Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Tragic Life and Death of Sweet Little Sixteen

On the edge of death
by Robert A. Waters

A teenaged girl stood on the bridge looking down into one hundred and twenty feet of darkness.  A few cars may have whizzed by, slapping their brakes at the sight of the pretty teen standing on the edge of death.  Three days before, she’d fled her foster home in Gainesville, Florida.  Where she spent those 72 hours, nobody knows—or more likely, nobody’s talking.  But in the early morning hours of May 15, she plummeted off that bridge into the unrelenting night.

The Bert Dosh Memorial Bridge on State Road 40 east of Silver Springs is an expensive artifact from a failed scheme.  Beginning in the late 1880s and up through the 1970s, many businessmen in the state envisioned a watery passageway that would cross Florida and connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.  They planned to accomplish their dream by building a series of canals to link the state’s many lakes and rivers.  It was to be called the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, local, state, and Federal governments spent about a million dollars to build the oversized bridge across the miniscule Ocklawaha River.  Approximately 74 million dollars was spent on the entire canal project, but the bridge was to be the last dying gasp of the Cross Florida Barge Canal when growing environmental concerns spelled the end of the plan.

Spanning over 2,700 feet in length and about 120 feet high, the structure looks much older than its actual age.  Faded concrete railings, about waist-high, leave little room for walkers or bicyclists.

The girl lay sprawled on the ground beneath the bridge when a visitor to the nearby Ray Wayside Park discovered her.  Wearing a black top, multicolored skirt, and black shoes, the only jewelry she wore was a necklace with a heart-shaped charm.  Her hair had been dyed red, but investigators determined that its original color was brown.  The dead girl carried no identification.

So who was this lost child?

Investigators eventually identified her as sixteen-year-old Ann Ella Sagul.  Yet little real information surfaced.  Acquaintances recounted the story of a girl who became a ward of the state when she was an infant.  She allegedly spent the rest of her life in foster homes, moving from one to another.  Little is known about her, but a Facebook page she may have created implies that she was unhappy about moving so much.

Her real story continues to elude us.

Did Ann Ella Sagul jump from that bridge, hoping to escape an unhappy life?  Or did she accidently fall over the edge.  (If an automobile veered too close, she could have panicked and, while attempting to climb onto the railing, plunged into eternity.)

Or was she murdered?

Like the murky, ink-black Ocklawaha River that flows beneath that monstrous bridge, will Ann Ella Sagul’s life and death remain a mystery?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Flags of Five Nations

 
Should Marion County, Florida remove all its flags?
by Robert A. Waters

“If the Devil owned both Hell and Florida, he would rent out Florida and live in Hell!” A United States soldier during the Second Seminole War.

In front of the county administrative complex in my hometown of Ocala, Florida, five flags have flown peacefully for years.  These flags represent countries that once ruled Florida: Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America.

But a few weeks ago, in the wake of a white gunman shooting dead nine black members of a South Carolina church, the county administrator pulled the Confederate flag from the display.  A day later, the county commission voted unanimously to replace the missing flag.  As it was being reinstated to its rightful place in the display, the county administrator abruptly resigned.

A horde of media folks suddenly descended on our usually quiet little community.  Most of these out-of-towners seemed confused and dismayed that ignorant rednecks would proudly display such a supposedly racist symbol as the Confederate flag.

What is the history of the other four flags that have flown above Marion County?  Are Spain, France, England, and the United States any less culpable than the Confederate States of America?

On Spain’s first foray into the state, Pedro de Salazar enslaved hundreds of Native Americans.  Then, according to Florida: Then and Now, Hernando de Soto, who arrived a few years later, in 1569, “enslaved, mutilated, and executed the natives, often without provocation.”  This reign of terror continued during two centuries of Spanish rule.

In 1562, Jean Ribault and a group of French Huguenots decided to escape religious persecution in their own country and settle in the new world.  They established a fort near what is now Jacksonville, where the Spaniards quickly attacked them.  In an orgy of blood-letting, Spanish soldiers lined the captured French soldiers up on the beach and beheaded several hundred souls.  (The area is now known as Matansas, meaning “massacre.”)  This ended the short-lived French attempt to colonize Florida, but they did fly the French flag for about three years.

In 1763, Spain traded the colony of Florida to Great Britain for Havana, Cuba, which the English had previously captured.

So far, we have Spain, France, and England that have flown flags over the state.  France’s sojourn in the state was brief, with few atrocities.  England’s ruthless power-grabbing ways are well-documented.  Without firearms, a dedicated group of patriots, and a bit of luck, Americans might be British subjects today.

In 1822, Florida became a territory of the United States.  In 1835, American troops arrived to forcibly evict the Creek and Seminole Indians from their homeland.  Thus began the Second Seminole War.  Broken treaties, imprisonment without legal representation, forced relocation, torture, and death followed as United States troops relentlessly sought to move the Indians or wipe them out.  At war’s end, only a few Seminoles remained in Florida, most seeking shelter in the nearly inaccessible Everglades.

