In 1983 eighty-eight year old Gertrude McCabe was found brutally murdered in her own home in San Jose, California in what was believed at the time to be a bungled burglary. Gertrude was bludgeoned, stabbed more than ninety times in the face and neck with a butcher knife times, and choked and bound with bicycle chain. So vicious was the attack that the octogenarian had to be identified by her wristwatch and jewellery.
Soon after Gertrude McCabe’s niece, Jane Alexander, was the victim of a crime herself. Jane was a sixty-one year old widow who had been living with boyfriend Tom O'Donnell for a number of years. Tom was an old friend of the family, well travelled and by all accounts a charming and witty man. He was also a con-artist however, using his ability to tell a good tale to borrow money, supposedly for business opportunities and investment. O'Donnell persuaded Jane take out a two-hundred-thousand dollar loan on her home. In 1984 he stole ten-thousand dollars from Jane and disappeared. Jane found to her horror that O’Donbell had been seriously mismanaging her money the whole time they had been together, leaving her all but bankrupt and forcing her to sell her home.
As investigations into the case continued Jane came to the terrifying conclusion that O’Donnell had brutally murdered her aunt himself, believing that she would inherit her fortune. Jane worked with the police to track her former partner down and he was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted for his fraud and theft, sentenced to four years in prison. There was no evidence to tie him to the murder of Gertrude McCabe however, and the police were not convinced by the theory. Undaunted, Jane Alexander continued to collect evidence and build the case against O’Donnell herself. In 1996 Tom O'Donnell stood trial for the murder of Gertrude McCabe thanks to two key pieces of evidence uncovered by Jane. The first was a witness: O’Donnell’s own nephew.
He testified that O’Donnell mentioned the death of McCabe in front of him a day before the police had discovered the body. The second was crime scene photo which linked O’Donnell to alterations of the crime scene. Tom O’Donnell was convicted of first-degree murder and given a life sentence. O’Donnell was subsequently denied parole 2007 and died in prison in January 2010. Jane Alexander went on to form the non-profit organization Citizens Against Homicide, which supported victims, helped to solve crimes, opposed paroling convicted murderers, and lobbied police departments to stay on top of stalled murder cases.
Using the extensive diaries Jane kept, and with her help, author James Dalessandro turned her story into the 1999 true-crime book Citizen Jane. Her story was subsequently turned into a TV film in 2009 with the actress Ally Sheedy playing Jane. Jane Alexander died in December 2008 at the age of eighty-six.