Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stolen Child

Paula Ream
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Grave-robbers Target Babyland
by Robert A. Waters

Paula Ream, who died in 1962, was much-loved. She never walked, never spoke, never did the things “normal” children did. She was born with a crippling, fatal disease called cerebral palsy.

But Paula had a family that cared. Her father made sure that she got a special chair so she could be comfortable. Her sisters changed her diapers and carried her wherever she went. Her mother worked outside the home but nurtured and loved her handicapped child.

Everyone who knew little Paula remembered her smile. The music and dancers on “American Bandstand” made her smile. Going for automobile rides made her smile. Simple things that most of us take for granted brought pleasure to the little girl who would never grow up.

She died when she was nine. Like previous generations of her family, Paula was buried in the Riverview Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

When her parents died, they were buried nearby. Other relatives passed on and were laid to rest in the same cemetery. To this day, family members visit the graves, including that of the child who never stood a chance.

That was why it was so baffling when police showed up at the door of Cass O’Dell and informed her that her sister’s child-size casket and remains had been stolen. Someone, a police chaplain said, had dug up Paula’s grave and removed everything except the vault and the metal plate that marked the grave.

Who could have committed such an unspeakable atrocity? At this time, no one knows.

“[Paula] was at the head of Babyland,” O’Dell said, referring to the section of Riverview Cemetery reserved for infants and the very young. “How did they pick her? A baby, a child who was like a baby? It’s just upsetting to all of us.”

Lancaster Police spokesman Tim Fry spoke to reporters. “This is an active investigation,” he said. “I don’t know of this happening in the twenty years I’ve been here in or around any of our burial parks.”

In recent months, bones of chickens and a circle of candles have been found nearby. This has led to speculation that local teenagers were responsible for practicing black magic or devil worship.

However, the consensus among family and many investigators is that the crime is more sinister. The grave-robbers may have been members of a cult that practices Palo Mayombe, a mystical Cuban-African religion. Experts informed local police that some practitioners use human skulls as part of their ritualistic ceremonies. The powers of a young child’s skull are thought to be even more potent than that of an adult and are highly prized, according to academics who study these religions.

Whatever the answer, the family is devastated. Fay Hamm, another of Paula’s sisters, spoke for the family. “I hope they trip themselves up and get caught,” she said. “I hope and pray for that every day. Everybody has lost a loved one, and you don’t want them to end up like that. To take Paula’s body is unbelievable.”

Lancaster City-County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible. You may contact them at 800-222-8477.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Defending Hearth and Home

Marquis Lee Patterson, Dewayne Edward Kemp, DeAungelo Johnson
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The Castle Doctrine
by Robert A. Waters

October 21, 2010 at 8:00 a.m.

Midwest City, Oklahoma Police Dispatcher: “911. What is your emergency?”

Caller: “I just shot an intruder and one got away inside my home.”

Dispatcher: “Did they have any guns?”

Caller: “I don’t know. They kicked in my door.”

The caller is thirty-one-year-old Amanda Walworth. Breathless, hyperventilating, she tells the dispatcher that one intruder is lying on the floor in her living room. “I think he’s dead,” she said.

A police report described the break-in and its aftermath: “Amanda Walworth was asleep in her bedroom when she was awakened by a sound in her house that she thought was an earthquake. Her two children, 2 and 3, were also asleep in their rooms. She then heard a second crash[ing] sound and immediately thought someone was breaking into her house.

“[Walworth] retrieved a handgun from the nightstand by her bed. She opened her bedroom door so she could see down the hallway. She observed light coming from the kitchen door which had been forced open. Knowing her children's rooms were between her and the suspects she walked down the hallway where she observed two male suspects in the living room. Amanda feared for her and her children's safety and began to fire the weapon at both subjects.”

During the barrage of gunshots, one intruder fell. The second raced through the front door and out toward the street.

A shaken Walworth then called 911.

Shortly after police arrived, a second 911 call came in. Someone has been shot in a drive-by shooting, the caller stated. Responding officers found Dewayne Edward Kemp, 15, bleeding from a bullet wound to the stomach. He was transported to the hospital where he underwent surgery.

