Thursday, August 11, 2022

Released Juvenile Slayer Kills Again


“The Sweetest Little Person…and a Time Bomb.”

By Robert A. Waters

 

On June 10, 1992, ninety-year-old Mary Haddon perished when a young teen bludgeoned her to death. Her quiet neighborhood on Chapel Hill Road in Durham, North Carolina was stunned by her murder. Well-known in town, she had friends in high places. With little money, Mary had talked tight-fisted bankers into financing her first home during the Depression. She paid it off quickly. She married, had a son and lived in Maine for a few years. After her husband died young, the South Carolina native relocated to Durham.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported that Mary “read poetry to relax and played a ferocious game of bridge.” Over the years, she worked hard and prospered. A philanthropist, Mary donated to (and founded) several local charities. She was so frugal that she drove a 22-year-old Oldsmobile Cutlass, its blue paint having faded over time. The car, reported the newspaper, was “an important weapon against isolation in her old age.” Barely five-feet tall, she kept herself trim and fit.

On the other hand, Gregory Devon Gibson’s grandmother once said he was “the sweetest little person…and a timebomb.” Even at the age of thirteen, she could see he was dangerous. While he impressed teachers with a high IQ and good study habits, Gibson had an inner compulsion to impress. An inveterate thief, he stole from friends, relatives, and strangers to support his habit of expensive clothes and high-end shoes. He talked tough, like a wannabe gangster, and, even in his pre-teen years, stole cars to take his companions on wild rides. Even though he compiled an impressive rap sheet, a criminal justice system that was soft on juveniles insured he would face few serious consequences.

On the night Gibson broke into Mary’s home, he intended to steal her car keys. But when the homeowner awoke and confronted him, Gibson used a hammer and garden mallet to beat her to death. Investigators found Mary’s frail body crushed and battered beyond recognition. Her mutilated face, splintered vertebrae, and shattered ribs stunned even the most hardened detective. After the murder, Gibson spent all night joyriding with his friends. They told police he showed no remorse for his crime.

Lawmen who arrested Gibson were surprised by the fact that he could not be tried as an adult. The News and Observer reported that “because Gibson was under 14, prosecutors had to try the case in juvenile court, and Gibson could only be detained until his eighteenth birthday. The case sparked outrage and legislators later lowered the age for adult prosecution to 13 for serious crimes such as rape or murder.”

Mary Haddon, who’d contributed much to her community, had been killed for the slimmest of reasons and her murderer would face no justice at all.

                                                   

 Fast-forward to August 25, 1998. Gibson had served less than five years at C. A. Dillon Training School and been released. During the two years he was out, he’d racked up arrests for larceny, assault, domestic violence, and bank robbery. Because of a lenient juvenile justice system and judges who did not see his “dangerousness,” he was still on the streets. 

Sylvester Thompson, Jr. worked as a clerk at the BP convenience store on Chapel Hill Boulevard. He seemed lonely, with few friends. On that humid summer night, Thompson stood mopping the floor when, shortly before 11 p.m., Gibson walked in. Waving a gun, he forced Thompson to walk behind the counter. When the robber demanded money, Thompson pulled out the cash register tray and placed it on the counter. Gibson scooped the cash from the drawer. Then, without warning, he raised his pistol and fired twice, striking Thompson in the face.

A customer found the clerk face-down on the floor. After viewing footage from the surveillance tape, Detective T. D. Mikels said, “The clerk offered no resistance. This was just a very cold-blooded act. That’s the only way I know to put it.”

The business owner, Woody Dunbar, informed reporters that he was distraught at the murder. “I don’t need to hire people” he said, “and then not see them the next day because they got killed working for me.” He stated that Thompson was an excellent employee who worked the night shift seven days a week. Dunbar told reporters that several packs of cigarettes and the bloody store telephone lay beside Thompson. “I have a feeling he tried to call somebody because the phone was down there,” Dunbar said.

Since he had no car, Thompson hired a cab every day to transport him to and from work. He usually arrived an hour early to chat with co-workers on the afternoon shift.

Unlike Mary Haddon, a lonely man died a lonely death and was quickly forgotten.


Gregory Devon Gibson was not forgotten. Four days after Thompson’s murder, cops arrested Gibson in a seedy motel. Many in Durham, outraged by this second murder, demanded justice. Letters to the editors of local papers cried out for the death penalty. “Released at 18 with no supervision,” editors of the News and Observer huffed, “he committed more than 20 crimes in the next two years.”

Gibson should have been in jail when he was set free to murder Thompson. The Durham Herald-Sun wrote that “Gregory Gibson should still have been serving time on an assault-on-a-female charge when the slaying occurred, jail officials said, but due to a paperwork error, he was [released and was not] returned to the jail to finish serving the five-month sentence.”

Now 20, the Durham terror sat brooding in the county jail. For weeks, North Carolina newspapers followed the workings of the legislature as they passed a new law aimed at keeping juvenile rapists and murderers locked up until they turned twenty-one.

Then, on November 13, 1998, two-and-a-half months after his final arrest, Gibson supplied reporters a shocking finale. Viewing his future in a hardcore prison, with absolutely no chance of freedom ever again, Gibson twisted a sheet into a rope and hung himself. He died before guards found him.

In the 25 years since Gibson’s crime spree, there have been other notable crimes in Durham, including that of rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong, who attempted to imprison 3 innocent lacrosse players to life in prison for a fake rape. For a while, Nifong and accuser Crystal Mangum were household names not only in Durham, but nationwide.

Gibson’s crimes have largely been forgotten. Time moves on, of course, but no governing body has developed an effective system to deal with juvenile crime. They probably never will.  

Monday, July 11, 2022

Why Does Anyone Need an AR-15?


VIDEO shows store owner using “assault weapon” to save his life

By Robert A. Waters

More firepower

Hardcore. That’s how cops described a gang of violent thieves who terrorized Milwaukee business owners for years. Bouchard’s, just one of the companies targeted, was a high-end apparel shop. Despite spending thousands of dollars to crime-proof the business, thieves continued to strike. The store once lost $10,000 in merchandise in a midnight raid. In 2012, a Bouchard’s employee suffered gunshot wounds during a daylight robbery. Even though police knew who the thieves were, they never had enough evidence to charge them.

That all changed on July 3, 2015.

Owned by Palestinian immigrant Rami Murrar, Bouchard’s had installed surveillance cameras showing every square inch of the building, inside and out. The store’s front door was constructed of numerous heavy-duty steel bars and “unbreakable” glass windows. Concrete pylons, reinforced by iron girders, guarded the front entrance. As if that wasn’t enough, employees had taken to spending nights at the store in case of a break-in.

