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Daddy Dearest: 5 True Short Stories of Fathers Who Killed Their Children

I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

Too often the news reports coming to us through television, newspapers, and the internet are about mothers who have killed their children. No matter how many times we hear about these cases, we are still shocked to our very core. After all, it’s so… unnatural … for a woman who carried life in her womb to murder the very child to whom she gave life.

Society is also plagued with what I call Daddy Dearestes. Although the cases of fathers who murder their children happen with less frequency, when they occur, they not only shock and appall but leave a residue of fear on our souls because, unlike Mom’s crime, they cannot be explained away by postpartum depression or fear or abuse.

No, daddies who kill do not get a pass – ever. Maybe it’s because their crimes are more direct and often more brutal. Or maybe it’s because the murder-by-father case is doing so with the intent to hurt an adult, say an ex-wife or their baby’s mama, and the children are just pawns in a wicked game?

Who really knows, but the following five true crime short stories of men who killed their children, may get us one step closer to the answer. Or just leave us asking more questions.

1. John David Battaglia

Soon after Mary Jean Pearle married John David Battaglia the abuse began. It started out as verbal abuse but by the time they had added two daughters to their family, it had escalated to physical. Mary Jean wasn’t like a lot of other women, she refused to tolerate his behavior and filed for divorce.

On Christmas Day 1999, purely out of the love for her girls and believing it in their best interest, Mary Jean allowed John David to come to home and watch his daughters open their Christmas gifts. In exchange for her kindness, John brutally beat her in front of their children.

John David Battaglia

John David Battaglia

John was arrested and ordered to stay away from Mary Jean but between that December day and April 2000, John violated the order no less than seven times; his Court ordered visitations with his daughters acting as a conduit for his harassment.

Mary Jean begged authorities to help her. She was scared, not only for herself but her daughters. Finally, after months of begging and numerous violations by John, prosecutors decided it was time to press criminal charges against the man who thumbed his nose at the Court.

John somehow learned of his imminent arrest and he was outraged, but he didn’t let on when he picked up his daughters, Faith Battaglia age 9 and Liberty Battaglia age 6, for his parenting time on May 2, 2001.

Approximately an hour after John left with the girls, according to Mary Jean’s testimony, her phone rang. It was Faith and she asked her mother, “Mommy, why do you want Daddy to have to go to jail?” Mary Jean responded, knowing her soon-to-be ex-husband was listening, “Come on, John. Don’t do this.” A sobbing Mary Jean testified she then heard Faith shouting, “No Daddy, please Daddy, don’t do it!” After several shots rang out, she heard John say loud enough for her to hear, “Merry f*cking Christmas!” Then five more shots were fired.

Mary Jean said all she could do was listen and scream into the phone, “Run, run for the door, run for the door!” But it was to no avail. The Battaglia sisters were already dead.

Later, Mary Jean would notice the answering machine in her daughters’ bedroom flashing. When she pressed play, she heard John’s voice say, “Good night my little babies. I hope you are resting in a different place. I love you. I wish you had nothing to do with your mother. She was evil and vicious and stupid.”

At his trial in 2002, John’s defense of bipolar didn’t fly because jurors took only 14 minutes to find him guilty of the murders of his daughters and he was sentenced to death.

While sitting on Texas’ death row, John Battaglia has spouted all sorts of nonsense about conspiracy theories and how he doesn’t deserved the punishment because he’s mentally ill.

I’ll agree with the last part of his claims. Yes, I do believe he’s mentally ill (the thought that he isn’t is more terrifying) but we should put him down like the animal he is. After all, we don’t allow dangerous animals to live, so why should this one.

2. Brian Thomas Stewart

The story of Missouri father Brian Thomas Stewart sounds like something from a Hollywood movie or Stephen King book, but it is very, very real.

It began in 1990 when Stewart learned his girlfriend was pregnant. He was outraged and denied he was the father but a paternity test following the birth would prove otherwise.

