Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day, 2019.  Today, I'm remembering Zack A. Crumpton, my grandfather on my mother's side of the family.  One hundred years ago (July, 1919), he came home from France.  He landed in New York blind in one eye and suffering from influenza.  After recovering from the flu, Grandfather Crumpton came back to Fellowship, Florida, the little farming community where he was born and raised.  My grandfather never received a penny from the government for the life-altering injury he suffered during WWI.  He never asked for any money.  He considered it his duty to serve his country.

I would encourage everyone who reads this to click into the following link and check out "The Heroes of an Ancient War," written by my brother Zack.  It is a moving tribute to Grandfather Crumpton and others who fought to keep our country free.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Story of Sam Davis

"I would die a thousand deaths..."
Written by Robert A. Waters

The following true, much-documented tale portrays the humanity of Civil War soldiers on both sides.  The storyline is somewhat similar to the famous story by Ambrose Bierce entitled "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which Kurt Vonnegut called the "greatest American short story." 

On November 27, 1863, an exhausted man dozed beneath the wintry skeleton of a live oak tree.  A thick tangle of brush surrounded him, making this spot a natural hiding place.  Below him, the icy Tennessee River gurgled and cracked.  The man intended to cross that river, but decided to rest for a while.  With a cold rain battering him and his worn-out horse, the man never heard the small group of Kansas Jayhawkers (7th Kansas Cavalry) circling his make-shift camp.

Sam Davis, a twenty-year-old scout, or courier, for the Confederate army, awoke to dozens of carbines trained on him.  The Union troops unceremoniously arrested Davis.

In her research paper, "The Coleman Scouts," Mabel Baxter Pittard wrote that Civil War-era "spies and scouts [were] sent into enemy territory to gather news concerning movements of troops, to secure newspapers, and to obtain any vital information about enemy resources."  Confederate scouts were used in Tennessee to send intelligence about USA General Ulysses Grant's military activities to CSA General Braxton Bragg, currently headquartered in Decatur, Alabama.

Sam Davis had been caught red-handed.

Davis grew up in Rutherford County, Tennessee and attended West Military Institute in Nashville.  Only 18 when the Union army invaded his Southern homeland, Davis joined the First Tennessee Volunteer Infantry.  "In the ensuing year," newspaperman James Cameron Phifer wrote in American Heritage magazine, "[Davis] served under Robert E. Lee, under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah valley, under Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard in Mississippi.  In August of 1862, Sam, now battle-hardened and battle-scarred--he had been wounded at Shiloh--marched over the mountains into Kentucky, as General Braxton Bragg's army of Tennessee launched the invasion that was to end in disastrous defeat at Perryville on October 8."  At Perryville, Sam was wounded again, this time his injuries much more severe.

While recovering, the call went out from Coleman's Scouts for volunteers, led by Captain Henry B. Shaw, AKA "Dr. E. Coleman."  Davis applied and was accepted.

The Jayhawkers, sloshing through the rain, hurried Davis to Union General Grenville M. Dodge's headquarters in Pulaski, Tennessee.  There, searchers located a group of incriminating documents sewn into one of his boots.  Davis's saddle was then examined and soldiers located additional papers, including chillingly accurate maps of Grant's encampment.

To Dodge, Sam was small-fry.  He wanted to learn the identity of the elusive "Captain Coleman," not Davis.  Dodge met with his captive and informed him that if he (Davis) would reveal the name of the much-hated leader of the spy ring, he would be set free.  Davis adamantly refused.  Dodge, who spent hours interrogating Davis and was said to have developed a liking for the young man, begged him to spare his own life and give up his superior.  Davis replied, "The man who gave me the information is more important to the Confederacy than I."

Davis was then court-martialed and sentenced to death.

Phifer wrote that "Chaplain James Young of the 81st Ohio Infantry, the unit detailed to carry out the execution, spent much time with the doomed youngster."  They spoke of their homes and their experiences in the war and prayed together.  Young allowed the prisoner to write a note home.  Sam wrote: "Mother, do not grieve for me, I must bid you good-bye forevermore.  Mother--I do not hate to die."

The next morning dawned cold, with a heavy rain soaking the hanging ground.  As Davis sat on his coffin in a wagon awaiting execution, he was again reminded that he would be given a horse, a gun, and transferred safely by Union soldiers to Confederate lines in Alabama if he would identify the chief spy.  Davis responded, "I will not tell.  I would die a thousand deaths before I would betray a friend."

With that, he was led to the gallows.  Union troops later said that many soldiers turned their heads away so they wouldn't have to witness the well-liked prisoner's death.  After a final prayer by the chaplain, the trap was sprung and the rope snapped taut.  It took three minutes for Davis to die.

Captain W. F. Armstrong, the provost marshal who had also spent hours attempting to get Davis to reveal his secrets, wrote to Sam's parents.  "Tell them for me," the note read, "that he died the bravest of the brave, an honor to them, and with the respect of every man in this command."