That night, Murrar sat at the front sales counter so he could view outside. At exactly 3:55 A.M., he spotted several men shuffling down the sidewalk across the street. In the glow of streetlights, he noticed they wore dark clothing and brandished handguns. It quickly became apparent to the store owner that another robbery was going down.

Murrar kept a Smith &Wesson M&P semiautomatic pistol beside his computer. But when he saw the group outside, he knew he needed more firepower. He quickly retreated to his office and retrieved an AR-15 style weapon, a YHM (Yankee Hill Machine Company) rifle loaded with 5.56-caliber rounds. While in the back room, Murrar activated a panic button to alert police of the situation.

When he returned to the counter, things had gone from bad to worse. On the sidewalk just outside the store, a dark minivan inched toward the entrance. In the darkness, its back lights flashed crimson and suddenly, the van charged directly toward the door. A loud bang shook the building as the back end of the vehicle smashed into the pylons, knocking them to the ground. Plowing over the downed concrete barriers, the van hit the door, but not hard enough to break the glass. It moved forward, then backed up again at a high rate of speed.

This time the vehicle crushed the glass--shards spilled into the store and on the sidewalk outside. However, the door’s steel frame, although battered, held. As the van pulled away, three intruders attempted to force the steel door open. Murrar noticed again that each of the robbers carried handguns.

The store owner later recounted his feelings to a reporter. “I believed they were going to kill me,” he said. “I was scared for my life.”

Swarming the door, the group attempted to ram through the iron railings.

Murrar shouted, “Get out! What are you doing?” He later told detectives he yelled so loud he thought he was going to lose his voice. The robbers paid no mind.

Three intruders backed off and rushed the door again, slamming it with their shoulders. As one robber kicked the bottom of the door aside and ducked down to come inside, Murrar fired one round. He thought that would be enough to warn them off.

It didn’t.

They continued trying to force their way into the store. Yelling hadn’t worked, a warning shot hadn’t worked, so Murrar leveled the gun and fired 4 quick rounds at the thieves. One bullet hit a padlock, showering sparks into the air. Three other bullets found their mark.

As the assailants fled, Deshuin Byrd-McWay fell to the pavement. He staggered up, then fell again. The other thieves hopped into a waiting getaway car and raced away.

Detectives wrote in an incident report that Murrar was in shock after the shooting: “[The shop owner] stated that after he fired the gun, he observed the suspects run past the window that faces south. Murrar then started looking for his cell phone to call 911. Murrar stated that he was looking right at his cell phone but it wasn’t registering that it was in front of him. He finally realized his phone was there and called 911.”

Murrar wisely called his attorney, John S. Schiro, to sit with him during his interview with police. (In fact, a detective had initially “detained” Murrar for “recklessly endangering safety.”) But she soon realized that this was a classic case of self-defense and interviewed him as a witness.

Ghost bullet

Almost as soon as cops arrived at Bouchard’s, they received information that a man had just been admitted to Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. While several detectives hurried to the hospital, others examined the crime scene. Investigators determined that Murrar had fired five rounds. Surveillance video had captured the entire episode as it unfolded. (Murrar later released the video to reporters.)

In addition to the shots fired by Murrar, a lone “ghost bullet” had been located at the crime scene. It was an unfired .22-caliber cartridge found inside the store. Some investigators believed it may have been dropped by one of the robbers.

The store owner told detectives that as soon as the thieves turned to run, he stopped firing. Again, video confirmed his account.

On the street in front of Bouchard’s, cops discovered an abandoned Chrysler Town and Country minivan. It was still running. Cops learned that it had been stolen shortly before the attempted robbery. Unfortunately, little evidence was found to identify the criminals who took it.

Six years in prison and seven years’ probation

At the hospital, Byrd-McWay lay in serious condition. He’d been shot in the right shoulder, left elbow, right hip and left hip. He was soon transferred to Froedtirt Hospital where he underwent surgery. After spending several days in ICU, the robber recovered enough to be moved to the county jail.

Two suspected members of the crime ring had taken Byrd-McWay to the hospital. However, none of the men would speak to police. There was little incriminating evidence at the crime scene, so no one except Byrd-McWay was charged. While he was in jail awaiting trial, however, recordings emerged of his conversations with a girlfriend. Byrd-McWay admitted to being one of the robbers and told his friend he initially thought he would die from his wounds. In language splattered with expletives and vile racist terminology, he showed he had no remorse whatsoever for what he’d done.

Byrd-McWay pleaded guilty to one count each of burglary and criminal damage to property. Court documents state that “on count one, the circuit court imposed an eleven year sentence, with six years of initial confinement followed by five years of extended supervision. On count two, the court imposed a concurrent two-year sentence, with one year each of initial confinement and extended supervision. Byrd-McWay was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $14,337.16.”

He has served most of his sentence and will be released soon. 

Rami Murrar was cleared of any wrongdoing

Murrar made several statements to the Milwaukee media. He told reporters that “there was a lot of guys out there, so I believe if they would have gotten through that door, I would’ve been dead, so that’s the reason I reached for my gun. I came here to make my living, not to have a shootout or shoot at somebody.”

His lawyer summed it up. Schiro said, “This was pretty clearly an exercise in self-defense and implementing the new Castle Doctrine which says, ‘You don’t have to let people break into your business.’”

Rami Murrar was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.

In a final footnote to the case, Bouchard’s published the following Instagram post:

“JUST TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT, WE GO TO WORK TO MAKE OUR LIVING AND FEED OUR FAMILIES NOT TO HAVE SHOOTOUTS…DON’T COME TO OUR ESTABLISHMENT WITH GUNS OR TRY BREAKING IN OUR STORES AND EXPECT LESS THAT US DEFENDING OURSELVES AND IF THIS IS WHAT IT’S GONNA TAKE THEN LET IT BE, WE WILL PROTECT OUR BUSINESS AND EMPLOYEES AT ANY COST.

The video also shows the perfect example of dumb criminals. These are the steps:

 Steal a van

 Crash the stolen van into a store and make all of that loud noise when it’s quiet at night.

Don’t expect anyone to be monitoring or securing they’re (sic) small business.

GET SHOT

GET ARRESTED.

Leave with nothing

WE LOVE MILWUAKEE, WE HAVE BEEN IN THE MARKET SINCE 1988 AND WE WILL ALWAYS BE AROUND.”

The author used police reports, court documents, and media accounts to write this story. I have researched self-defense stories for nearly three decades. Please check out my latest book, Guns and Self-Defense, written with my son, Sim Waters. You'll find many more accounts of gun owners defending themselves from ruthless robbers, rapists, home invaders, and violent predators of all stripes. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Would Rick Monday be a Hero in Today's Woke World?


