May 10, 2003. This was the day Smith Storage of Safford, Arizona, was auctioning off the contents of delinquent renters’ units.
Thomas Bright hadn’t had any plans to attend the auction until his good friend Tom Summers invited him to come along. And he definitely never had any intentions of winning anything.
But he did. And for $75, Thomas Bright got more than he ever bargained for.
What The -?!
The boxes Bright won were covered in a thick layer of dust. It was obvious no one had messed with this stuff for quite some time. A cursory glance in the boxes showed only some old pictures, a lot of paper documents, and some ratty old clothing.
Bright left the boxes on his stepson’s carport, thinking he’d go through them later.
The following Monday evening, Bright figured it was time to rummage around the musty boxes and see if there was anything worth salvaging. If not, a friend of his had said he’d be willing to take it off his hands.
Bright found an old computer keyboard and a very obsolete Nintendo gaming system in a couple of boxes. Not major finds, but enough to make him curious enough to keep digging. He then pulled another box from the pile and opened it. A horribly rank odor immediately hit his nose, but Bright figured it was probably from some small critter that had found its way into the box and died, so he kept digging through the moldy blankets until he came across a smaller box.
He was familiar with the old adage of how good things come in small packages and he eagerly opened the small box. The raunchy smell now grew stronger. As he would later describe it, the smell was “more of an earthy, musty smell.”
Three plastic-wrapped objects were in this small box. Carefully unwrapping one of the items, the odor became overwhelming. Bright set the item aside and began unwrapping a second, and again he was hit with the harsh musty smell. It was then Bright asked himself, “What the hell?”
It must of been like one of those scenes from a horror flick where the movie’s protagonist feels the hair on the back of their neck standing straight up but can’t stop themselves from walking into the dark, deserted room when Bright began pulling the plastic from the third bag; a sense of foreboding screaming that something was horribly wrong, but the eyes and mind demanding to see for themselves.
Inside package number three was the remains of an infant. Bright would discover he’d nearly recovered the same thing in the first two packages as well.
Three dead infants. Years beyond their death. Left to rot away in a storage shed.
No one would have ever known they were there if it were not for a spur-of-the-moment decision to go with a friend to a Saturday morning auction.
If not for Thomas Bright, justice may have never been obtained for three murdered infants.
To Be Invisible
One of Dianne Molina Odell‘s earliest memories was the time she was raped at only six years old.
Earlier in the evening, her father had instructed her to answer the door if anyone came calling. When a knock sounded later that evening, Dianne did as she had been told. When she had barely gotten the door open, she was confronted by a masked man holding a knife. He told if she screamed, he would kill her.
Dianne tried to run as she screamed for her father. She knew he could hear her. She could even see him sitting at the dining room table, but he just sat there ignoring her pleas.
As she was being raped, Dianne saw her father poke his head around the corner and watch the entire thing. And after it was over, her father walked up to her rapist and said, “Good job, son!”
If little Dianne had been confused by this statement she was no longer when her rapist pulled off his stocking mask and she saw the face of her old half-brother.
Right then and there, Dianne knew the only way to survive was to be invisible. But no matter how hard to she tried to be unseen, it was never enough. Over the next several years, Dianne would be the victim of horrendous physical and emotional abuse.
Between years six and sixteen, Dianne claims her father John Molina repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her. At one point, she and her mother moved out of the house and in with one of her half-brothers and his wife but they were unwelcome there and Mabel Molina sent her to daughter back to John’s house.
Dianne would later say her sixteenth birthday marked the beginning of her mother prostituting her out to pay off drug and gambling debts and as a means of extra income. She also claimed her father continued to abuse her during this time as well.
In 1972, Dianne and her mother moved to Sullivan County, New York, a small place nestled in the Catskill Mountains. John would rape his daughter as a farewell and, as a result, Dianne would discover she was pregnant. Mabel was outraged when she learned her daughter was pregnant, by her own father, and it turned into a physical argument that left Dianne standing on her father’s doorstep asking for a place to live until the baby was born.
