Thursday, May 21, 2015

World War I Vet Never Returns Home

Wanders for 24 years…
by Robert A. Waters

On March 12, 1943, World War II showed no signs of ending.  The headline in The Ogden Standard Examiner screamed: “Reds Take Vyazma, Nazis Kharkov; British Destroy 21 Rommel Tanks; Yankees Bomb Jap Bases at Kiska.”  It would be two more long years before the conflict bled to a stop.

Underneath that huge headline, a smaller one, almost an afterthought, read: “Officers Seek Man’s Identity.”  Then came the poignant story of a forgotten soldier from what seemed at the time to be a distant memory—the “war to end all wars.”

The United Press story read: “Colorado officers today were taking fingerprints to establish definitely the identity of a wandering ‘hermit’ believed to be Donald Matheson of Beaver, Utah in the hope of clearing up a 20 year-old mystery.  The hermit, who said his name was Donald Matheson, 51, was taken into custody yesterday by Trinidad, Colo., police because they feared he might die of exposure.

“He had a long flowing beard and hair, was shabbily dressed, and officers discovered he had been living in the open—sleeping wherever he could find a rude shelter, in crevices, abandoned shacks and under bridges.

“Utah relatives reported [that] the Donald Matheson from Beaver was drafted into the army in 1918, and was later reported wounded in action. This was the last heard of him until the Trinidad man said he was the long-missing Matheson.

“During the years since her son disappeared, Mrs. Caroline Matheson, mother of the missing soldier, died.  His sister, Mrs. Jean Hickman said scars reported on the Trinidad hermit’s face corresponded with scars her brother carried when he entered the army. A cousin, Scott M. Matheson, assistant U. S. district attorney, was helping the attempts to clear the mystery.”  Relatives informed Sheriff Marty that they believed Donald Matheson had been killed in World War I.

The hermit, as newspapers called him, had recently wandered into the Aguilar district, living on handouts from concerned residents.

County Judge William T. Eckhart interviewed Matheson, who said he had served in the U. S. Army until 1919.  After being honorably discharged, he told lawmen that he had wandered the Arizona and California deserts for years before coming to Colorado.  Judge Eckhart asked Matheson why he didn’t go home after the war, and he replied, “I had nothing to go home for.”

Eckhart contacted Beaver County authorities and learned that the Matheson family had moved away many years before.

Matheson seemed surprised when told that the U. S. was fighting yet another world war.  He informed Eckhart that he never fought on the front lines in France but had been stationed at St. Nazaire.

After his uncle retrieved his military records, Donald Matheson was transferred to the veterans’ hospital in Fort Lyons, Colorado.

By the time World War II ended, Donald Matheson and his sad story had faded into the annals of history.

NOTE: If anyone has additional information about Donald Matheson, I’ll be glad to publish it.  Too much is unknown about his story.

Friday, May 15, 2015

World War II Seaman Drifts for 83 Days

Survives after ship is sunk…
by Robert A. Waters

At 4:30 on the afternoon of November 2, 1942, a German torpedo struck the Dutch merchant ship SSZaandam.  Carrying U. S. Navy armed guards, as well as a Dutch crew, the ship didn’t sink immediately.  A second torpedo, however, doomed the vessel.  Seaman Second Class Basil Dominic Izzi of Massachusetts was one of the few survivors.

In 83 Days: The Survival of Seaman Izzi, Mark Murphy writes: “The ship, loaded with ammunition, food supplies, and equipment for overseas work, put out from an East Coast port in July, 1942.  She stopped in Recife [Brazil] for water and food, and set out for Africa.”

In the middle of the Atlantic, disaster struck.  Izzi recalled: “It was a clear day and the sun was shining bright.  About 4:15 we were in my cabin playing cards, four of the fellows besides myself. Our radio man walked in and told us our position, where we were and everything.  He just walked out and as soon as he walked out our first torpedo [fired by German submarine U-174] struck us.  We got up and ran out to the door, we were trying to get to the guns but the shortest way was blocked by the wreckage from the torpedo from topside, so we had to go back inside the ship and through the lounge up on the next deck [as] the easiest way we could get to the guns.  When we were getting there we saw the ship’s crew was letting the rafts get underway.  Well, after the first torpedo the ship didn’t stop right away, it kept on going for a few hundred yards, and when the rafts did hit the water they just drifted off...”

