Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Short Family Murders Still Unsolved

Twelve years and counting…
by Robert A. Waters

On September 25, 2002, Jennifer Short’s sad remains were located beside a stream in Rockingham County, North Carolina.  After twelve years, lawmen are still stumped: was her killer someone known to the family, a hit-man, or a pedophile?  Or was there some vast conspiracy surrounding the non-descript family?

M. S. Mobile Home Movers operated out of Henry County, Virginia, in the rural community of Oak Level.  The “M. S.” stood for Michael Short.  His wife, Mary, helped run the business from their home.  By all accounts, Michael and Mary scraped out a meager living.  The light of their life was a daughter, nine-year-old Jennifer.

At 9:00 a.m., on August 15, 2002, an employee arrived at the Short home and discovered Michael lying dead on a couch inside an attached garage.  Investigators soon found Mary Short lifeless in her bed.  Each victim had been shot in the head.  Jennifer was nowhere to be seen.

After six weeks, Jennifer’s remains were discovered fifty miles from her home. An autopsy revealed that the nine-year-old’s death was caused by a gunshot wound to the head, just like her parents.  Her body was too decomposed for lawmen to tell if she’d been sexually assaulted.

An FBI summary of the case reported that “Mary was described as a shy, neat and extremely focused individual, who was actively involved in the family business.  Jennifer appeared to be a happy little girl experiencing a normal childhood.  She was an excellent student and actively involved in organized sports.”

I noticed that the FBI report contained no description of Michael Short’s characteristics.

That’s a bare-bones synopsis of what has been published about the mysterious murders of the Short family.  For more than a decade, the killer (or killers) has walked free.  Because of the on-going investigation, little information has been released to the public.

In this blog, I’ll explore several possible explanations for why the family was targeted.  (Admittedly, much of this is speculation and certainly doesn’t cover the full spectrum of what may have happened.)

Who could have wanted Michael, Mary, and Jennifer Short dead?

(1) Business associate or employee.  Moving mobile homes is a tough way to make a living.  Michael Short hired laborers when he needed to move a trailer, and it is thought that he paid them in cash.  This could have been dangerous.  Some day laborers have criminal backgrounds, addictions, and mental illnesses.  The employee who found the bodies was thoroughly investigated as a suspect. It’s likely that he’s been eliminated since he was never charged.  Did a worker or former worker snap and murder the entire family?  If so, why take Jennifer out of the home and kill her fifty miles away?  No evidence has been presented to the public to confirm that a business associate or employee murdered the family.

(2) Neighbor/Friend/Acquaintance.  Were the murders due to a grudge someone held against the family, or one of its members?  Since we can never really know our neighbors, it’s certainly possible.  However, there has been no indication that lawmen suspect a neighbor or friend.

(3) Gary “Storm” Bowman.  The first and only known suspect was a retired carpenter from Mayodan, North Carolina.  The FBI became suspicious when agents discovered that Gary Bowman had moved to Canada the day after Michael and Mary were killed.  Later, Bowman’s landlord claimed to have heard Bowman threaten to “kill a mobile home mover in Virginia.”  Then, according to news reports, two men stated that they saw Bowman carrying a young girl from the Short home on the night of the murders.  Bowman was deported from Canada and held in custody (without being charged) for a month.  Lawmen processed hundreds of items from the home of their suspect in an attempt to link him to the crime, but were unsuccessful in their efforts.  Then, Timothy Fennon Sampson and Jerry Riley Mills were indicted for lying to federal officials.  Court documents alleged that they had made up the story of Bowman carrying a girl from the Short home in order to obtain the reward money. Eventually, Bowman was released.  He has never been officially cleared, but it seems investigators moved on to other leads.

(4) The man in the truck.  A witness reported seeing an unusual truck parked near the Short residence on the night of the murder.  (See photo above.)  It was described as being a 1998-2002 white single-cab flat-bed with wooden rails.  The vehicle resembled a 4500 Series International Truck.  The man driving it had a “weathered expression,” according to the FBI.  The truck should have been easy to find, but lawmen never located it.  

(5) Conspiracy of cops?  In 2006, four years after the Short family murders, the sheriff of Henry County, Virginia and 12 of his deputies were arrested for drug trafficking.  Federal prosecutors called Sheriff Harold Cassell “corrupt to the core.”  The lawmen were accused of filling out paperwork attesting that they had destroyed confiscated drugs, but then sold the marijuana, cocaine, and ketamine to dope dealers in the area.  Local deputies were also accused of laundering money.  Many of the lawmen, including Sheriff Cassell, ended up serving prison terms.  Did Federal investigators ever determine whether the corrupt department had any hand in the Short family murders?  In his myriad travels across the area, could Michael Short have seen suspicious activity and reported it to police?  Could he and his entire family have been eliminated to cover up the sheriff department’s criminal enterprises?  Or was Michael Short himself involved in the drug trade in some way?  These questions need to be answered.

