Thursday, August 6, 2020

Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise

Book review written by Robert A. Waters

My son served in the U. S. Coast Guard. On patrol one day in the Florida straits, his ship came across a sad testament to humanity’s longing for freedom. Bobbing along in the waves, a wooden raft floated silently, its crew forever missing. The raft had been reinforced underneath with chunks of styrofoam and had been powered by a miniscule 1950s boat motor. Much of the styrofoam had broken free, perhaps by a storm or high waves and the vessel tilted half in the water and half out. The crew of the Coast Guard vessel stared in silence, knowing that the Cubans who had attempted to flee the oppression of communism were likely dead.

Cuba in Revolution has lots of intrigue going for it: an escape from communist Cuba that reads like a thriller; a history of Fidel Castro’s rise to power and dictatorial rule; a narrative of the way many in the American media covered up the fact that Castro was a communist; how the Soviet Union gained traction in Cuba; how the Kennedy administration betrayed the Cuban (and American) freedom fighters at the Bay of Pigs; and much, much more.

For many Cubans, Florida shines like a beacon in a dark night.

The Faria family had supported the overthrow of corrupt President Fulgencio Batista, but distrusted the communist schemes of Fidel Castro. That made them targets. Like the Roman emperors of old, the new ruler murdered anyone who could conceivably be considered a threat to his power. That included Batista backers and even his own supporters. Had they not escaped, it was only a matter of time before the Faria family would be imprisoned or worse, executed.

In 1966, thirteen-year-old Miguel and his father, a physician, made a desperate and harrowing escape from Cuba. Twenty-eight souls boarded a small, dilapidated wooden fishing boat called Venezuela Libre. After two long days and nights at sea, starving, sick, and battered by hurricane-like storms at times, or burning in the sun at other times, the little ship finally reached the Cayman Islands—and freedom. Eventually, the Faria family settled in Miami, then moved to South Carolina.

The escape was important to Miguel because, had he not fled the country, he would likely have been conscripted into the Cuban military and indoctrinated in the “virtuousness” of communism. That did not happen because Miguel’s father understood the evils of totalitarian governments.

Miguel attained the dream. He became a naturalized American citizen, graduated from medical school and became a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Today, he is an anti-communist, pro-freedom crusader.

Cuba in Revolution tells a compelling tale of how totalitarian rule can turn a prosperous, thriving nation into a backward hellhole. No wonder so many of its citizens wish to flee to the beacon up north.

This book should be required reading in our schools and colleges.


Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise

By Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

Hacienda Publishing, 2002


Monday, July 27, 2020

Johnny Horton 'Son' Busted



Don't Mess With Billie Jean
Written by Robert A. Waters

On that night in 1981, The Old Hangin’ Tree Tavern was packed like never before. Virginia Iler, owner of the joint, had placed ads on KZUN, the local country music station in Spokane, Washington, promoting the appearance of country-western singer Johnny Horton’s son. While the wavy-haired stranger sang with the stage band, Mrs. Johnny Horton sat in the back of the smoky bar. The singer, sometimes off-key, wailed out the “The Battle of New Orleans,” “Springtime in Alaska,” and an original song about his memories of the country music icon who’d died in a car crash twenty years earlier.

At 48, Billie Jean Horton was not there to revel in her son’s success. She had flown up from Louisiana to confront the imposter.

Still as beautiful as she was when she met her first husband, Hank Williams, she sobbed silently as the impersonator sang. Her bodyguard, Jim Howard, later told reporters that “you can imagine how Mrs. Horton felt. It’s like resurrecting the dead to sit there and have to listen to this composition he gave from the stage of his life as he remembered it with the late, great Johnny Horton.”  Particularly so since none of it was true.

To make the surreal episode even more unreal, the imposter stopped his songfest long enough to get married. He’d met a 29-year-old woman from Coer d’Alene, Idaho, and brought in a cake and a preacher to tie the knot. To the cheers of the crowd, he solemnly kissed his bride. After the ceremony was over, the groom continued his concert while the bride sat beaming.

It had all started two weeks earlier when a stranger called Iler and said his tour bus had broken down in Spokane and he wanted to arrange a booking at her tavern. Iler invited the man, who called himself Johnny Horton, Jr., to meet with her. He quickly convinced her of his identity and she hired him. But Iler and members of the band soon became suspicious.

When Billie Jean got a phone call from Mrs. Iler, the bar-owner explained the situation and asked if Johnny Horton, Jr. was her son. Billie Jean heatedly let Iler know she’d had no male offspring with the dead singer. Having successfully sued record companies for years to receive royalties from the estates of Hank Williams and Johnny Horton, Billie Jean was in no mood to let an interloper make money off her husband’s name. While she was younger, she’d known hard times, but now she was wealthy, and she decided to fly to Spokane to confront the fraudster.

As the final song mercifully faded into the suffocating smoke-filled darkness, a group of official-looking men, including the bodyguard and two Spokane County deputies, asked Horton to accompany them to a nearby office. Inside were icy-faced Billie Jean and Mrs. Iler.

Horton quickly confessed that he wasn’t Billie Jean’s son.

He had no identification, except a union card for a man with a different name. He had no tour bus, no home except for a one-night room at a cheap hotel. In fact, he was a drifter and grifter from Texas. He claimed his name was David Jonathan Horton, Jr., but even that was questionable. “I’ve been singing professionally for about nine years,” he said. “When times got bad, I drove heavy equipment.” At that, Billie Jean lit into the fraudulent wannabe singer with a volley of foul language, advising him that he may have a civil suit coming his way.

