Saito calls for a jeep with a machine-gun in the back, pulling it up in front of the British commander and his officers. From the hospital hut, Shears tells the doctor, Major Clipton that he fears the worst about Saito's threat: "He's going to do it. Believe me. He's really going to do it." Before Saito reaches the count of three, Clipton runs out, interrupting the stand-off:
"Colonel Saito! I've seen and heard everything. So has every man in the hospital. There are too many witnesses. You'll never get away with calling it a mass escape! Most of those men can't walk...Is this your soldier's code? Murdering unarmed men?"
This is a quote from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" which was playing on ABC TV that night. It was the first time that this film, the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture of 1957, had ever shown on network TV. Back in 1966, long before DVDs, a network showing was the only way a major movie like this could be seen outside of the Big Screen. I recall my parents letting me stay up and watch it. Major Clipton warns Colonel Saito that he'll never get away with this massacre. "There are too many witnesses." he says. Little did anyone near Greenway Ave. that night realize how ironic those words would prove to be in retrospect. Little did any of us realize as we sat in our homes so safe and cozy - that night, September 25 in 1966, - 50 Years Ago - I with my parents just a short distance from there - that a truly unspeakable massacre was taking place. And that the only witness - a beautiful little four year old girl - was being murdered along with her parents.
Jerry, Linda, and Little Debbie Bricca
Jerry Bricca, 28, seemed to have the perfect American life. He had come from an upbringing in San Francisco, wherein by hard work, he had risen rapidly in the Monsanto Chemical Co. which had transferred him to its Addyston, Ohio plant near Cincinnati. He brought with him his wife, Linda. She has been described everywhere as being beautiful, with large brown eyes which in the words of one writer "...possess even in photos, an alluring intensity." And even in the old photos of her, one
But Something Was Wrong
Yet in spite of this picture of the blissful american couple in their suburban home, something was wrong. Jerry worked very hard... some would say too hard. He would work long hours into the night, often staying at work all night. In fact it was not at all unusual, neighbors would say for him to be home only a few hours a week. His beautiful wife had a daughter to look after, but something seemed to be missing for her. She filled this void by indulging her passion for animals. Apart from her dogs and her rabbits, she took on part-time work at one of the Veterinary Hospitals on nearby Glenway Avenue. And there was where she apparently attracted some special attention. But for the moment
That evening, was a rather cool night for early autumn... the temperatures were in the low fifties, and it had rained that day. Jerry had been working as usual, so he stopped at the local store and picked up some milk. At around 8:45 pm, Jerry Bricca who was taking out the garbage cans, encountered his neighbor, Joan Janzen as she walked her dog. They exchanged pleasantries about the weather and went on their ways. She was certain of the time because she wanted to get home in time to watch "Bridge on the River Kwai"; she was one of an estimated 60 million viewers who tuned into ABC to watch the movie that night. She was also the last person outside that house (above) to see any of the Briccas alive. While Sessue Hayakawa had his test of wills with Sir Alec Guiness, the Bricca's lives were being brutally brought to an end.
