Co-Host of a podcast delivering a unique perspective on cases of lesser-known serial killers from around the globe in an entertaining way.
Can a Typical Child Raised in an Atypical Society Have a Positive Experience?
Craig Chandler Price was born on October 11, 1974. He was one of 3 children growing up in Warwick, Rhode Island. His parents worked in blue-collar jobs when it wasn't prevalent for minorities to hold blue-collar positions. His father, John Price, worked at the local K-Mart department store in a management position, while his mother, Shirley, was a clerical worker at the same establishment.
It's important to note that when Craig was younger, his family lived in a city where less than 1% of the total population consisted of African-Americans. Considering racial tensions were still running high after the Civil Rights Movements of the 60s, the mere fact that his parents were employed and earned the income necessary to live in a relatively affluent city speaks volumes to the type of family they were.
Monsters are real, ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.
— Stephen King
While researching Craig's childhood, every source I encountered reported the same information. His childhood was what most would consider normal. Although there is no such thing as a perfect family, from what I read, his was pretty close. I couldn't find information that alluded to a childhood of abuse or mistreatment. I'm not exaggerating when I say that every article I read regarding Craig's childhood noted that he was a happy child.
All of his teachers and neighbors recall that he had a comedic nature about him. They even knew him as a child that would go the extra mile to help others. When any of his neighbors needed a helping hand, he would be the first one to arrive. He never hesitated to offer his services, whether the task was carrying someone's groceries into the house or mowing their lawn. Craig received good grades in school, and he had a passion for football and basketball.
All my research indicated Craig was a typical child growing up in the 70s and 80s. I have often shared with our readers and listeners that I was the victim of abuse starting at a young age. There were many things that I saw children my age doing that I was not allowed to do, as my abuser kept me and my sister isolated. He couldn't let his dirty little secret getting out now, could he?
Considering he had a reputation to maintain in the community. For that reason, when I was reading about Craig's life before the events that led up to his story being featured today, I began experiencing feelings I thought I would never feel again. The inner child in me who longed to experience things I saw other children doing, was envious of what I was reading about Craig. Even though I know that Craig's journey has led him to a place where we are featuring his story today, I still had the feeling that I wished I could have spent just one day in his shoes.
Granted, things don't always appear the same when viewed from the inside; however, since he has not said anything to contradict what others are reporting, I think it's safe to say they are accurate. My inner child would have given just about anything to feel as safe at home for one day that it seems Craig felt since he was born.
How Does a Young Boy Deal With the Disturbing Thoughts He's Having?
Right around the time Craig turned 9-years old, things began to change for him. He was having thoughts that weren't common for a child of his age. Craig started experiencing disturbingly dark thoughts about other people dying. Some have speculated that these thoughts caused him to act out violently.
I found one report that indicated the police were called to the Price residence after an incident spiraled out of control. I spent a lot of time searching for something to explain what happened to cause somebody to call the police, and I couldn't find any source that reported on it. Police reports did indicate that Craig started getting in trouble around the neighborhood at a regular rate around this same time.
It seems that it wouldn't take long after the police responded to an incident at his house that he began to acquire a criminal record. By the time he blew the candles out on his 13th birthday cake, Craig had a laundry list of charges that included: breaking and entering, robbery, stalking, drug use, and assault. However, when I look at these charges, aside from the stalking, which is often a precursor, I'm not seeing where they add up to a child becoming a serial killer.
In my opinion, these charges are indicative of a young boy who is troubled emotionally. A boy who might have known his thoughts were not natural; however, he didn't have the skills necessary to ask for the help he needed. Despite Craig's images in his mind and his behavior, the people around him still remember him being a cheerful child. They remember how it seemed Craig wanted to make something more out of the rest of his life than what he had started with.
If a Person Doesn't Learn Skills to Make Better Choices, How Will They?
Sadly, as we have seen a million times, once a person starts making bad choices, they continue to make them. Especially if they don't get the help they need to learn to make better choices. Craig fell into this same wrong decision trap when he chose to join a local gang.
