Halloween, 2012. A convicted murderer that should have never been freed took another innocent life. This is the story of John D. White.
1980, Battle Creek Michigan
17 year-old Theresa Etherton never suspected her neighbor, John White, was capable of murder. He was a bit odd, but the 22 year-old man was married, so surely he didn’t have any ill intentions when he invited her into his basement to look at his race track. She accepted, and after they made their way downstairs, he stood behind her. She literally never saw it coming. Theresa suddenly felt a sharp pain below her right shoulder blade. John White had stabbed her, and he was only getting started.
When all was said and done, Theresa had suffered 15 stab wounds. She had barely clung on to life, but the image of her would-be killer was burned into her mind. The smiling. He smiled the entire time he was attacking her. Even when he wiped the blood from her mouth before kissing her. Even when he said “You’re going to go now. I’m really sorry you had to go like this, but what the fuck. You’re just a woman.” Her life meant nothing to him. But it meant everything to her, and she fought for it with all her strength. Theresa Etherton survived John White’s brutal attack.
White was convicted of attempted murder. During sentencing, he told the judge that he was truly sorry and that he now knew he had a problem. He was handed down a 5 to 10 year prison sentence with the recommendation of mental health counseling.
White acquired a new defense attorney and appealed the verdict by claiming his previous representation had failed to raise an insanity defense. He won. The jury verdict was overturned and his case was remanded by the state court of appeals. White received a deal of two years probation and time served, contingent on him seeking mental health treatment.
John White was still married and had two children with his wife, who was pregnant with White’s third child. He worked at Textile Systems Inc. as a maintenance worker. There, he met Vicky Sue Wall. The two were having an affair when Vicky went missing. Police were quick to question White. They were well aware of his criminal history, but he was also caught on surveillance video getting into his black pickup truck with Vicky on the night she disappeared.
During questioning, White initially denied any involvement, but when pressed, admitted he had been with Vicky that night, but claimed she was alive when he left her. Just days after that interview, White attempted suicide by consuming large amounts of pills and alcohol. Upon further questioning, White claimed he suffered blackouts and may have hurt Vicky during one of these episodes.
Detectives searched White’s pickup truck, but found no evidence. They used luminol to check the truck for blood evidence. Luminol is a chemical that glows blue when it’s mixed with the iron from hemoglobin found in red blood cells. White’s truck glowed in several spots.
The search for Vicky Sue Wall continued, but hopes of finding her alive had been all but extinguished. Her family’s worst fears were confirmed six weeks later, when a man walking on a trail discovered Vicky’s body. She had been stripped naked except for the bra and shirt tangled around her neck. Her body had been badly decomposed at this point, and the autopsy couldn’t conclusively determine the cause of death. The coroner did, however, report that the the manner of death was suggestive of homicide.
White was charged with Open Murder. In Michigan, open murder envelopes both 1st and 2nd degree murder, allowing the jury to ultimately determine the appropriate degree.
During sentencing, White withheld details about how he murdered Vicky Sue Wall, but did acknowledge his responsibility. He apologized once again, saying it was a tragic accident. He was sentenced to an 8 to 15 year prison term.
White later revealed to a prison psychologist that he fantasized about killing both the prosecutor and his defense attorney- both women- and having sex with their corpses.
After serving just 13 years, White was released from prison. Upon his release, White moved to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where he became the pastor of a small church and became engaged to Sally Gay. He and his first wife had divorced during his imprisonment.
White seemed like a different man. He was even entrusted to babysit his fiancee’s three year-old grandson, Conway while Sally’s’ daughter Rebekah was at work.
Rebekah Gay was a 24 year-old single mother that lived in the same mobile home park as her mother and soon-to-be step-father.
John White entered Rebekah’s mobile home wielding a hard rubber mallet. Unprovoked, he attacked the young mother while Conway was in a different room. He struck her repeatedly in the head with the mallet before strangling her with a zip tie. White then took Rebekah’s lifeless body to the nearby woods. After an unspecified amount of time, White returned to the mobile home and dressed Conway up in his Halloween costume, before delivering the three year-old to his father to go trick-or-treating.
After a fruitless search for Rebekah, White confessed to the murder and led police to her body.
During the brief trial, Sally Gay pleaded with the judge to give White as harsh a punishment as possible. He was sentenced to 56 years in prison this time. He wouldn’t last more than ten months.
The morning of August 28th, 2013
The Michigan Reformatory correctional facility in Ionia.
Guards discovered the body of John Douglas White hanging in his cell. He had killed himself during the night. He was 56 years old.
Sally Gay later said of her daughter, “Rebekah was the heart and soul of the family.”
Rebekah’s boyfriend, Aaron Quinn had planned to give her a diamond ring the night of the murder. The two were planning on starting a life…and their own family…together. Countless lives were forever altered by the deadly combination of a madman’s bloodlust and the failings of a broken justice system.