The Crimes of Suzanne Basso

Suzanne Basso (Center) Bottom Left to Right - James O'Malley, Craig Ahrens, Terence Singleton, Bernice Ahrens, Hope Ahrens
Suzanne Basso (Center) Bottom Left to Right - James O'Malley, Craig Ahrens, Terence Singleton, Bernice Ahrens, Hope Ahrens. Mug Shots

Suzanne Basso and five co-defendants, including her son, kidnapped a 59-year-old mentally disabled man, Louis 'Buddy' Musso, then tortured and murdered him so that they could collect on his life insurance money. Basso was identified as the ringleader of the group and instigated the others to torture their captive.

An Unidentified Body

On August 26, 1998, a jogger discovered the body in Galena Park, Texas.

Based on the observations of the police, when they arrived at the scene, they determined that the victim had been killed elsewhere, and then dumped on the embankment. He showed severe injuries, yet his clothing was clean. There was no identification found on the body.

In an effort to identify the victim, investigators reviewed missing person files and learned that a woman by the name of Suzanne Basso had recently filed a report. When a detective went to her apartment to see if the victim found in Galena Park was the same person that Basso had reported as missing, he was met at the door by Basso's son, 23-year-old James O'Malley. Basso was not at home, but returned shortly after the detective arrived.

While the detective talked to Basso, he noticed that there were bloody sheets and clothing on a makeshift bed on the floor of the living room. He asked her about it and she explained that the bed belonged to the man she had reported as missing, but she did not explain the blood.

She and her son James then accompanied the investigator to the morgue to view the body of the victim. They identified the body as  Louis Musso, the man she had filed a police report as a missing person., The detective noticed that, while Basso appeared to be hysterical on viewing the body, her son James showed no emotion when he saw the horrific condition of the body of their murdered friend.

Quick Confession

Having identified the body, mother and son accompanied the detective to the police station to complete the report. Within minutes after the detective began talking to O'Malley he confessed that he, his mother and four others- Bernice Ahrens, 54, her son, Craig Ahrens, 25, her daughter, Hope Ahrens, 22, and her daughter's boyfriend, Terence Singleton, 27, all participated in beating Buddy Musso to death.

O'Malley told investigators that his mother was the one that planned the murder and spearheaded the others to kill Musso by administering brutal beatings over a period of five days. He said that he was terrified of his mother, so he did as she instructed.

He also admitted to dunking Musso four or five times in a bathtub filled with household cleaning products and bleach. Basso poured alcohol over his head while O'Malley scrubbed him bloody with a wire brush. It remained unclear if Musso was dead or in the process of dying during the chemical bath.

O'Malley also provided information about where the group had ditched evidence of the murder. Investigators found  items that were used to clean up the murder scene that included bloodstained clothes worn by Musso at the time of his death, plastic gloves, bloodstained towels, and used razors.

Wooed to His Death

According to court records, Musso had been widowed in 1980 and had a son. Through the years he became mentally disabled and had the intelligence of a 7-year-old child, but had learned to live independently. He was living in an assisted living home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey and had a part-time job at ShopRite. He also attended church where he had a strong network of friends who cared about his welfare.

Police discovered that, two months after the death of her live-in boyfriend, Suzanne Basso, who was living in Texas, met Buddy Musso at a church fair while she was on a trip to New Jersey. Suzanne and Buddy kept up a long-distance relationship for a year. Basso finally convinced Musso to move away from his family and friends to Jacinto City, Texas, on the promise that the two would marry.

In mid-June 1998, wearing a new cowboy hat he had purchased for the occasion, he packed up his few belongings, said goodbye to his friends, and left New Jersey to be with his "lady love." He was brutally murdered 10 weeks and two days later.

Evidence

On September 9, investigators searched Basso's Jacinto City small cluttered home. Within the mess, they found a life insurance policy on Buddy Musso with a base payout of $15,000 and a clause that increased the policy to $65,000 if his death was judged a violent crime.

The detectives also found Musso's Last Will and Testament. He had left his property and his life insurance benefits to Basso. His Will also read that "no one else was to get a cent." James O'Malley, Terrence Singleton, and Bernice Ahrens signed as witnesses. They would all assist in his murder.

The detectives found a  hard copy of Musso’s Will written in 1997, but the more recent copy of his Will on a computer was dated August 13, 1998, just 12 days before Musso would be murdered.

Bank statements were found showing that Basso had been cashing Musso's Social Security checks. Further documents indicated that Basso had  tried unsuccessfully to arrange to take over the management of Musso's monthly Social Security income.

It appeared as if someone had fought the request, possibly Musso's niece who was close to him, or his trusted friend Al Becker, who had been handling his benefits for 20 years. There was also a copy of a restraining order forbidding Musso's relatives or friends from making contact with him.

More Confessions

Each of the six perpetrators confessed to different degrees of involvement in Musso's murder and the attempted cover-up afterwards. They also all admitted to ignoring Musso's cries for help.

In a written statement, Basso stated that she knew that her son and several friends beat and abused Musso for at least a full day before his death, and that she also beat Musso. She confessed to driving a car belonging to Bernice Ahrens, with Musso’s body in the trunk, to the site where O’Malley, Singleton, and Craig Ahrens dumped the body and then to a dumpster where the others disposed of additional incriminating evidence.

Bernice Ahrens and Craig Aherns admitted to hitting Musso, but said Basso was the one pushing them to do it. Bernice told the police, "(Basso) said we had to make a pact, that we can't say anything about what happened. She said if we get mad at each other we can't say anything."

Terence Singleton confessed to hitting and kicking Musso, but pointed the finger at Basso and her son James as responsible for administering the final blows that caused his death.

Hope Ahrens’ statement was the most odd, not so much in reference to what she said, but because of her actions. According to the police, Hope said that she was unable to read or write and demanded a meal before giving her statement.

After scarfing down a TV dinner, she told police that she hit Musso twice with a wooden bird after he broke her Mickey Mouse ornament and because he wanted her and her mother to die. When he asked her to stop hitting him, she stopped. She also pointed most of the blame to Basso and O'Malley, who, corroborating statements by Bernice and Craig Aherns, who had administered the final blows that caused his death.

When the police attempted to read her statement back to her, she brushed it off and asked for another TV dinner.

Lost Opportunities

Not long after Musso moved to Texas, his friend Al Becker tried to contact him to check on his welfare, but Suzanne Basso refused to put Musso on the phone. Concerned, Becker contacted different Texas agencies requesting that they conduct a welfare check on Musso, but his requests  were never answered.

A week before the murder, a neighbor saw Musso and noticed that he had a black eye, bruises and bloody cuts on his face. He asked Musso if he wanted him to call for an ambulance or the police, but Musso only said, "You call anybody, and she'll just beat me up again."  The neighbor did not make the call.

On August 22, just days before the murder, a Houston police officer responded to a call of an assault going on near Jacinto City. Arriving on the scene, he found Musso being led around by James O'Malley, and Terence Singleton in what the officer described as a military-style run. The officer noted that both of Musso eyes were blackened. When questioned, Musso said three Mexicans had beat him up. He also said he did not want to run anymore.

The officer drove the three men to Terrence Singleton's apartment where he met Suzanne Basso who said she was Musso's legal guardian. Basso reprimanded the two young men and comforted Musso. Assuming Musso was in safe hands, the officer left.

Later, a note found in a pair of Musso's pants was addressed to a friend in New Jersey.  "You must get ... down here and get me out of here," the note read. "I want to come back to New Jersey soon." Apparently Musso never had a chance to mail the letter.

Five Days of Hell

The abuse that Masso endured prior to his death was detailed in courtroom testimony.

After arriving in Houston, Basso immediately began treating Musso as a slave. He was assigned a long list of chores and would receive a beating if he failed to move quickly enough or complete the list.

On August 21-25, 1998, Musso was denied food, water or a toilet and was forced to sit on his knees on a mat on the floor with his hands on the back of his neck for long periods of time. When he urinated on himself, he was beaten by Basso or kicked by her son James.

He was subjected to violent beatings administered by Craig Ahrens and Terence Singleton. He was abused by Bernice and Hope Ahrens. The beating included being hit multiple times with a belt, baseball bats, punched with closed fists, kicked, and struck with other objects that were around the apartment. As a result of the beatings, Musso died on the evening of August 25.

In a seven-page autopsy report, numerous injuries on Musso's body were cataloged. They included 17 cuts to his head, 28 cuts to the rest of his body, cigarette burns, 14 broken ribs, two dislocated vertebrae, a broken nose, a fractured skull, and a fractured bone in his neck. There was evidence that blunt force trauma extended from the bottom of his feet to his upper torso, including his genitals, eyes and ears. His body has been soaked in bleach and pine cleaner and his body was scrubbed with a wire brush.

The Trials

The six members of the group were charged with capital murder, but the prosecutors only sought the death penalty for Basso. James O'Malley and Terence Singleton were convicted of capital murder and given life sentences.Bernice and her son Craig Ahrens were convicted of capital murder. Bernice received an 80-year prison sentence and Craig received a 60-year sentence. Hope Ahrens trial ended in hung jury. She worked out a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder and agreeing to testify against Basso.

Suzanne Basso's Trial Performance

By the time Basso went to trial 11 months after her arrest, she had dropped from 300 pounds to 140 pounds. She showed up in a wheelchair which she said was a result of being partially paralyzed after receiving a beating from her jailers. Her lawyer later said it was due to a chronic degenerative condition.

She mimicked the voice of a little-girl, saying she had regressed to her childhood. She also claimed she was blind. She lied about her life story which included tales that she was a triplet and that she was having an affair with Nelson Rockefeller. She would later admit it was all a lie.

She was granted a competency hearing and the court-appointed psychiatrist who interviewed her testified that she was a fake. The judge ruled that she was competent to stand trial. Each day that Basso appeared in court she looked disheveled and would often grumble to herself during testimony or squeal and wail if she heard something that she did not like.

Hope Ahrens Testimony

Along with the evidence found by investigators, the testimony given by Hope Ahrens was likely the most damaging.  Hope Ahrens testified that Basso and O’Malley brought Musso to the Ahrens' apartment and that he had two black eyes, which he claimed he got when some Mexicans beat him up. After arriving at the apartment, Basso ordered Musso to stay on a red and blue mat. Sometimes she had him on his hands and knees, and sometimes just on his knees.

At some point during the weekend, Basso and O’Malley began beating Musso. Basso slapped him, and O’Malley kicked him repeatedly while wearing steel-toed combat boots. Hope Ahrens also testified that Basso hit Musso on the back with a baseball bat, hit him with a belt, and a vacuum cleaner, and jumped on him.

Testimony was given that Basso weighed about 300 pounds at the time that she jumped repeatedly onto Musso while it was obvious that he was suffering from pain. When Basso went to work, she instructed O’Malley to watch the others and make sure they did not leave the apartment or use the phone. Each time that Musso tried to get off the mat, O’Malley beat and kicked at him.

After Musso sustained injuries from the beating, O’Malley took him into the bathroom and bathed him with bleach, Comet and Pine Sol, using a wire brush to scrub Musso’s skin. At some point, Musso asked Basso to call an ambulance for him, but she refused. Ahrens testified that Musso was moving very slowly and was clearly in pain from the beatings.

Verdict

The jury found Basso guilty of capital murder for murdering Musso during the course of kidnapping or attempting to kidnap him, and for remuneration or the promise of remuneration in the form of insurance proceeds.

During the sentencing phase, Basso's daughter, Christianna Hardy, testified that during her childhood Suzanne had subjected her to sexual, mental, physical and emotional abuse.

Suzanne Basso was sentenced to death.

Profile of Suzanne Basso

Basso was born on May 15, 1954, in Schenectady, New York to parents John and Florence Burns. She had seven brothers and sisters. Few real facts are known about her life because she often lied. What is known is that she married a Marine, James Peek, in the early 1970s and that they had two children, a girl (Christianna) and a boy (James).

In 1982 Peek was convicted of molesting his daughter, but the family later reunited. They changed their name to O'Reilly and moved to Houston.

Carmine Basso

In 1993 Suzanne and a man named Carmine Basso became romantically involved. Carmine owned a company called Latin Security and Investigations Corp. At some point he moved into Basso's apartment, even though her husband, James Peek, was still living there. She never divorced Peek, but referred to Carmine as her husband and began using Basso as her last name. Peek eventually moved out of the home.

On October 22, 1995, Suzanne placed a bizarre quarter-page engagement announcement in the Houston Chronicle. It announced that the bride, whose name was listed as Suzanne Margaret Anne Cassandra Lynn Theresa Marie Mary Veronica Sue Burns-Standlinslowsk  was engaged to Carmine Joseph John Basso.

The announcement claimed the bride was an heiress to a Nova Scotia oil fortune, educated at Saint Anne's Institute in Yorkshire, England and had been an accomplished gymnast and at one time even a nun. Carmine Basso was reported to have received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his duty in the Vietnam War. The ad was retracted three days later by the newspaper due to “possible inaccuracies.” The $1,372 fee for the ad had gone unpaid.

Basso sent Carmine's mother a letter claiming that she had given birth to twin girls. She included a picture, which the mother later said was obviously a picture of a child looking into a mirror.

On May 27, 1997, Basso called the Houston police, claiming that she was in New Jersey, and asked that they check on her husband in Texas. She had not heard from him for a week. Going to his office, police found Carmine's body. They also found several trash cans filled with feces and urine. There was no restroom in the office.

According to the autopsy, Carmine, age 47, was malnourished and died from erosion of the esophagus due to the regurgitation of stomach acid. The medical examiner reported that there was a strong smell of ammonia on the body. It was listed that he died from natural causes.

Execution

On February 5, 2014, Suzanne Basso was executed by lethal injection at the Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She declined to make a final statement.