After the war, General Dodge wrote about Davis: "I pleaded with him with all the power I possessed to give me some chance to save his life.  I discovered that he was a most admirable young fellow, with highest character and strictest integrity.  He replied, 'I know, General, I will have to die, but I cannot tell you where I got the information and there is no power on earth that can make me tell.  You are doing your duty as a soldier, and if I have to die, I shall be doing my duty to God and my country.'"

A statue of Sam Davis now sits outside his former home in Smyrna, Tennessee.  As you would expect in this era, its future is precarious.  Here's hoping it lasts another hundred years, a tribute to courage and honor. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rights Reversal for Guns Save Lives
Written by Robert A. Waters

In 2002, my second book, Guns Save Lives, was published.  I hated the title, and still do.  My original working title was Shooting Back—I still like that title.  The publisher, Loompanics Unlimited, changed it.  I also didn’t much like the original cover either, but you go with the flow sometimes.  (Like my first book, this one described two dozen dramatic stories of people who used firearms to survive encounters with violent criminals.)

Now I’m not ripping on Loompanics.  They gave me a very nice advance and paid me royalties for years.  The publisher specialized in controversial “soldier-of-fortune” type books, as well as prepper titles and other politically incorrect subjects.  They had a humongous mailing list that paid off for me.

Ten or twelve years later, Loompanics went out of business.  They sold my book to Paladin Press.  Paladin was similar to Loompanics in its subject matter, but much more hardcore libertarian.  Paladin also had a great mailing list and I received royalty payments from them for a decade.

So a couple of years ago, the founder of Paladin died and the company went out of business.  My son Sim and I decided to attempt to get the rights reverted to me.  In that way, we could publish it on Kindle.  We contacted Paladin’s representative and they graciously gave us the full rights to the book.  The Kindle edition has done very well, so we decided to republish it in paperback as well.  That paperback edition is now available on Amazon.

Below, you can read the complete Chapter 1 of Guns Save Lives.  If you like it, I’d encourage you to buy the paperback edition.  Put it on your bookshelf and it can be a permanent reminder to you that heroic people do exist in America, and that firearms are often used to save lives.

Chapter 1 - Point Blank

Guns Save Lives – Kindle eBook is $2.99.

Guns Save Lives – Paperback edition is $9.99.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Written by Robert A. Waters

“It is [the] fact behind the facts that determines the meaning of all the other facts, creates a context for interpreting what our eyes are seeing and what our informants are telling us, and dictates the true syntax of a story.” Phillip Gerard (“The Facts Behind the Facts”).

All literature has backstory, in one form or another.  There can be one backstory, or many.

In Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms, by myself and my son, Sim Waters, a chapter called “Demise of the Cutthroat Committee” has an intriguing backstory.  This chapter describes a violent home invasion that was stopped by the residents, Foster Coker III, and his wife, Pamela.  After being nearly murdered, both Foster and Pam shot the home invader, killing him.

Here is a hint of the backstory from this chapter: the Coker family are Christians.  They attend church, and regularly have members of their congregation over to visit.  Because of this, several cars might be parked in their yard on various evenings.  (The relevance of their strong belief in God becomes evident near the end of the chapter.)

Now to the main story.  The “Cutthroat Committee” was a makeshift gang of about 15 convicted felons.  They lived near the neighborhood where Foster and Pam lived.  At some point, they began to case the Coker residence.  Having a totally different mindset than the average person, several of the gang members decided the home they passed with all the cars must be a drug house.  Because of that, three gang members and a girlfriend decided to rob the residents.  Being convicted felons, none of the gang members could legally own guns.  Yet all of them did.  Members of the gang made their living by selling drugs, committing thefts and robberies, and prostituting out their “girlfriends.”  Few, if any, of the gang had ever worked a steady job.

The grandson of Foster and Pam would often spend the night with them.  He was seven-years-old at the time and slept in a bedroom adjacent to his grandparents.  He was spending the night when the home invasion occurred.  One of the things most remembered (and appreciated) by Pam was a police officer shielding their grandson’s eyes from the bloody mess as he carried their grandson from the home.

There was no warning when one of the conspirators kicked in the back door.  One second, things were normal in the household, the next second Pam was being brutally assaulted.  She was knocked to the floor, incurring multiple long-term injuries.

Foster, sound asleep when he heard his wife scream, jumped out of bed and raced to her aid.  From there, a horrific fight ensued.  (Fortunately, the second gang member who was supposed to help with the robbery became frightened and ran away when he heard—on his cellphone—Foster and Pam fighting back.  More of the backstory, by the way.)

The local media documented the sensational aspects of the story: the gunfight that erupted inside the home; the victims being transported to the hospital and the gang member to the morgue; and later, the investigation.  The trials of the surviving conspirators provided reporters with concrete details of the events that occurred.

But the unreported backstory was there, always simmering in the background.

I won’t spoil the ending in this article, though it has to do with a world-view that gave strength to those fighting for their lives.

