Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who Murdered Little Gregory MaComb?

1954 case will likely remain unsolved…
by Robert A. Waters

Six-year-old Gregory MaComb spent his last night alone in a silent apartment.  Louree MaComb, his mother, worked at a night club in Salt Lake City.  Divorced from her husband, Louree couldn’t afford a baby-sitter, so she asked a friend to stop by and check on her son.  At about 11:45 p.m., Barbara Dinneen looked in on Gregory at the apartment on 1029-4th East.  She later testified that he was sleeping in his bed.
It was September 16, 1954.  The weather had begun to change, with a refreshing coolness stirring the trees.    

When Louree arrived home at 1:15 a.m., she found the apartment door open.  Rushing in, she discovered Gregory missing.  The frantic mother searched for her son, calling several friends who may have seen him.  Two hours later, she notified police.

At about 4:00, the first officers from the Salt Lake City Police Department arrived.  Police Chief F. Clark Sanford quickly made the case a priority, assigning his two top detectives to head the search.   Cops began scouring nearby apartments, houses, and fields for the missing boy.  Barbara Dinneen, Loureee’s friend, told detectives that she checked in on Gregory not once, but twice, the second time around midnight.  Both times, she said, the child lay asleep.

A neighbor, Renae Brown, who lived in a downstairs apartment, said that at 12:24 a.m., she’d seen an automobile drive up and park in front of the building.  She noticed a short, stocky man wearing “striped bib-overalls and a red shirt.” He took Gregory from the apartment and, opening the passenger door, placed him in the car.

Later that afternoon, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department received two calls informing them that a body had been found in Parley’s Creek.  Several young boys, out swimming, had discovered a half-submerged corpse.  They called to a nearby adult, who pulled the remains from the water. 

Newspapers reported that an autopsy showed Gregory MaComb had been “criminally assaulted.” His skull had been crushed by a blow to the head, and he’d been strangled.  The coroner stated that during the sexual assault, Gregory had been choked.  The boy had likely fallen to the floor and struck his head, said the coroner, and that resulted in his fractured skull.  The coroner determined that Gregory’s death occurred soon after he was abducted and not at the creek.  This gave the Salt Lake City Police Department jurisdiction.

Police meticulously interviewed everyone they could find who knew Louree.  They also rounded up and interrogated every known sex offender within miles.  The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that “among the suspects, [Norman Ash] Fackrell was singled out for a lie detector test and a ‘truth serum test.’ He was released after both examinations, however, and officers turned to other avenues of investigation.”

After three months, Chief Sanford reported that everyone interviewed had been eliminated. 

And there the case languished for three years.

In 1956, a new police chief was elected.  W. Cleon Skousen immediately made solving the MaComb murder his top priority.  He assigned two detectives, Sgt. T. W. Southworth and Officer D. F. Duncombe, to the case.
Norman Ash Fackrell
Investigators quickly focused on 37-year-old truck driver Norman Ash Fackrell.  A friend of Louree MaComb, he vehemently denied having murdered Gregory.  When he’d been interrogated in 1954 during the first days of the investigation, Fackrell wore a red shirt and a pair of striped bib-overalls.  The right side of his car had been damaged, and the passenger door could not be opened.  Cops also speculated that Fackrell knew Louree kept a key to her apartment underneath a mat near the door, though the suspect denied it.  Those tenuous links seemed to be the only evidence police could find against him.

To make matters worse for investigators, it turned out that Barbara Dinneen had lied about her second visit to check in on Gregory.  After an intense interrogation, she told police that her friend Louree MaComb had asked her to say that she’d been to the apartment at midnight, even though that was not true.  When investigators asked Louree why she’d concocted the lie, she replied, “I thought my ex-husband had kidnapped [Gregory] and I might lose custody, so I made it appear that we made two checks.”

Also hindering the investigation, Renae Brown couldn’t identify Fackrell or the automobile she’d seen parked in front of the apartment complex.

Still, detectives hammered away at the trucker.  Other than a “reckless driving” charge, he’d never been in trouble with the law.  He insisted that he was sleeping in his car the night Gregory was kidnapped.  When pressed about his relationship with Louree, he claimed they had “a mutual friendship with no strong emotional feeling.”

Finally, Chief Skousen decided to roll the dice and charge Fackrell.

The trial began on December 4, 1957.  Prosecuting attorney D. Christian Ronnow presented the state’s case.  With no physical evidence, and no eye-witnesses to identify the suspect, Ronnow seemed to be grasping at straws.

Many of Fackrell’s friends and relatives packed the courtroom.  They watched a masterful display as his attorneys, Phil L. Hansen and Richard C. Dibbee, shredded the state’s case. 

On December 7, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.”  The courtroom erupted in cheers, as Fackrell broke down and wept.

So who brutally raped and murdered little Gregory MaComb?

All these years later, no one knows.

A monster, hiding among the shadows, got away with cold-blooded murder in the City of Mormons.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Chuck E. Cheese Murders

Multiple Murderer Nathan Dunlap
Blood and Politics
by Robert A. Waters

Murder victims don’t vote, so it’s easy for politicians to ignore their cries for justice.

Corrupt Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates in Illinois.  Although he became a darling of liberals, and was even nominated for a Nobel Prize, it didn’t stop him from being convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, and fraud.  He is currently serving a six-and-a-half year sentence.

