Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Should Missouri Halt this Execution?


Susan Brouk, Adrian Brouk, and Kyle Brouk
Mark A. Christeson is scheduled to die in Missouri’s execution chamber at 12:01 A.M., on Wednesday, October 29.  His attorneys, however, missed a deadline for his last appeal, and the state is being pressured to stay Christeson’s execution until the appeal can be heard.  Whatever happens, below is a summary of one of the most brutal crimes you’ll ever read about.

State of Missouri vs. Mark A. Christeson

Missouri Supreme Court Case Number: SC82082 (June, 2001)

Missouri Supreme Court Case Number: SC85329 (April, 2004)

Case Facts:

“On Saturday, January 31, 1998, Christeson, 18, and his cousin Jesse Carter, 17, who were living in the home of a relative, David Bolin, concocted a plan to run away.

“The Bolin home was located in a rural area near Vichy, Missouri. Susan Brouk, along with her children, twelve year old Adrian and nine year old Kyle, lived about a half mile away.

“On Sunday morning, February 1, 1998, after Mr. Bolin left for work, Christeson and Carter each took shotguns and went to Ms. Brouk’s home.

“After hiding outside for a few minutes, they entered the home and found Adrian and Kyle sitting on the living room floor. Ms. Brouk came in from the kitchen and encountered Carter binding her children’s hands with shoelaces that he had brought for that purpose.

“Christeson forced Ms. Brouk into her daughter Adrian’s bedroom at gunpoint, where he then raped her on Adrian’s bed. When Christeson brought her back out to the living room, Carter bound her hands behind her back with a piece of yellow rope. Ms. Brouk said, ‘You had your fun, now get out.’

“At some point during the confrontation, Ms. Brouk and Kyle were both struck in the head with a blunt object.

“About that time, Adrian recognized Carter and said ‘J. R.,’ Carter’s nickname, and ‘Jesse Carter,’ which prompted Christeson to tell Carter ‘we got to get rid of ‘em.’

“They forced Ms. Brouk and her children into the back seat of Ms. Brouk’s Bronco and also loaded her television, VCR, car stereo, video game player, checkbook, and a few other small items. Christeson drove down the highway, down a gravel road, and then across a neighbor’s field to a pond at the edge of a wooded area.

“They forced Ms. Brouk and her children to the bank of the pond. Christeson kicked Ms. Brouk just below her ribs with enough force that she was knocked to the ground.

“Christeson then placed his foot on her mid-section, and reached down and cut her throat with a bone knife. She bled profusely, but she did not die immediately, and as she lay on the bank of the pond, she told Adrian and Kyle that she loved them.

“Then Christeson cut Kyle’s throat twice and held him under the pond water until he drowned. Carter pushed Kyle’s body farther out into the pond so the body would sink.

“At Christeson’s direction, Carter retrieved cinder blocks from a nearby barn, and while there, heard Christeson fire a shot from one of the shotguns. When Carter returned to the pond, Adrian was struggling to free herself from Christeson.

“Carter held Adrian’s feet while Christeson pressed down on her throat until she suffocated, and Carter then pushed Adrian’s body into the pond. While Ms. Brouk was still alive, but barely breathing, Christeson grabbed her arms and Carter grabbed her legs, and they threw her into the pond on top of her children’s bodies. As she drowned, Carter went into the woods to get a long stick, which he used to push the Brouks’ bodies further out into the pond.

“Christeson and Carter returned to Mr. Bolin’s property in the Bronco and parked it near a garbage pile. They took one of the shotguns back into Mr. Bolin’s house, loaded their personal belongings into an Oldsmobile, and then drove the Oldsmobile back to the garbage pile and transferred their belongings to the Bronco. At that point, they drove off in the Bronco, eventually heading west on Interstate 44.

“Ms. Brouk’s sister, Kay Hayes, thought it was unusual that Ms. Brouk and her children did not come to Sunday dinner, as planned, but she was not concerned until Tuesday evening, when she called Ms. Brouk’s home and there was no answer. That evening Ms. Hayes called another sister, Joy Lemoine, to inquire if she had heard from Ms. Brouk, but she had had no contact either.