It didn’t take long for DeAungelo Q. Johnson, 17, the man who’d called 911, to admit that he, Kemp, and Marquis Lee Patterson, 15, had planned to burglarize the Walworth house. Their objective, Johnson said, was to steal a big-screen television set.

Kemp and Patterson entered the home while Johnson acted as a lookout. Soon Johnson heard gunshots and saw Kemp running from the home.

Patterson died at the scene.

Kemp and Johnson were charged with first degree murder and burglary in the first degree. (In Oklahoma, all perpetrators involved in a felony can be charged with murder if a death results during the commission of that crime.) If convicted, they face long prison sentences.

In the 911 call, Walworth gave her reasons for shooting the invaders of her home. "I fired three or four shots,” she said. "[The intruders] scared me. I was just trying to get them out of my house. I didn't want them to hurt me or my kids.”

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater investigated the case and ruled that Walworth would not be charged with any crime. “The resident’s actions in defending her home and children were not only entirely lawful,” he said, “but necessary to protect her family. She and her family had been burglarized on at least two prior occasions and, during one of those prior incidents, she and her husband were at home when the break-in occurred.”

Oklahoma has a law which allows a victim to use deadly force against an intruder inside his or her home. In many states, it's called the "Castle Doctrine."

"Although I regret the loss of life and the lasting impact an incident like this has on the families of all concerned," said Prater, "the citizens of Oklahoma County have a right to defend themselves in their homes and I will aggressively protect that right."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Many States Issue Cold Case Playing Cards

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Cold Case Playing Cards
by Robert A. Waters

In 2003, during the early days of the war in Iraq, the United States created a set of playing cards listing the fifty most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s government. These were distributed to American soldiers. All except ten of those listed were either captured or killed, including Saddam himself, along with his two murderous sons.

Tommy Ray, a special agent with Florida Department of Law Enforcement, decided to make up a set of Polk County’s Most Wanted playing cards and distribute them to inmates in the local jail. A 2007 article by Richard Morgan in the New York Times described Ray’s theory. “His hunch was,” the article read, “that prisoners would gossip about the cases during card games, and somehow clues or breaks would emerge and make their way to the authorities. The plan worked. Two months in, as a result of a tip from a card-playing informant, two men were charged with a 2004 murder in a case that had gone cold.”

Since then, several additional crimes have been solved by inmates or even by citizens viewing the cards online. Dozens of states and municipalities have now issued similar sets of cards. Some of these states are New York, Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, Colorado, and Louisiana.

Shown above and below are several cards issued by the state of Indiana:

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who Murdered Pat O'Hagan?

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Still at Large
by Robert A. Waters

The old watch: their
thick eyes
puff and foreclose by the moon. The young, heads
trailed by the beginnings of necks,
shiver,
in the guarantee they shall be bodies.

From "Vapor Train Reflected in the Frog Pond"
by Galway Kinnell

Sheffield, Vermont is so small it has no traffic lights and no stores. It does have a post office and about 700 residents. The joke is that the sign that says “Entering Sheffield” on one side also says “Leaving Sheffield” on the other.

But it was no joke when seventy-eight-year-old Pat O’Hagan disappeared. On September 11, 2010, she was reported missing from her home.

The Vermont State Police took the lead in the investigation. Soon hundreds of law enforcement officers and volunteers combed the woods around the house. Divers scoured a nearby quarry. Helicopters rattled overhead. Searchers on all-terrain vehicles searched farms and fields.

There was no sign of the missing woman.

The frantic family gathered and told investigators that O’Hagan would never have left voluntarily. She’d moved with her husband to Sheffield fifteen years earlier. Her husband died a few years later and Pat lived alone in a refurbished farmhouse. She had five children and nine grandchildren. O’Hagan had many friends and was active in the community.

She loved camping and kayaking. She was president of the Sheffield Historical Society, active in her church, and volunteered at a food pantry.

Police were tight-lipped about the investigation from the beginning. After examining O’Hagan’s home, detectives told reporters that it was obvious she’d been abducted. But no further details were forthcoming.

As the search ramped up, the FBI joined in. Finally, three weeks later, hunters found O’Hagan’s remains. She was located near a hunting camp ten miles from her home. Police informed reporters that she’d been identified by dental records and had been murdered, but gave no other details.