On the day he left office, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour pardoned four killers.  The state Supreme Court ruled that he was within his rights, even though families of the victims complained bitterly.  Barbour’s motive seemed to be that these inmates worked around the governor’s mansion and ingratiated themselves to him and his staff.

Now we have the Nathan Dunlap case.  As this multiple murderer neared execution, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper indefinitely delayed his date with death.  As long as Hickenlooper is governor, Dunlap can breathe easy.  Meanwhile, protests of the victim's families are ignored. 

Here’s what happened to land Dunlap on Colorado’s Death Row.

At closing time on December 14, 1993, employees at Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora began cleaning up.  Dunlap, 19, a former employee, entered the restaurant armed with a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun.  He’d been fired the week before, and was angry.  He silently approached nineteen-year-old Sylvia Crowell from behind.  The part-time college student was busy clearing the salad bar when Dunlap placed the gun to her head and fired.  With one shot she was dead.

Vacuuming the floor, Ben Grant, a seventeen-year-old high school senior, never heard the first gunshot.  Soon he lay on the floor dying.

The first two murders had been ambush attacks.  But Colleen O’Connor, also 17, saw Dunlap coming.  She dropped to her knees and implored him to let her live.  “Don’t shoot,” she exclaimed.  “I won’t tell.”  Dunlap, unfazed, fired again.  O’Connor dropped dead on the blood-soaked floor.

Bobby Stephens had a seven-month-old baby at home.  Working alone in the kitchen, he heard the gunshots, but wrote them off as balloons popping.  Then the killer walked in, surprising Stephens--a bullet to the face knocked him to the floor.

Manager Margaret Kohlberg, 50, sat in her office tallying the receipts.  At gunpoint, Dunlap forced her to open the safe.  After taking more than $1500, he shot her twice, including a “kill-shot” to the head as she lay bleeding out.

The last place most people would expect this kind of violence would be Chuck E. Cheese, a fun-filled game room where children enjoyed birthday parties and outings with mom and dad.  The restaurant’s staff in Aurora worked hard to ensure an enjoyable, positive experience for each child.  Now, in one chilling act, Nathan Dunlap had left five employees for dead, then drove to his girlfriend’s house for a night of hot sex.

One victim, however, survived.  Bobby Stephens, who had a bullet lodged in his jaw, informed police that the killer was a former worker named Nathan Dunlap. 

Citizens of Colorado were outraged.  While the death penalty is rarely invoked in this liberal enclave, residents demanded the ultimate justice. 

The crime was a brutal, heinous act, and there was no question as to the guilt of Dunlap, but it still took twenty years for his case to wind through the system.  Finally, in 2013, the killer had no appeals left.  While his attorneys attempted to persuade several appellate judges that Dunlap suffered from a mental illness, none bought that argument.  A pardon or stay by Hickenlooper would be the mass murderer’s only chance.

And it happened.  Citing several reasons, such as alleged racism and his belief that capital punishment is not a deterrent, Hickenlooper took the coward's way out.

While the governor is being praised by many for staying Dunlap's execution, families of the victims are left to suffer the distress of knowing their loved one’s lives meant little to him. 

Bobby Stephens, the sole survivor of the massacre, said: “My current reaction is, I feel as if the wind has been kicked straight out of me.  I feel that this is all about Nathan right now.  I feel that Nathan has received more rights and more privileges than any of the victim's families or myself.” 

One of the jurors who voted to put Dunlap to death may have said it best: “If one person can take what a juror came up with and set it aside, then there is no system.  Why do we need juries?”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Elmer Leon Carroll Set to Die on May 29

Elmer Leon Carroll
Pedophile murdered neighbor
by Robert A. Waters

On May 29, 2013, Elmer Leon Carroll is scheduled to be executed for the rape and murder of ten-year-old Christine McGowan.  Twice convicted for assaulting children, Carroll was a time-bomb ticking toward murder.  In 1976, a Pasco County court had sentenced the pedophile to 6 years in prison for “indecent assault on a child under 16.”  In 1982, he got 15 years for raping another young girl.  (Unfortunately, he only served about half his sentence.) 

His third conviction resulted in a death sentence.  Carroll’s Florida Supreme Court Appellate Brief summarizes the crime:

“On October 30, 1990, at about 6:00 a.m., Robert Rank went to awaken his ten-year-old stepdaughter Christine McGowan, at their home in Apopka.  When she did not respond to his calls, Rank went into her bedroom and found her dead.  Shortly thereafter, Rank noticed that his front door was slightly ajar and that his pickup truck he had parked in the yard with the keys in it the night before was missing.  When the police arrived, they determined that Christine had been raped and strangled. 

“BOLO [Be On the Lookout] was issued for the missing truck, which was a white construction truck bearing the logo ATC on the side.  Debbie Hyatt saw a white pickup truck parked near her residence east of Orlando on Highway 50 as she left for work about 6:50 a.m.  About a mile down the road, she saw a man whom she later identified as Carroll walking in an easterly direction along the highway away from the truck. She described him as having long scraggly hair and wearing a brown jacket.  She did not think to too much about it until she later heard over the radio that the police were looking for a white pickup truck bearing the ATC logo described in the radio bulletin, she called the police. When the sheriff’s deputies arrived, she told them about first seeing the truck and the man walking down the road. 