The Flag that Wouldn't Burn

By Robert A. Waters

It was just another afternoon in April, just another spring day and another baseball game. The Chicago Cubs, losers extraordinaire for decades, faced the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine stadium. Back in 1976, most games were played in the afternoon, and few were televised. Vin Scully, the famous Dodger radio announcer, called the game that day. The only drama should have been whether the inept Cubs would pull out a victory over the powerhouse team in the west (they didn’t). But this game would make baseball history in another way.

Rick Monday, centerfielder for the Cubs, had been Major League baseball’s first “bonus baby” after a sterling career at Arizona State University. Born in Arkansas and raised in California, Monday served six years in the United States Marine Corps Reserves while playing. He had lost friends in the Vietnam War and visited hospitals where he cried with “torn-up” soldiers and their families.

On this day, a slight breeze rustled in the outfield, something unusual for Dodger Stadium. At the bottom of the 4th inning, Cub pitcher Ken Crosby would face Ted Sizemore. In the outfield, during the break between innings, Monday and left-fielder Jose Cardenal warmed up by throwing the ball to each other.

Monday later recalled, “I don’t know if I heard the crowd first or saw the guys first.” (There were two, an adult and a young teen, and they had jumped over the left field fence and ran onto the field.) Both had longish, scruffy black hair—one was shorter than the other. At first, Monday thought they may be drunk. Or maybe they had run out on a dare. But then an awareness of what was actually occurring burned into him.

“When these two guys ran on the field,” Monday said, “something wasn’t right. And it wasn’t right from the standpoint that one of them had something cradled under his arm. It turned out to be an American flag. They came from the left field corner, then went past Cardenal to shallow left-center field.

“That’s when I saw the flag. They unfurled it as if it was a picnic blanket. They knelt beside it, not to pay homage but to harm it as one of the guys was pulling out of his pocket somewhere a big can of lighter fluid. He began to douse it.”

In the announcer’s booth, Scully cried, “Wait a minute, there’s an animal loose…two of them…all right…I’m not sure what he’s doing out there…it looks like he’s going to burn a flag…”

Monday continued, “So I started to run after them. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what was running through my mind except I was mad. I was angry and it was wrong for a lot of reasons.”

More than 26,000 spectators witnessed the drama unfolding on the field. William Errol Thomas struck a match, but the breeze quickly blew it out. As he lit another, Monday jogged past him, reached down and grabbed the flag. Without looking back, he trotted toward the dugouts. In frustration, one of the wannabe flag burners threw the can of lighter fluid at Monday. Reaching the Dodger dugout, he handed the flag to Dodger pitcher Doug Rau.

Scully exclaimed, “…Rick Monday runs and takes [the flag] away from him. I think the guy was going to set fire to the American flag. Can you imagine that?”

Suddenly, the crowd began to cheer. Then, as Monday recalled, “Everybody in the stands started singing ‘God Bless America.’ I was stunned. I stood there and got chills.”

Security officers quickly arrested Thomas and his teenaged son. The father was later sentenced to 3 days in jail or a fine of $60. His son was never charged. Thomas spent three days in jail, then was released and vanished into the mists of history. Some writers speculated that Thomas was native American and was protesting the history of Indian “persecution.” Others wrote that his wife had been locked in a mental institution against her will, and Thomas hoped to bring attention to that alleged injustice.

James Roark, a photographer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, was later nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his picture of Monday sprinting away with the flag.

Since the game had not been televised, it was thought that no video existed of the incident. Then, eight years later, a Super 8 film showing the whole event surfaced. (A fan, whose name I haven’t been able to locate, had taped it.)

Today, Monday is more recognizable for this incident than for his excellent 19-year baseball career. The flag was given to him as a keepsake. He once said he’d been offered a million dollars for it, but it is not for sale. The former Cub later played for the Dodgers and became an announcer for the LA team. He now lives with his wife in Vero Beach, Florida. After his home was damaged by a hurricane, Monday moved the flag to a safety deposit box.

 

NOTE: The sad tale of James Roark, the man who took the famous photograph of Monday sprinting away with the undamaged flag, is a story in itself. The Examiner folded soon after this incident and Roark was never the same. He began drinking and wandered about the country for several years. He landed jobs in various restaurants, sometimes as a dishwasher, other times as a cook, but lost most because of his alcoholism. One night in Portland, Oregon, as he left Poor Richard's Restaurant to take the bus home from work, he was robbed by four thugs who beat him to death. Roark was 49. The killers got less than $2.00 and a bus ticket.


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Law-abiding Citizen Uses Gun to Save Innocent Lives


Excerpt from the Preface of Guns and Self-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms

By Robert A. Waters and Sim Waters

On June 2, 2017, in Ada, Oklahoma, David Cash Freeman ended a sadistic rampage, saving the lives of a mother and her infant twins. A young family man, Freeman had just returned home for lunch when a hysterical twelve-year-old girl began banging on his front door. She screamed that her aunt’s former fiancĂ©, Leland Michael Foster, was killing her whole family. Freeman grabbed his pistol and followed the girl next door.

As they entered the dwelling, he heard piercing screams coming from the back of the house. Freeman followed the sounds to the bathroom, but he couldn’t get inside because the door was partially shut and blocked by a heavy-set attacker. A quick peek through the door revealed Foster sitting on top of Freeman’s neighbor, Michelle Sorrells. The assailant held a twelve-inch knife to Sorrells’s throat with one hand, while, with his other hand, he attempted to drown one of the couple’s one-year-old twins.

The water from the faucet had filled the bathtub and still ran, sloshing over onto the floor. Freeman screamed at Foster, demanding that he stop his assault. He attempted to enter the room, but try as he might, Freeman couldn’t push the bathroom door open.

The horrified neighbor watched through the narrow opening as Foster held one child under the water, while the second child floated beneath the surface. Adding to the pandemonium, shrieks from Sorrells and her niece rang through the house.

Unable to physically intervene, Freeman aimed his pistol through the opening and fired three shots. Foster, hit each time, slumped to the floor. By the time officers from the Ada Police Department arrived, they found the attacker dead. They broke down the bathroom door and rescued Sorrells.

Officers then pulled one infant, choking and coughing but still alive, from the water. The other child was not breathing. EMTs arrived and began CPR measures on the lifeless toddler, eventually managing to revive her.

The twins were taken to Mercy Hospital in Ada where doctors discovered that in addition to pleural effusion, each had a fractured skull. After several months of treatment, the children recovered.

