Saturday, December 20, 2014

Who Killed Leah Lloyd Johnson?

Church Street, Near the Scene of the Murder
Teen’s murder was never solved…
by Robert A. Waters

The Leah Lloyd Johnson murder case in North Adams, Massachusetts baffled investigators for decades before it died of old age.

It was April 28, 1933 when Edward Dolan found Leah’s remains.  The body of the eighteen-year-old lay in a thornapple thicket east of Church Street.  Less than a mile from the murder scene, searchers located Johnson’s leather pocketbook.  Inside, police found a wrist watch that had stopped at 11:10, a comb, and a mirror.  The watch had been dented, as if it had met foul play.

The North Adams Transcript reported that “in order to reach the place where the pocketbook was found a person leaving the scene of the crime would have to cross the road, go down the steep embankment toward the tracks of the Boston & Maine railroad, and cross the land formerly occupied by the Hoosac Lumber Company, up another embankment and down the other side.  A person standing at the top of the second embankment might have thrown the articles away.”

Before nightfall, thousands of curious residents trooped through the brush-covered hillside where the body was found.  Any possible evidence that the killer left vanished as the crowds trampled the scene.

Investigators determined that Leah lived with her grandfather, A. M. Burdick, a retired janitor.  Grief-stricken, he arranged for funeral services and asked that only family and close friends attend.

Rumors began almost immediately.  The most persistent was that on the night of her murder she had attended a “whoopee party” with two couples.  This alleged night of “merrymaking” took place at a lakeside bungalow where women became “hopelessly intoxicated.”   Police questioned those who were supposedly involved, including a Navy sailor, and determined the rumor to be false.  Another discounted report was that Leah had eloped with a mysterious young man.

After finding letters written to the murder victim by Albert Reynolds, 23, police grilled him.  He stated that he had met Leah when she was sixteen, and they had become friends.  But he said he broke off the correspondence when his sister advised him that Leah was not the “type of girl” that he should date.  By the following morning, Reynolds, who had an iron-tight alibi, was cleared by police.

Leah had worked as a housekeeper for Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brunson.  They stated that she rarely spoke of her personal life, and seemed content to attend movies, read, or listen to the radio.  She was a reliable worker who often spoke on the telephone with her close friend, Ruth Crapo.  Ruth and several friends were interrogated for 48 hours, but provided no useful information.

Dr. Ellis Kellert conducted the autopsy.  The Transcript reported that “Leah was not carnally attacked on the night of the crime and [Ellert] indicates that there was nothing about her condition which needed to cause her or a boy friend to worry.”  Leah had been stabbed and strangled with a shoestring designed for use in a heavy work boot or a high-top shoe.  Police tracked down the owner of a local shoe store who stated that he routinely sold similar laces.

Throughout the investigation, the motive for the murder remained a mystery.  In fact, cops quickly became frustrated with the lack of leads.  On May 6, 1933, the Transcript reported that “Assistant District Attorney Harold Goewey and State Detective Silas P. Smith today suspended their investigation of the slaying of 18-year-old Leah Lloyd Johnson, convinced that the mystery is probably beyond solution.  The girl, employed by her neighbors as a household helper, was found stabbed and garroted in a remote field after she had left the home of her grandparents last Saturday night, ostensibly to go to a neighbor’s home to mind their children.  Investigators determined that the girl had misled her grandparents and did not have an appointment at the neighbor’s home.”

Periodically, police would take another look at the case.  In 1936, two confessed killers of a cab driver were questioned about the Johnson murder, but they were quickly eliminated.  In 1942, investigators spoke again with Edward Dolan, who found the body.  He reiterated that he was merely taking a walk when he stumbled onto the scene.  No evidence contradicted his story and Dolan was never charged.

Eventually, the case was shelved and the unanswered question remains: who murdered Leah Lloyd Johnson?    

Thursday, December 11, 2014

“Bumpkins and Yeehaws”

Taking refuge in the Second Amendment…
by Robert A. Waters

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post wrote that the Second Amendment is “the refuge of bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches.”  Well, not quite.  Here are just three of many true (not imagined) stories of homeowners protecting themselves and their families.

In November, 2014, Nashville (TN) Police Department issued the following press release: “Homeowner Gary Jonathan McCormick, 34, reported that he was watching television in the living room of his Long Branch residence while his wife was asleep on the couch when a gunman unknown to him (Jonathan William Corke), whose face was masked by a bandana, entered through an unlocked screen door shortly after 9 a.m.  McCormick said the gunman demanded money and other belongings.  McCormick complied, but the gunman continued to demand more.  While the gunman was dealing with the wife, McCormick walked into a bedroom, retrieved a .45 caliber pistol, and came out.  McCormick said when Corke raised a 9 millimeter pistol in his direction, he opened fire.  Corke was hit several times and fled to the front yard where he collapsed.  He died shortly after arriving at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”  At the time of his death, Corke was under indictment on multiple counts of home burglary and theft.  Police said the shooting was justified.

