Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Murder at Snappy Food Store

Michael Yacob

A Tale of Two Lives
by Robert A. Waters

At eight o'clock on the morning of May 4, 2008, nineteen-year-old Moussa Maida opened up the Snappy Food Store on Trollie Lane in Jacksonville, Florida. As he entered through the front door, Michael Yacob rushed in behind him. Masked and armed with a handgun, he forced Maida into the cashier's booth and made him open the safe.

With a bag full of cash, Yacob turned to flee. Maida, however, pressed a button that locked the the robber in the store. The clerk then locked himself inside the booth in what he thought was a bulletproof glass enclosure.

Yacob came back to the window and shot at Maida. He missed with the first round, but fired again. This time the bullet pierced the glass and hit Maida in the chest.

A surveillance video-camera in the store recorded Maida's final moments of life. After being shot, he fell to the floor. He moaned several times in an apparent attempt to breathe, then died.

In the meantime, Yacob ran to the locked door and tried to break the glass so he could escape. The diminutive robber (five-feet three inches tall and 139 pounds) fired several shots into the glass--eventually he pried open a hole and crawled out.

But during his struggle to get away, he cut himself. Investigators collected blood and developed a DNA profile. Two years later, while in prison for aggravated assault, Jacksonville cops got a cold hit. A match was obtained from the blood Yacob left behind at the Snappy Food Store.

In 2011, Michael Mulugetta Yacob, 24, was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Circuit Judge Adrian G. Soud was visibly shaken while watching the video of a cold-blooded murder in his courtroom. Addressing the killer, he said: “This is not a case of a robbery gone bad. This is not a case of things going out of control. This is the case of a man who made a conscious decision to end the life of a 19-year-old boy.”

Moussa Maida
Moussa Maida had immigrated from Syria when he was a teenager. He worked hard to learn English, and while attending Englewood High School, mastered the language. In fact, he later became an interpreter to other Syrian students at the school. According to the Times-Union, his younger sister, Cristen Maida, testified in court "that because he spoke English much better than his parents, he took on more responsibilities than an average teen at the store and at home."

"Moussa took me under his wing and helped me adjust to life in the United States," Cristen said. "I could ask him things I couldn't ask my parents. I can remember riding around with him, listening to music and singing to the top of our lungs."

All the while, the teen worked tirelessly in his father’s convenience store. Maida’s dream was to become a doctor and, after high school, he enrolled at Jacksonville Community College. He went out of his way to avoid trouble, concentrating instead on working to achieve his future dreams.

Maida's family was devastated by the senseless murder. “Most of the people can't believe it, especially my mom,” Cristen said. “It's a big loss for her to lose her son. She can't believe it. She's having a really hard time.”

Maida’s uncle, Fysal Taazieh, said: “Somebody took his future away...Since he got here, he's been working and going to school--that's been eliminated for no sense.”

Michael Yacob had a lengthy record filled with arrests for drug offenses, burglary, and robbery.

During Yacob’s sentencing, Judge Soud said: “This murder...is forever memorialized in full color on the video and audio security recordings of Snappy Food Store.”

Two lifestyles: one, a despicable life of violence and murder; the other, a productive life filled with dreams.

The wrong man died that morning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: A Season of Darkness


A Season of Darkness
by Douglas Jones and Phyllis Gobbell
Berkley Books, New York, 2011

Review by Robert A. Waters

From 1969 to 1974, I lived in a small town just south of Nashville. I found my lovely wife there and got my undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. After moving to my home state of Florida, my wife and I spent Spring Break, 1975 back in Tennessee and it was there I first read about the Marcia Trimble case. I was mesmerized by the mystery: how can a nine-year-old selling Girl Scout cookies in a busy middle class neighborhood simply vanish? The answer came decades later and was almost beyond belief.

A Season of Darkness describes the story of Marcia Trimble’s abduction and murder in Nashville. It chronicles the three-decade hunt for her killer, the near-framing of an innocent teenager, and advances in DNA that finally brought a serial rapist and double murderer to some measure of justice.

Marcia Trimble was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced angel. Her passions were Girl Scouts, playing with her friends, and going to church. She’d highlighted passages in her Bible and had deep discussions with her mother about religion.

Then, on February 25, 1975, at 5:30 in the afternoon, while going about her neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies, Marcia vanished. There were children out riding bicycles and playing basketball, mothers watching their kids from windows, and fathers driving home from work. In the middle of it all, the young girl simply disappeared.

The Nashville Police Department wasn't equipped to handle such a case. They made numerous mistakes: first, by allowing searchers to trample all over the crime scene; second, by immediately focusing on a strange teenager who had an almost unbreakable alibi; but worst of all, by searching a neighbor’s shed more than a dozen times and somehow missing the girl’s body lying beneath a tarp. And, as happens more times than they’ll admit, an FBI profiler got it 100% wrong, misleading investigators.

Thirty-three days after she disappeared, on Easter Sunday, Marcia was found two hundred yards from her home. The child had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Shortly after Marcia was killed, several rapes and a murder near Vanderbilt University resulted in the arrest and conviction of a sexual predator named Jerome Barrett. He’d spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes against women and children. He was never considered a suspect in Marcia’s murder until DNA linked him to the crime. A Season of Darkness describes his murderous past, and how he was caught and convicted.

Many years after the crime that shocked Nashville, police captain Mickey Miller said: “In that moment, Nashville lost its innocence. Our city has never been, and never will be, the same again. Every man, woman, and child knew that if something horrific could happen to that little girl, it could happen to anybody.”

In A Season of Darkness, Douglas Jones and Phyllis Gobbel have done a masterful job bringing the case to life. Their attention to detail takes the reader back to Nashville in the 1970s, and they pull no punches in critiquing a flawed investigation.

This is one of the best true crime books I’ve read in quite a while. I highly recommend it.

Jerome Barrett

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Convictions


Football Mayhem
by Robert A. Waters

Is it any wonder that many football fans pull for Tim Tebow? His persona is the exact opposite of what we’ve come to expect from college and NFL players. It seems that a guy like Tebow who combines good works with a Bible-based lifestyle would be praised, not condemned. Yet many sports analysts, who seem to minimize every misdemeanor and felony committed by star athletes, routinely ridicule Tebow’s convictions.

Listed below are snapshots from the lives of a few Tebow contemporaries:

Donte Stallworth. In 2009, Stallworth killed a man. At the time, he was a less-than-stellar wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. After signing a thirty-five million dollar contract, Stallworth repaid his team by catching only seventeen passes. On March 14, he spent all night at a bar celebrating the multi-million dollar bonus he'd just received. That morning, Stallworth sped away in his expensive Bentley and ran down Mario Reyes, a Miami Beach construction worker who was walking home from work. Stallworth’s blood alcohol content was 0.12, above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08. Pleading guilty to manslaughter, the underachieving wide receiver was sentenced to miniscule jail time (30 days), along with community service, house arrest, and probation. Stallworth currently plays for the Washington Redskins.

Cam Newton. While a student and backup to Tebow at the University of Florida, Newton stole a laptop from another student. When police arrived to search for the computer, he tossed it out the window of his dorm. After being arrested, Cam was suspended from the team. He completed a court-approved diversion program, and the charges were dropped. Cam then transferred to little Blinn College where his father allegedly shopped him around in a “pay-for-play” scheme. Cecil Newton’s asking price was more than a hundred thousand dollars. Even though Cam denied knowing of the illegal contact with big-name universities, it was inconceivable to many fans that he could be ignorant of the plan. Cam settled on Auburn and led the Tigers to a national title. He won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and now plays with the Carolina Panthers.

Reggie Bush. The Miami Dolphins running back received hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal payments while at the University of Southern California. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 but was shamed into returning it after the NCAA spotlighted his rule-breaking proclivities. Bush left the USC athletic program in shambles. Because of his actions, the Trojan football team was struck with severe sanctions. The team can’t play in a bowl game for two years. In addition, the university lost football scholarships and was forced to revoke all its wins in the 2004-05 championship season. But even with the wreck of a USC program floundering in the maelstrom of adversity, Bush still has his apologists.

Sam Hurd. A few days after Hurd and the Chicago Bears lost to Tim Tebow and the Broncos, the wide receiver was arrested. He allegedly purchased a bag containing one kilogram of cocaine from an undercover ICE agent. According to documents, Hurd indcated that he wanted to become a major player in the Chicago drug world. He also told agents he hoped to buy Mexican cell phones, which he claimed were “untraceable” in America. On December 16, he was released from custody after paying a $100,000 cash bond. Then he was released by the Bears. Allegations that Hurd dealt drugs to other NFL players were denied by his attorney. He has not been convicted of any charges and is legally presumed to be innocent.

Jonny Jolly. In 2011, Jolly was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for possession of narcotics. In 2008, the former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle was arrested in Texas for possessing 200 grams of codeine. This year, while awaiting trial, he was arrested again after police found 600 grams of codeine in his car. He was also driving with a suspended license. Jolly is currently serving out his sentence.