Sorrells had been savagely beaten, suffering three compression fractures to her lower back. She later endured several painful surgeries to repair damage to her spine. She also had a fractured foot and numerous cuts, bruises, and abrasions. Due to the assault, psychiatrists diagnosed Sorrells with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Investigators learned that Sorrells had recently broken up with Foster after a previous violent attack.

NOTE: Freeman was not charged with any crime. Although he had saved the lives of three individuals and was hailed by local citizens as a hero, the story received little press coverage outside Oklahoma. 

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense with co-author Sim Waters. For 25 years, Waters has researched defensive shootings. He has penned four books describing in detail many of those cases. In addition, he has chronicled numerous self-defense stories in his blog. 


Sunday, May 29, 2022

Wheelchairs and Bullets: Or How the Weak Survive Predators

True Stories of Victims Fighting Back

By Robert A. Waters

Open carry…

Maybe this first case doesn’t fit neatly into my title. Carolann Miracle wasn’t handicapped or weak, but she was only four feet, eleven inches tall and weighed just eighty-nine pounds. Such a tiny woman should be easy prey, at least that’s what Frank Taylor thought. But if he’d had any awareness about him, he might have noticed the butt of a handgun protruding from a holster on Carolann’s hip. Because Arizona, where this incident occurred, is an open carry state. The young woman was leaving a Circle K convenience store with her family when Taylor approached. He asked her for a cigarette, but Carolann said she didn’t have any. She later told reporters that he then “put [a] gun to my neck and said, ‘It’s loaded.’”

“I dropped my soda,” she recounted, “released my gun from my holster and cocked it. I shot him and ran in the opposite direction.” The hapless Taylor dropped like a stone to the pavement and bled to death. Carolann made it home, then called the cops. Since she’d legitimately feared for her life, she was not charged with any crime.

“Don’t shoot me again…”

Sixty-six-year-old Rosa Myles knelt in her bedroom saying her nightly prayers. The Flint, Michigan grandma mostly kept to herself, never bothering anyone. Disabled, she could barely get around even when she used her walker. Before going to bed, she heard a noise near the back of her house and decided to check it out.

As she scuffed her walker through the dark house, a man suddenly grabbed her. Dominique Carter had cut a window screen to enter the residence. Now he placed his knife against Rosa’s throat. Pushing and shoving his disabled victim, the bully realized she couldn’t put up a fight. Carter demanded money and jewelry, and Rosa informed him there was cash in the bedroom. Carter rushed down the hallway looking for a big payday. Rosa, rattling through the house behind her walker, followed.

Her son had recently given her a handgun for protection. It sat in a locked gun-case at the foot of her bed. Entering the room, Rosa grabbed the case and asked the intruder if she could use the restroom. Distracted as he searched for money, he nodded. Rosa, quaking with fear, had some trouble unlocking the case, but finally succeeded. She later said, “There were so many things going through my mind. I knew he was going to kill me.”

That wouldn’t happen. When Carter turned to face the disabled woman, she fired a .38-caliber bullet into his chest. Lying on the floor, the formerly tough assailant begged his victim not to shoot him again. She responded, “You just came into my home and tortured me. You don’t tell me what to do.” With that, she placed another round in his shoulder. Carter survived, and spent a few years in the penitentiary. Rosa was never charged with any crime—in fact, she was praised throughout her crime-ridden community for her bravery.

Wheelchairs and Bullets

At 2:15 a.m., Bryan Dyer lay on the floor of a stranger’s Johnstown, Ohio residence, struggling to breathe. He’d just been shot by a paraplegic he considered to be an easy target.

A year before, John Mutter’s life had changed for the worse. On his way to work, he’d barely survived an automobile crash that left him a paraplegic. A broken spine caused constant pain, and he was forced to use a wheelchair to get around. Even worse, he had learned that he would be evicted from his home the following week. Then, as if things couldn’t get more dire, he awoke to a stranger prodding him awake with a shotgun. While Mutter slept on the living room sofa, Dyer had rummaged through the house and collected $50, several bottles of prescription drugs, and the gun he now held.

But he wanted more. With Mutter now fully awake, Dyer said, “I have some of your property.” He then demanded to know where other guns were located. Mutter pointed to the corner of the living room. As Dyer turned, the handicapped resident pulled a .357 Magnum from the sofa and fired three times. Two rounds struck the robber in the chest. Within minutes, he had taken his final breath.

Mutter was not charged. Sure, he had few possessions and a whole lot of pain, but at least his gun had insured that he still had his life.

Third time is not a charm…

Criminals often think elderly persons are easy pickings. Earl Jones, a ninety-two-year-old World War II veteran from Boone County, Kentucky, had recently been burglarized twice. So, when he heard a loud bang coming from his basement at two in the morning, he suspected the predators were back.

Jones grabbed his .22-caliber rifle, loaded it, and waited. Within minutes, he heard three loud kicks to the door that leads from the basement to the living room. The third kick almost knocked the door off its hinges. As soon as Lloyd Adam Maxwell popped up in the doorway, Jones aimed and fired. Hit in the chest, the intruder went down. Dead. Two accomplices were later captured, convicted and sent to prison.

Earl Jones, surprised reporters when he told them how he really felt about the incident. “These people aren’t worth any more to me than a groundhog. They have our country in havoc…I was hoping another one would come up. I aimed right for [Maxwell’s] heart.” He later said, “That man was hunting me. I didn’t go to war for nothing. I have the right to carry a gun.”

Robert A. Waters is the author of Guns and Self-Defense with co-author Sim Waters. For 25 years, Waters has researched righteous defensive shootings. He has penned four books describing in detail many of those cases. In addition, he has chronicled numerous self-defense stories in his blog. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Overdue Execution of Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr.


After more than 40 years, Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr. may finally die for his crimes. Last-minute appeals have once again stopped the execution of this child-killer and rapist, but time seems to be running out.  WARNING: This court document is graphic. It contains descriptions of two young girls being brutally violated. 

Supreme Court of Georgia.

Argued November 17, 1977.

Decided March 28, 1978.

This is a death penalty case. Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr., was convicted by the jury of four crimes against two girls, aged eight and ten years old. He was convicted of kidnapping and murdering the younger child, and of kidnapping and raping the older child. The jury found that the murder of the younger child was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of the kidnapping with bodily injury of the older child, that the kidnapping with bodily injury of the older child was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of the murder of the younger child. The jury imposed the penalty of death for the murder of the younger child, the kidnapping with bodily injury of the older child, and the rape of the older child. The defendant was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the kidnapping of the younger child.

