The Perfect Family
The Longo family seemed like your typical middle-class family living in Oregon. Christian Longo married his wife Mary Jane at 19. They were married for eight years and had three children: Zachary, Sadie, and Madison. Mary Jane stayed at home, while Christian worked at a Starbucks.
The pair were active Jehovah's Witnesses. Christian appeared to be the ideal family man, boyish good looks, well-spoken demeanor and a religious upbringing. On the surface, the Longo family's life appeared perfect.
However, that all changed in December 2001, when the family was destroyed from the inside. Friends, family and the community were caught off-guard and shaken to the core after finding out that Christian Longo was a cold-blooded killer.
The Horrific Discoveries of December 19, 2001
The bodies of Mary Jane and his three children were recovered from the icy waters off the Oregon coast. On December 19, four-year-old Zachary Longo's body washed ashore. Christian had tied a pillowcase filled with rocks to one of his legs. The body of 34-year-old Mary Jane and two-year-old Madison Longo were discovered under a dock at a marina.
Christian had shoved Mary Jane naked into a suitcase and Madison in another suitcase. The two suitcases had been weighted down with dumbbells. Three-year-old Sadie's body was recovered by police divers. Christian had tied a pillowcase filled with rocks to Sadie's leg.
Police would later say that if Zachary's body did not wash ashore, it could have been a decade before they recovered the bodies.
According to the autopsies, water was found in the lungs of Sadie and Zachary. They died from asphyxiation while Mary Jane and Madison were strangled.
Investigators working on the Longo family murder case quickly turned to Christian as the prime suspect. But he had already fled. The FBI placed him on their Ten Most Wanted list and before long, he was facing charges of four counts of aggravated murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
Investigators found that Christian had fled to Cancun, Mexico. He got a room at a resort using a stolen credit card and took on the identity of former New York Times writer Michael Finkel. He managed to con the entire resort community. He spent time at the beach, got drunk, went to nightclubs, and romanced a German tourist.
Longo was eventually recognized, taken into custody, and extradited to the United States.
The Motives of a Con Man
The FBI turned its focus to investigating why this perfect husband killed his entire family. The investigation revealed that this wasn't Longo's first criminal act.
Longo had been involved in financial scams for years. He would take out loans in other people's names, run up debt, create bogus checks, and use fake IDs to keep creditors away. He even created a fake business and would write counterfeit checks from his clients.
Christian had managed to keep the truth hidden from his wife and Mary Jane had no idea of the reality of her husband's nefarious activities. The family struggled financially, while Christian lived extravagantly, bought fancy cars, and took luxury vacations.
Christian's carefree lifestyle came crashing down when he was eventually caught and charged with fraud. He was put on probation and ordered to reimburse his victims.
His life changed when he cheated on his wife and was found out. The Jehovah's Witnesses learned of his dirty laundry and kicked him out immediately. This led to him moving his family from Michigan to Ohio.
Once he got to Ohio, he appeared to want to start a better life, but in reality he was just dodging creditors. He continued his criminal activities of cashing forged checks, but he eventually drew the attention of local police, causing Christian to pack up his family and move again, this time to Oregon.
Christian Finally Faces a Trial
Christian ended up facing the death penalty. He did plead guilty to murdering his wife and youngest child before the trial began. Originally, Christian claimed that his wife killed the two oldest children because she was angry when she found out the truth about their financial situation. Out of anger, he said, he'd murdered Mary Jane and their youngest child.
During the trial, prosecutors argued Christian grew tired of his family and killed them to relieve himself of the burden. There is also proof that Longo planned the murders months prior. During the investigation, they discovered information on his computer from a website that offered advice on different ways to commit murder.
Christian had isolated Mary Jane from her family, even sending a card from Mary Jane to her sister from another state, in an attempt to create a false trail. He made sure to dump personal belongings on the way to Oregon, including family photos and baby books.
Defense Fights to Protect Christian
Christian's defense team attempted to defend his actions, arguing that his financial situation broke down Christian mentally and that he was not really responsible for two of the deaths. They pointed out that both bodies of Mary Jane and Madison were disposed of differently.
The defense also said that the two older children drowned, asking the jury to consider why Christian would kill two of his family members but leave Zachary and Sadie alive when he threw them into the water.
The jury went into deliberations to decide whether Christian was guilty of murdering his wife and baby and whether he deserved to die by lethal injection. In less than four hours, a guilty verdict was reached.
The jury came back for the penalty phase and heard testimony to determine if Longo should receive the death penalty for all four murders. Once again, they quickly deliberated and sentenced Longo to death. A few jurors said that someone with Longo's intelligence and charm would be a threat and they had no choice.
Reporter Michael Finkel, whose identity Christian Longo used when hiding out in Mexico, wrote a 2005 memoir about his visits and conversations with Longo called True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa. In 2015, the book was adapted into a movie called True Story, starring James Franco as Longo and Jonah Hill as Finkel.
Christian was on death row at Oregon State Penitentiary for many years until a 2011 state moratorium on executions. He and 27 other death row inmates, including the Woodburn bombers and serial killer Dayton Leroy Rogers, were moved into general population.
This decision by Oregon govern Kate Brown was condemned by Mary Jane's sister and others.