Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Name: Richard Louis Minns
Aliases: Richard O'Toole, "Dick"
Wanted For: Questioning in Attempted Murder
Missing Since: 1982

Barbra Piotrowski (now Janni Smith)


Details: Janni Smith of Irvine, California, is a registered nurse, a marathon racer, and a new bride. She is also paralyzed from the chest down, the result of a brutal attack. Years earlier, she had another name: Barbra Piotrowski, and another life. She was a beauty queen, a model, an aerobics instructor, a physical fitness enthusiast, and a straight-A pre-med student at UCLA. In 1977, she became involved in a passionate, obsessive love affair with a man twice her age. By 1979, the love affair began to self-destruct. She found herself embroiled in a bitter dispute with her former lover, Richard Minns. A multimillionaire from Texas, he was the one man she had loved unconditionally; the man whose child she had carried, the man who had promised her a bright and limitless future. Incredibly, she is certain that the attack which left her paralyzed was a murder attempt, and that he was responsible.
They met in January 1977 on the ski slopes of Aspen, Colorado. Barbra was just twenty-three and admittedly naïve. Richard was forty-seven, a sophisticated, smooth-talking comedian who could adjust to any situation. When he first approached her, he was very loud and belligerent. He was dressed very loudly in a bright, fluorescent yellow ski suit. He was bragging about what a great guy he was. When he saw how that affected her, he very quickly changed his persona. He became very quiet, charming, and shy. Eventually, she fell “head over heels” in love with him.
Richard was anything but shy. He was a dedicated, flamboyant bodybuilder, who had made millions from a chain of upscale health spas based in Texas. He was a man who always got what he wanted, and he wanted Barbra. Within three months, she had moved from Los Angeles to Houston to live with him. He hired her as a model for his health spas, lavished her with attention, and, in general, made her the center of his life. He even bragged that his contacts guaranteed her a spot in medical school.
Barbara recalled that it was incredibly romantic, but also too good to be true. She felt that it was something that would only happen in a movie. She felt incredibly lucky to be in such a good relationship. She said that, in the beginning, there was no indication whatsoever that anything was amiss.
Richard had neglected to tell Barbra one small detail: he was married. One night, his wife Mimi came to his apartment and demanded to see him. He explained to Barbra that he believed that if he had admitted that he was not divorced, she never would have consented to come to Houston. He told her that he loved her so much, he would do anything to stay with her; he would even compromise his own integrity and lie to her. He also told her that he was legally separated, but not divorced.
After a short breakup, Barbra decided to accept Richard’s explanation and his peace offering: a townhouse for the two of them to share. To prove his devotion, he even gave her papers, stating that the townhouse and its contents belonged to her. He did not want her to work for anyone other than him. He gave her the papers to assure her that she would not have to worry about finding a place to live or having a job, and that she could instead focus on their relationship and finishing her education.
Six months later, Barbra discovered that Richard was not legally separated. In May 1978, Mimi filed for divorce after she found out about the townhouse arrangement. While going through his divorce, he became a completely different person. She was shocked and appalled by his personality changes. She saw him become paranoid and violent. He became abusive towards her, once breaking her nose. His temper became worse and worse, especially after the divorce settlement was finalized. Mimi, who built the health spa business with him, was awarded nearly $6 million. At around the same time, Barbra discovered she was pregnant. He suddenly put his plans to marry her on hold. He even told her to either abort the child or leave his house.
Barbra feared for herself and her unborn child. In a panic, she decided to move out. She took almost everything in the townhouse. At the time she decided to leave, her emotional state was one of complete confusion. She did not know if what she was doing was the right thing. She also did not want to be doing it, because she still wanted to be with Richard. According to author Suzanne Finstad, Barbra had moved out several times before, but the relationship remained the same. She thought that if she took the items from the townhouse with her, it would get Richard’s attention in a dramatic way. Unfortunately, it did.
Barbra went into hiding. Richard was furious. He had lost his wife, half his fortune, and now Barbra. He called his sister and begged her to arrange a meeting between him and Barbra. Even though Barbra knew it was a mistake, she agreed to meet with him. She felt that she had to at least hear him out. When she arrived at his hotel room, he was not there. Hoping they could work something out, she waited in the hallway until well after midnight.
When Richard finally arrived, he was with another woman. Barbra tried to leave, but he forcibly grabbed onto her, not wanting her to go. He begged her to come into his room and talk. He said that he still loved her and they had a lot to talk about. He also said that he wanted to work things out. He brought her into his hotel room and they began to talk. He put his arms around her and told her how much he loved her. Suddenly, the door burst open; it was the police. He threw her from his arms towards them and said “Take her. You have a warrant for her arrest.” He told the officers that Barbra was his employee and that she had stolen his jewelry and shotgun, among other possessions.