Dianne’s father was outraged by his daughter’s pregnancy and even more so that she had reappeared on his door-step. According to Dianne, her father beat her out of anger but allowed her to stay. She remained there until another beating several months later sent her scrambling back to her mother’s in Kauneonga Lake. Soon after her arrival, Dianne went into labor.
Dianne later said that her mother refused to call and ambulance or drive her to the hospital, so she delivered the baby boy whom she named Matthew at home. When the infant was stillborn, Dianne packed his tiny body into an old blue suitcase and went on about the business of living.
Second Marriage, Second Birth
On January 8, 1974, at 20 years old, Dianne married a Jewish man. Being half Latino and half Caucasian (or Gentile, to the Jewish community), Dianne wasn’t well accepted by his family. When her husband got sick shortly after their small wedding, it put an even greater strain on the couple and after he received a kidney transplant in 1975, the two divorced.
In August 1977, Dianne married James Odell just before he shipped out to boot camp after enlisting in the Navy. After his training was over, James returned home and Dianne immediately got pregnant. On June 16, 1978, Dianne gave birth to a daughter.
The home Dianne and James shared wasn’t well insulated and when the winter came, Dianne insisted they find better housing facilities. James agreed and found them a house to rent not far from where they were living at the time.
The little blue suitcase containing Matthew’s body was left behind.
James had changed since he’d returned home from the Navy. Dianne claimed that she felt like she was walking on eggshells when he was around.
The tension was so great Dianne feared announcing a third pregnancy, her second child with James. They’d just moved, James was unhappy, and their daughter was still an infant. It just wasn’t a good time to say she was expecting.
In the summer of 1979, a couple of significant events happened; one Dianne was well aware of, the other she wasn’t – not at first, anyway.
The first involved the separation of Dianne and James. They’d simply had enough of one another.
The second one involved her former landlord, who had decided to clean out his rented bungalow before putting it on the market. During his cleaning, the landlord discovered the blue suitcase and was stunned by the discovery of an baby’s body inside. Instead of calling the police, however, the landlord called Mabel and told her she had better come reclaim it.
She did. And little Matthew remained a secret.
Off and On and Off Again
On November 12, 1979, James and Dianne welcomed a second daughter into the world, which no doubt contributed to their resolution to give their marriage a second try. James only had one ultimatum: Mabel had to go.
So, leaving her mother behind, Dianne headed out with James and their girls for a new beginning in Florida, but life wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows as she had hoped. James began staying out late, some nights he didn’t bother coming home at all. He was drinking heavily and Dianne suspected he was cheating as well.
Dianne was ready to throw in the towel again, but James begged her to give him another chance. This time it was Dianne with the ultimatum: they had to return to New York. James agreed to her demand.
Back in New York, the couple again separated. And Dianne was pregnant a fourth time.
Dianne had thought even with the separation, James would still be part of the children’s lives. But she had thought wrong. James had left her and the kids; left them physically and financially, as well.
On February 19, 1981, John Molina died at age 80 after a long, painful battle with stomach cancer. Dianne, who attended the funeral with her mother, delivered a third daughter three days later.
Just a few months after the birth, Dianne began casually dating another guy and, to no one’s surprise, once again found herself pregnant. Unlike the three previous births, Dianne would receive no prenatal care – just as had been the case with baby Matthew.
The day she went into labor with her fifth child, Dianne would later say, her mother told her she had called for an ambulance but the instinct to push took over. Mabel, said Dianne, delivered the infant after she passed out following an extremely loud ringing sound in her ears. When she came to, according to Dianne, the infant was dead. Mabel told her daughter the infant had suffered breathing difficulties. Dianne claimed she insisted that they rush the infant to the hospital, but Mabel declared the doctors would think the death was intentional. When Dianne continued to insist, Mabel reminded her about the first baby and then hinted she would get custody of the girls.
So Dianne relented and packed this baby away just as she had Matthew.
How Many Times Can It Happen?
James Odell’s brother showed up in the latter months of 1982, claiming he had come to visit his nieces. During his visit, he and Dianne would become intimate and, of course, she became pregnant.
Just like the previous birth, Dianne sought no prenatal care. And just like the fifth child born to Odell, she would claim her mother delivered the infant while she was unconscious in mid-1983. The baby, again, was dead when Dianne revived and she bundled this infant up and packed it away with its siblings.