Albert Haynesworth. In 2009, the defensive tackle signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Redskins. His take? A cool one-hundred million dollars. Nicknamed the “Head Stomper” because of an incident in which he purposely stomped on the head of Dallas Cowboy center Andre Gurode, Haynesworth has a history of violent attacks on others. After several arrests for traffic violations in his home state of Tennessee, Haynesworth was driving his car more than 100 miles per hour when he attempted to pass a vehicle driven by Cory Edmonson. Haynesworth’s car clipped that of Edmondson, causing it to crash into a guard rail. Edmondson was partially paralyzed and is unable walk. Haynesworth got probation. He was let go by the Redskins after refusing to practice. Now he plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Maybe Tim Tebow should renounce his faith and become like these guys.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

“You Can’t Lead a Double Life and be Happy”


The Short Story
by Robert A. Waters

The nondescript garage kept its secret for more than six years. Then sheriff's investigators arrived, lugging shovels and a body bag. It took just a few minutes of digging to unearth the bones of a murdered child. The story of his death and discovery is almost beyond belief. But even more amazing is that the killer walked free.

Christine Sturm, 27, of Clovis, New Mexico, and her former husband, Dan, had recently divorced. It was 1953 and she worked as a practical nurse at Clovis Memorial Hospital. Christine was known as a reliable employee who never missed a day. As a hobby, she enjoyed writing mystery stories.

After having been married for six years, Christine and Dan were in the middle of a nasty battle for custody of their three-year-old son. As evidence of his wife’s alleged mental instability, Dan gave his attorney a short story she had written. It made him afraid for his son, the worried father said. After reading it, his lawyer was alarmed and personally delivered the narrative to Curry County Sheriff Val Baumgart.

According to the Clovis News Journal, the nine-page manuscript “went into detail in telling the story of the birth of [a] child, the alleged crime, and the burying of the body in a shallow grave in the garage. The manuscript then went on to relate how Mrs. Sturm, who had written the detailed statement in her own handwriting, returned to her duties as a nurse at the Clovis Memorial Hospital, became sick, and was administered a half-grain of codeine.”

Sheriff Baumgart later said he thought the story was too realistic to be fiction and deserved to be investigated. After the little boy's remains were found, Christine was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. She quickly posted bond and was released pending trial.

The sheriff met with reporters. “It was an unsolved crime the way she wrote it,” he said, “and would have remained...an unsolved crime if it hadn't been written. It was a pretty good story for an amateur writer.” The narrative used the names of real people that Christine knew, the sheriff said. The final sentence read: “You can’t lead a double life and be happy.”

To strengthen his case, Baumgart sent his detectives to the hospital. There they dug through old files in an attempt to obtain a record of the medicine Sturm said she took on the day after she disposed of the child. They found nothing.

The suspect denied the charges, but gave no explanation as to how the remains ended up in her garage. Acting on the advice of her attorney, she refused to take a polygraph.

Sheriff Baumgart was sure he could get a conviction based on the circumstantial evidence. The sheriff said Christine would have been seven months pregnant when she married Dan, a carpenter, on December 24, 1946. Her former husband stated that he never knew she was pregnant. “Boy, I sure was dumb,” he said.

On September 22, 1953, a hearing was held. District Judge George T. Harris stunned everyone when he dismissed the case. He informed prosecutors that the statute of limitations had expired. Judge Harris ruled that the date on a prescription for codeine found by her attorneys (after the failed attempt by sheriff's investigators) proved that the infant had been born in February, 1947. He stated that “charges were not filed by the prosecutor within the six year time limit allowed by law.” The judge ordered the short story sealed, never to be made public.

Christine Sturm, an attractive blonde, walked from the courtroom and disappeared into the mists of history. Dan and their son followed in her steps.

The young boy found in the garage never even had a name. He never had justice, either.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Quarterback Who Couldn't Throw Straight


Tebowing the critics
by Robert A. Waters

There once was a left-handed running quarterback who couldn’t throw straight. After his first two years in the NFL, the talking heads in the media labeled him a “bust.” Nobody believed he could pilot a team to a league championship, much less a national title. After his first two years, he’d thrown 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

A columnist for the Boston Globe wrote: “[He] probably has gotten more publicity for doing less than just about anyone in the history of pro football.” In one game, he threw for only 39 yards, in another, 83.

In 1987, that quarterback, Steve Young, was traded from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the San Francisco 49ers. The rest is history. Over the next 12 years, he guided his team to three Super Bowl championships. Young, now a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, won a record six passing titles and still has one of the highest overall passer ratings ever recorded.

The new whipping boy for the sports media is a running left-handed quarterback named Tim Tebow. Fans love him, but pundits have mercilessly savaged his “awkward” passing delivery. During his four years at the University of Florida, he threw for 9,286 yards, 88 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions, but those getting paid to tell America what to think about sports have convinced many that he can't throw.

After the Denver Broncos took Tebow in the first round of the NFL draft, ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd said, “You go out and get a college rah rah quarterback who will play for a year and a half at best.” Uh, it's going on two years and Tebow's performing at white-hot heat.

Before he was promoted to Denver's starting quarterback, ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said, “It’s embarrassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!” The lefty immediately won six out of seven games, which would be an embarrassment to most prognosticators but evidently not to Hoge. After Tebow took his Broncos from 1-4 to 7-5, the great talking heads changed their mantra from “he can’t win” to “he can’t have a successful long-term career.”

ESPN The Magazine columnist Howard Bryant wrote: “The public won't be able to ignore Tebow's failings forever. Wait until the NFL has a season's worth of game film on him. My suspicion is that merit will return Tebow to the bench, where his season started.” Bryant forgot to mention that after Tebow and his coaches study film for another year, they may figure out some new ways to confound defenses.

Before the New York Jets game, each of the NFL Network analysts predicted the Broncos would lose. The Jets defense was just too good, they said. Not only that, coach Rex Ryan wrote the book on how to stop the read option, which is what Tebow sometimes runs. After the kid led his team 95 yards for the winning score, the talking heads whose predictions were wrong interviewed him. They flatly told him that it was his "will, not skill," that won the game. Tebow ignored their condescending attitudes and replied with good humor and apparent honesty.

In the Broncos game with the Minnesota Vikings, Tebow threw for two touchdown passes, surprising the pundits but not the fans. Denver won 35-32.

Although they deny it, many fans suspect some analysts have a cultural dislike of Tebow. In a league filled with thugs and convicted felons, the young quarterback is quick to proclaim his Christian beliefs. But what really cranks the critics is that he seems to actually try to live by his faith. Jake Plummer, a former Broncos quarterback, took umbrage with Tebow's prayerful pose during football games. "I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ," Plummer said, "then I think I'll like him a little better." Plummer is the same guy who once pled no contest to groping three women in a bar.

Unlike many who represent the NFL "brand," Tebow is probably not going to get arrested for snorting coke, starting barroom brawls, or shooting himself. While in college, he was never convicted of stealing a laptop or accused of selling his football skills to the highest bidder. The fact is, as Roger Goodell recognizes, many football fans are fed up with the behavior of some NFL players.

Whether Tim Tebow can continue to be successful at the professional level depends on many factors, including luck, avoiding injury, continuing to improve on his weaknesses, spending his career with an organization that will let him play to his strengths while he “grows” to professional maturity, etc.

But as the analysts critique Tim Tebow, they might do well to remember Steve Young. In his first two years, he compiled dismal stats. On September 21, 1986, in a loss to the Detroit Lions, Bucs quarterback Young completed six passes out of fifteen attempts for only 39 yards.

On October 5, 1986, against the Los Angeles Rams, the future Hall of Famer put up some woeful numbers. In the first half, he completed only two out of seven passes for 19 yards. He ended up connecting on only eight passes for 83 yards.

I have no crystal ball into the future. Tim Tebow may flop like many before him. But in a few years, it wouldn't surprise me to see the unorthodox lefty lead his team to a Super Bowl championship.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Woman Kills Intruder in Self-Defense

Jesse Edward Theis

Burglar had just been released from jail
by Robert A. Waters

At 4:00 a.m., on October 21, 2011, Donna Hopper, 66, of Redding, California awoke to the sound of someone ringing her front doorbell. She grabbed her phone, walked into the living room, and asked who was there. A man outside answered, “Jeff.” Hopper asked him what he wanted and he said, “I’m coming in.” The frightened widow ordered him to leave.

Jesse Edward Theis, 37, was the stranger on Hopper's porch. He'd just been released from the Shasta County Jail a few hours before. Police suspected that he had attempted to break into a local car dealership and were already searching for him.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Hopper described what happened.

“I have a metal security screen door and he started pounding on that door. I called 911 and went down the hall and...got the gun [a .38-caliber revolver] out of the bedroom. And when I was getting the gun the spare bedroom window was right next to the front door and he beat on the window with both hands and broke the window. And I just remember coming into the doorway and firing two shots wild.

