Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Emily Harris
The Unquiet Death of Myrna Opsahl
by Robert A. Waters

At 9:01 A.M. on April 21, 1975, Myrna Opsahl, 42-year-old wife, mother and nurse, walked into the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California.  With two other members of her Seventh-day Adventist Church, she planned to deposit the congregation’s weekend collection.  As Opsahl entered, four members of a self-styled leftist militant group called the Symbionese Liberation Army pushed in behind her. 

Emily Harris, her husband William Harris, Michael Bortin, and Kathleen Ann Soliah, wore heavy coats and masks.  Emily, holding a shotgun loaded with buckshot, screamed for patrons to get down on the floor.  “Get your noses on the carpet…noses on the carpet.”

Opsahl, holding the church’s cash-box, didn’t move fast enough.  A blast from Harris’s shotgun ripped open her abdomen.  She fell to the floor, bleeding out.

The robbers ignored the dying woman and continued with their heist.  Cosmo Garvin, of the Sacramento News & Review, wrote: “Bank customers described one of the robbers (Soliah) as a woman in her mid-20s who wore a green bandana over her face, held a pistol in one hand, while keeping an eye on her wristwatch, and periodically shouted out how much time had elapsed.  Another bandit leapt the bank counter and emptied the money from the teller drawers, caching some $15,000.”  The robbers fled the scene of the crime in a Pontiac Firebird.

Meanwhile, Opsahl bled to death.

The SLA was already notorious for kidnapping Patty Hearst and murdering Marcus Foster, superintendent of schools in Oakland.  In her book, Every Secret Thing, Hearst claimed that Emily Harris said she accidently pulled the trigger.  But making light of Opsahl’s murder, Harris said: “Oh, she’s dead, but it really doesn’t matter.  She was a bourgeois pig anyway.  Her husband was a doctor.”

In the mid-1970s, many SLA members went into hiding.  Helped by families, radical friends, and other leftists, they blended into society, eventually becoming bourgeois pigs themselves. 

For nearly three decades, Sacramento prosecutors refused to indict anyone for the murder, claiming there was not enough evidence to convict.

And there the case might have lain dormant.  Except Jon, one of the sons of Myrna Opsahl, refused to let it lie.  People Magazine’s Thomas Fields-Meyer described how Jon learned of his mother’s murder: “A school nurse walked into Jon Opsahl’s Sacramento High School classroom and whispered something to his teacher.  The teacher began to cry.  Then the nurse led Jon in silence to the principal’s office, where he found his brother and sister.  All three were rushed to a local hospital, where Jon’s father, Trygve, eyes red with tears, was waiting.  ‘Mommy has been shot...’ he told them.  ‘She’s dead.’”

As the years passed, Jon became a physician.  He married and had children, but the wound in his gut was still raw.  Why weren’t the killers of his mom in prison instead of living normal, everyday lives?  He began harassing prosecutors with numerous phone calls.  He set up his own web page asking for more information about the murders.  And he began periodically sending postcards with his mother’s picture on it to prosecutors.  Just to remind them that at least her family hadn’t forgotten.

In the meantime, Patty Hearst was convicted of robbing the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco.  President Jimmy Carter soon commuted Hearst’s prison sentence and Bill Clinton pardoned her.  (In the Crocker Bank robbery, Hearst waited in a VW van which served as a switch car.)  Steven Soliah, Kathleen’s brother and allegedly one of the getaway drivers, was tried and acquitted of the Crocker robbery.  Emily Harris served a short prison sentence for helping to abduct Patty Hearst, then became a computer consultant for MGM and other film production companies.  

In the months after the bank robbery, Kathleen Ann Soliah placed two pipe bombs underneath police cars.  Fortunately, the bombs were discovered before they detonated.  Soliah then went underground, moving back to her home state of Minnesota.  There she morphed into Sarah Jane Olson, married, and had three children.  For more than two decades she lived in anonymity, evidently unbothered by her part in the murder of an innocent victim, or her attempts to murder police officers.

Finally, 28 years later, the wheels of justice began moving forward in the Opsahl murder case.  The murderers were tracked down and arrested.  With several of their former terrorist cohorts prepared to testify against them, the four pleaded guilty to second degree murder.  Emily Harris Montague received eight years; Bill Harris got seven years; and Michael Bortin and Sara Jane Olson were sentenced to six in prison.  (In addition, Olson received 14 years for attempting to murder a police officer—for all her crimes, she served only seven before being paroled.)

At the hearing, Jon Opsahl said: “For nearly 28 years, I have lived with the fact that monsters do exist, that hometown terrorism is real, that the incomprehensible happened, and that beyond our family and church, no one else seemed to care, including and especially the defendants.”

All the defendants were released long ago.  Those few years they spent in prison were just a hiccup in the vile lives of Montague, Harris, Bortin, and Olson.