Indianapolis homeowner Howard Murphy retrieved his shotgun when he heard someone breaking into his home.  As Murphy hid in the pantry, Kocho Long entered the kitchen.  Murphy confronted Long, but the intruder attacked him.  After a brief struggle, Murphy shot Long in the leg.  The invader stumbled outside, and screamed for neighbors to call an ambulance.  Instead, they called the cops.  “Either I was going to get hurt or he was going to get hurt,” Murphy said. “I know I didn’t want to get hurt in my own house.”  After a stay in the hospital, Long was arrested for burglary.  Murphy, who was not charged, said, “If I can work for what’s mine, then people like that can work for what’s theirs.”  Murphy also had some advice for Long: “Get a job. Do things the honest way and stop breaking into people’s houses.  Because you don’t know who is waiting around the corner.”

In Lakewood, Washington, three violent intruders forced their way into the home of Harry Lodholm and his wife.  The robbers had been told there would be “weed, money, and gold” there.  None of those items were in the home, but the invaders wouldn’t be satisfied.  They pistol-whipped Lodholm, and dragged his wife from the shower.  Both were tied up as the intruders ransacked their home.  After they left, Lodholm untied himself and his wife and they retreated to their bedroom.  There, Lodholm took a handgun from its case as his wife called 911.  Suddenly, the intruders fired gunshots through the front door (which Lodholm had locked) and attempted to enter the bedroom.  Lodholm fired, killing Taijon Voorhees.  An accomplice has been arrested, and police are searching for the third man.  “I feel bad for their families,” Lodholm said.  “But they basically put us in an untenable position.”  Lodholm was not charged with any crime.

Is it really that difficult to understand that millions of normal citizens—black, white, male, female—own guns for self-protection?  And that in many cases every year, homeowners would be dead or injured if they did not have those guns? 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Murder in the Snow-Bound Alps

Death of the Iceman
by Robert A. Waters

5300 years ago, a solitary man met a violent death in the Alps.  Called “Iceman” because he was found half-frozen in ice, he has been subjected to scientific scrutiny for more than two decades.  The results of those studies have constantly shifted, but some things are known.

In September, 1991, while climbing a mountain pass on the border between what is now Italy and Austria, hikers found a frozen corpse.  They called local gendarmes, who pried the remains from its icy grave.  Once inspectors hauled the Iceman to a police lab, they realized his age and called scientists.  Otzi, as he is also known, soon became the world’s most ancient celebrity.  Suddenly, a routine police investigation became an international inquiry to discover everything possible about some of the oldest known remains in the world.

Investigators returned to the site and found numerous items carried by the Iceman.  These included the oldest copper axe ever found, as well as a bow and arrows, and a flint-bladed knife.  Scientists also recovered clothing, including shoes, a cloak, coat, leggings, cap, and other apparel.  The Iceman had worn a belt with a leather pouch that contained a scraper, drill, flint flake, and bone awl—this was probably a fire-starting kit.  A basket contained medicinal herbs and berries for food.

The Iceman seemed prepared for the cold climes of the Alps.

But he was not prepared for the attackers who killed him.

The thing that fascinates me about Otzi is that he is so similar to modern man.  Research has shown that he had many of the ailments that we’re afflicted with, including cavities, worn bones (arthritis), Lyme disease, and even lactose intolerance.  He had nearly fifty tattoos covering his body.  During his lifetime, he faced danger, and carried weapons for protection.  The Iceman attempted to keep himself warm by wearing the best clothing possible.  He ate relatively well, and traveled long distances.

He engaged in many battles during his 45 years on earth.  His hands, back, and legs showed signs of many wounds.  The Iceman’s last encounter left him dying in an ice-flow high above the meadow where he likely lived.

Who were his enemies?  Researchers don’t know.  One guess is that another clan may have attacked his village and Otzi fled into the mountains.  There he was chased down and shot in the back with an arrow.  (Doctors discovered a flint arrow less than an inch from his heart.)  After being shot, he may have fallen, or been unable to flee, because it is known that he engaged in hand-to-hand combat shortly before he died.  The Iceman was likely killed by a blow to the back of his head.

National Geographic published this report of his final fight: “[Archaeologist Thomas] Loy believes that the Iceman died in a boundary dispute with several individuals and that the Copper Age male received his first wound as early as 48 hours before his death.  According to Loy, the Iceman shot two different people with his arrow (DNA of two individuals were found on his arrow), each time managing to retrieve the arrow from his victim.  The Iceman's success, however, was short-lived.  He missed his last target, shattering his arrow-shaft.  The Iceman died before he could fix his weapon.  He was shot in the back with an arrow and was also badly cut on one hand.  Loy's reconstruction suggests the Iceman stacked his gear carefully on a nearby ledge, slumped over a rock, and died.”