“Carl Young, a state wildlife officer, was traveling on State Road 520 in Orange County on the morning of October 30, 1990.  At a point near the intersection of Highway 50, Young noticed a man with shoulder length hair walking down the highway.  Young thought this was strange because he was not carrying anything.  The man looked back over his shoulder at Young as he passed.  After turning onto Highway 50 and proceeding west, [Young] saw a deputy sheriff behind a white pickup truck with his revolver drawn.  Young went back to the scene to render assistance. 

“By this time, another deputy had arrived, and [Young] heard Debbie Hyatt tell them about the man she had seen walking down the highway away from the truck.  Young recalled that her description resembled the person that he had just passed.  Young drove back to where Carroll was continuing to walk down the road.  Young called to him, but he kept on walking.  Young pulled his gun and ordered Carroll to lie down on the ground.  Young made a search for weapons and found a box cutter razor blade and some keys.  Through radio communication with a deputy who remained at Rank’s truck, it was determined that a number on the keys matched a number on the truck.  Young and a deputy who had arrived to assist him then placed Carroll under arrest.    

“At the trial, two other witnesses testified that they had seen the man they identified as Carroll about 6 a.m. at a 7-11 store near Apopka.  The witnesses said that Carroll was driving a white truck with the ATC logo.  It was also discovered that Carroll was a resident of a halfway house located next door to the Rank home.  A resident of the halfway house testified that Carroll had told him that the girl who lived next door was ‘cute, sweet and liked to watch him make boats.’  She was seen talking to a man next door who may have been Carroll the day before the murder.   Semen, saliva, and pubic hair recovered from the victim were consistent with that of Carroll.  One DNA profile of a specimen obtained from the victim matched Carroll’s DNA profile.  Blood was found on Carroll’s sweatshirt and on his penis.”

Governor Rick Scott has said that he wants to execute the “worst of the worst” on Florida’s death row, once they’ve run out of appeals.  Elmer Leon Carroll certainly qualifies.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Your Cheatin’ Heart

Lies from the other side
by Robert A. Waters

Here’s my idea of what a psychic (if there really were such people) should do.

Let’s say there’s a teenage girl missing from Cleveland, Ohio.  Her mother goes on national television to ask the psychic for help.  A real clairvoyant would say: “Your daughter is being held in a house just blocks from where you live.  Send the cops down to 2207 Seymour Avenue Street and they’ll find your daughter—still alive—along with two other kidnapped women.”

Instead, self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne informed Amanda Berry’s mother that her daughter was dead.  Years later, Amanda escaped her captor and led the others to safety, proving Browne dead-wrong. 

Or let’s say an eleven-year-old boy is kidnapped from Richwoods, Missouri.  Here’s what a real psychic would have told his grieving parents: “A big fat pervert kidnapped your boy and is holding him in an apartment in Kirkwood.  Tell police to search in the 400 block of South Holmes Street for a guy who works at a pizza shop.”

Instead, Sylvia Browne advised Shawn Hornbeck’s parents that he’d been kidnapped and murdered. By a tall, thin, “dark-skinned” man, no less.  Four years later, 300-pound, light-skinned Michael Devlin abducted Ben Ownby.  It was only because an eyewitness described his truck to police that Devlin was captured.  Cops rescued Onwby, along with Hornbeck, who'd been held alive for four years.

If a so-called psychic can be so wrong, how in the world can anyone trust her?

Don't gimme that garbage about Browne being right most of the time.  I just don't believe it.  I think she fishes for information and plays the law of averages when making predictions.

For some reason, while penning this blog, the following song kept wigging my mind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Babe Ruth and the Passaic Six

Babe Ruth Poses with the Orphan Heroes
Orphan heroes meet the Sultan of Swat
by Robert A. Waters

On the evening of May 3, 1933, a cloudburst opened up over Passaic, New Jersey.  Rocked by thunderous flashes of lightning, the Passaic Home and Orphan Asylum stood at the center of the storm.  Six boys, worried that their makeshift baseball field might wash away, observed the gale from the asylum’s windows.  Called “inmates,” the boys were: Jacob Merinizek, 12; Johnny Murdock, 11; Douglas Fleming, 14; Rudolph Borsche, 15; Frank Mazzola, 14; and Michael Mazzola, 11.

Baseball was their passion, and Babe Ruth their hero.  They were disappointed that the day before, their beloved New York Yankees had lost to the Detroit Tigers 3-2 and Ruth went hitless in three attempts. 

Founded by members of the Presbyterian Church, Passaic Home and Orphan Asylum was located on 238 River Drive.  It “provided residential care for 47 orphan and deserted white and Negro children, age 4-14,” according to a 1933 and 1934 state census.

Time magazine reported that as the deluge continued, the six orphans “cunningly approached their matron.  Didn't she want to know if the rain had damaged her garden?  She did.  She said they might go out if they were careful to put on raincoats and rubbers.”

After determining that the garden had no damage, the boys checked their ball diamond.  To their relief, it was fine, too.

Then they glanced over at the nearby Erie Rail Road.  Perhaps with dreams of riding the rails, each boy knew the schedule of every train that passed.  A commuter train from Jersey City was due in just a few minutes, at 8:10 p.m.

