True Crime Thursday – Instant Justice

Not the site of the actual crime. Photo credit: Eli Duke, CC by SA-2.0


By Debbie Burke


Oxford Languages defines the informal use of the word karma as “destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.”

Today’s True Crimes are two different cautionary tales of instant justice for wrongdoing, proving karma’s a b*tch.

According to this story by NPR, Joseph McKinnon learned that lesson the hard way. 

In May, 2022, Patricia Ruth Dent, 65, didn’t show up for work at the Mount Vintage Golf Club, North Augusta, SC. Concerned coworkers called her and left messages but she never answered.

Then deputies and paramedics received a report of a man who’d collapsed in his yard in Trenton, SC. They found Joseph McKinnon, 60, dead at the scene. There were no signs that his death was anything other than natural causes–a cardiac arrest.

While searching his home to find information to notify next-of-kin, deputies found blood.

McKinnon shared the house with Patricia Dent. There had been no previous police calls to the residence for domestic violence.

However, deputies soon realized Dent was missing and suspected foul play.

Their investigation led them to search the property where they found a large, recently-dug hole in the ground. Dent’s body, bound with tape and wrapped in trash bags, was in the pit, partially covered with soil. The coroner determined her death was a homicide by strangulation.

Evidence indicated McKinnon had strangled Dent inside the house then attempted to bury her body in the yard.

The effort of covering up his crime evidently triggered the cardiac event that killed the killer.


Here’s another case of karma on the other side of the world. In June, 2019, the Taiwan English News reported an unidentified dead man found head first in a hole in the Jiaboa public cemetery in Hemei Township, Changua County, Taiwan. A passerby saw legs sticking out of a hole in the ground and discovered a decomposing body.

The body was shirtless, wearing jeans, and described as a balding, middle-aged male with missing teeth. He was not identified.

Beside him was a shovel and tool case. The hole was directly above a coffin.

Police suspect he fell head first into the hole and suffocated while trying to rob a grave.


Karma’s a b*tch, all right.  


TKZers: do you know of any crimes where the punishment was especially appropriate and/or ironic? 




Irony and karma play roles in Debbie Burke’s latest thriller, Until Proven Guilty, on sale for only $1.99 at major online booksellers at this link.

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About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

42 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – Instant Justice

  1. Thanks for an especially wonderful and grisly True Crime presentation on this Thursday morning, Debbie.

    This doesn’t quite count as an example of an ironic crime because the punishment wasn’t ironic, but the apprehension was. There used to be a restaurant in downtown Columbus across from the Greyhound bus station. It was owned and run by an ex-police officer and was a lunchtime favorite of off-duty and undercover cops. A couple of clowns got off of a bus from Atlanta and were looking to replenish their funds. They saw the restaurant across the street, hurried over, pulled their Saturday Night Specials, rushed through the door, and announced, “This is a holdup!” There was total silence for a moment. The place then exploded with laughter. The would-be robbers were disarmed, down on the floor, and cuffed in less time than it takes to tell it. I happened to be there eating at the time. It was amazing.

    Hope you’re having a great week, Debbie. Thanks again.

    • St. Louis has two St. Patrick’s Day parades. One is on Saturday close to St. Pat’s Day. The other doesn’t care when March 17 is, we are of Irish decent and we party on St. Pat’s Day.

      It is St. Patrick’s Day. Much green paint and much more beer is marching through the Irish neighborhood. A knucklehead robs the bank four blocks away. The parade has snarled his get away so he started running.

      So, there are police on parade duty. There are police responding to a bank robbery, and of course, those many police officers of Irish decent out with their families celebrating their heritage. Things did not go well for said robber.

  2. Good morning, Debbie. Wonderful parables about karma.

    Not being able to think of any stories or examples of karma, I turned to Professor Google and found this parable of the rhinos, the poacher, the elephant, and the lions: In this “true story from South Africa’s Kruger Park in 2019, a poacher who was illegally hunting rhinos in this protected game reserve was killed by an elephant and eaten by lions.” Talk about the circle of life and the food chain.

    Have a day full of good karma!

    • I highly recommend Kruger Park to anyone who wants to see African wildlife in their native setting. It’s an incredible place. You drive around in a van, and the animals are just doing their thing. We were surrounded by a large herd of elephants and a herd of giraffes. Other vans were with us, and I was praying that no one was stupid enough to honk a horn or make much of a noise. We’d have been dead. We were also stopped for almost an hour by a pride of lions snoozing on the warm road. Occasionally, one or two would get up and check us out. They were tall enough to see into the van windows and would look into our eyes. Scary.