As was becoming a regular habit, Dianne was pregnant in 1984 by a man she lived with briefly. Again, there was no prenatal care and only another dead baby after she gave birth while being unconscious. This fourth deceased infant was wrapped up just as the others and packed away.
Years later, when their tiny bodies were discovered, Dianne would claim she had kept the babies as a means to keep her mother in line; knowing that, should Mabel try to take her daughters or do anything else to her, the babies’ bodies would serve as evidence.
Could there possibly have been some truth to this? Maybe, but doubtful since Mabel didn’t kick the bucket until 1995 and Dianne would born several more children by then. Living children.
In the end, it would be eight children living, all had a father present at the time of their birth. Four babies dead, their fathers long gone by the time of their delivery.
The answer to Dianne’s reasoning for which children lived and which babies died is pretty clear.
An Abandoned Car, An Old Suitcase
In early 1989, junk and scrap dealer Max Shapiro was contacted about removing an abandoned vehicle that had been left behind by the previous tenants of the residence from which the lady was calling.
Two days after the call, Max gained possession of the car but it would sit in his junkyard for a couple of months before he got around to going through it, looking for anything of value, before he sent it through the press and sold it for scrap. This treasure hunt, however, would result in a find beyond Max’s wildest dreams.
When he popped the trunk on the abandoned Volkswagen, Max spotted a little blue suitcase. Using the same crowbar he’d used on the truck, he popped open the suitcase. He immediately recognized the contents as being that of a dead infant.
Touching nothing more, Max phoned the state police who arrived a short time later.
Detectives were shocked to find the owner of the car, and presumably of the suitcase too, had made no effort to conceal her identity; a photo in the car bore Dianne’s first, middle, and her first married name and the car was still registered in Dianne’s name.
After police tracked her down, Dianne was on bedrest with her tenth pregnancy. Nonetheless, officers told Dianne she would need to come to the precinct for questioning and she complied.
Upon her arrival, detectives questioned Dianne about the suitcase and the baby inside but she denied any knowledge whatsoever of the now mummified fetus.
Investigators, however, weren’t believing her story. Sending the infant’s body off to the state, the results would later reveal that baby Matthew was actually a female infant who had died approximately 20 years before.
Confronted with this information, Dianne decided to come clean. She told investigators she had delivered the child she believed to be male seventeen years before but the baby had been stillborn after she had been beaten by her father. Prosecutors considered prosecuting John Molina, until they learned he was deceased but they didn’t believe Dianne had murdered or self-aborted her child and therefore did not charge her with any crime.
Of course they had no way of knowing three other tiny bodies were stored away at Dianne’s residence just waiting to be found.
Utah, Arizona, Texas, Virginia and Back to New York
After Dianne gave birth to her tenth child (sixth living) in August 1989, her boyfriend/common law husband’s work began to dwindle and they decided to head west where he knew he could find employment.
In January 1991, Dianne gave birth to an eleventh child, seventh living, in Ogden, Utah. Life seemed good for the large family until Dianne’s oldest daughter, now 13, was allegedly the victim of statutory rape by an older man she had been dating. So the family picked up stakes and steered south to Pima, Arizona.
With seven children, Dianne and her “husband,” and Mabel, it was hard to find any place large enough to accommodate them. Trying to create space, the couple rented two self-storage sheds to hold some of their belongings – including the box with three of Dianne’s deceased babies; although, no one knew about them except for Dianne and Mabel.
No sooner had they settled into Pima than Dianne announced she was pregnant again. But a couple of months later, she would miscarry.
Among the mundanity of working and raising children, James Odell did his part to keep it from getting too boring by constantly stirring up trouble by having the children accuse their “stepfather” of abuse.
With legal troubles now adding to the list of household bills, Dianne and her family struggling to keep the electricity on and the rent paid. But, rest assured, the self-storage rental was paid on time, without fail, every month. Dianne couldn’t risk the babies’ bodies being discovered.
Robert Sauerstein, Dianne’s common law husband, finally got fed up with the accusations by James Odell and Dianne’s kids and decided it was time to go to Texas because he refused to go to jail for something he claimed he didn’t do.