The newspapers never reported which of the boys first spotted the damaged railway.  But someone saw that “a washout had completely carried away the ballast from under a section of track.”  About fifty feet of rails and ties dangled in the air.

The boys never hesitated—they rushed toward the track.  Ahead, they spied the train’s spotlight coming through darkness.  Waving their raincoats, the boys shouted for the train to stop.  They heard the squeal of metal on metal, the grinding brakes, and noticed a trail of sparks cutting away from the wheels.  The heavy engine shook the earth as it ground to a halt.

It was only then that Engineer John McGlin realized the disaster that had been averted.  Had the train traveled a few more feet, the 500 passengers on board may have been killed.

The story of the “orphan heroes” was written up in newspapers across the country, and the baseball boys were recognized as heroes.

Erie Rail Road officials gave each of the boys medals and a Lionel Train set.  Time reported that “Passaic's small heroes met some of their big heroes at the circus in Manhattan.  Clyde Beatty, tamer of lions and tigers, shook their hands and gave autographs.  Hugo Zacchini, the human cannonball, greeted them.  [Boxer] Gene Tunney came over to say hello.  [Heavyweight Champion] Max Schmeling invited them to his training camp at Oak Ridge, N. J.”

Later, Babe Ruth (himself an orphan) wrote of meeting the heroic boys:  “Remember those kids in that Passaic orphan asylum over in New Jersey three years ago?  Looking out of their windows early on that May evening, the flashes of lightning showed them that, with rain falling in torrents, the railroad was washing away.  Then one of them remembered that the express out of Jersey City was due any minute.  It didn't take Johnny Murdock and his pals more than a second to figure out that there would be a real wreck if that express came through.  But there was no trackwalker around and there wasn't time to phone ahead to stop the train.  And there was the roadbed washed away from underneath the rails.

“You remember the story.  While the lady in charge telephoned for help, the six kids—Johnny Murdock, Jacob Melinizak, Rudolph Borsche, Douglas Fleming, Frank Mazzola and his brother Michael—ran down the track a quarter mile waving their raincoats, refusing to budge from the track, risking their lives to convince the engineer that he either had to stop or run over them.

“It was a real act of quick-thinking heroism.  Without question, they saved lives.  Remember what Johnny Murdock and his pals said that night when the railroad officials told them they could have almost anything they wanted as a reward?

“They said, ‘We don't want anything special as a reward.  But could you please let Babe Ruth know what we did?  That's what we'd rather have than anything.  We have a ball team here and we'd like him to know that we did something worthwhile, even if we're not great ballplayers.  Perhaps we could even meet him.’

“The Yankees, as I recall it, were out in Cleveland.  A telegram telling me about the boys and their great stunt woke me up early in the morning out there.  I sent them a telegram and wrote them letters, and when we got back into New York, they came over to the Yankee Stadium.  I posed for pictures with them and autographed balls and we became real friends.  If you could have seen what that meant to them, you'd have a little idea of what I mean.  And don't forget that kids all over the country read that story in the newspapers.”

NOTE: John K. Hubbard, son of orphan hero Johnny Hubbard, emailed me with some additional information about his father and graciously gave me permission to publish it.   

I came across the above referenced article on your blog of 5/14.  I am the son of "Johnny Murdock" in the article.  My father passed away in 2010, and as far as I know, all the other boys are dead as well.  I have the autographed baseball from Babe Ruth, and the original telegram that was sent to my father.    Also have a CD of a 2 minute news reel from when the boys were taken to Yankee Stadium by Babe Ruth.  I also have a copy of the NY Times from the day after the event with the story on the front page.

Your presentation of the story is accurate except for one detail.  As my father told the story, the train engineer jumped out of the locomotive after he stopped the train an began yelling and swearing at the boys for making him stop the train.  When the boys pointed to the collapsed track just ahead, the engineer dropped to his knees and thanked them for what they did.

In a second email, Hubbard continues:

I forgot to mention that the railroad company also sent the boys to the Chicago Worlds Fair and gave them each a savings bond for around $2000.00, a tidy sum for the early 30's.  Attached is a copy of the telegraph from Babe Ruth.

You have my permission to publish any of the information I have given you.

When my father was old enough to leave the orphanage, he lived with his older sister for a while and then joined the Navy during WW2.  He met my mom while stationed in Chicago, got married, and came back to N.J. after the war.  The rest is non eventful...He and my mom raised 4 kids in Wayne and we all lived happily ever after...Well sort of.
John K. Murdock

Monday, May 13, 2013

Interview with True Crime Author Ron Franscell

Ron Franscell
A few years back, I wrote a book entitled, Sun Struck: Sixteen Infamous Murders in the Sunshine State.  During my research, I made a brief trip to Homosassa to visit the site where Jessica Lunsford was abducted and murdered.  While standing in front of the burned-out ruin of a shabby mobile home, chills crept up my spine.  (One or more unknown citizens had set the trailer on fire as if to wipe away the stain of murder.)  Here a beautiful, well-adjusted, and totally innocent pre-teen girl had been sadistically brutalized.  As I viewed the spot where John Couey buried Jessica alive, I recoiled in utter horror. 