“When family members went to Ms. Brouk’s house the next evening, they discovered that Ms. Brouk’s prescription glasses and the children’s and Ms. Brouk’s coats were still in the house and that the television, VCR, and Bronco were missing. They called the police, and that night officers from the Maries County Sheriff’s Department secured the home and searched the premises.

“The next morning, officers in a Missouri State Highway Patrol helicopter conducting an aerial search spotted a body floating in a pond located slightly southeast of the Brouk’s residence. After landing the helicopter in a field just south of the pond, they found the bodies of Ms. Brouk, Adrian, and Kyle partially submerged.

“The officers then investigated the area around the pond and found a sixteen-gauge shotgun shell on the south bank, some leaves and soil splattered with blood, shoe impressions, and two cinder blocks on the west bank near the area where the bodies were recovered. There were also tire impressions leading from the pond to the garbage pile on Mr. Bolin’s property where Christeson and Carter had parked the Bronco.

“In the meantime, Christeson and Carter were driving from Missouri to California. On the way, they sold several items of Ms. Brouk’s property to pay for gas and food. Christeson also pawned the sixteen-gauge shotgun at a pawnshop in Amarillo, Texas.

“On February 9, 1998, a detective with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, stationed in Blythe, California, recognized Christeson and Carter from their photographs on a flyer that had been circulated by law enforcement officials, and later that day the fugitives were arrested.

“Missouri officials continued to investigate the crimes. A medical examiner’s autopsy report showed that the cuts to Ms. Brouk’s neck were not severe enough to cause her death immediately and that the actual cause of death was drowning. Autopsies also revealed that Ms. Brouk and Kyle had hemorrhaging or bleeding under the scalp, indicating a blunt impact injury or blow to the head, and that there were two superficial cuts across Kyle’s neck, but that he, too, died from drowning. Adrian died from suffocation, but there also was a small, shallow puncture wound in Adrian’s left arm that could have been caused by a pellet from a shotgun shell, although no pellet was present. DNA testing performed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Laboratory established that genetic material from semen recovered from Ms. Brouk’s body and from Adrian’s sheets matched Christeson’s genetic profile. Firearms-identification testing established conclusively that the sixteen-gauge shotgun that Christeson pawned in Texas was the one that fired the shell found on the bank of the pond.”

NOTE: The execution has been halted indefinitely.
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Clearwater, Florida’s Coldest Case

Nick and Demetra Jeatran
by Robert A. Waters

In 1968, slightly more than 50,000 inhabitants lived in Clearwater.  A quiet city located along the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast, murder was rare.

Eighty-two-year-old Nick Jeatran and his wife, Demetra Jane, 74, had retired to Florida from the wintry climes of Wisconsin.  They lived on 1135 Jackson Road, in west Clearwater.  Friends said their favorite pastime was driving to the beach at dusk.  There they would sit for hours, viewing the night-lights and waves washing onto the shore.

On December 24, Christmas Eve, a neighbor stopped by to leave Christmas gifts for the couple.  Unable to get a response, she peered through a window and spotted Nick and Demetra lying on the living room floor.  A Christmas tree still blinked, and holiday cookies sat on the kitchen counter.

The neighbor called the Clearwater Police Department.  Investigators discovered that both victims had been beaten in the head with a heavy object.  Demetra was dead, but Nick survived for three days before succumbing to his injuries.

A recent burglary in the neighborhood, as well as items stolen from the home, convinced lawmen that Nick and Demetra had interrupted a burglary.

The victims’ granddaughter, Nicky Ahrens, lives in nearby Temple Terrace.  She continues to hound police about the unsolved case.  Ahrens recently explained to reporters that the murders were “pretty senseless, really.  They weren't rich.  They didn't have a lot of money.”

After 46 years, an anonymous donor has offered a $5,000 reward to go with a Crime Stopper’s $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect.  Nick and Demetra Jeatran haven’t been forgotten.

