Christian Longo was born in Michigan in 1974 and was raised by strict Jehovah's Witness parents. Soon after he got married at age 19, Longo began experiencing financial problems that would plague him and his family for years. In December 2001, after Longo and his family had disappeared from their home in Ohio, the bodies of his wife and three children were discovered in Oregon. Longo was found hiding in Mexico under an assumed name and was brought back to the U.S. for trial. He was found guilty and is currently on death row. A movie based on his sordid life hit theaters in April 2015.
Christian Longo was born on January 23, 1974, in Michigan, and was raised by strict Jehovah's Witness parents. Longo was active in the church at a young age and trained in the door-to-door ministry for which Jehovah's Witness members are well known. Part of the same congregation, Longo and MaryJane Baker met in the church parking lot, and they were married when he was 19 and she was 25.
Debts and Downfall
In a portentous moment a few years later, Longo became manager of a company that distributed The New York Times, and he would regularly read articles by Times feature writer Michael Finkel. Finkel would ultimately play a prominent, and bizarre, role in Longo’s story.
Longo next launched a construction subcontracting business, but in a continuation of early financial woes, he and his family were drowning in debt. Longo’s spending continued unabated, and soon his car was repossessed. With debt overwhelming him, Longo turned to crime, setting up fake addresses to reroute bill collectors, creating a fake driver’s license for a test drive that would transition into grand theft auto and writing checks to himself in his clients’ names. Longo soon got caught, but he received a light sentence of probation and restitution.
Longo wasn’t faring any better on personal fronts, as MaryJane Longo discovered email evidence of her husband’s infidelity and Longo was kicked out of his church for the laundry list of crimes piling up around him. Two months later, claiming he wanted a new life for his family—which now included two daughters and a son, the oldest being four years old—Longo moved his wife and children to a warehouse in Toledo, Ohio.
The move set off a probation violation, and Longo was now a wanted man.
Disappearance and Murders
When authorities went to the Toledo warehouse looking for Longo, they found the premises abandoned. When MaryJane’s cell phone was cut off soon after, her sisters filed a missing persons report. Then, a month later, on December 19, 2001, the body of four-year-old Zachery Longo was discovered floating in a marina in Waldport, a coastal community south of Newport, Oregon. Three days later, divers searching nearby found the body of three-year-old Sadie Longo weighed down underwater. Then two suitcases were found: One held the body of two-year-old Madison Longo and the other the remains of MaryJane Longo.
Now the lead suspect and on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, Christian Longo was found in Cancun, Mexico, where he had taken on the identity of travel writer Michael Finkel, among others, as needed.
Trial and Book/Film Adaptations
Taken back to the U.S. in January 2002, Longo stood trial in March 2003, during which he claimed to have only killed Madison and MaryJane, pinning the murders of his other two children on MaryJane. During the trial and the period leading up to it, Longo was in touch with Finkel, whom Longo hoped would write about him and help in his exoneration. (Before the trial, Longo had also penned a 15-page "love" letter to another inmate, Jennifer Muscutt.) In the end, Finkel—at this point living in a state of journalistic disgrace, having been caught fabricating a New York Times Magazine cover story in 2002—did write about Longo, but Longo was found guilty and sentenced to death in April 2004.
The book Finkel wrote, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa (2005), has since been turned into a 2015 movie starring James Franco as Christian Longo and Jonah Hill as Michael Finkel and also featuring Felicity Jones. Finkel has continued to remain in contact with Longo on a monthly basis during the latter's incarceration. MaryJane's sister, Penny Dupuie, has expressed dismay over the continued media coverage Longo receives, which includes stories on his one-time quest to donate body organs after his execution.
In 2011, Longo admitted to killing his family. He remains on death row in Marion County, Oregon.
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