Monday, September 29, 2008

Shooting Back

Jeanne Assam

The Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Second Amendment as an individual right came as no surprise. It merely confirmed what almost every American already knew. The cases listed below illustrate one of several reasons the authors of the Constitution included this important amendment in the Bill of Rights.

Christian-hater. The killer had a plan. Annihilation. The New Life Church in Colorado Springs would bear the brunt of Matthew Murray’s diabolical rage. A couple of weeks before Christmas in 2007, Murray murdered two people at the Youth With a Mission Christian Center in Arvada, Colorado. Then he drove to New Life Church and opened fire in the parking lot, wounding a father and killing his two daughters. Armed with handguns, a rifle, and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, Murray then entered the lobby of the church. Again he opened fire. As parishioners scattered, a lone woman stood up and blocked his path.

Above the static bursts of gunfire from Murray’s semi-automatic rifle and the pandemonium erupting in front of her, Jeanne Assam pointed a handgun at the killer and ordered him to surrender. (Although she was identified by the media as a “security guard,” Assam was actually a parishioner with a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Several permit holders had volunteered to help with security in the church.)

As Murray turned his weapon towards her, Assam fired. Murray went down, wounded by several bullets. In a last desperate act, the killer put his own gun to his head and killed himself. Assam was later credited by state legislators with saving hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives. Matthew Murray had planned a Columbine-type massacre against the objects of his hatred — Christians.

Home Invasion. Jennifer Ann Hunley, Michael Joseph Nash, and Hunley’s young daughter were lounging in their Ocala, Florida home when two men burst through the garage door and entered the house. One intruder held a nail gun as a weapon while the second man had a handgun. They rushed Nash and began beating him. He fell to the floor as they used their weapons to pummel him. Hunley raced into her bedroom and retrieved a .357 Magnum. Returning to where the assault was taking place, the 29-year-old mother opened fire. The invader with the nail gun fled, but the second man returned fire. Hunley emptied her gun, causing him to flee. While no one was hit, one man was later arrested and a second suspect is currently at large. Both suspects have criminal histories that date back many years. The crime was believed to be a home invasion robbery gone bad. Hunley was not charged with any crime.

Shootout. Hugo Villalta, owner of Bentley’s Jewelers in Fort Lauderdale, buzzed open the door for two customers. Almost as soon as they entered, Damien Christopher James and Devaughan C. Heard pulled guns and demanded cash and jewelry. Villalta, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, reached beneath the counter for his own handgun. In the gun battle that followed, James was shot between the eyes. He collapsed to the floor, dead. Heard backed to the door, continuing to fire. He was hit in the chest by several rounds from the storeowner, but somehow managed to stagger outside. The surviving gunman was transported to the hospital where he’ll be arrested when he recovers. Both robbers had long records for crimes such as burglary, auto theft, kidnapping, battery, and drug possession. Villalta was not charged.

Busted. In Point Marion, Pennsylvania, 85-year-old Leda Smith was taking a nap when she heard a window breaking. Aware that a gang of thieves had been targeting homes in her neighborhood, Smith retrieved her .22-caliber pistol and a cell phone. She confronted the burglar, a 17-year-old boy. She handed him the phone and said, “Dial 911 and don’t think about throwing the phone. If you do, I’ll shoot you.” The teenager reluctantly called police. After he was arrested, Smith said, “I just hope I broke up the [burglary] ring because they’ve been hitting a lot of places around here.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Monstrous Crimes of Eric Charles Nenno

Seven-year-old Nicole Benton was excited. Her father, a guitarist, was celebrating his birthday in the Ranch Country Subdivision in Hockley, Texas. Buddy Benton’s band was playing for neighbors and a cookout was in progress. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Eric Charles Nenno lived two doors down. He worked as a salesman for a plumbing supply company. Unmarried, a loner, he had a secret no one knew about. He fantasized about having sex with pre-teen girls.

On that day, March 23, 1995, Nicole was just a few feet away from her father when she vanished.