Dianne and Robert took off with few possessions, even leaving behind their stuff in the self-storage units. Nonetheless, Dianne made sure to send in the rental payment each month.
Life in Texas was no better. Jobs were scarce and bills, minus the storage rental, weren’t getting paid. And, to top it off, Mabel was sick and insisting on going home to New York.
So once again, Dianne and family packed up their meager belongings and turned their car East. But they would only make it to Virginia before their car broke down and the family had to take up quarters in a church-managed homeless shelter.
While there, Dianne’s oldest daughter again caused problems for the family when the girl, at this time fifteen, started up a relationship with a 21 year old man. Mission personnel told Dianne she needed to get the situation under control or she and her family would be asked to leave.
Dianne sat her daughter down to tell her she was no longer going to be allowed to date the young man but instead of a being “just a talk,” it turned into a screaming match that ended with Child Protective Services coming in, removing the daughter from Dianne’s care, and Dianne being charged with assault.
Dianne tried to make amends with her daughter, but the teenage girl would have no part of it. So Dianne gave up and headed home to New York. The issues with her daughter and her criminal charges were unresolved.
In 1995, Mabel died. In June 1998, Dianne’s second daughter gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And in August 1999, Dianne gave birth to a son – her eighth living child.
To Never Kill Again
In 2000, Dianne and Robert were back in Pennsylvania again. Dianne’s four older children were now out of the house while the other four were still living at home.
Dianne, claiming she felt a great deal of freedom with Mabel now gone, allowed the storage rental payments to lapse. After a while, Dianne allowed herself to forget about the dead babies she left behind in Arizona.
That is, until 2003 when investigators walked into the Rite-Aid where she was working and asked to speak with her. It didn’t take long for Dianne to figure out they were there about the babies.
On May 17, 2003, Dianne was asked some tough questions about her life and the three babies discovered in Arizona. It was a long and convoluted tale of rape, incest, forced prostitution, domestic violence, infidelity, an overbearing mother, an out-of-control teenager, life as a gypsy, guilt, and murder.
Over the next several days, Dianne would offer various versions of the how the infants died and why; the stories always self-serving as she blamed her mother for the babies’ deaths. As a matter of fact, nothing in Dianne’s life was of her choosing. There was always someone else to blame – a father, brother, mother, a child, or even an ex. Dianne was adamant she only kept the babies’ remains because she hoped to one bury them one day wherever she finally put down roots.
Involuntarily thrust into the spotlight, one of Dianne’s half-brothers adamantly denied many of Dianne’s allegations about his father. Being a stable, middle class working fellow, he came across as much more believable than his little sister when he says Mabel was a con who believed the world owed her just for existing and raised her only daughter to feel the same. This brother claims Dianne returned to live with her father willingly on several occasions and grew angry each time when he didn’t give her the freedom to run wild while she was there.
No matter how many stories Dianne spun, it all came to one simple fact according the prosecutor which he boldly displayed on a sign during the closing arguments of Dianne’s trial:
A mother who gives birth to 8 healthy children in hospitals does not hide 3 additional pregnancies; conceal their births; refer to them as the “bastard children”; deliver them alone, at home, in the bathroom; pack them in boxes (to prevent their decomposing bodies from leaking out); hide them away in closets and attics and sheds…and carry them with her, from state to state, across the country *** to prevent their discovery *** for 20 years.
UNLESS SHE MURDERED THEM.
The message apparently got through loud and clear because on December 16, 2003, after only five hours of deliberations, the jury found Dianne guilty on three counts of depraved-indifference murder.
Despite much community support in favor of Dianne and her own outcry at her sentencing that she had lived a horrible childhood, a controlled adulthood, and was now being made to suffer again by the justice system, on January 27, 2004, Dianne Odell was sentenced to three concurrent life sentences with a minimum of 25 years to be served before she is eligible for parole. Her earliest date to apply for parole is May 13, 2028 when she is 74 years old.
Short of a miracle or strong medical intervention, I feel safe in saying, even if Dianne is released in 2028, she will never deliver another a baby only to kill it and stuff it away in a box or suitcase.
Rest in peace, little ones. Justice has been served.