Brian Thomas Stewart

Brian Thomas Stewart

Stewart, who had nothing to do with his son from the time of his birth, became even more outraged when he was Court ordered to pay child support each month in the amount of $267 from his income as a phlebotomist at a local hospital.

Stewart came to have an intense hatred for his ex-girlfriend and son. He constantly complained to anyone who would listen and co-workers would later testify to how Stewart frequently talked about how a person could kill someone with the “tainted” blood to which the lab technicians had access.

On February 6, 1992, Stewart suddenly appeared seemingly to be a man with a changed heart. Left alone for just a few moments with his son, the mother returned to find the 11-month-old baby screaming in pain.

Over the next few years, the child’s health would begin to deteriorate. Doctor after doctor could find no cause for the boy’s ailments…until 1996 when he was diagnosed with AIDS. Doctors were puzzled. Brryan had not been born with the virus and he had never received a blood transfusion. That 1992 visit would suddenly become under intense scrutiny.

Stewart went on trial for the charge of First Degree Assault and claimed it was a wild allegation made by his son’s mother. However, the jury did not believe him and on December 6, 1998, he was found guilty. At his sentencing in January 1999, St. Charles County Circuit Court Judge Ellsworth Cundiff told Stewart “injecting a child with the HIV virus really puts you in the same category as the worst war criminal” and “when God finally calls you, you are going to burn in hell from here to eternity” before sentencing him to life in prison.

Should his son die from an illness as a result of AIDS (in other words, as long as he doesn’t die in a car accident or something similar), Stewart stands to be charged with first degree murder.

Stewart first became eligible for parole in 2011 but it’s uncertain whether he applied and was denied or did not make the application at all as he is still incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Facility in Washington County, Missouri.

Over the years, Brryan Jackson has become an advocate for people with AIDS. At the age of 18, he founded the Hope Is Vital foundation for AIDS awareness. In 2009, Brryan was awarded the Nick Teen HALO Award for his work with Camp Kindle, a free camp for children who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

Brryan Jackson has said in several interviews that he has forgiven his father because to not do so would make him no better than the man who changed his life forever. If you ask me, Brryan is a better person than most of us will ever be and truly an inspiration to us all.

3. Eli Stutzman

On Christmas Eve 1985, the body of a nine-year-old boy was found alongside a road in Chester, Nebraska.

No one could identify the little boy despite an all-out effort, so the little town adopted him, as a manner of speaking, as one of their own and called him “Little Boy Blue"; his moniker later inscribed on the tombstone of his grave maintained by several of the town’s residents.

Eli N. Stutzman

Eli N. Stutzman

For two years, the people of Chester had searched for the identity of Little Boy Blue when it was suddenly revealed he was Daniel Eli Stutzman, the son of an Amish defector from Ohio named Eli N. Stutzman.

Eli and his son had left the Ohio Amish farm following a suspicious barn fire which had caused his pregnant wife’s death. The father and son had moved to Texas where he frequently ran men-seeking-men personals ads in a lifestyles newspaper.

It was through this newspaper Eli met Glen Pritchett, who became his roommate and lover. When the duo had a falling-out, however, Eli murdered Pritchett and went on the run with Danny in tow.

When Eli popped up in Durango, Colorado, he very was “active” in the gay community; attending parties and running classifieds where he met David Tyler and Dennis Slater. Within a month of each other, both men would be murdered. A few days after Slater’s murder on December 5, 1985, Eli took off for Wyoming where he had left Danny with friends.

The long arm of the law had caught up with Eli on Pritchett’s murder and he was serving a 40-year sentence in a Texas prison when police identified Little Boy Blue as his son. When they questioned him about his son’s death, Eli claimed Danny had died unexpectedly while they were traveling from Wyoming back to Colorado. Out of fear, he claimed, he had buried his son in snow along the side of the road.

Following a trial, Eli was sentenced to 18 months for the crimes of abandoning a body and concealing a death. After serving only sixteen years, Eli Stutzman was paroled from prison in the spring of 2005. On January 31, 2007, he committed suicide in his Fort Worth, Texas, apartment.

