Friday, November 28, 2008

Has DNA Solved the Murder of Joanne Lynn?

As she did every weekday morning, Joanne Ena Lynn, 11, left her home at 8:00 on September 19, 1949 to walk to school. Fall had come early that year, and the trees were rust-red along State Road 15-A in Hemlock, New York. Joanne wore a blue and white candy-striped dress, a red sweater, white bobby sox, and tan shoes.

According to local reports, Joanne was described as being five feet two inches tall and weighing 118 pounds. She’d gone barely an eighth of a mile from her home when she disappeared. Two motorists said they saw a girl fitting her description walking toward a 1938-to-1940 gray sedan with Pennsylvania license plates.

The village of Hemlock lies in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Nearby Hemlock Lake is one of the smaller bodies of water in the area, best known for its land-locked salmon. A few miles south of Rochester, in the 1940s the area was mostly rural.

When Joanne didn’t return home from Hemlock Central School that afternoon, her mother contacted police. The child was described as “a normal, happy girl” who looked forward to attending the Hemlock fair on the weekend.

Search teams combed the hills and gullies and dragged the lakes surrounding the area. Spotters from airplanes looked for the girl while police bloodhounds padded through heavy forests. After four days of futility, the National Guard was called in. On September 23, guardsmen searched all day in a driving rainstorm, coming up empty.

The following morning, 14-year-old Norma Marsden was gathering butternuts four miles from Hemlock. Two hundred yards off Route 15-A, she came across the body of Joanne Lynn.

The child lay face-down in a ditch. Lt. William M. Stevenson of the Batavia State Police told reporters that she’d probably been “lured or dragged into an auto, [and] taken out of the car and shot twice as she cringed in a grove of locust trees. One bullet entered her forehead and pierced her arm as she tried to shield her face. The other entered her left breast and emerged from her back.” Both bullets were collected as evidence.

Dr. Herbert R. Brown, Livingston county pathologist, reported that there was “evidence of an attempt to rape” but that the act had not been completed. Fingernail scrapings suggested that Joanne had fought her attacker.

In a bizarre twist, even though she was clothed, Joanne’s sweater and undergarments were missing.

Livingston County Sheriff Donald McColl worked diligently on the case. Many of his efforts to solve it were innovative and forward-looking. Immediately after the abduction, McColl issued a fourteen-state alert for the suspected vehicle. He and his detectives interviewed all known sex offenders but found no suspects.

Forensics experts determined that the gun used to kill Joanne was a German Luger semi-automatic pistol. For years after the murder, every time a German-made gun was found to have been used in a crime in New York or Pennsylvania, Sheriff McColl had it tested to see if it matched the bullets collected from Joanne. None ever did.

McColl also developed a “secret witness plan.” Citizens had gathered $ 4,000 as a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. McColl asked anyone with knowledge of the case to write or type that information on a sheet of white paper. Newspapers reported that “McColl suggested tipsters withhold their names but devise a combination of six or more numerals, placing the figure on two corners of a sheet and tearing off one corner, before mailing.” In this way, they could claim the reward anonymously.

Despite the efforts of police, nothing worked. The years went by and no suspect was ever developed. McColl died in 1958, still working to solve his most difficult case. After nearly 60 years, the case still remains on the website of the New York State Police.

Years later, in 1989, William Henry Redmond, a fugitive suspected in the 1951 rape and murder of eight-year-old Jane Marie Althoff was finally tracked down by Pennsylvania police. A twice-convicted child molester, Redmond had worked for much of his life at carnivals and fairs around the country. His fingerprints were found in a pickup near Trainer, Pennsylvania - Althoff’s body was found inside the truck. After he was arrested, police reported that he admitted to her murder. Unfortunately, he died of heart disease before he could be tried.

Redmond was a suspect in the murders of several other girls including Joanne Lynn. An article in the Grand Island Independent reported that “Robert Montgomery, a New York State Police investigator, wrote in an August 1991 affidavit filed in Hall County Court that his agency’s crime laboratory had established a DNA profile of the killer from samples from [Joanne's] clothing.”

The article stated that Redmond had been a suspect in the investigation since 1951. “Redmond worked before and after Joanne Lynn’s death as a ferris wheel operator and truck driver for various traveling carnivals. At the time of her death, the Hemlock Fair and Carnival was in progress six miles south of where her body was found.”