Dense forests surrounded the neighborhood and searchers at first thought the child may have gotten lost. Neighbors wore pink ribbons as they scoured the woods while police went door to door looking for clues. Soon it became apparent that Nicole had probably been abducted.

Two days later, a neighbor approached police. He confided that Eric Nenno had recently been accused of fondling a ten-year-old neighborhood girl.

Police rushed to Nenno’s home. “When police showed up at his house,” a reporter from the Associated Press wrote, “Nenno invited them in and appeared nervous when they asked about the girl. He agreed to go to a police command [post] that had been set up nearby and agreed to talk with authorities, who asked him what he thought happened to the girl. His response was that he thought she [had been] abducted, raped and murdered.”

When asked who he thought may have done it, he replied, “Someone like me.”

Nenno was asked to submit to a polygraph test. He agreed, and was strapped to the machine. After several questions, the examiner stopped. He stared at Nenno, saying nothing. Nenno fidgeted for several minutes, then blurted out: “I flunked it, didn’t I?”

The examiner asked him where Nicole’s body was located.

“It’s still in the attic, I think.” Nenno replied. Then he said, “They’re going to kill me for this, aren’t they?”

Nenno signed a consent form and investigators converged on his home. Inside, in the attic crawl-space, they found the nude body of Nicole. She’d been beaten, strangled, and raped.

Nenno explained how he’d abducted the child. He’d told her that he wanted to pick up his guitar so he could perform with her father’s group and he asked her to accompany him. Nicole followed him to his house.

Once inside, Nenno attempted to have sex with the child. When she resisted, he beat her. Then he strangled her. For nearly two days, Nenno repeatedly raped the corpse before hiding her in his attic.

In his confession, the salesman claimed that for many years he’d fought his dark side, an urge to have sex with young girls. The compulsion, he said, had grown stronger and darker until he could no longer control it. When he saw Nicole, he claimed he couldn’t help himself.

During his trial, the ten-year-old neighbor testified that he offered to repair her broken bicycle. After fixing it, she alleged that he molested her. With this testimony as well as his confession to Nicole’s murder and the massive amounts of physical evidence presented by prosecutors, Nenno was quickly convicted and sentenced to death.

For thirteen years, his appeals have been denied. His latest made the bizarre claim that the silence of the polygrapher forced him to make statements he would not have ordinarily made. Because of those admissions, his lawyers claimed, he should have a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals summarily dismissed that argument and a federal district court followed suit.

Nenno is scheduled to be executed on October 23, 2008. Unless something unusual occurs, he has run out of appeals and should finally face Lady Justice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Abduction of Little Lee Crary

Lee Crary's Wild Ride
by Robert A. Waters

In 1957, George Edward Collins, Jr. was an unemployed aircraft riveter with a live-in girlfriend and an infant daughter. At twenty-three, he was broke and desperate. His car was a rattle-trap with holes in its trunk, his electricity had been cut off, he’d had his television repossessed, and he was about to be evicted from his ramshackle Everett, Washington home.

On September 24, Collins began driving aimlessly through the countryside, brooding over his bad luck. By mid-afternoon, he’d come to the town of Edmonds when he spotted a lone boy in a schoolyard.

Like Collins, eight-year-old Lee Crary had also had a miserable afternoon. Because he’d been taking daily penicillin shots to recuperate from a bout with rheumatic fever, his mother had forbidden him from going swimming. But as Lee was bicycling home from school, several older bullies accosted him and flung him into a pool.

Lee escaped and started home, frightened and wet, when his mother met him. She was furious that he had disobeyed her. “I told him to get home and prepare himself for a spanking...” Beth Crary later told a newspaper reporter. “I didn’t know what the boys had done.”

Instead, Lee turned and cycled back to the schoolyard. He was angrily throwing rocks at trees when Collins drove up. After a brief conversation, Collins suddenly grabbed Lee from behind. “He gagged me, tied my hands behind my back, and forced me to get into the trunk of his car,” Lee said in a later interview with FBI agents. The boy was able to see where he was going because of the holes in the trunk. He was taken to a house a few miles away and sent to bed.