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It was once he hooked up with this gang that he began to experiment with drugs. He started smoking marijuana rather frequently, and it wasn't long before he added LSD on top of that. For those who are not aware of what LSD is and what it does, let me try to explain so that you at least understand what was going on with Craig when he was using this combination of drugs.
LSD is a narcotic that increases feelings of anxiety and depression and distorts one's perceptions of reality by inducing hallucinations. According to Very Well Mind, LSD users tend to see images, hear sounds and feel sensations that may seem very real to them when they aren't there at all.
It's also reported that Craig had a significant growth spurt when he started experimenting with various illicit drugs. He would have a more substantial girth compared to the other boys around him. People noticed that he was suddenly a rather large child. A significantly more robust and sturdy child than the other children in his school and neighborhood.
How Does a Kid Go From Committing Petty Crimes to Brutal Murder?
Craig already had a history of stalking women, leering at them through their window to watch them go about their regular routine. He also had a history of breaking into people's homes to steal their possessions while they were gone. Therefore it should not come as a surprise to anybody that Craig had figured out a way to sneak around the yards and homes of others without drawing attention to himself.
One of the nights he was out roaming around the neighborhood, lurking in the shadows, he found himself outside the home of one of his neighbors. Rebecca Spencer lived at 60 Inez Avenue, just a short distance away from Craig's house at 76 Inez Avenue. She rented the home and was living there with her brother and her two children, her son was 8-years old, and her daughter was 4-years old at the time.
Rebecca's lease was due to expire at the end of July 1987. She had been trying to prepare for the move a few weeks before the deadline. However, with two young kids at home, the efforts had been slow going. She told her ex-husband she needed an opportunity to pack without the children around to distract her. He decided to help her out so he would take the kids with him for a whole day. That way, she could work on the bulk of it without having to stop and entertain her children as well.
The morning of July 27, Rebecca's ex-husband picked up the children early. After they were gone, she enlisted the help of a friend, and the two spent the majority of the morning packing boxes. The two women worked tirelessly throughout the entire day until approximately 6:00 pm when Rebecca decided to cook some dinner for her friend and her brother.
Rebecca's brother worked nights, so he left the house around 8:30 pm, and shortly after, her friend's boyfriend came over to help them pack up some more things. When it seemed that they had most of Rebecca's things sealed in moving boxes, the three of them left to go have ice cream and run a few errands.
They returned to the house around 11:00 pm, and her friends left for the night around midnight. After closing the door behind them on their way out, she went and changed into some pajamas before grabbing a blanket and lying down on the living room floor to watch a little bit of television. It wasn't long before she fell asleep after such a long day of work.
When Craig snuck into her house in the wee hours of the morning, that's how he found her, asleep on the living room floor, curled up in the blanket. He went into the kitchen, where he intended to grab a frying pan. Craig changed his mind about the pan when he saw a 10-inch kitchen knife lying on the counter as he walked by. When he returned to the living room, he stood over Rebecca for several minutes, just watching her as she slept.
Then suddenly, without a second thought, he bent down and proceeded to stab her violently. He brutally stabbed her and punctured her heart, liver, lungs, face, and head. Craig inflicted a total of 58 stab wounds on Rebecca, and when he was finished, he simply stood up and calmly left the house. He went out the back door, snuck over her back fence into her neighbor's yard before heading to his own home. Craig was only 13-years old.
Since Rebecca was sleeping when Craig stabbed her so viciously, she didn't have a chance to scream. It wouldn't be until the following day, when her brother returned home from work, that people would know anything had ever happened to her. When her brother came in and saw her lying in a pool of blood, he quickly dialed 911.
Despite knowing she was already dead, he attempted to perform CPR until the police arrived. When authorities got to the house, they established a perimeter. They secured it using crime scene tape before they set about looking for clues as to who could have committed such a horrific crime. They quickly learned there was absolutely no evidence that would lead them to her killer. As a result of this lack of evidence and no further leads from people nearby, the case grew cold.
Can Craig Go From Killing One Person to Annihilating a Family of Three?
After brutally murdering Rebecca in her sleep, Craig didn't kill anyone else. He 'cooled off' for a little over two years. During that dormant period, he became a freshman in high school. With a new school and new atmosphere, he had even started to thrive academically.