Soon a second torpedo hit, and the boat sank quickly.  Izzi jumped from the stern, found some debris to cling to, and swam away from the ship.

It would be 83 long days before he was picked up.

After two days of floating in the ocean, Izzi was nearly delirious when he came upon a life raft.  Inside were Ensign James Maddox, a U. S. sailor named George Beezley, and two Dutch sailors, Cornelius van der Slot and Nicko Hoogendam.  As Maddox pulled Izzi into the raft, he exclaimed: “Where have you been hiding?”  Maddox, an ordained minister and a professor at Purdue University, would help the survivors by guiding them spiritually.

The rations in the raft lasted for 19 days.  After that, they survived on fish, birds, and rainwater.  Two days after their rations ran out, a thunderstorm descended on them and they used a canvas trough to catch the water.  In order to catch sharks, they dangled their feet over the edge and improvised a lasso to corral the curious creatures.  That day, they caught a four-footer that provided meat for several days.

A few days later, Izzi turned 20 and the rafters celebrated with an extra portion of food.  But the ordeal was beginning to take its toll.  By the 40th day, their clothing had rotted off, and Beezley lost his hearing and began going blind.  On the 66th day he died.  Maddox performed the rites as they tossed Beezley overboard.

On the 77th day, Maddox died.  The survivors buried him at sea while saying the prayers he had taught them.  (Izzi saved his wedding rings and later returned them to his widow.)

Van der Slot, Hoogendam, and Izzi drifted for six more days before a PC boat rescued them.  By that time, they were mere skeletons.  They were taken to Brazil, then the United States Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  Later, Izzi became a spokesperson for Navy, touring the country to improve morale.  After his tour of duty was over, Izzi returned to his hometown of Barre, Massachusetts.  There he lived in relative anonymity until 1977.

I have only the highest admiration for those who fought in previous wars so that we might live in peace.  Freedom from the tyranny of totalitarianism was bought with the blood and valor of millions.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Craigslist Murders

Iraq veteran James Vester
Be safe out there…
by Robert A. Waters

Craigslist murders have become so prevalent that some police agencies are opening “safe havens” for online transactions.  A recent study revealed that at least 86 murders have been “linked to the popular classifieds website.”  Listed below are a few Craigslist crimes that have made the news recently.

James Vester survived a year in Iraq, but died in an Indianapolis parking lot.  The National Guardsman had answered a Craigslist ad to buy an Apple iPad when two assailants robbed and murdered him.  Tyshaune and Tyron Kincade were accused of the crime.  Tyshaune was recently convicted—his brother awaits trial in June.  Vester had served in the military for 12 years.  He planned to buy the iPad as a Christmas present for his parents.

In Missouri, Michael Gordon has been charged with murdering Taylor Clark, a college student who had listed his 2007 Nissan 350ZX for sale on Craigslist.  Gordon arranged to take a test drive and met Clark in a public parking lot at the MTC Truck Driver Training School in Hazelwood, Mo.  Later that day, when friends reported Clark missing, investigators had only to check Craigslist to find that Gordon had inquired about the car.  Police discovered the victim’s body in a patch of woods behind MTC.  Clark had been shot once in the head.  Gordon worked at the school and police allege that he committed the crime on his lunch break.

In February, police allege that three men murdered James Jones after he met them to purchase an iPhone.  Jordan Baker, Jonathan Myles, and Kaylnn Ruthenberg have been charged with numerous counts, including murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.  When Jones, a student at Clark Atlanta University, answered a Craigslist ad, the three allegedly robbed him of his Nike shoes.  As he attempted to drive away, police say Ruthenberg shot Jones.  The victim then crashed his car, and Ruthenberg shot him in the head.  The three had attempted the same crime earlier, according to cops, but the intended victim became spooked by the men and fled.