“He walked around my house across toward my garage [and] over toward my next door neighbor and she’s alone also. We both lost our husbands. I remember telling the operator, ‘He’s left.’ Then right away he came back. I’m looking at him trying to see what he looked like and I remember he had red hair and a beard and all of a sudden he put his knee on the window sill and tried to climb through the window and I just pulled the trigger again. I looked for a white shirt. I was afraid to look at his face. And I just shot the white shirt.

“And I remember my [911] dispatcher, she says, ‘Donna, take a deep breath.’ That’s all I remember her telling me all night. I thought I was screaming on the telephone and they said, ‘No, you weren’t.’ In my ears I’m screaming. The police came. They told me, ‘Don’t go out the front.’ They had me go out the back door over to the gate and took me to my neighbor’s.”

Theis was hit in the chest. The bullet penetrated his left lung and he bled to death at the scene.

He had a long criminal history that included arrests for selling drugs, indecent exposure, resisting a public officer, vehicle theft, and burglary. Theis, who seemed to be unable to stay out of trouble, had spent three years in the state prison.

After investigating the incident, the Shasta County prosecutor concluded that Hopper was justified in shooting Theis. “It’s clear that Ms. Hopper was in fear for her life when she fired the shot that killed the intruder,” Deputy District Attorney Josh Lowery said. “Therefore, the intruder’s death was a justifiable homicide under California law.” He called the shooting “a textbook example of self-defense.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Mysterious Disappearance of Olga Mauger


Vanishing Act
by Robert A. Waters

Olga Mauger was a raven-haired beauty. She was twenty-one years old when she married oilman Carl Mauger. Three weeks later she disappeared, never to be seen again.

On September 17, 1934, with the temperature near freezing, Carl and Olga had gone elk hunting in the Twogwotee Pass near Dubois, Wyoming. Olga reportedly knew the ravine-filled country like the palm of her hand. She’d hunted and trapped there since she was a child.

An article by Pat Frank written in 1947 described their trek into the mountains: “On this crisp fall day in 1934 they set out together after elk. Olga wore tan breeches, high laced boots, and in her belt was a small hatchet, and she carried a bag of sandwiches. They hiked
far into the wilds, always climbing towards the Great Divide, seeking a game trail.”

The story Carl told was that as they hiked the rugged mountains, Olga became tired. She decided to rest while Carl climbed a ridge so he could “spot” elk. When he returned twenty minutes later, she was gone. He called and searched for her, then organized a posse to continue looking in the mountains. Her sandwich bag, minus the food, was found near the last place she was seen.

Shortly after Olga went missing, a snowstorm swept in from the west, hindering the search. Even so, hundreds of law enforcement officials, volunteers, and Indian trackers scoured the area for days. After the snows cleared, they went back and searched again. But the missing woman was never found.

According to her sister, Mrs. Emma Moorhead, Olga regretted marrying Carl almost from the minute he placed his expensive diamond ring on her finger. They’d met at a dance in the booming oil town of Midwest, Wyoming just a few weeks earlier. Carl had brought Ella Tchack, his girlfriend of six years, but once he laid eyes on Olga, he was smitten. The strangers danced, holding each other close and whispering soft, romantic phrases of love. Ella stormed out, but it didn’t matter to Carl. He and his new flame left the dance together.

In a letter Olga wrote her sister a few days before she vanished, the new bride said she wanted to commit suicide. No reason was given.

Searches continued sporadically for more than a year. While the rugged wilderness may have claimed her, those who knew Olga well thought that was impossible. Everyone said she could handle herself in the wild.

Cops eventually concluded that Olga had disappeared of her own accord. She may have realized, the theory went, that Carl Mauger wasn't the man she wanted to spend her life with. A case of buyer's remorse set in and she decided to start over someplace else.

Emma told reporters that she’d found the following passage from the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” scrawled by Olga in one of her journals:

“Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”

What happened to Olga Mauger? The answer will likely never be known. Despite her familiarity with the mountainous terrain, did she accidently fall into a ravine where she remained forever undiscovered?

Did the reluctant bride somehow walk out of that rugged forest, hail a driver on some lonely road, and willingly vanish?

Or did something more sinister happen, something kept secret through the ages?

Carl Mauger waited for seven years, then divorced Olga. After marrying his long-suffering girlfriend, Ella Tchack, it was said they moved to California and lived long and happy lives.

In 1947, Pat Frank ended his story with the following paragraph: "Olga? She may be anywhere. She may be the stenographer in the next office--the one with a few gray hairs among the dark tresses."

Thanks to Unsolved - In the News for alerting me to this story.

ADDENDUM: The following information was provided by my author friend Ron Franscell.

Carl Mauger
Born 26 Feb 1906
Died March 1978
Age 72
Died in Redding (Shasta Co.) Calif.

Ella Mauger
Born 15 Dec 1905
Died 19 Mar 1998
Age 92
Died in Redding (Shasta Co.) Calif.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jennifer Wesho Murder Solved


Killer escapes justice
by Robert A. Waters

On August 6, 1989, the body of Jennifer Wesho was found in a heavily wooded area behind her home near Sand Pillow Mission, Wisconsin. Nine-year-old Jennifer had disappeared the day before. An autopsy revealed that the child had been raped, beaten, burned with cigarettes, and strangled to death.

Jennifer was a member of the Snake Clan of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Once known as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe, these Native Americans have inhabited the area for centuries.

There was little progress in the case until eight months later when Dion Funmaker was arrested. Investigators assured the public that he was the killer. When questioned about why Funmaker had been charged, Jackson County Sheriff Richard Galster said: “We would just not pick out someone at random just to satisfy the family.” He informed the media that inmates in the Jackson County Jail had fingered Funmaker, even though the suspect had no prior criminal record.

Three weeks later Funmaker was set free. An Associated Press article reported that "in April 1991, police arrested Dion W. Funmaker of St. Paul and charged him with first-degree intentional homicide. But the charge was dismissed and Funmaker was released 22 days later because some information in the investigation had been kept from prosecutors that indicated two other people may have been involved in Wesho's death." Even though he had an airtight alibi, Funmaker remained on the list of suspects.

DNA had been found underneath the fingernails of the victim as well as on her clothing and a beer bottle located near the body. In 2007, analysts matched the DNA to Christopher Thundercloud, a friend who had attended a family party on the day Jennifer disappeared. (No reason was given as to why it took four years to make a public announcement.)

Christopher Thundercloud

Thundercloud had been interviewed about the crime but was never a suspect. Jennifer, wearing a white blouse and pink shorts, was last seen walking with him.

In April, 2011, Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox held a press conference to announce the results of the DNA tests. "The locations where we found his DNA would suggest...that he killed her to shut her up from screaming or telling what he did to her," he said. "Because her fingernails had his DNA under it, he was doing something to her that she didn't like."

Unfortunately, Thundercloud will never be punished in this lifetime. He died of natural causes in 2006. Many in the Wesho family attended his funeral, still thinking he was a friend.

Christopher Thundercloud was described by neighbors as an alcoholic who was drunk most of the time. In fact, when he'd been questioned by police he claimed he couldn't remember where he was at the time of the murder because he'd blacked out. He later moved to California.

After being considered a suspect for two decades, Dion Funmaker was finally off the hook. Former District Attorney Al Moeller recently stated that "if things hadn't come out after the fact to blow apart the credibility of some of our witnesses, there's a good chance" Funmaker could have been convicted of a murder he did not commit.

His attorney, Michael Devanie, said: "He's just lucky that he [has] not been in prison all these years."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Murder of Hank Williams


Last Ride down the Lost Highway
by Robert A. Waters

Now that Dr. Conrad Murray has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, it’s time to revisit a similar case from nearly 60 years ago. The “Hillbilly Shakespeare,” as the media sometimes called Hank Williams, lit up those old tube radios like no one before or since. He also lit up his body with alcohol, cocaine, morphine, chloral hydrate, and heroin. Hank died at the age of twenty-nine, just a few days after Christmas in 1952. Unfortunately, the bogus doctor who fed him the drugs that may have killed him was never prosecuted.

Hank Williams was one of the most influential American musicians who ever lived. He inspired country, folk, and rock artists for generations. Born dirt-poor in Alabama, Hank grew up hawking peanuts and shining shoes on the streets of Montgomery. It was during the Great Depression and everyone, young and old, worked to support the family. In fact, the first song he wrote was called “WPA Blues.”

By the time Hank was thirteen, he’d learned to drink whiskey and play the Silvertone guitar his mother had bought him. He joined a medicine show for a while. Then, still in his teens, he landed a radio gig at WSFA in Montgomery, quickly becoming the most popular act in the city.

Hank married Audrey Sheppard Guy, and formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys. The group toured the South, playing mostly in honky-tonks where tips were few and bloody fights numerous.

In 1947, Hank and Audrey drove to Nashville where he auditioned with a recovering alcoholic named Fred Rose, co-owner of Acuff-Rose Publishing Company. It was a smart move. Not only did Rose polish many of Hank’s songs before he published them, he tried to help the rising star kick his growing dependency on booze and drugs.

