Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What Happened to Tania Murrell?

Missing for 32 years…
by Robert A. Waters

Does Tania Murrell lie in a long-forgotten grave, her bones slowly decaying like the investigation into her kidnapping?

Or is she alive, having been raised by a family of strangers?

On January 20, 1983, at around 11:10 A.M., while walking home from Grovenor Elementary School in Edmonton, Canada, Tania vanished.  Bundled inside a heavy coat, the cute blonde-haired six-year-old fought below-zero weather as she trudged along.  Her school was less than two blocks from the home she shared with her mother, father, and younger brother.  That day, her aunt, Vera Stortz, waited for Tania to arrive.

When she didn’t appear, Vera phoned Vivian Murrell, Tania’s mother.  Soon Vivian and her husband Jack left their places of work and began scouring the area for Tania.  The online newspaper Canada.com recently summed up the search: “Police and volunteers canvassed the area around the home, at 10426-145th St., by foot and car.  More than 1,900 square blocks, including ravines and alleys, were searched within the next few days.  At the time, it was the largest door-to-door search ever mounted in Edmonton.”  Despite extensive efforts by police and the public, Tania was never found.

Today, more than three decades later, after their lives were shattered, Vera and Jack are dead.  Her younger brother, John, is dead.  Many of the original detectives are dead or retired.  And one of the most baffling cases in modern Canadian history is still a blank page lying on the desk of cold case investigators.

So what happened to Tania Murrell?

The most prevalent theory is that she was abducted, raped, and murdered by a pedophile.  A second theory is that someone who wanted a child kidnapped Tania, brainwashed her into thinking her parents didn’t want her, and raised her as their own.

When a child goes missing, parents are always scrutinized.  In Tania’s case, both parents were at work, so they had alibis that removed them from suspicion.  However, their hard-partying ways and suspected drug use raised the eyebrows of investigators.  Because of this, detectives closely examined their associates.  At least one friend was developed as a suspect, but was never charged.

Police also checked out “perverts” who lived in the area.  Tania’s parents were amazed at the number of molesters, rapists, and weirdos who lived close by.  Yet no one emerged as a person of interest.

One witness claimed to have seen a woman dragging an unwilling child along the sidewalk at about the time Tania vanished.  Because of this, the theory developed that a woman who couldn’t have a child may have snatched the girl.  Tania’s sister, Elysia, born after Tania disappeared, thinks she is still alive.  “I believe she is around and alive,” Elysia said. “I figure they changed her name and she was young enough that she would forget and believe whatever they told her.”

A school-mate recently informed police that she thought Tania was headed to a nearby convenience store instead of home.  The store would have taken Tania in the opposite direction from her house.  This would have changed the dynamics of the investigation had it been known earlier.

After more than three decades, the question remains: where is Tania Murrell?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Quotes from the Boston Bombing Trial
Compiled by Robert A. Waters

The first phase of the horror trial has wrapped up and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of 30 counts, including 17 that could result in execution.  As the death penalty phase proceeds, here are some memorable quotes from the trial.

“We don’t deny that Jahar [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Americanized name] fully participated in the events, but if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened.” Judy Clarke, lead defense attorney.

“That day, they felt they were soldiers.  They were the mujahedeen, and they were bringing their battle to Boston.” Aloke Chakravarty, United States prosecutor.

“Tamerlan built the bombs, Tamerlan murdered officer Collier, Tamerlan led and Dzhokhar followed.” Judy Clarke.

“The defendant brought terrorism into the backyards and main streets.  The defendant thought that his values were more important than the people around him.” Aloke Chakravarty.

“[Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] chose a day when there would be civilians on the sidewalks, and he targeted those civilians: men, women and children.” Aloke Chakravarty.

“I guess we were just unlucky that day.” Bill Richard, father of eight-year-old Martin Richard.

“There should be no doubt in your mind that the defendant and his brother are equally guilty.” William Weinreb.

“Tamerlan Tsarnaev didn't turn his brother into a murderer.  To shred the bodies of women and children with a homemade type of bomb, you have to be different from other people.  If you are capable of such hate, such callousness that you can murder and maim twenty people and then drive to Whole Foods and buy some milk, can you really blame it on your brother?” William Weinreb.