There was evidence from which the jury was authorized to find the following facts: The defendant was seen the day before the crimes by a lady who was picking up her children from school. He was returning to his blue car which was parked a short distance away from the school. At trial the defendant took the stand and explained that he had walked to the wooded area across from the school where he watched the little girls through binoculars while he played with himself. He testified that he had frequently visited adult bookstores and movies, and that he was reading a book entitled "He Warmed Her Young Body." He returned the next day, the day of the crimes, and saw two little girls walk from the school down a road beside the woods. The defendant was again seen by the same lady who had observed him the day before. The defendant testified that he had driven to the wooded area near the school where he again watched the little girls. He had brought a sleeping bag, a rug, a jar of lubricant and rope. He waited for the two children, one of whom he said reminded him of the girl in his book. The girls entered the wooded area on a path which led to their homes on the other side, a distance of less than five hundred yards. The older child was ten years old, the younger child was eight. The defendant grabbed them from behind, covered their mouths with his hand and told them he would use the gun in his pocket if they did not do as told. He tied them but then untied them and took them to his car and drove away with them.

The mother of the younger child became concerned and drove to the school. Finding the lights out in her daughter's schoolroom, she walked the path through the wooded area. On the trail she found school books in which the older child's name had been written. She contacted the school principal, her husband, and the police. With neighbors and volunteers the parents of the two children continued searching for them.

After stopping for gasoline at a self-service station, the defendant drove to an unpopulated wooded area. He testified that on the way and while he was driving, he had the older child place his sex organ in her mouth. At the secluded area, he took a blue rug and jar of lubricant from the car trunk and went into the wooded area with the children. He had the children to remove their clothing and caused the older child to lie on the rug. He testified that he then removed his clothes and penetrated the older child. When he stopped, she was bleeding. Her vagina was torn and required surgery for repair. He let the children dress. The older child was slower, so he took the younger child back toward the car first.

Along the way the younger child ran away from the trail. He chased her across a narrow, shallow creek. In his taped confession he said, "Well, when we got down to the creek, I really don't know why, but I just pushed her down into the creek and held her there. Well, she was kicking and trying to get out but I just held her there until she stopped kicking. Well, I figured she was dead and for some reason I didn't want to leave her in the creek and that is the reason I carried her out of the creek and layed (sic) her down." At trial the defendant testified that he accidentally fell on top of the fallen younger child who was still gasping for air as he pulled her to the creek bank and departed. The autopsy indicated that the cause of her death was drowning.

The defendant returned to the older child and took her towards a nearby section of the creek where he again had her place his sex organ in her mouth. Next the defendant put the older child in the trunk of his car. 

After driving some distance, a tire on the defendant's car lost air pressure. He left the older child in another wooded area near a service station and drove to his mother's residence to the repair the tire. The child found help at the service station. She told police that the man was driving a blue car and had tire trouble. The defendant was found by police installing a tire on his car.

During the course of his testimony at trial the defendant admitted acts showing commission of each of the crimes (except the murder) for which he was convicted. (In his confession to police he admitted facts showing murder.) He testified that because the children did not protest, he did not believe at the time of the crimes that his acts were wrong. The court's expert witness, who had supervised a court-ordered psychiatric examination of the defendant, testified that he had no reason to believe that the defendant did not know right from wrong.

The jury found the defendant guilty of kidnapping and the murdering the younger child and of kidnapping with bodily injury and raping the other child. The prosecutor sought and obtained three death penalties.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Roswell Exiles

The Day General Sherman Kidnapped Hundreds of Georgia Women

Written by Robert A. Waters

Had the Confederate States of America won the Civil War, General William T. Sherman would have been executed as a war criminal. God knows he deserved the noose. After committing innumerable atrocities against Southern civilians, he led the Union army’s forcible removal of Native Americans from their lands, murdering thousands of Indian women and children. This is the story of one of Sherman’s many needless barbarities against innocent Southern women.

Mary Deborah Petite, in her book, The Women Will Howl: The Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers, writes: “In July 1864, Union General William T. Sherman ordered the arrest and deportation of hundreds of women and children who worked in the cotton mills in Roswell, Georgia. Torn from their homes and transported hundreds of miles away to Northern soil, these helpless victims were forced to fend for themselves in towns overrun by refugees where food was scarce and jobs were few. These women and children were not war criminals nor did they pose a serious threat to the Union army. Nevertheless, they were charged with treason for working in mills that supplied cloth for the Confederate government, jobs which provided their only means of support.”

None of the women owned slaves. Far from it. They barely survived on the meager wages they earned working 14 hours a day six days a week. They weren’t even paid in real money, but scrip that had to be cashed in at the company store. Caught up in a war they did not make, the mill women did what they needed to do to survive.

Roswell King, a Connecticut Yankee, was a businessman and slaveholder. In addition to having hundreds of black slaves to look after his many land holdings, he hired about four hundred employees, mostly white women, to work in his cotton mill, the Roswell Manufacturing Company. He became wealthy producing wool and selling it to northern merchants. King built a “colony” around his factory which he named Roswell. There he enjoyed a good life. (Many slave-owners living in Roswell were northern friends of Roswell King whom he had persuaded to move south.)  

Petite writes that “although far removed from the early battles, the Roswell…mills made a significant contribution to the Confederate war effort by supplying the Rebel armies with sheeting, tent cloth, rope and wool for uniforms.”

As he invaded Georgia, Petite writes that Sherman concluded “it was time to bring the full burden of the war to those who wore neither uniforms nor shouldered guns: the women, the children, the old men, the young boys, the sick and infirm. Although strict orders forbade unauthorized pillaging and plundering, many unarmed defenseless women, young and old, rich and poor, plantation mistress and millworker alike, would suffer cruelly at the hands of Yankee invaders.” Documents from the Union army reveal that hundreds of Southern women were raped by soldiers in the Union army. (There were more than 350 trials of Northern soldiers for rape.) This was likely only the tip of a massive iceberg as many women understood that reporting a rape would likely not be taken seriously by an invading army. Also, rape at the time was seen as a shameful thing, so few women spoke publicly of being sexually assaulted. Black women of the South, some former slaves, some free, were also raped with impunity by Union soldiers.

On July 6, 1864, with many of the Roswell elite having fled to safer climes, Brigadier General Kenner Garrard arrived with his Army of the Cumberland. The next day he sent a detailed report to General Sherman explaining that “Roswell is a very pretty factory town of about four thousand inhabitants…” Nevertheless, Garrard burnt the Roswell Manufacturing Company and other mills to the ground. Hundreds of female employees stood in stunned silence, watching their livelihood crinkle into ashes and rise with black smoke into the sky. Nearby New Manchester also had its factories burned to the ground.

But the worst was yet to come.