Residents of Sheffield were stunned. “We’re all just very sad,” said Greg Bryant, a friend who worked with O’Hagan at the food pantry. “There’s a huge hole in the community. It’s a small community and she was a big part of it.”

Vermont State Police Major Edward Ledo said, “At this point, someone is responsible for the murder of a seventy-eight-year-old woman and they’re still at large.”

A $ 20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

In the meantime, residents are locking their doors and looking over their shoulders. “We know that somebody’s out there that knows [something],” Terry O’Hagan, her son, said. “Whether you’re involved, whether you’re not involved, whether you know, please come forward.

Anyone with information should call Detective Sergeant Jason Letourneau at 802-748-3111.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Strange, Savage Murder of Amy Gellert

Unsolved Homicide in Cocoa Beach
by Robert A. Waters

(A few days ago, my computer caught a virus that ended its life. A new machine was born and sent to my domicile. So, after a brief hiatus, I'm back online and writing once more.)

On the evening of March 20, 1994, Robert and Bunny Lehton returned home from church. As they entered their house on 1240 South Orlando Avenue in Cocoa Beach, Florida, they were confronted by a masked intruder who brandished a knife and gun. Threatening them, he tied up the couple.

They complied with the stranger in their home because they knew their twenty-one-year-old daughter would be arriving soon. Amy Gellert was in charge of working the sound board for the late afternoon church service and had remained there after her mother and step-father left. Robert and Bunny hoped to encourage the intruder to leave before Amy got home.

They would not be successful.

An article in the Orlando Sentinel described the weapons used by the assailant: "Their captor carried a double-edged dagger and a gun--a blank-firing stage-prop Brixia 8mm automatic that looks like the real thing but isn't...Investigators said the gun could have been used in the theater or plays. Deputies identified it from a piece of evidence left at the home."

Detectives from the Brevard County Sheriff's Office determined that the gun may have been a prop used by actors. "We believe [the intruder] was unfamiliar with this weapon," said investigator Gary Howard. "It could have been stolen from a college or university, [or] lost somewhere. We need to know who is missing this gun."

After binding the couple, the stranger paced back and forth. He indicated that he was waiting for someone to pick him up.

Bunny reported to investigators that the man had a mid-Atlantic accent. He wore gloves, she said, that "were knit, with leather on the palms and the backs, not like anything you could find down here."

As the intruder continued to pace, the lights of Amy's car flashed in the driveway.

This seemed to enrage the stranger. He suddenly launched a frenzied knife attack, severely wounding the homeowners. As Amy got out of her car, he approached her, stabbing her numerous times in the head and neck. She attempted to shield herself with a backpack, but was unsuccessful. After a brief struggle, the astonished young woman collapsed in a pool of blood and died.

After spending weeks in a local hospital, Robert and Bunny Lehton pulled through.

During the attack on Amy, the assailant dropped the gun's magazine. Years later, investigators were able to obtain a DNA profile from the magazine. However, they haven't yet been able to come up with a match from their suspect pool or any DNA databank.

The working theory of investigators is that the assailant and his accomplice knew the family attended church services each Sunday evening. The intruder was dropped off at the home with the intent of burglarizing it. He forced his way in and was ransacking the house when the couple returned. Since his cohort hadn't yet arrived to pick him up, the stranger came up with a new plan. Binding the couple, he waited for his ride. Then Amy came home. The assailant, according to the theory, panicked and decided to eliminate everyone. After stabbing the entire family, police stated that he fled toward the ocean near their home.

The man was slightly below average in height and had a pronounced Pennsylvania or Maryland accent. His knife had a twisted gold chain hilt. Robert Lehton, a psychiatrist, made a telling observation. "It seemed," Lehton said, "[that] he had a love affair with that knife, the way he was handling it."

For sixteen years, this case has gone unsolved. It's been investigated by several agencies, including the Brevard County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. There's a reward for information leading to the conviction of a suspect. Amy's case was also publicized on Florida's Cold Case Playing Cards.

It's likely that the killer or his accomplice has told someone about murdering a girl in Florida. If you have any information on this case, call 1-800-423-TIPS.

Justice for Amy Gellert demands it.