Within a few months, Hank had signed a deal with Sterling Records. He and his band recorded several songs and had his first hit on the “hillbilly” charts with “Move It on Over.” After switching to MGM Records, the mega-hits soon flooded the airways. Hank’s songs weren’t stylish or trendy or politically correct: many were sad word-sculptures cut from the stone of memory; others were humorous yet touching stories about relationships gone awry; still others, like the classic “I Saw the Light,” leaned on his fundamentalist religious upbringing.

As Hank’s popularity grew, his personal life sank into an abyss of relentless suffering. He’d been born with an undiagnosed disease called spina bifida occulta which kept him in constant and excruciating pain. In addition to his back ailment, there was no peace in his home. Audrey and his mother Lily hated each other. Both were aggressive, calculating, and determined. (This wasn’t all bad. Lily had encouraged Hank to study music and bought him his first guitar. Audrey had brow-beat a reluctant Hank into auditioning for Fred Rose which resulted in his profitable song-writing contract.) Still, for country music's first super-star, life was miserable.

Hank and Audrey eventually divorced. Near the end of his life he married a raven-haired Louisiana beauty named Billie Jean Jones.

In the last year of Hank’s life, a con-man and thief became Hank's personal doctor. Toby Marshall, a convicted robber and forger who’d bought his medical diplomas from a traveling salesman, promised to help Hank get off drugs and alcohol. One of Hank’s band members, Tommy Hill, described the daily routine as they toured the country playing one-nighters: “Me and a bunch of the pickers talked about how [Hank’s manager] Clyde Perdue and Toby Marshall were just in it for what they could get out of Hank cause he was making pretty fair money. But Hank never saw any of it. You see, if Hank took one shot of whiskey, he was drunk, so they’d get a six-pack and allot him so many beers after he woke up until the time of the show and that kept Hank happy. Then the doctor would give him a shot so he’d lose all his beer, throw it all up, then they’d put black coffee down him, let him do the show, then give him a six-pack and put him to bed. Same thing every day. I said, ‘They’re killing him.’ The booker and the doctor.”

One of Marshall’s favorite “treatments” for addiction was a sedative called chloral hydrate. The drug is known to be lethal, especially when mixed with alcohol.

In the last week of 1952, the South was iced in. But the bookers had lined up a show in Canton, Ohio for New Years day and were determined that Hank would make it. On December 30, he climbed into the back seat of his 1952 Cadillac as Charles Carr, a hired driver, began the long trip from Alabama to Ohio.

Carr and Hank stopped to spend the night in Knoxville, but the singer was ill. Dr. Paul H. Cardwell arrived at the hotel and administered two shots of morphine mixed with Vitamin B-12. Toby Marshall, in Canton awaiting the arrival of Hank, spoke with Carr on the phone and ordered him to leave immediately for Canton, regardless of Hank’s condition or the weather. It was the middle of the night and the roads were iced up. Inside, the car was freezing. Investigators later estimated that the temperature in the back seat may have dropped to zero.

Hank died somewhere between Knoxville and Oak Hill, West Virginia. When Carr stopped for gas, he found country music's greatest star lying face-up on the back seat.

Even though a local physician ruled the death a heart attack, many who knew Hank speculated that he died from a combination of drugs, alcohol, and hypothermia. An autopsy revealed alcohol in his system, but the doctor didn’t test his body for drugs.

Hank’s songs had affected millions of fans and there was an outpouring of grief throughout the country. While Lily, Audrey, and Billie Jean fought over his money, he was buried in his hometown of Montgomery.

Three months later, Toby Marshall's house of lies came tumbling down. In March, 1953, Fay, his estranged wife, died in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The death was suspicious since she appeared to be in good health. Cops began an investigation and found that Marshall had written Fay a prescription for cafergot, a medicine designed to relieve migraine headaches. During the probe into Fay Marshall's death, local police discovered that Hank Williams had also been Marshall's patient.

Since Marshall lived in Oklahoma City, state officals there began an investigation into the doctor's background. Detectives learned that he'd prescribed chloral hydrate, a powerful sedative and heart depressant, to Hank nine days before his death. The prescription he wrote was for 24 grains of chloral hydrate (24 capsules) and was dated December 12, 1952. When the bottle was found, it was nearly empty. The likelihood is that Hank had taken the drugs right up to the time of his death. Marshall, who had already served time in Oklahoma for forgery and was currently on parole, was forced to admit to investigators that he'd obtained his medical degrees fraudulently. He also admitted that he'd previously been convicted of robbery in California and had served two years in San Quentin.

Oklahoma authorities toyed with charging Marshall in Hank’s death but couldn’t prove that the singer had taken drugs while in the state. One investigator said “if Marshall furnished Williams with this chloral hydrate [in Oklahoma] and the chloral hydrate was a contributing factor in his death, then we could file a case of manslaughter against Marshall.” In the end, the fake doctor had his parole revoked and served the remainder of his sentence in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary before being released.

Authorities in New Mexico also wanted to make a case against Marshall. Fay's body, which had not been autopsied, was exhumed and examined. However, there wasn't enough evidence to try the con-man so the case was dropped.

In 1954, Marshall was arrested in Oklahoma City for vagrancy, possession of barbiturates, and attempting to pass a bogus check. He’d registered at a motel as a doctor.

Three years later, the bogus physician was convicted in Denver of dispensing habit-forming drugs without a prescription. He served six months for that offense.

Because of the uncertainty about where Hank died and the fact that the West Virginia coroner ruled his death a heart attack, charges against Toby Marshall were never filed.

In today’s world, an investigation into the singer's death would have been more aggressive and Marshall likely would have been prosecuted.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Parolee Accused of Murdering Young Girl

Kelli O'Laughlin

Why wasn't John Wilson, Jr. in prison?
by Robert A. Waters

Everyone who ever met John Wilson, Jr., 38, knew he was a hardened felon. He’d spent seventeen of the last twenty years behind bars. But 8 years into an 11 year sentence, he was released on parole.

Wilson should have been in prison when, according to court documents, he stabbed fourteen-year-old Kelli O’Laughlin to death.

The felony complaint from the Circuit Court of Cook County reads: “On October 27, 2011, Indian Head Park police in response to a 911 call arrived at the residence located in the 6300 block of Keokuk, in Indian Head Park in Cook County, Illinois, and observed that Kelli had been stabbed in the back, neck, and chest. The victim was transported to Adventist Lagrange Memorial Hospital where she was pronounced dead...”

“Investigators from the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force have now determined that on October 27, 2011 the victim came home from school at approximately 3:40 p.m. That upon entering her home; the defendant confronted the victim, stabbed her multiple times and then dragged her body from the family room to the kitchen. A Chicago Cutlery carving knife with a blade length of approximately 8” was found next to a large blood pool in the family room. This knife had been part of the knife block set on the counter in the kitchen prior to the murder.”

Police reported that the murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong. Wilson allegedly broke into the home and was ransacking it when Kelli arrived home. After murdering her, he was traced through a cellphone he stole from Kelli. DNA was found on items he left at the scene and matched to his profile. He was also identified by several residents who noticed a suspicious character hanging around the neighborhood.

Records from the Illinois Department of Corrections show that Wilson was released on probation in November, 2010.

Wilson's prison record reveals an intractable thug with no regard for the laws of society. (The criminal history shown below doesn’t include unsolved crimes or juvenile crimes--Wilson was arrested the first time when he was 10 and had joined a street gang by the time he was 12.)

Here are some of his major convictions and sentences:

1991: Violation of the Controlled Substances Act. 5 years.
1991: Receiving, possessing, and selling a stolen vehicle. 5 years.
1993: Violation of Controlled Substances Act. 1 year.
1993: Aggravated vehicular hijacking. 7 years.
2001: Aggravated battery of a peace officer. 2 years.
2002: Felony Robbery of a School or Place of Business. 11 years.


The 2002 crime that got him 11 years was one of his typical strokes of genius. Wilson intentionally ran his bicycle into a car driven by a woman. When she got out to check on him, he choked her, then snatched her wallet. The crime netted him $63.00 and, since he was a multiple recidivist, eleven years in prison.

Even his family knew he was dangerous. Shaun Dantzler, his older brother, said: "My little brother is crazy. I told the judge this in Skokie. I told him this already. My little brother has a serious problem." Wilson's grandmother, Ruthie Dantzler, added: "If he did it, throw the book at him."

On the other hand, Kelli O’Laughlin was loving, athletic, and enjoyed playing sports. "She would hang out with everybody," a classmate said. "You could really connect with her." She had a bright future in front of her.

Why was John Wilson out of prison?

All the explanations given by criminologists to justify the parole system make no sense. Convicted violent offenders should serve every second of his or her sentence.

Had that happened, Kelli O’Laughlin would still be alive.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Happens to Surviving Kidnap Victims?

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Psychology of Kidnapping
by Allison Gamble

Kidnapping is one of the most psychologically damaging crimes of all. Victims typically take many years to heal from the psychological wounds inflicted upon them, and some never completely recover. Kidnappings cause deep emotional and mental scars that leave victims to battle through issues of trust, independence, love, sex, respect, and a litany of others.