In 1845, Florida became the 27th state to be admitted to the Union.

Florida seceded in 1861, becoming a part of the Confederate States of America.  It was readmitted to the United States in 1868.

In Marion County, the five flags fly precariously, subject to the whims of political pressure.  If, however, one flag is plucked from the display, maybe all the others should be taken down as well.

Except for that lone inoffensive French flag.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Murder in Welland
by Tom Falvo

The city of Welland lies in the Regional Municipality of Niagara, south of Toronto, Canada.

It is celebrated as the birthplace of many NHL players and has a large French-Canadian population.  The city has a rich railway history and is known for the Welland Canal.  It is also home to a Company of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.  Back in 1952, however, Welland was the scene of a tragic murder case that may have ended in a miscarriage of justice.

Michael Gazo, 48, was an employee at the Electro Metallurgist Company and lived with his 46-year-old wife Antonia in a modest house at 28 Church Street in Welland. They had two adult daughters. When Gazo started feeling unwell in the spring of 1952, he consulted the plant physician and Dr. E.A. Speers.  Gazo was found to be in shockingly poor health with a number of different ailments—he had been weak, depressed, sleepless, nervous, and was largely unable to work.  If that wasn’t enough, he may have been mentally ill.

Shortly after 11:00 on the morning of May 29,  police and medical officials were called to the Gazo  cottage.  Authorities included Deputy Chief Tom Corless, Detective Fred Wilson, and Constable Hugh Bradden.  There they found Mrs. Gazo’s body lying in a small sitting room of the house, her face a bluish color and with marks of bruising evident on her throat. An autopsy would later reveal that she had been strangled and had only been dead for an hour or less at the time her body was found.

Michael Gazo was present at the scene of the crime and almost immediately confessed to his wife’s murder, claiming that he was ready to turn himself in.  Neighbors, shocked by the discovery of the crime, said that they had heard no commotion in the Gazo home and had been unaware of what had happened until the police arrived. Indeed, Mrs. Gazo had been working in her garden that morning as if there was nothing wrong.

Gazo was charged Antonia’s murder, and on June 5, 1952, a Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Tennant, examined Gazo in the county jail. Although Dr. Tennant found Gazo seemingly slow and slightly retarded in his movements, the accused answered the doctor’s questions as best as he could, was polite and co-operative, and spoke in a formal manner when speaking with Dr. Tennant.  Dr. Tennant concluded that Gazo’s condition was similar to that of a person experiencing a frightening dream or nightmare, but that Gazo had already shown enough improvement in the first few days he was in prison to stand trial, but that due to his mental condition, he was not responsible for his actions at the time he had killed his wife.  Dr. Tennant also recommended that Gazo be moved to a hospital for observation because there was a danger of a recurrence of his symptoms.

Four months after Antonia’s death, Gazo stood trial in Welland where Prosecutor T. F. Forrestell faced off against Defense Attorney Allan L. Brooks.  The court heard how Gazo, after he had begun feeling ill, had gone to the hospital for certain tests, but had shown no signs of improvement (although that testimony appears to be a contradiction of Dr. Tennant’s earlier testimony regarding the state of Gazo’s health.)  Another psychiatrist, Dr. John Senn of Hamilton, testified that he fully agreed with Dr. Tennant's conclusion.  Dr. Senn stated that Gazo had a reasonable chance for recovery, but seemed incapable of appreciating the “wrongness” of his act at the time of the murder.  However, when Dr. Speers testified, he said that he had repeatedly examined Gazo’s health and found no signs of improvement. The doctor also said that, by mistake, Gazo had been misdiagnosed as being a diabetic.  Dr. Speers testified that Gazo was a “manic depressive” with “psychosis,” two mental illnesses that could have easily led to “impulsive acts such as suicide.”

The case went to the jury on Sept. 12, 1952.  Justice R.W. Treleaven, in his summary, stated that no person could be convicted of a crime “when laboring under natural imbecility or disease of the mind to such an extent as to not appreciate the nature of the act.”  The jury acquitted Gazo on grounds of insanity, but he was not yet out of the woods.  After Gazo’s acquittal, Justice Treleaven said to him that he “had to be kept in strict custody until the pleasure of the Lieutenant-Governor is known” and that Gazo would not be a free man until proper treatment by psychiatrists could be effective.

Gazo was then committed to a mental institution for treatment. It is unknown what became of him after that.

NOTE: Tom Falvo is a true crime buff who lives in Canada.