Unfortunately, Myrna Opsahl, a productive, innocent victim, has been dead and largely forgotten for all these decades.

Where did justice go?  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Blog to be Put on Hold

Hiatus for Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem

After seven years of averaging more than one story per week, my blog will be put on hold for an indefinite period.  I'm beginning work on a new book and will have little time to research and write stories for Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem.  I suspect that the blog will lay dormant for a year or so.

Since 2008, I've published 518 stories.  I've met many readers who have encouraged me with their enthusiasm and kind words.  I've also incurred some criticism, but that is to be expected when an author's viewpoint differs from the mainstream.  Whatever the case, I appreciate all my readers.  The blog will remain viable on the Internet for those who wish to read the older articles.

While there will be no weekly stories, I might occasionally publish reviews of certain books that I've read and enjoyed, and if a case grabs my attention, it may get a write-up. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Sad Death of Opal Sturgell

The “Trysting Oak” Murder
by Robert A. Waters

August, 1937
Berea, Kentucky

“This small college town flamed with excitement today as one of Berea’s pretty co-eds lay dead, victim last night of a mysterious ambush slaying. The murdered girl is Miss Opal Sturgell, 18-year-old sophomore of Berea college, who was shot and fatally wounded while she strolled along a campus walk with William Anderson, a friend.” (From International News Service.)

Anderson informed police that he and Sturgell were walking near what students called the “trysting oak” in a secluded area when George E. Wells, 20, stepped out from behind a clump of bushes and fired three shots from a revolver. Opal fell to the ground, mortally wounded. The teen died at the hospital an hour later. Anderson stated that Wells pointed the gun at him, then stuck it against his own temple. Seconds later, the gunman turned and fled.

Berea police investigators soon learned that Wells had been stalking Sturgell. Just before gunning down the popular co-ed, he had confronted her and Anderson as they walked along. Wells demanded that Opal talk with him privately, but she refused. As Wells moved away, he turned and said, “If that’s the way you feel about it, okay—you may be sorry.”

Opal Sturgell, from Houckville, Kentucky, was described as a “country girl,” possibly because her father was a farmer. In 1936, she graduated from Blaine High School. That September, she enrolled at Berea College. A beautiful girl who made good grades, Opal was a member of the Alpha Phi Sorority and Harmonia, a vocal group.

K. Olivia Meszaros, in her online article, “Murders on Campus,” wrote: “Opal Sturgell had known George E. Wells since they had gone to high school together. He had reportedly asked her to marry him then, but she had refused. When they came to Berea, he continued to pursue her. Wells had come to Berea College as a freshman in 1934, and was a junior when Opal arrived in 1936. According to various interviews, including an account from Opal’s sister who was a teacher in Lawrence County, Wells had been told multiple times to stay away from her, by her and others, including the dean of the school at the time. Although Wells was a good student and active in several campus groups, during the spring term of 1937, his grades began to slip.”

Wells, who wrote for the college newspaper, fancied himself a poet. In fact, when police searched his rented apartment after the shooting, they found a mushy piece of doggerel on his bed. It ended with the following lines:

“Thou are a flower blooming in the spring
Whose loveliness is glorious divine.
Thy radiant glow and cheerful smiles may bring
To someone happiness and joy sublime
And courage great to help him to be true
Along the path made beautiful by you.”

At first, investigators thought Wells would be easy to find. As far as they knew, he left with only the clothes he wore and a few dollars in his pocket. It was likely that he had no escape plan once he murdered Opal. But despite a massive early search by police, he slipped from sight like a vague shadow and was never found.

Within days, the Berea police chief announced that he believed Wells had killed himself.  From then on, except for investigating sporadic and erroneous sightings, police suspended the search.

So did George E. Wells commit suicide? It’s certainly possible, but without proof, other alternatives should have been explored more thoroughly.

One theory holds that Wells hitchhiked out of the area before a full-scale search began. He may have fled to a faraway city and begun a new life. Just four years later, World War II broke out, and Wells might have enlisted under a different name. With an honorable discharge and a new legal identity, after the war he could have continued his deception until he died.

Or he may have been killed during the conflict.

Whatever the case, George E. Wells cheated justice.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Victoria Edwards Missing for 20 Days

Victoria Faith Edwards, 14, has been missing from my hometown of Ocala, Florida for 20 days.

She is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 119 pounds.  She has dirty blonde hair with brown roots.  She goes by the name of Faith and loves animals.  Faith was last seen in the South Gate area of Ocala. The missing person flyer states that she was last seen in the company of some Hispanic men.