After dropping Lee off with his girlfriend, Katherine Myers, Collins wrote a hasty, illiterate ransom note demanding $ 10,000 for Lee’s safe return. He took it to Lynnwood and placed it in the mail.

On the afternoon Lee had vanished, Ed and Beth at first thought he might have run away to avoid punishment. They were quickly disabused of that notion when his bicycle was found in the schoolyard and the boy was nowhere in sight. Within hours of the disappearance, law enforcement officials concluded that Lee had been abducted. On the following day, after the ransom note arrived, it was certain.

Over the next three days, hundreds of local police, FBI agents, and volunteers searched forests and lakes surrounding the school. They interviewed hundreds of “perverts” and potential witnesses. To FBI agents, who’d investigated many abductions, this case was beginning to look like it might not have a happy ending.

Then, on September 27, twenty-five miles away Edmonds, near Lake Stevens, A. W. Armistead was driving home when a young boy flagged him down. The motorist opened the front door and a flea-bitten mutt hopped in, along with Lee Crary. “I’m the boy they’re looking for,” he announced.

Armistead raced home and called Snohomish County Sheriff Bob Twitchell. Lee told police and FBI agents that he’d been abducted by a man with a “ducktail,” held for three days, then tied to a tree in a nearby forest. He’d escaped and walked through the forest until he came to a road where he was picked up by Armistead. Surprised lawmen were amazed when Lee told them the license plate number of the old Chevrolet in which he’d been held.

That number led police to the desolate home of George Edward Collins, Jr.

The hapless Collins quickly confessed. Because of their financial woes, he said, he and Katherine had planned to abduct the child of a wealthy person in the area. They’d scouted potential victims and were still developing their scheme when Collins spotted Lee. On the spur of the moment, he decided to put their plan in motion.

When he later found out that Lee’s father was an auto parts salesman, not a wealthy magnate, he was devastated. But he decided to go through with the plan anyway, hoping the father could raise the money.

After being arrested, Collins showed some remorse. “It was a dumb trick,” he said. “I’m sorry I ever got involved. I’m ready to take my medicine.”

In several interviews with lawmen, he described the abduction. At first, he’d attempted to befriend the boy by talking about animals and nature. After snatching Lee, he placed his victim in the trunk, he said, knowing he could breathe because of the holes in the lid. They spent three days roaming the forests near Lake Stevens where they saw deer and grouse and other animals. Along the way, they were adopted by a homeless dog they called Rex.

On the fourth day, Collins tied Lee and the dog to trees and left to see if the ransom demand had been met. Because of the massive publicity, he was afraid to contact Ed Crary again, so he drove back to the forest. When he found that Lee was gone, he said he knew he would be captured. Lawmen then asked Collins if he planned to murder the boy. “No,” he replied. “That was way, way out of my mind.”

In his interview with investigators, Lee described how he’d escaped. “I remembered how Wild Bill Hickock got loose in a TV picture when he was tied up like that,” he said. “I figured I shouldn’t be sitting around in the brush like that, doing nothing, so I worked my wrists trying to get loose. Then I reached around with my teeth and got that bar in the buckle to drop loose.”

He freed Rex and made his way to the road where he was picked up.

After the interview, Lee and his parents were reunited. When the boy walked into the room, his father fainted.

On February 27, 1958, George Edward Collins, Jr. was convicted of second-degree kidnapping and sentenced to ten years in prison. The judge called it a “cruel and inhumane crime.” Then he added: “You are lucky that you weren’t found guilty of first degree kidnapping.” That would have carried the death penalty, he added.

Katherine Myers was convicted of reduced charges. She was released from jail and placed on probation.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Madeline Tobias Comes Home

The article below was published in the Joplin Globe on September 9, 1946. The headline read: “Abducted child reunited with mother, father.” It’s a feel-good story with a strange twist, but gives some insight into what was questionably a more innocent era. I’ve published the article in its entirety.