I guess this blog article is like a film trailer—the ghost of a story emerges, then vanishes.  But deep inside the chapter, “Demise of the Cutthroat Committee,” you’ll find two distinctly different perspectives on life that shaped the story.

Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms by Robert A. Waters and Sim Waters is available at 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Wannabe Kidnappers Routed
Written by Robert A. Waters

On November 8, 2017, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement: “Four teens armed with a knife, guns and a roll of tape planned to kidnap and rob members of a Baker family last night, but their plot didn’t go as planned and now all four are in custody.  Inside their SUV deputies also found latex gloves, facial masks and dark clothing.”

The town of Baker, with a population of around 7,000, sits near the edge of Florida’s Panhandle.  Located between the Blackwater River and the Yellow River, the area offers a natural environment for those who favor country-style living.  Terry Brackney resided near Baker with his 17-year-old daughter, Amber.  The 51-year-old father owned a funeral home and clothing store in Crestview, ten miles away.

At 10:30 P.M. on November 7, Amber drove home from her job at a local restaurant.  As she pulled up to the gated entrance to her home, her headlights shone on four 55-gallon drum barrels that blocked the road.  Immediately suspicious, Amber used her cell phone to inform her father.

Terry told her to drive around the barrels and Amber did just that.

When she arrived home, she briefly discussed the incident with her father, then went to bed.

The sheriff’s statement described what happened next: “A short time later [Terry] heard his dogs barking and saw his motion-activated flood lights come on.  After spotting some individuals trying to force their way into his garage, he fired three shots and the intruders fled into the woods.  He later learned they had unscrewed some of his security lights.”

Terry quickly called 9-1-1 and alerted the sheriff’s office.

While interviewing nearby homeowners, detectives got a break.  A neighbor had seen a suspicious vehicle near her house.  She described it as a white 2016 Jeep Liberty.  Deputies spotted the SUV on Highway 4 and made a felony traffic stop.

They arrested Keilon Johnson, 19, Austin French, 17, Tyree Johnson, 16, and Kamauri Horn, 15.  While none of the suspects had been struck by Terry’s gunfire, they were so terrified that they all quickly confessed to a sinister plot.

Keilon Johnson, the oldest suspect, set the plan in motion.  All the teens attended Crestview High School with Amber and knew her.  Keilon had studied her movements and knew she returned home from work every night at the same time. 

Keilon convinced his cohorts that her father was wealthy and kept lots of money in the home.  They came up with a plan to rob the house.  When she came home after work, the gang planned to “make Amber Brackney exit [her] vehicle at the barricade where she would be taken by force, made to enter the gate code to enter the curtilage and coerce Terry Brackney to exit the residence.  Terry would then be subdued by chemicals and/or force and the defendants would then enter the home and commit the robbery.”

What went without saying is that, even wearing masks, there was a good chance the conspirators would be recognized.  In fact, Amber had once been close friends with at least one of the suspects and could easily identify his voice and mannerisms.  Because of that, had their plan succeeded, there was a good possibility the suspects would have murdered Terry and Amber to keep them quiet.

As the attempted robbery played itself out that night, Ervin Johnson drove the getaway vehicle and communicated with Kielon Johnson by cell phone.  Once Amber foiled their plan by driving around the barricade, Kielon called Ervin and told him they were going “straight for the house.”  Austin French was armed with a knife, while Keilon and Kamurai Horn had pistols.

As they began to unscrew the lights, their plan went awry.  The dogs began barking and Terry came out of the house with his semiautomatic handgun.  When he opened fire, the suspects panicked and fled into the dense woods surrounding the house.  While making their escape, they dropped one of the firearms, the knife, and other identifying items.

The conspirators, each charged as adults, pleaded guilty to attempted armed kidnapping and attempted home invasion.  Horn received 15 years in prison.  Ervin Johnson was sentenced to seven years, followed by fifteen years of probation.  Keilon Johnson has not yet been sentenced but faces up to 45 years in prison, while Austin French is also looking at a possible 45 years.

Terry and Amber Brackney appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to discuss the crime and its aftermath.

“I’ve searched and I’ve prayed for peace of mind over this situation and to get my sense of security back in my home,” Terry said.  “Had these individuals made it inside our house…today would have probably been our funerals.”

“I’m really grateful for my dad,” Amber said.  “I really don’t have a mom in my life, so my dad is my hero…I saw these kids every day walking down the hallway [in my school].  I never expected them to try to kidnap me and harm me and do such a thing to my family.”

Since I started my blog in 2008, I’ve written hundreds of stories about Americans who used guns to defend their own lives, or the lives of others.  (Check out my latest book, co-written with Sim Waters, entitled Guns andSelf-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms.) 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Hurricane that Sank Spain
by Robert A. Waters

On the white-hot afternoon of July 24, 1715, a Spanish flotilla of eleven ships sailed out of Havana.  A small French warship, the Grifon, tagged along.  General Juan Esteban de Ubilla commanded six of the Spanish vessels while General Don Antonio de Echeverz y Zubiza was in charge of the remaining ships.  Bound for Spain, the fleet carried nearly a thousand crew members and passengers, as well as a staggering 14 million pesos worth of treasure.  Much of the plunder, taken from Mexico and South America, consisted of gold and silver coinage and bars.