However, as with all the serial killers that we feature, Craig's urge to kill would return, and he just knew that he had to find another victim. I believe that once the need got to a point where he could no longer ignore it, he already had his next victim in mind.
Joan Heaton married Sergeant John Heaton when she was young, and it wouldn't be long before their family would add more members. Their first daughter Jennifer was born in 1979, then two short years later, they welcomed another daughter they named Melissa. The Heatons appeared to be the ideal family. They spent a lot of time together, sharing laughter and making beautiful memories.
That laughter suddenly died on June 19, 1983, when John decided to end his own life. In 1985, more grief struck the family, so Joan started a new life with her daughters in a new house in a new city. Unfortunately, to make things better for her and her children, she moved into Craig's neighborhood, assuming it was an ideal place to start over.
Craig was only 15-years old on September 1, 1989, when he smoked some marijuana laced with LSD and found himself standing outside of Joan Heaton's house. After standing outside for a while, Craig decided to feed his inner monster, so he let himself into the house and headed straight for the kitchen. He found a set of kitchen knives sitting on the counter. The ironic part about this, Joan had just purchased them earlier that day.
According to reports, when Craig entered Joan's house, he made some kind of a noise that woke her up. She went downstairs to investigate what caused the sound when she saw the large teenager in her kitchen, and she began to scream. When she did this, Craig was afraid one of the neighbors would hear her.
In one long stride, he threw his massive weight against her, strangling her until she slumped to the floor. Once her body fell to the floor, he didn't know if she was unconscious or dead. That's when he decided to stab her. He wound up inflicting 57 stab wounds on the 39-year old mother of two.
When Joan saw Craig and screamed, she woke up her daughters. Jennifer was only ten, and Melissa was only eight. The girls thought something had just startled their mother, so they went downstairs to see what happened. As they were headed down the stairs to the lower level, Craig saw Jennifer first. He knew he couldn't just get away without her noticing him, so he lunged and grabbed her.
While he stabbed her, Jennifer screamed and begged for Melissa to call the police. Craig stabbed her a total of 62 times before he noticed Melissa was headed towards the kitchen to get the phone. Craig managed to reach her before she could grab it, and it didn't take much for him to overpower her. After all, he towered over her and outweighed her by a lot. Once he had control of her, he stabbed her 37 times before crushing her skull with a stool he found nearby.
Craig stabbed Melissa so frantically and brutally that the tip of the knife snapped off in her neck. After killing Joan and her two young daughters, he stood up and saw the destruction he had caused. For some reason, Craig decided to cover two of the bodies before calmly gathering everything up and walked out the back door. Just as he did after killing Rebecca, he snuck through neighboring yards making his way back home.
Who Found the Bloody Bodies of Joan and Her Young Daughters?
When Joan and her daughters moved into their new home, she made a habit of calling her parents and sister every couple of days. The last time she spoke to them was a couple of days before the attack. Therefore, when she still hadn't contacted anybody by September 4th, they all became quite concerned. That was an unusually long time for her to be out of touch with anybody. Her family decided it was time to go and check on her.
Joan's mother, Marie, and her sister, Mary Lou, drove over to the house to see if they could find Joan and the girls there. Remember, this was before people owned cellphones, so if somebody tried calling you if you didn't answer, they had to find another way to get in ahold of you. We used to do a lot of driving around looking for our friends back before cellphones were invented.
Upon arriving at the house, Marie and Mary Lou saw the car parked in the driveway. Still, nobody answered the door when they knocked, so their concern grew even more. Not wanting to leave if something serious was going on with Joan and the girls, they walked around back to check things out. There, they found the back door unlocked, so they went inside to take a look around.
As soon as they walked through the door, they saw all the blood everywhere. Not knowing what had happened, the women turned to go down the hallway, where they saw Joan's body covered with a sheet. They found Jennifer lying in a pool of blood a short distance away, and Melissa's body was alone in the kitchen. Marie and Mary Lou immediately dialed 911 and exited the house to not contaminate the crime scene. When the authorities arrived at the house, they taped off the crime scene and watched as fear spread through the neighborhood.