Terre Haute, Indiana, Sept 9, 1946 — A four-day search for 3-year-old Madeline Tobias ended when the brown-eyed little blonde was found in a humble home here today and she was restored this afternoon to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Tobias of Kansas City.

Shortly after Madeline was found police took into custody 22-year-old Mildred Louise Everett, a former inmate of the Ohio Girls' industrial school at Delaware, Ohio. FBI agents from Indianapolis took charge of the young woman and said a federal kidnapping charge had been filed against her in Kansas City.

Robert Vance, chief of detectives, said Mildred admitted taking the child from the Tobias home in which she had been employed as a maid and gave as her only excuse: "I loved the little girl and wanted her for my own."

Hitch-Hiked Rides

At Massilon, Ohio, Mildred's mother, said: "Mildred just loved children. She never had any of her own and that is probably why she took the Tobias child. She has never harmed any one, and I'm sure she would not."

Vance said little "Toby" apparently suffered no ill effects and no harm during the four days' absence from her home, although Mildred told of making the trip from Kansas City to Terre Haute by hitch-hiking and of sleeping one night in a fence corner.

This was the reunion scene: "Toby," freshly scrubbed at the Friendly Inn, a Terre Haute home for transients, was dressed in a pink pinafore provided by police. A pink ribbon was tied in her blonde tresses.

She was then taken to the office of Police Chief Forest Braden where she sat on the officer's desk, swinging her tiny feet.

Sped From Airport

The parents sped from the airport early this afternoon and were ushered into Braden's office.

Mrs. Tobias rushed to the desk and grabbed her daughter sobbing: "My baby, my baby. Are you all right? Are you all right?" "I am. They didn't beat me or slap me or anything," the child replied.

Then Mrs. Tobias sank into a chair. Meanwhile the father, beaming with joy, first patted the child and then comforted the distraught mother.

The family left Terre Haute in their chartered plane at 5:30 p. m. on the return trip to Kansas City.

Vance said the accused woman talked freely, describing herself as "one-eighth Creole" and telling of her incarceration in the Ohio industrial school; of two marriages, the first to her step-brother, John William Baker of Zoar, Ohio, and the second to Carl L. Taddley of Salina, Kansas. Neither marriage had been dissolved by divorce, Vance said the young woman told him.

Picture Led to "Break"

The "break" in the kidnapping case came this morning when Omer Funkhouser, who lives at the town of Barnhart near Terre Haute, walked into Chief Vance's office carrying a newspaper picture of Toby. "If I’m not mistaken this little girl has been at my home," he told Vance.

Officers took a look at the little girl and were convinced she was the missing child.

Funkhouser said he had been visiting his mother, Mrs. Mayme Fraizer, in Terre Haute Saturday. There was a little girl there he admired and a woman, who said she was the child's mother, offered to give the child away, saying she was unable to support it.

Funkhouser took the child to his home. He said the woman came to his home Sunday and sought to reclaim the child, but the little girl cried and the woman left.

Vance said that Mildred and "Toby" arrived in Terre Haute Friday night while the nation-wide search for the child was on.

Given Lodging

Vance said Mildred made application for assistance at the Goodwill Industries, a charitable institution, and was given overnight lodging by Mrs. Clova Moore. Mildred, through the institution, obtained employment as a housekeeper in the home of Ben Bailey, next door to the Frazier home. Bailey is the father of seven children, whose mother left home several weeks ago.

Vance said that after recovering Toby, officers went to the Bailey home and found Mildred there. They brought her to police headquarters and soon had her story.

Tobias, a former service man, with an overseas record, said he planned to return to Kansas City as soon as possible with his wife and child. He is employed by a mail company.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Welcome to my Nightmare"

"Welcome to my Nightmare"
by Robert A. Waters

When Todd Mendyk died of cancer in February, 2002, he cheated the executioner. That’s a shame. If anyone ever deserved to die the ignominious death of a condemned man, it was Mendyk. Let me warn you – the details of his victim’s last hours are gruesome and graphic. I’ll place them in italics in case the reader wishes to skim past them.