Barbra had been set up. Richard had used his connections to obtain a warrant for her arrest. One of his associates had called the police. She was put into handcuffs and taken to jail. Despite what he had done, she was still in love with him. Four-and-a-half hours later, at daybreak, she was visited by a police detective. He told her that if she settled things with Richard, she would be released. The detective carried a statement which he said Richard wanted Barbra to sign. It stated that she never knew Richard, never had a relationship with him, and was not carrying his child. She refused to sign it.
Barbra was formally charged with felony grand theft; she was also charged with aggravated assault, because she had slapped at Richard with her purse in the hotel. Less than thirty-six hours later, she miscarried. She told her doctors about it, but not Richard. Her former attorney, Irv Weissman, believes that Richard got the warrant and the attention of the authorities because of his money and his standing within the community. He believed that after reviewing the facts of the case against Barbra; he felt that it was not a strong case and would not have been taken up by a district attorney’s office under normal circumstances.
Barbra was released and again went into hiding. Earlier, Richard had hired a private investigator named Dudley Bell, who was notorious for operating on the edge of the law. Bell had no trouble finding Barbra, and the police were close behind. On April 17, 1980, two Houston police detectives served her with a search warrant. She was about to find out that Richard had engineered the entire episode. He arrived to get “his” belongings back. He had the furniture put in storage. He continued to demand that she sign papers, promising never to sue him. He apparently wanted a finality to their relationship, and he wanted it in writing. He also apparently wanted the peace of mind that she would not try to start any litigation with respect to marriage or paternity.
Barbra’s fairytale romance with Richard had disintegrated into a nightmare. Her phones were tapped and she was constantly being followed. An ignition-cutoff device was found under the hood of her car. She and her family were also harassed. She was convinced that Richard was behind it all. She had been told by people who knew him well that he was embarrassed and angry that she had left him, and that he wanted to teach her and everyone else “a lesson”. Her attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told her to be careful, to not be alone, and to watch what she did and where she went. Unfortunately, he noted that no safeguard is enough; if someone is after you, they can find a way to get you.
Finally, on October 20, 1980, Barbara’s love affair with Richard reached its violent climax in the parking lot of a Houston donut shop. That night, she was on her way to run in a park when she decided to stop at the shop. As she left it and was getting back into her car, a man approached her. She knew what was going to happen; it was the moment that she had been afraid of. The man shot her four times and left her for dead. The bullets collapsed her lungs and severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.
Initially, it seemed that Barbra was the victim of a random street crime. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Miraculously, on the night of the attack, she never lost consciousness. When paramedics asked who was responsible, she said "Richard Minns". Within minutes of the shooting, two small-time hoods from California, twenty-six-year-old Nathaniel Ivery and twenty-one-year-old Patrick Tony Steen, were arrested for attempted murder after officers heard the shooting and chased them down. Under interrogation, they were close mouthed and gave no support to Barbra’s contention that Richard was involved.
Then, the following night, detectives met with one of Richard’s former bodyguards. The man refused to go public, but claimed that one month earlier, a contract had been put out on Barbra’s life. He claimed that Dudley Bell had put out the contract, and said that Bell worked for Richard. He also claimed that Bell had offered him money to kill Barbra.
The next day, police learned that a California trucker named Robert Jess Anderson owned the getaway car used by Ivery and Steen. The two were questioned again. Ivery admitted being the shooter and Steen admitted being the getaway driver. They identified Anderson as the man who had hired them to kill Barbra. He had offered them money to do it and also gave them the gun used to shoot her. The following day, Bell’s ex-wife gave police a note which seemed to connect Richard and Bell with Anderson. The note, printed in Bell’s own hand, was on Richard’s hotel stationary. A list of guns, which later turned out to belong to Anderson, was on the back.
On October 28, 1980, eight days after Barbra had been shot, police arrested Anderson on charges of conspiring to commit a murder. When questioned, he initially denied knowing Ivery and Steen. However, detectives laid out all the evidence against him and told him that they could cut a deal with him in which he would serve virtually no prison time if he gave them the information they wanted to know. The district attorney’s office agreed to a potential plea deal because they knew that others were involved in the case, and that they would need Anderson’s cooperation to help catch the others. He agreed to cooperate.
Anderson confirmed that it was Bell who had hired him. He also admitted that he, in turn, had approached Steen and Ivery to make the hit. However, he said that he called it off in the end. He suspected that Bell was working for Richard, but he had no proof. Despite Anderson’s cooperation, the district attorney claimed he simply did not have enough evidence to indict either Bell or Richard. In fact, throughout the entire investigation, Richard was never questioned once.
Amazingly, Richard continued to press the theft case against Barbra. She appeared in court on November 17, 1980, less than one month after the shooting. By that point, he insisted that her new attorney had staged the shooting as a publicity stunt. She was frustrated that he and others had not been charged or indicted for her shooting, and that she, instead, was the one sitting in a courtroom facing charges that he had fabricated. She would never get the chance to prove that she was innocent. The theft charges were dropped on a technicality involving the search warrant.
