Happy Freaking Mother’s Day
Hey, little skeletons! I’m Gina – And I’m Amber! – and this is Weird True Crime! (music intro)
Amber: As I’m sure everyone knows, Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I for one hope that I can get out of changing a diaper or two and can possibly shower. That would be a win for me. Not going to hold my breath on that one though. Regardless of what sort of chaos ensues in my life on that day, I sure as hell will have had a much better day than these mothers we’re going to be talking about today.
Gina: I treat Mother’s Day like any other day. I just hope no one gets sick or injured, there’s no drama, and my sanity stays intact. Maybe I’ll actually get to watch something I want to watch or like, read a book. It doesn’t take much to make me happy these days. And uhh yeah. To be honest, my biggest fear is having a day like any of these mothers. Why, you may be asking us through your listening device, wouldn’t we want to have a day like any of the moms we’re talking about today? Well, keep listening and it won’t take long for you to figure out what they all have in common.
Amber: The first mother we’re going to talk about today is 48-year-old Maria Suarez-Cassagne (KAH-SAH-NYAY). On New Year’s Eve, 2014 in Oldsmar, a city located in Pinellas County, Florida, Maria sat down with her 16-year-old daughter, Maria Jose Gomez, or Pia to her family, her 27-year-old son, Mario Gomez, and her 23-year-old son, Christian Gomez for dinner. Mario, who was visiting from out of town, had made corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage.
Gina: Now, let’s back up a little bit, shall we? Like most parents, we all want to do everything possible to help our children. That’s exactly how Maria felt when her middle child, Christian, began showing signs of mental illness at the age of 18. He was incapable of holding a job, he didn’t want to drive a car, and he stopped taking showers, as he said that his mother and his sister were watching him through the television. Maria did everything she could to get him the help he needed. According to his sister, Pia, she took him to countless therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors and any time something else happened, they simply resorted to “upping his medicine.” A stack of documentation shows the number of mental health professionals Maria reached out to to get Christian long-term treatment. One diagnosis stated he was schizophrenic, another stated he was bipolar, while others mentioned depression and psychotic behavior.
Amber: Eventually, Christian started acting inappropriately toward his 7 years younger sister and their mother had to make sure they were never alone anymore. Maria was worried about leaving Christian on his own, and her work suffered from it. He had once been picked up by the police for wandering around their neighborhood asking people if he could live with them. Maria worked at Mease Countryside Hospital and would bring him with her to work – a move that ended up costing her her job. She wasn’t able to afford private care so she did what she could with what she could. Unfortunately, Christian did not like taking his medication and Maria had to resort to crushing it up and sprinkling it on his food to get him to take it. Christian discovered what she was doing and was none too pleased about it.
Gina: In 2013, police took Christian into custody for a variety of minor offenses including loitering, prowling, resisting arrest without violence, and disorderly conduct. He had also been previously held under the Baker Act. “The Baker Act is a Florida law that enables families and loved ones to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of their mental illness, and who are unable to determine their treatment needs. The Act was named after Maxine Baker, a former Miami State representative who sponsored the Act in 1972. People who require the use of the Baker Act have often lost the power of self-control, and they are likely to inflict harm to themselves or others. It is important that the Baker Act only be used in situations where the person has a mental illness and meets all the remaining criteria for voluntary or involuntary admission. It does not substitute for any other law that may permit the provision of medical or substance abuse care to persons who lack the capacity to request such care.”
On December 30th, Christian’s grandparents picked him up and took him to one of his regular therapy appointments, where he was informed that he needed to find a new psychiatrist. The following day would change everyone’s lives forever.