They were losers of the worst sort who spent their days sleeping and nights smoking weed, drinking beer, and chain-smoking cigarettes.

Phillip Frantz, 20, was a follower. He lived with his parents in Spring Hill, Florida, occasionally fiddled with his bass guitar, and dreamed of making it in a rock band. He rarely worked, was easily led, and tended to hang with the wrong crowd.

Todd Mendyk, also 20, was high on Satan. He craved pornography, especially bondage flicks. His dream, which he shared with the few friends he had, was to build an underground bunker in which to keep sex slaves. He read the Satanic Bible like a Christian reads the Gospel. He’d once been arrested for a murder in South Carolina, but had been released because of a lack of evidence.

On the other hand, Lee Ann Larmon, 23, had positive dreams. Unlike Frantz and Mendyk, the attractive brunette was willing to work toward achieving those dreams. She was a night-clerk at the Presto convenience store on U. S. 19 in Brooksville and attended Pasco-Hernando Community College during the day. Her dream was to get her bachelor’s degree in business.

On the morning of April 8, 1987, Larmon worked the graveyard shift alone. A heavy fog smothered the street outside and, except for an occasional straggler, the night was dead. Shortly after 2:00 a.m., Larmon relaxed on a stool behind the counter. Her last pleasant moments were spent browsing an Avon catalog.

For Mendyk and Frantz, the night was business as usual: smoking pot, drinking beer, and fruitlessly searching for women. Driving into the Presto store parking lot, they spied Larmon. “Let’s grab this bitch,” Mendyk said. Frantz later claimed he thought his friend was joking.

Inside, Mendyk walked to the cooler and pulled out a hamburger. Unpeeling the wrapper, he placed the burger in the microwave and asked Larmon for some relish. When she walked over to get it for him, he grabbed her from behind. Mendyk forced the frightened clerk out of the store and into his truck.

While Frantz drove, Mendyk repeatedly molested Larmon. “Please let me go,” she sobbed. They drove into a swamp a few miles from the store.

Jan Glidewell of the St. Petersburg Times described what happened next: “They stripped her, bound her to a sawhorse – with wire – and bound her hands behind her. Mendyk spent more than an hour sexually assaulting her, with his body and with a [broom handle. He] took a cigarette break and then went back at it apparently for about another hour.

“He and Frantz then left her hanging by her wired wrists from a scrub oak tree and began to drive away when Mendyk’s truck got stuck. The two men decided to go back and after hearing Larmon beg tearfully for her life, strangled her with a garrote made with a bandana and a knife. Then, seeing her quiver, they wrapped a piece of heavy coaxial cable around her neck and twisted it to be sure. Then, still unsure, they cut her down from the tree, dragged her body 97 feet to a concealing stand of palmettos, and stabbed her in the throat.”

After getting stuck, the killers walked several miles to a pay phone and called Frantz’s mother.

By now it was closing in on ten o’clock and the fog was beginning to lift. Mendyk, Frantz, and his mother (who was told they’d gotten stuck while mud-bogging) were trying to pull the truck from the mud when a police helicopter suddenly swooped down above them. Even these two dope-heads could guess that a search was underway for the missing clerk. They knew the game was up when officers converged on the scene.

Searchers quickly discovered the corpse of Lee Ann Larmon. Cops arrested Mendyk and Frantz and the killers were soon confessing their roles in the crime.

Frantz agreed to testify against his friend and was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years. After Mendyk’s trial, a jury took the unprecedented step of convening for only twenty-three minutes before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced the murderer to death.

Mendyk’s notoriety should have ended there. However, the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty set up a website for the killer. Page after page of his writings, artwork, and photos now became available to anyone who wished to view it. Amid all his whining about death row and his pseudo-intellectual posturing, Lee Ann Larmon’s name was never mentioned. Online, Mendyk attempted to transform himself from pervert and rapist and torturer and murderer into “The Artist on Death Row.” He even married.

