A dark piece of Talladega’s history is about to be the subject of a new documentary airing on Investigation Discovery some time next year.
“Most Infamous,” a production of Sky Vision, will be dedicating an episode to Daniel Lee Siebert, the serial killer responsible for five or six deaths in Alabama in 1986. It was the Talladega Police detectives working that case that eventually caught him and sent him to death row.
Producer/director Ryan Gaffney and associate producer Mik Bakalarz spent much of the past week conducting interviews and filming in Talladega. This will be combined with dramatic reenactments by actors into a finished film that is expected to air in the summer or fall of 2015.
The Siebert episode will be part of the show's second series, or season.
“Each series is eight episodes, and we like to try and get a wide range in each series,” Gaffney said. “We look for variety in terms of geography, M.O., and unique ways the investigation was carried out. We try to paint a picture.”
Bakalarz added “We are also trying to debunk the myth of the serial killer as mastermind. People want to see them as evil geniuses, but we try to show them as they actually are, people who make mistakes and get caught.”
“Hollywood tends to glamorize serial killers, treat them like Hannibal Lector, like some kind of Machiavellian mastermind, with everything premeditated," he said. "We hope to show that sometimes these people are not all that bright, and that these killings are definitely not glamorous.”
Bakalarz said the Siebert case was first put on a short list of 30 to 35 cases presented to the channel. The channel eventually winnowed the list down to eight for the upcoming season.
Once the show was greenlighted, Gaffney and Bakalarz began to contact local people who could help shape the narrative.
The police and local media were the first stops. The two spent most of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday conducting interviews, including former District Attorney Robert Rumsey, who prosecuted Siebert once he was caught, and retired police detectives Eugene Jacks and Dennis Surrett, among many others.
Daniel Lee Siebert was born in Illinois, where, according to his own testimony, he was the victim constant abuse by his father. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1970s under an assumed name, only to be dishonorably discharged.
In the late 1970s, he was convicted of manslaughter in Nevada and served some time in prison. There was a warrant for his arrest on an assault warrant in California when he began hitchhiking across the country.
Siebert was picked up by a man headed to Talladega to help launch a drama program at the Alabama Institutes for Deaf and Blind. Siebert showed him some drawings along the way, and the driver was impressed enough to suggest Siebert do some volunteer work as a set designer and decorator.
By early 1986, Siebert was living in the Porter Apartments on Alabama 21 North under the name Daniel Spence and was working as a volunteer artist at AIDB. He was believed to have been involved in a relationship with a waitress named Linda Odum, who lived in the same apartment complex as he did, and Sherri Weathers, a hearing-impaired client of E.H. Gentry and the mother of two young boys.
Weathers failed to show up for classes for almost two weeks, prompting concern from her teachers.
When police and a building manager went to check her residence at Sunrise Apartments, they found her dead body stripped and laying on the bed. The bodies of her sons, Chad, 5 and Joseph, 4, were piled on top of hers, and all three were covered over with a blanket.
Another hearing-impaired woman, Linda Jarman, lived down the hall and had also not been seen recently. She was also found stripped and killed, although her body was not covered. The television was missing from her room, and her car was gone from the parking lot.
Odum also went missing about this time, although her body was not found until about a month later, in a cemetery in Mardisville.
Jarman’s car was found abandoned near a makeshift campsite in Kentucky.
"Spence’s” fingerprints were recovered from the vehicle and were matched to those of Danny Siebert. Sherri Weathers’ sketch pad and purse, a fake birth certificate for Daniel Spence and an address book, among other pieces of evidence, were recovered from the car.
It would be the address book that proved to be Siebert’s undoing.
Investigators began calling everyone in it, asking to be informed if Siebert contacted them. After about six months on the run, investigators got a call from a woman in Las Vegas who Siebert had contacted the night before.
Siebert had made the call from a pay phone. The woman in Las Vegas did not know for certain where the phone was, but three important pieces of information emerged. Siebert said he was calling from Tennessee, he was in the central time zone and not the eastern time zone, and it was raining.
Investigators determined that the night he made the call, it was not raining in Memphis, but was in Nashville.
Based in this information, and working with state authorities in Tennessee, the pay phone Siebert used was located just outside of Nashville. He had been working on signs for a nearby café, and his mugshot was recognized. He was taken into custody the next morning.
During his time on the run, there had been unconfirmed sightings in half a dozen states and in Canada. He was questioned in connection with a murder in Virginia (possibly using the name and Social Security number of one of Weathers’ sons) and was later convicted of a murder in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
At the time of his arrest, he told police that he had killed a dozen people, maybe more.
He was convicted in Alabama for the murders of Jarman and the Weathers, in Talladega County and Lee County, and convicted both times. He was sentenced to death in 1987.
The appeals process wore on for the next 20 years. He was eventually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, shortly before his first scheduled execution date.
That execution was stayed when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a Kentucky case regarding the lethal injection cocktail used by nearly all states that used capital punishment.
The court eventually ruled that this cocktail did not constitute a cruel and unusual punishment, and another execution date was set. Siebert died of pancreatic cancer before he could be executed, however.
At the time of his death, Siebert’s attorneys were appealing based on the argument that the lethal injection cocktail would interfere with his cancer medication and cause him undue pain and suffering