In a chilling revelation, Pennsylvania police reported that when they searched Redmond's home, they found undergarments of pre-teen girls.

Whether Redmond’s DNA matched that of the killer has never been published, as far as I can determine. If anyone has further information about this case, please contact me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ruined - The Story of Francis Evelyn

False accusations. Cops and prosecutors using the power of the state to try to break innocent people. A media that won’t ask the tough questions. We’ve seen it all before: Virginia McMartin and her grandson Ray Buckey; Richard Jewel; the Duke “rape” hoax. The Evelyn case cries out for an investigation that will never happen.

On March 23, 2008, Francis Evelyn, 58, was arrested. In the late afternoon, cops arrived at his workplace, New York City’s Public School 91, placed the janitor in handcuffs and “perp walked” him to a squad car.

As he was led away, local news reporters were given a briefing by Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Evelyn, the commish said, had been arrested for the “heinous” rapes of an eight-year-old student. The attacks had occurred numerous times in a rest room in the school’s basement. “I think the [child’s] mother was told and didn’t fully believe the child early on,” Kelly said. “But evidence was developed and when the detective went to the school the other day she [the accuser] actually saw the individual and pointed him out.”

Evelyn later described his arrest: “Before they take me [out of school] I asked them, ‘What are you locking me up for?’ They said they’re taking me in for questioning. I said, ‘For what? I didn’t do nothing wrong. Why are you taking me down for questioning?’ ‘Put your hands behind your back.’ Bam! Handcuffs. That was it. The next thing I know we’re in this place, three officers questioning me, telling me I’m a liar.”

The headlines of the city's newspapers were unanimous: “Brooklyn Janitor Charged with Rape.” Television crews raced to get quotes for the six o’clock news. “How did this happen?” one parent standing outside PS 91 asked. “Where were all the adults when all of this was happening? How was a janitor able to lure this child to a bathroom?” Parents of the mostly black school threatened to pull their kids out.

Evelyn, a native of Trinidad, had no police record. The child who fingered him had initially said her attacker was white and bald. Evelyn is black and generally wears a baseball-style cap.

In the past, the child had also accused her father of sexually assaulting her. An investigation proved she was lying. Then she falsely claimed to have been raped by a classmate. The girl had made so many other unfounded accusations of sexual misconduct that even the school’s principal didn’t take her claims seriously.

In an interview a few days later, Evelyn described his ordeal at the hands of police interrogators. “I said, ‘Officer, these kids come down by twos to go to the bathroom if they get a permit...The bathroom has teachers, kids, it has [staff] from the kitchen, it’s as busy as the lunchroom.’ [Cops told me] it’ll only take you fifteen minutes to do what you have to do.”

In an unusual step, he was taken to Riker’s Island, one of the toughest prisons in the country. Corrections officers cursed him. Other inmates threatened him, calling him a baby-rapist and saying they would shank him. He was continually subjected to verbal abuse by guards and inmates.

The next day, police informed Evelyn that they’d found his DNA on the girl’s panties. They told him he was certain to be convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life. Detectives stated that they would make sure he’d be thrown in prison with the worst of the worst. He’d be beaten and raped and maybe even murdered. But if he confessed, they’d make him a “deal.”

For two days and nights, police hammered Evelyn. Their continued leaks to the press about his alleged crimes kept the story boiling. A monster was being created by the cops and the media.

Then as suddenly as it began, it was over. Evelyn was hustled into a courtroom late one night and all charges were dropped. There had been no DNA. There was no evidence of any kind. Cops had finally got around to interviewing the accuser and found her wild tales implausible.

The media, lapdogs for a corrupt police department, finally spoke with the accused. Nancy L. Katz, a staff writer for the New York Daily News, reported: “Francis Evelyn looks at the world differently now ever since he was falsely accused of raping an 8-year-old child...[He] once walked proud, worked hard and looked forward to a peaceful retirement. Now he’s too scared to go out his front door. Five months after his face was broadcast worldwide as an accused child rapist, Evelyn, 58, can’t sleep. He can’t stop the tears. He can’t wipe away the nightmare of being arrested, jailed and wrongly accused.”

Since his ordeal, Evelyn has given several interviews to reporters. He comes across as respectful of the law, sensitive, dignified. He wonders why police didn’t investigate the child’s story before arresting him and subjecting him to such a horrendous interrogation. He is currently suing the city for ten million dollars.