If you have any knowledge about this missing child, contact the Marion County Sheriff's Office at 352-732-9111.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Winning the Death Row Lottery

Murder Victim Julia Ashe
Connecticut Supreme Court outlaws executions
by Robert A. Waters

Sedrick “Ricky” Cobb’s murder of Julia Ashe never made national headlines.  Even when a Connecticut jury convicted Cobb and a three-judge panel sentenced him to death, the case flew under the radar.

On December 16, 1989, Ashe walked out of Bradlees department store in Waterbury where the temperature had plummeted to 18 degrees.  Toting bags filled with Christmas gifts, she discovered that her car had a flat tire.  Cobb, a well-dressed stranger, stepped up and offered to change it.

Little did Ashe know that he was awaiting trial for raping a woman in Naugatuck, and that police suspected him in several other sexual assaults.  She also didn’t know that he’d been stalking women in the Bradlees parking lot.  When Ashe had gone into the store, Cobb used a valve stem remover to deflate her tire.  Then he waited for her.

After changing the tire, Cobb requested that Ashe drive him to his own vehicle.  It was parked about a mile away, he said.  The naïve young college student agreed, thereby sealing her fate.

She drove him to a secluded area near City Mills Pond where he informed her they would find his car.  There Cobb attacked his victim, raping her.  After robbing Ashe of $300, he used fiberglass reinforced tape to bind her mouth, hands, and feet.  Then he dragged her to a nearby dam and threw her over the wall.

Ashe fell 23 feet into the icy water.  Although she was severely injured and suffering from hypothermia, the plucky student fought for her life.

Thrashing about, she found a jagged metal wire sticking out of the concrete wall.  Ashe used the wire to cut the tape from her wrists and feet—while attempting unsuccessfully to cut the heavy-duty tape from her mouth, she lacerated her face.  Near death from the vicious assault and the elements, and bleeding heavily from gashes to her body and face, Ashe staggered to shore.

Cobb, however, was waiting for her.  Determined to leave no witnesses, he forced her face beneath the surface of the water until she drowned.

Cobb then stole the Christmas gifts Ashe had bought, and walked back to Bradlees where his car was parked.

On Christmas day, teenagers discovered the ice-crusted body of Julia Ashe floating in the pond.

Police tracked down Cobb and arrested him.  In his car, investigators discovered the gifts, as well as the valve stem remover and other evidence.  Cobb, trapped by his own incompetence, confessed to the co-ed’s murder.

The brutality of the crime, as well as the premeditated nature of it, convinced three normally reluctant New England judges to sentence Cobb to death.

But now the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that no more executions will be carried out in the state.  Cobb, a winner of the death row lottery, will supposedly spend the rest of his life in prison.

Unless he escapes.

Or unless the courts decide that life in prison, like the death penalty, is also cruel and unusual punishment.

Meanwhile, except for family and friends who still mourn her loss, Julia Ashe’s brutal death is now just a footnote in Connecticut criminal history.   

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review of Desolation Sound

Desolation Sound
By Fraser C. Heston and Heather J. McAdams
Agamemnon Films, 2015

Review by Robert A. Waters

Severed feet in running shoes keep washing up on Canadian shores, arousing the media and bringing online detectives out of the woodwork.  Public opinion around Vancouver is that a serial killer is loose.  Top brass from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, just want the problem to go away.  They hold numerous press briefings, assuring everyone that the feet are natural occurrences, likely victims of accidents or maybe suicides.

Thus begins Desolation Sound, a new novel by Fraser C. Heston and Heather J. McAdams.  From there the screws start turning.  Each page ratchets up the suspense as three RCMP detectives and a disgraced former American cop attempt to determine the reason more than a dozen feet have swept up on lonely beaches in the area.

As the shoes and severed feet keep popping up, women keep disappearing.  Twenty-two in all.  Blond, beautiful joggers.  Are they connected?

Little do the investigators know that the cold, fog-bound islands around Vancouver harbor dark secrets.  While clues are difficult to come by, the gut instinct of the cops tells them a predator is on the loose.  And DNA finally confirms it.  But while searching for a random killer who leaves little evidence, the cops also have to fight their own worst fears.  Could someone be stalking them?

The setting, dialog, and characterization are all just right.  And the ending will satisfy even the most jaded reader of detective fiction.

This page-turner will grip you in its clutches and never let you go.  Snatched from the pages of real-life drama, Desolation Sound is guaranteed to keep you awake at night.

Buy it, read it, and enjoy it. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

New England’s Greatest “Kidnap Hunt”

The bizarre disappearance of six-month-old Ronald Carlan
by Robert A. Waters

In the last two months of 1945, several Nazi war criminals were hanged.  General George Patton, lying in an Army hospital, was slowly dying.  Closer to home, the “lost squadron” of five World War II Avenger torpedo bombers disappeared off Florida’s coast in the Bermuda Triangle.  Those planes, on a training mission, have never been found, and the case remains one of America’s great unexplained mysteries.