Amber: After the family of 4 sat down for dinner on New Year’s Eve, Maria took her daughter to work at a nearby Little Caesars while Mario went to go read. After dropping her daughter off, Maria went to her room and listened to music. Christian came into Mario’s room and sat on the floor for a few moments while he was reading, and then left. Christian then asked Maria about the boxes she had been asking him for help with and the two of them headed to the garage. Shortly after, Mario said he heard a noise from the garage, but assumed it was just Christian moving the boxes around to take them to the attic. About 20 minutes later, Mario realized the house was too quiet and went off to search for his mother and his brother because Maria never returned to her room. When he went out to the garage, he opened the door and saw a puddle of blood and an ax leaning against a wall. He followed a trail of blood outside to the front door where he was confronted with the gruesome scene of Maria’s body laying next to the trash can. Her head had been cut completely off. Christian was nowhere to be found. At approximately 7:22 pm Mario called the police and reported his mother had been murdered – by his brother. The police arrived, investigated the scene, and eventually found Maria’s head in a garbage bag inside the trash can. They immediately set up a perimeter and began searching for Christian. Around 8:00 pm, Christian was 4 blocks away on his bike, when he approached some neighbors with their garage door open playing poker for a beer. They gave him a bottle of water instead. One of the neighbors noticed some blood on Christian’s ankles. Christian rode off on his bike and the neighbors called 911. The police already had helicopters in the air searching for him. Deputies spotted him and he tried to ride his bike past one of their cruisers but fell off his bike into a patch of grass. The police apprehended him and took him to the station.
Gina: At the station, homicide detectives spoke to Gomez for the first time. Christian admitted that he had been planning on killing his mother for two days. He confessed that he repeatedly struck her with the ax, severing her head, and then dragged her body out to the garbage can. He says he tried to put her body in the trash can, but it wouldn’t fit, so he just put her head in. When asked why he said that he had been tired of her nagging him to put the boxes away in the attic and that he just couldn’t take it anymore. Christian Gomez was charged with first-degree murder and incarcerated in a state mental hospital for three years. Finally, he was declared mentally competent to stand trial and in July 2018 he pleaded guilty in return for a sentence of 25 years. His family had hoped that they would never see him on the streets again and that he would receive the help his mother so desperately tried to get for him. Christian’s uncle, Mario Suarez, stated “So maybe he gets out in (20) years. What happens after that? Where is he going to go? His sister is afraid of him, I mean terrified. Not only did he kill her mom but he wanted to make her his woman. They say they’ll monitor him for 10 years and make sure he takes his medicine. He’s not going to take his medicine. Everybody just washed their hands of him. How could he be found competent after what he did?”
Amber: Christian will be released in 2043, at the age of 51. It’s doubtful that he’s receiving the mental health care he needs in prison, and his family members are entirely justified in their fear of what will happen when he returns to society.
Gina: Our next case takes us up north to Long Branch, New Jersey. The Kologi family was having a small New Year’s Eve party at their home in 2017 and 44-year-old Linda Kologi was handing out party favors as the clock ticked closer to midnight. Her husband, 42-year-old Steven Kologi Sr., their oldest son, Steven Jr., and his then-girlfriend, and 18-year-old daughter, Brittany, along with Steven Sr.’s father, Adrian, and his longtime girlfriend, 70-year-old Mary Ann Shulz, were waiting for the countdown.
Amber: Linda Kologi was a devoted mother who dedicated her adult life to her family and children. Her focus had been on home-schooling her 16-year-old son, Scott, who had autism and had been home-schooled since 4th or 5th grade due to issues with other kids in school. Dad, Steven Sr., was a truck driver for Clayton Concrete and an avid sports enthusiast. He played softball in several leagues and enjoyed bodybuilding, skiing, and playing pool. Steven Sr. was a proud dad and put his family first. Everyone he knew described him as outgoing, likable, and friendly. Their daughter, Brittany, graduated from Long Branch High School in May of 2017 and was a Freshman at Stockton University, Galloway (in Township, New Jersey). Brittany enjoyed painting and drawing. She was an animal lover, especially regarding the family dog and her cat, Jill. Even as a teenager trying to find herself, her family was very important to her, and she considered her grandfather, Adrian Kologi, her best friend.
Gina: Mary Ann Shultz, the long-time girlfriend of Adrian Kologi, was basically a grandmother to Steven Jr., Brittany, and Scott. In her retirement, she enjoyed acting and attending theater performances. Mary Ann acted with a local dinner theatre group, Murder on Cue, where she played stone-faced Greta Schtunken. She also played the role of the lead juror in the movie, “Deathrow.” She also served on the executive board for the Monmouth County Geneology Society, co-founded the African-American Special Interests Group, and worked on the county’s cemetery restoration projects. Honestly, she just sounds like an overall fantastic lady. The whole family seemed loving and close. Just an average family celebrating the new year like millions of other people across the globe.