If you have information on this case, call the Clearwater Police Hotline at (727) 562-4080.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

In the Criminal Justice System, 198 Equals 41

Double killer to be freed early…
by Robert A. Waters

David “Stringbean” Akeman was an anachronism.  Born in Kentucky, he grew up destitute during the Depression.  He watched the few people who had money lose it when the banks failed, and that made a lasting impression.  Somewhere along the line, he learned to play the claw-hammer banjo.  He gravitated to Nashville and got a gig with Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys.  Nicknamed Stringbean because of his six-foot five-inch height, Akeman played with Monroe for three years.  As his gig with the notoriously hard-to-get-along-with Monroe was ending, he met his future wife Estelle.

While modern banjo players learned the Earl Scruggs three-finger style of picking, Stringbean continued to use the “frailing” method.  On-stage, he sang old-time songs, and told corny jokes.  To accentuate his height, Akeman began wearing a striped shirt that came to his knees—short pants made him look taller than he was.

By the 1970s, country music had gone “pop,” but Stringbean never left his hillbilly roots.  Inexplicably, at least to the Nashville slicks that ran the country music scene, many people liked his simple corn-ball style.  College students, in particular, many of whom had gravitated to folk music, loved the old-time music.  During the folk revival, Stringbean played college campuses all over the country.  He never learned to drive, so Estelle would chauffeur him around in their brand-new Cadillac.

The Caddy was their only extravagance.  Stringbean detested banks, and stashed currency in and around his cabin.  He always kept cash hidden in his clothing.

Soon, Stringbean became a regular on the popular television show, “Hee Haw.”  By then, he’d been playing on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for years.  While he never had a “hit” record, he recorded seven albums, and earned more money than he ever could have imagined.

Along with his best friend and fellow-musician, Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones, Akeman bought a 50-acre spread in Ridgefield, near Nashville.  Stringbean and Grandpa hunted or fished together nearly every day.  But that came to an abrupt end on the night of November 10, 1973.

John A. Brown and his brother, Doug, had heard rumors that Stringbean carried wads of cash wherever he went.  Drug-addled losers, they broke into his cabin while he played the Grand Ole Opry.  Waiting for Stringbean and Estelle to return, they ransacked the residence.  In typical fashion, they failed to find any money at all.


Just before midnight, Akeman and Estelle drove up in their 1973 Cadillac.  Stringbean immediately sensed that something was amiss in the house.  He told Estelle to wait in the car, then drew a pistol from his overalls.  Entering his residence with his gun drawn, Stringbean spotted the intruders and opened fire.

John Brown fired back, and Akeman collapsed in the doorway of his home.

Estelle, hearing the gunshots, got out of the car and began running away, possibly to Grandpa Jones’ farmhouse.  Brown chased her down, and as she begged for her life, executed her.

The two brothers searched the bodies of Stringbean and Estelle for cash, but found only $250.  (They missed nearly $5,000 that each had stashed in their clothing.)

When Grandpa Jones found the bodies early the next morning, Nashville’s music establishment reeled with shock.  If there was any innocence left in Nashville, it evaporated on that cold November day.

It took three months, but the Brown brothers were tracked down and arrested.  Turns out they’d been bragging to their loser “street friends” about killing Stringbean and Estelle.  John and Doug Brown were tried and convicted of the murders.  Each brother received 99 years for killing Stringbean and 99 years for the murder of Estelle, adding up to 198 years in prison for each brother.  Doug eventually died in prison, and most people forgot about John Brown.

But after serving 41 years, a “reformed” John A. Brown received word that he would be paroled.  A model prisoner, he stressed to the parole board that he’d rehabilitated himself.  He apologized profusely for murdering the couple.  Brown claimed to have found religion, and received many glowing references about how he had changed.  In short, he did everything that the book says to do in order to gain sympathy.