At the same time those momentous deeds were taking place, another mystery seemed destined to go unsolved.

On November 28, 1945, the Associated Press reported that “a six months old baby was snatched from his carriage early tonight a short time after his mother placed him within 50 yards of her home.  The baby is the son of Mrs. Rose Carlan, 23, and MM 1-C James J. Carlan, serving with the Navy in Oakland, Calif.

“Police said the entire night force and all available inspectors, in addition to hundreds of neighbors, were rallied in the hunt for the missing child.  [The] only clue to the child’s disappearance was furnished by [a] seven-year-old…neighbor, who told police she saw an elderly woman, dressed in a black coat and hat, stoop over the carriage and dash off with the baby, Ronald Carlan.  The mother told police she discovered the child missing shortly after she placed him in the carriage.”

James, a U. S. Navy machinist’s mate, had been scheduled to ship out to Japan but quickly returned home to help hunt for the son he’d never seen.

By the end of the day, the Chelsea Police Department had checked every vacant house in the city, as well as nearby homes, cellars, and alleyways.  Next day, schools released students to help with the search, which soon branched out to include not only Chelsea, but surrounding towns and villages.

Rose, described by newspapers as “distraught,” pleaded with the kidnapper to “keep on giving [Ronald] cough medicine because he has a bad cold and I think it may turn to whooping cough.”  Interviewed by several local radio stations, she pleaded for her son’s return.

Soon Rose began receiving calls for ransom.  Before the search reached its macabre end, Ronald’s mother would claim to have taken a dozen calls demanding anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000.  Police spent hundreds of hours chasing down these leads, eventually arresting two hoaxers.

James, back home in Chelsea, was placed under a doctor’s care, suffering from shock.  At times, he seemed disoriented, as if he could not believe what was happening.

For sixteen long days, the search continued.  Its net widened to Boston, with cops raiding several “underworld” haunts.  Newspaper headlines across the country trumpeted the widening mystery.

Then, on December 2, a detective who had long been suspicious of Rose Carlan’s story made a shocking discovery.  Special Officer Matthew J. Flaherty found the body of Ronald stuffed in the bottom of a built-in China cabinet in the Carlan’s bedroom.  The United Press described this scene:  “The baby, wrapped in his bright blue bunting, was crammed under the bottom drawer of the closet, less than arm’s reach from the bed where for 14 nights James Carlan comforted his ‘distraught’ wife, his vows of love assuring her the child would be found alive.

“Flaherty, a father himself, had become suspicious of the story told by Mrs. Carlan—the high ransom and varying tales about the baby’s milk bottles.  He began a search of the home, smiling, and attempting to put the Carlans at ease with his good humor.  Flaherty strode into the bedroom of the four-room flat.  A smile that had flickered across Mrs. Carlan’s face froze as he walked to the closet against which a bureau had been moved.  He pushed the bureau aside.  Flaherty yanked out one drawer.  Then another.  Mrs. Carlan gasped as he pulled the bottom drawer free.  It stuck for an instant, then slid out, revealing the edge of the blue bunting in which the baby had been wrapped. Flaherty pushed aside a shawl and some household tools.

“Carlan and his wife screamed simultaneously when the baby’s body was uncovered.  ‘I did not murder my baby,’ sobbed Mrs. Carlan, and fainted.

“‘My God,’ Carlan said, ‘There’s the baby.’

“He turned and started toward his wife. ‘I’ll kill you,’ he shouted.

“Two policemen grabbed the stunned sailor, and led him from the room.”

The child’s body was in good condition considering that he’d been dead for more than two weeks.

Police arrested Rose and charged her with murder.  A judge ordered that she be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation.  James, after first threatening to kill his wife, now promised to stand by her.

The Associated Press reported that Rose “had admitted she invented the kidnap story because she did not want anyone to think she had neglected the baby who Medical Examiner William J. Brickley reported died of asphyxiation following a fourth attack of pneumonia.  She said she found the baby dead when she came downstairs to her flat from a party in her mother-in-law’s apartment.”  Instead of calling for help, she went back to the party and acted as if nothing happened.  Two days later, she placed his carriage outside her home and concocted the kidnap story.

The case was referred to a grand jury.  On February 19, 1946, newspapers reported that jurors refused to indict Rose when it was determined that Ronald had died of pneumonia.

James and Rose exited the courthouse, strolling through a gauntlet of reporters.  In a bizarre twist, the two held hands and beamed with delight.

After the hearing, Rose and James Carlan disappeared from the news, their fate swallowed up by history.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Tragic Life and Death of Sweet Little Sixteen

On the edge of death
by Robert A. Waters

A teenaged girl stood on the bridge looking down into one hundred and twenty feet of darkness.  A few cars may have whizzed by, slapping their brakes at the sight of the pretty teen standing on the edge of death.  Three days before, she’d fled her foster home in Gainesville, Florida.  Where she spent those 72 hours, nobody knows—or more likely, nobody’s talking.  But in the early morning hours of May 15, she plummeted off that bridge into the unrelenting night.