On July 7, Sherman sent the following note to Garrard: “I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, whence I will send them by car to the North…”

The day before the women were to be sent to Marietta, Garrard doled out whiskey to the troops so they could celebrate the burning of the mills. As the Union soldiers drank, they became rowdy, leading to numerous attacks on the mill women. After a day of pillage and rape, the crimes were hushed up by authorities and the assaults never officially acknowledged.

Adeline Buice, six months pregnant with her fifth child, was one of those employees who watched the Roswell Manufacturing Company mill burn. Nine-year-old Synthia Catherine Stewart, stood with her mother as the world caved in on her. Another child, Lucinda Wood, watched the mill go up in flames.

More than 400 women--possibly as many as 1,000--and the few men who worked as supervisors were loaded on to 50 wagons and transported to Marietta, about thirty miles away. (Some women brought their children or infirm parents.) There they were forced into baggage cars for the trip north. Some died en route. Pregnant women had miscarriages, young children deprived of proper care perished, and elderly women and men passed away.

The train stopped briefly in Nashville, then chugged on to Louisville, Kentucky. At least 170 women were dropped off there. Others landed in Indiana. Petite writes: “Put ashore at Evansville, New Albany, and Jeffersonville without food, money or provisions, the mill workers found themselves at the mercy of the local citizens who were ill-equipped to handle the arrival of hundreds of impoverished refugees.”

In Louisville, a “refugee committee” attempted to help the Southern women, but had little monetary backing from locals. Many of the mill workers stayed in barracks, suffering from wounds, illness and “depression.” Some died, and a group of children were alleged to have been taken by a religious order in Bardstown and never seen again. Eventually, some of the women obtained jobs at factories in Louisville. Others married local men, but most disappeared into the mists of history.

When Northern newspaper editors learned of Sherman’s scheme to ship hundreds of refugees to random cities above the Mason-Dixon Line, they howled in disbelief. The Louisville Daily Journal likely spoke for most Kentuckians when it questioned the reasoning behind the move: “Why they should be sent here to be transferred north is more than we can understand.”

The Cincinnati Daily Commercial wryly noted that the capture of hundreds of mill women was “certainly a novel one in the history of wars…” The Harrisburg Patriot and Union in Pennsylvania opined that “it is hardly conceivable that an officer (i.e., General Sherman) bearing commission of Major General should have so far forgotten the commonest dictates of decency and humanity…as to drive four hundred penniless girls hundreds of miles away from their homes and friends to seek their livelihood amid strange and hostile people.”

The other cities encountered the same problems as Louisville. Sickness and death followed, although some were able to obtain jobs at local factories and others married. Most drifted into anonymity.

For those who were determined to return home after the war ended, it would be a harrowing trip.

Lucinda Wood and her sisters encountered tragedy as they rode the train to Louisville when their mother and grandmother died. Since their father had perished the year before, they were left as orphans. They remained at the refugee hospital until they found work in a factory. Lucinda was a pretty girl and it didn’t take long for James Shelly to come calling. The two married in 1866 and later moved to Illinois. The Yankee weather did not suit her and Lucinda became deathly ill. She and her husband decided to move to Georgia, thinking the more favorable climate would be good for her.

In 1886, now with eight children and another on the way, Lucinda and James loaded up a wagon and headed south. They traveled during the day and slept at night under the stars, or beneath the wagon if it was raining. Twelve days later, they were in Kentucky. They kept moving south. Once they reached Tennessee, the hills and mountains slowed them down. By now, they were traveling only about 15 miles a day. Finally, nearly three months later, they reached Jasper, Georgia where Lucinda’s uncle lived. There they settled down and raised their children. The tragic trip north always weighed on her mind, and she often told the story.

Adeline Buice ended up in Chicago. She had her baby there, then miraculously met up with her husband who happened to be a prisoner of war in a nearby camp. She had taken her four  children with her, and after the war, the family walked home to Georgia. She lived a long life, dying in 1910.

Synthia Catherine Stewart made the trip north with her mother and siblings. They ended up in Louisville where they survived in a “refugee house” until her mother found work in a factory. After the war, her father, Walter Washington Stewart, was released from a Yankee prison camp. Learning that his wife and children had been sent to Louisville, he traveled there and found them. Walter worked at a tanning factory just long enough to save enough money for his family to return home. Synthia later married and lived to be 94. Near the end of her life, she related her experiences on tape.

Karma sometimes misses its mark. After the Civil War, General Sherman went on to lead the Union army in exterminating the Indian nation. He later wrote a slobbery memoir and is now one of the most famous Union generals. He became a hero to Northern schoolboys, although he was a hated man to most Southerners for 150 years.

 

The Women Will Howl is at once a historical account of Roswell, Georgia and defining work on the singular war crime Sherman committed against hundreds of innocent women and children.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

ShadowMan: A Killer Stalks the Hinterlands

Review of ShadowMan: An Elusive Psycho Killer and the Birth of FBI Profiling by Ron Franscell

Review written by Robert A. Waters

 

“The breeze. It wasn’t right.

Heidi Jaeger was only twelve years old but she knew the wind didn’t blow inside a tent.”

So begins a new chiller by veteran author Ron Franscell.

The Jaeger family had been camping in Montana when Heidi began screaming that her seven-year-old sister, Susie, was missing. A hole had been cut in the canvas tent and someone had kidnapped the girl. In the shadow of darkness, the child had vanished.

Local lawmen, joined by the FBI, spent weeks scouring the barren countryside for clues but came up empty. The Jaegers eventually returned to their home in Michigan and waited for news, any news, about what happened to their beloved daughter. Then, on the first anniversary of the child’s disappearance, they received a telephone call from the killer.

As the weeks and months rolled by, Special Agent Pete Dunbar became frustrated with the lack progress. Nearly a year later, while attending a conference at Quantico, Dunbar heard about a new “tool” for solving murders. Criminal Profiling. In fact, it was so new that it had never even been used. But with no leads in the Jaeger case, Dunbar decided to take a chance. He contacted Howard Teten and Patrick Mullany, hoping to get something he could work with.

In the past 30 years, criminal profiling has become a standard part of murder investigations. But at its inception, even the pioneers of the procedure were unsure of its applicability to murder inquiries. ShadowMan takes the reader into the first case to successfully use profiling as part of the FBI’s investigative arsenal.

The author interviewed those early profilers and got a step-by-step description of the involvement of each. In the end, they set their sights on a shifty, intelligent yet morally bankrupt killer of little girls, young boys, and adults. David Meirhofer would eventually confess to murdering four innocents: a seven-year-old girl, a sixth grade-boy, a teenage boy, and a young woman. His spooky confession to all those murders is recorded in the book.