In his series of state guides to the locales of infamous crimes, true crime author and award-winning novelist Ron Franscell has recorded hundreds of locations where the reader can experience the same emotions as I did on that day in Homosassa.  So far, he and Globe Pequot Press have created the following books: The Crime Buff’s Guide Outlaw Texas; The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Washington, DC; The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Rockies; and The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Pennsylvania, due out in the fall of this year.  These books not only describe some of the most interesting crimes in US history, they provide the reader with GPS coordinates to the sites. 

Ron agreed to answer a few questions about the creation of this intriguing series, and about future editions.

How did you come up with the idea for the Crime Buff’s Guide series?

My wife and I were traveling across northern Louisiana and I wanted to see the spot where lawmen ambushed Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.  In the nearby village of Gibsland, we asked a fella how to get to the monument on a lonely rural road. He told us, but whether the directions were bad or we misunderstood, we couldn’t find the place.  We returned to town and asked somebody else. The directions were different … but we still couldn’t find it.  We finally succeeded on our third try, but by then the afternoon was banjaxed and I was frustrated.

“Wouldn’t it be much easier if instead of counting mailboxes and left-hand turns they just gave us GPS coordinates?” I spluttered.  And in that instant, the CRIME BUFF’S GUIDE books were conceived!  So far, we’ve covered Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania (in October). Coming soon will be Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nevada.

A lot of history is hidden, especially crime history. It’s so well hidden that we often dash through life blissfully unaware that some of the most startling crimes in America happened right in our own backyards—sometimes literally. By harnessing the power of satellite navigation, I wanted to help fellow history and crime buffs discover something extraordinary in ordinary places – to show how surprisingly close we live to the darker side of American history.

Why is location so important?

I’m an old-school newspaperman. I believe there’s something important to be learned from “being there.”  For example, I always imagined JFK’s assassination had been a great drama played out on a great stage – so expansive that one man couldn’t possibly have committed that heinous murder at such a great distance.  Then I visited Dealey Plaza, which was, in reality, much more intimate and small than I imagined.  When I peered down on the fateful spot from Oswald’s sixth-floor perch, I realized that any Wyoming kid who ever hunted rabbits with a .22—as I did—could have made that shot.  “Being there” changed my whole perspective of that tragic event.

Crime is part of history, part of who we are.  So the history of crime is important to understanding our culture.  And just like other historic sites where imagination, myth and history entangle, significant outlaw-related sites can also offer a glimpse beneath the surface of the present.  As every traveler knows, visiting important—and sometimes forgotten—places can enlarge our understanding of history infinitely.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened in a Chicago warehouse that’s now a park where children play. The Black Dahlia’s dismembered body was found in an open field that today is somebody’s suburban Los Angeles front yard. Actor Fatty Arbuckle’s debauchery took place in a landmark San Francisco hotel room—which you can still rent today.  You can eat at a Scottsdale strip-mall restaurant once owned by Gambino mob informer Sammy “The Bull” Gravano while he was in witness protection.

And without asking for vague directions, you can stand on the exact spot where Bonnie and Clyde died in a storm of gunfire.

What are some of the favorite cases you’ve researched for your books?

It’s impossible to visit the site of the Columbine mass murder in Littleton, Colorado, and not be moved.  It’s impossible to stand in Ford’s Theatre and not feel surrounded by ghosts.  And it’s impossible to visit the crumbling site of the famous Chicken Ranch—“the best little whorehouse in Texas”—and not smile.

But many of my favorite places have told very human stories.  There’s a cemetery in Texas where the patriarchs of two feuding families, killed by each other in a fatal barroom brawl, are buried side-by-side and (by order of the sheriff) their two graves have been literally chained together for eternity. 

Then there’s the strange tale of small-time Oklahoma outlaw Elmer McCurdy, shot down by a posse in 1911.  When nobody claimed his body, the local undertaker mummified him and displayed his corpse until a few years later when some outlaw cohorts claimed the body—and promptly sold it to the carnival circuit.  Elmer’s body was a midway attraction for decades, then disappeared. In 1976, a TV crew filming a “Six Million Dollar Man” episode in a deteriorating Los Angeles amusement park found a mannequin in a warehouse. The mannequin turned out to be Elmer’s mummified corpse.  He was returned to Oklahoma and buried under two tons of concrete—so he’d never be moved again.

And in the sleepy town of Granbury, Texas, where men claiming to be John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James and Billy the Kid showed up -- long after they were all presumed dead.

In the small, overlooked stories, I often find the kind of human stories that make it all worthwhile.

One of my favorite stories is in your Guide to Washington, DC.  The grave of Edgar Allan Poe has been visited by millions, yet there is still a mystery about his death.  What do you think really happened to him?

We love our mysteries, don’t we?  And as the world’s first mystery writer, Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious ending seems almost poetic.  Of course, I don’t know what killed Poe. As a storyteller, I sometimes lean toward the most fantastic theories because they make the best stories.  Illness is certainly a leading diagnosis (and some have suggested rabies from a rat bite).  Nevertheless, the possibility that Poe was “cooped”—forcibly inebriated and coerced by local electioneers to vote repeatedly for a chosen candidate—is a compelling theory.

Each state has a unique culture.  Does this relate to crime, too?

