This never-ending story is one of murder, loss and remembrance

It occurs to me you might not remember the names of Norman and Russell Crew. It has, after all, been about 27 years since they were in the news.

They were local boys, sons of a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper. I met Norman in elementary school back when Las Vegas was a much smaller place.

The Crew brothers burned their names into local infamy in March 1981 when the bodies of Teddy Zappa, 29, and Michael Nasse, 21, were found by homicide detectives in a crudely dug grave near North Shore Drive not far from Lake Mead. The murder victims had been beaten, stabbed, and shot to death.

Both had their throats slit. An autopsy determined that Nasse was still alive when his neck was slashed with a knife.

Norman, 21, and Russell, 19, were arrested quickly and charged with the murders police said were linked to a 10-kilo marijuana deal that turned deadly.

The double-homicide was considered a crime of the decade in the Las Vegas press, but the collective memory of the crimes has faded along with the newsprint that carried the grisly details.

Veteran Chief Deputy District Attorney Bill Koot told the court he’d “never seen a case with worse mutilation.” But Norman Crew claimed he’d acted in self-defense.

L.J. O’Neale was a young prosecutor on duty when the Crews were arrested and observed them up close.

“From my memory, I would say this was a case where it appeared they went in with the intention from the get-go to kill these people,” O’Neale recalled.

Although the DA’s office veteran admits he’s no psychologist, he observed, “It appeared that they did this because they enjoyed doing it.”

The prosecution believed the Crew brothers had no intention of paying for the marijuana. They dug a grave for Nasse. They have admitted since their trial that they’d never seen Zappa before they killed him.

Norman was convicted, and received four life sentences with the possibility of parole after it was revealed that his knife had done the cutting. Russell avoided trial, pleaded guilty, and received the same sentence. In time, their sentences were cut to double-life with the possibility of parole.

The Crews went off to prison, but something happened not long after the penitentiary doors slammed. Their mother, Flo Jones, began a relentless drive to win their freedom.

She wrote hundreds of letters, conducted dozens of interviews. She attended endless parole hearings and tugged at the fabric of the case down to the last thread. Through the years she gained a reputation as a prison-reform advocate, but those who encountered her suspected she was essentially an advocate for her sons.

Today, Jones is a candidate for Assembly District 4. It’s a safe bet she won’t receive the support of the family of Teddy Zappa.

The Crew brothers are up for parole again. In an emotional hearing last week, their advocates argued Norman and Russell have been rehabilitated and deserve a chance at their freedom after more than 27 years.

Although Theodore Zappa Sr. died in 1985 and their mother, Madelyn Zappa, is well into her senior years, Teddy Zappa’s little sisters, Marisa Zappa and Janine Zappa Romano, refuse to stop fighting for the memory of their brother. They remind me their Teddy has been dead for 27 years.

For as long as Jones has fought to get her sons set free, the Zappas have been fighting to make sure the Crew brothers do the minimum they agreed to serve back in 1981: 40 years.

“The worst part of it all is the brutality of it,” Marisa said. “Russell ran with a gun after the victims. Norman slit their throats.”

She argues that big brother Teddy, a UNLV graduate, wasn’t a drug dealer, but an Aladdin poker dealer who had no criminal record.

“It’s a waking, walking nightmare,” Romano said. “What they did to my brother was unthinkable, was animalistic, was horrendous.”

Nearly three decades after their brother’s death and the convictions of his killers, the Zappa sisters spend dozens of hours and thousands of dollars to make sure their side of the story is told.

For the families of the killers and the deceased, this story never ends.

“It’s a tragic thing that we have to keep reliving this nightmare,” Janine said. “After all these years, it’s still fresh in our minds.”

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call 383-0295.

VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
News Video
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like