But Franscell takes the art of penmanship higher than most true crime writers. Establishing place, backstory, and character is his expertise.

Here are a few examples:

“Here at the numb bottom of winter, the terrain was half-dead, half-alive. It was all dirt and sagebrush, with just enough grass to keep a small herd of cows alive.”

“[Searchers] knocked on doors, belly-wriggled into crawl spaces, poked their heads into outhouses and well houses, and clambered into cobwebby attics.”

“The bones must have been crushed somehow and scattered across the homestead, where they could be hidden in plain sight.”

“Around here, elections were won and lost on back-fence gossip.”

If you’re looking for a better-than-usual true crime read, this is your book.



Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Strange Child-Killer of Fort Lauderdale

“He fell to the ground but was still breathing...”

Written by Robert A. Waters

For some reason, this tragic story has eluded true crime sleuths of the internet. But the tale should be told, this remembrance of a truly senseless crime that rocked south Florida, this murder that had devastating long-lasting effects on an innocent family, this crime that vanished from the headlines almost as rapidly as it appeared.


On September 4, 1979, the following blurb appeared in the Miami Herald: “A 64-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman leaped to her death Monday from her ninth-floor apartment at the Venetian Condominiums, One Las Olas Circle. Maxine B. Folwell was killed immediately after plunging from the balcony of her apartment at 12:49 p.m., according to police reports. Folwell left behind a suicide note in which she said she was sorry for her actions, but was too despondent to live.”

The years of gnawing, unrequited pain for her murdered son had finally caught up with Maxine.

 

By 1950, modern air conditioning had begun to generate a decades-long population shift from northern climes to Florida. Like others, the family of Roger Folwell, Sr. purchased a home and fled the ice of Long Island for the Sunshine State.

The household consisted of Roger, his wife Maxine, and two children, ten-year-old Roger, Jr., and daughter Susan, 11. Roger, Sr.  had retired from a storied career as a pilot for Pan American Airlines—Maxine had been an airline stewardess for Pan Am. The Miami News reported that they had moved into their “swank island home” on Pelican Island in Fort Lauderdale. Their son quickly made friends with many local children and adults. Roger attended Eastside Elementary School, where he was an honor student, and received awards for never missing Sunday School at the local Presbyterian Church.

On Wednesday afternoon, December 6, 1950, the precocious youngster rode his maroon-colored bicycle through the neighborhood. Soon he crossed the Pelican Island bridge that connected Sea Island. At the foot of the bridge, Roger met thirty-three-year-old Robert William Nelson. The Fort Lauderdale News described the meeting place as a “desolate, uncleared island, just two fingers of land near the boy’s home.”

Unable to read or write anything except his name, Nelson lugged a knapsack bulging with newspapers. The wild-eyed, unkempt street salesman looked like a bogey-man, but Roger, ever friendly and curious, engaged him in conversation.

 

At 6:30 p.m., Roger’s father called the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and reported his son missing. The family had been searching for nearly two hours and told detectives they could find no trace of the boy.

Construction workers informed police they saw the boy ride over the bridge to Sea Island but never saw him return. In addition to police, other searchers included firemen, Coast Guard auxiliary members, boy scouts, American Legionnaires, and local citizens. Cops dragged canals and shut Sea Island down. Investigators stormed the island, interrogating everyone, but learning little.

After 48 hours, a detective stumbled on Robert’s bicycle, then noticed a foot protruding from a pine thicket near the bridge. Roger Folwell’s body had been found. His killer had dragged the corpse away from the road and covered it with pine straw and tree limbs. An autopsy revealed 14 deep wounds to his head and additional injuries to his body—Roger had been bludgeoned to death. In fact, nearly every bone in his body had been broken. The coroner informed reporters that the child had likely been killed shortly after he vanished. He found no signs of sexual assault.

The senselessness of the crime shook South Florida.

Police dragged waterways and canals searching for the murder weapon, thought to be a claw hammer. They checked out hundreds of “perverts” who resided in and around Fort Lauderdale. Detectives set up an “assembly line” of polygraph machines in a gymnasium so they would not be overwhelmed by the numbers of people they hooked up to the contraptions. Cops used two military high-energy magnets to scour nearby canals for the hammer. Roger’s parents offered a reward of $1,000. Local citizens, police, and the city of Fort Lauderdale donated funds and the reward eventually grew to $8,000.

Roger and Maxine were overwhelmed with grief. The two could barely function, and when they did, an underlying sadness hung over the couple. In later years, they donated much time and money to local charities, possibly in an attempt to offset the evil they saw in the world. 

Throughout the year of 1951, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department spent thousands of man hours trying to find the killer. But it would take the Hollywood, Florida Police Department to finally connect a local child molester to the savage murder of Roger.

 

A few days after killing Roger Folwell, Robert William Nelson was arrested in Hollywood for “indecent, immoral and lewd conduct” in the presence of a minor. Convicted, he spent 30 days in the lockup before being released.

Nelson’s fetish for young girls caused him to be arrested time and again. Newspapers later described him as being “borderline retarded.” His sister told reporters that he’d been in a car crash when he was six-years-old and the injuries he’d suffered from that wreck had stunted his mental growth. Another New York transplant, his parents had moved to Florida after the accident thinking it would improve their son’s health.

In December of 1951, a year after the murder of Roger Folwell, Nelson was back to his old tricks. Detectives caught him red-handed molesting a 14-year-old girl in the same theater where he’d previously been arrested. When Nelson informed Hollywood Police detective Roy Longbottom that he’d once had a “fight” with a young boy on Sea Island, he suspected Nelson may have been the killer of Roger Folwell and notified Fort Lauderdale police. During the subsequent interrogation, the suspect readily admitted to killing Roger. Once the floodgates opened, Nelson made a detailed confession and led cops to the spot where the boy’s body had been found.   

He told detectives he met Roger near the Pelican Island Bridge. Spotting the bag of newspapers, Roger informed Nelson he would like go into the business. Nelson advised Roger that there was “no money in newspaper work.” Then, hoping to sell his parents a paper, he asked the boy where they lived.

Roger pointed to Pelican Island and told Nelson the address. For some reason, the answer enraged Nelson. He accused Roger of lying, then shoved him off his bicycle. Before the boy could escape, Nelson pulled “the handle of a heavy hammer” from his pocket and began to pummel Roger. He said he couldn’t remember if the hammer head was attached.

“[Roger] fell to the ground but was still breathing,” Nelson said.

He stated that he continued to beat the boy until he was sure Roger was dead. Then he hid the body and bicycle and walked away as if nothing had happened.