The Bert Dosh Memorial Bridge on State Road 40 east of Silver Springs is an expensive artifact from a failed scheme.  Beginning in the late 1880s and up through the 1970s, many businessmen in the state envisioned a watery passageway that would cross Florida and connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.  They planned to accomplish their dream by building a series of canals to link the state’s many lakes and rivers.  It was to be called the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, local, state, and Federal governments spent about a million dollars to build the oversized bridge across the miniscule Ocklawaha River.  Approximately 74 million dollars was spent on the entire canal project, but the bridge was to be the last dying gasp of the Cross Florida Barge Canal when growing environmental concerns spelled the end of the plan.

Spanning over 2,700 feet in length and about 120 feet high, the structure looks much older than its actual age.  Faded concrete railings, about waist-high, leave little room for walkers or bicyclists.

The girl lay sprawled on the ground beneath the bridge when a visitor to the nearby Ray Wayside Park discovered her.  Wearing a black top, multicolored skirt, and black shoes, the only jewelry she wore was a necklace with a heart-shaped charm.  Her hair had been dyed red, but investigators determined that its original color was brown.  The dead girl carried no identification.

So who was this lost child?

Investigators eventually identified her as sixteen-year-old Ann Ella Sagul.  Yet little real information surfaced.  Acquaintances recounted the story of a girl who became a ward of the state when she was an infant.  She allegedly spent the rest of her life in foster homes, moving from one to another.  Little is known about her, but a Facebook page she may have created implies that she was unhappy about moving so much.

Her real story continues to elude us.

Did Ann Ella Sagul jump from that bridge, hoping to escape an unhappy life?  Or did she accidently fall over the edge.  (If an automobile veered too close, she could have panicked and, while attempting to climb onto the railing, plunged into eternity.)

Or was she murdered?

Like the murky, ink-black Ocklawaha River that flows beneath that monstrous bridge, will Ann Ella Sagul’s life and death remain a mystery?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Flags of Five Nations

 
Should Marion County, Florida remove all its flags?
by Robert A. Waters

“If the Devil owned both Hell and Florida, he would rent out Florida and live in Hell!” A United States soldier during the Second Seminole War.

In front of the county administrative complex in my hometown of Ocala, Florida, five flags have flown peacefully for years.  These flags represent countries that once ruled Florida: Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America.

But a few weeks ago, in the wake of a white gunman shooting dead nine black members of a South Carolina church, the county administrator pulled the Confederate flag from the display.  A day later, the county commission voted unanimously to replace the missing flag.  As it was being reinstated to its rightful place in the display, the county administrator abruptly resigned.

A horde of media folks suddenly descended on our usually quiet little community.  Most of these out-of-towners seemed confused and dismayed that ignorant rednecks would proudly display such a supposedly racist symbol as the Confederate flag.

What is the history of the other four flags that have flown above Marion County?  Are Spain, France, England, and the United States any less culpable than the Confederate States of America?

On Spain’s first foray into the state, Pedro de Salazar enslaved hundreds of Native Americans.  Then, according to Florida: Then and Now, Hernando de Soto, who arrived a few years later, in 1569, “enslaved, mutilated, and executed the natives, often without provocation.”  This reign of terror continued during two centuries of Spanish rule.

In 1562, Jean Ribault and a group of French Huguenots decided to escape religious persecution in their own country and settle in the new world.  They established a fort near what is now Jacksonville, where the Spaniards quickly attacked them.  In an orgy of blood-letting, Spanish soldiers lined the captured French soldiers up on the beach and beheaded several hundred souls.  (The area is now known as Matansas, meaning “massacre.”)  This ended the short-lived French attempt to colonize Florida, but they did fly the French flag for about three years.

In 1763, Spain traded the colony of Florida to Great Britain for Havana, Cuba, which the English had previously captured.

So far, we have Spain, France, and England that have flown flags over the state.  France’s sojourn in the state was brief, with few atrocities.  England’s ruthless power-grabbing ways are well-documented.  Without firearms, a dedicated group of patriots, and a bit of luck, Americans might be British subjects today.

In 1822, Florida became a territory of the United States.  In 1835, American troops arrived to forcibly evict the Creek and Seminole Indians from their homeland.  Thus began the Second Seminole War.  Broken treaties, imprisonment without legal representation, forced relocation, torture, and death followed as United States troops relentlessly sought to move the Indians or wipe them out.  At war’s end, only a few Seminoles remained in Florida, most seeking shelter in the nearly inaccessible Everglades.