After the confrontation, investigators advised Billie Jean that no crime had been committed and the drifter was free to go.

On learning that the man she’d married was not the son of the famous singer, Horton’s bride stormed out of the tavern and disappeared, never to be seen again. The rueful groom, out of a gig and a night of wedding bliss, said, “I think she married me for the name rather than for myself.”

Billie Jean flew back to Shreveport, satisfied the imposter had been exposed. Mrs. Iler told patrons she’d learned a lesson about not taking people at face value. And Horton (or whoever he was) continued his misdeeds. “It turned out he had a prison record, and was on parole at the time,” Billie Jean told a reporter. The fraudulent singer later ended up serving time in a California prison for committing real crimes.

Click here for more about Johnny Horton.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"This Gun Talks!"



Bizarre Case of the “Grandma Bandit”
Written by Robert A. Waters

The Wiltshire Boulevard branch of the California Bank in Los Angeles was crowded on that Friday morning in 1952. Behind the counter, Marguerite Evert politely greeted each customer. Next in line was a “little old lady” who wore a black jacket and green scarf. The woman quietly pulled a wrinkled-up brown paper sack from a shabby leather purse. Shoving it toward Evert, she said, “Be quiet and give me the money in the cash drawer.”

Evert was astounded. She hesitated, and the robber poked the barrel of a pistol through the bottom of the bag. “This gun talks,” she said, “and I know how to use it.” With that, she pushed a red envelope toward Evert. The teller took $1200 out of her drawer and handed it to the woman. Placing it in her envelope and putting the brown bag back in her purse, the robber casually walked away. No one noticed as she ambled to the door, strolled down the street and flagged down a cab.

Evert was so flustered it took her more than a minute to ring for the bank manager. Soon the place was swarming with cops, but they had missed their prey. The old woman was nowhere to be seen.

In the next few weeks, as she robbed bank after bank, California news hounds gave her an appropriate nickname: “The Grandma Bandit.”  Both local police and FBI agents joined the hunt, but it was a local bank manager who finally caught her.

It was nearing Christmas in the United States National Bank in Arcadia, fifteen miles east of Los Angeles, when a woman walked up to teller Lorene McGehee. “Give me all your money,” Grandma said. “I’m desperate.” McGehee, incredulous, turned to William H. Lloyd, her manager, and said, “This woman wants to rob me.”

Grandma didn’t hesitate. She turned and sprinted to the door. But Lloyd was quicker. He grabbed her and jerked the paper bag from her hands. A toy pistol fell to the floor. As Grandma begged Lloyd to let her go, bank employees triggered an alarm and soon the robber was in handcuffs. Checking her purse, cops found sixty-three cents.

Fifty-three-year-old Ethel Arata was no normal bank robber. She had once been an heiress, the daughter of Robert Catts, who lost 20 million dollars in the stock market crash of 1929. A syndicated news article written by Sam Cohen and Ruth Reynolds stated that “she once studied voice abroad and sang with the Duncan Sisters in their ‘Topsy and Eva’ company.”

Arata informed detectives that she was a Robin Hood robber, stealing from banks to give to the poor. She claimed to have given some of her proceeds from the robberies to a destitute couple who wanted to return home to Minnesota for Christmas.

Cops learned that Arata had been born to privilege in Philadelphia in 1900 and spent her childhood in private grooming schools. In 1903, Robert Catts divorced his wife and married an actress, Dorothy Tennant. In 1913, Oja McWhorter Catts, Ethel’s mother, overdosed on prescription drugs and died. In 1929, the stock market crash bankrupted her father. He died in 1942, leaving Ethel nothing.

Ethel had married four times. She’d had one child, a boy who died as an infant. In 1948, Ethel was committed to a mental institution for alcoholism. According to Cohen and Reynolds, after leaving the institution “she resumed her drinking, became hysterical and tried to kill herself by jumping from a fourth-story hotel window. Two weeks after this suicide attempt, she was found sprawled in a stupor amid a litter of wine bottles in a Hollywood rooming house. She spent five days in jail for disorderly conduct.”

When arrested for the bank robberies, Ethel was living in a dive hotel in Monrovia, California. Detectives learned that she had gambled her money away and not given it to poor people as she claimed.

A federal grand jury found her guilty of bank robbery and she was sentenced to ten years in Federal prison. Ethel Arata was paroled in 1957, two years after her conviction, and disappeared into the mists of history.


NOTE: Much of the information for this story was obtained from a news article written by Sam Cohen and Ruth Reynolds and published in several newspapers on April 10, 1955. The article was entitled: ‘Grandma’ Sentenced as Bank Robber.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Defending the Homeland


Storms of Battle
Written by Robert A. Waters

My great-great-grandfather fought as a soldier for two different countries. (Near the turn of the century, when he died, that was not unusual for old men in the South.) Here is his story.

Peter Boyer Perry was of French descent, but the family moved to England around 1066. In the early 1600s, Peter's ancestors settled in Virginia, later moving to South Carolina. At least two of his great-uncles fought with Frances Marion, the "Swamp Fox," during the Revolutionary War.

Peter was born in Lancaster County, South Carolina on April 11, 1823. In 1846, he enlisted in the U. S. Army and was sent to fight in the Mexican-American War. The injuries he received during this conflict would afflict him for the rest of his life.