“The judgment is entirely yours.” U.S. District Judge George O’Toole’s instructions to the jurors.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Atrocities on Chichi Jima

Grady Alvah York
James Wesley "Jimmy" Dye
“We really were not cannibals…”
by Robert A. Waters

On October 4, 1946, an Associated Press article reported that “three Japanese militarists were condemned Friday to die on the gallows for cannibalism—a crime so heinous it is covered by no rule of war.  The 3—a general, a navy captain and a major—listened unblinking as a U. S. military commission ordered them to die for eating the roasted livers of 2 U. S. airmen downed on Chichi Jima late in the war.”

The three were Japanese Major Sueo Matoba, Captain Shizuo Yoshii, and Brigadier General Yoshio Tachibana.

Their victims were U. S. Navy Aviation Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Grady Alvah York of Jacksonville, Florida, and Radioman 3rd Class James Wesley “Jimmy” Dye of Mount Ephraim, New Jersey.

Early on the cold, gusty morning of February 18, 1945, a crew consisting of York, Dye, and Ensign Bob King, the pilot, flew their Avenger from the aircraft carrier USS Bennington for a dive bombing mission on Chichi Jima, a tiny once-uninhabited speck in the Bonin Islands.  By now, the Japanese were reeling from Allied advances in the Pacific, including recent raids on Tokyo.  Their once-proud military machine had been beaten down, ship by ship, island by island.  Yet they refused to surrender, many fighting to the death, others committing suicide when all hope was lost.

On Chichi Jima, the Japanese had established airfields, radio stations, and strong anti-aircraft placements.  One American pilot spoke of the difficulty of getting out alive after flying a bombing mission there: “Chichi Jima was a mean place.  They had very good gunners there.  When you hit Chichi, you were hitting a valley between two mountains.”

As Ensign King’s Avenger neared its target, anti-aircraft fire tore through the left wing, ripping off the tip.  Because of the damage, King temporarily lost control.  Thinking they were going to crash, he ordered his two crew members to bail out.  York and Dye successfully deployed their parachutes and landed in shallow water near Chichi Jima where they were soon apprehended by Japanese troops.  Meanwhile, King struggled mightily with the plane and was eventually able to control it enough to fly it back to the USS Bennington and land.

The fates of York and Dye now lay with their captors.

After interrogating the Americans, Japanese Brigadier General Yoshio Tachibana ordered them to be taken to the island rifle range.  There the two hapless soldiers were tied to trees and used for bayonet practice.  When it was done, Captain Masao Yamashita (who had supervised the bayonet practice) beheaded York.  Dye was also beheaded, on orders from Japanese Navy Captain Shizuo Yoshii.

But the cruelty did not stop with the deaths of the soldiers.  The Japanese officers, impressed by the stoic demeanor of the enemy soldiers as they were being tortured and killed, ordered their bodies cut up and their livers cooked.  Then, to inculcate the “warrior spirit” of their victims into their own bodies, thirteen officers consumed the livers and some of their flesh at saki parties.

After the war, the remains of York and Dye were exhumed and re-buried Hawaii.  The story of their deaths and cannibalization horrified American war crimes investigators.  The officers involved were tried, even though cannibalization of the enemy was not technically a war crime.  The officers were found guilty and scheduled to be hanged.  In all, the American military executed thirteen Japanese officers for cannibalism.  (At least a dozen U. S. airmen were eaten or partially consumed by the Japanese.)

At his trial, Major Sueo Matoba attempted to explain the reasons U. S. soldiers were cannibalized. 

“These incidents occurred when Japan was meeting defeat after defeat,” he said.  “The Iwo Jima situation was desperate and air raids (on Chichi) were increasing in velocity.  The personnel became excited, agitated and seething with uncontrollable rage.  We were hungry.  We tried every eatable animal and plant, like rats, mice, dogs and lizards.  I hardly know what happened after that.  We really were not cannibals.”

When Japanese Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana dropped from the gallows on a fine fall morning in 1946, his death was nothing compared to that endured by his victims, gunner Grady York and Radioman Jimmy Dye.  In fact, Tachibana had a Buddhist priest administer his last rites before dying.  York and Dye had only howling Japanese warriors to administer theirs.

NOTE: Much of the information for this story came from Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Two Popular Statements that Are Just Outright Lies

Cliff and Christine Walker
Proven falsehoods…
by Robert A. Waters

(1) “There are no perfect crimes”

If there are no perfect crimes, why do one-third of all American murders go unsolved, even in this era of DNA, surveillance videos, computers, criminal databases, and other technological marvels?  Why are at least 200,000 unknown killers wandering around the country?  Yet, at least once a week on true crime TV, some detective or crime writer will repeat the provably false clichĂ© that “there are no perfect crimes.”  If a killer is never caught, he or she committed a perfect crime.