Amber: Doing what moms do best, Linda went searching for her 16-year-old son, Scott, to get him to join the festivities and give him some party favors. When she entered his room, all of the lights were off. Scott opened fire on his mother, shooting her five to seven times with a C39v2 semi-automatic rifle, an AK-47-type weapon. Alarmed by the sound, Steven Sr. ran up the stairs to see what was happening and was shot in the back and killed. After killing his parents, Scott calmly walked downstairs where he shot and killed Mary Ann Shultz before turning the gun on his sister, Brittany, and shooting her three times as she was sitting down. It was when he saw his grandfather, Adrian Kologi, fall to his knees at the sight of his long-time partner being shot, that he “snapped out of his daze” and went upstairs to wait for the police. Steven Jr.’s girlfriend, who was present at the time of the shooting, called 911 at 11:43 p.m. while hiding behind the refrigerator.
Gina: During his initial questioning, Scott openly admitted to his actions and told them he had been experiencing strange hallucinations since he was a child. Scott told detectives he felt like he was watching a movie while he was shooting his family members, something psychologists say is indicative of being in a dissociative state at the time of the killings. In a recorded interview directly after the shooting, Scott calmly retold all the details of how he shot each of his family members that night. This video was later played at his trial. Scott was held in a juvenile detention facility in Middlesex County while waiting for disposition. Little progress had been made a year later where, due to his age at the time of the killings, the information released about Scott and the case was restricted.
Amber: His trial began on February 9, 2022, and even though he was a minor at the time of the killings, because of the seriousness of the offenses, he was tried as an adult. After two weeks of testimony, a jury convicted him of four counts of first-degree murder and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes. During the trial, his defense attorneys did not dispute that Scott had committed the killings – but that he was severely mentally ill and in the middle of a psychotic episode and was pursuing an insanity defense. The prosecution argued that just before the shootings, Scott had put on earplugs since he didn’t know how loud the shots would be, loaded 15 bullets into two different mags, and turned off the lights because he didn’t want his mother to see what was about to happen to her. It was also revealed that he had searched in the week leading up to the killing how to use the Century Arms assault rifle owned by his older brother. Other sources say that he had previously researched the difference between a serial killer and mass homicide. Investigators found a search on Kologi’s phone from just hours before the shootings whether or not the ammunition he was using could pierce body armor. After only a couple of hours of deliberation, the jury found Scott Kologi guilty of all four counts of first-degree murder. His sentencing was set for June 30, 2022. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison.
Gina: Mental illness definitely played a big role in Scott’s case. As with most cases we cover, there seemed to be some discrepancies in the information we found, specifically with whether or not the family took his mental health seriously and tried to get him the help he needed – as some sources said his family ignored his needs and he never received any help. One of them went as far as to say that his mother told everyone to ignore it and it would go away.
Amber: Unfortunately, just as with Christian Gomez’s case, it doesn’t seem like he will get the mental help he needs in prison, but unlike Christian – Scott won’t see the light of day outside the prison walls ever again.
Gina: The last one we’re covering today hits extremely close to home. The family in this case lived across the street from me for several years when I was a child. The parents, Tom and Janet, were thoughtful, quiet, and kind, from what I can remember. They had three children, Brian, Jeff, and Maggie. They were all quite a bit older than me, and Jeff was a troublemaker. There was an incident when he walked around the neighborhood in the middle of the night and shot out the street lights, and one of the windows on our Ford Bronco, with a BB gun. Maggie would frequently rollerblade around the neighborhood and keep to herself. Because I was so young, I don’t remember much about the Wards. My mom knew them and was friendly with Tom and Janet, though. In the mid-nineties, Tom got a job as a principal at a high school in Poth, a small town about 35 minutes outside of San Antonio. Janet took a job teaching at a Catholic school in Floresville. They hoped moving out of the city of Austin would provide a quiet, slower way of life. But what they got was nowhere near it.