(6) The Joseph E. Duncan scenario.  One of the most pressing questions of this case is why Jennifer was taken from the residence and dumped fifty miles away.  It’s not too far-fetched to envision a sexual predator killing Michael and Mary to get to Jennifer.  It’s happened before.  In 2005, serial killer Joseph E. Duncan stalked a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho family before breaking into their home and murdering Mark McKenzie, his girlfriend, Brenda Groene, and her son, Slade Groene.  Duncan then kidnapped pre-teens Dylan and Shasta Groene for the purpose of raping them.  The sadistic psychopath tortured his victims for more than a month before shot-gunning Dylan to death.  Shasta survived and was eventually rescued.  Could a similar crime have occurred in Virginia?

Somewhere, one or more killers are walking free.

For more information, check out the FBI summary of the case:

If you know anything about this case, please call the FBI at 1-800-225-5324. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Favorite Books
by Robert A. Waters

Several friends have asked me to list my favorite books.  I hesitated for several reasons.  One problem is that there are so many great books, it’s almost impossible to slim down to ten.  Also, if I pick out ten today, I might change them tomorrow.  However, I’ve read each of these books more than once, and in some way, each has influenced my life.  So, for what it’s worth, here goes.

(1) The Holy Bible – The greatest book ever published is going out of style in America.  Like it or not, when we no longer use Biblical principles as our moral guide, this once-great civilization built by our Founding Fathers will fall.

(2) Hound of the Baskervilles and all Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

(3) 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell – 1984 frightened me into hating communism and totalitarian governments of all stripes.

(4) In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

(5) Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escot.

(6) The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh.

(7) Digging Up the Bible: The Stories Behind the Great Archaeological Discoveries in the Holy Land by Moshe Pearlman.  I love books about archaeology, and this is one of the best.

(8) Lords of Sipan: A True Story of Pre-Inca Tombs, Archaeology, and Crime by Sidney Kirkpatrick.

(9) The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn.  The author once said:  “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country.  And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”  Gulag destroyed the New York Times-sanctioned liberal version of Soviet history by detailing Russia’s concentration camps from 1918 to 1956.

(10)   Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers by Tom Wolfe.  Published in 1970 during the height of the black power movement, this is one of the great politically incorrect books of our day.  (I always wondered how he even got it published.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Thugs are Back

But Ray Rice is finally gone...
by Robert A. Waters

So, the thugs are back: the rapists, wife-beaters, mom-beaters, thieves, dopers, drunks, dog-torturers and general purveyors of corruption.

The 2014 NFL season has begun and hundreds of multi-millionaires have a national forum to display their violent tendencies.  Unfortunately, millions of young boys look up to these paragons of sleaze.

No doubt, kids learn from television, and what they learn from the NFL is how to be criminals. They learn that if you’re rich and famous, you can beat almost any charge.  They learn that the talking heads at ESPN and other sports networks will generally give you a pass for knocking down your mother, or beating your wife black and blue.  If you rape a few women, who cares?  She probably deserved it and anyway, boys will be boys.

The latest star player to have the spotlight of infamy turned on him is Ray Rice.  His actions quickly turned into a public relations disaster for the NFL, so much so that after an initial slap on the wrist, drastic measures were finally taken.  On February 15, Atlantic City police arrested Rice for assaulting his girlfriend, Janay Palmer, in an elevator.  Since Rice was a popular record-setting running back for the 2012 world champion Baltimore Ravens, the NFL attempted to cover up the incident.  The league suspended him for only two games.  Over and done, folks, let's get on with the season.

A local judge  joined forces with the NFL and gave Rice the lightest sentence possible.  According to, “The 27-year-old Rice was charged with felony aggravated assault in the case, but in May he was accepted into a pre-trial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time and could lead to the charge being purged from his record.”

What can’t be purged is the video of Rice slugging Janay Palmer.  The blow is so hard it knocks her across the room and into a railing where she slumps to the floor.  She lies motionless for several minutes, even as Rice drags her limp frame out of the elevator.  Eventually, Palmer recovers enough to leave the area.

The video of the attack quickly found its way onto the Internet, and Rice’s fate was sealed.  The punch-out is so horrific that finally the NFL was forced to act.  After the Ravens cut Rice, the NFL suspended him from football indefinitely.