General Ubilla was furious that it had taken two months longer than usual to transport the vast treasure from the mines to the ships.  He knew the chances of encountering a hurricane had increased dramatically.  For 50 years, Spanish treasure galleons had made the passage across the Atlantic, and dozens had been lost to the dreaded storms.

Spain’s life’s-blood depended on the success of these ships.  According to Robert F. Burgess and Carl J. Clausen in their book, Florida’s Golden Galleons, “Spain’s economy was almost totally dependent on these treasure shipments from the New World.  Since she manufactured nothing that was needed by other countries, the wealth received from her New World colonies merely passed through her economy into the economies of other European nations…”  (In 1712, the country had finally ended the costly 13-year War of the Spanish Succession, another of the endless conflicts Spain fought that kept its treasury drained.)

The treasure ships, six in all and crucial to the financial stability of the nation, were stuffed with produce, meat, and all manner of cargo, as well as the treasure chests.  The rest were warships, tasked with beating off pirates or privateers.  Cannons lined their decks, making the ships an overloaded yet dangerous foe. 

After passing Punto Ycaco, an island near the outer edge of Cuba, the majestic armada headed north.  They would hug the Florida coast until they reached San Augustin when they would turn east.  With flags flying in the breeze, none of those aboard knew a hurricane was headed straight toward them.

On July 29, sailors began to notice that the sea in the distance looked like lead.  A gray, milky haze obscured the sun as the fleet, one by one, sailed between the Florida coastline and the Bahama islands.  General Ubilla and General Echerverz, already nervous, had become alarmed at the signs of bad weather.

Burgess and Clausen described the following day: “On Tuesday, July 20, dawn broke on an oppressively hot, humid day.  People’s hands felt clammy; their clothes stuck to their bodies.  The fleet had made little progress during the night.  Winds were erratic, often changing directions, sometimes ceasing to blow at all.”  Swells increased, causing the ships to roll and pitch.  By noon, everyone on board sensed what was coming.

Soon the afternoon sky had turned so black sailors lit lanterns so they could see.  Winds more than 100 miles per hour lashed the fleet.  As the ships were tossed about, children cried and strong men prayed.  The flotilla, so magnificent when it had left Cuba, became uncontrollable.  Cargo shifted dangerously on the ships as the pitching and rolling increased.  A survivor later said that “the sea came like arrows.”  Torrents of rain, shrieking winds, and waves higher than the ships themselves pummeled the fleet.

Near midnight, the fury of the storm increased.  Ships plunged down into the dark depths, then struggled up again.  Over and over and over.  Trunks, cargo, cattle, horses, even the big guns on the warships, ricocheted across the decks.  Back and forth they went.  The ships moaned as if dying, then let out ear-splitting booms as if the cannons had been fired.

Stuck between the Florida coast and the Bahamas, the fleet could not escape.  The boats wallowed, becoming waterlogged and weary.  Sailors, having worked in life-or-death desperation for twenty-four hours, were exhausted.  The unending storm, which seemed determined to punish the ships, only increased in its fury.

Finally, the once-proud flotilla could take no more.

The first to go was the Capitana, a 471-ton ship.  Its bottom was sheared off when it struck a reef.  The ship sank almost immediately.  General Ubilla, along with 200 sailors, drowned.  One by one, the other ships followed.  Sailors and passengers died as each ship plunged into the seas.  General Echeverz’s flagship, the Nuestra Senora del Carmen, dumped enough cargo to lighten its load and limp onto the Florida shore.  The general and most of his men survived.

Only the French ship that had been forced by the Spanish into becoming part of the flotilla (Ubilla and Echeverz didn’t want the captain of the Grifon to warn others that a flotilla loaded with treasure was coming across the sea) escaped because it had pulled far enough away from the Spanish fleet to miss the storm.

Much of the wrecked flotilla came to rest a few hundred yards off the shore of what is now Cape Canaveral.   More than seven hundred souls perished in the storm, and all the Spanish treasure was lost.  Dazed survivors launched longboats to San Augustin to inform officials of the disaster.  In time, the survivors were rescued and some of the treasure salvaged.

The following letter describing the hurricane was written by a survivor: "The sun disappeared and the wind increased in velocity coming from the east and the east northeast.  The seas became very giant in size, the wind continued blowing us toward shore, pushing us into the shallow water.  It soon happened that we were unable to use any sail at all...and we were at the mercy of the wind and water, always driven closer to shore.  Having lost all our masts, all of the ships were wrecked..."

The wreck of the 1715 flotilla was a disaster for the Spanish government.  During that year, Austria expropriated the Netherlands from Spain, which had little money left to finance another war.  As the British and other European nations became stronger, Spain’s influence and power dwindled.

Storms continued to wreak havoc on the Spanish.  In 1733, a flotilla of 21 treasure ships was decimated by a hurricane near Key West.        

In the 1950s and 1960s, treasure hunters located the 1715 flotilla and recovered treasure worth millions of dollars.
NOTE: Much of the information in this story came from Florida’s Golden Galleons: The Search for the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet by Robert F. Burgess and Carl J. Clausen.  If you have any interest in the subject, I highly recommend this book.   

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Man Without a Heart
by Robert A. Waters

The Blackwater River flows through the wilds of Alabama into Florida’s Panhandle.  Its ink-black water meanders along, lapping sugar-white sand beaches while centuries-old cypress trees line the banks.

On May 1, 1956, three young boys played along the water’s edge.  They were David Earl Wilson, 7, his younger brother Douglas Cecil, 4, and a friend, seven-year-old Michael McCauley.  The Wilson family’s mobile house trailer sat back on a hill, looking down over the shirtless boys as they yelled and romped.

The playmates parted as their neighbor, thirty-three-year-old Dallas E. Withers, approached a motorboat tethered to a nearby tree.  While climbing in, the unemployed electrician turned to the boys and asked, “You want to go for a short ride?”

The excited youngsters hesitated briefly, then crowded into the boat.  But McCauley, fearful that his father would be angry, jumped out and waded back to shore.

A sudden roar of the engine alerted Mary Alice Wilson, the brothers’ mother.  She sprinted from the house down to the river’s bank, screaming for her neighbor to return with her boys.  Withers never looked back.  The distraught woman watched in horror as the boat motored into the fog and disappeared around a bend.

Since she didn’t have a telephone, Mrs. Wilson rushed to a neighbor’s home and called the Bay County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff M. J. “Doc” Daffin and his lead investigator, Floyd D. Saxon, raced to the residence at 414 Second Court in Millville.  The unincorporated community sat on a spit of land between Watson Bayou and St. Andrews Bay in Panama City.  After Mrs. Wilson and Michael McCauley breathlessly described the events of the afternoon, Daffin quickly organized teams of deputies to search the shoreline.

News of the abduction spread quickly.  With a population of around 50,000 residents, Bay County was home to several military installations, including Tyndall Air Force Base.  In addition to law enforcement officials, local fishermen and servicemen soon joined the hunt for the missing brothers.


Three hours after casting off with the youngsters, Withers docked his boat at Polecat Bayou, fifteen miles from the Wilson home.

He was alone.

Waiting deputies arrested him on the spot.

Lawmen transported Withers to an undisclosed jail for his own safety.  Weather-hard, with dark eyes, the suspect said little.  When asked where the boys were, he feigned surprise and denied taking them.

Darkness fell, and the long night passed with no word from the missing brothers.  The next morning, Mrs. Wilson, sobbing, released a tape-recorded statement: “Please, Mr. Withers,” she said, “Tell me where you left my sons.  I want them back dead or alive.”  The Fort Pierce News Tribune reported that “the boys’ father, Willard E. Wilson, was taken to a veteran’s hospital in Birmingham for treatment of shock.”

The Wilson family had lived in Panama City for only three weeks.  Originally from Mississippi, Willard worked as a civilian employee at Tyndall Air Force Base.

Shortly after noon, searchers in a military helicopter spotted four-year-old Douglas.

Floating face-down in the murky waters, his remains were located about 300 yards from the mouth of Cook’s Bayou.  Lawmen grimly pulled Douglas from the river and transported him to Smith Funeral Home in Panama City.  Soon the coroner arrived.  After conducting an autopsy, he announced the cause of death was drowning.

Though searchers combed the river all day, David was not found.

On the second day, after hearing Mrs. Wilson’s taped appeal and learning that Douglas had been found, Withers confessed to killing the boys.  Sheriff Daffin told reporters that in his first confession, Withers claimed that while making a sharp turn around a bend, David fell out of the boat.  Withers stated that after David drowned, he panicked and tossed Douglas into the water.

The next day Withers admitted his sordid reason for the abduction and murders.  He informed investigators that he had molested young boys for years, but had never been caught.  When he saw the children playing on the bank outside their home, he immediately felt drawn to the older Wilson boy.

Withers stated that after finding an isolated spot, he forced David to commit “indecent acts.”  He described how he flung the child into the dark water and watched him flounder until he slowly sank out of sight.  The boy had cried out just before disappearing.  Detectives noted that Withers was matter-of-fact when describing what happened.  In order to cover his crime, the killer said he also tossed four-year-old Douglas into the river.  Like David, the youngster quickly drowned.

Investigators believed Withers had stopped at a sand-bank to molest David, though for some reason he never admitted it.  Tracks on one of the sandbars in the river contained footprints of a man and two young children.  After the assault, Withers likely forced the brothers back into the boat and tossed them out.

For the next three days, hundreds of searchers scoured the river and its banks for the older boy.  During this time, women of the community grouped together in local churches to make sandwiches and iced tea for the men.  Finally, four days after having been snatched from the shoreline in broad daylight, two local fishermen radioed that they had located the remains of a young boy.

David’s body had floated up only a few feet from where his brother had been found.


Dallas Withers had spent time in a reform school before joining the U. S. Army in 1943.

Trained as a machine gunner, Withers was assigned to Company D, 304th Infantry Regiment, 76th Infantry Division.  As he spoke to investigators, the suspect made a shocking claim.  He stated that in 1945, during a night bombardment near Oberinheim, Germany, while supporting a squad of riflemen from the rear, he lowered his machine gun and turned it on his fellow GIs.

He informed detectives that he and another soldier were having “sexual relations,” and he was afraid of being found out.  Withers said casualties from the enemy bombardment were so horrific that no one realized some soldiers had been shot from behind.

Sheriff Daffin reported that Withers passed a lie detector test about the episode.  However, Detective Saxon told reporters that he didn’t believe the suspect’s claims.  (The army never fully investigated the incident, evidently writing the “confession” off as an attention-seeking ploy—or perhaps they were unwilling to open up a can of worms that could destroy many lives.)

Sheriff Daffin told reporters that Withers “showed absolutely no remorse or emotion in answering my questions.  He is a man without a heart.”

At ten o’clock on the morning of May 7, hundreds of mourners attended funeral services for Douglas and David Wilson.  A local newspaper reported that after the services in Panama City, “the two were taken to Louisville, Miss., by a [Smith Funeral Home] hearse for services at the Middleton Methodist Church there.”


The trial of Dallas E. Withers, scheduled for January 7, 1959, promised to be a sensation.  It did not disappoint.

The Panama City courtroom was packed to capacity with 250 spectators.  Willard and Mary Alice Wilson sat behind prosecutors while Withers’ aged mother took a seat behind her son and the defense team.  (His wife and seven children were nowhere to be seen.)

Thomas Beasley, a former state representative from DeFuniak Springs, represented Withers.  (He was known for having tried 30 death penalty cases in which not one of his defendants was sent to the chair.)  But in this case, the attorney had little to work with.  Withers had confessed twice.  In addition, witnesses had seen him leave with the children.  Finally, physical evidence found in his boat proved the brothers had been there.

At first, Beasley made a half-hearted attempt to show that Withers was insane.  But the defendant’s obvious planning and confessions shot down that argument.

Beasley then claimed that Withers had been “drunk and unaccountable” for his actions.  But while he had been drinking, witnesses testified that he was not drunk.  (An appeals court later wrote that “there was ample competent substantial evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that Withers was not so intoxicated at the time of the commission of the crime as to be incapable of premeditation.”)

Finally, in desperation, the defense argued that Withers had suffered a work-related accident that may have damaged his brain and made him impulsive.  This could have caused him to “snap” and perform an act he couldn’t control.

Prosecutor J. Frank Adams told jurors that the crime Withers committed was the worst ever recorded in Bay County.  He stated that it was obvious from his confession that Withers knew right from wrong.

Four hours after receiving instructions, jurors returned with their verdict.


Circuit Judge E. Clay Lewis, Jr. immediately sentenced Dallas E. Withers to death in the electric chair.

Mary Alice Wilson agreed with the verdict.  “He had a trial,” she said.  “My boys did not.”

On February 2, 1959, nearly three years after the heinous murders of two innocent boys, Withers walked solemnly to Florida’s Old Sparky.  Reporters said he remained calm to the very end.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Other Side of Gun Control

Survivor of brutal home invasion speaks about gun control

Foster Coker III, his wife, Pam, and their seven-year-old grandson survived a shock attack inside their home.  The Jacksonville, Florida family were innocent victims targeted by a gang of felons that called themselves the “Cutthroat Committee.”  Both Foster and Pam suffered permanent injuries in the assault and their grandson was forced to live with the trauma.  There is one reason the family is still alive and that is because they were able to get their guns and finally dispatch the assailant.

After the home invasion, Foster wrote his thoughts about gun control.  Here is the article:

“On August 15, 2014, my wife, Pamela Howell Coker, my grandson, and I were targeted in a ruthless home invasion.  Four people took part in the planning and execution of the cowardly crime, including three convicted felons.

“They came up with their plan while driving ar0und the night before in a stolen car.  There is a law against driving around in a stolen car, but they ignored it.

“During this planning session, certain drugs were consumed.  There is a law against using these drugs, but they ignored it.

“When it came time to invade our home, they jumped the privacy fence into our back yard.  There is a law against trespassing, but they ignored it.

“One of the criminals proceeded to kick in our back door and enter our home.  There is a law against doing this, but he ignored it.

“This criminal was armed with a stolen handgun.  There is a law against possessing stolen property, but he ignored it.

“The criminal, as mentioned, was already a convicted felon.  There is a law against convicted criminals possessing firearms, but he ignored it.

“Once inside, the criminal attacked my wife, knocking her down on a hardwood floor and causing severe injuries.  There is a law against physically attacking people, but he ignored it.

“When I came to my wife’s defense, the criminal repeatedly pistol-whipped me.  There is a law against assaulting someone with a deadly weapon, but he ignored it.

“Because of our Second Amendment rights, my wife and I were able to arm ourselves.  This resulted in an exchange of gunfire with the criminal.  His bullet grazed my head and came within an inch or two of killing me.  There is a law against trying to murder someone, but he ignored it.

“So don’t tell me how some new gun law is going to make anyone safer.  Laws affect only one part of the population…law-abiding citizens.  Criminals, by their very definition, ignore any and all laws as they see fit.

“Limiting the kinds of weapons or ammunition the general public can implement in the defense of their own lives from criminal trash like the ones we had to deal with only helps make the criminals’ tasks easier.”

Reprinted with permission of Foster Coker III.  For a detailed description of this case, read the chapter, “Demise of the Cutthroat Committee” in Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms.    

Saturday, August 3, 2019

New Review of Guns and Self-Defense

Guns and Self-Defense: A Study of Real-Life Personal Protection

Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms is a new book by Robert A. Waters and Sim Waters. The authors describe 23 cases involving ordinary citizens who used their defensive firearms to survive criminal attacks. As the authors point out, these self-defense success stories are rarely covered by the national media because they don’t fit the media’s bias.

Besides reading 23 stories in which the bad guys lose, defensive shooters can pick up some pointers by carefully studying each story. One of the learning points that immediately caught my attention was the number of home invasion cases where the victims had to run to other parts of the house to retrieve their firearm. Several of these folks sustained serious injuries before they could arm themselves and fight back. It makes a good case for keeping the firearm on your person while at home or possibly having a gun stashed in every room. Because the home invasion is usually quite dynamic and very violent, the citizen may not have time to wander off into another room and collect that defensive firearm.

On the other hand, there are several cases of citizens being alert enough to suspect trouble and take appropriate action while there was still time. These examples make it clear that, whether we are in our homes, place of business or out on the street, being alert is a key factor in surviving a criminal attack.

I also found it interesting to read about one of the attacks being survived by proper deployment of a .410-bore revolver. These guns have become fairly popular, and I have been curious about their use in defeating a criminal attack.

Another obvious fact is that the attack can occur anywhere, at home, at work or on the street. One victim had pulled into her own driveway, getting home after work, when confronted. Because she was alert to suspicious activity around her, she prevailed and survived.

Robert A. Waters is the author of five books that cover citizen’s use of defensive firearms to defeat criminals. This is the first book, however, that includes his son, Sim Waters, as co-author. Guns and Self-Defense can be ordered from Amazon or
www.robertwaters.netI have found that Waters’ books are interesting reading as well as being a good study guide for the armed citizen. I will be using some of these incidents as training illustrations in a team-tactics class that I am sponsoring at Gunsite Academy in spring 2020.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Review of Nittany Nightmare: The Sex Murders of 1938-1940 and the Panic at Penn State

Book Review by Robert A. Waters 

By Derek J. Sherwood 

On December 13, 1938, nineteen-year-old Margaret Martin received a phone call from a stranger.  He said he needed a stenographer for an insurance company he was starting and offered her the job.  Margaret, a recent graduate from Wilkes-Barre Business College, agreed to meet him in downtown Kingston, Pennsylvania.  Jobs were tough to come by in the Depression, so she seemed downright giddy as she left home.  But within hours, Margaret was dead, having been kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered.  The Pennsylvania Motor Patrol took charge of the investigation but never developed any real leads.  The crime is still unsolved.

On March 28, 1940, seventeen-year-old Rachel Taylor disembarked from a Greyhound bus to return to her dorm at Pennsylvania State College (now Pennsylvania State University).  It was a cold, raw night with drizzling rain and few people about.   Rachel never made her destination.  Her body was found the next morning, battered to death.  Again, the Pennsylvania Motor Police investigated.

Both cases received extensive coverage by local and state media even though college administrators, fearful of a drop in enrollment, did their best to hush up the Taylor murder.  The parents of both girls, eager for justice to be served, continued hounding police for years.  In the end, however, neither case was solved.

Nittany Nightmare describes the futile search for the killer (or killers) of Martin and Taylor.  Over the next few years, additional rapes and murders plagued the area  and taxed the capacity of detectives.  Most would remain unsolved.  Police suspected one killer may have committed all the crimes.

Set among the backdrop of Penn State football, state politics, and a then-backward law enforcement agency that later became the renowned Pennsylvania State Police, Sherwood’s tale includes many strange characters and weird circumstances.  It is at once a local history of Happy Valley and its surroundings, a compendium of the growth of Penn State football into the dynamic team it became, and a grouping of strange true crime mysteries.  Some readers may wonder how these disparate entities became entwined in one volume, but believe me, it works.

Before the term serial killer was coined, before DNA, before surveillance video and modern crime-solving techniques, investigators struggled to identify the man they suspected was a lone phantom killer.