In 1845, Florida became the 27th state to be admitted to the Union.

Florida seceded in 1861, becoming a part of the Confederate States of America.  It was readmitted to the United States in 1868.

In Marion County, the five flags fly precariously, subject to the whims of political pressure.  If, however, one flag is plucked from the display, maybe all the others should be taken down as well.

Except for that lone inoffensive French flag.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Murder in Welland
by Tom Falvo

The city of Welland lies in the Regional Municipality of Niagara, south of Toronto, Canada.

It is celebrated as the birthplace of many NHL players and has a large French-Canadian population.  The city has a rich railway history and is known for the Welland Canal.  It is also home to a Company of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.  Back in 1952, however, Welland was the scene of a tragic murder case that may have ended in a miscarriage of justice.

Michael Gazo, 48, was an employee at the Electro Metallurgist Company and lived with his 46-year-old wife Antonia in a modest house at 28 Church Street in Welland. They had two adult daughters. When Gazo started feeling unwell in the spring of 1952, he consulted the plant physician and Dr. E.A. Speers.  Gazo was found to be in shockingly poor health with a number of different ailments—he had been weak, depressed, sleepless, nervous, and was largely unable to work.  If that wasn’t enough, he may have been mentally ill.

Shortly after 11:00 on the morning of May 29,  police and medical officials were called to the Gazo  cottage.  Authorities included Deputy Chief Tom Corless, Detective Fred Wilson, and Constable Hugh Bradden.  There they found Mrs. Gazo’s body lying in a small sitting room of the house, her face a bluish color and with marks of bruising evident on her throat. An autopsy would later reveal that she had been strangled and had only been dead for an hour or less at the time her body was found.

Michael Gazo was present at the scene of the crime and almost immediately confessed to his wife’s murder, claiming that he was ready to turn himself in.  Neighbors, shocked by the discovery of the crime, said that they had heard no commotion in the Gazo home and had been unaware of what had happened until the police arrived. Indeed, Mrs. Gazo had been working in her garden that morning as if there was nothing wrong.

Gazo was charged Antonia’s murder, and on June 5, 1952, a Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Tennant, examined Gazo in the county jail. Although Dr. Tennant found Gazo seemingly slow and slightly retarded in his movements, the accused answered the doctor’s questions as best as he could, was polite and co-operative, and spoke in a formal manner when speaking with Dr. Tennant.  Dr. Tennant concluded that Gazo’s condition was similar to that of a person experiencing a frightening dream or nightmare, but that Gazo had already shown enough improvement in the first few days he was in prison to stand trial, but that due to his mental condition, he was not responsible for his actions at the time he had killed his wife.  Dr. Tennant also recommended that Gazo be moved to a hospital for observation because there was a danger of a recurrence of his symptoms.

Four months after Antonia’s death, Gazo stood trial in Welland where Prosecutor T. F. Forrestell faced off against Defense Attorney Allan L. Brooks.  The court heard how Gazo, after he had begun feeling ill, had gone to the hospital for certain tests, but had shown no signs of improvement (although that testimony appears to be a contradiction of Dr. Tennant’s earlier testimony regarding the state of Gazo’s health.)  Another psychiatrist, Dr. John Senn of Hamilton, testified that he fully agreed with Dr. Tennant's conclusion.  Dr. Senn stated that Gazo had a reasonable chance for recovery, but seemed incapable of appreciating the “wrongness” of his act at the time of the murder.  However, when Dr. Speers testified, he said that he had repeatedly examined Gazo’s health and found no signs of improvement. The doctor also said that, by mistake, Gazo had been misdiagnosed as being a diabetic.  Dr. Speers testified that Gazo was a “manic depressive” with “psychosis,” two mental illnesses that could have easily led to “impulsive acts such as suicide.”

The case went to the jury on Sept. 12, 1952.  Justice R.W. Treleaven, in his summary, stated that no person could be convicted of a crime “when laboring under natural imbecility or disease of the mind to such an extent as to not appreciate the nature of the act.”  The jury acquitted Gazo on grounds of insanity, but he was not yet out of the woods.  After Gazo’s acquittal, Justice Treleaven said to him that he “had to be kept in strict custody until the pleasure of the Lieutenant-Governor is known” and that Gazo would not be a free man until proper treatment by psychiatrists could be effective.

Gazo was then committed to a mental institution for treatment. It is unknown what became of him after that.

NOTE: Tom Falvo is a true crime buff who lives in Canada.