The Murders Are Discovered
Monday, September 26, people dressed for work and got the kids off to school. They brought in the garbage cans from the front and picked up the morning paper. Only, oddly enough, the garbage cans were still in front of the Bricca home. The morning paper had been collected, but the lights were on in the house including the back yard floodlights. And the dogs were not barking as usual. The evening paper was not picked up. And, strangest of all, Linda's pet rabbits had been left out in the rain since Sunday night. When it got to be Tuesday, the 27th and that morning's paper was still on the lawn, and another evening paper was left, the neighbors knew that something was terribly amiss. Joan Janzen's husband Richard had called the Bricca's phone repeatedly with no answer. So at about 10:00 pm he and the Bricca's next-door neighbor, Richard Meyer went over to 3381 Greenway to investigate. They knocked at the front door and found it unlocked. Peaking their heads in and calling for Linda, they were immediately hit with a horrible foul smell which Meyer, a World War Two veteran recognized as the smell of death. "I knew it what it was as soon as I opened the
Hamilton County police arrived at 10:40 p.m. to a horrific scene. In the Master bedroom Jerry Bricca and his wife were both found dead from multiple stab wounds. Jerry was face down on the bed with stab wounds to his back, his neck and his head. Linda was sprawled across her husband with her negligee and housecoat open to reveal stab wound to her breasts as well as to her neck and head. And worst of all in this scene dripping with blood, the body of little Debbie (above) was found in her room against the wall, where she apparently had been deposited. She had been stabbed so viciously in the back that several of the wounds had gone clear through her body. They had been bound and gagged with rope and tape, as some residue of tape was found on Jerry's mouth, which also had a sock in it. But the restraints had been removed. The dogs were found in the basement, where they were now barking lustily. The TV set was still on, tuned to Channel 12, WKRC TV, the local affiliate to ABC which had broadcast "Bridge on the River Kwai" on Sunday night. There was a six-inch knife missing from a collection kept in the Dining Room. And there was laundry, some still wet, and some folded in the basement.
This, the mid-sixties was a tough time for our country. We had just buried a martyred president, and his successor was teetering on the edge of the abyss Vietnam. The year of 1968 with its riots and assassinations was still in the future. But that future seemed all the more precarious to us, as if things were slipping out of control, and no less so in Cincinnati where we were already being terrorized by a serial killer/rapist known as the Cincinnati Strangler. And now here in the very heart of the seemingly secure suburbs came this brutal annihilation of an entire young family. People were petrified. The sales of door locks and big guard type dogs went up. People started locking those doors and bolting those windows. Halloween was moved to Sunday afternoon. All of this in large part due to what seemed like the motiveless act of a bloodthirsty killer. But was he really motiveless? The motive which originally seemed to be rape was eventually discounted. There had been no robbery, so that was out. Eventually a report on the evidence sent to the FBI crime lab in Washington D.C. ruled on the basis of hair samples that the killer was not a Black man, which apparently the Cincinnati Strangler was. So that wasn't it. So who then, and why?
The investigation eventually lead to the conclusion that the Briccas likely knew their killer. There had been no forced entry. There had been no screams and no barking dogs heard in the homes of neighbors which were a mere fifteen feet away. There was no sign of struggle inside the home. The murder weapon (which was missing) seemed indeed to have been taken from a set inside the home. And it also seemed very likely that little Debbie had been killed because she knew the killer too. And while the coroner had originally said that Linda had been raped, this had been softened to the conclusion that she had had "recent intercourse" at the time of her death. This really set the rumor mill going in a way that hasn't stopped since 1966. It could have been anyone in the neighborhood! Police questioned everyone whom the Briccas knew and who had had any dealings with them, right down to Linda's beautician. And after weeks of questioning suspects, friends and mere acquaintances an interesting picture began to emerge.