How Did the Authorities Determine There Was Only One Killer?
After Rebecca was attacked, the authorities believed she was murdered by someone she knew. They figured that since she had only lived in the area for a short time, that was the reason no other attacks followed. However, when Joan and her daughters were so brutally slaughtered, detectives had no doubt they were now dealing with a serial killer. Here's how they made that determination:
- Rebecca and Joan were single mothers living with their two children
- Each woman was inflicted with roughly the same number of stab wounds
- The stab patterns on both women were also nearly identical
- The murder weapon seemed to come from the victim's kitchen
However, with both attacks, the authorities were unable to locate the weapons that were used. Nor were they able to determine the killer's motivation. Nevertheless, investigators knew they were only looking for one person who committed both crimes.
What Heavy Hitters Were Brought in to Help Solve the Murders?
Detectives knew if they were going to have a chance at finding the person who murdered these innocent people, they had to enlist the help of others. The first person they called in was Dr. Henry Lee, the world's foremost forensic scientist who specialized in blood analysis.
When Dr. Lee went over the crime scene, he noticed a footprint in the blood. The print belonged to a men's size 13 socked foot. Since there wasn't anybody in the house who wore that size, the authorities could surmise the killer left it himself.
The second person local authorities called in to help them on the case was Special Agent Gregg McCrary with the FBI. Agent McCrary was a profiler and author of the book 'The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us.' He was able to determine there was a highly frantic nature to the attacks. McCrary told the lead investigators the suspect demonstrated sheer anger and rage while committing the murders.
Knowing this, he told them, meant it was highly probable that the man they were looking for more than likely cut himself. McCrary also suggested the suspect had more than likely cut himself with the same blade that broke off in young Melissa's neck. In conclusion, he advised local authorities they were looking for somebody with bandages on his arm and/or hand.
What Did Craig Do to Make Him the Prime Suspect in the Deaths?
One day, a couple of officers were patrolling the area when they came across Craig hanging out with some friends at the local park. They were well acquainted with the young man as a result of his previous run-ins with authorities. He was also a regular participant in local police-sponsored youth events.
When the two officers saw him, they decided to ask him if he'd heard anything about what had happened in the neighborhood. Craig wasn't a suspect; they just knew he was familiar with the streets and wanted to know if there was any chatter about who could have committed the crimes.
When the police officers approached him, they quickly noticed that one of his hands was bandaged, so they asked him what happened. Craig didn't hesitate when he told them he was walking down a nearby street one night. He had been drinking that night and thought it would be a good idea to punch out a car window. They continued to banter back and forth with Craig for a few more minutes before they left and returned to the station.
Upon arriving at the station, the officers decided to check reports from the night Craig said he punched out the car window and see if they could corroborate his story. They couldn't find anything to indicate that somebody filed a report about a vandalized car. They also could not determine if the street showed signs of a car window being smashed or broken glass in the middle of the road.
With the lack of information to corroborate Craig's claims, it was clear to them he had been less than truthful about how he injured himself. Instead of jumping to conclusions, they decided to pull up his criminal history. His rap sheet indicated the majority of the crimes he had committed were for breaking and entering, as well as stalking. Everything they were learning set off some major alarm bells with the two officers. There seemed to be way too many coincidences regarding Craig and what happened to his hand.
Although all signs seemed to be pointing at Craig being the suspect in the murders, the officers didn't go to their superiors with the information right away. They questioned their suspicions because he would have only been 13-years old at the time Rebecca was murdered. A 13-year old child couldn't kill somebody with that much brutality, could they?
As luck would have it, one of Craig's friends called them a short time later to tell them how Craig had been bragging about murdering Rebecca and getting away with it. This information gave them what they needed to go to the lead investigators with their suspicions. It happened to be just the information the DA needed to issue the proper search warrant.
What Evidence Determined the Need for Police to Arrest Craig?
In the early morning hours of September 17, 1989, Warwick authorities raided the Price family home. They systematically turned it upside down to find any physical evidence to link Craig to the murders. When the young boy woke up to the police searching his parent's house, all he did was crawl back into bed to go back to sleep.
