Did a Voice from the Grave Name Killer?
By Lesley Sussman
from The Best of FATE Magazine
PSYCHIC DETECTIVES & PSYCHIC CRIMES
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For Chicago police detectives Joseph Stachula and Lee Epplen the case began routinely enough. Its ending is something both policemen will probably never forget.
On the night of February 21, 1977, police found the body of a forty-eight-year-old woman in her fifteenth-floor high-rise apartment on Pine Grove Avenue in the city. The woman had been stabbed several times, and her burned body, wrapped in bed sheets, was lying on the floor.
The victim was identified as Teresita Basa, a former Manila socialite who came to the United States from the Philippine Islands in the 1960s. She received a master's degree in music from Indiana University and eventually worked as a respiratory therapist in Edgewater Hospital on Chicago's far north side.
This was all police investigators Joseph Stachula and Lee Epplen had to go on when they were handed the assignment of finding Teresita Basa's murderer.
In the days that followed the police turned up little. They did learn that Miss Basa had been a warm, outgoing person and that she had many friends. No one knew who might have wanted to kill her. Stachula suspected that the victim had been murdered as the result of a lover's quarrel but dismissed that theory after questioning her boyfriend.
After two months of police work, all investigators had on the case was a complete profile of the dead woman and a handwritten note found in her apartment which read: "Get tickets for A. S."
In the press of other police matters, Stachula and his partner had almost forgotten the case when they received a call from the police department in Evanston, Illinois, the suburb just north of Chicago's city limits.
Evanston police asked Stachula whether he had ever heard of an orderly who worked at Edgewater Hospital by the name of Allan Showery. Stachula said no. Then, with noticeable constraint, the Evanston police suggested that he contact a doctor and his wife who lived in their suburb.
Several days later Stachula and Epplen knocked on the apartment door of Dr. Jose Chua and his wife Remibias, both natives of the Philippines like the victim Teresita Basa.
Stachula recalls that the couple was very uneasy. "I told them we had information that they might know something about the case," Stachula says. "They seemed nervous and made some small talk. Finally, Dr. Chua asked me if I believed in the occult or in exorcism."
The policemen were noncommittal and asked Chua to tell them what he knew. The doctor then began a tale so incredible that to this day both Stachula and Epplen find it difficult to believe.
Chua said strange things first began to happen to his wife five months after Miss Basa was murdered. He said one evening Remibias abruptly got up from a living room chair and, with a strange expression on her face, walked into the bedroom. The doctor, sensing something was wrong, followed his wife into the other room and found her lying on the bed in what he described as a trancelike state. When he asked what the matter was, the doctor said his wife spoke to him in a voice that was not her own.
"She spoke in Tagalog [the national language of the Philippines] but with a strange Spanish accent," Chua said. "She said, 'Ako'y II am Teresita Basa.'"
The doctor told the policemen he remembered feeling frightened. He said he had experienced many strange things during his career as a surgical assistant, but he had never heard anyone speak in a voice that was not his own.
Chua said the voice, which claimed to belong to Miss Basa, told him she was murdered by Allan Showery, a man she had worked with at the hospital. The voice also said Showery was in her apartment because he wanted to steal her jewelry.
For almost half an hour Mrs. Chua continued to speak in the voice of the slain woman, the doctor told the investigators. When the trance ended as suddenly as it began, he said Mrs. Chua remembered nothing about the experience but only felt very thirsty.
The policemen, skeptical of this story, asked Chua if he or his wife had known the dead woman. The doctor answered no – a statement which later proved to be false. He said his wife also had worked in the hospital's respiratory unit but on a different shift.
Still suspicious, thinking the couple might be pulling some sort of hoax, the policemen played their ace. Both Stachula and Epplen knew from the pathological report on Miss Basa that the victim was still a virgin – a fact that had been kept secret in the case.
Stachula asked Chua if the voice told him she had been raped.
"No," replied Chua. "All she said was that she had been murdered."
The police investigators then questioned Mrs. Chua who admitted she had known the slain woman slightly. She also admitted knowing Showery because he too worked as an orderly in the respiratory unit. She had nothing more to add concerning the voice that had possessed her.
The doctor told the police he and his wife had discussed what had happened but had decided not to report it because they feared ridicule. However, the voice from the grave would not leave his wife alone, he said.
A few days later the "spirit" of the dead woman once again took possession of his wife, the doctor said. This time, Chua added, the voice was more persistent in pleading that he tell the police.
Chua said he told the voice that the police would need evidence if they were to make an arrest. It was then, he said, that the voice told him that jewelry taken from Miss Basa's apartment by Showery could still be found in his possession. The voice also identified a pearl cocktail ring which it said Showery had given as a present to his common-law wife.
Despite such evidence, Chua said he and his wife still were reluctant to approach police. The doctor said he briefly mentioned what had happened to his hospital superiors but they too were indecisive about informing authorities.
