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Friday, January 30, 2009

Karen Dinsfriend

UPDATE 2/4/16: This article was originally written on 1/30/09 and it contains my own knowledge of a victim of a famous serial killer and how it affected me. It is written in respectful truth. Since then, people have periodically left comments that are relevant. Comments that are distasteful or irrelevant will, of course, be deleted. That being said, anonymous requests or comments from people to remove this post will be ignored as I don't know the source. And, frankly, if the attention that this article receives gets the attention of the authorities who may be able to move Long along to the gas chambers after 30+ years, then it is well worth it, isn't it? 

I recently got a request from a stranger to take this editorial down, saying the post was suddenly offensive to Karen's surviving family members. However, this post has been up for 7 years so I find this highly improbable. Some of them have supposedly already contributed to the comments (again, there is no way of knowing who really is contributing).  And how do we make the distinction? What if half of her existing family wants her personalized and the other half does not, for whatever reason?


Other crime sites detail Bobby Joe Long's crimes and they would scoff at anyone attempting to remove such information. Likewise, I will not be removing this post. Instead, I would encourage all energies to be directed to the Department of Corrections in an attempt to speed along Long's journey to the death chamber.


When I was young, my family and honorary aunt and uncle were involved in attempting to help rehabilitate women from prison. One of the women my aunt tried to help was Karen Dinsfriend. Although I rarely mention real names in my writing, there is a reason for this exception.

Karen Dinsfriend was a engaging but manipulative: A woman who had repeated run-ins with the law. She had a young daughter, Alexa, who was only 2 years old when my aunt met them. Karen was in prison for one of her usual problems: Prostitution.

Alexa had no home, and Karen didn't want her to go into the foster care system (or so I was told). She latched onto my aunt and uncle and begged my aunt to take in Alexa until Karen got out of prison. My aunt agreed.

Over the next couple of years, my aunt and uncle raised Alexa as their own daughter. They had good reason to: Karen had decided that Alexa was better off with a stable family, and Alexa cramped her style. Karen kept promising them that she would sign the adoption papers, but at the same time, she kept putting them off.

When the time came and Karen got out of prison, she showed up on their doorstep, demanding Alexa. No one fully understood the change of heart, but everyone knew that Karen was serious about this.

The system had declared that Karen was rehabilitated, and my aunt and uncle had to face a hard decision: Should they give the child back to a mother who was potentially reformed and could now be a good mother? Or should they spend the money to fight for custody?

My aunt and uncle debated this for a long time, but they eventually allowed Karen to leave with Alexa.

That was the last my aunt and uncle saw of Alexa, to the best of my knowledge. The last they heard, Alexa was living in a car with her mother (who was still turning tricks and doing drugs).

Until Karen disappeared one day.

Although we never found out exactly what happened to Alexa, we know that she went back into foster care. She should be in her mid-thirties by now.

But we do know what happened to Karen: She will go down in history as the victim of Bobby Joe Long, notorious serial killer.

"On October 14, 1984, a fifth body was discovered in northeastern Hillsborough County.

Her wrists were bound with a red bandana, and her legs and neck had been tied with a long thick shoelace. She had been beaten about the head and raped. Her yellow sweatshirt was pulled up to her neck, exposing a bruised and bloodied torso, with indicators that she had been dragged. She was wearing only the sweatshirt, although the rest of what appeared to be her clothing was scattered nearby.

The cause of death was strangulation.

Because she was a known prostitute and drug addict, the investigating team had recognized her, but she was officially identified by her fingerprints as Karen Beth Dinsfriend, 28. To link her with the other victims, both types of the red fibers had been found on her clothes. There were also brown Caucasian pubic hairs and semen that indicated A and H blood substances."

When Long was captured in November 1984, "He described the murder of Karen Dinsfriend, in which he had started to strangle her in one orange grove, but had heard dogs barking, so he put her in the trunk and moved her to another grove where he finished the job."

But Karen was one of many. Long's transcribed confession ran 45 pages long.