 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

True Stories with Happy Endings

Nicolas Gomez
 
The Goodness of People
by Robert A. Waters

Nicolas Gomez is safe, thanks to Courtney Best.  Standing outside on her break, the Corpus Christi, Texas pizza shop employee saw a white Dodge Avenger drive up.  Two people, a man and a boy, got out and walked to a store.  Best later said: “The man was walking across the parking lot, looking at me because I was the only person out here...[The boy] looked scared.”  Best remembered that she had seen an Amber Alert when she’d turned on her cell phone a few moments before.  While the man and boy were in the store, the pizza clerk checked the license plate of the Avenger.  It matched that of the tag number given in the Amber Alert.  Best called 911, then waited until the suspect and the child walked out of the store and left.  Following the Avenger in her own car, she relayed directions until police arrived and arrested Channing Galbraith, former boyfriend of Nicolas’s mother.  He did not have custody of the child, and has been charged with kidnapping.  Described as an angry, rejected lover, no one knows what he planned to do with the child.

When Brenda Hurst’s home burned down, the community of Boiling Springs, South Carolina and Alabama-based Carpenters for Christ rebuilt the structure as a gesture of respect.  Students raised money while business leaders donated furniture and appliances.  Hurst has been lead custodian at Boiling Springs High School for twenty years.  A student, Drew Peden, told reporters that Hurst is “always that caring person, you know when somebody’s just having a bad day, she’s always the first person to run up to them and give them a hug.  She’s always there. She’s at every sporting event ... going crazy.  She’s just the life of Boiling Springs High School.”  Hurst’s home had been in her family for decades, and when it burned down, the only item that survived was her family Bible.  Members of Carpenters for Christ, which has gained a reputation for building churches, decided to use their expertise and volunteer personnel to rebuild her home.  When she viewed her new residence, Hurst screamed with joy.
Last Christmas, Raleigh, North Carolina resident Sheree Carter moved into her first apartment.  For many years, she and her two children had lived in shelters and temporary housing for the homeless.  In October, she got a job at Chik-fil-A.  Working hard and saving money, Carter finally rented her dream place.  When employees at the restaurant learned she’d been homeless, they chipped in and bought Carter furnishings for her pad, as well as dishes and a dishwasher.  They also bought Christmas gifts for her children and gave her an envelope filled with cash.  The surprise gifts so touched Carter that she went to the media with her story.  When asked what she most looked forward to over the holidays, Carter said: “Seeing my kids’ faces, how happy they are, and actually be able to have our first official Christmas here and don’t have to worry about where we're going to stay the next day.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Throwaway Girl

Can you identify this child?
by Robert A. Waters

On June 25, a woman walking her dog on Deer Island, Massachusetts stumbled upon a gruesome sight: a trash bag containing the body of a young girl.  A zebra-print blanket and polka dot leggings were also in the bag.

Deer Island is actually a peninsula that extends into Boston Harbor.  A water treatment plant makes up two-thirds of the island—the rest is set aside for walking, jogging, picnicking and other outdoor activities.

How did this child end up on Deer Island in a trash bag?  After two weeks, why hasn’t someone recognized her?  How did she die?

Millions of people have viewed the child’s photograph.  Yet, she is still unidentified.

Massachusetts State Police reported that “the little girl was about 4 years old.  She had brown eyes and long brown hair and appeared to be white or Hispanic, authorities said.  She weighed about 30 pounds and was about 3.5 feet tall.”

If you have information about this case, please call Massachusetts State Police at (508) 820-2121, the Suffolk County, Massachusetts; State Police at (617) 727-8817; or Winthrop, Massachusetts Police at (617) 539-5806.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Are CNN Employees Part of the "Gun Culture"?

Former network employees saved because they were armed…
by Robert A. Waters

A gunfight in a New Mexico Motel 6 left Tomorio Walton dead.  The only people who ever heard of Walton were his many victims, law enforcement, and maybe a few friends and family members.  He had a long history of law-breaking and, at the time of his death, had fled Tennessee in violation of his parole.

On the other hand, Lynne Russell is a well-known former anchor of CNN News.  She and her husband, former CNN correspondent Chuck de Caro, were the intended victims of an armed robbery by Walton.  Turns out the two had concealed weapons permits and were packing handguns on their road-trip across America.  After Walton shot de Caro three times, the former newsman returned fire, ending the threat.  (Reports are that de Caro will survive the attack.)

Because of Russell’s celebrity status, the incident made headline news in most American newspapers and television outlets.  Many were surprised to find that two former CNN employees were part of what the liberal media routinely calls “the gun culture.”

Former CNN anchor Piers Morgan recently wrote: “[America’s] gun culture is disgusting.”  Soledad O’Brien has also railed against guns.  CNN guests regularly rip the NRA and gun-owners.

Fortunately, believers in gun rights make up a wide spectrum of the population, including tens of millions of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.  Liberals and moderates, as well as conservatives, depend on guns for protection.  This myriad of individuals was instrumental in passing the concealed weapons laws that allowed Russell and de Caro to save themselves.