Chua said it took a third visit from what the couple now believed was the spirit of Miss Basa to convince them they must seek police help. They contacted Evanston police.
Now they were telling their incredible story for the second time.
Stachula still recalls his amazement when Chua finished his tale. He made note of his feelings in a written report to his commanding officer after the detectives arrested Showery and charged him with murder.
"To this day I'm not quite sure whether I believe how the information was obtained," he wrote. "Nonetheless, everything here is completely true."
However baffled the policeman might have felt, at least the case was over. And whatever force prompted Mrs. Chua to speak in a dead woman's voice, the "tip" from the grave had proven to be accurate.
Not only had Stachula and Epplen located some of Miss Basa's stolen jewelry in the orderly's apartment but, just as the voice had indicated, the detectives found Showery's common-law wife wearing a pearl cocktail ring.
Under questioning by the investigators the orderly signed a statement that robbery was his motive for entering the slain woman's apartment that evening. The detectives arrested Showery and charged him with murder.
In August 1977, six months after the murder, Stachula and Epplen marked the strange case closed. The less said about it the better they thought and turned their attention to other police matters.
But the bizarre incidents surrounding the case were not destined to remain buried in a "closed" police report. Chicago's Filipino community is close-knit, and rumors about spirits of the dead having solved Miss Basa's murder continued to circulate.
Shortly after Showery's arrest, a veteran crime reporter formerly with the Manila Chronicle got wind of the story. Gus Bernardo, now working in Chicago as managing editor for the bi-monthly Philippines Herald, persuaded his publisher Eduardo Fernandez to let him track down the story.
Bernardo says he ran into a wall of silence. Chicago police wanted the case to remain buried. His publisher also failed to convince police they should let him see the case report.
"The police didn't want to reveal all the things that Mrs. Chua said about the case," Fernandez says. "They refused to cooperate."
But the Herald's managing editor had an advantage in his many personal contacts in the city's Filipino community. Within days of the orderly's arrest, Bernardo had pieced together the bizarre story.
Especially fortunate for the newspaperman was his discovery that he knew the Chuas who were named in the case. He contacted the couple, and they repeated their story for him.
Bernardo did some more investigating. He interviewed Mrs. Chua's Filipino co-workers and talked to other people who knew the doctor and his wife. By the time he finally wrote the story, Bernardo was – and still is – convinced that he had come across a true case of spirit possession.
"I've covered murders for years," Bernardo says. "I know what's a crime and what's not. I know when people are lying to me. I found everything the Chuas said to be true."
Bernardo also says one of the most startling pieces of evidence did not appear in his article because he learned of it after the story was published.
"I was contacted by some people in the hospital who worked with Mrs. Chua," he says. "These sources told me that there were a couple of times when Mrs. Chua broke out singing in the dead woman's voice. They said they were frightened and reported it to their supervisor."
Bernardo's article appeared on the front page of the Philippines Herald on August 16, 1977 – seven months before an almost identical story appeared on the front page of the city's largest newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. But the only attention the Herald's article received was from a police official who called Bernardo to congratulate him on a good job.
Again, this unusual story of a dead woman's vengeance fell into obscurity.
But all that changed on March 5, 1978, when the Tribune ran a front page account of the Basa murder. The paper's headline posed the question: "DID VOICE FROM THE GRAVE NAME KILLER?"
The Tribune learned of the bizarre case when an attorney for the thirty-one-year-old orderly, Allan Showery, requested all police records on file. Showery was nearing trial. Once again the Chuas testimony was being discussed – this time in public.
But along with the article came the first public expressions of doubt.
Shortly after the newspaper story appeared, an Edgewater Hospital official told the reporter on a local newspaper that not only did Mrs. Chua know the slain woman well but she had worked side by side with her for two years. Police -later stated they were aware of this discrepancy in Dr. Chua's statement. The hospital spokesman said Mrs. Chua also had worked with Showery.
"There's no way they couldn't know each other," stated Brad Cummings, the hospital spokesman. "They do team therapy in that unit. They worked side by side. They were all very close."
Cummings added that, although Mrs. Chua worked alongside Showery for two years, she made it known to several of her associates that she did not like him.
"She was very open about that fact," says Cummings. "She made it clear she didn't like him."
The hospital spokesman said he had his own theory about the case. He believed that Mrs. Chua acted out the voice from the grave as a way to tell police what she already suspected – that Showery had been responsible for Miss Basa's murder.
"I think she might have known something about Showery but also knew she would be taking chances with her own life and her husband's life if she went directly to the police," Cummings says.
He adds that after police arrested the orderly they recovered some of Miss Basa's missing jewelry from women at the hospital to whom Showery gave the items as gifts.
"It could be that Mrs. Chua recognized some of that jewelry," Cummings suggests.