Yes, to a degree.  Wyoming has a very different crime history than, say, Pennsylvania because their pasts are so different.  So each state or city has its own extraordinary historic twist.

More striking to me is how the crime histories of diverse places like Wyoming and Pennsylvania overlap.  For example, one of Wyoming’s most infamous outlaws is Harry Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid.  But did you know Harry was born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (where his childhood home still exists)?

I have been rather amazed at how many crimes and outlaws have spanned time and space to pop up in places where you least expected to find their shadows.

This seems like a natural TV series idea to me.  Is that a possibility?

You’re right!  And some TV people agree.  An entertaining cable series based on the CRIME BUFF’S GUIDE series is on the table right now.  It could be a fascinating program that’s part history, part travelogue, part crime show.  Fingers are crossed!

Thanks for a great interview from one of the finest true crime writers alive today.  And like many of the better true crime writers, he is also an outstanding novelist.  Check out Ron’s website and buy one of his books.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Off-Season Mayhem in the NFL

Crimes are nothing but “mistakes”
by Robert A. Waters

With a new batch of thugs signing outlandish contracts, criminal lawyers have lined up like ambulance chasers outside the doors of the various NFL teams.  Since poverty is alleged to be the root cause of crime, you’d think multimillionaires could get through life without breaking the law.  But the transfer of funds to defense attorneys seems as natural for NFL players as breathing. 
In order to minimize NFL thuggery, sports writers and ESPN talkers use soft words to describe the offenses of those anointed to be our heroes: “mistakes,” “character issues,” and “personality quirks” are few of those terms.

So here’s a brief list of NFLers who’ve had recent “troubles.” 

Armonty Bryant.  The “troubled” defensive end was recently selected by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft.  Because of Bryant’s prior run-ins with the law while in college, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski felt the need to justify his selection, and told reporters: “We feel like [Bryant] is past the mistakes he has made and is ready to move on.”  Move on he did.  The ink wasn’t even dry on his contract before he was arrested for DUI.  In college, he was arrested twice for selling drugs on campus. 

Titus Young.  Last week, wide receiver Young became a double arrestee in one day, possibly ending his short, non-storied career in the NFL.  After being charged in California for DUI, the former St. Louis Rams trouble-maker allegedly attempted to steal his own car from the lot in which it was impounded.  He was arrested again.  Some of his previous “character issues” include sucker punching an opponent and intentionally lining up in the wrong position while with the Detroit Lions.  Sportswriters called Young a “troubled soul” instead of, well, a lawbreaker.

Cliff Harris.  The former New York Jets cornerback set an NFL record by getting arrested three times in nine days.  His last arrest, for beating up his girlfriend, occurred in the parking lot of Buffalo Wild Wings in Hillsboro, Oregon. This is the same guy whose college team, the Oregon Ducks, kicked him off the squad because of a series of run-ins with the law. 

Daryl Washington.  Immediately after he signed a 32.5 million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals, Washington celebrated by allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.  According to police reports, the linebacker choked his lady pal and pushed her to the ground, causing several serious injuries.  Just a few weeks earlier, he learned that he would be suspended for the first four games next year for violation of the NFL’s drug policy.  Notwithstanding, one of his teammates said Washington is “an awesome guy.”

William Moore.  Immediately after signing a 30 million dollar contract with the Atlanta Falcons, police arrested Moore for simple battery.  After an argument with a woman, Moore allegedly “threw the victim’s phone” on the ground and grabbed her shoulder.

Michael Boley.  In a secret deal with prosecutors, New York Giants linebacker Boley pleaded guilty to child abuse.  He’d previously been investigated for a separate incident of the same nature, and had been arrested for assaulting his girlfriend.  If he completes a “diversion program,” charges will be dropped.  Boley was recently cut by the Giants, not for his alleged crimes, but because he stunk up the field.

Tharold Simon.  The day before “Tharold Simon Day” in his hometown of Eunice, Lousiana, the “troubled” LSU cornerback was arrested on charges of public intimidation, resisting an officer and noise violation.  He bragged to the arresting officer, “I own Eunice.”  Then he threatened to get the lawman fired.  None of that stopped the Seattle Seahawks from drafting Simon in the recent draft.  He’d previously been suspended by LSU for violating the team’s substance abuse policy.  Because of his inadvertent error, the city canceled “Tharold Simon Day.”   

Tyrann Mathieu.  Speaking of LSU, Coach Les Miles kicked Mathieu off the team for numerous incidences of substance abuse.  But that didn’t stop the Arizona Cardinals from drafting him.  General manager Steve Keim told reporters that “at the end of the day, there is always an element of risk with any of these picks.  We're going to take the necessary measures to make sure he walks the straight and narrow.”  A week later, so far, so good.  But it doesn’t sound promising when a Phoenix “head shop” put an ad in the local paper welcoming Mathieu and inviting him for a visit.

Quentin Groves.  After signing a 2.8 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns, the linebacker made himself proud by getting arrested for soliciting a prostitute. 

Just a few “mistakes” here and there.

Nothing to worry about.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Keep your eye out...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two Florida Death Row Inmates Who Should be Executed Now!