Here are a few questions the New York media might ask: how many others in that precinct have been convicted based only on the testimony of one or more eyewitnesses? How many have taken plea bargains merely to stop the questioning by so-called detectives? And finally, how many more people will this little girl falsely accuse as she makes her way through life?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Body in the Orange Grove

“My name is Micah Nelson and I’m currently serving time on Death Row...Despite all the harsh thing (sic) the Government may have said about Deathrow inmates we’re not all bad...” From the website of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Avon Park is a small community in Highlands County, Florida. With less than 10,000 residents, the town sits near the center of the state about seventy miles south of Orlando. Many lakes and rivers make the area a sportsman’s paradise and a mild climate is conducive to its major crop: citrus.

There’s an average of only one murder a year in Avon Park.

That’s why investigators on the outskirts of town were shocked at the sight of 78-year-old Virginia Brace’s body. Micah Nelson, the killer, had led them down the sand trail to a grove of orange trees. He’d admitted breaking into Brace’s house and kidnapping and murdering her. He would not admit that he raped her but the evidence was clear as semen was discovered in and around the body. Looking down at the lifeless form, cops saw that the victim had endured a brutal attack during her last hours.

Court documents state that when found “the victim was wearing only a blue nightgown and there was a yellow powdery substance on her body around the face, mouth area, and ground.”

It had begun in the early morning of November 17, 1997. Micah Nelson left his aunt’s home after quarreling with his younger brother. A convicted burglar and sex offender, he was angry at the world. He walked through town until he came to a condominium located at 24 West Palmetto Street. A light was on in the living room and Nelson peered in.

He circled the building. All the doors and windows were locked except the bathroom window, which was cracked open. Nelson forced it all the way and entered the apartment.

Virginia Brace was a snowbird. She lived in her native New York for six months during the summer and in Avon Park for the rest of the year. That Sunday, the night before the murder, her friends Gary and Catherine Vellams had come by. They’d had dinner with their long-time friend and played cards until about nine o’clock. When they unsuccessfully tried to reach Brace the next day, they filed a missing persons report.

Brace was sleeping when Nelson broke in. Her glasses and hearing aids were on the nightstand next to the bed. Money she’d withdrawn from the bank was in her purse.

As he prowled the house, Nelson accidently kicked a table in the bedroom. Brace awoke and screamed.

Nelson pounced on the helpless woman. DNA tests later revealed that he raped her. After the assault, he forced her into the trunk of her car, a blue 1989 Ford Marquis. Nelson drove aimlessly, finally ending up in an orange grove in nearby Polk County. He later told investigators he planned to kill Brace and hide her body there. But while driving down the sand trail he got stuck.

At about 9:30 a.m., Nelson called a towing company. Steven Weir drove to the orange grove with his tow-truck and began to hitch the chains to the car. As he did so, he heard thumping in the trunk. Weir later testified that when he asked Nelson what was in there, he was told it was a dog. Then Nelson quickly turned the radio up. It blasted rap music so loudly that Weir couldn’t hear any other sounds coming from the trunk.

After being pulled out of the sand, Nelson sped off without even thanking Weir. He drove to another orange grove, this one near South Lake Buffam Road. Nelson dragged Brace from the trunk. According to court records, the ex-convict said he “started choking her [but she didn’t] lose consciousness. He became scared and started twisting her neck. She didn’t pass out so he returned to the vehicle and obtained the fire extinguisher. Nelson returned to the victim, stuck the nozzle of the hose in her mouth and sprayed two or three times; then he went back to the car and got the tire iron. He tried to push the tire iron into her mouth [and] she tried to push it out.” Nelson eventually used the tire iron to strangle Brace to death.

The white powdery substance on Brace’s face that investigators saw when they first arrived at the orange grove was the dried foam from the fire extinguisher.

Nelson was quickly arrested. The evidence was overwhelming. Steve Weir and a co-worker identified Nelson as the man whose car they’d pulled out of the orange grove. Numerous fingerprints that were identical to Nelson’s were found in Brace’s house and car. His DNA matched semen stains found on a bedspread in Brace’s bedroom and in her vagina. Shoe prints in the sand matched his shoes. He admitted the crime and led police to Brace’s body.

As a juvenile, Nelson had served time for incest. In 1995, he was sentenced to five years in prison for a series of burglaries. Even though he escaped from the county jail and was convicted of that crime as well as the burglaries, Nelson was released from state prison after serving less than two years of his sentence.