When it comes to kidnapping, in terms of forensic psychology, there are generally a few main motivations. First and foremost is sexual gratification. Often a person will kidnap in order to hold the victim prisoner as a sexual slave. In extreme cases, kidnappers may torture and kill their victims when they no longer have any use for them. These types of cases are incredibly disturbing and often leave a lasting impact on the psyche of society. Kidnappers may also commit their crimes for ransom. Unlike sexual kidnappings, ransom kidnappings require the abductors keep their victims from harm. Sadly, even in ransom kidnappings, the abductor may have no real intention of ever returning the victim.

The psychology behind kidnapping often leads back to a need for power over an individual. As sexual kidnappings also include rape, battery, and homicide, the abductor is typically not simply perpetrating the act for physical gratification. Sexual kidnappers are thrilled by the psychological aspect of the act, as they hold complete power over their victims. A kidnapper's mentality is that once they have another human being in their possession, that person has to rely on them for everything, including food and water, and it is this power that drives many kidnappers to commit these gruesome acts.

Ransom kidnappers may have some of the same motives, but are usually more concerned with the financial gains of their crimes. Regardless of the motive, a person who commits the offense of kidnapping often has disordered thinking, either as a result of a mental disorder, a personality disorder, or a combination of both.

The most unfortunate aspect of kidnappings, however, is the psychological effects it has on victims. People who have survived kidnapping often go on to battle issues of trust for the rest of their lives, as being deprived of freedom and being held against their will can erode trust in humanity as a whole. Some victims may even become distrustful of family members, believing their families didn't do enough to get them back or to protect them from being abducted in the first place. This can begin a vicious cycle of disordered thinking within victims' lives, leading to difficulty in relationships both personal and professional.

Furthermore, kidnapping victims may have psychological disturbances in other aspects of their everyday lives. Trouble sleeping is one of the most common reported psychological impacts of kidnapping, as the victims are afraid to fall asleep and let their guard down, lest they be taken again. Sexual effects are also likely in cases of kidnappings that involved sexual abuse. Survivors may find it hard to trust their partners or to allow themselves to be vulnerable. Victims of abduction may need many years of therapy to overcome the sexual damage of kidnapping, and to form healthy sexual relationships.

In terms of news coverage, the general public may be receiving a skewed vision of the reality of kidnappings and their effects. Unfortunately, the news media only choose to focus on a few select kidnapping cases, leading the public to believe kidnappings are uncommon and only take place among white, affluent communities. The reality is that kidnappings occur in all communities, and each case needs to have as much attention as any other. By only hearing reports of affluent or middle-class kidnappings, the public may tend to forget that in poorer neighborhoods and low-income areas, adults and children are abducted on a regular basis.

In terms of healing from the psychological strain of being a kidnap victim, psychologists typically recommend cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT involves allowing the victim to change their way of thinking, replacing negatives for positives, until they have reached a point in which their worldviews are different. An event such as a kidnapping can cause very deep negative connections to be made within the mind of a victim, and these connections need to be rewired in order to reach a point of normalcy once again.

In order to help defeat kidnappers and abduction attempts, it is imperative for parents and society as a whole to be more vigilant as to where their children are, as well as continue to educate them about avoiding dangerous situations. In the age of the Internet, this is even more important, as predators use this technology to gain access to children everyday. Moreover, the news media should to take more responsibility in their coverage of kidnapping cases, giving equal time to low-profile cases. Only when we all recognize the dangers that exist in all communities can we begin to eradicate the dangers our children face.

Allison Gamble has been a student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Two Abortion Workers Convicted of Murder

Women's Medical Society

Snipping
by Robert A. Waters

“By day it was a prescription mill; by night an abortion mill.” So read the 286 page grand jury report concerning the Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia.

The report went on to describe conditions at the clinic. “[It] reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment--such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff--was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn’t used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel house.”

None of the staff had the credentials to do their jobs, including the clinic’s owner, Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

So it should have come as no surprise when Karnamaya Mongar died a horrible, unnecessary death.

Or when investigators learned that hundreds, if not thousands, of babies may have been born in the clinic and murdered by “snipping.” The word was coined by Dr. Gosnell to describe how he and his staff killed children. The grand jury report states that “[they] regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy--and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.”

On the afternoon of November 19, 2009, Mongar’s daughter brought her to the clinic to have an abortion. She and her family had come to the United States just four months earlier after spending 20 years in a Nepal refugee camp. She’d been pregnant for about 19 weeks.

When she entered the clinic, Mongar initialed several forms (even though she didn’t understand English), including one which stated that Dr. Gosnell had counseled her concerning the hazards of having an abortion and stating that she had waited 24 hours before continuing with the “procedure.” (State law mandates the 24-hour waiting period.)

Dr. Gosnell wasn’t even at the clinic. As usual, he didn’t arrive until nearly nine o’clock, so his staff administered the pre-surgical medications. Sometime during the afternoon, Mongar died of a drug overdose. Although staff attempted to cover up the type and amount of medicine given to Mongar, an autopsy revealed that she had deadly levels of Demerol in her system. Promethazine and diazepam were also found.

"The evidence presented to the grand jury established that Karnamaya Mongar died of cardiac arrest because she was overdosed with Demerol," the grand jurors said.

Last week, Sherry West, 52, pled guilty to third degree murder for her role in the death of Mongar.

Adrienne Moton, 34, pled guilty to third degree murder for killing a baby born in a toilet at the clinic. A co-worker said the baby was moving and looked like it was swimming. "Moton reached into the toilet, got the baby out and cut its neck," the grand jury said in its report.

Seven more staff members, including Dr. Gosnell, are to be tried for Mongar's death and a series of gruesome baby murders. West has agreed to testify against Gosnell.

Those responsible for the death of Karnamaya Mongar should be punished severely.

No punishment, however, is harsh enough for those proven to have “snipped” the spinal column of a baby.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stabbed to Death in Broad Daylight

Wendy Sue Wolin

After forty-five years, case is still unsolved
by Robert A. Waters

March 8, 1966

On a sunny afternoon in the heart of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a man walked up to seven-year-old Wendy Sue Wolin, crouched down, and thrust a knife into her stomach. She doubled over and cried out, telling onlookers that the man had punched her. Several bystanders picked up the young girl and rushed her to a fire station across the street.

No one thought to follow the assailant as he shuffled down the sidewalk.

Firefighters who examined the child found that she was bleeding. They rushed her to Elizabeth General Hospital where, a few minutes later, Wendy Wolin died. The cause of death was a punctured liver.

There seemed to be no reason for the crime, no motive, just another random attack in a decaying city. (Columnist Robert J. Braun later wrote that Wendy's murder "was the beginning of the end of Elizabeth as a livable city.") Witnesses said the assailant was wearing a green fedora, a corduroy coat, and tan baggy trousers. His weapon, a hunting knife, was found at the scene.

Wendy and her mother, Shirley Fleischner, had left their apartment moments earlier. Shirley told her daughter to wait at the corner of Irvington Avenue and Prince Street while she got her car from the rear parking lot.

The entire Elizabeth police force launched a massive search for the face behind this monstrous crime. Witnesses said he was a white male in his mid-to-late-40s. He had white hair and a muscular frame. He walked with a "stiff leg." Door-to-door searches yielded no clue as to the killer's identity. Thousands of people were questioned, including a boat-load of Vietnam-bound troops aboard a ship docked in the Port Elizabeth harbor.

Cops even went so far as to use Police Chief Michael Roy to illustrate wanted posters. Witnesses said he looked similar to the attacker. Professional makeup artists whitened the chief's hair and lightened his complexion to represent a likeness of the killer. The chief took it gracefully. "What the heck, if this helps," he said. Thousands of posters with the police chief's face were distributed.

The killer was never found.

Wendy Sue Wolin. Another beautiful child whose life was snuffed out by a monster in human clothing.

Questions remain. Who murdered Wendy? Why was she killed? Why did the killer choose a crowded city street to commit the crime?

It's likely that this case will never be solved. Her killer is one more among the millions who have gotten away with bloody murder.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Unsolved Murder of Pluma Bell Sanford


Fourteen years and counting...
by Robert A. Waters

Sometime between Aug. 12 and 15, 1997, 73-year-old Pluma Bell Sanford was murdered in her home near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. A widow, Sanford was a creature of habit. She attended the Sanctuary of Praise Assembly of God Church every time the doors opened. Each Wednesday and Thursday she volunteered at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. She loved to tend her garden and go for walks in her neghborhood.

In short, Sanford didn't fit the profile of many murder victims. Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Keith Matz told the media that “there wasn’t anything she was doing to provoke any of this, as far as we know.”

Yet someone came into her home, bound her hands and feet with her own stockings, savagely beat her, and strangled her to death. Investigators collected a DNA sample from an unknown male and said the elderly woman may have been raped.

The sheriff's department has obtained DNA from convicted offenders in the area as well as friends and neighbors of the victim. Samples were also placed in the FBI's CODIS database (Combined DNA Index System). So far, there has been no match.