Innocent Victim Amanda Brown
Why Wait?
by Robert A. Waters

Intending to speed up executions in the state, Florida legislators recently passed the Timely Justice Bill.  While their intentions are good, the statute is unlikely to make much difference because of challenges that will be brought before various courts.  (In 2000, the legislature passed another law designed to shorten death row appeals, but the United States Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional.)  If, however, the Timely Justice Bill actually becomes the state’s death row modus operandi, here are two killers they could start with.
Willie Crain, a previously-convicted pedophile, kidnapped seven-year-old Amanda Brown.  Her body was never found, but DNA proved that Crain sexually assaulted the child.  For nearly fifteen years, this inmate has played hop-scotch with justice.  Now it’s time for him to pay.  The description of his crime is taken from court documents.

“Willie Crain was introduced to Kathryn Hartman by his daughter on 09/09/98, while at a bar in Hillsborough County.  Crain and Hartman danced and talked for four hours that night, until 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning.  Crain dropped Hartman off at her trailer, and Hartman asked to see Crain again.

“On the afternoon of 09/10/98, Crain returned to Hartman’s trailer, where he met her seven-year-old daughter, Amanda Brown.  Crain and Brown sat at the kitchen table, playing games and doing her homework.  Before leaving that afternoon, Crain accepted Hartman’s invitation to return for dinner that evening.

“After dinner that night, Crain and Brown played games with Brown and told her that he had a large collection of videotapes at his trailer.  Brown pleaded with her mother to let her go to Crain’s trailer, and she agreed.  Crain drove Hartman and Brown to his trailer in his white pickup truck.

“After beginning to watch the movie in Crain’s living room, Crain and Brown then went to his bedroom, where Hartman found the two sitting on Crain’s bed, watching the movie.  Hartman noticed that Brown was sitting between Crain’s sprawled legs with her back to his front.  At some point in the evening, Hartman asked Crain if he had any medication for pain.  Crain offered her Valium, which she took, and marijuana, which she declined.

“Eventually, Hartman decided it was time to leave, and Crain drove Hartman and Brown to their trailer.  Around 2:15 a.m., Brown went to sleep in Hartman’s bed.  Crain appeared intoxicated, so Hartman advised him to lie down to sober up while she went to bed.  Within five minutes of Hartman going to bed, Crain entered the bedroom and lay down on the bed with Hartman and Brown. 

“Hartman awoke the next morning to find Crain gone and Brown missing.  Hartman called Crain on his cell phone, and he told her that he did not know where Brown was and that he was loading his boat at a boat landing.  

“Other people at the boat ramp testified at trial that Crain carried what appeared to be a rolled-up item of clothing with him when he was launching his boat.  One of the men at the boat ramp that day testified that Crain had told him on two separate occasions that he had the ability to get rid of a body where no one could find it. 

“Police later interviewed Crain, and he told police that he left Hartman’s house around 1:30 a.m. on 09/11/98.  He also told police that he accidentally spilled bleach in his bathroom and spent the early morning hours cleaning his bathroom. 

“While searching Crain’s trailer, a detective applied Luminol, a chemical that reacts with blood, to Crain’s bathroom.  The detective testified at trial that the floor, bathtub, and walls “lit up”. 

“Detectives also found blood stains in the bathroom and on Crain’s boxer shorts, both of which contained DNA consistent with a mixture of the DNA profiles of Crain and Brown.  Despite an extensive, two-week search of Upper Tampa Bay, Brown’s body was never found.”

Crain worked as a commercial fisherman.  Investigators suspect that he placed Amanda’s body in a crab trap and dumped her into Tampa Bay.

Douglas Ray Meeks, convicted of murdering a store clerk and a customer in different robberies, has been on Death Row for nearly 40 years.  The description of his crimes comes from court documents.

“On the morning of October 24, 1974, Meeks, a twenty-one-year-old African-American, entered the Majik Market convenience store in Perry, Florida.  While attempting to rob the store, Meeks stabbed the store manager, Chevis Thompson.  Three high school students (James Southerland, Jeffrey McKee, and Thomas Hingson) saw Meeks exit the Majik Market as they drove into the store's parking lot.  When the students went inside the Majik Market, they noticed that Thompson was lying behind the sales counter and that she was apparently injured.  Upon closer inspection, the boys saw that blood was flowing out of a knife wound in her neck.  Thompson was gasping for air and waving her hand wildly.  There was also blood on the counter and on the sides of the cash register.

“Failing to find a telephone in the store, the boys raced to their car and drove three blocks to the nearest hospital. Before leaving, they instructed two other students (Dennis Wilds and Michael Blanton), who had since arrived at the Majik Market (but who had not seen Meeks exit the store), to stay with Thompson while they went for help.  Hospital staff subsequently arrived at the Majik Market, but were unable to rescue Thompson; she died of the knife wounds inflicted upon her by Meeks.

“Two weeks later, on November 6, 1974, Meeks and an accomplice, Homer Lee Hardwick, entered the Junior Food Store in Perry at between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.  Hardwick walked up to the front of the cash register and put his arm around the neck of Lloyd Walker, a sixteen-year-old boy who was in the store to make a purchase.  While Hardwick immobilized Walker, Meeks approached the store clerk, Diane Allen, at gun point and demanded that Allen give him all the money in cash register. Allen complied and handed over between thirty and thirty-five dollars.