At trial, he was convicted of the first degree murder of Virginia Brace. The jury also tacked on guilty verdicts for kidnapping, grand theft, and burglary.

So far, Micah Nelson’s appeals have been futile. He currently resides at Raiford with all the other nice death row inmates.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Smallest Victims by Robert A. Waters

Here are three unsolved mysteries, three child abductions that brought unimaginable horror to parents, relatives, and communities. As the years pass and merge into decades the murderers may still live among us. Will there ever be justice for the smallest victims?

Amber Hagerman. On Saturday, January 12, 1996, nine-year-old Amber and her brother Ricky rode their bicycles around a quiet neighborhood in Arlington, Texas. As Ricky veered away from Amber to return home, a pickup truck drove up and stopped beside her. A man got out, sprinted directly to Amber, grabbed her, and pushed her into the truck. In seconds, she was gone.

From nearly a football field’s distance away, a neighbor saw it happen. He immediately called 911, then ran to tell Amber’s family. As cops swarmed into the area, her grandfather, Jimmie Whitson, jumped into his car and raced to the spot where the pickup was last seen. The only thing he found was a discarded bicycle, looking oddly out of place with no child around.

Cops and volunteers mounted a massive ground-search while detectives grilled hundreds of workers at a nearby General Motors plant. Known sex offenders were rousted from their homes and jobs and interrogated. Amber’s mother appeared on local television shows to plead for her daughter's safe return. “Please don’t hurt my baby,” Donna Hagerman cried. “She’s just an innocent child. Please, please bring her home safe.”

It was not to be. Four days later, Amber’s body was found in a creek a few miles from her home. Her throat had been slit from ear to ear. Autopsy results indicated that she’d been held captive for two days. The child was a victim of a brutal sexual assault.

Police never developed any real suspects. They believe the abduction was a random, opportunistic crime. The FBI delivered its usual profile that could have fit half the men in Texas. After years of frustration, Amber’s grandmother, Glenda Whitson, told reporters that investigators "really don’t have much to go on. [They just have] a few fibers they found on her body...”

The only good thing to come out the tragedy was the development of the Amber Alert program. Since its inception, the system has been responsible for bringing home nearly 300 abducted children.

Brittany Locklear. On the morning of January 7, 1998, five-year-old Brittany was waiting alone at her school bus stop in rural Hoke County, North Carolina. Her mother usually watched from the porch of her house until her daughter got on the bus. But on this day, she stepped back into the house for a moment. Just that quick, Brittany was gone. Connie Locklear-Chavis will never forget that day. As cops and volunteers launched a desperate search for the girl, Locklear-Chavis fell apart. It got worse the next day when Brittany’s body was found three miles away. She’d been raped, then drowned.

Neighbors had seen a pickup truck in the area, but each witness had a different description of it. It was never found. No real leads were ever developed in the case. In fact, an investigator recently said, “I’m not sure if I know of a magic bullet that will solve this case. Time is our enemy.” Another investigator said, “This thing is eating at someone.”

A guilty conscience or a deathbed confession may be the only hope of ever finding out who murdered Brittany. “She loved everyone,” Locklear-Chavis said. “She didn’t have no faults with anyone. And, Lord, she loved going to church.” A local newspaper recently reported that “ceramic angels surround a vase at the end of her family’s driveway [near where Brittany was abducted]. They smile, hands folded in prayer, reminding Brittany’s family of the angel they’ll never see again.”

Tracy Marie Neef. It’s been 24 years since seven-year-old Tracy walked into Bertha Heid Elementary School in Thornton, Colorado and disappeared. Actually, she never made it into the school. She was dropped off by her mother and walked through the gate leading to her classroom. But she was ten minutes late and the doors to the building had been locked. As she wandered around trying to find a way inside, she was kidnapped.

Later that day, Tracy’s body was found near Barker Reservoir in Boulder County. Her books and other items were scattered beside her. According to a recent article in the Denver Post, Tracy “had a scratch on her right cheek and one above her left eye that appeared to be caused by a fingernail. The marks may have been caused as the kidnapper tried to control Tracy after pulling her into his car. [She had] ligature marks on both wrists indicating she’d been tied with a rope or cord.” She was still dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She’d been molested but not raped.

All signs indicate that this was a spur-of-the-moment abduction that quickly went bad. Investigators believe the kidnapper tied a coat-strap over Tracy's mouth so tight that it accidently suffocated her. After that, he panicked and drove as fast as he could to a secluded area where he quickly dumped her body.