Bobby Joe Long is still in prison, despite having a death sentence. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but in Bobby Joe's case they stopped moving long ago.

Most of Bobby Joe Long's victims were unloved and disliked. They were the women that could be picked up cheaply, used, and discarded.

I still can see Karen, walking up the road toward me, her feet in flipflops and dusty from a long walk, wearing ragged denim shorts and a red bandana shirt tied at her midriff. She was deeply tanned, slender, with nervous, quick movements and a lit cigarette that she would draw deeply from, as if to savor every inch of it.

The last time I saw her, she was sporting a horrid afro-style perm (which was very trendy in the early 80s). By the time she was killed, her hair was in a simple flip shag. Her final picture makes her look so young and vulnerable: It doesn't show that inner steel or devil-may-care toughness which she wore like a badge.

None of us liked Karen very much, and she was rife with many problems, but she was a human being who did not deserve her fate.

25 comments:

Scott said...

Such a sad story, I agree with you completely that despite her mistakes and issues she did not deserve that fate.

Mr. Althouse said...

Nor does Bobby Joe Long. He deserves to die. I am not opposed to the death penalty because of some bleeding heart liberal ideology - indeed, I firmly believe some people need killing - but I am opposed to it for this very reason. It is so bogged down in bureaucracy that it simple doesn't work.

If the evidence is there and the crime is so heinous, then death should come such that it occurs before it would by natural means. If that can't be done, then quit playing around with something might happen only after 20 or more years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Put 'em in a hole and leave 'em there... let them die of loneliness.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Scott, Thank you - good to see you here, as always.

Mr. Althouse, All excellent points and I agree that the death penalty is far from perfect. Strangely, it's up to the Governor (or so the Dept. of Corrections says) and yet not a single governor has signed off on his death warrant yet. I don't know why.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I knew a Karen - but she was just crazy. Not a prostitute. Last I heard she was with some guy known only as "Purple Turtle" and was thinking of running off with the Rainbow Gathering (dirty smelly jobless hippies) with her young son.

As for the death penalty - I think it is time for that to pass. It lumps the USA in (42 executions in 2007) with such great, wonderful, beacons of freedom and liberty such as Saudi Arabia (156 executions) and Iran (265 executions - number 1 in the world).

We blow away China - which in 2007 only killed 13 people (officially). We also beat out Iraq (29), Afghanistan (15), and even North Korea - with the suspiciously LOW official total of 8. I think maybe the North Korea total is missing one or two or maybe three zeros - but who knows.

The point is that this is the company we are keeping here. Such wonderful freedom loving nations that should be a model to the rest of the world.

Plus - it is not a deterrent. Nobody thinks "gee I better not kill 20 people with this chainsaw and then make chili out of the bodies - for I might get the death penalty".

daveawayfromhome said...

The problem I see with the death penalty is not the high numbers, but the wrong numbers. Instead of all these hoops to jump through, seems like it would be easier to hold the prosecution criminally responsible for convicting the wrong man in the case of application of the death penalty.
This would have a "chilling effect" on the number of death penalty cases, but would work to ensure that only the strongest cases were prosecuted with such a final result in mind, and that politics and prejudice, if they were to be involved (as opposed to good police work), would be suitably "rewarded".

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I don't often agree with Dave, but his point is very interesting. For many prosecutors Death Penalth cases are some kind of badge of honor. This would certainly bring that to a halt.

Saur♥Kraut said...

3Score&10 and Dave, I agree - excellent thoughts!

Lazy, Well, it isn't a deterrant, you're right about that.

But it is a method of justice, never the less. Is it right that they should live (even imprisoned) enjoying three hots and a cot, when their victims never had a chance? Even when they're executed, their death will be much easier than their victims'.

It also gives closure to the families.

Experts agree that it COULD be a deterrant if we shortened the appeals process. When people regularly hear of killers who are put to death within a couple of years of their sentencing, it has a greater impact.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I still think that people who are sentenced to death are crazy. There is something wrong with their brain, otherwise they would not be Charles Manson. Are you going to claim he is normal?