“Meeks then instructed both Allen and Walker to walk to the back of the store and get in a storage closet.  When they had done so, he told them to lie on their backs and then to roll over onto their stomachs.  At that point, Meeks fired several shots, hitting Allen in the shoulder, and Walker in the head.  After Meeks and Hardwick left the store, Allen waited a few minutes and then called the police.  She was taken to a hospital and later recovered from her shoulder wound.  Lloyd Walker died six days after the shooting.”

On March 12, 1975, Meeks was sentenced to death for killing Thompson.  Two weeks later, he was convicted of murdering Walker and received a second death sentence.  Since there is no doubt about his guilt, the long delay in carrying out Meeks’ sentence is unfathomable.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Sadist

Innocent Victim Alice Porter
Kidnapped in Pueblo
by Robert A. Waters

In April of 1942, Americans cheered Jimmy Doolittle’s kamikaze-style raid on Japan.  In Europe, there was little to celebrate—World War II had bogged down into a bloody slugfest between the Allies and the Nazis.  And off the southern shores of the U. S., German U-boats sank dozens of American-bound ships.

None of that mattered to Donald Fearn, 23.  The Pueblo, Colorado resident, married and working as a railway mechanic, had long harbored an obsession with a little-known Indian religious cult called the Penitentes.  Because the sect had been persecuted for millennia, they worshipped in secret.  Using an adobe church deep in the desert, the group practiced self-flagellation and mock-crucifixion.  Fearn claimed to have visited the church, but his pre-occupation with the blood-stained altar had little to do with religion and everything to do with sexual arousal.

On April 22, at 9:30 P.M., sixteen-year-old Alice Porter walked down East Eleventh Street.  The pretty brunette, returning home after registering for a nursing course at Central High School,  didn’t realize she was being shadowed by a monster.

As the lone teenager neared her home, Fearn parked beside her and jumped from his car.  He stuck a handgun in Porter’s face and ordered her to get in.  The teen screamed, then obeyed.  As quickly as that, Alice Porter vanished.

In a home across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Ezra Mckinney heard screams and a commotion that seemed to come from the sidewalk outside their residence.  Rushing to their front window, the couple spied a tan-colored Ford sedan speeding away.  

Fearn drove his victim straight to an abandoned ranch-house in the wastelands southeast of Pueblo. For six hours, he unrelentingly tortured the girl.  Finally, after killing her, he dropped the remains of Alice Porter into a cistern and covered her with branches and leaves.

But as Fearn attempted to leave, his car became stuck in the mud.  (A violent rain-storm had passed the night before.)  Try as he might, he couldn’t get it to budge.  Eventually, at about four in the morning, Fearn walked to a farmhouse and called Whaley’s Garage in Pueblo.  The owner, Boyd Whaley, drove into the desert and pulled Fearn’s automobile from the mud.

When Alice Porter hadn’t returned home by midnight, her father, a former police officer, reported her missing.

Almost immediately, police began canvassing the route she would have walked home.  Detectives knocked on the door of a home in the 1600 block of East Eleventh Street and met Mr. and Mrs. McKinney.  The couple breathlessly described what they’d witnessed a few hours earlier.  Now investigators knew that Alice had likely been abducted, and that they were looking for a tan-colored Ford sedan.
For three days, police and Pueblo residents conducted a massive search for Alice Porter.

Finally, Boyd Whaley contacted investigators and informed them that Donald Fearn had a tan-colored Ford sedan that had gotten stuck in the desert on the night the girl disappeared.  Whaley led investigators to the ranch where they discovered the blood-soaked crime scene, and the pitiful remains of Alice Porter.
In the book, Mountain Murders: Homicide in the Rockies, Betty L. Alt and Sandra K. Wells describe what the coroner found when he autopsied the body: “Coroner J. R. Blair’s autopsy indicated that a depression skull fracture just between the eyes of Alice Porter had caused her death.  The fracture was beneath a two-inch wound in her forehead, and above that was another half-inch wound.  In addition, a bullet fired from a .32 caliber revolver had entered her head just above the right ear, had pierced the brain, and had lodged between the scalp and the skin on the left side of the girl’s head.”

But that was just a fraction of the injuries suffered by Alice.  Coroner Blair also reported that the victim had “multiple bruises over her entire body with contusions on her shoulder and right ankle.  Burns, inflicted by a hot wire that had been heated in the fireplace, were spread over her body—fifteen on her stomach, two on her left groin and ten on her back and left hip.”  In addition, the victim had suffered numerous stab wounds.  Almost as an afterthought, Blair reported that Alice had been repeatedly raped.

Pueblo Police Chief J. Arthur Grady told reporters that the scene was the “most gruesome” he’d witnessed in his 38 years on the force.  

After his arrest, Fearn quickly confessed.  Tried and convicted, the monster was sentenced to death.    

On October 23, Fearn kept his date with the executioner.  He’d shown no remorse for his victim or her family.  For his last meal, the killer requested a steak and a beer.  After eating, Fearn entered the gas chamber.  He undressed down to his shorts, and was strapped into the chair by guards.  Then the cyanide was released, and a smoky poison rose into the air. 

In three minutes, Fearn was dead. 

Alice’s father watched, wondering if the six hours she’d spent at the hands of the sadist was worth only a three minute death.