Sanford was featured as the six of spades on the third edition of Florida's Cold Case Playing Cards. Detectives hope that an inmate in the state's prison system might see her picture and provide information about her murder.

This is the kind of case the death penalty is made for. Someday Pluma Bell Sanford's killer will slip up and get caught. Here's hoping he ends up on the short end of a long needle.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Two Virginia Clerks Gunned Down Decades Apart

Murder victim Jayeshkumar Brahmbhatt
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Killer targeted businesses for drug money
by Robert A. Waters

On November 17, 1970, in Troutville, Virginia, a young woman was found near death in the Purity Bakery Thrift Shop where she worked. Ruby Moran, 27, had been shot twice in the head with a .38-caliber handgun. The crime took place between 5:35 and 5:50 p.m. Six hours later, Moran died at a local hospital.

Police said robbery was the motive and the take was slightly more than $200.

Investigators found a check lying on the floor of the business. Police speculated that it fell out of the cash register as the robber was taking the money. Fingerprints found on the check belonged to a sixteen-year-old thug named Beverly Ricardo Mangum. Already well-known to police in nearby Roanoke, Mangum skipped town shortly after the murder. He was arrested in New Jersey and extradited back to Virginia.

At trial, Mangum pleaded not guilty. A high school dropout, he spent most of his time playing basketball or pool with friends while his mother worked to support him. On the day of the crime, he admitted that he stopped by the bakery late in the afternoon but denied killing the clerk.

Found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison, there is no indication that Mangum ever showed any remorse for the murder. In fact, he was known to brag about his crimes.

Fast-forward to February 28, 2008. The manager of One Stop Market, a convenience store in Roanoke, was murdered during an attempted robbery. At around 4:45 p.m., Calvin Bond Watson shot Jayeshkumar Brahmbhatt as he held his hands in the air.

Watson had a partner-in-crime. He was none other than Beverly Ricardo Mangum. For two decades after his release from prison, the killer of Ruby Moran was arrested at regular intervals on drug and robbery charges. Mangum met Watson while serving one of several prison sentences.

After being released from their latest imprisonment, they hooked up again at a half-way house in Roanoke. Since both drug addicts were always in need of quick cash, they decided to team up and revert to Mangum’s old pastime of robbing convenience stores. Twenty-eight years after killing Ruby Moran, Mangum planned the One Stop Market heist and acted as the getaway driver.

In addition to that robbery, they were suspected of holding up ten other businesses in Roanoke.

Brahmbhatt initially struggled with the robber, then raised his hands in submission. Watson fired two shots into the store manager's chest, killing him instantly.

The take was exactly zero. Watson couldn't get the cash drawer open. He fled the store and ran to Mangum’s car, but the getaway driver panicked and drove away without him.

Within an hour of committing the murder, Watson was arrested. The gun he used was found in some bushes near his home. He quickly confessed to the crime, though he expressed surprise that the clerk had died. Inside the store, detectives located a surprisingly clear surveillance video. The images of the senseless murder stunned even hardened detectives.

Brahmbhatt had moved to America six years earlier to seek a better life for his wife and two daughters. They lived in an apartment until he saved up enough money to purchase a new home. The family had just moved in moved in a week before he was murdered.

An article in the Roanoke Times described the store manager’s pride in his accomplishment: “Just before Jayeshkumar Brahmbhatt was killed, the family had been getting ready for the Vastu, a Hindu ceremony to bless them and their new house on Wood Haven Road, just off Peters Creek Road near the airport.

“They'd invited more than 100 people, and Jayeshkumar was getting worried.

“Where would the out-of-town guests stay? Where would everyone sit? Would they have enough food?”

His employer and friend, Atul Patel, said that Brahmbhatt was anxious to “show what he had done in this country.”

He never got the chance.

Watson, who confessed to three other armed robberies, was tried, convicted and sentenced to three life terms plus 43 years.

Thirty years after murdering Ruby Moran, Mangum once again faced a long prison term. This time he got 30 years.

Monday, October 3, 2011

1920s Child Murders Unsolved in New Jersey

Kluxen woods
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Murder in Kluxen woods
by Robert A. Waters

On October 6, 1921, in the northeastern United States, the bloody murder of twelve-year-old Janet Lawrence supplanted the World Series as the lead headline of the day. (The Yankees, with an injured Babe Ruth, had won the first two games but would eventually fall to John McGraw’s New York Giants.)

An International News Service article described the murder of the Madison, New Jersey schoolgirl: “A state-wide alarm was sounded today for the maniacal slayer of little 12-year-old Janet Lawrence, whose body, pierced by 25 stab wounds, was found in Kluxen woods, near here. [She] was found lying in a pool of blood. Her heart had been pierced and her throat slashed by the unknown slayer. After school hours, Janet frequently took a walk in the woods.”

In the jargon of the day, newspapers reported that the child had been “criminally assaulted.” Lieutenant W. J. Ryan of the Madison Police Department stated that in addition to the stab wounds, a handkerchief had been tightened around Janet's neck and her hands and feet were tied. The victim’s face, neck, arms, and body had been slashed with what police believed was a pocketknife. Ryan informed the press that investigators believed “a greenhouse worker was responsible for the murder” because the rope used to tie the knots was the type of hemp used in tying rose-bushes.

It was indeed a heinous crime, but police seemed lost in their efforts to apprehend the killer. Having no real suspects, investigators took a shotgun approach and began arresting anyone who may have been close to the scene as well as those who had no connection to the case at all.

First there was Francis Kluxen, 14, who admitted that he had been target shooting in the woods at the same time Janet was murdered. However, he stated that he’d been far away from where the girl’s body was found and had heard nothing. There was no blood on his clothing, and no rope was found in his possession. He did have a Boy Scout pocket knife, but there was no blood on it. The county prosecutor quickly released the boy, citing a lack of evidence. In an unusual indictment of the police department, the jurist accused investigators of arresting Kluxen simply because he was the only person known to be in the area at the time.

Police released a statement saying that they were looking for a “wild, roughly dressed” man seen near the site of the murder. Frank Felice fit the profile and was arrested. He was homeless, squatting in a hut near Glenridge, New Jersey. A neighbor told police that based on the description, he looked like the suspect. There was no other evidence against the “wild man” and he, too, was quickly released.

A reward of $1,000 was offered by the Madison town council for the arrest and conviction of Janet Lawrence’s killer.

Frank Ruke, described as a “ragged wanderer,” was the next in line to be arrested. He’d been seen walking near Kluxen’s woods and acting “suspicious.” He refused to speak to detectives, so in an effort to get him to talk, investigators took the vagabond to the scene of the crime. As he was led into the woods, Ruke fought against the cops. News reports stated that “the officers tried to induce the man to look at the spot [where Janet was murdered], but he struggled and turned his face away.” He screamed for the police to kill him, and was lucky they didn’t. He was eventually released for lack of evidence.

On October 27, headlines sounded an alarm: there had been another crime against a child. United Press reported that “the mysterious disappearance of Stella Ostrosky, six years old, Thursday, led to fresh reports about a New Jersey wild man who is suspected of carrying off children. Stella vanished during recess at the country school she attends near Fresh Pond last Tuesday. Her disappearance came at a time when the mysterious murder of little Janet Lawrence in Kluxen woods near Madison, where she was hacked with a knife, was still unsolved: and where the people of Westwood were hunting a wild-looking man who attacked a young woman there and cut off her hair. Investigators believe all these crimes may have been committed by the same man.

“One man is in jail as a result of the epidemic of crimes against women and children. He is Louis Lively, negro, accused of murdering a little girl at East Moorestown, N. J. But the latest hair clipping and the disappearance of Stella occurred after Lively was locked up.”

The Madison police arrested Frank Jancarak after a former co-worker told investigators that he’d confessed to the murder of Janet Lawrence. (The former employee had been fired from his job at a greenhouse managed by Frank’s brother and was likely seeking revenge.) Even though there was no other corroboration of Jancarak's guilt, the case actually went to trial. He was acquitted. Members of the jury told reporters that there was no evidence against him except his co-worker’s dubious claim that he’d confessed.

One year after the murder, Madison police re-arrested Francis Kluxen. This time they weren’t going to back down. The teenager's trial lasted a full week. Kluxen took the stand and gave the jury a minute-by-minute account of his whereabouts on the day Janet was killed. After a short deliberation, the young man was acquitted. Once again, jurors told reporters that the state had presented no evidence against Kluxen.

Madison police had already convicted Kluxen in the media and when he was found not guilty, the town exploded in anger. Investigators were furious and threatened to have him tried again. They were stymied only when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a new trial would be unconstitutional.

After his release, Kluxen was subjected to horrific abuse. In one instance, four men in a passing car fired several shots at him. He could go nowhere without his neighbors taunting him. The local police not only would not protect the teen, they added to his misery by continuing their media attacks on him.

