Monday, November 17, 2014

When my brother Zack and I began writing The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida’s Lindbergh Case, our assessment of the FBI’s leader was neutral.  That changed as we read through thousands of pages of FBI files.

We came to the conclusion that Hoover was a sociopath.

Recent studies have determined that sociopathic personalities run many successful businesses.  Their ruthless, uncaring natures are many times masked by outgoing and jovial personas.  They can lull unsuspecting competitors into making mistakes, and often smile as they crush their opponents.

Hoover didn’t bother with smiles and deception.  He developed a pit bull personality early on.  Because of this, many people hated him.  But in most cases, he had obtained information that could cripple their careers, so most avoided conflict with Hoover.  In our book, we describe some of the dirty secrets that Hoover knew about President and First Lady Roosevelt.  The FBI director likely used these indiscretions to maneuver FDR to his side when the FBI suddenly ran out of money a few weeks before Skeegie was abducted.  FDR, like a puppy-dog, allocated funds solely for the Cash kidnapping case.

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash tells a poignant story of child abduction, a mother and father’s disabling grief, and the search for a psychopath.

But behind the scenes, J. Edgar Hoover’s manipulation of all people in his orbit shows that he was a deeply disturbed and dangerous individual.

If you wish to purchase a thrilling historical true crime book for a special Christmas gift, The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash should be on your list.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Execution of Herbert Smulls

Murder victim Stephen Honickman
“It was a horrific crime…”
by Robert A. Waters

F & M Crown Jewels was a mom-and-pop jewelry retailer in Chesterfield, Missouri.  On July 27, 1991, Herbert Smulls and a teenage accomplice entered the store, pretending to shop for diamonds.  Moments later, Smulls pulled a handgun.  The Lawrence Journal-World reported that “a jeweler’s wife feigned death and listened to [her husband] plead with a gunman not to shoot him before he was fatally wounded during a robbery of their small store.”  Florence Honickman was shot twice, while her husband, Stephen, died of four gunshot wounds.

Cops quickly captured Smulls speeding from the scene.  Inside his car, investigators found the stolen jewelry.  The smoking gun was recovered a few miles away—Smulls had thrown it from the car.

On July 29, 2014, Smulls died for his crimes.  Death penalty opponents had fought hard to distract the public from learning the details of the murders.  The Associated Press reported: “Smulls’ attorney, Cheryl Pilate, had filed numerous appeals challenging the state’s refusal to disclose where it obtained its execution drug, pentobarbital, saying that refusal made it impossible to know whether the drug could cause pain and suffering during the execution.”

St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch responded.  “It was a horrific crime,” he said.  “With all the other arguments that the opponents of the death penalty are making, it’s simply to try to divert the attention from what this guy did, and why he deserves to be executed.  They planned it out, including killing people, whoever was there.”

It was indeed horrific.  It was also unnecessary.  While begging for his life, Honickman offered to give Smulls everything in the store.

After the execution, Florence Honickman spoke to the media.  “Make no mistake,” she said, “the long, winding and painful road leading up to this day has been a travesty of justice.  I felt pain and terror while I lay on the floor playing dead while the murderers ransacked our office.”  She had been shot in the side and the arm, and lay in a pool of blood, forcing herself not to move.  She suffered permanent injuries from the attack.

The victim also said it was a travesty of justice that the state had to spend millions of dollars to get justice for her family.  Florence Honickman stated that it was her family, not Smulls, who suffered cruel and unusual punishment by having to wait 20 years for justice to prevail.

According to the Associated Press report of the execution, “Smulls mouthed a few words to the two witnesses there for him, who were not identified, then breathed heavily twice and shut his eyes for good.  He showed no outward signs of distress.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Yankee Confederates

Many northerners fought for the Confederacy
by Robert A. Waters

Tens of thousands of northerners fought for the Confederate States of America. These fascinating profiles speak to a side of the conflict rarely written about.

General Otho French Strahl was born and raised in Ohio.  Of German-American stock, he became an attorney after graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University.  Through the influence of his Southern grandmothers, he became a staunch advocate of states’ rights.  Strahl eventually settled in Dyersburg, Tennessee.  When the war broke out, he commissioned a CSA company, the 4th Tennessee Infantry, and defended the Confederacy against his former countrymen.  He fought in many of the war’s most significant battles, including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Perryville, and the Battle of Stones River.  In 1863, Strahl was promoted to Brigadier General.  He later commanded a brigade at Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.  Just a few months before the war’s end, Strahl was killed while leading an infantry charge at the Battle of Franklin in his adopted state of Tennessee.  (NOTE: In this battle, the Confederacy suffered a casualty rate of 39%, even higher than at Gettysburg.  Six generals were killed and one captured.)

Lieutenant General John Pemberton, the defender of Vicksburg, was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After marrying a Virginian, his sympathies shifted to the Southern cause.  As a member of the United States Army, Pemberton fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War.  When Virginia seceded from the union, he resigned his commission in the United States Army and was appointed brigadier general in the CSA.  Pemberton was initially appointed the duties of strengthening coastal defenses in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.  According to historians, he was unable to get along with the governors of those states, and was transferred west where he was promoted to Lieutenant General.

Unfortunately for him, Pemberton was assigned command of the District of Mississippi and East Louisiana.  One of his key assignments was to hold Vicksburg.  He worked diligently to secure areas around the city, and to fortify Vicksburg.  However, the overwhelming force of numbers of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army could not be denied.  Adding to his problems, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston refused all requests for assistance, leaving Pemberton to the mercy of the Union armies.  On July 4, 1863, after a siege lasting 46 days, Pemberton surrendered to the Federals.

