Sunday, March 19, 2023

Book Review

A Mystery Novel by Ron Franscell

Review by Robert A. Waters

By the second paragraph of Deaf Row, I was invested. When retired Denver detective Woodrow “Mountain” Bell visits a nursing home in a high-mountain mining town, author Ron Franscell describes the scene: “Pale September twilight swathed the cheerless room as white-haired shadows silently drifted in for dinner, like dust that hadn’t been blown away yet.” At the facility, Bell meets a man whose daughter disappeared decades before. She was later found murdered, with one eye sewn shut. The father has dementia and can only recall brief, flickering remembrances now of his beloved daughter, but Bell is hooked.

In many fiction books, the good writing drops off somewhere in the middle, only to be brought back to life near the end. Not this book. Franscell’s narrative never fails as Bell weaves his way through obscure clue after obscure clue. The former cop enlists help from each of the characters at the restaurant where they meet every morning.

Those friends are drawn with a masterful hand. Each has a colorful background, and the author's witty, fast-paced writing makes them seem alive, if sometimes poignant. For instance, Roxy has discovered the “secret math of solitaire.” He plays the card game for hours every day, trying to master it. Even though the other members of the gang rib him about his obsession, Roxy's mathematical expertise helps Bell develop key information about the killer. And when Bell grows discouraged, Catholic Priest Father Bert Clancy prods the former cop to continue his quest.

Unknown to everyone, the predator lurks nearby, hiding in plain sight. In the unforgiving cold of the mountain town, Bell tracks his prey. The killer’s motives, based on interviews of real serial killers, will leave the reader stunned.

I love it when writers can bring a scene to life. This description of a mountainous road is one of many examples: “The road to the asylum was unearthly. Over the past fifty years, the mountain had reclaimed the steep, bumpy two-track. It was now a barely visible, frozen crease through a narrow gap in the pines.” With those words, I can see that trail crawling up the mountain.

Here is a description of a greasy diner in another mining town: “The mahogany walls—original to the eatery’s opera-house days—were festooned with dozens of old hardhats, each one bearing the name of countless area mines and the name of the miner who wore it. Some dating back to the 1800s weren’t hardhats at all, merely shellac-brimmed derbies with carbide lamps. Seven different calendars from seven random years adorned the place. And slapped across the front of the old-fashioned cash register was a bright red bumper sticker: We’re all here because we’re not all there.

I can’t say enough about Deaf Row, except that I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Ron Franscell is one of our finest modern literary masters and this book proves it.

Monday, March 13, 2023

All the Pretty Little Girls

Mary Proulx

Killer of Children

The May 6, 1936 edition of the Boston Globe reported that "James H. Folsom, confessed slayer of 12-year-old Annie K. Knights of Fairfield and 7-year-old Mary Proulx of [Waterville, Maine] led police authorities on a gruesome before-dawn reenactment of both crimes today." (Investigators used the early morning darkness to avoid a possible lynching of the hated killer.)

On the afternoon of October 7, 1935, Annie K. Knights left her Lawrence Avenue home in Fairfield, Maine to pick apples. A few hours later, a local high school student found Annie's body in a roadside ditch.

Dr. Julius Gottlieb, who performed the autopsy, said the child died of "asphyxiation by gagging." A handkerchief had been stuffed into her mouth, obstructing the air flow, and she'd been brutally raped. The Lewiston Daily Sun stated that, "Annie, frail and small for her age, was lying on her back, her arms bound and tied to a stump."

One witness, Mrs. Olive Lacombe, told investigators she saw the girl walking with a man and holding a paper bag. Lacombe described the man as being thick-set and wearing a gray suit, a light hat, and white shoes.

Within minutes of finding the little girl's remains, police swept the countryside, arresting dozens of people. No man who had been out and about that day was safe. One suspect, David Roy, a 44-year-old Fairfield carpenter, was brought in and interrogated hard. He vehemently denied his involvement, so police coerced him into taking a "lie detector" test. Professor Edward J. Colgan, of Colby College, who administered the test, told reporters the lie detector is a "psycho-galvanic reflex apparatus which registers the principal emotional changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin and can tell if a suspect is lying." After nearly twelve hours, the machine "proved" Roy had been truthful. Over the next few days, throngs of men were hauled into the police department, only to file out later with no charges.