4. Garrett Elden Wilson

Garrett Wilson was a spoiled brat. Anything Garrett wanted growing up, he got. Any problems that arose, his Mommy and Daddy made sure it was resolved quickly and quietly.

When one of Garrett’s flings resulted in pregnancy in 1976, Garrett agreed to marry the woman so the child wouldn’t be illegitimate. The day after the Courthouse wedding, however, the new bride filed for divorce. Garrett’s father paid his way out of the marriage and managed to keep it hush, hush from everyone – including Garrett’s mother.

Garret Eldren Wilson

Garret Eldren Wilson

When Mommy and Daddy were gone, however, the legacy they left behind was that of an overindulged, overweight sloth who wouldn’t work his way out of a paper bag if his life depended on it.

His father, who had been the last of his parents to die, wasn’t even cold before Garrett went on a spending spree and blew every bit of his inheritance on a new car, a pure bred dog, a horse, and having a music studio and weight room added to his home (which he had also inherited from his parents).

With the money gone and no parents around to bail him out, Garrett burglarized an office where he was working as an assistant at the U.S. House of Representatives. Faking an injury, Garrett claimed he had been attacked by two men who had taken $40,000. They didn’t believe him and Garrett eventually confessed and returned the money. He skipped away with a five-year suspended sentence and a fine.

Deborah Lynn Oliver had been having an on-again-off-again relationship with Garrett since she was 12 and he was 21. She would later say she had gotten pregnant four times by Garrett and each time his parents had paid for her to have an abortion. When she got pregnant a fifth time, however, Garrett proposed – much to her parents chagrin, as they had believed the relationship between their daughter and the fellow church attendee was platonic.

Sixteen-year-old Debbie and 25-year-old Garrett were wed in 1980 in a simple church ceremony. Their daughter,Brandi Jean Wilson, was born in February 1981. A month after her birth, her father took out $40,000 worth of life insurance on the infant.

In April 1981, Debbie came down with the flu. Her husband gave her what he said was Vitamin C capsules, but Debbie soon found herself woozy and in a deep sleep. When she awoke the next morning, Garrett told her that their daughter had stopped breathing in the middle of the night. Their beautiful baby girl was dead. The baby’s death was declared a case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Collecting on the life insurance, Garrett and Debbie went on a spending spree and in six months the money was gone and the marriage was over. When again Garrett found himself financially broke, he stole $10,000 from the bank where he was working. Again he confessed and returned the money, but was still charged and sentenced to serve two consecutive prison terms of six to 18 months. While he was doing his time at a Federal Prison in Lexington, Kentucky, Debbie filed for divorce.

Garrett later dubbed his time in Federal prison as a “sabbatical” and used the time to get in shape. After he was released, he went to work selling memberships at a gym in Arlington, Virginia. It was there he met Missy Anastasi.

The two hit it off right away. He told her about his “recent” divorce, the daughter who had died of SIDS, and his criminal record; but what he didn’t tell her was he was engaged to woman named Elizabeth Dodge.

Garrett became engaged to Missy while still engaged to Elizabeth, but it was soon over with the latter. A month after it was officially over with Elizabeth, Missy announced she was pregnant. Garrett and Missy wed and in March 1987, Garrett Michael Wilson was born. A month later, the baby boy’s father purchased two separate insurance policies that together totaled $150,000.

The new mother, knowing about the tragic death of her husband’s first child, had educated herself about SIDS. She had read that most all cases of SIDS occurred within the first six months. The baby was five months old when Missy excitedly told her husband they lacked only another month before they were out of the greatest danger for SIDS.

Ten days later, on August 22, 1987, Missy awoke to the sound of the baby crying. Garrett told her to go back to sleep, he would take care of their son. Listening through the baby monitor, Missy heard her husband get their son from his crib, sit down in the rocking chair, then she heard a sound she later described as a sigh but said it made the hair on the back of neck stand up.

