Saturday, September 27, 2014

Just Get a Job

Shawn Custis Mugshot
Life’s a lot easier that way…
by Robert A. Waters

If 82-year-old Doris Thompson had worked a steady job, she might have retired decades ago.  Instead, she’s back in the slammer.  For fifty years, Thompson has been burglarizing homes and businesses.  “She’s not really apologetic about it,” a Torrance, California prosecutor said.  “This is her thing.”  She’s served at least 9 stints in prison, and it looks like she’s got more time coming her way.  Her latest crimes were, if nothing else, creative. reports: “In the latest incident, Thompson is accused of targeting doctors’ offices.  Torrance Police Sgt. Robert Watt tells KTLA she allegedly would enter an office, hide until closing and search for keys to the cash box.  She is accused of stealing about $17,000, and allegedly was identified by security footage.”  In addition to burglary, Thompson has used at least 25 different aliases.

The nanny cam shows it all: a mother and child sitting on a couch watching television.  Suddenly, a man bursts into the room and beats the woman to the floor.  Punch after punch rains down on her as her daughter watches in horror.  Shawn Custis, the suspect, has a criminal record dating back to the 1980s.  I counted 21 arrests for crimes such as burglary, unlawful possession of a handgun, robbery, assault, forgery, and resisting arrest.  In each case, Custis plea bargained his sentences to minimal time in prison, even though he repeatedly violated probation once released.  Because his alleged assault was caught on film and released to the public, millions viewed the horrible attack.  Now prosecutors are finally ready to charge Custis with crimes such as attempted murder and home invasion.  If convicted, he might serve some real time, like maybe life in prison.

His lawyer called William Sheppard “likable, loyal, kind and considerate.”  Except when he was high or robbing people to obtain money for cocaine.  Then he became violent and uncontrollable.  Sheppard’s criminal record dates back to 1989.  Finally, after committing his latest robbery, he was sentenced to 15 years, plus five years’ probation.  After Sheppard’s girlfriend lured a man to Indian Leap Bridge in Norwich, Connecticut, the career criminal robbed his victim at knifepoint.  The duo came away with $150, just enough for another round of dope.  Now Sheppard has until 2027 to think about how he might have avoided incarceration.  The judge who sentenced him said: “You’ve robbed people for the last 20 years.  All you do is scare people and take their money.”  (Sheppard was already on probation for armed robbery.)  Now, at least society will be protected from the crack-head.

I’ve often thought it might be easier just to work for a living.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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.”