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Abduction the minivan mu.., p.6
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       ABDUCTION: The Minivan Murders: Killer Couple Michelle Michaud and James Daveggio, p.6

           R. J. Parker
 
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  Backers told the jury that the two found gratification in their crimes. The rapes and murder was regarded as a cat-and-mouse game where the two sought the thrill of torturing their victims until they grew bored. As it was in Vanessa Samson’s case, the couple was looking to switch things up a bit and escalate from rape to murder. Law enforcement agencies had recovered the saliva-stained gag as well as the bloodied curling irons from the minivan where Samson was restrained. Angela Backers established that both of these tools were used as torture instruments to subdue and rape the victim.

  James Anthony Daveggio and Michelle Lyn Michaud were convicted of first degree murder under special circumstances, murder in the commission of rape, on May 6, 2002. Soon afterwards, the jury decided to recommend a death penalty for the gruesome murder and rape by instrument. The decision was spurred by further revelations that Vanessa Samson had been the sixth victim in a series of brutal assaults that had lasted a span of three months and crossed state lines. The unfortunate girl was their only murder victim, but five others had barely managed to escape.

  After the sentencing, Michelle Michaud became the fourteenth woman to await her execution on death row in California. She was taken to the women’s quarters within the female prison at Chowchilla. It is expected that Michaud will spend the remaining time confined in this jail.

  A Psychological Profile

  The serial raping and killing of James Anthony Daveggio and Michelle Lyn Michaud drew interest from psychological experts and profilers across the country. This was a case that stood out amongst America’s crime history. The acts of torture they had subjected their victims to were gruesome and incredibly brutal. While the victimization was similar to Gerald Gallego and other serial killers in the past, Michaud’s role in the crime was what captured the attention of the law enforcement agencies as well as psychological analysts.

  Before Vanessa Samson’s case, there were no reported cases of rapes or assault where the perpetrator had been a woman engaging in the act. While there had been male-female serial killer couples in the past, the woman was mostly submissive in the relationship, with her part restricted to luring in the victims.

  However, Michelle Michaud changed the way serial crime teams would be regarded in the future. She not only initiated the sexual torture and assaults, but she also dominated her partner. It was deduced from victim testimonies that Daveggio usually left the decision making to Michaud. He also let her take charge of the situation, be it driving from one town to another or choosing a target.

  Juanita Rodriguez recounted to the authorities that when she was begging to be let go alive, she appealed to the woman, making up a false story of being mother to a nine-month-old baby. According to Rodriguez, the woman seemed sympathetic after asking a few questions and realizing that there was a child who needed to be looked after. When Daveggio asked her what they should do with the victim, Michaud appeared to deliberate for a minute and then finally decided to let Juanita Rodriguez go.

  As was evident from the girl’s traumatic account, between Daveggio and Michaud, the latter was in charge of making important decisions, such as what to do with the victims in the end. Like Rodriguez, there were other victims who also had similar stories to share. The common factor in all of those was Michaud’s increasingly aggressive streak.

  In seventeen-year-old Patty Wilson’s case, Michelle Michaud was the assailant as well as the ever-present looming threat that forced the young girl to stick to the fake story she reported to her manager and the police. When Wilson agreed to lie about what she had endured that night, Michaud ripped the girl’s shirt to make it appear real. The woman had taken to criminal life like a fish to water. She knew how to terrify the victims and make sure that they remained silent. While Daveggio incurred the violence physically, Michaud traumatized them emotionally.

  Her threatening, raspy voice remained with each of the victims long after they had been dropped off. Psychological experts concluded that Michaud was indeed very much in control of the situation and did not consent to just being in the background. She wanted to be as much a part of everything as Daveggio; in fact, her urges were even more powerful than his. Wilson stated that it was Michaud who had come up with the false story and had torn her shirt for effect, making it clear that the woman assailant did not shy away from any challenge. This made her all the more dangerous and fearsome.

  The conflict in her personality was such that it boggled the minds of analysts and profilers. They failed to pinpoint the exact cause of the turmoil or isolate any one factor which caused her to take such a turn. The question remained, did she suffer from a multiple personality disorder or was she a ruthless sociopath all along, hiding beneath a polished façade?

  Who was Michelle Michaud really?

  Nobody could actually come up with an answer to that question, other than what had already been determined. In the eyes of the world, she had begun as a well-paid prostitute whose actions were initially the result of methamphetamines and other hard drugs. As a young, rebellious girl, she went through several failed relationships with abusive partners, finally finding her place with Daveggio. The tattooed gang member gave her the home life she may have always aspired to possess. She may have realized that she would not do better than him and, hence, made it her life’s aim to keep him happy and satisfied at all times.

  At the very beginning, Michaud was the submissive partner that Daveggio always wanted. However, once she ventured into the world of crime, she became aware of her potential. The woman would no longer settle for keeping her partner happy. Their spree was as much about her fulfillment as it was his.