In 2010, Oregon resident Korena Roberts pleaded guilty to killing Heather Snively, and was sentenced to life in prison.  Roberts admitted she contacted the pregnant Snively on Craigslist, and the expectant mother met Roberts hoping to purchase baby clothes.  After beating Snively to death, Roberts used a straight razor to cut her seven-month-old child from her womb.  The child never took a breath, however, and Roberts’ boyfriend found her and the dead infant in their home.  For several years, Roberts had been obsessed with having a baby, feigning pregnancy and purchasing baby items.

Ralph Geiger, 56, David Pauley, 51, and Timothy Kern, 47 answered Craigslist ads, then disappeared.  Police later discovered the men had been murdered by an ex-con and his teenage accomplice.  Richard Beasley placed the bogus ads seeking farmhands to work on a non-existent ranch he owned.  When the victims arrived in Akron, Ohio to begin their new jobs, Beasley and Brogan Rafferty, 17, drove them to a rural area and shot them dead.  Beasley then sold their belongings.  The scheme worked perfectly until they attempted to rob a South Carolinian named Scott Davis.  After being shot, Davis escaped and led police to the killers.  Beasley received the death penalty, while Rafferty got life in prison without parole.

NOTE: I’ve used Craigslist to sell a few items.  While no amount of protection is foolproof, I always bring along a partner and meet the buyer in a crowded store parking lot.  I also carry a handgun (thanks to Florida’s concealed carry laws) and a cellphone.  If the buyer looks or acts suspicious, I’m outa there.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lisa Rose Comes Home

St. Peter’s Hospital, Brooklyn, NY
Kidnapped two-and-a-half hours after birth…
by Robert A. Waters

Lisa Rose Chionchio entered this world on January 2, 1959, at St. Peter’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.  Nurses dutifully fingerprinted the child and took photos of her.  Immediately after birth, her parents, Frances, a teacher, and Frank, a lawyer, cuddled their newborn, then allowed hospital staff to take her to the nursery.

Two-and-a-half hours later, Lisa Rose vanished.

A frustrating nine-day search ended when an anonymous phone call sent police cars screaming to a tenement two blocks from the hospital.  There they burst through the door of a one-room apartment and found 43-year-old Jean Iavarone rocking an infant.  At first, Iavarone denied she’d kidnapped the child, but fingerprints, blood tests, and a distinctive birthmark positively identified Lisa Rose.

All of New York had been following the case, and people cheered in the streets when they heard the good news of the girl’s return.  After Lisa Rose was examined at St. Peter’s Hospital, her happy parents took her home.  She was in good health, having been well cared for.

Who would kidnap an infant from the nursery of a hospital?

Even though Jean Iavarone had never been arrested, she had a troubled past.  By the time she abducted Lisa Rose, everyone in her life had left her, died, or been forcibly taken from her.  All of her eight living children had been placed in orphans’ homes or foster care.  She’d been married twice—her first husband divorced her; her second husband died.

An Associated Press story reported that “the motive for the kidnaping, police said, was Mrs. Iavarone’s desire to pressure a boyfriend, Joseph Pizzimenti, into marriage by having him believe he was the father.”  She also believed the courts would return four of her children if she was married to a reputable husband.  (All her children had been removed from her “because she was considered incapable of caring for them.”)

This troubled, lonely woman’s obsession caused heartbreak and havoc for an entire city, and especially the Chianchio family.  But surprisingly, Frances and Frank forgave the kidnapper.  Reluctant to press charges, they stated that they were grateful Iavarone kept their daughter safe.  The couple even invited her into their home to see Lisa Rose.

Iavarano was tried and convicted.  Sentenced to one-to-three years in prison, the judge recommended psychiatric treatment.

And there Jean Iavarone disappeared into the fog of history.

NOTE: Many thanks to Sue Z Smith for permission to use her photograph of the hospital that played such a large part in the disappearance of Lisa Rose.  Check out her great blog, The Ninth House.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Happened to Tania Murrell?

Missing for 32 years…
by Robert A. Waters

Does Tania Murrell lie in a long-forgotten grave, her bones slowly decaying like the investigation into her kidnapping?

Or is she alive, having been raised by a family of strangers?