Amber: Maggie was 15 when the Wards moved to Poth. She was an amiable (AIM-E-ABLE) teenager and agreed with her parent’s decision to get out of the rapidly growing city. As approving as she may have been of the change, it wasn’t long until she started struggling with poor grades and disciplinary problems at Poth High School. She also began showing symptoms of anxiety and depression. While Tom, her father, said that these changes in behavior did coincide with their move to the small town, he doubted the move itself had anything to do with it because she had been so on board with the plan. Being the supportive parents that they were, Tom and Janet were concerned about their daughter’s struggle with her mental health and took her to two therapists and a neurologist. She endured a battery of tests but was never given a complete diagnosis. Maggie was prescribed two SSRIs, a form of antidepressant. In 1995, there were three occurrences where Maggie had episodes of hyperventilating and collapsing due to her anxiety. She also became socially withdrawn, couldn’t sleep, had uncontrollable crying fits, heard voices, and lost track of time. There were instances where she found herself in her bedroom closet with no recollection of how she got there. On one occasion, she was on the roof of a church, cutting herself.
Gina: Let’s take a minute to talk about SSRIs. SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They delay or stop the body from reabsorbing serotonin, leaving more available for the body to use. Raising serotonin levels help regulate mood, appetite, sleep, digestion, and other bodily functions. While SSRIs can be fantastic for many adults struggling with depression and anxiety, they pose many risks for children and teenagers. In 2004, the FDA issued a black box warning stating that anti-depressants were associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behavior in people under the age of 25. In a small percentage of children, the use of anti-depressants increased the following behaviors: suicidal thoughts or behaviors, agitation, irritability, self-harm, worsening anxiety or panic attacks, aggression, violence or instability, spending more time alone, and an increase in depression symptoms. Maggie was 15 when she started taking anti-depressants in 1995, nine years before the potential side effects were more understood and the FDA black-box warning had been issued. Whether or not the potential side effects outweigh the benefit is a heated topic. Many young people take these medications with no negative outcome, but everyone reacts differently, and what may be a positive change for one person could be absolutely horrific for someone else. The fact that Maggie was prescribed anti-depressants becomes important later in the story.
Amber: In an attempt to improve her educational environment, Maggie was moved to an alternative school in Floresville. Unfortunately, the change was short-lived because she got kicked out of school for stealing. In December 1995, Maggie called the police stating that two men had broken in and assaulted her in her home. When police arrived, they found no evidence of such an event. She also began to display suicidal behavior around this time. In addition to Maggie’s mental health concerns, she had also developed a friendship with a teenage girl named Regina Ramirez, a high school senior. Tom and Janet were not happy about the relationship between the girls. While it’s not stated outright, Maggie was described as obsessive toward Regina, and when asked later about the nature of their relationship, Tom refused to comment. Considering Tom and Janet’s strong Catholic beliefs, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t approve of a relationship between Maggie and Regina that was anything more than friendly. They were so unhappy, in fact, that they were planning to move Maggie back to Austin to live with family friends and away from Poth and Ramirez. Obviously, Maggie wasn’t thrilled about this turn of events. In mid-February, Tom found her in her room with his .38 caliber handgun. He took the gun from her and hid it, worried she would use it to hurt herself.
Gina: On Monday, February 26, 1996, Janet took a day off from work to drive Maggie to San Antonio for doctor’s appointments and some shopping. When the pair returned home, Janet busied herself in the house while Maggie met up with a girl in the neighborhood. She asked the girl to keep a lookout for Maggie’s father, Tom, while she snuck something from the trunk of his car. Back inside, Janet was watching TV or looking out the window in the kitchen when Maggie pressed the .38 caliber handgun to the back of Janet’s head and pulled the trigger. She then hid the gun in a green duffel bag in one of the rooms of the home and called Regina Ramirez and told her her mother was on the floor bleeding. The girls then drove Janet’s car to Ramirez’s mother’s workplace where one of them placed a call to 911. When police arrived on the scene, they found Maggie curled in the fetal position in the front seat of Janet’s car with her hands covering her ears. Janet was declared brain-dead but kept on life-support for several hours so her organs could be harvested for donation. When asked why she did it, Maggie said she didn’t mean to shoot her mother and her finger slipped on the trigger. However, it was discovered that Regina Ramirez had shown up at the Ward’s home the day of the shooting. Janet was so upset by seeing Regina at her door, she decided to take Maggie to live in Austin that day.