Just when the officers searching the premises thought they were going to have to leave empty-handed, one of them found something intriguing. He noticed there was a shed in the backyard that still hadn't been searched. Since the warrant covered all structures on the property, a couple of the searching officers went to check it out.
Not long after they entered the shed, they located a plastic bag that had been tucked back deep behind some other objects. When they opened the bag, they found a plethora of blood-soaked items that included: knives, clothing, gloves, and other random things. However, the coup de gras was the blood-soaked sock that matched the bloody footprint at the Heaton crime scene. This sock told them they had their man, so to speak, and they promptly placed him under arrest.
After the detectives put the handcuffs on Craig and put him in the back of the squad car, they asked his mother if she wanted to accompany him down to the station. She agreed to ride along, and the entire way there, all she could do was sob. Craig, on the other hand, seemed utterly detached from the whole situation. He was acting as if he were just going for a Sunday drive.
What Motivated Craig to Lash Out With Such Violent Rage?
Once the detectives had Craig in the interrogation room, they began asking him questions hoping he would give him a full confession. However, they started the questioning by asking him why he seemed so angry all the time.
He would eventually imply that he had so much anger due to racism. Racism not only caused his temper to flare, but it was also ultimately what caused the rage inside him to grow. It was this growing rage that drove him to commit the murders.
He told the detectives that one day he was playing on the street with a group of his friends when a white man called them the 'N' word. After the man used the derogatory slur against them, he cursed when he told them to get out of the road. Craig said how the man's actions made him angry.
Craig admitted that he wasn't only mad at the man for making the racial comment. Craig was also mad at himself, probably even more so, for not defending himself or his friends. It didn't take him long to vow to himself he would get his revenge against the man in question.
Craig talked about how he spent the next couple of days watching the man drive by on the street. He would watch the car every time it pulled in and out of the driveway at Rebecca's house. Apparently, Rebecca's brother Carl was the man driving the vehicle and uttered the racial slur and cursed at Craig and his friends.
When the authorities questioned Carl about the incident later, he relayed a different story entirely. He admitted to seeing the boys playing on the street on the day in question. Carl said he never screamed or cursed at the children. He also adamantly denies ever yelling a racial expletive at Craig, or anybody else for that matter.
Did Craig Ever Confess to the Murders or Did He Profess His Innocence?
After Craig told the detectives about his rage towards Rebecca's brother Carl, he gave a full confession. He claims on the night of Rebecca's murder, he waited until his whole family was in bed asleep before he snuck out of the house. Craig told them how he had crept into his neighbor's yard, climbed the fence, and wound up in her yard, only to be disappointed when the car he was looking for wasn't parked in the driveway. When he didn't see the vehicle, he returned home, where he smoked some weed that was more than likely laced with LSD.
After he got high, he decided to sneak back over the other house to see if the car had come back, and even if it hadn't, he would break in and steal some stuff. Upon returning to the yard, he noticed that the television was on. A woman was lying on the floor, covered by a blanket. At that moment, he convinced himself that he would go into the house and kill the woman while she slept.
Law enforcement officials know that some people make false confessions quite a bit, especially if they want to impress somebody. So, to determine whether or not he was telling the truth, the detectives asked him what else he remembered from that evening. He stated that he recalled there being boxes in the corner of the room. This was when the authorities knew they had arrested the right person.
When Craig told the detectives about how he had murdered Rebecca, he launched into his confession about killing Joan and her daughters. He gave precise details about how he had strangled Joan because she had walked in on him right after entering the house.
After Craig described how he had strangled and stabbed Joan, he talked about killing her daughters. He went into vivid detail when he reenacted the girls' screams of terror, their cries as they begged him to stop, even while he was stabbing them so violently.
Once the detectives were able to get Craig to start talking, they weren't going to do anything to stop him. They could only sit in silence and hang on to Craig's words when he described in vivid, gory detail the murders he committed. When he was finally done talking, the detectives had more than enough information to charge him with four counts of First-Degree Murder and two counts of Burglary. On the day he was arrested, Craig was just shy of his 16th birthday.