On January 20, 1983, at around 11:10 A.M., while walking home from Grovenor Elementary School in Edmonton, Canada, Tania vanished.  Bundled inside a heavy coat, the cute blonde-haired six-year-old fought below-zero weather as she trudged along.  Her school was less than two blocks from the home she shared with her mother, father, and younger brother.  That day, her aunt, Vera Stortz, waited for Tania to arrive.

When she didn’t appear, Vera phoned Vivian Murrell, Tania’s mother.  Soon Vivian and her husband Jack left their places of work and began scouring the area for Tania.  The online newspaper recently summed up the search: “Police and volunteers canvassed the area around the home, at 10426-145th St., by foot and car.  More than 1,900 square blocks, including ravines and alleys, were searched within the next few days.  At the time, it was the largest door-to-door search ever mounted in Edmonton.”  Despite extensive efforts by police and the public, Tania was never found.

Today, more than three decades later, after their lives were shattered, Vera and Jack are dead.  Her younger brother, John, is dead.  Many of the original detectives are dead or retired.  And one of the most baffling cases in modern Canadian history is still a blank page lying on the desk of cold case investigators.

So what happened to Tania Murrell?

The most prevalent theory is that she was abducted, raped, and murdered by a pedophile.  A second theory is that someone who wanted a child kidnapped Tania, brainwashed her into thinking her parents didn’t want her, and raised her as their own.

When a child goes missing, parents are always scrutinized.  In Tania’s case, both parents were at work, so they had alibis that removed them from suspicion.  However, their hard-partying ways and suspected drug use raised the eyebrows of investigators.  Because of this, detectives closely examined their associates.  At least one friend was developed as a suspect, but was never charged.

Police also checked out “perverts” who lived in the area.  Tania’s parents were amazed at the number of molesters, rapists, and weirdos who lived close by.  Yet no one emerged as a person of interest.

One witness claimed to have seen a woman dragging an unwilling child along the sidewalk at about the time Tania vanished.  Because of this, the theory developed that a woman who couldn’t have a child may have snatched the girl.  Tania’s sister, Elysia, born after Tania disappeared, thinks she is still alive.  “I believe she is around and alive,” Elysia said. “I figure they changed her name and she was young enough that she would forget and believe whatever they told her.”

A school-mate recently informed police that she thought Tania was headed to a nearby convenience store instead of home.  The store would have taken Tania in the opposite direction from her house.  This would have changed the dynamics of the investigation had it been known earlier.

After more than three decades, the question remains: where is Tania Murrell?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Quotes from the Boston Bombing Trial
Compiled by Robert A. Waters

The first phase of the horror trial has wrapped up and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of 30 counts, including 17 that could result in execution.  As the death penalty phase proceeds, here are some memorable quotes from the trial.

“We don’t deny that Jahar [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Americanized name] fully participated in the events, but if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened.” Judy Clarke, lead defense attorney.

“That day, they felt they were soldiers.  They were the mujahedeen, and they were bringing their battle to Boston.” Aloke Chakravarty, United States prosecutor.

“Tamerlan built the bombs, Tamerlan murdered officer Collier, Tamerlan led and Dzhokhar followed.” Judy Clarke.

“The defendant brought terrorism into the backyards and main streets.  The defendant thought that his values were more important than the people around him.” Aloke Chakravarty.

“[Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] chose a day when there would be civilians on the sidewalks, and he targeted those civilians: men, women and children.” Aloke Chakravarty.

“I guess we were just unlucky that day.” Bill Richard, father of eight-year-old Martin Richard.

“There should be no doubt in your mind that the defendant and his brother are equally guilty.” William Weinreb.

“Tamerlan Tsarnaev didn't turn his brother into a murderer.  To shred the bodies of women and children with a homemade type of bomb, you have to be different from other people.  If you are capable of such hate, such callousness that you can murder and maim twenty people and then drive to Whole Foods and buy some milk, can you really blame it on your brother?” William Weinreb.

