Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Did the Big Boy Bandit Murder Mandy Dougherty?
Someone who had access to the North Lauderdale home of five-year-old Mandy Dougherty murdered her. Because two pit bulls were kept inside the family home, it’s unreasonable to believe that an intruder could have abducted her. The two most obvious suspects are her father, David Dougherty, and his friend, Stephen Covell, better known as the Big Boy Bandit. Both have extensive criminal records.
On the morning of September 22, 1994, David Dougherty called the North Lauderdale Police Department to report that his daughter was missing. He’d gone into her bedroom to wake her, he said, and she wasn’t there. David claimed the front door to the home was wide-open. After a two-day search, Amanda “Mandy” Dougherty’s body was found beside a canal near Boca Raton, 26 miles away. She’d been strangled to death. Although she was naked when found, police never revealed whether she was sexually assaulted.
For years, investigators believed that David Dougherty murdered Mandy. With his previous record and the fact that he was the last to person known to have seen her alive, he was naturally a suspect. According to police, David failed two lie detector tests and a voice stress test. As Sherlock Holmes would say, there’s also the fact that the two watch-dogs in the house never barked on the night Mandy went missing.
David had served time for manslaughter and had been placed on probation for attacking his 72-year-old cancer-stricken grandmother. Then, several years after Mandy was murdered, he was arrested for choking his wife during a domestic assault in which he held police at bay with a starter pistol. Cops logically concluded that David Dougherty may have flown into a rage and killed his daughter, then covered it up by dumping her body in a remote area.
However, since there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, David was never charged.
In his defense, David and his wife, Laurie, continued to insist that police investigate a former friend, Stephen Covell. The 31-year-old Covell had once lived in the house with the family but they “threw him out” because of his constant drug use and because Mandy found a cache of his sex toys.
But police continued to view David as their prime suspect.
Then, on November 30, 2000, that changed.
At about 7:00 a.m., in Oakland Park, near Fort Lauderdale, two pre-teen girls were pushing a scooter to school when a red van pulled up beside them. Suddenly, a man reached through the window and grabbed the ten-year-old by the hair. He yanked her into the car and sped away.
Police were quickly alerted but not before the kidnapper took the child to a secluded area and raped her. Two hours later cops received a call stating that the little girl had been dropped off at a store not far from where she was abducted. Witnesses again recognized the red van.
Within minutes, police spotted the vehicle. After a brief chase, they corralled the suspect.
They were stunned to learn his identity. Stephen Covell admitted to attacking the schoolgirl. He’d been a suspect in a previous sexual assault, this time on a three-year-old girl. And it turned out that the 300 pound suspect was the infamous “Big Boy Bandit” who had robbed at least six banks in the area. When police arrested him, investigators noticed burn marks and discolored skin from a dye pack that had exploded after his latest heist.
Soon investigators learned that he was a friend of Mandy Dougherty’s father. In fact, he was the friend that David and Laurie had accused of abducting and murdering their daughter. He denied that crime. However, he was one of the few people outside the family who could have entered the house without alerting the dogs. And his assaults of young girls notched him up as the prime suspect.
Covell had previously been convicted of burglary as well as other crimes.
Police have never stated whether they collected foreign DNA from Mandy or her clothing. But they never charged Covell or David Dougherty with the crime. Covell was given three life sentences for kidnapping and sexual assault of a child under twelve.
Since her killer has yet to be brought to justice, Mandy Dougherty was recently featured as the three of hearts on the third issue of Florida’s Cold Case playing cards.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 6:15 AM