Here is just one example.  (NOTE: I’m using a case from the 1950s because there is always a chance that a more modern case could be solved.)  On December 19, 1959, the Walker family was murdered inside their rural home near Osprey, Florida.  Cliff, 25, Christine, 24, Jimmie 3, and Debra, 1, were savagely executed.  All were shot except Debra, who was drowned in the bath tub.  Christine was also raped.  No one was ever charged with the killings.  In 2013, officials exhumed the bodies of “In Cold Blood” killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith to obtain DNA.  After attempting to match it to a sample from Christine Walker, investigators found it didn’t match.

(2) “Polygraphs will tell whether you’re lying or not”

Polygraphs are notoriously unreliable, which is why they’re not allowed in American courts.  The frightening thing is that some cops think the contraptions are accurate.  Examples of people beating the polygraph could fill an encyclopedia.  Charles Cullen, the “Angel of Death,” passed a so-called lie detector test after his first murder—39 slayings later, he was arrested and confessed.  After the fourth Green River killing, Gary Ridgway passed a polygraph—48 murders later, he was captured and confessed.  CIA spy Aldrich Ames passed several polygraphs.  Because of his ability to beat the exams, at least eleven CIA operatives were caught and executed by the Soviet Union.

There have also been numerous innocent people who failed the polygraph.  One example is Bill Wegerle, who flunked two polygraphs in connection with the murder of his wife, Vicki.  It was later proven that Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, had committed the murder.

Polygraphs are a scam of the worst sort because they can mean the difference between life and death, or freedom and prison.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Alleged Craigslist Robber Shot

Victim stops violent armed career criminal
by Robert A. Waters

In my hometown of Ocala, Florida, Jeffrey Tyrone Smith lived for cocaine.  Like many addicts, he robbed and stole to support his habit.  He had a long list of arrests, including convictions for cocaine possession, credit card fraud, burglary, domestic battery, grand theft, larceny, and violation of probation.  On April 6, 2015, he was free on bond while facing a charge of false imprisonment.

That afternoon, Smith met with two Gainesville men, allegedly to sell them a truck.  The vehicle was non-existent, of course.  Smith planned to rob them, as he’d done six days earlier with another victim.

After so many arrests and convictions, Smith thought he’d finally figured out how to make crime pay without getting caught.

Craigslist.

He would respond to advertisements of people who wanted to purchase a vehicle, robbing them when they met.  His first Craigslist robbery had been a roaring success—he netted $1,800.

Then Smith made the mistake of attempting to duplicate his crime.

What he didn’t know was that one of his would-be Gainesville victims came armed.  According to the Ocala Post, “The victim with the gun stated that his friend then exited the vehicle and walked toward the backyard with Smith [to look at the truck he claimed to have for sale].

“The victim stated that all of a sudden he heard his friend yell, ‘Son of a b***h.’  He said that is when he saw his friend bending over in pain, like he had been punched in the stomach.

“At this point, the victim did not know that his friend had been stabbed.

“The victim told deputies that Smith then turned and ran toward him, at which time he drew his gun and fired a single shot, striking Smith.

“According to the victim, Smith fell to the ground, but continued to try and get up to come at him. The victim said he told Smith to stay down.”

Smith eventually fled the scene, but was quickly captured.

Both Smith and the stabbing victim were hospitalized.  After Smith is released, he will be held without bond and charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and two counts of robbery with a weapon.  If convicted, it will likely be many years before Smith is released from prison.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office will not charge the shooter with any crime.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Second Chances

Officials at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta were…RIGHT
by Robert A. Waters

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  That saying was never truer than in the case of then-fifteen-year-old Anthony Stokes.

According to the Atlanta Daily Post, “the troubled teen had a thick juvenile rap sheet after frequent run-ins with authorities.” 

He also suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy—because of this, the left ventricle of the heart failed to pump enough blood to permanently sustain life.  Without a heart transplant, Stokes would likely die within twelve months.

In 2013, after reviewing Stokes’ medical records, school records, and criminal history, officials at the Children’s Healthcare Hospital of Atlanta denied him the transplant.  The Huffington Post reported that “Stokes’ family says the teenager is being denied access to the transplant list [because of] his performance in school and previous run-ins with the law.”  Stokes’ mother, Melencia Hamilton, told reporters that a hospital spokesperson told her “they don’t have any evidence that he would take his medicine or that he would go to his follow-ups.”  In other words, the teenager would likely be “non-compliant.”

