Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christopher Hightower

A Bizarre Story

From the very beginning, the man's story sounded bizarre.

On the evening of September 22, 1991 Christine Scriabine sat mesmerized in the kitchen of her Guilford, CT home as a balding and bespeckled commodities broker named Christopher Hightower nervously spilled out a torturously twisted tale of murder, mayhem and the Mob.

Her brother, Ernest Brendel, had been kidnapped, Hightower told the woman. So had his wife, Alice and the couple's eight-year-old daughter Emily. The kidnappers had also taken Hightower's wife and two sons, leaving the 42-year-old commodities broker to act as intermediary in negotiating their ransom demands.

To Scriabine, the story sounded incredible.

Her brother, Ernest, was a respected patent lawyer who moved to Barrington, an upper middle-class suburb outside of Providence, RI, from New York City, where he worked as a corporate lawyer. His wife, Alice, a petite woman with short-cropped brown hair, served as a librarian for Brown University in nearby Providence while his daughter, Emily attended school.

As far as anyone knew, he had no ties to the underworld or its unsavory cast of characters.

But Hightower insisted the tale was true. He had proof, he said. Pulling out a dark leather wallet containing Brendel's identification and a pair of rings belonging to Alice, he shoved them at Scriabine. "Do you recognize them?" he asked. Scriabine did.

For the next five and a half hours, Hightower elaborated on the tale, telling Scriabine that the kidnapping was the result of some bad investments he had made with Mafia money. The Mob, Hightower said, wanted their money back and had kidnapped six people to make sure they would get it.

The price for their freedom was high. $300,000 to be exact.

But Hightower was willing to cut a deal. He could raise $225,000 if Scriabine could come up with the rest.

To Scriabine, it all sounded like a bad movie plot. She couldn't help but wonder whether the balding and bearded man sitting in front of her was a con-man or actually involved somehow in the family's disappearance.

Sensing that she was still skeptical of his story, Hightower walked the woman outside to her brother's red Toyota Camry and showed her the back seat.

Inside, soaked into the cloth, Scriabine saw blood. There was even more blood in the trunk enough to convince Scriabine that something awful had indeed happened. Police chemists would later determine that the blood belonged to her 53-year-old brother.

Everything seemed so very bizarre that night, Scriabine remembers. But in the weeks to come, things would get even stranger. It was, she would later recall, just the beginning of an endless nightmare.



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