 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

True Stories with Happy Endings

Nicolas Gomez
 
The Goodness of People
by Robert A. Waters

Nicolas Gomez is safe, thanks to Courtney Best.  Standing outside on her break, the Corpus Christi, Texas pizza shop employee saw a white Dodge Avenger drive up.  Two people, a man and a boy, got out and walked to a store.  Best later said: “The man was walking across the parking lot, looking at me because I was the only person out here...[The boy] looked scared.”  Best remembered that she had seen an Amber Alert when she’d turned on her cell phone a few moments before.  While the man and boy were in the store, the pizza clerk checked the license plate of the Avenger.  It matched that of the tag number given in the Amber Alert.  Best called 911, then waited until the suspect and the child walked out of the store and left.  Following the Avenger in her own car, she relayed directions until police arrived and arrested Channing Galbraith, former boyfriend of Nicolas’s mother.  He did not have custody of the child, and has been charged with kidnapping.  Described as an angry, rejected lover, no one knows what he planned to do with the child.

When Brenda Hurst’s home burned down, the community of Boiling Springs, South Carolina and Alabama-based Carpenters for Christ rebuilt the structure as a gesture of respect.  Students raised money while business leaders donated furniture and appliances.  Hurst has been lead custodian at Boiling Springs High School for twenty years.  A student, Drew Peden, told reporters that Hurst is “always that caring person, you know when somebody’s just having a bad day, she’s always the first person to run up to them and give them a hug.  She’s always there. She’s at every sporting event ... going crazy.  She’s just the life of Boiling Springs High School.”  Hurst’s home had been in her family for decades, and when it burned down, the only item that survived was her family Bible.  Members of Carpenters for Christ, which has gained a reputation for building churches, decided to use their expertise and volunteer personnel to rebuild her home.  When she viewed her new residence, Hurst screamed with joy.
Last Christmas, Raleigh, North Carolina resident Sheree Carter moved into her first apartment.  For many years, she and her two children had lived in shelters and temporary housing for the homeless.  In October, she got a job at Chik-fil-A.  Working hard and saving money, Carter finally rented her dream place.  When employees at the restaurant learned she’d been homeless, they chipped in and bought Carter furnishings for her pad, as well as dishes and a dishwasher.  They also bought Christmas gifts for her children and gave her an envelope filled with cash.  The surprise gifts so touched Carter that she went to the media with her story.  When asked what she most looked forward to over the holidays, Carter said: “Seeing my kids’ faces, how happy they are, and actually be able to have our first official Christmas here and don’t have to worry about where we're going to stay the next day.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Throwaway Girl

Can you identify this child?
by Robert A. Waters

On June 25, a woman walking her dog on Deer Island, Massachusetts stumbled upon a gruesome sight: a trash bag containing the body of a young girl.  A zebra-print blanket and polka dot leggings were also in the bag.

Deer Island is actually a peninsula that extends into Boston Harbor.  A water treatment plant makes up two-thirds of the island—the rest is set aside for walking, jogging, picnicking and other outdoor activities.

How did this child end up on Deer Island in a trash bag?  After two weeks, why hasn’t someone recognized her?  How did she die?

Millions of people have viewed the child’s photograph.  Yet, she is still unidentified.

Massachusetts State Police reported that “the little girl was about 4 years old.  She had brown eyes and long brown hair and appeared to be white or Hispanic, authorities said.  She weighed about 30 pounds and was about 3.5 feet tall.”

If you have information about this case, please call Massachusetts State Police at (508) 820-2121, the Suffolk County, Massachusetts; State Police at (617) 727-8817; or Winthrop, Massachusetts Police at (617) 539-5806.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Are CNN Employees Part of the "Gun Culture"?

Former network employees saved because they were armed…
by Robert A. Waters

A gunfight in a New Mexico Motel 6 left Tomorio Walton dead.  The only people who ever heard of Walton were his many victims, law enforcement, and maybe a few friends and family members.  He had a long history of law-breaking and, at the time of his death, had fled Tennessee in violation of his parole.

On the other hand, Lynne Russell is a well-known former anchor of CNN News.  She and her husband, former CNN correspondent Chuck de Caro, were the intended victims of an armed robbery by Walton.  Turns out the two had concealed weapons permits and were packing handguns on their road-trip across America.  After Walton shot de Caro three times, the former newsman returned fire, ending the threat.  (Reports are that de Caro will survive the attack.)

Because of Russell’s celebrity status, the incident made headline news in most American newspapers and television outlets.  Many were surprised to find that two former CNN employees were part of what the liberal media routinely calls “the gun culture.”

Former CNN anchor Piers Morgan recently wrote: “[America’s] gun culture is disgusting.”  Soledad O’Brien has also railed against guns.  CNN guests regularly rip the NRA and gun-owners.

Fortunately, believers in gun rights make up a wide spectrum of the population, including tens of millions of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.  Liberals and moderates, as well as conservatives, depend on guns for protection.  This myriad of individuals was instrumental in passing the concealed weapons laws that allowed Russell and de Caro to save themselves.