Then came the predictable outcry from those who didn’t care that there were 4,000 better candidates on the waiting list.  “They’ve given [Stokes] a death sentence,” said Christine Young Brown, president of the Newton Rockdale County Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Fanning the flames of outrage, Stokes’ mother and so-called civil rights groups began a national campaign to gain sympathy for the troubled youth.

It worked.

Hospital administrators quickly did a back-flip.  Stokes was placed at the top of the list and got his new heart.

So it came as no surprise on April 1, 2015 (no—this was not an April Fool’s joke) when Dunwoody, Georgia cops announced that Stokes had been killed in a car crash.  Not just any car crash.  He was fleeing cops in a stolen car when he hit another vehicle, side-swiped a pedestrian, and rammed head-on into a highway sign.  Investigators stated that they believed Stokes was running because he allegedly kicked in the door of an elderly woman, fired a gunshot at her, and attempted to rob her home.

We’ll probably never know who got bumped from the top of the waiting list for a new heart.  But some more deserving soul may have died because Stokes received the gift of life.

Second chances are often precious.

Someone, however, never got that second chance. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fifteen Years on Death Row is Too Long

Michael Tanzi should die for his crimes…
by Robert A. Waters

An innocent victim of random violence, 49-year-old Janet Acosta worked as a supervisor in the make-up department of The Miami Herald.  She was a native of Jacksonville.

The following summary describes the brutal murder of Acosta.  It was published by the Florida Commission on Capital Cases.

“Michael Tanzi was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Janet Acosta.

“During her lunch hour on April 25, 2000, Janet Acosta was seated inside her van with the window rolled down, reading a book at the Japanese Gardens in Miami, Florida.  At the same time, Tanzi was stranded in Miami with no means of returning to his home in Key West.  Tanzi approached Acosta’s van, asking her for a cigarette and the time.  When Acosta was distracted, Tanzi punched her repeatedly in the face and gained entry into the van.  Holding her wrist and threatening her with a razor blade, he drove the van to Homestead, Florida.

“When they reached Homestead, Tanzi stopped at a gas station where he bound and gagged Acosta with materials found in her van.  He took 53 dollars in cash, purchased cigarettes and a soda, and took Acosta’s bank card.  He also forced Acosta to perform oral sex but stopped her from continuing because her teeth were loose from the earlier beating.  Tanzi continued driving on to Tavernier in the Florida Keys.

“In Tavernier, Tanzi stopped at approximately 5:15 p.m. to withdraw money from Acosta’s account using her personal identification number.  Soon thereafter, he stopped again at a hardware store to purchase duct tape and razor blades.  At approximately 6:30 p.m., they arrived at Sugarloaf Key.  It was there that Tanzi decided he would have to eliminate Acosta as she was impeding his progress and leaving her alive would result in his swift capture.  He drove to an isolated area in Cudjoe Key, told her he was going to kill her, and began to strangle her.  He stopped to place duct tape over her mouth, nose, and eyes in an attempt to quiet her and then strangled her until she expired.  Tanzi then left Acosta’s body in a wooded area.

“Tanzi then drove to Key West, where he used Acosta’s ATM card, smoked marijuana, and visited friends.  He had planned to purchase more drugs with her money and to alter the appearance of the van, but the police found Acosta’s van after her friends had reported her missing.  When the police approached Tanzi about the van, he had receipts in his pocket documenting his use of Acosta’s ATM card and told the police that he ‘knew what this was about.’  He waived his rights and began confessing to the assault, abduction, robbery, sexual battery, and murder of Janet Acosta.

“He repeated his confession in great detail on audio and videotape.  He also showed the police where he had left Acosta’s body and where he had disposed of the duct tape and rope.”

In addition to the murder of Acosta, Tanzi confessed to killing Caroline Holder in Brockton, Massachusetts.  In 1999, he strangled and stabbed Holder as she worked in a laundromat.  Another random murder.  Now Martin Holder, Caroline’s husband, waits impatiently for Florida to execute his wife’s killer.  “In the past,” he said, “I didn’t think that taking a life for another life was justifiable.  But if something happens to you personally, you kind of look at it differently.  Now I think it is justifiable.”

Florida Governor Rick Scott has said he wants to execute the “worst of the worst” killers on Florida's Death Row.

Michael Tanzi fits that category.