  Her role as a mother was also keenly observed by the experts and analysts. While she may not have been a model mother, the accounts of her earlier life implied that she did take care of her young daughters and looked after them. All that changed drastically when Daveggio entered her life. It was as if her motherly instincts were completely eclipsed by her desire for that man. She let his drug dealer friend set up shop in their house despite the presence of her children.

  One of the duo’s earliest victims was a 13-year-old friend of Michaud’s daughter. Nancy Baker later stated that Michaud forced her into the room where Daveggio was waiting to rape her. She later joined in as well. While her partner might have been detached from the victim, Michaud herself knew the girl quite well. Baker visited their house frequently and was on close terms with the family.

  Her progression has been charted by analysts who claim that the victimization of Nancy Baker was symbolic to her fading rationality. She lost all ability to connect or empathize with anyone. It got to the point where her own daughter’s suffering pleased her.

  Yet somehow, Juanita Rodriguez’s appeal managed to sway her. Once she found that their victim might be a mother, Michaud decided to let her go. It could be the last remaining shred of humaneness that prompted the decision or just an error in judgment since Rodriguez was the victim who played a huge role in the couple’s arrest on account of rape and assault in Reno, Nevada. Experts and profilers also believed that Juanita Rodriguez’s release was only made possible because they did not have any plans to kill their victims as yet.

  Michelle Michaud’s personality was one of the most perplexing contradictions that the psychological and criminal experts had come across.

  It was unanimously agreed upon that there was no emotion or remorse involved in the decision to let any of their victims go, especially as far as Michaud was concerned. While Daveggio may have expressed his remorse during one or two of the early encounters, his partner was completely devoid of any display of guilt or weakness. In the beginning of their spree, one of their victims stated that Daveggio even seemed to apologize for hurting her and causing the trauma but quickly overcame his emotional admission as Michaud diverted his attention to the problem of dealing with their victim.

  As the crime spree spiraled out of control, it claimed several victims, who all appeared as easy targets. Daveggio and Michaud usually chose girls
who were on their own and abducted them from sparsely populated locations. Vanessa Samson was the only victim taken from an area where possible witnesses could have been present. It seemed as if, by the end, Michaud was beginning to enjoy the acts of torture and abuse more than her partner. When her daughter was calling out to her for help, she warned her to ‘keep quiet’ and ordered the girl to submit. Experts and analysts were of the opinion that she became sexually aroused during the incident.

  As the details of all the rapes and assaults unraveled, it was almost no surprise that the couple had killed Vanessa Samson in such a brutal and vicious manner at the end. The twenty-two-year-old girl’s murder may have been the culmination of all the angst and turmoil that had caused them to go on a spree of serial rapes and assaults lasting almost three months.

  Deputy District Attorney Angela Backers stated in court that the couple intended to create a name for themselves. It was only a matter of time until they murdered someone; and unfortunately, Vanessa Samson was the one they went for. According to Backers, the evidence recovered signified that Daveggio and Michaud had already decided that their next victim was not going to be let off since the authorities were closing in and their desire to kill was at its peak.

  The serial raping and killing of James Anthony Daveggio and Michelle Lyn Michaud surpassed everything that the law enforcement agencies and crime experts believed to be true. Their history and troubled background is testimony to the fact that they both should have been behind bars much earlier in life or at least within the walls of a psychiatric facility. While Michaud did not draw any attention to herself during her adulthood, Daveggio managed to raise red flags on numerous occasions. It was by coincidence and strategy that he escaped the sex offender alert. His partner, on the other hand, did not show up as a suspect in criminal activity until much later.

  Unabashedly, they continued to play out their relationship fantasies, eventually going from living in a house to moving around constantly in their minivan. Michaud remained a mystery which slowly began to unravel in the end as everything began to fall apart for the couple.

  Experts and analysts debated over what bonded the two together so strongly. In the beginning of their relationship, it seemed as if the two was another one of those ‘opposites attract’ pairings. One was a rugged gang member who rode around on a stolen Harley-Davidson, the other, a sophisticated prostitute with a certain command over the spoken language. Experts noted that what was interesting about Michaud was the fact that she did not flaunt her line of work by her appearance or social behavior. For an onlooker, she might have been a conservative, middle-class woman reaching for the American dream.

  Unlike her boyfriend, Michaud could engage people without raising any alarms. While Daveggio made constant grammatical errors and slurred his sentences, Michaud’s conversational skills were top notch, and rarely did she make mistakes with her grammar. Later on, it was suggested that the two became close due to the sexual nature of their relationship. According to FBI profilers, sexual desire and gratification can be a pivotal factor in any relationship, particularly if it’s between two budding criminals.

  Psychological experts have found another fascinating development in the early lives of both Daveggio and Michaud. During their respective teen years, it was quite a role reversal. As per his fellow high school classmates, James Anthony Daveggio came across as a polite boy with deep blue eyes, which made it easier for the girls to trust him. Michaud, on the other hand, was a striking contradiction. She was abrasive, rebellious and did not have many friends either in school or around the neighborhood. It was the boy who was covering his underlying sociopathic tendencies at the time, while the girl displayed no inhibitions whatsoever. Young Michaud’s indiscretions were already known and heard of by every acquaintance and family member.