His pen pal request began: “‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ is Alice’s line so I bid you Enter my mind’s shadowy Dreamscape...” He stated that he was looking for “hedonistic” and “pagan” correspondents. Here’s a small sample of the killer’s writings: “Walk on the wild side with an American death row prisoner, confined to a 6x9 cage like an animal. Since they treat me as such I’ll be one – an unabashed, horny aries ram with fiery, dominant personality...Let your passionate, primal urges join with me for some hedonistic, erotic fun – all feisty ladies welcome and the kinkier, the better!”

In his confession to cops, at his trial, and on his website, Mendyk never showed even a shred of remorse for the murder of Lee Ann Larmon. But, according to the CCADP, the unrepentant Mendyk became “a friend” to the organization.

While Mendyk was playing the role of the horny “artiste”, Lee Ann Larmon was largely forgotten, except by family and friends. True, a small scholarship fund had been established at Pasco-Hernando Community College, and the Brooksville City Council passed an ordinance calling for at least two employees to work at convenience stores during night-time hours.

But while her killer enjoyed scamming the suckers, the innocent hard-working student faded from public view like the fog that hid her last torturous hours from the cops who were searching for her.

Sometime around Christmas, 2001, Mendyk began complaining of headaches. Doctors found that he had developed a malignant brain tumor. A few months later, on February 10, 2002, the murderer died. His wife and “friends” mourned his passing.

Lee Ann Larmon deserved better.

Todd Mendyk deserved worse. Much worse.

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.

Friday, September 5, 2008

New Kid on the Row - Cornelius Baker

Some criminals, like Cornelius Baker and his girlfriend Patricia Roosa, are stupid. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. While casing a Daytona Beach neighborhood for future burglaries, Baker spied a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria and convinced himself that he had to have it. So instead of getting a job and working to buy a similar one, he decided to take the car by force. His stupid girlfriend went along with his plan. Within eighteen hours, one innocent person was dead, two others were injured and traumatized, and the thugs were looking at a possible date with Old Sharpie.

January 7, 2007.

At 8:30 Sunday morning, Elizabeth Uptagrafft, 58, heard someone knocking at the front door of her ranch-style home. When she opened it, a stranger began pistol-whipping her. One of the blows caused the .38-caliber revolver to discharge. The bullet grazed her skull and Elizabeth fell to the floor.

It was the beginning of an ordeal that would end with her death.

Cornelius Baker, 21, and Patricia Roosa, 20, both had criminal records. They were anxious to escape the heat of Florida and head to New York, so they decided to invade the house and steal the car of the occupants.

The homeowner’s screams and the gunshot brought Elizabeth’s 73-year-old mother out of her room. Charlene Burns, who suffered from chronic pulmonary disease and used oxygen tubes to breathe, later testified that as she came out into the hallway, she was attacked by Baker.

“My daughter was begging, ‘Please don’t hurt my mama,’” said Burns. As the helpless woman was punched mercilessly, she crumpled to the floor.

The commotion brought a third member of the household out of his bedroom. Joel Uptagrafft, 41, had been asleep. As he opened his door, Baker sucker-punched him. Like his mother, he was pistol-whipped with such brutality that within seconds, Joel lay unconscious on the floor.

Baker and Roosa spent two hours searching the house, stealing jewelry and $ 140 in cash. They also took Elizabeth’s credit card and forced her to reveal the pin number. Finally, Roosa yelled at Baker. “Hurry up,” she said. “Hurry up. Kill them if you you’re going to, but let’s go.”

The assailants dragged the bloodied Elizabeth Uptagrafft from her home and forced her into the car. In his confession, Baker later told investigators that he kidnapped her because he thought she had given him the wrong pin number for her ATM card.

They drove 24 miles north to Bunnell.

“Are you going to let me live?” Elizabeth asked.

Baker assured her that he wouldn’t kill her even as he drove to a remote area. A mile south of State Road 100, he drove down a dirt trail called Black Point Road.

