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.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

"No Guns Allowed" Sign Startles Me


Trip to the Doctor
by Robert A. Waters

Today I drove my wife to a kidney specialist in the mid-sized city of Ocala, Florida.  This doctor was new to her, and after locating the place, I was surprised to see a huge “No Guns Allowed” decal on the entrance door.  My birthplace and hometown is a fairly conservative city filled with retirees, lots of transplants, and locals. (When Donald Trump ran for election in 2016, my wife and I saw literally thousands of Trump bumper stickers all over Ocala and Marion County, and exactly two Hillary Clinton bumper stickers.)

The unusual no-guns-allowed sign got me thinking: what kind of protective measures does the place have?  What if some maniac is angry enough with this doctor to come in with a gun and start blasting away?  He could kill everyone in the place within seconds.

People with concealed carry permits are the most law-abiding people on earth.  Their guns may be in holsters or in their pockets and no one ever knows.  In the church I attend, for example, out of 350-400 congregants, I personally know of 20 men and women who carry.  (There are probably more—I don’t know everyone there.)  Each Sunday, these carriers sit peacefully in their pews worshipping God.  Yet if someone were to threaten the church-goers, he would likely be met by a group of trained gun-owners.

So, sitting in the no-gun doctor’s office waiting while my wife saw the doctor, I looked around for signs of security.  I saw none.  Two clerks sat at desks signing patients in.  The waiting room had seats for about 25-30 people—a few patients sat waiting to be called.  I saw no video cameras (which are useless in stopping crimes, although helpful to cops in determining what happened after the fact) and no security guard.

I looked on my cellphone app and found the following case of an attack in a dentist’s office.

On February 19, 2019, Larry Seagroves, a permit holder, sat in the Sullivan County, Tennessee dental office of Dr. David Guy.  Several other patients were in the lobby while two clerks, including Kelly Weaver, worked behind the counter.

Suddenly, a man, later identified as Harry Weaver, entered and pointed a gun at his estranged wife, Kelly.  He fired, then aimed at the second clerk.

Seagroves explained in a court hearing what happened next.  “I got up,” he said, “spun around, and saw Mr. Weaver pointing his gun at Kelly and Sabrina, and I began firing.  I fired three times.”

Weaver went down.  Seagroves told the court that once he shot Weaver, “I looked for his gun immediately, and found it laying at my feet, and I kicked it down the hallway.”

Unfortunately, Kelly Weaver had been hit and died almost immediately.  Seagroves held Harry Weaver until deputies arrived.

Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy told reporters that the permit holder was a hero who saved many lives.  “[Seagroves] was flawless in his execution,” Cassidy said, “eliminating the threat, holding the threat down until law enforcement arrived.”

Back in the no-guns-allowed doctor’s lobby, I watched as my wife approached.  “Good news,” she said with a smile.  “Good news,” I agreed, helping her out the door.

As we drove away, I took one last glance at that large garish door decal.  I took my wife out for dinner and she told me how much she liked her new doctor.  “He’s very personable,” she said.  “We joked around a lot.  Oh yeah, he’s from Nigeria.  And he likes Diet Snapple just like I do.”

The restaurant didn’t have a no-guns-allowed sign and we had a great meal.


Please check out Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms.  Co-written with my son, Sim Waters, this book will keep you turning the pages.  It describes several accounts of concealed carry permit holders stopping deadly attacks.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Real Estate Agent Uses Gun to Survive Attack


Firearm trumps knife and bear spray
by Robert A. Waters

At 11:30 on the morning of August 4, 2019, realtor Dawna Hetzler was preparing to show a home at Aspen Hills Condominiums in Commerce City, Colorado.

Hetzler described the incident to a reporter at 9News.com.  “You train for something like that,” she said, “and you pray you never have to do it.  And then you find yourself in that situation and it’s very surreal.  If I did not have my firearm, I would not be here today…

“I was setting up for an open house and went into the place and turned on the lights.  Not too long after I got the lights on, [a man] knocked on the door.  He was asking the right questions about how long it had been on the market.  We talked about loans and what he might qualify for.”

The man, later identified as Ernest Robert Chrisman, 43, toured the kitchen and living room.  Then he asked to see the rooms upstairs.  Hetzler said, “We got into the master bedroom and he pulled a knife out and I could not believe it was happening.”

In addition to the knife, Chrisman had come armed with a can of bear spray tethered to a rope.  “He asked me to take off my ring,” she said, “and get in the closet and at that point, his intentions were deadly, in my opinion.  I have a license to conceal carry and I have the firearm and I drew my weapon.  As I drew my firearm and he saw that I had that, he doused me with bear spray.  At that point, I could…barely see.  My skin was burning, my eyes were on fire and so I fired.”

The gunshot sent Chrisman running.

Five days later, he was arrested. He had not been hit, merely frightened off by the gunfire.

On January 10, 2020, Chrisman pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

“I want to believe the best in people,” Hetzler said.  “I don’t want to think there are terrible people out there that want to harm somebody and so [my] initial thought was disbelief, that this is not happening.  I don’t expect people coming to look at homes to have bad intentions, but you prepare for any situation.”

For those who are determined to ban firearms, what would you say to Dawna Hetzler?


Robert A. Waters is co-author, with Sim Waters, of the new book, Guns and Self-Defense:23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms.