Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Howard Appledorf

Scene of horror

Someone living in Gainesville, Fla., noticed early on the morning of September 7, 1982 that the back door of a lakefront condominium was splintered and called the police to report the suspicious sight. That residence belonged to Dr. Howard Appledorf, a University of Florida instructor known widely as the "Junk Food Professor" because he appeared on talk shows defending the nutritional value of fast foods.

Dr. Howard Appledorf
Dr. Howard Appledorf

Police entered the Appledorf home to find a scene of horror. As Michael A. Lerner, Linda R. Prout and Donna Wares reported in Newsweek, the professor "lay dead on his living-room couch, bound and wrapped in a sheepskin rug." The New York Times quoted Captain Richard B. Ward of the Gainesville police as saying that the rug was turned so a brass nameplate bearing Howard's name was visible "as though they wanted us to know who he was."

Map with Gainesville, Fla. locator
Map with Gainesville, Fla. locator

According to the Gainesville Police Department report on the case, the dead man lay on his back. A portion of Howard's stomach was exposed with a cigarette sticking out of it where it had been ground out on his flesh. His ankles were tied together with a belt and a tie bound his knees. A knotted sheet tied covered Howard's head. When emergency medical technicians removed the sheet, they found a canvas bag covering his head secured about his throat with a necktie. Two towels were wrapped around his neck. When technicians removed the bag to uncover Howard's face, they found that he had been gagged with one tie and blindfolded with another.

Gainesville Police patch
Gainesville Police patch

Four plates were in the room. Three contained remains of submarine sandwiches while one held only a mocking note reading, "HOWARD, I wish you could join us." Lerner, Prout and Wares elaborated, "Trash, clothes and food were strewn about, and across the walls in red ink were written the words 'murder' and 'redrum' - murder spelled backwards," the police report said. "HOWARD, we love you sincerely. The slez sisters" was scrawled on a wall. A steno pad lay on the floor close to the entranceway, with a message printed on the top paper of the pad: "I realize murder is a felony crime, but I want whoever finds this body to know that I am criminally insayne [sic], and have no control over what I do. I know I won't [illegible] be caught for this crime because I have [illegible] of getting away, but I am very sorry that this is how HOWARD APPLEDORF had to go. I didn't mean it. Help me, X."

Movie poster: The Shining
Movie poster: The Shining

Authorities believed that the recent broadcast of The Shining on Gainesville's cable TV had inspired elements of the crime as the film featured the word "redrum" written on a wall.

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