Kluxen's parents were poor, and his plight caught the attention of a millionaire banker named Monell Sayre. Originally from Madison, Sayre, a bachelor, had taken an interest in the case from the beginning. As he watched the boy's persecution, the kindly businessman felt the need to do something. He invited Kluxen to stay in his mansion for a few days. The bachelor and the beleaguered teen got along so well that those days turned into weeks, then months. Still, Kluxen’s troubles didn’t end.

When Sayre took the teen to the Episcopal church that he attended near his home in Convent Station, they were both sent packing. Sayre was told that he could come back, but not with the “killer.” Townspeople threatened Kluxen so that he became a prisoner inside Sayre’s mansion. Sayre, enraged, publicly declared that he would adopt the boy and leave his inheritance to him. He told the press: “On account of four attempts to assassinate the boy within two weeks of his acquittal, I deemed it my Christian duty to take him to live with me.”

Two years later, with the Janet Lawrence case still unsolved, another girl was murdered. Bricksboro high school student Emma Dickson, 15, was stabbed to death and hidden in a patch of woods near Port Elizabeth, New Jersey. A farmer who lived nearby was arrested after Emma’s father told authorities that the man had invited her to take a ride with him. But he was quickly released and the case went unsolved for several months. Then, in a stunning sequence of events, her father, Thompson Dickson, was arrested. Tried for the murder of his own daughter, Dickson was acquitted.

The Madison Police Department had attempted to railroad several innocent men for the murder of Janet Lawrence. Had either Francis Kluxen or Frank Jankara been convicted, the case would have gone down in the books as having been "solved." History would have been written differently, and, as it often is, it would have been wrong.

Francis Kluxen was adopted by Monell Sayre. The old man was able to provide a luxurious, if lonely, life for the once-poor farm boy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing against the Grain

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Has a recent mainstream anti-Stalin film been made?
by Robert A. Waters

In 1945, George Orwell, already a well-known English author, sent a manuscript to his publisher. It was entitled Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. The book was refused, in part, because of its excoriation of Comrade Stalin and the Soviet Union. A small publisher finally took it on and Animal Farm is now recognized as one of the great books of the English language.

In 1962, Aleksandr Solzhenitzen published a novel based on his own real-life experiences. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich describes twenty-four hours in a Siberian labor camp. Needless to say, the Soviet government didn’t take kindly to the book and the author was exiled. However, One Day is credited with finally opening the eyes of many in the West to the reality of Josef Stalin’s barbaric regime.

That reality, however, seems to have escaped American film producers.

Every year, several new movies are released documenting the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Last year, I saw Valkyrie (terrible) and Inglourious Basterds (fair). Some of the other Nazi movies I've seen include Schindler's List (fair), Band of Brothers (fair), and Saving Private Ryan (outstanding).

But I can’t recall one recent mainstream film that delves into the savagery of dictator Stalin.

Surely there are movies to be made about a leader who murdered at least sixty million and maybe a hundred million of his own citizens. Stalin, an odious tyrant who may have been responsible for more deaths than any leader in history, once said, “The death of a man is a tragedy; the death of a thousand is a statistic.” He should know.

An artist in the Soviet Union responded: “Where else do they kill people for writing poetry?”

In the end, an estimate of those murdered by Stalin and his brutal regime is hard to determine. There were just so many, and the Soviets were poor record-keepers, particularly when the victims were nobodies.

It’s safe to say that Hitler murdered his millions, Stalin his tens of millions.

These days, political correctness is one of the tools used to silence opposition to “progressivist” schemes. Film makers who adhere to the doctrine are rewarded with Oscars and a cash flow to match. Fascist dictator Hitler is “in” as a subject for movies, but communist dictator Stalin is “out.”

Is there another Doctor Zhivago lurking in the mind of some independent film producer? If so, it might be worth millions, but you're liable to get blacklisted if you produce it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

1955 San Francisco Case Has Happy Ending

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Stolen Baby Returned
by Robert A. Waters

[NOTE: I obtained the information about this case from two sources: newspaperarchive.com and Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America by Paula S. Fass, Oxford Univeristy Press, 2006.]

September 19, 1955

Dr. Sanford Marcus sat alone inside a room police had commandeered in San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital. Twenty-four hours earlier, his three-day-old child, Robert, had been snatched from the hospital nursery and detectives were using several rooms as a base for their investigation.

A reporter approached. Hesitant at first, he asked a few timid questions, but then found the doctor eager to talk. “I am convinced it’s not a kidnaping for ransom,” Marcus said. “I believe the baby was taken by some unfortunate woman who either lost her own child, or wanted one, and had this desperate urge for a baby of her own. We have no vindictiveness [toward her]. If she will come forward, I will not demand any prosecution."

His wife, Hanna, was lying sedated in a nearby hospital room. A Jew, she’d lost her parents and brother to Hitler’s gas ovens. At thirteen, she escaped from Germany and was placed in a youth hostel in England. She became a teacher, immigrated to America, and met Dr. Marcus at the nursery school where she worked. They had two other children and were ecstatic to add Robert to the family. But now tragedy had struck Hanna once again.

The San Francisco Police Department released a description of the child: “Robert Marcus is four days old, 19 inches in length, and weighs 6 pounds 6 1/2 ounces. He has a pink complexion and a small amount of brown fuzzy hair.”

A reward of $5,000 had been offered by the doctor for Robert's safe return. Newspapers published a formula recommended by Dr. Marcus so the kidnapper would know how to feed him.

Hundreds of cops fanned out across the area, working on the theory that a frustrated wannabe mother had pulled off the crime.

Tips poured in. One witness said a car stopped in front of her house and she saw a “heavy” woman holding a baby. The stranger spoke to her driver using a “Swedish” accent. The witness said that he replied, “I don’t like this business.” Dozens of other similar sightings kept officers busy chasing dead-end leads.

In the hospital, Dr. Marcus continued speaking with the reporter. “He's such a little baby,” the doctor said. “The little guy didn't even have his eyes open until the day he was taken. I was at my office when the hospital called to break the news. At first, I thought it was a practical joke. I actually called back the hospital to verify it. When it was verified, I asked that I be the one to tell [my wife]. It was my duty as her husband. She took it hard, of course. Yet, in her grief she tried to comfort me.”

Dr. Marcus and Hanna remained at the hospital for two more days. Finally, they left for home. Reporters said that the mother had a blank, drained look about her.

The search continued for more than a week with little progress .

Then, nine days after the child was abducted, San Joaquin Sheriff’s Deputy Osvaldo Vannucei attended a prize fight in Stockton. Two women were sitting nearby, taking turns holding a newborn baby. “I noticed her [Betty Jean Benedicto] right away,” he said. “She seemed to be intoxicated. She had a woman friend who was playing with the baby too affectionately. I just couldn't watch the fights.”

Vanuccei questioned Benedicto, who stated that the baby was a month old. Her husband soon appeared, and confirmed her account. But the deputy’s suspicions had been aroused, so he identified himself and demanded to see a birth certificate. After the boxing match, Vannucei followed the couple to a hotel where they were living. There they produced a certificate stating that the child had been born in St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood.

The document looked real, but Vannuccei drove to the sheriff’s department and called the hospital to make sure. Officials at St. Francis informed him that no babies had been born there on the date written on the certificate. By the time Vannuccei and other investigators returned to the hotel, the group had fled.

By now, Benedicto knew the gig was up. She confessed to her husband, who had been unaware the baby was stolen. Then they drove to a nearby Catholic church where Benedicto handed the baby to a priest. Police were called and little Robert was taken back to the station house.

The overjoyed parents were finally reunited with their son. He’d been treated well and during the nine days had gained nearly a pound. A newspaper report said that Mrs. Marcus smiled for the first time in days. Sanford Marcus predicted the family would “live happily ever after.”

The kidnapper was quickly tracked down and arrested by Stockton authorities. She confessed, describing the events that took place when she abducted little Robert Marcus.

Benedicto said she went to Mt. Zion hospital and asked a nurse for directions to the maternity ward. "I walked up to the nursery and there was a room just full of babies," she said. "Then I saw the name on the Marcus baby, both on the crib and on the leg beads. Marcus is my husband's name--Mark--and that gave me the impulse to take him. I took him when nobody was in the room. I wrapped him in his yellow blanket, I walked down the stairs. I was afraid somebody might see me [but] I saw only one person coming up the street. He smiled at me when he saw the baby."

Benedicto drove to her home in Stockton and told her husband she’d had a baby a month before but had to leave him in a Los Angeles hospital because he was too fragile to move. He finally improved enough so that she could bring him home, she said. Somehow, she convinced her husband to believe her.

“The next day I saw Dr. Marcus on TV," she continued. “He was a nice man. I changed to the formula he had advised. If Dr. Marcus had not said over and over that I loved the boy and that's why I took it--if he had said instead that I was a bad woman--I never would have given it up.”

The aftermath for Betty Jean Benedicto wasn’t pretty. The following brief article from the February 10, 1962 Oakland Tribune, describes her continued problems with the law: “Betty Jean Benedicto, who kidnaped the three-day old son of a physician from a San Francisco hospital in 1955, is back in San Francisco city jail for violation of probation.