In 1998, I interviewed nearly a dozen people who successfully defended their lives and the lives of others from vicious attackers.  Compiled in the now sold-out book, The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a Firearm, these stories emphasize the importance of being prepared if the occasion ever comes.  For instance, Sammie Foust was in her home minding her own business when a crack-head broke in and attacked her.  After being robbed, beaten, and slashed repeatedly with a box-cutter knife, she retrieved her handgun and killed her assailant.  Sammie, who later died of cancer, would never have imagined that she was part of the so-called “gun culture.”  In fact, the only reason she had a gun in the house was that a friend had given it to her and insisted she keep it for protection.

In “Lynne Russell’s Blog,” Russell writes: “The United States of America was not built on cozy tea time chats with British troops.  The principle of gun ownership and the citizen’s right to bear arms is not outdated…”

She and her husband proved that.

I’m glad they survived.   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

WLRN Reviews The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash

http://wlrn.org/post/grisly-timeline-floridas-lindbergh-kidnapping-case

Many thanks to Luis Hernandez of WLRN in Miami for his review of The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida's Lindbergh Case. Luis also interviewed my brother and co-author Zack C. Waters.

Below is the transcript of the review.  It also contains a portion of the interview and a timeline of the 1938 case.

A Grisly Timeline: Florida’s Lindbergh Kidnapping Case
by Luis Hernandez
WLRN.com
June 9, 2015

In the early 20th century, kidnappings were a scourge on the nation.

The Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 epitomized a time of widespread fear—the taking of the famous aviator’s son resulted in the FBI’s involvement, and later the Federal Kidnapping Act, granting the Bureau jurisdiction in these cases.

Many of the children taken in the 30’s were from wealthy families. Ransom demands ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many times the children were never returned and instead found dead. No one imagined the kidnapping of a 5-year-old boy in Princeton, Fla., would garner national attention.

There were three ransom notes found with specific directions on where to drop off $10,000 for the safe return of Skeegie Cash.

It happened in the late evening of May 28, 1938. James “Skeegie” Cash was taken from his bed on the second floor of his parents’ home.

Within a few hours, dozens of the town’s residents had gathered around the father, Bailey, as he read aloud a ransom note. Before dawn, local law enforcement and the FBI were on the scene.

There would be three ransom notes discovered in all. Bailey Cash would have to make two attempts at dropping off the ransom. Eventually, thousands of people and dozens of agencies searched the Everglades for the boy.

It took only a couple days before newspapers across the country were once again pasting on their front pages headlines of another kidnapping. The nation was enthralled, especially when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself flew down to Miami to oversee the search for the boy and the kidnapper.

As the days passed, hopes of finding Skeegie dwindled. Family members tried to stay positive. The FBI was leaning hard on numerous suspects, but nothing panned out. Hoover was under pressure to keep his heroic image alive and strong in the news.

The unsung hero was Dade County Sheriff D.C. Coleman. With all the attention on Hoover and the bureau, Coleman started trailing a local everyone knew as the preacher’s son, Franklin McCall. After a couple of conversations and some detective work, Coleman was convinced McCall did it. He eventually picked up McCall and without incident drove the suspect to FBI headquarters in Miami.

With pressure from Hoover and other interrogators, McCall eventually cracked and confessed and led investigators to the boy’s body. A coroner’s inquest was held shortly after the funeral. The jury came back within fifteen minutes confirming that the boy had died at the hands of the man in custody.

Many people across Florida wanted a quick trial and a rapid trip to the electric chair. On February 20, 1939, McCall was one of three prisoners listed for execution, but a last-minute call came in postponing the execution for one last appeal.

The U.S. Circuit and Supreme Court justices refused the appeal, and Franklin McCall was executed on Feb. 24.

McCall became the first state resident to die under the Florida Lindbergh Law. These were popular in numerous states as a deterrent to child kidnappings.

Even though Hoover got all the credit in the nation’s eyes for solving the case, locally, many people knew their man Sheriff Coleman had found the kidnapper. The story never stuck in the national consciousness the way other kidnappings did. That may be due to the fact that the year after the kidnapping, bombs dropped in Europe and World War II had begun.

The story has been turned into a book: The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida's Lindbergh Case.

Zack Waters says his brother was the one who found the story in a 1958 True Detective magazine. Waters says the case was unique for a number of reasons, one of them being that J. Edgar Hoover got involved himself. The FBI director came to Miami because he thought it would be an easy case to solve and he needed the publicity.  Congress was debating just how much funding the bureau should get and Hoover wanted a case to prove that the money was warranted.

Another reason this case was unique was the fact that the Cash family was not wealthy. Many kidnappers in other cases were asking for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. For Skeegie, McCall asked for $10,000. Skeegie’s kidnapping burned the fear into American parents that anyone could become victim to this crime.