Message Left in Lipstick: Spence Motel Murder

Spence Motel murderIn my Death Investigation class at Writers’ Police Academy we were shown actual crime scene photos of several homicides, including a serial killer case that remains unsolved. I can’t discuss that one, sorry. Now I’ve seen crime scene photos numerous times. Most crime writers have stumbled upon them in their research. Although, nothing quite compares to watching bodies decompose at the Body Farm, but that’s neither here nor there. Usually I have no problem viewing crime scene photos from a clinical point of view. It goes with the job, especially for those of us who write hardboiled, noir, or police procedural novels.


The images that have never left me…the case that still haunts me…remains one of the most brutal slayings in Madison, Wisconsin history. It’s not what the suspect did to the victim that bothers me most, although it was incredibly vicious. It’s the why that I can’t let go of. The why, that propelled the killer to go this far, to actually enjoy doing this to another human being. What happened in his life to illicit this level of murderous rage? And what was he thinking about during the act itself?

The facts of the case are gruesome, so if you’re at all squeamish, you may want to stop reading. That said, I will try to lessen the overall horrific nature of this crime.

It all happened at the Spence Motel on April 11, 1997. The homicide became known as the Spence Motel Murder, but there’s very little written about the case. Which really surprised me, actually. A crime this heinous usually attracts loads of media attention. What little there is on the case makes it seem like the facts were kept on the down-low, and after hearing the details and viewing the crime scene photos, I can understand why.

Facts of the Case

Twenty-two-year-old Brendon Grady arrived at the Spence Motel with a sledgehammer, a hunting knife, and murder on his mind.

He rented a room. Then he called an escort service. AAA Escort sent twenty-year-old Emma Bacon on the final call of her short life. As soon as she knocked at the door, Grady was waiting to pounce. When she entered the room he swung the sledgehammer at her head. But missed.

She screamed.

He swung again, striking her in the forehead. Over and over he beat her with the sledgehammer until he’d fractured her skull and eviscerated her face. Excited and aroused, he peeled off her clothes and was about to rape her when he got an even a sicker idea. And this is partly why I can’t get this case out of my mind. Not only were the crime scene images shocking when you consider what the victim experienced and how much the suspect enjoyed committing the crime, but Grady’s explanation of why he did the things he did, don’t align with his actions. In my view, there’s more to this story. Perhaps something in Grady’s past caused this pent-up rage. I may never know the why behind the murder. But without the why, I can’t let it go.

Back to the case…Spence Motel murder

Grady beat Emma until she was unrecognizable. Then, with his hunting knife, he sliced off her right breast. Only the right, not the left. Next, he dissected her body, carving her open from the collarbone to pubic bone and down both thighs to the knee. The incised wounds were bone-deep. Next, he had intercourse with the mutilated corpse.

As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, he took her lipstick from her purse and wrote down the outside of the left leg, “An eye for an eye.” The outside of the right leg, “A life for a life.” Or vice-versa; it’s hard to know if the crime scene photos were mirrored images. To depersonalize her even more, he stabbed her between the legs and left the blade inside her, with the handle protruding.

Once he’d had his fun he called 911 and remained on the line till the police arrived. At first he claimed to be strolling by room 19 and just happened to notice the body. But while Detective (Ret.) Leon “Lee” Dandurand interviewed Grady, he noted his demeanor. Both hands stuffed in his front pockets, Grady breathed heavily—nearly panting—his gaze transfixed on the bloody, marred remains of Emma Bacon. When questioned further Grady confessed, claiming he wanted to know how it felt to kill. He had no specific person in mind. Any woman would do.

Detective Dandurand, who took Grady’s confession, said this about this case, “No matter what people do, you try to find a good quality to them. Some people just make mistakes, and it wouldn’t happen again in the future. But this guy was a real intelligent guy and real arrogant. He was proud of what he did.”

After the interview, Detective Dandurand asked Grady if he were to be set free one day, would he do it again. Grady smirked, and said, “What do you think?”

Cuffed and Stuffed

Spence Motel murderBrendon Grady was charged with first-degree intentional homicide while armed with a dangerous weapon and first-degree sexual assault. At first he pleaded not guilty and not guilty due to mental disease or defect to each charge. At a Dane County Circuit Court hearing, he changed his plea to no contest and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Which basically means, even if the state’s evidence was sufficient to prove him guilty he should not be held responsible because of mental disease or defect.

Records show that the former high school valedictorian had been treated for mental issues in the past. In fact, hours before the murder he called the Veterans Hospital for help. A psychologist who found Grady competent to stand trial diagnosed him as having paraphilia. Paraphilia — aka sexual perversion and sexual deviation — causes intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, fetishes, situations, fantasies, behaviors, or individuals. There’s some debate over which, if any, types of paraphilia should be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The number and taxonomy is under debate, too. Some sources list as many as 549 sub-categories of paraphilia, including sexual arousal from mutilation and murder. The DMV-5 list eight. So can we believe the psychologist’s diagnosis?