On March 30, 1981, Ivery and Steen were convicted of attempted murder. Each was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. Just over one year later, Barbra filed a civil suit for wrongful injury against Richard and his alleged confederates: Steen, Ivery, Anderson, and Bell. Before depositions could be taken, Richard left the country and disappeared. He has been in hiding ever since, evading a civil suit by pleading ill health, even though witnesses reported him waterskiing in the Bahamas.
According to the district attorney’s office, Richard remains a suspect in Barbra’s shooting. However, he is an unindicted suspect because they do not have sufficient evidence in order to try him for the crime. DeGuerin, however, claims that there have been cases in Harris County with less evidence that have still received indictments. He does not understand why Richard has never been charged.
In 1984, the FBI, in an unrelated investigation, tape-recorded Anderson bragging about the hit on Barbra. He was subsequently convicted of soliciting a murder and sentenced to thirty-eight years. Bell was also arrested for soliciting a murder. In 1987, he was convicted when one of his former employees, Adrian Franks, testified in court that Bell had tried to hire him to kill Barbra. Franks also testified that Bell had him follow Barbra, tap her phone, record her calls, and install the ignition-cutoff device on her car. Like Anderson, Bell was sentenced to thirty-eight years. He was released on parole in 1991, after serving only four-and-a-half years.
On seventeen consecutive occasions, Richard failed to appear in court to respond to Barbra’s civil suit. Ultimately, he was found in default; in February 1991, a jury ordered him to pay her more than $50 million. Finstad noted that it was interesting that they were able to get a civil judgement against Richard in the case, but not a criminal judgement. Detectives have noted that not everyone involved in Barbra’s shooting has been held accountable. They will keep the case open until that person(s) is indicted and convicted.
Barbra set about rebuilding her life. For her safety, she changed her name to Janni Smith and eventually moved to Ohio. Above all, she refused to accept the limitations of her paralysis. She refused to dwell on what happened to her. She knew that she had to move on with her life. She wanted to do something meaningful with her life. When she was shot, she swore to herself that if she lived, she would find a way to make her life rewarding, fulfilling, and productive. She has tried to do that as much as possible since her injury.
In 1983, Barbra, now Janni Smith, began rehabilitation with Dr. Jerrold Petrofsky, who was experimenting with a device which allows a paralyzed person to walk independently. As collaborators, they perfected the system. It operates by means of computer-induced electrical impulses that stimulate the muscles. Today, Janni is president and co-founder of Petrofsky Centers in Irvine, California, and Scranton, Pennsylvania. As a nurse, she works personally with patients at the centers, especially children. On November 30, 1991, Janni and Dr. Petrofsky were married. It was a remarkable turn of events for a woman who had been left paralyzed and near-death by an assassin’s bullet.
Richard has been seen in Texas, the Caribbean, Israel, and London, but is based in Switzerland. He has also changed his name; today, he goes by Richard O’Toole, and bills himself as an international tax attorney. He has reportedly transferred all his assets offshore to dummy corporations. Janni has never collected a penny.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the March 18, 1992 episode.
  • With a running time of twenty-six minutes, it was one of the longest segments featured on the show.
  • Author Suzanne Finstad spent three years researching and writing the book Sleeping With the Devil about Richard and Barbra.
  • The movie Sleeping with the Devil was based on it.

Richard after his 1994 arrest

Results: Captured. A two-year covert operation resulted in the arrest of Richard Minns, then sixty-four. On July 19, 1994, he boarded a plane in Mexico with a stopover in the United States. When the plane touched down at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, the State Department’s security service took him into custody on suspicion of obtaining several passports with fraudulent information and names. At the time, he was using the alias "Harlan Allen Richardson". When arrested, he was carrying seven passports from four different countries and under five different names.
In November 1994, Richard pleaded guilty to eight counts of passport fraud. He was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $100,000. Later in November, he was deported to Ireland (where he holds a passport) because he was in the United States illegally. He later returned to Switzerlnd. For reasons unknown, he was never charged in the attempted murder-for-hire case. In May 1995, Janni’s civil suit against him was reversed because he never appeared for the trial and because the appeals court said that it had not been proven that he intentionally caused her injuries. The suit was eventually dismissed and he paid no damages.
Janni later sued the city of Houston, claiming that the Houston Police Department knew about the hit a month before the shooting, but did nothing to protect her. She also claimed that members of the police department were hired by Richard to harass her. In January 1998, a federal jury awarded her $22 million in that case. However, in January 2001, a federal appeals court reversed the decision.
As of 2020, Richard is still alive. Having renounced his US citizenship, he now lives in Israel.
On February 8, 1996, Anderson died at the age of sixty-one. On February 4, 2007, Bell died at the age of seventy. In 2018, co-conspirator Adrian Franks died of cancer.