Maine's hard winter came and went with cops no closer to finding the killer.

Waterville, a town of 15,000 souls, lay three and a half miles from Fairfield. It was there on May 5, 1936, that a second child went missing.

King Features crime writer Jack Martin wrote that "it was about 4 o'clock on a sultry Sunday afternoon when Mrs. Lena Proulx...ran hysterically into the office of Chief of Police Alfred Poirier to report that her 7-year-old daughter, Mary, had disappeared." The chief was slow to react, believing the child had gotten lost and would soon be located.

When Mary hadn't been found by Monday, police launched an all-out search. Hundreds of cops and residents scoured the town and nearby countryside. Poirier became so desperate that he emptied the local high school so students could help. Within a couple of hours, Robert Rancourt, a senior, stumbled on the body lying beside the Mesalonskee River, a few hundred yards outside Waterville.

Martin, who had interviewed some of the cops, wrote: "The child had been fiendishly tortured. A handkerchief had been jammed into her mouth as a gag and it was held in place with another handkerchief tied around her head. Her hands were bound across her chest with a piece of stout twine, such as is used in many stores to wrap heavy parcels." When compared, the twine turned out to be similar to that used in Annie's murder. As in the previous child murder, death was said to be due to "asphyxiation by gagging." Mary had also been raped.

It immediately became obvious to cops that the killer of Annie K. Knights had struck again. Chief Poirier, perhaps feeling pressure from the community at not having taken Mary's mother seriously, threw his entire force on the case.

In the end, a cop from another district provided critical information. While in Skowhegan helping to search for the killer, Somerset County Chief Deputy Sheriff William Goulette spied an ex-convict he knew well. He'd arrested James H. Folsom for "taking indecent liberties with children," and the pedophile had served time in Windham Prison for that series of crimes. Goulette soon learned Folsom was out on parole and wasted no time contacting Chief Poirier. Cops arrested Folsom at the sawmill where he worked.

The suspect quickly confessed and led investigators on that night-time recreation of his crimes. His chilling confession read, in part: "I, James H. Folsom, admit I am guilty of killing [the] girl in Waterville, Me., on Sunday of 3rd of May, also Annie Knight (sic) of Fairfield. Both were the same. They started to cry and I was afraid someone would hear so I tied their hands and gagged them both. I did not know either one [and I] was not of this world until afterwards..." He admitted "taking indecent liberty's (sic) with both and attacked both. I seemed not to know or care what I was doing."

Folsom told detectives he lured each girl away by offering them "pennies."

A search of Folsom's belongings revealed conclusive evidence. Investigators learned that Folsom had rented a room at the YMCA one hour after Mary had been taken. He'd left a box there containing several items, including handkerchiefs exactly like the ones used to gag the girls. Detectives also located a ball of twine that matched the bindings on Mary and Annie's hands.

One month later, Folsom pleaded guilty to the murder of Mary Proulx and received a sentence of life in prison without parole. He died in Maine State Prison 51 years later, at 87.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Student Attacks Teacher's Aide at Florida School (VIDEO)

GRAPHIC VIDEO - Be forewarned

On February 21, 2023, Brendan J. Depa allegedly assaulted Joan Naydich, teacher's aide at Matanzas High School in Palm Coast, Florida. Depa, who stands six-feet-six inches tall and weighs 270 pounds rushed Naydich, shoving her full-force to the floor. She hit her head on the tile, knocking her unconscious.

Video footage shows the assailant kicking the downed woman and beating her with his fists until other employees intervened. After pushing her down, Depa landed 15 blows before help arrived. Five staff members eventually pulled him off Naydich and held him until deputies arrived.

Cops handcuffed Depa and took him to jail. He was charged with aggravated battery on a school board employee, a first-degree felony. If convicted, Depa could spend thirty years behind bars. The Seventh Judicial Court set his bail at $1 million.