This is just one interpretation of what may have happened high on the Alps that fateful day.  Other theories abound.  But what we do know is that the Iceman lived and breathed and died more than 5,000 years ago.  Continued study will no doubt open new windows into his short, sad life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida’s Lindbergh Case by Robert A. Waters and Zack C. Waters.

For 75 years, one of the most important cases in FBI history lay forgotten.  While dozens of books describe how the Feds took down John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Pretty Boy Floyd, and other gangsters in the 1930s, another audacious crime went un-noticed by historians.  Had the G-men not received credit for solving this case, the FBI would look much different today.  In fact, it might not even exist.

How could such an important case fall under the radar?

It happened a few months before the beginning of World War II.  From that point on, news of the war dominated headlines.  After the war, the case was all but forgotten, except by the unfortunate parents of the murdered child and their friends and neighbors.

On the night of May 28, 1938, five-year-old James Bailey “Skeegie” Cash, Jr. disappeared from his home.  A search mounted by the parents and townspeople failed to turn up the child.  They did, however, find a series of notes that demanded $10,000 for the return of Skeegie.  Within hours, the FBI had been notified.  Soon the small town of Princeton, Florida was crawling with more than 100 agents.

Why did the FBI care so much about a missing boy in a backwater town?

It all boils down to cold, hard cash.  By May, before the fiscal year ended, the FBI had run out of money.  In fact, J. Edgar Hoover had furloughed half his G-men.  This embarrassment allowed his political enemies to publicly denounce him.  But when Hoover got wind of the Cash kidnapping, he realized that if he could solve it, he might re-establish the FBI’s credibility with skeptical Congressmen.

The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash plays out against a back-drop of weird characters, heart-pounding suspense, and the overwhelming presence of the FBI.

The book would make a fine Christmas gift. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Another Riot, Another Time

“We got caught up in the minute…”
by Robert A. Waters

Regardless of what anybody says, there is no excuse for rioting, looting, and violence.  The Ferguson crowd should be prosecuted, but if previous riots are a measure, the thugs committing these acts will serve little time.  In 1991, the Rodney King riots left dozens dead and large swaths of businesses destroyed.  In most cases, the perpetrators were not held accountable.

Reginald was a working stiff.

Damian, Antoine, Henry, and Gary never worked.  Gang members, they made their living hustling and committing street crimes.

On that afternoon, Reginald drove a Kenworth T800 Tandem Axle Dump Truck through the heart of Los Angeles.  He was hauling 27 tons of sand to a plant in Inglewood.  His truck had no radio, so he was unaware of the riots that had exploded earlier that day.  At 6:56 p.m., he stopped at an intersection on Florence Avenue.

As groups of people blocked the juncture, Antoine opened the door of Reginald’s cab.  Several men pulled Reginald out and threw him onto the road.  A group of unidentified men began kicking him, while another smashed his head with a claw-hammer.  Damian hurled a slab of concrete at the downed man, hitting him in the skull and knocking him unconscious.  Henry and Gary helped in the assault, and afterwards, Gary danced over the injured man.

A news helicopter covering the riots recorded the whole sequence.  As the beating played out live on the evening news, Anthony spat on Reginald.  Others in the area made no attempt to assist the fallen trucker, nor did nearby LAPD officers.

From their homes, several residents watched in horror as the beating continued.  Eventually, at least four went out into the street to help.  After Reginald regained consciousness, he climbed back into the cab and attempted to get away.  One of the residents helped drive him to the hospital.

Reginald Denny survived, but his skull was fractured in 91 places.  Bone pushed into his brain.  His left eye was dislocated, the socket shattered, and doctors had to rebuild the sinus cavities.  Denny underwent decades of therapy.  His speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged.  His injuries ruined him financially, as well as physically.  Today, he lives and works in Arizona, avoiding the spotlight.

Four of Denny’s attackers were identified as Damian “Football” Williams, Antoine “Twan” Miller, Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson, and Gary Williams.  Watson later said: “Nobody specifically sought out Reginald Denny to cause him any harm.  We got caught up in the moment, just like everyone else.”

The “L. A. Four,” as they came to be known, served little time for their crimes.  All got light sentences or no sentences at all.

Damian “Football” Williams served four years of a ten-year sentence.  He was later convicted of murdering an acquaintance and sentenced to 46 years.

Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson had previously served a prison sentence for robbery.  After being convicted only of a misdemeanor for his role in the Denny beating, he walked free.  He later served another sentence for drug offenses.

Gary Williams, a drug addict and panhandler, also walked free.  He hasn’t been heard from since.

Antoine “Twan” Miller served no time for the attack on Denny.  He was shot and killed in 2004.  A Los Angeles Times article informed readers that “Miller had an extensive criminal record that included arrests and convictions for gun possession, burglary, theft and assault.”

While many minimized the behavior of the “L. A. Four,” even a quick glance at the Reginald Denny beating shines a light on viciousness that is rarely seen in the open.  Regardless of any supposed grievances, there was no excuse for the crime.

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.”