Yet many people are mystified at how 198 years suddenly becomes 41 years.  Jan Howard, a Grand Ole Opry regular and a friend of Stringbean and Estelle, said: “This is a miscarriage of justice.  He was tried, convicted and sentenced to 198 years in prison.  Why bother if they're not going to carry it out?”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kelli O’Laughlin’s Killer is Sentenced

Is it enough?
by Robert A. Waters

In March, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.  Six months later, 14-year-old Kelli O’Laughlin was executed at the hands of a sadistic burglar. Many in the Land of Lincoln felt her killer deserved death, and that Quinn’s actions betrayed Kelli and other innocent victims.

John Wilson, Jr. had served 17 of the past 20 years in prison.  His lengthy record included convictions for robbery, burglary, assault, drug charges, and other crimes.  Unlike many prisoners, he had no redeeming qualities.

Kelli came home from school at around 3:30 p.m. on October 27, 2011.  The LaGrange Patch reported that “Wilson broke into the rear of the home on the 6300 block of Keokuk Avenue by putting a rock in a knit cap and hurling it through the dining room window.  After he was confronted by O’Laughlin, authorities say Wilson used a butcher knife from a cutlery block in the family’s kitchen to stab her repeatedly in the back, neck and chest.  He then dragged her body from the family room into the kitchen.”

Kelli died a horrific, bloody death.  After Wilson stole Kelli’s smartphone and a coin collection, he called a cab to take him home.  He used some of the stolen coins to pay for his ride.

Not content to kill an innocent child, Wilson used Kelli’s cell phone to taunt the O’Laughlin family.  “Next time the bitch will do as she’s told,” he wrote.

Lawmen used that very phone to track Wilson’s whereabouts, and the career criminal was quickly apprehended.  Among other items of evidence, investigators found his DNA on the knitted cap left at the scene.

With no doubt of his guilt, Wilson should have faced the death penalty.  But a storm of protest from various groups who demanded the return of execution did no good.  Instead, the unrepentant killer received 160 years in prison.  As Wilson left the courtroom, he loudly derided the O’Laughlin family.

For many, there is still a place for the death penalty in Illinois.

Few would argue that John Wayne Gacy, who tortured and murdered 38 men and boys in Chicago, should not have been put to death.  Had he not been caught, Gacy would no doubt have continued to kill.

Andrew Kokoraleis, executed for the 1987 ritualistic murder of Chicagoan Lorraine Borowski, certainly deserved the ultimate punishment.  Kokoraleis and a small cult-like group are suspected of kidnapping up to 17 women and girls, brutally torturing them before taking their lives.

Instead of dying for his crimes, John Wilson, Jr. will live his life.

Instead of living her life, Kelli O’Laughlin lies in her grave.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Cold Cases that Haunt the Soul