“Mrs. Benedicto, 34, was returned to the Bay Area from Seattle where she served a jail sentence for stabbing her common-law husband, Amos Uganiza, 54, a commercial fisherman.

“Mrs. Benedicto had been living under the name of Francesca Mairo Uganiza. Her true identity was discovered after a routine fingerprint check which followed her sentence for the stabbing.

“The 200-pound woman kidnaped Robert Marcus, son of Dr. and Mrs. Sanford Marcus, from Mount Zion Hospital, Sept. 19, 1955. She
turned the infant over to a Catholic priest unharmed in Stockton nine days later.

“Mrs. Benedicto was paroled after spending eight months in jail. She was placed on five years [of] probation, but broke probation
when she left California.”

Friday, September 9, 2011

Self-Defense Files 3

Anthony Hauser
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Turning the tables
by Robert A. Waters

After being robbed two weeks before in the Orangeburg, South Carolina Days Inn where she worked, a hotel clerk asked her manager for permission to bring her gun to work. He consented and it paid off early on the morning of July 25. When the woman (whose name was not released) entered the hotel’s restaurant to begin preparing breakfasts for guests, she found a career criminal named Vincent Lee Carson hiding in the room. Before she could turn to flee, he grabbed her and placed a knife to her throat. After threatening her, he put the weapon down while he attempted to bind her hands with zip-ties. This gave the clerk the opportunity she needed to pull out her .22-caliber handgun and open fire. Carson’s violent career ended that day as a bullet rocketed into his heart. According to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, Carson, at 250 pounds, was twice the size of the woman. “[The shooter] did not want to take someone’s life, but she was put in a position where she had absolutely no choice,” Lott said. “This had escalated beyond a robbery to a sexual assault, and we don’t know what would have happened beyond that. She did the correct thing — she protected herself.” Carson, who had a long criminal history in New York and New Jersey, was a fugitive wanted for another local hotel robbery a week earlier.

At 10:00 p.m., in the dark parking lot of a St. Petersburg Applebee’s Restaurant, Lesley Tanner and her boyfriend Raven Smith got out of their car to go get a bite to eat. Smith has a permit to carry a concealed weapon and was toting a .380-caliber handgun. Out of the darkness, a masked man armed with a pistol rushed toward Tanner. As the assailant closed on her, Smith shouted for Tanner to “get down.” She crouched on the ground, allowing Smith a window to open fire. Four rounds hit the assailant, identified by police as Anthony Hauser. As he fell to the pavement, the robber begged Smith not to shoot him anymore. Tanner later spoke to reporters. “I saw orange flashes over my head,” she said. “And then my ears were ringing.” Hauser was taken to the hospital for treatment of his wounds and later arrested for attempted armed robbery. Police said he has a long rap-sheet. Smith, who had fired his gun at a shooting range but never at another person, was philosophical about the incident. “Maybe [Hauser] can learn his lesson and change his life,” he said. Smith will not be charged.

Peggy Melton, 68, of Powersite, Missouri, returned home to find a burglar pillaging her house. A permit holder armed with a handgun, Melton confronted Danny Waggoner, 24, in her bedroom. According to police reports, the thief threatened her with a shotgun. “I’m going to kill you,” he said. Before that could happen, Melton drew her gun and fired three times, hitting Waggoner in the chest with one round. The thief ran out the door and climbed into a pickup driven by his girlfriend, Courtney Simpson. Police quickly tracked down the suspects and Waggoner was transported to the hospital. Simpson has been charged with several crimes related to the break-in. But before he could be indicted, Waggoner escaped from the hospital and is still being sought by police. Cops say he’ll be charged when he’s caught. “Missouri law is pretty clear that the homeowner was acting well within her rights, at least as I read the incident,” Taney County Prosecutor Jeff Merrell said.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Sixth Avenue Krystal Murders

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You don't have to be smart to kill
by Robert A. Waters

In the early morning of August 24, 2011, two employees at the Sixth Avenue Krystal restaurant in Decatur, Alabama were murdered. Night manager Jeffrey Mark Graff, 50, and employee Jessie Jose Aguilar, 23, were found by another employee when she reported to work. The safe had been robbed, and the victims shot dead in the store cooler.

Three suspects allegedly confessed to the murders. Two were employees of the restaurant, Jordaan Creque and Cassandra Eldred. The third was Ezekiel “EZ” Gholston.

According to news accounts and police reports, the three drove to the drive-through window where Creque asked Graff if he could come inside and use the telephone. The restaurant was closed from midnight to six and customers could only order from the window, but since Creque was a co-worker, Graff complied. As soon as the door opened, Creque and Gholston rushed inside. Holding a gun on the employees, Creque ordered the manager to open the safe while Eldred, driving the get-away car, allegedly waited outside.

After taking the money, the robbers herded Graff and Aguilar into the cooler where they were executed.

A police spokesman told reporters that the trio admitted to ditching the weapon, a nine-millimeter handgun, in Wilson Morgan Lake. Following instructions from the suspects, it was recovered by investigators. Decatur Police Sgt. Rick Archer told reporters: “It was the gun we were looking for. It was where we were looking and where we thought it would be. But we’re not ready to say it was the one used in the Krystal shooting until it comes back from ballistics.”

Shortly after the robbery, Creque checked himself into Decatur General Hospital. He had light cuts on his arms and chest and told medical personnel he’d been forced to participate in a robbery and murder at Krystal. Police quickly arrived and found that the superficial cuts required “little or no treatment.” Investigators alleged that Creque later admitted the wounds were self-inflicted and that he’d cut himself in an attempt to throw police off the track. Detectives said he admitted that he was the triggerman and implicated his two cohorts.

Police found a large sum of money at Creque and Gholston’s homes. Cops said Eldred also admitted that Creque gave her $200 to act as the driver.

Graff, originally from Minnesota, had lived in Alabama for many years. He had helped build the Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison that he and his wife, Lois, attended. He was remembered as a loving husband, restaurant employee and owner, and handyman. He also kept the church organs in tune.

Jessie Aguilar had a fiancé and two daughters. Friends said he loved to hunt, camp, and fish.

It's obvious that the three suspects aren’t master criminals. In fact, it’s difficult to understand how even the dimmest bulb could have thought they could get away with such a plan. But you don’t have to be a genius to leave bodies lying around.

This is the kind of crime the death penalty is made for. If Jordaan Creque, EZ Gholston, and Cassandra Eldred are proven guilty in a court of law, I hope they're all executed.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies

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The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies
by Ron Franscell
Globe Pequot Press, 2011

Review by Robert A. Waters

In The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies, Ron Franscell writes: “Place matters, even in crime. I grew up in Wyoming, and I understand how it’s possible to drive a long, straight road for hours without ever seeing another human. I know how lofty philosophies about law and justice dissolve in remote places where cries for help will go unheard...” The author then proceeds to take the reader into hundreds of remote outlaw hang-outs.

There’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who rode those lonesome trails into oblivion. Franscell has devoted an entire chapter to these enigmatic robbers and their Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

There’s Big-Nose George Parrott, a would-be Wyoming train robber who was lynched after killing two deputies. Local doctors filleted his skin and used it to make shoes and a medical bag. They also made a change purse from his scrotum and fashioned his skull into an ash tray. As a final insult, Big Nose George was buried in a salt-filled whiskey barrel. (Who says doctors don’t have a sense of humor?)

There are tragic tales, too. The Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, in which hundreds of Indians, mostly innocent women and children, were slaughtered by Union Colonel John Chivington and his Colorado Cavalry. The Arapaho, with their chief Black Kettle, had surrendered to the U. S. and were given land near Sand Creek. They lived there peacefully, although other Arapaho still fought the hated whites. In order to show his loyalty to the U. S., Black Kettle flew an American flag over his camp. On November 29, Chivington and hundreds of drunken troops attacked the encampment. As the attack began, Black Kettle raised the white flag of surrender. Chivington ignored it and he and his troops blasted away until the ground ran red with Indian blood. For this atrocity, the colonel got off scot-free. Chivington lived a full life, unlike the women and children he massacred. He died in 1893.

Then there are the modern stories: the Columbine High School massacre; Charlie Starkweather’s merciless rampage; and the Alan Berg murder. You can read about Lisa Kimmel, kidnapped by a suspected serial killer who buried her car in his front yard. If you're interested in true tales of the high and mighty, you can read about the murder of Spider Sabich. His wife, popular singer Claudine Longet, was charged, but, as happens so many times, the beautiful Longet got off after serving a mere thirty days in the county jail. Other less well-known crimes are as intriguing as the sensationalized stories mentioned above.

Part of the fun of this book is that crime buffs can visit the sites where outlaws roamed and madams plied their trade and vigilantes often lynched the baddest of the bad. GPS coordinates are given so the reader can drive straight to the scenes of many famous (and infamous) crimes.

This book is a sequel to Franscell’s earlier tour guide, The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas.

I highly recommend The Crime Buff's Guide to the Outlaw Rockies. Buy it, you’ll love it.

C'mon Ron, I'm ready for the next guide.