Whatever Mrs. Chua may have thought or suspected, she continued to work in close contact with Showery for several months after Miss Basa's death. But then, on July 16, 1977, something unusual happened.
Mrs. Chua, who is described by the director of her unit as a model employee, walked into the hospital that afternoon and "totally blew up" at her immediate supervisor, Ted Ellis.
Ellis, who coincidentally lived in the same building as Showery, said he remembers that day because of Mrs. Chua's sudden flare-up.
"It was a Saturday and she came in with her husband," he recalls. "I didn't know what she was doing on the premises because she doesn't work on Saturdays."
The supervisor says Mrs. Chua started complaining about her job and then "exploded at me out of the clear blue sky." He says the conversation had nothing to do with Miss Basa's murder.
Witnesses recall that during the argument Dr. Chua walked over to Showery and, in an angry voice, said to him, "I know you. I know a lot about you."
Mrs. Chua was fired that afternoon for "gross insubordination" and told to report back to the hospital for official notification. When she returned the following week Mrs. Connie Kuhn, director of the respiratory unit, told the woman her dismissal was permanent.
Mrs. Kuhn remembers Mrs. Chua telling her, "I'm relieved because I'm scared of the people I work with. I'm especially fearful of Allan Showery."
It was around the time of her dismissal that Mrs. Chua began to speak in Miss Basa's voice – a phenomenon that Bernardo, his publisher and others say was not a ruse to ease a guilty conscience.
"These are intelligent and respected people in the community," states the Herald's managing editor. "If she suspected something they didn't have to wait so long to tell police.
"All they had to do was give the police the information without anyone knowing who gave it to them. Instead, they identified themselves."
Bernardo's publisher admits that it's a "strange" case but also describes the Chuas as being very respectable. "It may all sound like superstition," he says, "but as a child I often heard stories of spirits from the grave."
Other persons also support the supernatural aspects of the Chua's testimony. "In the Philippines there are many people who believe this is common," claims Mrs. Nancy Pabico, now a Chicago resident. 'Where I come from we believe in the spirit of the dead coming back through another person after three days."
One person who is willing to accept the Chuas' testimony is Thomas J. Organ, a top state prosecutor who is known for his no-nonsense approach to the law. Organ has been especially appointed to handle this unusual case. The prosecutor may have a vested interest in believing the Chuas but says his skepticism waned after interviewing Dr. Chua, whom he now describes as a "learned professional and a reputable person." He also frankly admits that in five years as a prosecutor, "I've never run into anything like this."
Police officials, meanwhile, are finding themselves a bit uncomfortable with the publicity surrounding this controversial case. After all, it isn't every day that one of the nation's largest police forces solves a case with supernatural assistance.
Even Stachula and Epplen are "not available" for phone calls that have anything to do with the Basa murder.
Privately, however, police officials admit the voice from the grave may have been concocted by the Chuas but state what is really important is that enough evidence was presented to them so that an arrest could be made.
Police do not believe the couple was involved in the murder.
Commander Joseph DeLeonardi, one of the city's top homicide detectives, best sums up the police department's attitude regarding the entire bizarre episode: "She gave us the evidence we needed. It doesn't matter if she had a psychic dream or not."
For the Chuas, however, life may never be the same. Hounded by reporters from around the world eager for more details about the sensational case, they have had to change apartments, phone numbers and jobs.
Currently the Chuas are living incognito somewhere in Chicago. Even their lawyer will make no statements about what has happened to his clients. But in an earlier interview Mrs. Chua expressed her feelings about what transpired.
"It's been traumatic for me and my husband," she said.
On January 21, 1979, Allan Showery went on trial for the murder of Teresita Basa. After three days of testimony the jury considered the charges, deliberating for thirteen hours before announcing it was hopelessly deadlocked. Judge Frank W. Barbaro declared a mistrial.
A month later Showery appeared before Judge Barbaro and, acting against the advice of his attorneys who wanted him to stand a second trial, admitted his guilt. He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for murder and to four years each for two counts of armed robbery and arson.
FATE is the longest-running and most widely-respected magazine devoted to the paranormal. During its 66 years as the leading publication in its field, FATE has published expert opinions and personal experiences relating to UFOs, psychic abilities, ghosts and hauntings, cryptozoology, alternative medicine, divination methods, belief in the survival of personality after death, predictive dreams, telepathic communication, and other paranormal topics. Many of these challenge our very concept of reality, suggesting at the very least that this world is a far stranger place than most of us suspect. For this volume of our Best of FATE series, the editors of the magazine open their files to examine true accounts of crimes—often acts of murderous violence—both perpetrated and solved by paranormal means. Here, gathered from the over seven hundred issues of FATE, are some of the most impressive instances of psychic crime-solving and psychic crimes, offering hours of fascinating reading for anyone interested in the strange, the paranormal or the occult.