My name is Kathy Monkman Higham. On Christmas Eve 1988, my sister Cindy’s body was discovered in the desert east of Phoenix, Arizona by a boy out four-wheeling with his father. She had been missing since the night before and was found beaten, stabbed and nearly decapitated.
Two weeks later, the men who murdered Cindy were arrested. They were two German brothers who had come to the United States with a plan to marry American women and kill them for life insurance, getting rich that way. Michael Apelt had conned my sister in to what she believed (at least in part) was a green card marriage.
Cindy was Michael and Rudi Apelt’s first and last murder victim, although many other women came forth who they were conning, stealing from, and setting up to be next in line for their murderous scheme. Countless other locals contacted the Mesa police department after reading about this high profile crime and related their experiences with these con men from custom home builders to Rolex watch distributors to Jaguar car dealers. They were pre-spending the life insurance, although flat broke themselves, before they even killed Cindy. It is one of the most shocking and unbelievable crime stories you will ever read.
Michael Apelt, Rudi Apelt and their co-conspirator Anke Dorn*
(*who was granted immunity for testifying against the brothers)
Both brothers were sentenced to death in 1990, after being tried separately. If not for their third co-conspirator’s confession, they could have gotten away with this heinous crime.
The level of sophistication in the conspiracy and coverup by these killers is astounding, yet in 2009 one of them was released from Death Row on a “mental retardation” appeal. 16 years after Cindy’s death, and soon after the Supreme Court ordered we can’t execute the mentally retarded, this absurd but terrifying argument was made for both of these wily, convicted first degree murderers/conspirators. They had long rap sheets, including insurance fraud, prostitution, and a rape conviction back in Germany, yet a serious effort was launched to prove both of their “retardation”. This appeal lasted 7 years, cost taxpayers at least $10 million, and required my father and I to testify, reliving it all again. If completely successful, they could have both been up for parole in 5 years–from Death Row to parole. I have walked through this whole ordeal yet still find it hard to believe. That killer who was released from Death Row, Rudi Apelt, died in prison of natural causes in 2022.
Cindy was my sister, best friend, anchor and mother substitute. She was 30, and I was 29, at the time of her death. We were 14 months apart in age. We barely resembled each other, but were often mistaken for twins. Losing her was literally, the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. I never thought I would survive it. She nicknamed me “KT Cool Lady”, so my online moniker “katiecoolady” brings that back to life and is bittersweet for me; remembering and honoring Cindy.
Our younger brother, John, during the trials for Cindy’s murder, fell in to paranoid schizophrenia. He has been disabled ever since.
John lives near me now in Pennsylvania as we navigate our lives together. Our father passed in 2021 who my brother had been living with for ten years. Thankfully, he’s doing the best he’s done since his diagnosis, but that has not happened without considerable effort on both our parts. He is one of the most uplifting and angelic people you could ever meet, and I’m lucky we are so close now.
We lost our mother when the three of us were 3, 5 and 7. Our father remarried a woman several years later, who was physically and emotionally abusive to us. That part of our history helps explain certain elements of our evolution. We kept secrets and suffered in silence like most abuse survivors. But not without certain scars. Exploring it in the book, helps understand, perhaps, certain bizarre choices that Cindy made leading her down that tragic path.
I am a person who projects an image that creates a gasp in most people, when they discover all my life has forced me to endure. I am, by and large, a happy positive person. I find things to be grateful for every single day and live, what I would call, a quite enchanted life.
Somehow I emerged from all of this tragedy in many ways unscathed. I believe I have a story of inspiration to tell which can help others find their own way.
My book will be released, hopefully, in 2023 and I will be sharing snippets on this blog as I go along. I’ve waited over twenty years to be ready to tell this story. It’s time.
Please join me. It will be an interesting ride, I can promise that.