You’d think that with the duties of constant workouts, study, practice, and games, these guys wouldn’t have time to commit crimes.

But don’t count on it.  A thug will always be a thug. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

So Predictable

 Joshua Drake, killed in shootout with clerk

“I wish he’d treated life a whole lot better…”
by Robert A. Waters

At noon on Thursday, August 15, 2014, 22-year-old Joshua Drake lay in a pool of blood, gasping his last breath.  With a pistol by his side and a mask still draped over his face, Drake’s young life drained away.

Innovative Optique, in Fox Point near Milwaukee, sells fashionable eye-glasses.  As such, the store is occasionally a target for robbers.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel described the chaotic scene that occurred that day: “The criminal complaint says [Tedric] Sanders, Drake and Darius Ricks pulled into Innovative Optique, in the Audubon Shopping Center, in a silver Dodge Charger.

“Because they backed it into a space near the store, owner Guadalupe Aguilar told his brother, Marty, who was working in the store, to note the license number.

“Marty Aguilar told investigators that just as he wrote down the number, three masked men exited the car, and one entered the store, pointed a gun at Guadalupe Aguilar and asked where the money was, then pointed the gun at a female employee.

“At that point, Marty Aguilar fired at the gunman, later identified as Drake, who fired back, the complaint says. Drake was killed, while Sanders and Ricks took off in the Charger, the complaint says.”

No charges are expected to be filed against Aguilar.

The same can’t be said for Tedric Sanders.  He recently appeared in court on a charge of felony murder.  (In Wisconsin, as in many states, suspects can be charged with felony murder if someone is killed during the commission of a crime.)

The lives of each suspect followed a predictable pattern.

Having been convicted of robbery in 2010, Drake served a year in jail and three years’ probation.  He had previous arrests, and had become so uncontrollable that his parents kicked him out of their home.  “We couldn’t take it no more,” Drake’s father told reporters. “His mom’s sick, [and] couldn’t take it no more.  I just wish he treated life a whole lot better than he did.”

Tedric Sanders also had a long criminal rap-sheet.  In fact, Fox News-Milwaukee reported that “at the time of the attempted armed robbery and shooting, police say Sanders was supposed to be in court for a charge related to a high-speed chase.”

That’s right.  He was due in court at the very hour he was allegedly committing the armed robbery.

If convicted, Sanders could face up to forty years in prison.

Since neither Drake nor Sanders seem to have had any respect for themselves or others, it’s likely that future lives were saved because Marty Aguilar fought back.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

“The Road Goes on Forever…And the Party Never Ends…”

Joe Ely’s stolen guitar is returned
by Robert A. Waters

He’s been called a “Texas country rocker,” and maybe that fits.  But for me, Joe Ely’s best songs describe real-life stories with a touch of gritty macabre.  “Me and Billy the Kid” twists the legendary outlaw’s tale like a Texas windstorm, and who couldn’t love “The Road Goes on Forever?”

In 1986, Ely played a gig at Slim’s, a club in San Francisco.  According to the Los Angeles Times, one of the guitars he used that night was a custom-built “solid-body electric made for him by Austin, Texas, guitar maker Ted Newman-Jones, who, at Ely’s request, created an instrument with a billiards theme that was painted pool table felt blue and with pool ball-shaped inlays on the neck.”  Newman-Jones had built several one-of-a-kind instruments for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard.

After the gig, an unknown crack-head (okay, I don’t know the thief was a crack-head, but I’d bet on it) stole two guitars from the singer.  In addition to the custom Newman-Jones, a valuable 1957 Fender Stratocaster also disappeared.

Fast-forward to 2013, and a Californian named Matt Wright.  Twenty-seven years earlier, Wright had bought the guitar from a pawnshop in Merced.  For decades, he wondered about the unusual instrument he’d purchased.  Who did it belong to?  Where did it come from?

One night, as he watched the replay of an old Austin City Limits show, he saw Ely playing the unique instrument.  Suddenly, he knew.  He’d likely purchased the Texas legend’s favorite guitar.  A few strokes of an Internet keyboard revealed the story: Wright owned a stolen guitar.

Ely later recounted what happened next.  “It was amazing,” he said. “The guy came and brought the guitar yesterday, and presented it to me onstage last night.  After he told the whole story onstage, we figured out where the guitar had been stolen, and it was only about three blocks from Slim’s.  We were all exhilarated.  We were dancing around and passing the guitar back and forth.”

Wright refused to accept payment, and everyone left happy.