A little unnerved but trying to stave off the fear she felt, Missy got up to feed the cats. When the uneasy feeling continued to nag at her, she went into her son’s room to check on him as Garrett had already returned bed. There Missy discovered her son unresponsive, not breathing, and pale. Rushing to the bedroom, Missy screamed, “Garrett, what did you to do him?” Then she frantically called 911 and waited for help to arrive while Garrett performed CPR.

Garrett Michael was pronounced dead at the hospital. Just as they had with his first child, the doctors declared this to be another case of SIDS. Missy, distraught and unbelieving, sought the opinion of experts but again was told it was SIDS.

Unaware of her husband’s affair with a woman named Julie Stinger and his plans to runaway with her or Julie’s belief he was going to bring his son along and she was going to raise him, Missy accepted the SIDS diagnosis and began moving forward with her husband.

Just as he and Debbie had done, Missy and Garrett went on a shopping spree with the insurance money. Hoping for a fresh start, the couple purchased a tract mansion, new cars, jewelry, and dined at the area’s finest restaurants. Within a couple of years, they had spent every last dime. They were broke. Again.

After moving to Texas in hopes of starting anew, Garrett filed for divorce from Missy after he began an affair with Vicky Wampler. Even as the divorce was finalized and Garrett had married Vicky, who was expecting his third baby, Garrett was still meeting up for dates with Missy, who hoped it was a chance at reconciliation.

When Missy learned about the new wife and baby, she was outraged and confronted Garrett, who admitted he was married and expecting a child. Missy says it was at that very moment her worst fears were confirmed. If Garrett could do something like this, she knew he was capable of killing his own child.

Missy became determined to make someone take a second look at her son’s death. In 1996, Missy finally got the attention of Attorney General Janet Reno who had referred her case to the Office for the Victims of Crime. After a second look at the autopsy reports in the death of Missy’s son, the medical examiner changed the cause of death to homicide as a result of asphyxiation. A secondary look at the report in Brandi’s death also resulted in a change: probable suffocation, cause of death undetermined.

The elder Garrett was arrested and charged with the murder of Garrett Michael. A few months later, he was charged with murder in Brandi’s death. A medical expert testified at the trial for murdering his son that SIDS was not genetic and while the chances of having a child die from SIDS in a family was one in 2000, the chances of a second child dying of SIDS is one in four million.

For his son's death, Garrett was sentenced to life without parole. The conviction was overturned through appeals in 2002, but in a second trial in 2004, he was found guilty again and received the same sentence. He is currently incarcerated at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Facility.

5. Daryl Keith Holton

When Daryl Keith Holton met and married his wife Crystal while stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in 1984, it was a relationship full of “ups and downs” from the very beginning.

In 1991, after serving two years in Germany where they had two sons, Holton was sent to Saudi Arabia while his wife remained in the states. During this time, Crystal began neglecting her duties as a mother. One night while she was out with friends at a country music bar, one of the children went to a neighbor’s home searching for his mother. Police and the Georgia Department of Children’s Service (GDOC) were called but, after Crystal returned home the next morning, police declined to press criminal charges and the GDOC allowed the wayward mother to retain custody.

Daryl Keith Holton

Daryl Keith Holton

A few days later, Holton learned of the incident and secured an emergency leave of absence and returned home where he subsequently moved his family to his father’s home in Bedford County, Tennessee. Believing his children were now in good care with his father, Holton returned to the Middle East. Shortly thereafter, however, Crystal left the children behind with her father-in-law to visit a cousin in Indiana then moved back to South Carolina.

Learning of his wife abandonment of their children, he obtained a hardship discharge and returned to Tennessee in June 1992, where he also filed for divorce and was awarded custody of the couples’ three sons.