Amber: Maggie was charged with murder the same day Janet died. Even while grieving the loss of his wife of 25 years, Tom stood by Maggie’s side. In an interview with the Associated Press, he compared the family’s situation to a train wreck. “It’s like an Amtrak ran through your house at 95 miles an hour. The train has been there, and the house is a wreck. And you go outside to try and deal with it, and you don’t see any tracks… You say, ‘Gee, where did this train come from? We don’t even live near a track.’” While he may have felt like this wreck had come from nowhere, investigators believed the motive stemmed from the ongoing fight between Maggie and Janet about Maggie’s relationship with Regina. District Attorney Lynn Ellison wanted her to stand trial as an adult. Her father, on the other hand, wanted Maggie to remain in the juvenile justice system so she should retrieve the proper psychiatric treatment she so desperately needed. He said that he wasn’t asking to let his daughter go to McDonald’s and move away, he’s asking for Maggie to be placed in the most effective therapeutic setting that Texas has to offer.
Gina: Neither scenario would play out though, because Maggie pleaded no contest on March 27, 1997, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison with the possibility for parole after 10 years. Three months after the plea bargain, a psychiatrist diagnosed Maggie with bipolar disorder with psychotic features and prescribed her lithium. Lithium changes the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, helping a person with bipolar disorder have more control over their mood swings. Maggie’s mood almost immediately changed after starting lithium and having weekly therapy sessions.
Amber: In 1998, almost two years after Janet’s killing, the Wards filed a civil suit against Humana Insurance Co., its mental health contractor Texas Biodyne, and the doctors who treated Maggie prior to the shooting. Tom Ward stated the healthcare providers should shoulder some of the blame because they allegedly refused Maggie appropriate care. According to Tom, they were denied services they didn’t even know they had in order for the insurance company to save money. The lawsuit, which sought $20 million in damages, alleges the Wards repeatedly requested inpatient psychiatric care for Maggie, but Humana and its “gatekeeper” medical care providers acted out of self-interest when stating she didn’t need hospitalization and that it wasn’t covered by their current medical plan. The last refusal by the insurance company for inpatient treatment came just five days before Maggie killed Janet. The lawsuit was found to be in favor of the psychologists because the damages occurred due to Maggie’s illegal conduct.
Gina: Since the death of their wife and mother, life went on but obviously not in the same way. Brian and Jeff, Maggie’s older brothers, both quit their military careers. Tom moved to another city. While in prison, Maggie ingested bleach and was hospitalized for four days. In June 1999, she attempted suicide again. Always the supportive father, Tom attended her graduation ceremony when she received her GED. Maggie was released from prison in 2016, though we couldn’t find any records of her release or where she lives, now. It’s probably for the best that her life remains private. Let’s hope she’s still getting the treatment she needs and living a fulfilling life. There’s a trend among today’s cases – teenagers and young adults struggling with their mental health and not receiving the care they necessarily needed. All of them lived in supportive, loving homes, with parents who did their best to provide help to their children. At least 1 in 5 kids between the ages of 9 -17 years have a diagnosable mental health disorder that causes some level of impairment. The most common issues are anxiety, mood, attention, and behavior disorders. This is why it is so important to provide adequate, affordable, and attainable mental health care to kids and adults and remove the stigma associated with mental health.
Amber: Happy freaking Mother’s Day! If that doesn’t lower your standards as far as what you expect on Sunday, I don’t know what will. If you’d like to see photos from today’s cases, be sure to follow us on Instagram @weirdtruecrime! Join us in the Weird True Crime Podcast Group on Facebook to discuss today’s episode and more. Head over to our gorgeous website – weirdtruecrime.com to listen to all of the episodes, read the transcripts, and much, much, more! Thank you for all of the amazing memes you sent after last week’s episode! Please keep sending in all of the hilarious memes along with your own true crime stories, close calls, or spooky tales to our email firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to leave a 5-star rating and review on your favorite podcast app! It tells all of the algorithms that we’re worth listening to. If you do, you’ll get a shout out like today’s reviewer.
Gina: This 5-star review came from kiwi0699 on Apple Podcasts! They titled it Yes Please and said, “I love Gina and Amber! And I love this podcast! These amazing hosts put together such an amazing podcast! Listening to them it’s so easy and refreshing” Thank you SO much to kiwi0699 for that super sweet review! Be like them and we’ll be sure to read your review on a future episode. We want to wish a Happy Mother’s day to anyone celebrating, here’s to a day full of doing absolutely everything you want to do, and nothing you don’t.
Until next time, stay safe – and make good choices – bye!! …. Bye Bye