Unfortunately, much of the evidence police gathered has been lost or contaminated over the years. Her frustrated father, Gary Neef, recently said, “Now with no DNA we’ll never know who did it unless the killer confesses.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Unnecessary Death

A vibrant, well-loved, hard-working woman goes missing. An ex-con who should have been behind bars is arrested for her abduction and murder. It happens every day. In this case, a convicted killer was released after serving only six years in prison. It was just a matter of time before he killed again.

When Lori McRae walked out of a Jacksonville, Florida Walgreens pharmacy at around 1:00 a.m., on January 31, 1995, she didn’t know that a chance encounter would leave her dead. A postal employee, her shift ended at midnight. McRae was well-liked, dependable, and happily married.

Ex-con David Wyatt Jones had been smoking crack every day for months. He had little interest in anything except the next high. Unlike McRae, he didn’t work. He was a committed burglar, but would shoplift, steal, or even panhandle if necessary.

After work, McRae called her husband and told him she planned to pick up a few items at on her way home. Her first stop was Walgreens.

An employee later testified that David Wyatt Jones came into the store at about the same time as McRae. He was in “total contrast” to her — she wore black jeans, a white blouse, and a forest-green jacket. She was neat and clean with immaculate fingernails.

Jones, on the other hand, had “his shirt opened...and his body [was] full of tattoos.” He had a distinct spider web tattoo on his right elbow. He was dirty and smelled bad.

He followed McRae out of the store. In Jones’ confession, he said, “I saw her in the parking lot and I walked up to her and choked her and threw her in the back seat.” He drove her to a remote area near the town of Callahan fifty miles away. According to the Medical Examiner’s report, McRae was found with her jeans pulled down to her ankles and her shirt pulled up above her breasts. “Ligature strangulation” was ruled as the cause of death.

There was no doubt about Jones’ guilt. He was arrested driving McRae’s Chevy Blazer. Using her stolen ATM card, he’d withdrawn six hundred dollars from her bank account. Bank cameras caught Jones completing the transactions. He knew her PIN number even though she’d memorized it and had never written it down. DNA showed his blood on her clothes and her blood on his clothes. He confessed to the crime and took police to the location of the body.

In 1997, Jones was tried and convicted of the first degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery of Lori McRae.

During the sentencing phase of his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that David Wyatt Jones had previously been convicted of second-degree murder. In 1986, while serving time for burglary, Jones escaped from the Duval County Jail and murdered Jasper Highsmith. The escapee was arrested while driving with his victim’s body in the trunk of a stolen car. Jones was sentenced to 20 years in prison but released after serving only six. (While researching this case, I was unable to determine why a career criminal, prison escapee, and convicted murderer was released before serving his full sentence. One blogger stated that it was because of prison overcrowding and that may have been the reason. One thing is certain: had he served his full term he would never have had the opportunity to murder Lori McRae.)

This time Jones was sentenced to death.

Florida governor Charlie Crist has signed several death warrants. He has stated that he wants to execute “the worst of the worst” first.

David Wyatt Jones certainly qualifies.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Where is Ty Theis?

A few years ago, America’s Most Wanted released a set of playing cards featuring 52 wanted criminals. Most had been profiled on the show many times. Tyrom Walter Theis has been walking free for more than fifteen years. He is accused of murdering three innocent women who worked at a service station. As many readers know from my previous posts, I have an immense sympathy for those souls who toil day in and day out at convenience stores, gas stations, and other jobs that put their lives in danger. The murders of these women cry out for justice.

It was early in the morning of January 17, 1994, when a masked gunman entered the Leather's Oil Company gas station in Gresham, Ore. The three women working that day were well-known in the small community. Mary Beth Garey, 25, and her mother-in-law, Rosalie Girtz, as well as Kay Endicott, were all victims of a robbery gone wrong - a robbery that cops believe was committed by a young man Kay knew all too well: former Leather's employee Tyrom Theis.

Tyrom, or Ty to the locals, worked at the gas station in the months prior to January 17. Described as wholesome, on-time, and conscientious, Theis only had one spot of trouble during the time he worked at Leather's: he took $30 from the till, confessed, and was placed on suspension. During the forced leave, Theis eventually told his boss that he wouldn't be returning to work and that he needed "a change of scenery."

Investigators believe that Theis targeted the gas station that Sunday morning because he knew the cash register would be full with the weekend's receipts. They also think that Theis laid in wait, staking out his former workplace, until he made his move. What he may not have planned on was Kay working on January 17.

Once Theis had the cash, close to $9,000, he herded the three women into the garage workshop at gunpoint and ordered them to lie face-down on the floor. Cops say that's when he opened fire, shooting all three women in the head.

Police tell AMW that Theis didn't skip town right away, staying in town for a few days and going about his usual business. It wasn't until two accomplices cracked and confessed to authorities that Theis fled.

Fifteen years after the horrific triple murder, cops believe that Theis is still in the United States and living under a new identity.

According to the AMW website, Theis is six-feet-four inches tall and at the time of the murders weighed 180 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. His habits at the time of his disappearance included chewing his nails down to the nub, drinking Jack Daniels and Budweiser, and smoking Marlboro Reds.

[This profile was compiled by Robert Brown of the AMW Staff. I have edited it.]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


My wife and I attend 15-20 movies each year. Some are dreadful. Some are entertaining for the moment but ultimately forgettable. A few are memorable. In the last two years, three stand out: Jodie Foster's "The Brave One"; “Apocalypto,” produced by Mel Gibson; and “Changeling,” produced by Clint Eastwood.

“Changeling” presents the true story of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie). A few months after her 12-year-old son Walter is kidnapped, the Los Angeles Police Department brings Christine a boy who claims to be Walter. To get favorable publicity for solving the case, they make sure reporters are available to record the homecoming. Even though Christine protests that the boy is not her son, cops coerce her into taking him home for a “tryout.” (In 1928, when this story happened, there were no DNA tests to establish paternity.)

Christine continues to insist to detectives that the changeling is not her son and her protests become more forceful with each meeting. The local newspapers get wind of her doubts about the boy and begin to publish articles heaping derision on police. It is at this time that Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) contacts Christine about appearing on his radio broadcast. For several years, Briegleb has used his popular show to expose the rot inside LAPD.

Captain J. J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) has staked his career on this case. Like he’s done on other occasions, Jones has Christine committed to the psychiatric ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital when she persists in denying that the boy is Walter. While Jones thinks this will sweep the problem under the rug, it in fact does just the opposite. Briegleb goads the media into a long-overdue examination of police practices and thus begins the downfall of Jones and other high-raking police officials.

As the political drama is unfolding, a guilt-racked Canadian teenage boy named Sanford Clark (Eddie Alderson) is picked up by police on illegal immigration charges. The boy tells detectives a horrific story of a madman in the desert town of Wineville who has been kidnapping and murdering young boys for years. According to Clark, one of the victims was Walter Collins. Clark's story is so riveting that the detective questioning the boy ignores pressure from his superiors and takes Clark out to the chicken farm where the killings allegedly occurred. As bodies begin to surface, cops realize that they can no longer cover up the story. At about the time Christine is released from the psycho ward the imposter admits that he lied about being Walter Collins because he wanted to come to California and meet actor Tom Mix.

The man who lived at the chicken farm, Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner), has fled to Canada but is quickly tracked down. A serial killer, he is convicted of murdering three boys and is suspected of more than a dozen others.

Christine Collins is vindicated and most of the brass at LAPD are fired or demoted. But Christine refuses to believe that her son is dead since his body was never identified among those found at the chicken farm. She meets with Northcott the day before he is hanged and attempts to get him to tell her whether he killed Walter. Northcott refuses.

In this movie, Jolie is not the hottie that many viewers expect. Instead, she begins the film as a decent-looking working woman but as the stress of her ordeal continues she becomes haggard and plain. In fact, there is absolutely no romance in the movie which is a definite plus.

In an era when serial killers were nowhere to be found on the radar chart of criminalists, Jason Butler Harner steals the show as Gordon Northcott. At times charming, weird, manipulative, psychotic, Harner plays all these roles to perfection. The hanging scene is the most realistic I’ve seen in a movie. Instead of the stoic inmate who quips with guards, Northcott grovels and begs and cries and whines (“You’re going too fast,” he shouts to the guards as he is being dragged up the steps to the gallows.) The warden and guards are grim-faced bureaucrats just doing their job. Even so, the viewer finds no sympathy for the condemned man.