Perry was assigned to Company I, Palmetto Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers Infantry. He initially served under the command of Colonel P. M. Butler, then later under General Winfield Scott. According to Perry's military records, during the Siege of Veracruz, he contracted chronic dysentery due to a bout with yellow fever.

After fighting in several battles, Perry fell grievously wounded at the storming of Chapultepec, a closely guarded city that sat on a 200-foot-high hill. General Scott had ordered his men to take this strong-post as a gateway to Mexico City, two miles away. In the book, A Pioneer and a Patriot, the author, D. Hackett, writes that Perry "was wounded by a spent grapeshot cannon shell. He was injured on his right side with five broken ribs, and a piece of steel was embedded in his right eye. Though he was left for dead, Peter survived. He was able to rejoin his unit that night and continued to fight as the Army made their (sic) way to Mexico City." (He refused to go to a field hospital because he'd observed that only one out of five injured soldiers came out alive.)

Early on the morning of September 14, 1847, American forces raised the U. S. flag over the Grand Plaza in Mexico City. According to family legend, Perry was the soldier who raised that flag.

Perry suffered from his war injuries for the rest of his life. "The injury to his right side," Hackett writes, "left him with painful pleural adhesion, and later, his right eye had to be removed."

He was honorably discharged in Mobile, Alabama, on June 25, 1848.

Peter and his new wife, Elizabeth Duke Perry, moved to Alachua County, Florida in 1853. The couple later moved again, this time to Marion County where he would reside the rest of his life. Peter farmed a 20-acre spread without ever owning a slave.

In a 1985 article in the Orlando Sentinel, the author wrote that "as peaceful as this small Marion County community is today, it's hard to imagine the original settlers barricading themselves into the schoolhouse to fend off attacks from Seminole Indians. But that's what they did and it is for one of those early defenders, Peter Boyer Perry, that the town is named. Perry, a South Carolina native who had served with the U. S. army in the Mexican War, picked up the name Pedro (Spanish for Peter) during his days fighting south of the border. Perry's role in helping settle and defend the community led to the town naming itself after him." 

On July 21, 1861, the long-simmering conflict now known as the Civil War broke out when the United States of America invaded the newly-formed Confederate States of America. The Union Navy quickly blockaded ports around Florida in an attempt to keep supplies from entering the state. For the next four years, the Federals tried to gain control of the interior of Florida, but had little success as most Floridians supported the Confederate cause. (At the end of the war, Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capitol not occupied by the Union army.) 

In July of 1863, at forty years of age, Perry walked 100 miles to enlist in the Confederate army. At Lake City, he joined the 9th Florida Infantry Division, Company F. 

Perry fought courageously during the Battle of Olustee (near Lake City). On February 20, 1864, the Union army, under the command of Brigadier General Truman Seymore, was once again attempting to gain control of inland Florida, particularly Tallahassee. The Confederates were commanded by Irish-born Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. The Rebels had located a narrow stretch of dry ground to defend. Behind them, impenetrable swamps and bays surrounded a lake called Ocean Pond, and on each side was a pine barren that offered little cover for the advancing attackers.

As the battle began, Finnegan lured the Union troops into that indefensible position. After several hours of bloody fighting, Seymore's army fled back to Jacksonville, their major stronghold in Florida. Out of slightly more than 5,000 men, the Union army suffered 1,861 casualties to Confederate losses of 946 men.

After the Battle of Olustee, Peter Boyer Perry was promoted to 1st Sergeant and, with General Finegan's Florida regiments, ordered north to join General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Finegan's troops landed in a hornet's nest, fighting almost continuously for the next year. Perry fought in the following battles: the Battle at Cold Harbor; the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road; the Battle of Ream's Railroad Station; the Battle of Globe Tavern; the Second Battle of Ream's Railroad Station; and the Battle of Hatcher's Run. (Many of the smaller battles were part of the fighting that took place during the Union's victorious siege of Petersburg.)

Finally, on April 9, 1865, Lee met with Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse to surrender. Peter Boyer Perry signed the surrender documents and oath of allegiance to the United States of America. Confederate Major General William Mahone spoke of the Florida brigade: "A mere handful remains of the little band, they have been wasted by the storms of battle and by disease..."

Perry was given a written parole document. He walked 700 miles from Virginia back to his Florida home. In Marion County pioneer documents, he is listed as a farmer, minister of the gospel, school teacher and postmaster of the town of Pedro. He and Elizabeth had 13 children.

That a man could withstand years of war and severe injuries, including blindness in one eye, as well as chronic dysentery and pleurisy, and still prosper in life showed the mark of high character. All of his children and grandchildren led successful lives, including my grandmother, Henrietta Fidelia Perry Crumpton. She took in strays and always had food for the "hoboes" who wandered by her farmhouse. She was sympathetic to the down-and-out and took care of my grandfather (who was also blind in one eye from a World War I injury) and many elderly relatives. She and my grandfather, as well as my parents, taught me that God and family are the most important things in life.  

In 1875, "Peter applied for 'A Declaration of Pension for an Invalid' for his military service in the Mexican-American War. It took seven years and a Special Act of the 47th Congress for Peter to be approved..." His pension of $4.00 was later increased to $8.00. In 1895, his pension was raised to $12.00. By this time he'd had to sell his 20 acres of land when, due to old age and his lingering injuries, he became unable to work.

Peter Boyer Perry died on January 7, 1899, aged 75. He is buried at the Pine Level Cemetery in Sumter County.

Sources:

A Pioneer and A Patriot by D. Hackett. Many military documents concerning Peter Boyer Perry are photocopied and published in this book. 

A Small but Spartan Band by Zack C. Waters. This award-winning book details the history of the Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

A Wilderness of Destruction by Zack C. Waters. Unpublished book.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Looters routed in the "City of Brotherly Love"


Tables turned by shop owner
Written by Robert A. Waters

After George Floyd's death on May 29, 2020, street hustlers, gang members, and mobs across the country began the inevitable plundering and looting.  Thousands of businesses were destroyed and many police agencies, outnumbered and restricted in how they could respond, turned cities over to vandals and killers.  In the first 10 days, at least 23 people died in riot-related violence and 500 cops were injured.

Many of us watched from our homes, appalled at the carnage and the sight of politicians literally bowing to anarchists.  While our once-great country burned, modern-day Neros fiddled in their bunkers.  Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles, and dozens more cities were ransacked.

In Philadelphia, things were no different.

Philly.com reported that the city "descended into anything but peacefulness.  Buildings and police cars were set ablaze, stores looted, bottles thrown.  Tear gas.  Rubber bullets.  Riot shields.  You get the picture."  Yes, we got the picture.  On our screens, we viewed hundreds of vicious beatings as mobs attacked innocent people without provocation.

NBCPhiladelphia.com reported that "by Sunday morning, more than 207 people had been arrested and more than a dozen officers injured, one of whom was still hospitalized after being run over by a car."

Firing Line, Inc., a gun store, sits on Front Street in South Philly.  Shop owner Greg Isabella serves law enforcement officers as well as everyday citizens.

Isabella sensed what was coming.  The night before, an attempted break-in of his store had occurred.  According to GlobeIntel.com, "On the previous night, looters attempted to break in through a back door of the shop, ramming and beating at a steel door that showed signs of battering, and even marks that a crowbar was used to pry it open--to no avail."  Isabella decided to sleep in his shop that night, armed with a Bushmaster M-4 rifle.

Even though a city-wide curfew was in effect, it made no difference to the roaming mobs, thieves, robbers, and killers.

At about 4:00 a.m., while viewing an outside surveillance monitor, the store owner saw two cars drive up to his store.  Four figures got out and cut a lock to open the gate.  Detectives later found the discarded bolt cutters and lock nearby.

The men broke the glass entrance door and came inside.

Inspector Scott Small stated that Isabella "heard them walking up the steps, and one of the individuals who broke into the property pointed a handgun at him.  And that's when the store owner fired his own weapon, striking the one perpetrator at least one time in the head."  The name of that individual has not been released by police.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The deceased robber's gun was found next to his body.

The other three ran.

A short time later, seventeen-year-old Khaleef Brown appeared at Jefferson University Hospital with a bullet wound to his shoulder.  After treatment, he was arrested and charged with robbery, burglary, and falsifying information.  Cops said they had overwhelming evidence that he was one of the four who had attempted to loot the gun store.

The other accomplices have not been identified.

Isabella was not charged with any crime.  District Attorney Larry Krasner informed the media that "the facts as we know and the law are clear that the business owner's use of force while inside his own property against a burglar, accompanied by others, who was entering with a gun in his hand were justified.  It is fortunate that this large cache of guns and ammunition were not taken and sold on the street."

While Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney said he supports the rights of citizens to protect their lives and property, he warned against vigilantism, stating that he was "deeply troubled at the ease with which another life has been taken amidst this chaos."

Meanwhile, life and death in Ben Franklin's city goes on.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

 
Buddy Holly's Pistol
Written by Robert A. Waters

Shortly after midnight, on February 3, 1959, a small plane crashed into a frozen Iowa field, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.  Roger Peterson, the young pilot, also died.

For nearly two weeks, the popular rock and roll musicians had endured sub-freezing temperatures while on a tour called the Winter Dance Party.  They rode from town to town in rickety buses that kept breaking down because the heaters froze up.  Holly’s drummer, Carl Brunch, got frostbite and had to be hospitalized.  Because of the miserable traveling conditions, Holly decided to rent a plane to take him and his band from Mason City, Iowa to their next stop, Moorhead, Minnesota.  He figured they could rest up for a few hours in a warm hotel and do their laundry.  Valens and Richardson, both battling flu-like symptoms, finagled seats from Holly’s band members.

The airplane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, barely had enough space for the three passengers and the pilot.  When it struck the ground at 170 miles per hour, Holly, Valens, and Richardson were thrown out.  Their bodies were frozen solid when found the next day.  Peterson still sat inside the mangled cockpit, dead.

A report by the Civil Aeronautics Board reported that “the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s unwise decision to embark on a flight which would necessitate flying solely on instruments when he was not properly certificated or qualified to do s0.”

The cause of the crash seemed straightforward, but it wasn’t long until whispered allegations began to question the findings.  It didn’t help that the press initially got many of the facts wrong—for instance, newspapers reported “that the plane had been consumed by fire and all four bodies badly burned.”  In fact, there was no fire.

Even though this group of rock and rollers was likely the tamest of all rockers in the history of rock, claims to the contrary soon circulated.  Peterson’s friends asserted that heavy drinking and drugging by the musicians may have caused the crash.  This rumor gained a life of its own, and still circulates today.  No evidence exists that there was any drug use, and drinking was minimal.  Bob Hale, emcee of the Winter Dance Party, asserted that “there wasn’t an inkling of booze or drugs…I was with them from the moment they got off the bus to the moment they got in the car [to go to the airport].  There was no booze or alcohol, nothing like that.”

Another theory asserts that a fight between the musicians distracted Peterson, causing him to lose control of the plane.  But people who spent time with the group dismissed that conjecture.  Hale stated that “these were good friends.  These guys were back-slapping buddies.  There wasn’t a bit of tension, jealousy, or bitchiness about any of these guys.”

Then, two months later, a farmer found Buddy Holly’s gun near the wreck site and the rumor-mill exploded in earnest.

The pistol, “a small six-shot German-made revolver,” had four unfired rounds in the cylinder.  According to researcher and author Larry Lehmer, the other two cylinders were empty.  Many local residents immediately jumped to the conclusion that Holly had shot the pilot, thereby causing the crash.  Or maybe he shot the Bopper, causing Peterson to take his eye off the control panel and wreck the plane.  Or maybe someone else got the gun and fired a shot.  It went on and on.

Even though the Mason City Globe-Gazette reported that “a check of the coroner’s official reports Friday showed that the pilot and passengers died from wounds received in the plane wreck,” the allegation had been planted.  The pathologist who did the autopsy repeatedly stated that there were no bullet wounds to any of the passengers or pilot.

Jerry Allison, one of the original Crickets, stated that he’d given the gun to Holly in 1958.  “It was a little old .22-like target pistol,” Allison said.  He stated that Holly had once used it to defend himself and his band.  A group of “hoodlums” had blocked the driveway of the venue where the band was playing and wouldn’t move.  Feeling threatened, Holly pulled the pistol and aimed it at one of their tormentors.  The thugs quickly left.

Holly, who sometimes collected the money from gigs, carried the gun for protection.  (Being from Texas, he had hunted when he was younger, and was familiar with guns.)  While on the Winter Dance Party tour, he kept the gun in a false bottom of his shaving kit.  At the crash site, investigators found the case near Holly, its false bottom torn out.

Through the years, the stars of the three singers rose.  Many bands, including the Beetles, the Stones, and others were heavily influenced by Buddy Holly.  The records of Ritchie Havens and the Big Bopper continued to get airplay on oldies stations and influenced younger audiences.  Then Don McClean’s song, “American Pie,” immortalized the three.

In 2007, Jay Richardson, the Big Bopper’s son, decided to exhume his father’s body.  Bill Bass, founder of the Body Farm in Tennessee, performed the second autopsy.

Journalist Ron Franscell wrote that “there was no bullet, the X-rays showed, but few had expected this would turn into a crime-scene investigation anyway.  And the Bopper didn’t survive the impact even for a moment, Bass determined.  He suffered at least three death-dealing injuries that would have killed him before he took another breath: A crushed skull, a broken neck and a grotesquely mashed rib cage. His other injuries were equally grievous, including a crumbled pelvis, a broken spine, a broken foot and ankle, and two compound fractures in each leg.”

Even the most volatile conspiracist was forced to admit that Buddy Holly’s gun played no role in the plane crash.

Or were they?


I highly recommend the following book to anyone interested in the last days of the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” of rock and roll: THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the “Big Bopper,” and Ritchie Valens by Larry Lehmer.

The following newspaper article was also helpful: “A pop star exhumed 50 years after tragic death” by Ron Franscell.  Published in The Beaumont Enterprise, March 11, 2007.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What is Justice?

Cold-blooded Killer “Comes Off” Death Row
Written by Robert A. Waters

“How can you live with yourself knowing that you spilled an innocent person’s blood on the floor for $100.  My grandmother’s life was only worth $100 to that man.” Kara Jones, granddaughter of victim Jeannette Dwyer.

After nearly forty years on Florida’s Death Row, Sonny Boy Oats, Jr. cheated the system.  Having murdered a store clerk for $100, there is no question of his guilt.

The 1979 murder happened at the Little Country Store in Martel, Florida.  When the killing occurred, Martel was barely a town.  It lay at a crossroads to nowhere, surrounded by a half-dozen or so mobile homes.  The convenience store, with a deeply pot-holed parking lot, had six gas pumps and an interior bulging with candy, soft drinks, beer and cigarettes.

Jeanette Dwyer, 50, worked alone on that cold, tragic night.  As so often happens in these cases, the victim is now long-forgotten, except by friends and relatives.  In fact, it has been left to granddaughter Kara Jones to wage the fight for justice.  Back when execution seemed possible, she told a reporter “if I could go up to [then-Governor] Charlie Crist and say, ‘Put the needles in his arm: push the button,’ I would.”

But the courts recently bought the argument that Oats was “intellectually disabled.”

Court documents describe the scene first responders found: “On 12/20/79, Jeannette Dyer, the clerk at the Little Country Store in Martel, Florida, was found lying on the floor with a gunshot wound, which penetrated her right eye and brain.  When Dyer was discovered, she had a faint heartbeat but died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  At the store, money was missing from the cash register.”  The autopsy showed that the killer’s gun was approximately one foot away from Dyer’s face when fired.

Oats was soon tracked down.  This wasn’t his first rodeo.  The previous night, he’d shot a liquor store clerk in the face during another robbery.  Eric Slusser was lucky to have survived.

A career criminal, Oats had previously served time in the state prison for burglary.  Before he could be tried, the killer escaped and fled to Texas.  Six months later, he was captured and brought back to Florida for trial.

Oats confessed to both robberies and led investigators to the gun that he’d hidden.  He was tried separately for each crime.  He ended up receiving a life sentence for attempted murder, 90 years for using a gun in the commission of a crime, and death for the murder of Jeannette Dyer.

On February 6, 2020, the Death Penalty Information Center announced that “Sonny Boy Oats, Jr. will come off Florida’s death row after 39 years…With eight of nine psychologists who evaluated Oats concluding that he is intellectually disabled, State Attorney Ric Ridgeway told the court that his office will no longer contest Oats’ claim.”

So, Oats was able to plan two robberies, a murder, one attempted murder, an escape from a secure jail, and remain at large for six months while committing many other crimes, but he doesn’t have the mental capability required for execution.  Is it any wonder that millions of Americans believe the criminal justice system is skewered against victims and tilts in favor of criminals?    

Monday, April 13, 2020

Lottery Scams

Clerks Steal Lottery Winnings
Written by Robert A. Waters

The customer held a winning scratch-off lottery ticket as he walked into Winn-Dixie Liquors in Fort Myers, Florida.  Crystelle Baton, the clerk, scanned the ticket, then handed the man a five-dollar bill from her purse.  “Here’s your winnings,” she said with a smile.  As the customer left the store, she furtively placed the ticket between the pages in her notebook.  The payout was not $5.00, but worth $600.

Within minutes, the customer returned and arrested Baton for grand theft.  The Florida Lottery Commission, which had sent the agent to the store for a random visit, had caught another clerk red-handed.

Baton admitted the fraud, lost her job, and ended up paying a fine.  She was lucky not to get jail time.  How many times Baton had perpetuated this crime is not known, but the scam has been going on for years, likely since the beginning of the modern-day lottery.  

Some unscrupulous store-owners have become multi-millionaires using this scheme.

NJ.com recently reported that “half of [New Jersey’s] lottery winners are lottery retailers or family members of store operators…As a group, those 10 people collected 840 prizes totaling almost $1.8 million.”

Besides stealing the winnings of unsuspecting customers, how else do retailers game the system?

In some cases, they offer to pay winners for their winning ticket, but at a discount.  In these instances, the winner gets a quick cash payout without having to worry about paying taxes, child support payments, or other court-ordered debts that would be taken out of their winnings.  Then the retailer, who may have only paid half the amount the ticket is worth, cashes in.

The above scheme, called “discounting,” is illegal, but cash transactions with strangers are hard to prove.

A Tampa, Florida employee of the Radiant convenience store was recently arrested for “micro-scratching.”  ABC Action News reported that Emad Faragallah used a “small blade to scratch off part of a lottery ticket, exposing a number that can be read by a lottery terminal to determine if it is a winner.”  The report stated that “over a short period of time, Faragallah cashed in at least seven winning tickets valued at $1,000 each.”  So many winning tickets from the same source alerted officials to the scam.

So, if you’re playing the lottery at your favorite store and never winning more than a few bucks, maybe the clerk or storeowner is ripping you off.

Or, of course, your loser tickets might just be the luck of the draw. 

     

Monday, March 23, 2020

Killer Dodges Justice for Decades

45 Years Later—Case Solved
Written by Robert A. Waters

On August 9, 1958, the weather in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin was so stifling that fifty-seven-year-old Edna Mauch asked her husband to leave the kitchen door open when they went to bed. Anything to suck in even a slight breeze.

Edna and her husband slept in separate bedrooms directly across from each other. Both Aloysius, 68, and his wife were heavy sleepers and soon they were dead to the world.

Sometime during the night, a shadow crept silently through the open door. The intruder held a weapon, a sock with a brick stuffed into it. He moved into Edna’s room and peered down at the sleeping woman. On a table nearby, he noticed her purse. He quietly opened it and removed $240 in cash, as well as a check for $441.

For several moments, the predator stared down at the woman. Finally, he made his decision. He swung the heavy sock and cracked it against Edna’s head. With his prey disabled, he climbed on top of her and raped her. At some point during the attack, she awoke and fought. But her efforts to defend herself proved futile when the intruder got up and slugged her again and again with the brick, shattering her skull.  Then the shadow-man slowly moved toward the door and disappeared.

Across the hall, Aloysius slept through it all.

At 8:30, he awoke. Checking on his wife, he saw the room painted with blood and Edna with a crushed skull.  He ran onto the porch screaming, “My wife has been murdered.”

Freelance author Ruth Reynolds wrote that Edna “lay in her pink nightgown on a bloodstained bed, skull crushed, arms bruised. A building brick, wrapped in an argyle sock and a tan cloth glove of a type used by construction workers, were on the floor near the bed when detectives began their investigation.”

Immediately, suspicion fell on a paroled rapist who lived nearby. (John J. Watson, 37, should have been in prison when Edna was murdered, having been sentenced to one-to-thirty-five years for the rape of a teenaged girl. Even though the judge strongly recommended that the prisoner should serve his entire sentence, he was released four years later.)
Watson claimed he was in Milwaukee when the murder occurred, but his alibi soon crumbled. The friend who was supposed to vouch for his whereabouts was tracked down and denied Watson was with him. Watson was currently being held for yet another rape charge, so detectives were grateful that at least he wasn’t out committng more crimes.

An FBI examination of the material found in Edna’s room found sperm on the sheets. It turned out to be a very rare Type B blood, possessed by “only one-quarter of one percent of the entire U. S. population.” John J. Watson had this rare blood type. (One of his rape victims became pregnant and carried her baby to term—this baby was tested and had the same rare Type B blood.)

In the ensuing trial, the histrionics of Watson’s defense attorney Charles Beaudry caused a mistrial. While jurors were visiting the murder house, the “scene of the crime,” Beaudry walked into a private room and began banging on the walls to show that sounds carried through the house. As soon as this occurred, the judge shut down the trial.

Despite a heavy backlash from the public, prosecutors refused to go on with a second trial, asserting that they had developed new information that cast doubt on Watson's guilt. This information, however, was never released, causing reporters to question the motives of the lead prosecutor.

His parole revoked, Watson, the only suspect in Edna Mauch’s murder, was placed back in the penitentiary to serve the remainder of his 35 years sentence. Sometime before 1980 he was again released on probation. It didn't take Watson long before he raped two young women, battering each with a hammer. This time, he was once again sentenced to 35 years. 

********************* 

Fast-forward 45 years later, to 2003. AP News reported that “Lisa Hudson, a detective in Wauwatosa, reopened the case a year ago after someone told her about it. She later found Mauch’s pajamas, bedding and other evidence still wrapped and sealed in the department’s evidence room.” Semen on one of Mauch’s hairs found on her clothing was tested for genetic material.

The DNA matched the former suspect, John J. Watson, at the time 82 years old.

For several years, prosecutors debated whether to bring Watson to trial for the long-ago murder. On November 12, 2007, the case was put to rest after Watson died at age 86.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Montana Court Case Involving Self-Defense

“The sound of breaking glass…”
Written by Robert A. Waters

The following court document describes a home break-in that ended with the resident shooting an intruder in Missoula, Montana.  State of Montana vs. Dillon Torey Franklin tells the story.  (NOTE: I have taken the liberty to change the legal format into readable paragraphs.)

The Story

“On Sunday, September 15, 2013 at approximately 2:00 a.m., Detectives Stacy Lear and Arianna Adams responded to 532 N. Pattee Street in Missoula County for a report of a burglary in which the homeowner, 77-year-old Robert ‘Bob’ Withrow Jones, had shot Defendant, 22-year-old Dillon Torey Franklin.

“The detectives were briefed by officers on the scene.  Mr. Jones informed them he was sleeping when he woke up to the sound of breaking glass.  Mr. Jones began walking to the living room and heard the sound of breaking glass again.  He then went back to his bedroom where he retrieved his .357 magnum handgun.

“Mr. Jones yelled out and asked Defendant who was there and [ordered him] to stop.  Mr. Jones yelled again to the person that he had a gun and to stop.  The suspect had gained entry and Mr. Jones [once again] told the person to stop or he would shoot.  The suspect was in a standing position and continued to come into the house…

“Defendant, on notice that Mr. Jones had a gun, did not stop as instructed and took one step forward… At that time, Mr. Jones fired one shot and Defendant fell over.  Mr. Jones immediately called 911 and officers and EMS arrived.  Mr. Jones acted in self-defense and reported he was scared during the incident and felt his life was in danger.”

Aftermath

While in the hospital being treated for a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Dillon Torey Franklin, 22, admitted he was high on methamphetamine and heroin when he broke into Jones’ home.  In his clothing, investigators found drug paraphernalia and meth.  He verbally abused staff at the hospital, calling them “monsters,” among other things.

Franklin eventually pleaded guilty to one count of burglary and was given a deferred sentence of 6 years of house arrest.  The court mandated that he wear an ankle GPS monitor and alcohol monitor for his entire sentence.

Self-defense with guns

What is missing in all the talk about gun restrictions is the reality that Americans use firearms every day for self-defense.  Checking online newspapers can be a start to learning more about this positive aspect of guns.  Online, there are literally thousands of stories similar (or more harrowing) to the one mentioned above.  And these are just the cases that found their way to some local newspaper—many times, the mere threat of a gun is enough to scare off an attacker.  No shot is fired and no report made.  Carjackers, rapists, robbers, home invaders, domestic abusers, terrorists and murderers are among the violent criminals who have been stopped in their tracks by armed citizens.

Both sides of the story

When discussing gun issues, politicians tend to ignore the use of firearms for self-defense.  But unless this aspect of guns is examined fully by policy-makers and the public, no rational decision can be made.  As Paul Harvey used to say, it’s time to present the “other side of the story.”

Meanwhile, in the heartland of this exceptional country, guns are used every day to save lives.

Robert A. Waters is the author of six true crime books, four of which focus on self-defense stories.  His latest, co-written with his son, Sim Waters, is entitled, Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories ofSurvival with Firearms.     

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Who Murdered the Miami Playgirl?

Unsolved for 70 years
by Robert A. Waters

The search began about eight o’clock on the hot, clammy morning of August 22, 1951.  That was when Joe Gould, owner and manager of Gould Hotel, discovered his night-clerk had vanished.  The hotel sat in an isolated section of North Miami, Florida called Golden Shores.  In addition to twenty-three-year-old Lewana Newman, $925 in cash was missing.

The Miami News reported that “there were signs that Mrs. Newman had put up a strong fight against the early morning robber and kidnaper.  Investigators found a shoe, a belt buckle, an earring and a blood stain [in the parking lot] outside the hotel.”  Inside the hotel safe, Gould recovered $7,000 in cash and expensive jewelry that the robber missed.

Investigators from the Miami-Dade Sheriff’s department moved quickly.  Dozens of deputies searched the surrounding area as detectives began gathering information about the victim.  Lewana, they learned, had been estranged from her husband, John H. Newman.  The clerk, described as a beautiful brunette, had a six-year-old son who lived with his father and whom she visited on weekends.  Lewana worked alone at the hotel six nights a week.