Linda's "Male Friend"
It seemed that Linda Bricca had a male friend whom she had been secretly seeing since not too long after her arrival in Cincinnati in 1963. Witnesses saw them in secluded spots, and "lovers' lanes" any number of times. Where exactly these "lover's lanes" are I cannot say, but apparently they are there or were there in 1966. This with the fact that Jerry had been a workaholic husband did certainly fit the pattern of a wayward relationship. The police had conducted hundreds of hours of interviews and gradually eliminated all but one suspect. This man, Veterinary Doctor Fred Leininger, had at first been questioned for 10 minutes by officers and later for over 45 minutes by Lieutenant Herbert Vogel of the Cincinnati Police Department. Vogel taped the interview which had been held at the suspect's place of business, and had problems with some of his replies, so he called Dr. Leiniger's wife to clear up some of these problems and she told him that her husband had been so upset with the taped interview that he had hired a lawyer to protect him. This was in the days when the Supreme Courts Miranda ruling was still fairly new, so it was easy for police to commit a
One theory of the case has the killer making love with Linda when Jerry (left) came home and walked in on them. But the fact that her father called Linda at 9:30 that night and heard nothing wrong in her voice, and the fact that they were evidently watching the movie while Linda folded laundry makes the following more likely: Linda met the man at her part time job at Leininger's Veterinary business. The affair flourished for a time, but Jerry found out and told Linda that she would have to end it or else their marriage was through. She had one last time in bed with him but this was not enough. He HAD to have her. He stalked her through the back door while they watched the movie in the basement TV room. Jerry took Debbie up stairs to put her to bed, and then the killer moved in while Linda was in the basement by herself. He tried to make her continue the affair, but she was unwilling. She tried to make him go, but once she had gotten him upstairs he went for the knife in the dining room, and started threatening her. When Jerry came down and saw the threat to his wife he tried to quietly talk him out of it. But instead he tied them up, gave the dogs a sedative to keep them quiet, (as he was a Veterinary Doctor, this would be no difficulty at all) and then closed them in the basement. Then he went back to his victims, ultimately killing them in a fit of a spurned lover's rage. Then in the same fit killed little Debbie because she knew him and could identify him. He then calmed down, and cleaned the home of any evidence of their affair, wrapped the knife in the morning paper when it came at @5:30 am, threw it in the garbage and left. The fact of the suspects invoking of his Miranda rights made it impossible to push the investigation any further.
And that is where it has been ever since. Lt. Vogel has long since conceded that their investigation has centered on this one man, but that he has hidden successfully behind his lawyer, Richard Morr. Morr has been able on his client's behalf to refuse to answer any further questions about the case, and has been able to reject all requests for blood, hair or fingerprints for crime scene comparisons. And as a result of this the case has remained officially unsolved. Why have I been so careful not to use the name of Fred Leininger until now? Leininger's place of business is now owned and run by a couple whom I happen to know; the wife is an old High School friend. I want to talk with her before I go naming her and her husband's business in connection with this whole miserable affair. As to Leininger himself, well his name is well known to the police and others familiar with this case. But it was in the absolutely superb and utterly fascinating book, "Queen City Gothic" that I gained most of my familiarity with this case. In this fine book, author J.T. Townsend named Leininger, so I felt that bit of information should remain his "scoop" until I became more familiar with the case myself. However, the physical description of this suspect which I have differs somewhat from that in Mr. Townsend's book. I have a friend whose pets were in the man's care for quite a few years. My friend describes the man as being about 5 ft. 10 inches tall, and maybe 190 lbs., but as Mr. Townsend reports, a man with large powerful hands. Also, interestingly enough, my source describes him as being "a kindly man, with kindly eyes..." So take from that what you will. If you really want a full reading of this mysterious case buy "Queen City Gothic" and therein you will find all of the details for which I hadn't the space. You could also log onto the "Historical True Crime Cincinnati" site on Facebook wherein this crime is a frequent subject of discussion = https://www.facebook.com/groups/1521543611432640/
As to the fate of the suspect, Dr. Leininger retired in 1995 and then moved to
Florida where he died in 2004. The case was never solved. The main suspect got away with it... in this life anyway. Jerry, Linda, and Deborah Bricca were buried in Winfield Memorial and Nature Sanctuary in Illinois, near the Chicago area town of Barrington where Linda grew up. The last scene of the film "Bridge on the River Kwai" has the only final word which I feel is truly appropriate in this case. As Major Clipton (played by the actor James Donald) surveys the wreckage all around him; the bridge destroyed, the Japanese Colonel, Saito, and his own commander, Colonel Nicholson dead, he is stunned. "Madness!" he says. "MADNESS!!"
"Queen City Gothic - Cincinnati's Most Infamous Murder Mysteries" by J.T. Townsend, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, 2009, 2012.
"The Cincinnati Crime Book" by George Stimson, The Peasenhall Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1998.
"Death On a Quiet Street" by Jack Heffron and John Boertlein, Cincinnati Magazine, April, 2008.