According to the FBI, there is evidence that psychopaths are able to influence the system to receive reduced sentences due to their extremely meticulous, compulsive, and relentless nature, which helps them to coerce criminal justice practitioners. Psychopaths can also imitate emotions, such as remorse or guilt. So whose to say Grady wasn’t intentionally acting the part? And why at trial did he withdraw his insanity plea? He had a psychologist’s diagnosis of paraphilia. Why not roll the dice? These questions and more plague me.

After his insanity plea was withdrawn and the trial concluded, Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler sentenced Grady to life in prison with no chance for parole, calling his crimes “beyond comprehension.” Which they were.

My thoughts on the case…

Even if someone suffers with paraphilia, why depersonalize the victim to such an extreme level? And why mark the body with lipstick? “A life for a life; an eye for an eye” is awfully specific. To me it sounds more like revenge, even hatred of all sex workers, or women in general. Rage showed in the way he continuously bashed in her skull, never mind the dissection, raping a mutilated corpse, and leaving the knife where he did.

The diagnosis doesn’t fully explain the MO, even if it is accurate. There must be more to the story. If I were to wager a guess, I’d say Grady’s mother, or whoever raised him, either was a prostitute or used prostitutes on a regular basis, and in front of a young, impressionable Grady. Not that I’m condoning what he did. He’s clearly a psychopath. But it feels like revenge to me. Like poor Emma Bacon was a convenient substitute for the person who fueled his rage.

What do you think? Do you believe the diagnosis of paraphilia? What’s your take on the message left in lipstick?


About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. One of my friends went to high school with Brandon Grady. He (Brandon) would sometimes show up where groups of teenagers were hanging out and he was freaking CREEPY. He would just stand there off to the side or lean against a wall or whatever and stare at people and not talk to anyone, and then just slip away. He glared at me a few times and it always gave me a really bad feeling. My friend and I weren’t totally surprised that he ended up doing what he did. Shocked, yes… but not surprised – and we also weren’t surprised at his lack of remorse or how proud he was acting when caught. I think he enjoyed scaring people and I always sort of thought he was just trying to do the most heinous and awful thing he could think of because he wanted to be thought of as sinister of
    and/or infamous. I’m sure there’s more to it than that as well but that’s my general impression based upon my encounters with him.

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing your story, Melissa. Grady’s eyes had that I-wonder-how-you’d-look-dead appearance, like Charlie Manson’s chilling stare, so I can imagine how you felt. The large majority of psychopaths hide their evil side. When they’re caught the media always seems to find friends/acquaintances who say, “He was the nicest guy.” Your experience adds another piece of the puzzle. On that fateful day, something triggered Grady to take action, but the glorification of death — the fantasy, if you will — formed years earlier. Depending on where he falls in the nature vs. nurture debate, my use of the word “psychopath” may not be technically correct. He could just as easily be classified as a sociopath. Either way, let’s hope he never gets released!

  2. I actually knew emma very well. This is a horrible crime. I think about her often. And how tragic this was. Nobody deserves this. I hope this psychopath gets what’s coming to him in prison. One day he will wake up and realize what he has done. Unfortunately it is to late. I hope he rots in hell.

    • I’m with you, Andy. He deserves to rot. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope my post didn’t cause you any undue stress. Her case has never left me.

  3. That level of mutilation is reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. Health minds don’t like to probe the whys, but law enforcement and psychiatrists have to do it to do their jobs.
    Ann Marie Ackermann recently posted…Alexandre Lacassagne: Founder of Forensic Ballistics?My Profile

  4. What a sicko! I like your characters better lol. ?

  5. Sue,
    I am too fascinated by what human beings are capable of doing to others. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, something more horrible and sadistic occurs. The why fascinates me but I have no qualms in knowing the best punishment for these predators. Life in prison is too good for him and others like him. “Life for a life,” sounds better.

    • Totally agree, Sheila. “A life for a life” sounds perfect for this sicko. Especially since “life in prison” doesn’t mean anything anymore. So many lifers are being set free due to overcrowding. The victims who escaped, if any, must be so frightened. Why the parole board doesn’t give them a second thought boggles the mind.

  6. I was at the same WPA workshop (although maybe not during the same time slot). Sorry we didn’t connect, because I read your blog all the time! Regarding the heinous murder, I’m not sure, as one of the other commenters said, that you can ever understand what makes that guy tick without being in his head – and OMG, wouldn’t that be a scary proposition! As I recall, the only saving grace about that case was that she was not living when he sliced her up.

    • Aw, rats, A.B. I would’ve loved to meet you in person. I sat in the front row for this class. There weren’t many of us. I took Death Investigations Friday morning, right before lunch (after blood spatter analysis — probably should’ve given lunch more thought. lol) Were you in that time slot?

      Yes, I’m sure she was either dead or unconscious when he sliced her up, thank God.

