, a close family friend of the Porco’s. While the paramedics were getting Joan ready to be taken to the hospital, the detective ask if Johnathon committed the attacks. When she shook her head no, he asked if Christopher was responsible and she nodded yes before being taken to the hospital. The police and paramedics that were at the scene also testified to this exchange at the trial.
Once Joan had finally regained full consciousness, she testified that she could not recall the attack happening or anything that happened post attack; she had complete amnesia about the whole event, but was certain that Christopher was innocent
While investigators were positive that Christopher was undoubtedly guilty, they struggled to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt; they had no physical evidence that Christopher had used the axe on his parents that night, and when police seized mounds of his clothing from his university dormitory, as well as his jeep (which a witness had placed at the scene of the crime), they found no trace of blood. John Kearney, Christopher’s employer at the veterinary clinic, was questioned on the stand at the trial and testified that Christopher had been trained in cleaning up after animal surgeries, which Kearney described as “bloody and messy”. This, coupled with the boxes of latex gloves and kitchen bin bags that were found in a cabinet at Peter and Joan’s house was something the jury took notice of. Heather Martin, the second juror selected for this case, stated "The jury was in complete consensus that somewhere there is a container or bag containing clothing, shoes and quite possibly a small paring knife or small scissors".
Joan Porco fiercely defended her son at trial and has since maintained that he could not be capable of such violence. She also theorised that in the months before the attack, she had seen a stranger standing in their driveway one night, as well as in her garde while she was gardening one day, but nothing corroborates these statements.
On the morning of August 10th 2006, the jury began their deliberations and, later that day, Christopher Porco was found guilty of the second degree murder of his father and the attempted murder of his mother. December 12th 2006, Christopher Porco was sentenced to 50 years to life on each count, totalling a minimum of 50 years in prison, and he will be eligible for parole in December 2052. At the sentencing, Judge Jeffrey Berry was quoted saying "I fear very much what happened in the early morning hours of November 15 is something that could happen again". He is currently being held at the Clinton Correctional Facility, and he has appealed his convictions to the Appellate Division, Third Department and to the New York Court of Appeals, but the convictions were upheld and the Supreme Court declined to hear his case so he can no longer appeal.
But the real question for me, is what happened to Joan? As shown by Peter’s story, the human brain is amazing and wild, so there are so many theories about what sort of headspace she could be in. When she stated the Christopher had committed the crimes, there is a possibility that shock had not yet completely set in and she hadn’t completely blacked out at the time of rescue. Has her brain blocked out the entire ordeal subconsciously as a psychological self protection measure? Is she protecting her son by saying she has no memory of the event, or is she protecting herself by knowing what happened but refusing to accept it? Has her brain manufactured memories, like the mysterious person in the driveway and her garden, as a way to make sense of what happened to her?
After all, 1 serious blow to the head can completely change someone’s brain and, therefore, their personality, so no one really knows what sort of psychological effect or brain damage could be caused by 3 axe strikes to the face…
What do you think happened? Let me know in the comments and, until next week, stay spooky x