The disillusioned Yankee Confederate would be forever branded a traitor to the south.  After the war, he carried on a running feud with Johnston and eventually moved back to Philadelphia.  He died there in 1881, and was buried beside his Unionist relatives.

General Samuel Cooper, born and raised in New Hackensack, New York, married Sarah Maria Mason, a distant relative of the Lee family from Virginia.  Cooper was an outstanding student at the United States Military Academy, and later served as U. S. Secretary of War.  His sympathies, however, were with the South, and when the Southern states seceded, Cooper joined the Confederate army.  He quickly became a full-fledged general, outranking even the great Robert E. Lee.  According to Wikipedia, “Cooper’s last official act in office was to preserve the official records of the Confederate Army and turn them over intact to the United States government, where they form a part of the Official Records, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.”  He died impoverished near Alexandria, Virginia.  General Lee and other former Confederates assisted Cooper financially in his old age.

General Daniel Ruggles was a native of Barre, Massachusetts.  After graduating from West Point, Ruggles served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War.  On May 7, 1861, while living in Texas, he enlisted in the Confederate army.  Ruggles was quickly promoted to Brigadier General, and fought with General John T. Breckenridge.  His aggressive actions at the Battle of Shiloh led to the defeat of an entrenched Union line known as the “Hornet’s Nest.”  After numerous Confederate charges were repulsed, Ruggles gathered every piece of artillery he could find, eventually numbering 62 cannons.  For two hours, he bombarded the Hornet’s Nest.  The final charge of the Confederates sent the Union lines reeling, and secured a hard-won victory for the Rebels.

Ruggles fought in the western theater during the rest of the conflict.  In 1865, he became head of the Confederate prison system, and was instrumental in exchanging prisoners after the Confederate surrender.

Ruggles moved to Virginia where he became a real estate agent.  He died in 1897.

Captain S. R. Latta was born in Alexandra, Pennsylvania.  He graduated from Jefferson College at Kinnesburn, PA and moved to Tennessee where he became a teacher.  In June, 1861, Latta organized a CSA company in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and became its captain.  His Company K, 13th Regiment of the Army of Tennessee fought at Shiloh, Richmond, Perryville, and Murfreesboro.  During each of those battles, his troops suffered enormous casualties, yet they fought with courage and ferocity.  Before the Battle of Murfreesboro, many were disabled temporarily when a bout of smallpox swept through the camp.

After the war, Latta became a lawyer in Dyersburg.  He was a Mason and an elder in the Presbyterian Chruch.  A long-time member of the Confederate Veteran Camp in Dyersburg, each year he held a picnic for the survivors of his company.  Latta died July 12, 1911, survived by his wife and three daughters.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Compliant Victim Shot Dead

“I shot to kill him…”
by Robert A. Waters

As killings go, the shooting at Papa John’s in Columbia, Tennessee seemed more senseless than most.  Two robbers got the money from a compliant clerk, and headed toward the door.  That’s when Darious Fitzpatrick, 17, allegedly turned back and shot the clerk in the chest.

WTVF News in Nashville reported that “two masked men entered the Papa John’s on Shady Brook Street just before 10 p.m. Monday.   One of the men was carrying a gun.  The pair demanded that 22-year-old Gordon Schaffer, who was one of the store’s managers, open the cash register and they took cash from the drawer.  At the time of the robbery, a co-worker was on the phone with Schaffer and heard it all happen.  That person called police.”

The Columbia Police Department issued a statement about the murder.  Schaffer was “compliant and offered no resistance,” it read.  Sgt. Michael Kash told reporters that “Mr. [Schaffer] did everything he was supposed to do.  He complied [with] everything, he gave them the money they asked for.  The reason we’re saying [this murder is] senseless is because it didn’t have to happen.  He was compliant and they still shot him.”

Detectives quickly focused their investigation on convicted robber Darious Fitzpatrick.  While being interrogated, he allegedly admitted the murder.  When asked why he shot the clerk, Fitzpatrick replied, “He wouldn’t give me more money or my money.”

Then, in a chilling confession, the cold-eyed shooter said, “I shot him to kill him.”

Fitzpatrick’s Facebook page shows a young man on the wrong track.  At 17, he seemed obsessed with smoking dope and watching online brawls that turned fatal.  Unlike his victim, Fitzpatrick had no job and seemed to have no interest in working.

After his arrest, he was charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated robbery, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen firearm, and three counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a felony.  He was also charged with committing two previous unsolved robberies.

A year earlier, Fitzpatrick had been found guilty of yet another armed robbery, but was charged as a juvenile and released early.

On the other hand, Gordon “Gordo” Schaffer worked for his living, and had a dream of moving west to Washington.  He’d been saving his money to relocate when his dream was cut short.  Police and Schaffer’s family told reporters that Fitzpatrick should have been in prison instead of on the streets trolling for victims.

A statement released by Schaffer’s family read, in part, “[Gordon] was a free spirit that truly absorbed every aspect of life and spent his time trying to enjoy everything life had to offer.  He was also one of the most loving and generous people to walk this Earth.”

Because Fitzpatrick is only 17, the death penalty cannot be sought by prosecutors.  If convicted, the most he can be sentenced to is life in prison.

It just doesn’t seem to be enough. 

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?”