Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Suzanne Basso and the Murder of Louis 'Buddy' Musso

A Deviant Life

Suzanne Basso's real life was something quite different from the fantasy she created in the engagement announcement. She was actually from a family in Schenectady, N.Y.

Born on May 15, 1954, she was one of eight children and the youngest of three girls. Her parents were drunks, and Sue was subjected to both physical and sexual abuse, according to a sibling.

The abuse took a toll, and she became a delinquent teenager—problems with sex, truancy and theft—who spent time at a Catholic reform school in Albany.

She managed to complete high school and, in the early 1970s, married James Peek, a Marine. They had two children—a daughter born in 1973 and a son born the next year.

The daughter told the Houston Chronicle that the Peek marriage was marked by sexual deviance. As a young woman, Sue Peek was slim and attractive, with brilliant blue eyes. Later, she "let herself go," as her daughter put it, and ballooned to some 350 pounds on a 5-foot-2 frame.

She was promiscuous, and her husband abided the behavior. The daughter, Christianna Hardy, recalled waiting with her father in a bedroom or on the porch while her mother finished grunting and groaning with one special friend or another.

Sometimes she would take her children on a sexual rendezvous.

"I remember being embarrassed," Hardy told the Chronicle. "(My brother) and I were sitting at the kitchen table in this stranger's house, and our mom was in the other room having sex with him."

The family moved several times--to coastal North Carolina, to Houston, and back to Carolina.

In 1982, James Peek was arrested for molesting his daughter. He was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a child and spent 11 months in jail in North Carolina.

Hardy, now married and a mother of three, said sexual and physical abuse were part of a lifelong pattern.

She recalled one time when Basso forced her daughter and son to undress for two maintenance men who was visiting the house. The mother watched as the men fondled the 7-year-old girl.

The son, James, was beaten and abused by both mother and father.

"That's how I learned my self-defense," he would later say in court. "My father beat the shit out of me."

Both children went to foster homes during their father's imprisonment but eventually were sent to live with relatives.

In the early 1990s, James, Suzanne and the children reunited in Houston.

Sue Peek decided to make a fresh start by changing the family's surname to O'Malley. She created a new Irish-American persona and decorated her house with kelly green paint, shamrocks and leprechauns.

"Everything was green," said Richard Charlesworth, one of a procession of people who lived at the Peek/O'Malley house. He told the Houston Chronicle that he accepted their offer of a bed after he lost his job, but the arrangement didn't last long.

"It was like living with the Addams Family," he said.

"They would pick almost anyone up off the street," said Christianna Hardy. "They were weird like that."

They were weird in other ways, as well.

Basso and her son had a sexual relationship, for example, and she sometimes forced him to shoplift or beg. His mother forced James to eat on the floor, and she often locked him in the house during the day—nailing the windows shut—so he wouldn't leave.

The son complained to authorities when he was 17, but a county social services investigation went nowhere.


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