Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christopher Hightower

The Murders

On September 19, the day Susan Hightower filed for a restraining order and the same day her husband's computer equipment was to be repossessed, Christopher Hightower went to a local sporting goods store and purchased six arrows and a Devastator Crossbow a high-powered weapon capable of bringing down a bear.

His credit cards were maxed out so he wrote out a check for $314.98 even though the check would surely bounce since there was no money in his checking account. With the crossbow, he had found the perfect solution to his problems.

Police photo of the Brendels' home
Police photo of the Brendels' home
Two days after the CTFC deadline for responding to Brendel's complaint, Hightower armed himself with the crossbow and hid in the shadows of Brendel's garage.

In the twisted mind of a killer, Hightower blamed his former friend for his financial ruin. Without his broker's license, Hightower would never be able to provide financially for his family or win Susan back. It was that reasoning, police theorize, that led to the killing spree.

For most of that night, Hightower waited inside the Brendels' garage for his prey to appear.

It wasn't until the next morning, however, that Brendel finally pulled his red Toyota into the garage after driving his wife to her librarian's job at Brown University in nearby Providence. Inside the garage, his killer was waiting.

Wearing a black ninja mask and armed with six steel-tipped arrows, Hightower pulled back the drawstring and fired as Brendel stepped from his car. The arrow pierced Brendel's barrel-like chest and exited out his back, landing in the garage wall with a heavy, dull thud.

But Brendel didn't die just yet. As he scrambled to escape, Hightower pulled back the drawstring and fired again, this time striking Brendel in the buttocks. As he fell to the ground, his jaw smashed against the floor, breaking and loosening his teeth. By now, blood was everywhere.

Still struggling to escape, Brendel pulled himself up. Hightower fired again, this time hitting his prey directly in the chest. The arrow went into his aorta and lodged in his backbone.

With his strength waning, Brendel somehow managed to climb into the couple's other car, an Audi, that was parked in the garage next to the Toyota.

Hightower was right behind him, this time armed with a crowbar. Flailing in uncontrollable rage, he smashed Brendel's skull, breaking off the arrow that protruded from his chest. Ernest Brendel was finally dead. And Christopher Hightower had finally made his big killing.

In Hightower's mind, the murder put an end to Brendel's complaint with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Still, his plans were far from complete.

Returning to his in-laws home where he lived with his wife and two sons, Hightower was covered in mud, as if he had spent the night outdoors.

Investigators would later theorize that the mud was from the two shallow graves he had prepared for his victims during that rainy night.

While washing up at home, the doorbell rang. It was a constable. He was there to serve Hightower with a restraining order. Hightower looked at the order incredulously then grabbed his briefcase, packed a few articles of clothing in a brown paper bag and left his in-laws home calmly. He still had other business to take care of.

Shortly before 2 p.m. on the day of the murder, Hightower returned to the Brendels' home and placed a phone call to the Primrose Hill Elementary School, where Emily was a third-grade student. Identifying himself as Ernest Brendel, he told school officials that Emily should be allowed to walk home from school that day. But when the principal called the Brendels' home to confirm that request, there was no answer. So instead, she sent Emily to the YMCA, where the girl attended an after school program.

When Hightower went to the school to take Emily home, the principal refused to release her. Although he was listed on last year's forms as an alternate person to pick up Emily, he was not listed this year.

When he learned that Emily was not at school, Hightower drove to the YMCA in the blood spattered Toyota and told the program director he was there to pick up the child. Since no prior arrangements had been made, the program director refused to release her.

About a half-hour later, however, someone identifying himself as Ernest Brendel phoned the YMCA to say that Hightower would be picking up the youngster.

"I'll give Mr. Hightower my driver's license as proof," the caller said.

Hightower drove back to the YMCA in the Brendels' car with the license. This time, Emily was allowed to go with him. It was the last time she would be seen alive.

Around 6 p.m. that same night, Alice Brendel walked from the bus stop to her home, where Hightower was waiting. It was not her normal routine. Usually, her husband and daughter were waiting for her in the car at the bus stop. This time, something was amiss.

What happened when she arrived home is pure speculation. One police theory based on the arrangement of four chairs later found in the Brendels' dining room suggests that she may have been part of some bizarre "mock trial," with Hightower serving as both jury and judge. The only thing police knew for certain was that something terrible happened inside the Brendels' quaint white colonial that day.

Alice didn't die that first night, however. Hightower needed her to make a phone call first.

Her husband's buddy was planning to attend the Brown-Yale football game with Brendel the next morning and Hightower needed to stop him from coming to the house. Around 7 a.m. on Saturday, September 21, Alice called the friend and told him her husband's mother had become seriously ill. He would not be able to attend the game as planned. The friend would later recall that there was not a shred of terror in her voice.

It wasn't until his murder trial that police finally revealed that both Alice and Emily were drugged with sleeping pills before their deaths.

When their bodies were found, a scarf had been tightly wrapped around Alice's neck. Emily, police believe, was buried alive.

Although police now had a clear indication of how they died, no forensics could explain the kind of horror the family endured.

 

 

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