In 1998, I interviewed nearly a dozen people who successfully defended their lives and the lives of others from vicious attackers.  Compiled in the now sold-out book, The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a Firearm, these stories emphasize the importance of being prepared if the occasion ever comes.  For instance, Sammie Foust was in her home minding her own business when a crack-head broke in and attacked her.  After being robbed, beaten, and slashed repeatedly with a box-cutter knife, she retrieved her handgun and killed her assailant.  Sammie, who later died of cancer, would never have imagined that she was part of the so-called “gun culture.”  In fact, the only reason she had a gun in the house was that a friend had given it to her and insisted she keep it for protection.

In “Lynne Russell’s Blog,” Russell writes: “The United States of America was not built on cozy tea time chats with British troops.  The principle of gun ownership and the citizen’s right to bear arms is not outdated…”

She and her husband proved that.

I’m glad they survived.   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

WLRN Reviews The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash

http://wlrn.org/post/grisly-timeline-floridas-lindbergh-kidnapping-case

Many thanks to Luis Hernandez of WLRN in Miami for his review of The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida's Lindbergh Case. Luis also interviewed my brother and co-author Zack C. Waters.

Below is the transcript of the review.  It also contains a portion of the interview and a timeline of the 1938 case.

A Grisly Timeline: Florida’s Lindbergh Kidnapping Case
by Luis Hernandez
WLRN.com
June 9, 2015

In the early 20th century, kidnappings were a scourge on the nation.

The Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 epitomized a time of widespread fear—the taking of the famous aviator’s son resulted in the FBI’s involvement, and later the Federal Kidnapping Act, granting the Bureau jurisdiction in these cases.

Many of the children taken in the 30’s were from wealthy families. Ransom demands ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many times the children were never returned and instead found dead. No one imagined the kidnapping of a 5-year-old boy in Princeton, Fla., would garner national attention.

There were three ransom notes found with specific directions on where to drop off $10,000 for the safe return of Skeegie Cash.

It happened in the late evening of May 28, 1938. James “Skeegie” Cash was taken from his bed on the second floor of his parents’ home.

Within a few hours, dozens of the town’s residents had gathered around the father, Bailey, as he read aloud a ransom note. Before dawn, local law enforcement and the FBI were on the scene.

There would be three ransom notes discovered in all. Bailey Cash would have to make two attempts at dropping off the ransom. Eventually, thousands of people and dozens of agencies searched the Everglades for the boy.

It took only a couple days before newspapers across the country were once again pasting on their front pages headlines of another kidnapping. The nation was enthralled, especially when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself flew down to Miami to oversee the search for the boy and the kidnapper.

As the days passed, hopes of finding Skeegie dwindled. Family members tried to stay positive. The FBI was leaning hard on numerous suspects, but nothing panned out. Hoover was under pressure to keep his heroic image alive and strong in the news.

The unsung hero was Dade County Sheriff D.C. Coleman. With all the attention on Hoover and the bureau, Coleman started trailing a local everyone knew as the preacher’s son, Franklin McCall. After a couple of conversations and some detective work, Coleman was convinced McCall did it. He eventually picked up McCall and without incident drove the suspect to FBI headquarters in Miami.

With pressure from Hoover and other interrogators, McCall eventually cracked and confessed and led investigators to the boy’s body. A coroner’s inquest was held shortly after the funeral. The jury came back within fifteen minutes confirming that the boy had died at the hands of the man in custody.

Many people across Florida wanted a quick trial and a rapid trip to the electric chair. On February 20, 1939, McCall was one of three prisoners listed for execution, but a last-minute call came in postponing the execution for one last appeal.

The U.S. Circuit and Supreme Court justices refused the appeal, and Franklin McCall was executed on Feb. 24.

McCall became the first state resident to die under the Florida Lindbergh Law. These were popular in numerous states as a deterrent to child kidnappings.

Even though Hoover got all the credit in the nation’s eyes for solving the case, locally, many people knew their man Sheriff Coleman had found the kidnapper. The story never stuck in the national consciousness the way other kidnappings did. That may be due to the fact that the year after the kidnapping, bombs dropped in Europe and World War II had begun.

The story has been turned into a book: The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida's Lindbergh Case.

Zack Waters says his brother was the one who found the story in a 1958 True Detective magazine. Waters says the case was unique for a number of reasons, one of them being that J. Edgar Hoover got involved himself. The FBI director came to Miami because he thought it would be an easy case to solve and he needed the publicity.  Congress was debating just how much funding the bureau should get and Hoover wanted a case to prove that the money was warranted.

Another reason this case was unique was the fact that the Cash family was not wealthy. Many kidnappers in other cases were asking for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. For Skeegie, McCall asked for $10,000. Skeegie’s kidnapping burned the fear into American parents that anyone could become victim to this crime.