  7. I can’t even begin to comprehend a mind capable of such heinous butchery. It’s hard for me to believe any rationally sane human being could be so debased, which would mean there has to be mental illness involved….surely fueled by deep-seeded hatred. That poor woman!
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    • I know, Mae, it’s a travesty. So young and such a brutal way to die. You’re right. No “rational” human being could commit such horrific acts, and I guess that’s partly the “why.” Because he isn’t rational. He’s pure evil. You can see why this case haunts me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those crime scene photos.

      • Such a shocking tale… is hard to believe such monsters exist.
        Feeling for you Sue…..I don’t think I would be brave enough to look at the crime scene photos.
        But…even though you shock and share, we are addicted to your writing!
        More please…..

  8. Yikes! Reading your post definitely sent chills through my body. When I read or hear the details about these types of cases, I always wonder WHY the killer went to such extreme. In this case, there does seem to be some deep-rooted problems. But regardless of what kind of problems he may have (mental or otherwise), if he committed the crime, he should be punished to the fullest extent.

    • Totally agree, Jet. The “why” gets me every time too. But I guess, like Joe Broadmeadow mentioned below, we’re trying to apply logic to the illogical. Still, I wish I could let go of this case.

  9. I believe the perp should have been given the treatment he wrote on the victim’s body with lipstick: “A life for a life.” “An eye for an eye.” It doesn’t matter to me whether he suffers from paraphillia or not; the man is a vicious murderer. Instead of life in prison without parole (and we’ll see about that!), he should be slammed in the head with a hammer, and then cut from breastbone to pubic bone, down both legs to the knees, and then stabbed in the genitals. (We’ll show some mercy and not rape him.)

    Why waste taxpayers’ money to keep this cruel bastard in prison for life. A hammer and good knife are relatively inexpensive. Here’s a quote you can write on his mutilated body: “Do unto you as you did unto others.”

    E. Michael Helms recently posted…DOWN THE YELLOW BRICK ROADMy Profile

    • I agree, Michael. If murderers as sick as this guy thought they might get the same in return, we might prevent some twisted murder sprees. “Might” being the operative word. At the very least, it would help the family feel like they got justice. Life in prison is WAY to good for this sicko.

      Love the quote! We could also use “Karma’s a bitch.” 🙂

  10. Here’s a way to envision it. You observe two people standing at a stove. Te burner is red hot.
    One accidently touches the burner and pulls his hand away immediately (Normal behavior)
    The other accidently touches the burner and leaves it there (abnormal behavior)
    Both appear to be normal humans but one, the one engaged in abnormal behavior, suffers from a condition where he feels no pain.
    To the casual observer the behavior is strange. To the one suffering from the condition he is unaware of it.

    Not the best illustration but it makes my point

  11. The problem with these cases is trying to understand in a rational way irrational behavior. From the perspective of a “normal” person, the gruesome act is incomprehensible.

    From the perspective of one suffering from psychopathy or paraphilia the act is normal and rational.

    It is virtually impossible to understand such behavior

    • Actually, that makes a lot of sense, Joe. I just wish I could let it go, but that image haunts me. Maybe I should write about it in depth, even if no one ever reads it.

  12. There is no knowing, unless they investigate deeper. Even if he speaks up, you can’t necessarily believe him.

    • Grady did speak up, but he’s holding back. The excuse that he wanted to know how it felt to kill is lame at best. I did mention my revenge theory to the instructor, and he said I could be right. But that’s still not allowing me to let go of this case.

  13. I think the WHY is my fascination with murder. None can be justified, but surely there is a reason, even if it is only for fun…a sick fun to be sure!
    sherry fundin recently posted…FREE Romantic Suspense at its Finest – Toni Anderson’s Cold Justice Series @toniannandersonMy Profile

    • I’m the same way, Sherry. I’ve always been fascinated by the why. There’s always a reason, however sick it might be. I just wish I knew the why with this case.

      Enjoy your weekend!

  14. Can you imagine if he’d not been caught & put away…. How would he escalate on THAT as he went forward and got worse?

    Definitely seems like mommy issues of some kind.

    • OMG, Penny! No, I can’t even imagine what he would’ve done to victim number two, or three, or four. But I wonder if the lipstick messages would have changed. Hmmm…

      I agree. Mommy issues for sure.

  15. What a horrible fact that poor woman suffered, Sue! I’m sick at heart just thinking about it, and I didn’t even see the ‘photos. We may never know, of course, what the real motivation was, or what happened to Grady early in his life. Whatever the explanation is, it shows that people are capable of truly horrible things. I can see why this haunted you, especially without a clear understanding of why.

    • We can only hope Emma was quickly knocked unconscious from the fractured skull so she didn’t experience what came next. The crime scene photos also showed lividity, so he took his time. That fact alone is chilling.

  16. Sue – I tend to agree with you. There’s more here than mental illness. It sounds like revenge. At any rate, he was/is a sick individual.

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