Cortney Clayton

 Stefanie Hill was a “righteous victim.”  She did nothing to bring on her murder.  A teenage student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, she was savagely beaten to death in the early morning of May 29, 2000.  Stefanie arrived at her apartment after leaving work at a nearby Outback Steakhouse.  At about 12:50 a.m., EMTs responded to reports of a fire at the Indiana Village Apartment Complex.  There they discovered Stefanie’s body, but the fire had destroyed any evidence that might have been left by the killer.  According to reports, Stefanie had never had a serious boyfriend, so police had few suspects.  Was the murder the result of a robbery gone bad?  Or a stalker that no one knew about?  Or was it just a random crime of opportunity?  No one knows except killer.  Stefanie had few destructive habits—she wasn’t a drug user, drinker, or carouser.  She had a strong Christian faith, and remained close to her family and many friends.  After 14 years, Stefanie’s killer is still at large.
The Kingfish Boat Ramp Murders occurred in the City of Holmes Beach, Florida.  On August 1, 1980, forty-seven-year-old Dr. Juan Dumois, Eric Dumois, 13, Mark Dumois, 9, and Dumois’s brother-in-law, Raymond Barrows, returned from a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico and loaded their boat at the Kingfish Boat Ramp.  As they began to drive away, a white male approached them and stated that he had hurt his ankle and needed a ride.  Dr. Dumois agreed, and the stranger placed a bicycle he’d been riding in the boat.  He climbed into the back seat and asked to be taken to a nearby apartment.  About a minute later, gunshots rang out.  Dr. Dumois, Eric, Mark, and Raymond were shot in the head with a .22-caliber revolver.  Raymond survived, but the others died.  According to a police report, after the shooting, “the vehicle then jackknifed on the north shoulder of Manatee Avenue just west of the boat ramp. The subject then got out of the vehicle and rode westbound on Manatee Avenue on his bicycle.  [Robert] Matzke, working in his yard at a nearby condominium, observed what had taken place and pursued the subject to the parking lot of a nearby grocery store.  Matzke and the subject exchanged words, and [Matzke] was shot in the head by the subject.  Witnesses then observed the subject load his bicycle in a tan colored vehicle at the grocery store and leave eastbound on Manatee Avenue.”  Robert Matzke died of his wounds.  The motive has never been determined, and the assassin never caught.
On September 2, 1988, at around 7:30 p.m., seven-year-old Cortney Clayton disappeared from a store parking lot in Stamford, Texas.  She had walked from her home, less than a block away, to buy a soda.  Cortney came out of the store and vanished.  Her soft drink was found on the bumper of a pickup in the parking lot.  There was little evidence.   A witness described seeing a suspicious male standing by a white car next to the pickup.  She helped police make a composite sketch, but no suspects were ever found.  Six months later, hunters discovered the skeletonized remains of Cortney in Shackleton County, near Baird.  The killer of Cortney Clayton has remained under the radar of police for more than 25 years.  The Texas Rangers currently list the Cortney Clayton abduction and murder in their “Top Twelve Cold Case Investigations.”

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Just Get a Job

Shawn Custis Mugshot
Life’s a lot easier that way…
by Robert A. Waters

If 82-year-old Doris Thompson had worked a steady job, she might have retired decades ago.  Instead, she’s back in the slammer.  For fifty years, Thompson has been burglarizing homes and businesses.  “She’s not really apologetic about it,” a Torrance, California prosecutor said.  “This is her thing.”  She’s served at least 9 stints in prison, and it looks like she’s got more time coming her way.  Her latest crimes were, if nothing else, creative.  FoxNews.com reports: “In the latest incident, Thompson is accused of targeting doctors’ offices.  Torrance Police Sgt. Robert Watt tells KTLA she allegedly would enter an office, hide until closing and search for keys to the cash box.  She is accused of stealing about $17,000, and allegedly was identified by security footage.”  In addition to burglary, Thompson has used at least 25 different aliases.

The nanny cam shows it all: a mother and child sitting on a couch watching television.  Suddenly, a man bursts into the room and beats the woman to the floor.  Punch after punch rains down on her as her daughter watches in horror.  Shawn Custis, the suspect, has a criminal record dating back to the 1980s.  I counted 21 arrests for crimes such as burglary, unlawful possession of a handgun, robbery, assault, forgery, and resisting arrest.  In each case, Custis plea bargained his sentences to minimal time in prison, even though he repeatedly violated probation once released.  Because his alleged assault was caught on film and released to the public, millions viewed the horrible attack.  Now prosecutors are finally ready to charge Custis with crimes such as attempted murder and home invasion.  If convicted, he might serve some real time, like maybe life in prison.

His lawyer called William Sheppard “likable, loyal, kind and considerate.”  Except when he was high or robbing people to obtain money for cocaine.  Then he became violent and uncontrollable.  Sheppard’s criminal record dates back to 1989.  Finally, after committing his latest robbery, he was sentenced to 15 years, plus five years’ probation.  After Sheppard’s girlfriend lured a man to Indian Leap Bridge in Norwich, Connecticut, the career criminal robbed his victim at knifepoint.  The duo came away with $150, just enough for another round of dope.  Now Sheppard has until 2027 to think about how he might have avoided incarceration.  The judge who sentenced him said: “You’ve robbed people for the last 20 years.  All you do is scare people and take their money.”  (Sheppard was already on probation for armed robbery.)  Now, at least society will be protected from the crack-head.

I’ve often thought it might be easier just to work for a living.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014