“The judgment is entirely yours.” U.S. District Judge George O’Toole’s instructions to the jurors.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Atrocities on Chichi Jima

Grady Alvah York
James Wesley "Jimmy" Dye
“We really were not cannibals…”
by Robert A. Waters

On October 4, 1946, an Associated Press article reported that “three Japanese militarists were condemned Friday to die on the gallows for cannibalism—a crime so heinous it is covered by no rule of war.  The 3—a general, a navy captain and a major—listened unblinking as a U. S. military commission ordered them to die for eating the roasted livers of 2 U. S. airmen downed on Chichi Jima late in the war.”

The three were Japanese Major Sueo Matoba, Captain Shizuo Yoshii, and Brigadier General Yoshio Tachibana.

Their victims were U. S. Navy Aviation Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Grady Alvah York of Jacksonville, Florida, and Radioman 3rd Class James Wesley “Jimmy” Dye of Mount Ephraim, New Jersey.

Early on the cold, gusty morning of February 18, 1945, a crew consisting of York, Dye, and Ensign Bob King, the pilot, flew their Avenger from the aircraft carrier USS Bennington for a dive bombing mission on Chichi Jima, a tiny once-uninhabited speck in the Bonin Islands.  By now, the Japanese were reeling from Allied advances in the Pacific, including recent raids on Tokyo.  Their once-proud military machine had been beaten down, ship by ship, island by island.  Yet they refused to surrender, many fighting to the death, others committing suicide when all hope was lost.

On Chichi Jima, the Japanese had established airfields, radio stations, and strong anti-aircraft placements.  One American pilot spoke of the difficulty of getting out alive after flying a bombing mission there: “Chichi Jima was a mean place.  They had very good gunners there.  When you hit Chichi, you were hitting a valley between two mountains.”

As Ensign King’s Avenger neared its target, anti-aircraft fire tore through the left wing, ripping off the tip.  Because of the damage, King temporarily lost control.  Thinking they were going to crash, he ordered his two crew members to bail out.  York and Dye successfully deployed their parachutes and landed in shallow water near Chichi Jima where they were soon apprehended by Japanese troops.  Meanwhile, King struggled mightily with the plane and was eventually able to control it enough to fly it back to the USS Bennington and land.

The fates of York and Dye now lay with their captors.

After interrogating the Americans, Japanese Brigadier General Yoshio Tachibana ordered them to be taken to the island rifle range.  There the two hapless soldiers were tied to trees and used for bayonet practice.  When it was done, Captain Masao Yamashita (who had supervised the bayonet practice) beheaded York.  Dye was also beheaded, on orders from Japanese Navy Captain Shizuo Yoshii.

But the cruelty did not stop with the deaths of the soldiers.  The Japanese officers, impressed by the stoic demeanor of the enemy soldiers as they were being tortured and killed, ordered their bodies cut up and their livers cooked.  Then, to inculcate the “warrior spirit” of their victims into their own bodies, thirteen officers consumed the livers and some of their flesh at saki parties.

After the war, the remains of York and Dye were exhumed and re-buried Hawaii.  The story of their deaths and cannibalization horrified American war crimes investigators.  The officers involved were tried, even though cannibalization of the enemy was not technically a war crime.  The officers were found guilty and scheduled to be hanged.  In all, the American military executed thirteen Japanese officers for cannibalism.  (At least a dozen U. S. airmen were eaten or partially consumed by the Japanese.)

At his trial, Major Sueo Matoba attempted to explain the reasons U. S. soldiers were cannibalized. 

“These incidents occurred when Japan was meeting defeat after defeat,” he said.  “The Iwo Jima situation was desperate and air raids (on Chichi) were increasing in velocity.  The personnel became excited, agitated and seething with uncontrollable rage.  We were hungry.  We tried every eatable animal and plant, like rats, mice, dogs and lizards.  I hardly know what happened after that.  We really were not cannibals.”

When Japanese Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana dropped from the gallows on a fine fall morning in 1946, his death was nothing compared to that endured by his victims, gunner Grady York and Radioman Jimmy Dye.  In fact, Tachibana had a Buddhist priest administer his last rites before dying.  York and Dye had only howling Japanese warriors to administer theirs.

NOTE: Much of the information for this story came from Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley.