It was around 8:30AM on the 26th of August, 1998, when a jogger came across a gruesome scene near a ditch in the 2100 block of North Main, Galena Park, Texas. It was the body of man. He had evidently been the victim of a brutal and sustained attack; he had contusions and abrasions from head to toe.1
The man was identified as 59-year-old Louis “Buddy” Musso. Shortly after the body was found, 44-year-old Susan Basso went to the police department in Jacinto City to report Buddy, who she lived with, missing.
Investigators immediately became suspicious of Susan when she and her 23-year-old son, James O’Malley, came in to identify Buddy’s body. Susan engaged in fake hysterics while James was completely expressionless.
The mother and son would be brought in for questioning and James would make a disturbing confession, telling investigators that Buddy had been killed by his mother, himself and a group of other people had beaten Buddy to death and then dumped his body.
In addition to Susan and James, four other people would be arrested: 54-year-old Bernice Ahrens, her 25-year-old son, Craig Aherns, her 22-year-old daughter, Hope Ahrens, and Hope’s 26-year-old fiancé, Terence Singleton, were all arrested and charged with the capital murder of Buddy.
All six were charged with the capital murder of Buddy. James would divulge to investigators that his mother, Susan, had been trying to become Buddy’s legal guardian. While Buddy was 59-years-old, he was mentally disabled and had the mind of a child.
Investigators would now need to determine how exactly Susan and Buddy knew one another.
Buddy had originally lived in an assisted living home in New Jersey where he was a familiar face. He was known for the country music which emanated from his apartment, sometimes locals could hear him singing along. He became increasingly involved in religious pursuits and was baptized and enrolled in religious classes.2
Many years beforehand, Buddy had been married and he had a son with his wife. However, his wife had tragically died of cancer and Buddy longed for love. There was nothing he enjoyed more in his life than being a husband.
Investigators would learn that around a year before Buddy died, he and Susan met at a church bizarre near his assisted living home in New Jersey. They started what Buddy believed was a romantic relationship and Susan encouraged him to move to Texas.
Buddy was brimming with excitement about his new life when he travelled to Texas to be with Susan. Ever the hopeless but lonely romantic, Buddy had a habit of falling too quickly for women he didn’t know that well. He had intended on giving Susan an engagement ring that he had purchased with money he earned bagging groceries at a ShopRite. As his son, Antonio Musso, would state: “I said to him, ‘Listen dad, you have to be careful. I don’t like the way this sounds. You barely know this woman.’”
Antonio’s fears had been legitimate, and Buddy’s hopes and dreams were polarizing to the truth that would meet him in Texas. When he arrived in June, he was met with a barrage of abuse. He essentially became a slave for Susan and co. He was starved, handcuffed, and beaten. Buddy was attacked whenever he broke something, whenever he moved too slowly for them, when he couldn’t control his bladder or when he didn’t do chores. If the group ever left the home, Buddy would be handcuffed.
Susan had taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy on Buddy and had applied to be the payee of his social security checks.
When investigators searched the home, there was evidence that Buddy had been the victim of prolonged abuse and torture. There was a blood-stained bed sheet and blood spatter on the baseboards from the previous assaults that had been inflicted on him. According to one neighbour of the group, they had seen Buddy around a week before his body was found and he had a black eye and blood on his shirt. The neighbour asked him if he needed help and he replied: “Don’t call nobody because they’ll beat me up again.”3
James would claim that the beating had taken place as a form of discipline when Buddy broke a Micky Mouse ornament and the beating had taken place over the course of three or four days. The sadistic group kicked him, beat him with a belt, fists and even with a baseball bat and a vacuum cleaner attachment. After the final beating, the group stripped him and put his body in a bathtub filled with bleach and kitchen cleanser before changing him into clean clothing and dumping him in Galena Park.
All six suspects would be ordered to stand trial on the murder charges and prosecutors would announce that Susan was the only one going to be facing the death penalty because she was the driving force behind the murder. Prosecutors believed that Susan had planned on killing Buddy to collect his insurance.4
The trials would reveal the cruel fate that Buddy had met in Texas. He had several broken ribs, a fractured skull, almost 30 lash marks on his body, cigarette burns, and he was literally bruised from head to toe. Between the beatings, he was scrubbed with a wire brush in a bathtub filled with cleaning products.5
In the days leading up to his murder, he was tortured and forced to kneel naked on the floor. He was beaten with some kind of heavy object and ultimately died from massive skull fracture.6
It would also be disclosed during trial that Buddy had written a note, begging for help. It read: “You must get someone down here and get me out of here. I want to come back to New Jersey soon.”7
All six perpetrators would be found guilty of the murder of Buddy. James O’Malley was sentenced to life in prison. Bernice Ahrens was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Craig Ahrens was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Hope Ahrens was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Terence Singleton was sentenced to life in prison.
Susan Basso was sentenced to death. She was executed on the 5th of February, 2014. She refused to make a final statement.
- Associated Press, 28 August, 1998 – “Six Accused of Killing Man Over Broken Mickey Mouse Ornament”
- The Record, 30 August, 1998 – “A Lonely Man’s Betrayal and Death”
- Houston Chronicle, 28 August, 1998 – “6 Charged in Death of Mentally Impaired Man”
- Houston Chronicle, 17 April, 1999 – “Man Reacted Suspiciously to Body, Officer Testifies”
- Houston Chronicle, 26 August, 1999 – “Witness Says Basso Used Bats in Beating”
- Houston Chronicle, 16 April, 1999 – “Prosecutor Tells of Torture, False Lure of Love”
- Houston Chronicle, 25 August, 1999 – “Victim’s Handwriting Plea for Help Read to Jury in Basso Murder Trial”