The schizophrenic genius whose worst fears came true

Walter Sartory made a fortune in the markets, but it never made him happy and was the motive for his murder, writes Guy Adams

As with many paranoid schizophrenics, Walter Sartory's life was governed by fear. Convinced that the CIA was spying on him, the brilliant mathematician and scientist moved to a secluded home in Kentucky, where he filled the garage with powerful computers and withdrew from the world, devoting his time to stock market speculation.

Helped by a natural genius for statistics, Sartory swiftly managed to amass a $14m (£8.75m) personal fortune. But the money didn't make him happy. Instead, voices in his head began to overshadow his life, telling him that the outside world was full of mysterious and hostile people who were secretly plotting to murder him.

In the event, his worst fears were justified. At some point last February, the researcher, who had spent 30 years working at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, one of the secretly built US government laboratories where the atomic bomb was developed, was abducted and gruesomely murdered. Police say hundreds of thousands of dollars were then emptied from his bank accounts. His body was chopped into pieces, driven across state lines, and burned. The ashes were spread in woodland. A charred pair of steel-rimmed spectacles was all that was recovered.

The forthcoming trial of Sartory's accused killers is already the subject of morbid public interest. But comparisons to the troubled genius at the centre of the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind have made Sartory's murder an object of national fascination.

Aged 73, the scientist fitted the tragic victim role perfectly, down to his aptitude for chess, and his eccentric wardrobe and mannerisms. Meanwhile the mother-and-son pair accused of his murder – Willa Blanc and Louis Wilkinson – make textbook pantomime baddies. Blanc is the alleged author of the macabre murder plot and is being held in the local jail on $10m bail. She faces the death penalty if found guilty.

On the basis of a partial confession by her son, detectives believe Sartory was held captive in a basement for a week, strapped to a chair with duct tape, drugged, and ordered to reveal passwords and sign documents that gave them access to his fortune. The accused have both pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder and kidnapping. On 20 January, Wilkinson will face a hearing to decide if he is fit to stand trial.

The story has appalled the American public. "We all struggle to have faith in mankind," Linda Tally Smith, the prosecuting attorney told the Los Angeles Times this week. "To think that a man who was already paranoid, who lived his whole life in fear of others, could fall prey to something so horrific is heartbreaking." An affidavit filed by police in the case detailed Mr Sartory's sad life story, painting a portrait of a widely respected scientist whose classified work involved designing nuclear reactors and creating centrifuges which are commonly used in medical research.

A gifted inventor, he also held at least three patents. He retired in 1992 and devoted his life to searching for extra-terrestrial life, and investing on Wall Street, creating complex algorithms, mostly in his head, that helped to transform his modest retirement savings into an impressive investment portfolio.that grew to be valued at $14 million [£8.75m]. Last January, according to the Los Angeles Times, Sartory had a shy date with a woman he met through an internet site for people with personality disorders. They held hands.

His private life, however, was overshadowed by mental illness. He believed the CIA had him under surveillance, using specially trained ants. A tiny circle of loyal friends who tolerated his occasional eccentricities would phone him almost every day.

Apparently it was these friends who first revealed that the scientist was missing. Last February, concerned that he had stopped returning calls, Ann Cartee is said to have contacted police, forwarding them a recent email he had allegedly sent her detailing his worries about a local woman who had begun "barging into" his home. By the time detectives had begun to piece together what had happened, it was too late.

That woman, it is claimed, was Willa Blanc. According to the police affidavit, she befriended the frail man, tempted him into her home, forced him into the cellar, and tied him up. It is the prosecution's case that Sartory, bound, gagged, and unable to gain access to the medication he took each day to prevent panic attacks, Sartory survived a few days. But eventually, he became disturbed, and suffocated. The motive for the crime, it seems, was straightforward greed.

Blanc apparently had a gambling habit and a taste for expensive jewellery. After allegedly gaining power of attorney over the elderly mathematician, she and her son, it is alleged, embezzled $200,000 (£125,000), spending vast portions of it in casino boats on the Mississippi.

Though both suspects have pleaded not guilty to murder, kidnapping, and embezzlement, detectives in the case claim that a paper trail connecting Sartory's bank account, Blanc and beneficiaries including her attorney and her mortgage company leaves serious questions for them to answer.,

According to the reports of officers who searched the buildings where he spent his last days, his living room had been converted into a monitoring station full of computers that analysed radio signals from outer space in search of alien life. The rest of the house was littered with "to do lists" detailing his daily tasks, from brushing teeth to taking medication.

Blanc's living room concealed darker secrets. The police affidavit said that in a collection of books about the law, the title of the most well-thumbed title "was along the lines of How to Choose Your Prey".

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MFL TEACHER, SUPPLY VACANCY, LOVELY SITTINGBOURNE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job We are currently recruit...

NQT Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: Randstad Education can provide you wit...

MATHS TEACHER, PERMANENT VACANCY, TONBRIDGE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is currently ...

HR Advisor - HR Officer - Employment Law - East London - £25000

£25000 per annum + 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: *** HR Advisor - HR Office...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week