You can not deter a crazy person. Hence the term "crazy person".

And then there is the little problem where many people on death row were later shown to be not guilty by reason of new DNA evidence. Of course all along they claimed to not be guilty - just nobody believed them. OOPS!!!

I am not so sure that it gives "closure" to families. The victim is still dead. And then there are all the other people killed in accidents or spontaneous fights - that are NOT sentenced to death. So where is the justice for the families there? Does it matter how someone is killed? Are you any less dead if you are killed in a car accident or killed by Son Of Sam (who by the way thought a dog was speaking to him - perfectly sane individual who would have been deterred by a swift death penalty).

Yet some would advocate death for one and prison for another. And in the case of a DUI traffic fatality, it would not even be life.

And it also puts us on the same party invitation list with Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Iran, and so on.

The civilized places are all at a different party.

Aunt Jo said...

How utterly sad for anyone to be unwanted and discarded.

Anonymous said...

Karen was my step sister; never unloved or unwanted, but adored by my step dad. Her murder changed our family forever - my father still has nightmares and has been medicated since. Her murderer (I refuse to utter or type his name)should be put to the sentence he was given, and I continue to wish with all my heart that it would happen before my dad passes. THAT is the "justice" of the death penalty.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Anonymous, Thank you for your contribution. How nice that someone out there cared for her. Can you tell us what happened to Alexa?

Anonymous said...

Alexa was enrolling in community college; wanted to be a social worker to help kids. She was worried that she had made a bad choice w/her boyfriend; wanted out but was afraid. Came to my parents ranch off and on during that time. Enjoyed the horses. Seemed like she was going to make it. Found dead of an overdose - we still suspect the boyfriend of ODing her. Tragic. My family had her cremated; her ashes were buried in Boston with Karen's; they rest in Karen's mother's grave. Thanks to your aunt for any kindness shown to Karen and Alexa.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Anonymous, How terribly sad to hear it. My blessings and prayers go to you and yours. I will let everyone know.

Anonymous said...

I used to work with Karen's sister Judy at the Derby on St. Pete Beach. I never her sister. When I read about the killing of Karen, I thought of Judy. I'm so sorry about your sister. No one deserves to die at the hands of such a fiend. I also just read about your niece Alexa. My daughter'ws name is Jennifer Alexa. I am sorry for her death as well.

Martha Leighton said...

I dated Karen's brother Eric, also now deceased (OD'd), in the late 70's in Gainesville and knew Judy, too. Did not know Karen had a daughter, but am sad to hear that addiction has haunted this family for another generation.

anarky said...

Im so glad i found your site..My name is Mark Duff and I was Alex's social worker with what was called HRS...i can give you the details of the foster care situation..i have often thought of this young child and prayed she was ok..i would say she was in her 30s now..she was about 8 when i worked with her in the system....

anarky said...

im so sorry to hear the fate of Alexa...i was her worker w/ HRS..she was 6 at the time...she seemed to be a very bright child...i did my best to find her a stable home..im crushed to hear what happened..i was one of the few at HRS that did care..this was 29 years ago and i will never forget her smile...i also interviewed Karen in jail..im so sad ...this is one of the greatest tragedies in my life...RIP...in memory.. mark duff

love teach said...

My brother, Andy, dated Karen in the 70's and my sister, Ann, dated Eric. What a sad drug era the 70's truly was. Far too much turning on and tuning out. My family tells that Eric was the love of her life and went on to name her son, Eric.
Bless all those lost souls...

Doug said...

Saur Kraut,

You mentioned Karen telling your honorary aunt that if your aunt wouldn't care for Alexa while she was in prison that the only other placement option for Alexa was the foster care system.

Do you know why leaving Alexa in the care of her mother and stepfather wasn't an option? Reading the comments posted by Karen's stepsister, it sounds like her family might well have been willing to care for Alexa while she was in prison. Did Karen ever tell you or your aunt why leaving Alexa in her mother and stepfather's care wasn't practical or possible?