Now, all that’s left is to listen to my favorite Joe Ely song, “The Road Goes on Forever.”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Just a Boy"

Murderer is “afraid of getting killed in prison”
by Robert A. Waters

Two years ago, I wrote about the murder of Judi Simpson-Beaver.  American justice works slowly and fitfully, if at all, but finally there’s been some resolution in this case.

At trial, a shaken jury was forced to view the killing of forty-eight-year-old store clerk Judi Simpson-Beaver.  Recorded by surveillance cameras, Lake Superior Court Judge Clarence Murray remarked that he found the video “profoundly difficult for everyone to watch.”

On March 4, 2012, Jeremy Blue, 20, and two accomplices, Donvell Edwards, 23, and Edward Lee Perry, 28, conspired to rob the Lucky Mart convenience store at 5695 Cleveland Street in Merrillville, Indiana.  The video showed Blue entering the store wearing a “Jason-style” hockey mask.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Blue “pointed a black handgun at Simpson-Beaver, who was behind the counter, and she began removing money from the cash register.  The man removed both cash drawers and moved toward the exit.  He suddenly changed his direction, went to the counter and fired a single shot hitting Simpson-Beaver in her upper body.  He put the register drawers down, and went behind the counter where he pursued the cashier and fired another round at Simpson-Beaver’s head, causing her to collapse.  The man picked up the cash drawers and fled on foot.”

As Blue ran outside, coins began spilling from the register drawers.  That alerted a bystander, who looked up just as the killer removed his mask.  The onlooker later picked Blue out of a lineup, as did several other witnesses.

Despite his lawyer’s protestations that he was mentally ill, the jury convicted Jeremy Blue and he received 80 years in prison.  According to the Chicago Sun Times, Judge Murray “took the unusual step of not awarding credit for the 729 days Blue spent in the Lake County Jail because of numerous write-ups for fighting, disrespecting correctional officers, and throwing urine and feces on other inmates.”

Donvell Edwards got 12 years for his part in planning and carrying out the crime.

Edward Lee Perry, who provided the mask and gun used in the robbery, received immunity for his testimony.  (At the time of Blue's trial, Perry was serving time in prison for an unrelated robbery.)  Perry testified that before the murder, the friends had snorted cocaine and planned the heist.  He stated that Blue later told him he had to kill the clerk because she recognized him.  Before he shot her in the face, Simpson-Beaver allegedly asked: “Jeremy, why are you doing this?”

The conspirators and Judi Simpson-Beaver lived in different worlds.  Despite their young ages, Blue, Edwards, and Perry were hardened career criminals, just the opposite of their victim.

Zachary Beaver spoke about the kindness of his mother.  She taught her sons to be honest and forthright, he said.  He joined the Army and was serving in Afghanistan when his mother was murdered.  Her second son, an Army veteran, had served in Iraq.  In the 1990s, Simpson-Beaver moved to Lubbock, Texas where she obtained her bachelor's degree in paralegal studies from Texas Tech.  She later moved back to her native Indiana to be with family.

Unlike her killer, Simpson-Beaver worked for a living.  In Texas, she was employed as a paralegal, and started a music production company.  After moving back to Indiana, she did title research as well as working a second job in the convenience store.

At the time of her death, Simpson-Beaver had been helping Zachary raise his son while he served overseas.

Before being sentenced, Jeremy Blue’s mother asked for leniency.  “He is afraid of going to jail,” she said.  “He’s afraid for his life, of getting killed in prison.  He’s just a boy.”
Jeremy K. Blue

Monday, August 11, 2014

Canada's Most Wanted Killer

Sharin' Morningstar Keenan
[I'm re-publishing a previous article from my blog to bring attention to this stranger abduction and murder.  If you know the whereabouts of Dennis Howe, contact the Toronto Police Department or the FBI.  There is a $100,000 reward.]

At 74, is Dennis Melvyn Howe still alive?
by Robert A. Waters

The crime Dennis Melvyn Howe committed on the afternoon of January 23, 1983 was a stain on humanity.  At about four o’clock, he stepped outside his boarding house in downtown Toronto, walked a hundred yards, and slithered into Jean Sibelius Park.  It had been raining off and on all day, and just one lone child was playing there, a nine-year-old girl named Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan.

Somehow, no one noticed Howe and Sharin’ walk back through the neighborhood and climb the stairs to his second-story room.  What ruse he used to get the creative, intelligent girl to accompany him is unknown.  That night, Sharin’ was reported missing.  Hundreds of investigators and volunteers searched the park and the row houses surrounding it.  They spoke with neighbors, checked nearby businesses, and even drove through the streets with a megaphone urging tipsters to come forward. For nine long, depressing days, cops and a stunned public searched for the missing child.