  Later on, both Daveggio and Michaud took on different personalities, hence prompting the debate that they were harboring a multiple personality disorder. It was Daveggio whose violence and aggression resulted in frequent brawls with his fellow schoolboys, causing public concern. Michaud somehow managed to rein in her rebellion and take on the portrayal of a relatively friendly woman. She built a relationship with her mother, even going on shopping trips and to restaurants, just like any other mother-daughter relationship.

  The murderous killer that had been lurking inside Daveggio was threatening to come out. Even though Daveggio had kept a lid on that side of his personality, it was always clawing at him. During the investigation into his background, the authorities implied that, as a youngster, he might have been responsible for the assault on Cassie Riley that claimed her young life.

  Furthermore, it was discovered that Daveggio could be linked to a few other unsolved murders and rapes. His police records showed that he had pleaded guilty to a couple of offenses as well. It was surprising that, despite his deteriorating mental stability, the psychiatric evaluation had concluded that nothing was wrong with him. There were a few experts and analysts who said that Daveggio’s reports were clear because he was not psychologically ill at the time. He had been intent on acting out the sexual fantasies his mind conjured as the urges became overwhelming, fueled by Ihde’s presence in his life.

  Serial rapist and murderer Michael Ihde was caught and convicted after claiming the lives of innocent victims, much like his friend, James Anthony Daveggio. When Michaud came into his life, she was far from a calming influence. After the two began dating, his violent demeanor and aggression proceeded to worsen instead of subsiding.

  There was no way to go but downwards for the both of them. Daveggio began to project his desires and twisted fantasies upon Michaud. Soon enough, she gave in and followed him. While Michaud might have been initially working out of the desire to salvage their relationship, Daveggio aimed for a serial killer partnership similar to Gerald and Charlene Gallego. However, neither one managed to achieve anything that they had in mind. Michelle Michaud spiraled down a path of darkness and cruelty while Daveggio became the other half of a deadly team who terrorized innocent young girls across California and Nevada.

  Crime experts began to search for a possible trigger that might have led to their sudden recklessness with Samson. Before murdering her, they had let all their victims go. While the police closing in was a huge factor behind the couple’s acceleration, analysts believe there was a psychological aspect to it as well. They had been raping and assaulting their victims for almost two months, toying with the idea of murder. Once they came to Pleasanton, California, Daveggio believed that it would be the ideal place for their first kill. He had grown up and spent most of his life in this town, and it was like coming full circle for him.

  For Michaud, the situation had transgressed. By now, she was deriving pleasure in the acts of violence, and murder seemed the likely next step in her thrill-seeking spree. Michaud had become brazen and overconfident that they would never be caught. As the two maneuvered around the authorities, it did appear as if the two would manage to continue their terrorizing journey onward.

  Thankfully, that did not happen and the police apprehended them. Neither Michaud nor Daveggio could have imagined that their first murder victim would also be their last. After Vanessa Samson, they had no intention of stopping. Yet, despite their best efforts to evade jail and long term arrest, it was all over.

  Surprisingly, it was Michaud who gave away critical information linking both her and Daveggio to Samson’s kidnapping and subsequent death. Law enforcement officials already feared that Daveggio and Michaud were behind this heinous crime, but they did not have any certainty of proof. It wasn’t until Michaud broke down in prison upon watching the news report and confessed to her cellmate that she was in ‘trouble,' that the detectives and FBI agents discovered the truth. The fact that it was Michaud who succumbed first under pressure was quite an unusual development in the case. Up till now, she had been the one in control and in charge of the situation. It was not like her to relent or display weakness, particularly when things were look
ing so dire.

  Perhaps the reason that she broke was that she realized it was the end. They were not going to get away with their crimes anymore. She had been isolated from her partner and it was all over for the two of them. This could have triggered her turmoil and caused her enough distress to divulge information regarding Samson. Experts could argue that Michaud’s confession may have even been spurred by guilt. She was caught and in prison; all the doors were closing in on her, and she knew that it was not going to end well for her. Hence, when she heard that Vanessa Samson had been found dead, the guilt of her actions overwhelmed her.

  However, that is one far-fetched theory. The popular opinion about Michelle Michaud is that there wasn’t a guilty or remorseful bone in her body. She did not feel regret for anything she had done. When the police caught and arrested Daveggio and Michaud for rape and assault, the only thing that concerned her was finding a way out. She did not intend to stay in prison for long and wanted to be out as soon as possible. Her previous encounters with the police had led her to believe that there was a possibility of serving a short-term sentence and securing release.

  Experts and profilers believe that when she saw the news report and deduced that the police were conducting an investigation into Samson’s murder, she knew that it could implicate her. According to her cellmate, Michaud started to cry and then admitted that something was gravely wrong. All of a sudden, the woman who had expressed no emotion as yet was breaking down. However, it was all momentary. The police and investigators claimed that she seemed to give up information readily during the interviews. Experts tried to explain her behavior from various aspects.

 
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