Also, do you know the dates of Karen's incarceration and whether she was incarcerate at Lowell?

Thank you,
Doug

Saur♥Kraut said...

Doug, I really don't know why it wasn't an option but apparently either Karen or the court system felt Alexa had to be placed with my aunt and uncle. It may be due to my aunt being involved in the Christian ministry at the jail and so Karen had faith that they would be good to Alexa. I don't know Karen's incarceration dates but it would have been in the Pinellas county jail system in the 1970s.

Doug said...

Thank you, Saur Kraut.

I wish Karen's stepsister had offered a fuller glimpse of Karen.

Newspaper articles (and documentary accounts), sadly, always focus their interest and attention on the perpetrator rather than their victims. This leaves victims like Karen sadly dismissed and dehumanized in news and documentary accounts with labels like "prostitute" and "drug addict."

Best wishes,
Doug





Doug said...

Saur Kraut,

I happened to see an Investigation Discovery channel program on the Bobby Joe Long investigation and case. That's what sparked my initial interest.

I was left particularly saddened by the horrific victimization of women who were already living lives of 'quiet' desperation. In delving (online) into the lives of his victims and the lives they'd experienced and led, I came across Karen's photo, the same one you posted along with your blog piece about her.

I eventually found that the photo was one of two old booking photos. The one you utilized, as you mentioned, evidences her vulnerability. The accompanying booking photo evidences something different. It evidences her lostness and sadness. That affected me further, so I continued attempting to learn more about her and her life.

There is, sadly and unfortunately, little online that would paint a richer and fuller of her. There are police reports, notes of arrests and convictions, and news articles and documentaries about Long and his crimes. The news articles and documentaries do nothing to humanize Karen and the other victims. They humanize Long instead.

Yours was the only piece that humanized any of Long's victims.

I'm sorry, but I don't remember now where I came across Alexa's birth information. Karen's birth date, for the fuller record, was September 3, 1956. She attended Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport. I found no graduation year, so I don't know if she ended up graduating.

That's bare bones stuff. Sadly, It doesn't do much to create a full memorial and memory of Karen and her all too brief life.

Best wishes,
Doug

Saur♥Kraut said...

Doug, thank you for your well thought out, well written comments. I appreciate the input greatly. Like you, I'm quite fascinated by the inner workings of these creatures and their crimes.

Why are so many of us fascinated like this? Is it a subconscious hope that we may be able to identify these sociopaths and prevent future crimes? We know that's a dim hope. Perhaps there's also some prurience involved, I admit. I've been interested in serial killers for many years now, possibly because this crime touched the periphery of my life.

I don't know if Karen graduated either. I do know that she was exceptionally bright and somewhat wily. She was very flawed, perhaps more than most but there was also charm and a mother's true love when it came to Alexa, no matter how misguided.

With all your research into this case, can you shed any insight into what's going on with Long? Why are they taking so long to put him to death?

Doug said...

Saur Kraut,

Thank you for your kind words.

I’m sorry, but I can’t shed any light on why it’s taking the State of Florida so long to be done with Long. My guess would be that he's got appeal attorneys that have been very creative in finding new legal nits to pick and appeal.

To be honest, Long doesn’t interest me much. He’s a run of the mill, generic psychopath. Whether he remains housed on death row with others as devoid of humanity as himself, or whether he soon goes to permanent sleep, is something that doesn’t matter to me much. There’s no genuine justice in either. Only the restoration of Karen and Long's victims to their lives would bring true justice - and make full amends. That’s, very sadly, not possible.

Again, thank you for humanizing Karen.

Louis Nixon said...

I went to Azalea Elementary School with Karen. She was just a normal kid then. I remember once she rode her bike to school in the rain and got soaked. I saw her several years later and she looked completely different. I also met Judy at the Azalea Shell gas station on 9th and 72nd street. She was a sweet kid. It is so sad to hear what happened to that family. I wish that they would fry bobby joe long.
Louis Nixon