In the latter part of 1992, Crystal Holton reconciled with her husband after she became pregnant as the result of a “one night stand.” When her daughter was born, Holton signed the birth certificate as the father; even giving the new baby the same middle name as his mother’s first name. For the next two years, the couple lived together until Crystal’s heavy drinking led to several bouts of domestic violence. Taking the children, Crystal moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee where, she later testified, Holton visited them on a daily basis. Eventually, Holton was awarded weekend visitation with the children despite his request for custody because of Crystal’s alcoholism and lack of housekeeping skills.

These visits went without incident until 1995 when Crystal claimed Holton refused to let the children out of the car and insisted she get in. When she refused, he drove away with the children and only returned them after he learned, by listening to a police scanner in his car, Crystal had called the police. As the custody dispute continued to wage between the Holtons, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services did, at one point, remove the children from Crystal’s home but Crystal remained, at least on paper, primary custodian.

It seemed the war was finally over when an Order was entered with the Bedford County Juvenile Court on February 27, 1996, in which it claimed that Holton agreed “it would be in the best interest of the minor children that full custody be granted to the natural mother with visitation to be at the discretion of the mother.” Yet by Fall 1997, Crystal Holton had sworn out an Order of Protection against Holton. Without providing any notification, Crystal moved with the children to the home of new boyfriend Morris Rhodes in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

It wasn’t until November of that year Holton learned where his children were living and it came in the form of a phone call from his ex-wife who told him his children missed him and wanted him to take them Christmas shopping. When Holton responded he was unsure if the children even remembered he was their father and expressed concern her new beau was replacing him as “Dad,” Crystal reassured him they knew who their father was and the relationship with Morris was just that of a typical stepparent/child.

As agreed, on November 30, 1997, Holton met his ex-wife at 3 p.m. at the Murfreesboro Walmart to exchange the children. The agreement was for Holton to met her again at 9:30 p.m. at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department to return the children. It was a promise Holton never intended to fulfill.

Claiming they would later go Christmas shopping, Holton took his children for a meal at McDonald’s, followed by a trip to an arcade, then took them to his uncle’s automotive garage. After giving them a tour of the shop and a couple of quick lessons in car engines, he shot the children two at a time.

After years of custody battles and domestic disputes, Stephen Edward Holton, 12; Brent Holton, 10; Eric Holton, 6; and Kayla Marie Holton, 4, lay dead on the filthy floor where their father lived and worked.

An hour later, Holton walked into the Shelbyville Police Department and told authorities what he had done. Responding officers found the four lifeless bodies of the Holton children exactly where Daryl Holton had said they would be, along with the pipe bombs he said was intended for his ex-wife and her home. Holton also said he’d planned to commit suicide but had changed his mind.

During his June 1999 trial, his attorneys tried to convince a jury their client was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his military service, despite Holton’s very vocal claims this was not the case. Holton publicly stated, prior to his trial, he believed his children were better off dead than to continue to live in the conditions of their mother’s home and the children “had been taken away from [him] and given back to [him], taken away from [him] and given back to [him] enough.”. Although his attorneys tried to convince their client to take the stand in an effort to show the jury their client was “mentally incompetent,” Holton refused.

The jury found Holton guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to death.

Over the next seven years, Holton spent his time on Tennessee’s death row at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, battling the automatic appeals that come with a death penalty sentence. On September 12, 2007, Holton got his wish at 1:16 a.m. when the first surge of electricity was sent through his body. A second jolt was completed by 1:17 a.m. and at 1:25 a.m. Holton was pronounced dead.

When Holton was asked about any final statements, he said, “Two words: I do.”

© 2016 Kim Bryan

Share Your Thoughts About These Daddy Dearestes

GalaxyRat on June 01, 2017:

Glad I don't have a family like this... thanks for sharing. All of the, deserve life sentences (if they aren't dead already, like with some of them).

Suzie from Carson City on April 16, 2016:

Very frightening men, all of them. This was rather difficult to get through without feeling very sick & heartbroken for all the innocent children. These people, both the mothers & fathers were terribly ignorant & low life individuals.

What horrible tragedies.

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