In 1989, when Craig was arrested for the murders, it was against the American Criminal Justice System law for prison services to incarcerate juvenile offenders past their 21st birthday. Therefore, when Craig was found guilty on the murder charges, he was only sentenced to serve 5-6 years in a juvenile facility.
If he had been an adult when he committed the murders, he would have received a mandatory life sentence. The laws on young offenders in 1989 ensured that after Craig served the 5-6 years, he would get released, and his criminal record would be sealed.
However, Craig's actions after he was sentenced prompted people to take the necessary steps needed to make changes to the system. On September 21, 1989, Craig pleaded guilty to his charges, and he was transferred to another facility. While he was in this other facility, Craig was ordered to undergo psychological therapy and examinations to determine a proper course of action needed to rehabilitate him.
Craig wasn't willing to comply. He absolutely refused to submit to any and all attempts health and prison officials made to engage him in the mandatory treatment ad therapy. Thus he has remained untreated.
Could Anything Be Done to Ensure Craig Remained Behind Bars?
Not long after Craig received his sentence for the murders, people realized that teenagers were just as capable of committing horrific crimes as their adult counterparts were. The public outrage over Craig's leniency as a violent offender due to his age was enough for people to demand actions to prevent him from being released after 5-6 short years.
In 1990, the citizens of Rhode Island would start to see changes being made in the Juvenile Justice System. Jeffrey Pine, the Assistant Attorney General, and Kevin Collins, Warwick Police Detective, would join forces to help pass some of the laws being made.
The pair were instrumental in passing the O'Neill Bill, which would harden sentencing guidelines for juvenile offenders. Unfortunately, their strenuous efforts would not be sufficient to keep Craig behind bars past his 21st birthday.
Pine didn't want to feel as if he failed the citizens of his great state of Rhode Island. He decided the best way to understand an offender like Craig would be to learn from the people who dedicated their lives to apprehend them. He traveled to Quantico to attend training courses led by the FBI.
While taking these courses, Pine learned fewer than 1% of killers who are frenzied during the commission of their crimes in the same way that Craig was. He also discovered there wasn't a practical way to treat this type of offender to ensure they do not re-offend. Pine took the information he gathered from the courses at Quantico back to the courts in Rhode Island to get their help.
He petitioned the courts to issue an order that would mandate Craig to undergo psychological testing any pursuant therapy associated with those test results. Even with the court order, Craig openly refused to participate. His blatant refusal allowed Pine to file contempt of court charges against Craig in 1994.
While Craig was in court facing the contempt charges, he publicly lashed out, threatening to kill a correctional officer. Considering he was a convicted murderer who openly threatened to murder again, he was found guilty of the contempt charges and sentenced to serve an additional 15 years with eight suspended.
With his behavior, Craig himself guaranteed he would remain incarcerated past his 21st birthday. However, is there anything else we can expect from his cases?
Has Craig Proven That He Has the Ability to Become a Productive Member of Society?
Craig's violent behavior has only escalated since he has been incarcerated. Since 1996, he has succeeded in adding more and more time to his original 5-6 years and the additional 15 years he received from the contempt of court charges.
- 1996 - Craig received one additional year for biting the finger of an officer.
- 1997 - Craig was charged with contempt for again not complying with the psychological mandates ordered by the court. He was again found guilty, receiving an additional 25 years, 15 suspended.
- 1999 & 2001 - Craig verbally and physically attacked another officer and received four additional years added to his sentence.
- 2017 - Craig attacked a fellow inmate with a shank (homemade prison weapon) and received 25 additional years.
Before the incident in 2017, his earliest parole hearing would have been February 2022. However, now that he has received the additional 25 years, many believe that Craig Price will never see freedom again in this lifetime.
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Staff Writer. “Rhode Island is Seeking to Keep a Killer of Four in Jail When He Reaches 21.” The New York Times [Providence], 25 June 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20121109221207/http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/14/us/rhode-island-is-seeking-to-keep-a-killer-of-four-in-jail-when-he-reaches-21.html. Accessed 25 June 2021.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Tammy Underwood