Then detectives got a call from the landlord at 482 Brunswick Avenue informing them that one of her tenants had unexpectedly dropped out of sight the day after Sharin’ vanished.  Investigators entered the boarder’s drab room and noticed shelving from the refrigerator lying on the floor.  When they opened the door, a half-frozen body spilled out.

The scene was so horrible, so gruesome, so surreal that ten days later, one of the detectives who found the body quit the force.  (The second, never able to forget that heart-grinding scene, killed himself a few years later.)

It seemed almost beyond belief.  In the heart of Toronto, a child had been kidnapped, raped, and strangled to death.  In one fell swoop, the innocence of a city was lost.

The boarder turned out to be a parole violator living and working in the city using an alias. Dennis Melvyn Howe had spent most of his adult life in prison.  He’d recently been paroled from Prince Albert Penitentiary in Saskatchewan after serving 17 years.  His 20-year rap sheet included theft, armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment, indecent assault on a thirteen-year-old girl, kidnapping a woman and holding her hostage, as well as dozens of other crimes.  Many questioned why this obviously dangerous felon was out on the streets at all.

After murdering Sharin’, Howe borrowed $200 from his employer and bought a bus ticket.  A day later, he arrived in North Bay.  Howe is then thought to have continued to Winnipeg, a city of a half-million.  After that, he vanished.

Investigators were confident that the fugitive would soon be captured.  Yet Dennis Melvyn Howe somehow escaped.  Thirty-one years later, he is still Canada’s most wanted fugitive.  In those years, he has been featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and other television shows.  A $100,000 reward has been in effect for many years.  Cops have checked out thousands of leads over the years, all to no avail.  A newspaper campaign called “Nowhere to Hide” was launched by the Canadian Community Newspapers Association in 1998—it was an attempt to get an age-enhanced photograph of Howe to ten million Canadians.

How did the career criminal who was unable to avoid being arrested for more than a few weeks while out of the streets manage to evade cops for decades?  Is he even still alive?  At 74, time is ticking away for cops to bring him to justice.  A few years ago, the current lead investigator, Detective-Sergeant Jim Crowley, said: “There are those who think Howe may be dead, but I don’t think so.  After so many years in this business, you get gut feelings.  I figure he is in a small out of the way Western town or lumber camp.  He may have found a safe haven with female company.”  Wayne Oldham, another investigator who was once involved in the search for Howe, said: “Presuming he’s alive, and with each passing year that assumption dwindles a little, I can see him in a rural setting, essentially a recluse, employed in a menial job where identity is not critical.”

Howe was born on September 26, 1940.  He is five feet ten inches tall and at the time of Sharin’s murder weighed about 170 pounds.  His hair was brown when he fled, but now would be gray or white.  His eyes are brown.  He has a scar under the left side of his chin and short, crooked fingers. Howe is left-handed and has a hairy chest, hairy arms, and square shoulders.  He walks quickly and is a heavy smoker.

He goes by many aliases, all common names.  A few of his known aliases were: Michael Burns; Wayne King; Ralph Ferguson; and Jim Meyers.

At the time of Sharin’s murder, Howe’s teeth were black and abscessed.  Due to the constant pain he endured, investigators believe Howe would have been forced to get dental assistance.  It’s possible that he now has dentures.  In fact, after the murder, Royal Canadian Mounted Police published Howe’s dental charts in the Canadian Dental Journal with the hope that a dentist would spot the killer.

Howe’s DNA has been linked to Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan.  It is available to law enforcement officials in North America.

While most Canadian investigators think Howe would never have left the country of his birth, it is possible that he fled to the United States.  (What better way to throw the hounds off your tracks than to go somewhere totally unexpected?)  While Howe was estranged from most of his family, he had a brother who occasionally loaned him money.  In the years following the murder of Sharin’, cops learned that his brother made a dozen trips to Montana and Washington.  After being questioned about the reasons for those visits, they suddenly stopped.  His brother died years ago, taking any secret he may have had to his grave.

Is Dennis Melvyn Howe [pictured below] still alive?  Is he hiding in plain sight, maybe in some small town, cared for by a wife and children?  Is he languishing in a nursing facility, his identity unknown?

To me, the most likely scenario is that he died or was killed shortly after the murder, while still on the run.  Otherwise, with his deviant sexual compulsions and anti-social personality, he would have quickly come into contact with law enforcement officials, either in Canada or the United States.

Wherever Howe is, Hell will likely be his final destination.