Another sparkling performance is that of Eddie Alderson. His angst at having been forced to participate in the ax-murders and body-burying is palpable. His reason for confessing (“I don’t want to go to Hell”) is a genuine response for a country boy of the era. Unfortunately, he was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

To be honest, I wasn’t sold on John Malkovich as a minister. He’s too intimidating and sinister for a good guy. And some of the scenes in the psycho ward were a little hokie.

But overall, this is one of the best films I’ve seen in several years. The writer, J. Michael Stracynski, has done an admirable job of researching the case and making the era come to life. The depth of character displayed in Christine Collins strikes the viewer as real. She progresses from a typical mom to a formidable yet reluctant fighter.

I generally despise the Hollywood crowd. I think they’re spoiled, incestuous, thoroughly corrupt, arrogant, and out of touch with ordinary people. I also tend to think that many movies are made to indoctrinate the unwashed into believing the warped views of the stars.

Despite this, occasionally a diamond will sparkle in the cesspool.

“Changeling” shines.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Train Wreck Called "Fast Eddie"

A Train Wreck Called "Fast Eddie"
by Robert A. Waters

In John Updike’s poem, “Ex-Basketball Player,” Flick never makes it beyond his hometown. Unlike Flick, Edward Lee Johnson, Jr. moved easily from Ocala, Florida to basketball stardom. After four years at Lake Weir High School, he earned a scholarship to Auburn. Johnson had an outstanding career there. Then “Fast Eddie,” as he was called, was drafted into the NBA.

In his rookie year, Johnson shared playing time with Charles Criss of the Atlanta Hawks. The following year, he was a starter. After that, the years piled up, good years mostly. He was an all-star in 1980. By 1981, Fast Eddie was known for his hot-dog style of play. He scored almost 20 points a game that year. In his ten years in the NBA, he averaged 15 points a game.

But by 1987, it was all over.

He returned to his hometown a hero. No one there yet knew of a white powdery cancer eating his soul. By the late 1980s, his hometown of Ocala had shed its long-held Southern heritage. (The powers that be even moved the Confederate statue from the front to the back of the courthouse.) Northerners were moving in by the thousands and were mostly accepted by the locals. The gleam in the eyes of city administrators was green. The more people there are, they reasoned, the more money there is to be had by all. Fast Eddie Johnson was a celebrity. Like other Ocala sports stars, he could easily have turned his good fortune into gold.

But within a year of returning, cocaine had drained the gold from his bank accounts. Although he still had a small stipend from investments, it was never enough to quench the poison thirst.

The inevitable arrests followed. If local newspapers are to be believed, more than a hundred. The charges were endless: burglary, robbery, forgery, theft, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, manufacturing drugs, selling drugs. Johnson served time in Florida State Prison. Twice.

Thoughts of a comeback had long-since died. The respect he’d once had from colleagues and hometowners was gone. By 2006, Fast Eddie was a train wreck. And it was only going to get worse.

On August 8, 2006, the mother of an eight-year-old girl called police. She’d come home to find her daughter, shaking and trembling, curled up on the floor in a fetal position. The sobbing child told her mother that Eddie Johnson, an acquaintance of the family, had come to the house, taken her into her bedroom, and raped her.

Johnson was arrested. He was already awaiting trial for the rape of a woman that happened just a few weeks earlier. Although he denied the charges in both cases, Johnson was held for trial.

On October 30, 2008, Eddie Johnson was convicted of, among other charges, “sexual battery on a child under age 12” and “lewd and lascivious molestation of a child under age 12.” The only sentence available for the judge to hand down is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

(In a sad footnote, the coach of the Phoenix Suns is also named Eddie Johnson. Not “Fast Eddie.” Just Eddie. But newspapers around the country mistook him for the other Eddie. Suddenly, Just Eddie was being maligned by the sports world. It took months for him to clear his good name. “I don’t fault the other Eddie Johnson for having that name,” Just Eddie said. “I think it’s a great name. He just doesn’t happen to be a great guy.”)

The train wreck called “Fast Eddie” Johnson had spun off the track and crashed. It’s sad. But what’s even sadder are his victims. Those he robbed and stole from over the years. Those kids who once idolized him. The victims of his physical and sexual assaults. But most pathetic is a child who’ll have to live forever with the fallout from a brutal rape. The horror of that memory will always haunt her, will change her.

As Edward Lee Johnson, Jr. goes off to prison, the wreckage strewn in his wake is the saddest thing of all.