Friday, July 31, 2009

Florida Cold Case Playing Cards - Eileen Gaffney

Here's another case listed on the Florida cold case playing cards. Eileen Gaffney was murdered in my hometown of Ocala. There's not much about her on the web, but I occasionally see her photo on billboards in the area. Here's hoping her murderer is found, convicted, and appropriately punished.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cheryn McGillicuddy

Several years ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began issuing Cold Case Playing Cards to prison inmates. Each card carries the picture of one or more victims of unsolved violent crimes and a brief description of the crime. I own several of these sets of cards. They're also available for viewing at the FDLE website. This card shows the picture of Cheryn Hall-McGillicuddy whose murder has gone unsolved for more than five years.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unsolved Murder in a Small Town

It’s hard to watch the final moments of anyone’s life. That’s one reason the video of an unsolved murder stills haunts the residents of Lake City, Florida.

Nearly a year ago, on July 22, 2008, Linda Raulerson, 56, was closing Joy America Food Store for the night. It was 8:30 p.m. and no customers were in the store when a car parked just outside the front door. A man slouched in, sauntered to the counter, and pulled a handgun from the pouch of his hoodie. Without warning, he shot Raulerson in the arm. The thug yelled for her to give him the money from the register. Raulerson quickly opened the cash drawer and handed him a wad of bills. Then, to verify that she’d given him all the bills, she showed him the empty tray. This act of submission had little effect. For no apparent reason, the man fired again and she crumpled to the floor. The killer then left the store. A video monitor recorded the whole tragic episode.

Two days after the crime, the video was released to the media. The scenes and audio are chilling--they record the final terror-filled minutes of a doomed, innocent woman. What was not seen in the recording was Raulerson bleeding to death on the floor behind the counter. The coroner estimated it took as much as fifteen minutes for her to die. She was later found by customers who called authorities.

The crime shook the small town of approximately 11,000 souls. Lake City is poised between ever-expanding central Florida and the more rural panhandle. Murders in the community are rare, at least when compared to the central and southern areas of the state. In fact, Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee made that point. “This is a shock to the community,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. These are things that happen in [Miami], [Jacksonville], and [Tallahassee]. This is not something that happens here in our community.” The sheriff also opined that the criminal was from somewhere else and got off nearby I-10 to rob the store.

Linda Raulerson was a beloved mother and wife. In addition to enjoying outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming, Raulerson sewed Civil War-era period costumes for balls and pageants commemorating the Battle of Olustee. (In Florida’s largest Civil War battle, young children and old men from the surrounding area joined Confederate troops to beat back an attack by a larger Union force.)

A vital part of Lake City’s innocence died with Linda Susan Raulerson. The television crime show “America’s Most Wanted” profiled the case with a re-enactment of the murder and an interview with Raulerson’s husband. Unfortunately, no leads were developed that pointed cops to the murderer.

The killer is described as being a black male between 18-25; five-feet-ten to six-feet tall; wearing a dark hoodie and white sneakers as well as sunglasses and a shirt with white stripes; and driving a 1993-1995 four-door Buick Regal. Investigators think he has committed other such crimes before.

Here’s hoping he’s caught soon and stuck with a poison needle.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

United Breaks Guitars -- Great Video

Anybody who’s ever tried to get some kind of satisfaction from large corporations can identify with this song. While this story isn’t about kidnapping and it’s not about murder (at least in the technical sense), it certainly qualifies as mayhem. The lo-o-ong delays faced by customers when attempting to speak with an actual person about a problem are designed to weaken resolve and cause the complainant to give up. Enjoy the video.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Kidnapping, Rape, and Cold-Blooded Murder of Adella Simmons

John Richard Marek wants to keep living. He is one of three Florida prisoners with active execution warrants. On July 1, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments from the convicted killer’s attorney claiming that he should be re-sentenced to life in prison. Marek alleged that his cohort, Raymond Wigley, committed the actual murder of Adella Simmons [pictured]. Wigley is conveniently dead--he was strangled to death by another inmate in 2000.

The following transcript from the initial appeal of the Florida Supreme Court summarizes the events that happened 26 years ago:

“This tragic incident began on June 16, 1983, when the victim [Adella Simmons] and her female companion were returning home from a vacation. The victim's companion testified that when the car in which the two women were riding broke down on the Florida Turnpike near Jupiter, appellant [Marek], who was driving a pickup truck, pulled over; that appellant was talkative and friendly; that he unsuccessfully attempted to fix the car and then offered to take one of the women, but not both, to a service station; that at approximately 11:30 p.m. the victim left with appellant and Raymond Wigley, who was an occupant of the pickup truck; that Wigley had been present during a part of appellant's conversation with the two women but remained silent; and that, during the five days she and the victim were together on their vacation, the victim did not have sexual intercourse.

“At approximately 3:35 a.m. the following morning, a police officer patrolling Dania Beach noticed two men walking from the vicinity of a lifeguard shack towards a Ford pickup truck. He testified that he spoke to the men, who identified themselves as Marek and Wigley, for about forty minutes. He noted that appellant was the more dominant of the two; that appellant joked with the officer and interrupted Wigley every time Wigley attempted to speak; and that appellant drove the truck away from the beach when the conversation was completed. Later that morning, the nude body of the 47-year-old victim was discovered on the observation deck of the lifeguard shack. According to medical testimony, the victim had been strangled between approximately 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., and was probably conscious for one minute after the ligature was applied to her neck. Her body was extensively bruised and her finger and pubic hairs had been burned. The medical examiner testified that he found sperm in the victim's cervix and believed she had had sexual intercourse after 11:30 p.m. on June 16. Bruises indicated that the victim had been kicked with a great deal of force. According to the examiner, some of the victim's injuries indicated she had been dragged up to the roof of the lifeguard shack and into the observation tower.

“Police issued a ‘be-on-the-lookout’ bulletin to law enforcement agencies for appellant and Wigley. On the evening of June 17, a Daytona Beach police officer, as a result of that bulletin, stopped Wigley, who was driving a truck on Daytona Beach, and found a small automatic pistol in the truck's glove compartment. Approximately one-half hour later in the same vicinity, police took appellant into custody. The victim's jewelry was later found in the truck.

“A fingerprint expert testified that six prints lifted from the lifeguard shack matched appellant's fingerprints, and one matched Wigley's. Only appellant's print was found inside the observation deck, where the body was discovered.

"The appellant testified in his own behalf that he and Wigley had traveled together from Texas to Florida for a vacation; that he had attempted to fix the victim's disabled vehicle and had offered to take the women to a filling station; that he fell asleep after the victim got into the truck and that when he awoke, she was gone; that he went back to sleep and woke up at the beach, where he found Wigley on the observation deck of the lifeguard shack; and that it was dark in the shack and he did not see the victim's body...”

Marek was sentenced to death while Wigley received life. Wigley’s prison lover eventually killed him, but before his death, several inmates claim that he took credit for the actual murder of Adella Simmons. The prosecution contended during the recent hearing that it is not unusual for prisoners to brag about crimes they did not commit to gain credibility with other inmates.

John Marek probably has a short future. The court is unlikely to reverse the original decision.

Jean Trach, Simmons' traveling companion who was left behind in the broken-down car, still grieves for her friend. She believes they both would have been murdered had Simmons not accepted the offered ride. "[She's] given her life for me," Trach said. "Because when you think about it, what if she hadn't have gone?"