Nittany Nightmare is my kind of book.  Buy it and read it—I think you’ll enjoy it, too.  

Sherwood is author of the popular book, Who Killed Betsy?: Uncovering Penn State’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Book Review - Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms

Book review by Dr. Michael S. Brown

Sitting in a place of honor on my bookshelf is a copy of The Best Defense, written by Robert Waters in 1998. This classic describes fourteen cases where ordinary citizens used guns to save their lives from violent attackers. I’ve kept it around as a reminder to stay vigilant and to occasionally loan to friends who don’t think guns are ever used for self-defense.

Waters’ new book is Guns and Self-Defense, which he co-wrote with his son Sim Waters, who has a degree in criminology. This time, he chronicles twenty-three dramatic tales of armed self-defense.
Like the now nearly extinct crime reporters of the newspaper era, he combines information from police reports and court records with victim interviews to tell the entire story in an engaging short form. He always lists the types of guns involved, how many shots were fired, how many scored hits and even where misses ended up.
Unlike the mainstream media I often ridicule, Waters is not a prisoner of the 24-hour news cycle. The information he collects, sometimes several years after the fact, has had plenty of time to crystallize into an accurate record that includes trial results, prison terms and the lasting effects on victims.
Waters does not have to add the drama. The stories are so intense that he can stick to a matter-of-fact style and you will still find yourself obsessively flipping the pages.
Only one of these twenty-three incidents made it to the national media, it was one of two in the book that involved armed citizens coming to the aid of police officers who were being beaten to death by a crazed criminal.
Looking at the other twenty-one stories, it’s easy to see patterns that might be of use to the average citizen contemplating self-defense or to those involved in the gun control debate.

  1.  Almost all of these attacks on unsuspecting people involved substance abuse in some way.  Either the attackers were flying high on drugs like alcohol, cocaine and meth, or they were trying to get money to buy drugs.
  2. Criminals can be extremely vicious and care nothing about the damage they inflict on others.  Many of the victims suffered life-altering injuries as well as lasting emotional trauma.
  3. Violent criminals, much like predators in the animal world, prefer easy prey.  Most of these victims were women, elderly or physically handicapped people at home.  The few who were not tended to work in convenience stores or high value targets like stores dealing in jewels and precious metals.
  4. All guns involved were handguns, except for a shotgun wielded by a woman home alone.
  5. Many of the handguns used for effective defense were cheap weapons that are accessible to low wage earners and have sometimes been targets of gun control efforts.
  6. Since most of the assailants were drug-enhanced and were only shot with handguns, they often had to be shot more than once.  So if you have time, reach for a long gun.
  7. Few of the defenders had much training, if any. Yet they all survived, and did not shoot any innocent bystanders.
  8. None of the guns used for defense were locked up. Due to the speed, shock and ferocity of the attacks, the victims would have been unable to deal with locks.
  9. Violent predators often work together in armed gangs that may require defenders to fire many shots to end the attack.
  10. All but one of the attackers had a long criminal history marked by repeated prison terms with early release.  Some were on parole or on bail awaiting trial at the time.
  11. The underlying explanation for these violent assaults is that society does not deal effectively with the three main causes:  drugs, gangs and mental illness.
  12. Criminals choose the time and place of their attack both to achieve surprise and avoid law enforcement, so prudent citizens must be prepared to defend themselves anytime, anywhere.

Anyone who is interested in keeping a gun for protection would do well to read this book while keeping some things in mind.
The commonly accepted theory is that most criminals will flee at the sight of a gun, but Waters understandably selected only incidents in which victims actually shot their attackers and lived through the experience. While this doesn’t give a statistically accurate picture, it serves as an excellent reminder that you had better be mentally prepared in advance to shoot to save yourself and your loved ones. Just displaying a gun is not always enough.
Another thought is that criminals who actually need to be shot are likely the most unhinged and violent examples of the species and will probably need to be shot more than once.  Some of the most dangerous hunt in packs. Owning a gun with a large magazine seems like a common sense choice and owning more than one if you can afford it is probably a good idea.
It almost goes without saying that you should make a household emergency plan, practice with your firearm(s) and seek training as possible.
After reading Guns and Self-Defense, the wise reader will likely wonder why compelling and inspiring stories like this so rarely make it into the national news stream. I believe they are suppressed because they belie the standard media narrative that ordinary people have no need for defensive firearms.
Why else would such riveting, life-and-death dramas be ignored? Almost any of them could be easily turned into a profitable made-for-TV movie or at least a 60 Minutes segment if our media were not so biased and agenda-driven.
After reading this book, I discovered another in this series published just a few months earlier titled: Guns Save Lives that includes 22 events.  If you follow defensive gun use news on the internet, you know there is an inexhaustible supply of such stories. 

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a pragmatic Libertarian environmentalist who has been studying the gun debate for three decades and considers it a fascinating way to learn about human nature and politics.
This article originally appeared at and is reprinted here with permission.