Meanwhile, Joel Uptagrafft regained consciousness and made his way to a neighbor’s house. Sophia McDaniels answered the knock on the door. “This guy was standing there bleeding,” she said. “Blood was coming from his head. His whole face was covered in blood.” McDaniels didn’t recognize her neighbor. She left him on the porch while she called police.

Daytona Beach police quickly alerted agencies from surrounding counties. An area-wide search for the Crown Victoria and the missing woman began. Cops also put a trace on Elizabeth’s credit card. Within a short time, the card was used at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Bunnell.

A few hours later, a Bunnell police officer, Sgt. Randy Burke, was patrolling the area around Winn-Dixie when he spotted the stolen car. As Burke attempted to stop it, Baker sped off. A few blocks away, the suspect crashed the car. He was able to get away from pursuing officers, but Roosa was captured. Two hours later, Baker was arrested.

It didn’t take long for him to crack. He told police that he had let Elizabeth out of the car, then decided to kill her. As he got out, the victim attempted to flee. Baker stated that he shot her twice. “She was falling,” he said, “and before she hit the ground, that’s when I fired. I fired the gun two times.”

Unfortunately, his story didn’t match the facts of Elizabeth’s death. Forensic evidence indicated that she’d been shot at point-blank range, once in the neck and once in the forehead. Powder burns showed that the gun was just a few inches away when it was fired.

In August, 2008, Cornelius Baker went on trial. After a two hour deliberation, he was found guilty of first degree murder and kidnapping. The jury voted 9-3 for the death penalty and Judge Kim C. Hammond concurred.

Brenda Gillespie, Elizabeth’s sister, agreed with the verdict. She said, “My sister deserves our government to stand up and say, ‘We are not going to have this. People can have breakfast and lay around on a Sunday morning without being murdered.’”

Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood summarized the feelings of many who were in the courtroom. “[Elizabeth Uptagrafft] answers a knock at her door and she’s greeted with a smash to the side of her face and a gunshot that creases her forehead,” he said. “It was senseless. You could have robbed a 7-Eleven and got more money than they did here.”

Patricia Roosa’s trial will be held later this year. She also faces the death penalty if convicted.

Cornelius Baker will soon join 388 other inmates on Florida’s death row.

NOTE: Roosa was convicted and given life without parole.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Caledonia Jane Doe

On November 9, 1979, the body of a teenage girl was found in a cornfield in Caledonia, New York. She had two bullets in her head. Despite years of dedicated investigation by local and state officials, she has never been identified.

Because of cases such as this, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) website was established. It went online a few months ago with the Unidentified Decedent Reporting System.

This program, maintained by the National Institute of Justice and the U. S. Department of Justice, was designed to assist in finding names for deceased persons whose identities have not yet been established. It includes a database of cases from throughout the United States.

Anyone can search the Unidentified Decedent Reporting System database by going to and selecting the desired state and county from the drop down lists. A direct link to local cases can be created, ready to copy and paste onto any web-site. This is ideal for local newspapers, county governments, law enforcement, and non-profit groups to add to their homepages.

Caledonia Jane Doe was probably between 13-19 years old. She was 5’ 3” and weighed about 120 pounds. According to the Doe Network website, “she had curly brown, shoulder-length hair which had been frosted about four months before her death. The frosted hair was in the process of growing out. She had brown eyes. She was tanned and had visible bikini lines. She had no distinguishing marks...She was wearing a boy’s multi-plaid, button-down shirt, tan corduroy pants, blue knee socks, and light blue panties. [Caledonia Jane Doe had] a white bra, brown lace-up, ripple-soled shoes, and a red nylon-lined man’s windbreaker with black stripes down the arms, marked with the inside label Auto Sports Products, Inc.”

There is a wealth of additional information about this girl on the Doe Network website.

The inscription on her gravestone reads: “Lest we forget an unidentified girl. November 9, 1979. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Email my good friend Todd Matthews at for additional information about this case or the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.