Investigators slimed the victim in public, reporting that she’d had affairs with many men.  Detectives said she used a back-room office at the hotel for trysts.

Five days later, the News reported “that [Lewana’s decomposed body] was discovered today beside a lonely North Dade County farm road less than four miles from where she lived. Chief Criminal Deputy O. D. Henderson said she had been murdered by a single gunshot through the temple with a .38-caliber gun…Henderson said her kidnapers killed her on the spot.  The .38-caliber slug was recovered from the coral roadbed.”  The autopsy revealed a second bullet embedded in Lewana’s jaw.

After shooting Lewana, the killer dragged her corpse into a patch of thick woods and covered it with leaves and tree branches.  Investigators located the round that killed her after they sifted the dirt where a splotch of blood was found.  They hoped to be able to match the bullet to the murder weapon, if it was ever found.  

Detectives immediately attempted to “pin the murder” on her husband, as reported by the News.  But there was a problem.  John H. Newman had advanced stages of heart disease and severe diabetes.  His doctor informed detectives that he was physically incapable of committing the murder, but detectives pressed on.  They took a blood sample from Newman “and warned him they planned to arrest him for the murder of his wife if the blood tests bore out their suspicions.”  The next day Newman, grieving for his wife and terrified of being arrested, keeled over and died.  While detectives stated publicly that Newman committed suicide, his doctor told reporters that the “cause of death…was serious heart ailment and diabetes.”  In death, cops continued to disparage Newman, claiming he was abusive to Lewana and likely murdered her.

Eventually, detectives dropped their husband-kills-wife fantasy and turned their attentions to Lewana’s numerous lovers.  Within days, Miami-Dade deputies and FBI agents had hauled in more than 30 men, each of whom was subjected to a “lie detector” test.  All the suspects were quickly released.

Henderson informed reporters he was certain the killer was a local man who knew the area well, contending that a stranger would have trouble locating the site where Lewana’s body was found.  Investigators later told reporters that the murderer was likely looking for a nearby pig pen where he could dispose of the remains.  That way, cops reasoned, passersby wouldn’t be attracted by the odor of death, thinking it emanated from the pig sty.

Henderson continued to round up acquaintances of Lewana.  Each was given the “third degree” before being dismissed as suspects.

Months later, a “strongarm team” was arrested after kidnapping a random stranger and robbing him of $42.  Henderson told reporters that Mary L. Coleman and Warren D. Williams were “cold thugs” who had attempted to kill another man the previous day.  Coleman lived near Lewana, leading lawmen to suspect the duo may have abducted and murdered her.  However, no evidence was ever found to support that conclusion.

The case eventually stagnated.  Six years later, the Miami Herald offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer.  The newspaper emphasized that the informant could remain anonymous and still collect the reward.  Unfortunately, no one came forward and the case was never solved.

Who murdered the sexy night-clerk?  Was it a lover, an acquaintance, or some random stranger?  We’ll likely never know.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Civil War Book Review: THE DAMNEDEST SET OF FELLOWS


Review: The Damnedest Set of Fellows

Review written by Robert A. Waters
The Damnedest Set of Fellows: A History of Georgia’s Cherokee Infantry
Authors: Garry D. Fisher and Zack C. Waters
Publisher: Mercer University Press
ISBN: 978-0-88146-739-0

My brother Zack has spent 70 years researching the so-called Civil War (Southerners used to call it the War for Southern Independence).  His award-winning book, A Small but Spartan Band, described the history of the Florida Brigade during that war.  His latest, The Damnedest Set of Fellows, co-written with Garry D. Fisher, “tells the story of one of the finest artillery batteries in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.”

The Army of Tennessee’s lack of success on the battlefield was directly attributed to its incompetent generals, not the grunts who fought in the actual battles. For example, the Cherokee Infantry, formed in the area around Rome, Georgia, fought from beginning to end.  They endured more than four years of misery, loss, and heartache, yet continued the fight until the army’s surrender.  While under command, they were independent thinkers who would disobey orders if it seemed that would achieve the goal of victory.

After months of tedious training and marching, or, as the authors write, “the daily grind of soldiering,” the infantry faced its first test under fire on March 22, 1862, at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.  There the Cherokee Artillery faced off against the 16th Ohio.  The Georgia boys acquitted themselves well, and soon learned the intricacies of actual combat.

From this point on throughout the war, the infantry seemed to march from battle to battle, most of which ended disastrously for the Confederates.  Still, like true soldiers, they plodded on.  Letters back home described their hardships, including low rations, disease, and tortuous marches, with deadly combat in between.  Some of the major battles the Cherokee Infantry fought in were the 1862 Invasion of Kentucky, the Battle at Champion Hill, the Battle of Resaca, the 1864 Nashville Campaign, and the Atlanta Campaign.

For Civil War historians and genealogists, one of the major contributions of The Damnedest Set of Fellows is a complete roster listing the fate of each soldier in the Cherokee Artillery, and, if they survived the war, what occurred afterwards.  For example, consider the sad case of Solomon J. Magnus, who “enlisted March 1, 1864 at Kingston, GA.  KIA (Killed in Action) at Resaca.  Jewish soldier.  Had moved to U. S. from Germany in 1849 or 1850 and was described as a ‘brave soldier for the South.’”

If you wish to understand why we Southerners still retain a reverence for our Confederate ancestors, read this book.