  3. Good morning, Debbie, and thanks for those amazing stories of justice being served, I can’t think of anything from my personal experience, but from literature does Captain Ahab qualify? His obsession with the white whale didn’t end well for him. (But then, except for Ishmael, everybody else on the ship died also. Too much karma!)

    Have a great day!

    • The Mad Magazine parody of Moby Dick opens with, “Call me fish meal.”

      Little known fact: Ahab, in a rare moment of candor, has a monologue where he admits to Starbuck that he’s been stupid all his life.

  4. Great post, Debbie!

    I couldn’t come up with a karma story from my own, but Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975 Detroit has always intrigued me. It’s likely he was instrumental in disappearing some of his enemies.

    I think it’s sort of ironic that such a well-known crime figure doesn’t have a grave or marker. And that he most likely was done to death by folks he knew well.

    I wonder if it bothers him that there’s no monument to his exploits. I say serves him right.

    • But he remains in mainstream memory because it was a mystery that was never solved. Otherwise, he’d just be someone only true crime enthusiasts remember because he lacked the glamour of gangsters.

      • He sleeps with the fishes. One of our View Park neighbors, an associate of Jack Dragna, was found floating out to sea, sealed in a 55 gal. drum, deceased.

  5. When I was 8 or 9 years old, growing up in the then-distant suburbs of Washington, DC, a neighbor, Lt. Col. Fitzmaurice, was gunned down in his foyer after opening the door to a visitor. That crime remains unsolved to this day.

    As you might imagine, the neighbors were mightily spun up by a bloody murder in their little community. To this day, I’m a bit on edge when I answer the door.

    Anyway, the murder was still new-in-our-memories when Mrs. Sherman–the lady who lived kitty-corner from us–heard noises on her carport in the wee hours of the morning. Mr. Sherman was an airline pilot, so on this night, like many others, she was alone in the house. She had a .22 rifle for her protection.

    Hearing the noise on the side of the house, she decided to flee through the front door, but when she opened it, the stranger was standing right there. Without hesitating, Mrs. Sherman brought the rifle up and fired ten shots at him at point blank range.

    And somehow missed him all ten times.

    As my dad told the story, he heard the shots, got out of bed and ran across the street to help–along with all of the other neighborhood dads. They found the stranger cowering behind one of those decorative light posts, screaming, “Jesus, lady, don’t shoot!”

    The police arrived, and with it, the karmic relief:

    The stranger turned out to be a guy who was cheating on his wife, necking with a floozy along the deer trail that ran behind the houses, when he accidentally started a brush fire with his cigarette. He ran up through the woods to the first house he could find–Mrs. Sherman’s–to find a phone to call the fire department.

    I don’t remember how the story finally ended, but I do remember being fascinated by all the bullet holes in the cars parked along the curb.

    • Ring cameras for doors are a very good thing. If nothing else, the camera footage will help the police find your killer. I’m sure the woman with the rifle got into some pretty deep legal poo. My dad, the gun instructor, always drilled into us that we should blow out their brains AFTER they entered the house so the kill would be legal. And he did say kill, not wound. Someone can’t kill you if he’s dead.

      • I suspect the most common form of karma is visited upon those who take shortcuts, fail to use safety procedures, take risks, or just do a slapdash job. The punishment usually far outweighs any savings in time or effort or materials.

        At Carbide, if I remember rightly, the procedure for maintaining the 8 fans (10′ diameter, at the top of the cooling tower) was to turn off a fan, go down to the bottom and padlock the circuit, go back up top and crawl into the fan to work on it. When done, the mechanic had to go down to the first floor, remove the padlock, go back to the top and turn on the fan and turn off the next one, etc.

        One afternoon, for fan #8, the mechanic saved a few minutes by just turning it off, not padlocking the circuit. When he was done, he tossed his hand tools out of the fan housing. Apparently his wrench struck the start switch. That was the only fatality while I worked there.

        “And hey! Let’s be careful out there!”

    • John, we can always count on you for a good tale. I wonder if Mr. Philanderer was smart enough to quit smoking AND fooling around as a result of this.

  6. I’m sure I’ll think of a bunch of good stories later. I’ve always hoped that Karma has a to-do list to give some people heart attacks before they kill. “Nope, not happening” beats justice for the victim, every time. It doesn’t give us a great story, but I’m cool with that.

  7. From my pizza days.
    A driver at another store delivered to an apartment. They paid by check. He looked at the check and went to his car and called the police. His car had been broken into about two weeks earlier. His checkbook was stolen. Apartment dweller paid for dinner with one of his checks.

  8. I remember a short story where the upshot was that the body buried in the back yard was fertilizing the grass above at a higher rate – so the criminal had to stay home and mow every day. An astute observer would have also noticed the grass’ color was better there.

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