Nelson, locked away in the Brevard County jail, spoke freely to reporters and clergymen. His story was always the same: he killed the boy because he believed Roger had lied to him.

Because of his mental disability, Nelson escaped Old Sparky, Florida’s dreaded electric chair. On November 2, 1951, circuit judge Lamar Warren issued an order to commit Nelson to the Chattahoochee state mental hospital in Tallahassee. This ruling came after a competency hearing in which the state attorney’s office and Nelson’s defense attorney agreed the killer's mental age was that of a child between “six to nine years old.”

 

The Folwell family continued to live in Fort Lauderdale for many years. Roger Folwell, Sr. owned a business flying customers to Bimini and back. Maxine was occasionally seen in the news hosting social events around town.

Their daughter, Susan, married a local businessman and continued to reside in Fort Lauderdale.

Roger Folwell, Sr. died in 1969 at age 54 and Maxine took her own life at age 64.

The sad fact is that Robert William Nelson murdered two people, not one.

After Maxine’s death, the Fort Lauderdale News attempted to locate Nelson, but Chattahoochee’s staff claimed he was no longer a patient. They thought he’d been released years before. The News never tracked down the cold-blooded killer of Roger Folwell. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Churchgoer and the Killer

Amish Teen Kidnapped, Raped and Murdered on her Way Home from Church

By Robert A. Waters

In the middle of a clear day, on Stumptown Road in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, Linda Stoltzfoos vanished. That Sunday morning, the eighteen-year-old Amish girl had been walking home from church. She planned to change clothes, then attend a youth group meeting from 2:00 until 11:00 p.m. When Linda didn’t come home that night, her father reported her missing.

Bird-in-Hand is a township of about 400 souls. Most residents are Amish. Neat farms dot the landscape, and cars mingle with distinctive Amish buggies on its roads. Crime of any sort is almost non-existent, much less an abduction. For that reason, many lawmen thought Linda might have run away.

As soon as word went out, the Amish community showed up in force to scour the fields, pastures, and woodlands for one of their own. In addition to hundreds of searchers, investigators from the East Lampeter Township Police Department, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, and even the FBI, joined the desperate hunt. Linda was described as being five-feet, ten inches tall and weighing about 125 pounds. She wore a tan dress, a white apron and cape, and a black head covering.

K-9 teams followed scents and horsemen beat through woodland trails and streams. As the day wore on, helicopters, drones, and dogs joined the search. That evening, more than a hundred people held an impromptu prayer vigil.

Friends told investigators that the teen was happy with her lifestyle and would never run away. She didn’t own a cellphone, nor did she have a boyfriend. She worked as an assistant at a local school, helping to tutor students with learning disabilities. Linda was last seen walking away from the church barefoot, holding her shoes in her hand. She would likely have walked along Stumptown Road to get to her home.

A resident, Isaac Esh, told investigators that he’d been sitting on his front porch at about 12:30 p.m. when he saw a red sedan drive past his home. Police reports state that the car was “traveling East on Stumptown Road coming from the area of Linda’s church then turned around on Red Lane. It paused for approximately one minute before traveling back west on Stumptown Road.” Esh described the driver as a “white man with dark skin.”


Several other witnesses reported seeing an “Amish girl” riding in a bright red Kia Rio compact car with a distinctive spoiler on it. Fortunately, several homeowners in the area had surveillance video cameras pointing toward the highway. Footage confirmed the tips. One witness thought the car’s movements suspicious enough to write down the license plate number. A records check revealed the car belonged to Justo Roberto Smoker, 35. Detectives felt sure it was the same vehicle spotted by witnesses. Smoker was employed by Dutchland, Inc., so investigators drove to the business. There they saw the car sitting in the parking lot. Comparing the rear spoiler and a distinctive “LCM” sticker on the back, cops knew they had a match.

Meanwhile, searchers located some of the girl’s clothing, including her bra and stockings buried behind Dutchland, Inc. Semen stains found on the stockings matched Smoker’s DNA profile. Linda, however, was still missing and lawmen were not hopeful that she would be found alive.

Detectives arrested Justo Smoker and charged him with criminal homicide, felony kidnapping, and false imprisonment. In addition to the witness identifications and surveillance videos, his cellphone records proved that he’d been in the area at the time Linda vanished.

As police studied the videos collected from residents of the area, they realized that one 40-second clip showed the actual abduction. As the red Kia passed by Esh's home, it stopped and sat on the side of the road for a minute, then turned back and headed toward the church Linda attended. During that moment of time, the video portrays a figure (i.e., Justo Smoker) walking across Stumptown Road as Linda came by. A legal affidavit states that that “after encountering Stoltzfoos, there appears to be motion toward the area of the head of Stoltzfoos consistent with placing something over her head and two people walking back toward the parked car at 12:41.”

Smoker initially pleaded “not guilty,” but when he learned that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, he decided to make a deal. As part of the agreement, Smoker led investigators to a shallow grave in a heavily wooded area.

Exactly ten months after her disappearance, investigators from the Lancaster County Sheiff’s Office, Pennsylvania State Police, and FBI recovered Linda’s remains. Dental records revealed what they already knew--that the remains were indeed those of Stoltzfoos. An autopsy showed that she’d been strangled to death and stabbed in the neck with a knife. During his confession, cops learned that Smoker had moved the body from its original grave to a spot behind his place of employment.

Assistant Lancaster County District Attorney Todd Brown told reporters that after Smoker sexually assaulted his victim, he “approached Linda from behind and choked her with his arm under her neck and then with shoelaces until she was no longer breathing. He then stabbed her in the neck one time to ensure that she was dead.” The coroner stated that Linda was still alive when she was stabbed.

Justo may have been stalking Amish women. In the days prior to Linda’s kidnapping, there were many sightings of him driving up and down the roads as Amish girls walked along. According to his own family, he had been “trouble” all his life. Born in Costa Rica, the suspect had spent his first seven years in an orphanage. After his birth mother died, Vernon and Deb Smoker of Lancaster adopted him and his brother. While still in high school, Smoker developed a drug habit and committed a series of robberies to stoke his habit. Stores and farmer’s markets were his favorite targets. In his crimes, he used a BB gun that looked like a real firearm to terrorize clerks.  Justo received ten years in prison for his crimes and was released on parole in 2019.

Smoker pleaded guilty to third degree murder, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and possession of an instrument of crime. He received 37 ½ to 71 years. In addition, he will serve 17 ½ years for violating his parole.

Lancaster County Judge David Ashworth said that the “senseless killing of Linda Stoltzfoos is contrary to all we hold dear in a civilized society.”

As his mother wept in the courtroom, Smoker turned to the audience and said, “They raised me better than this.”