Although Depa is only seventeen, he already has three arrests for battery. Because of his age, officials would not release details of those alleged assaults.

After his arrest, investigators said Depa spat on Naydich and vowed to kill her once he is released. He told lawmen he attacked her because she took his Nintendo Switch from him. Naydich denies that. "I just want to set the record straight," she said. "I never took the Nintendo Switch from him. I've been told this was unfortunately misinformation."

Paramedics transported Naydich to a local hospital where it was reported she had suffered a concussion and broken ribs.

I have published the video released by the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.

Monday, February 27, 2023

El Paso Mall Shooter Taken Down by Concealed Carry Holder

Investigation Continues on Shooting at Cielo Vista Mall

(The following is a news release published by El Paso Police Department - February 15, 2023)

El Paso, Texas - The El Paso Police Department continues the investigation of the shooting that took place Wednesday at Cielo Vista Mall. Investigators are able to confirm that an individual that is Licensed to Carry shot the suspect responsible for the murder.

Investigators have learned that at 5:05 P.M., a confrontation ensued between two groups near the food court area on the second level. The first group consisted of 17-year-old Angeles Zaragoza, a 17-year-old Hispanic male, a 14-year-old Hispanic male who was seriously injured, a 17-year-old Hispanic female, a 16-year-old Hispanic male, a 14-year-old Hispanic male, and a 14-year-old Hispanic female. The second group consisted of a 16-year-old male, who has been identified as the shooter in this incident, a 20-year-old Hispanic male who was injured, a 17-year-old Hispanic male, and a 15-year-old Hispanic male.

The confrontation between both groups escalated into a physical fight. As they fought, the 16-year-old pulled out a handgun. The suspect fatally shot 17-year-old Angeles Zaragoza and seriously wounded a 17-year-old Hispanic male who was part of the first group. In the shooting a 20-year-old Hispanic male of the second group was shot.

As soon as the shooting ended, the 16-year-old suspect began to run and was pointing the gun towards the direction of bystanders, including 32-year-old Emanuel Duran, a Licensed to Carry Holder. As the suspect ran towards Duran and bystanders, Duran drew his handgun and shot the suspect.

At that time, an off-duty El Paso Police Officer arrived at the area of the shooting and together with Duran rendered aid to the 16-year-old suspect and the others that were injured. Investigators found that there were at least two other legally armed citizens in the area of where the shooting took place, but were not involved. The investigation continues and charges are pending against the 16-year-old suspect. The 16-year-old suspect was last listed in stable condition. This is the 4th Murder for 2023 as compared to 2 at this time last year.  

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Paperboy Murder

 Joseph "Joey" Didier

The sad slaying of Joey Didier
By Robert A. Waters

Joey's last words hung in the air like a nightmare: "Please don't hang me." 

Robert Lower kidnapped Joseph "Joey" Didier at about 6:30 a.m. on March 4, 1975, as the fifteen-year-old delivered the Rockford Morning Star newspapers to homes in the city. Lower, living out a fantasy, drove Joey sixty miles away to the deserted Apple River Boy Scout Camp between Stockton and Rockford, Illinois. There he molested the young boy before murdering him.

Lower set up an elaborate system of death. As always, ropes played an important part in his fantasies. The Rockford Register-Republic reported that Lower "tied a rope to a small bench on which young Joseph Didier stood with a second rope around his neck, walked out the door of an isolated cabin, then pulled the rope knocking over the bench and hanging the boy."

Twelve days later, two Boy Scouts found the frozen, nude body lying on the floor of the cabin, a rope still about his neck. The coroner ruled strangulation to be the cause of death and, according to court documents, "there were evidences of rope burns on the wrist and evidence of sexual molestation."

Robert Henry Lower
With his record of attacks on young boys, the killer should never have been at large.

In 1958, while serving in the United States Air Force, Lower had been arrested in Sparks, Nevada for kidnapping and molesting a young boy. The pedophile was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to prison for his crime.

Six years later, Lower was free. In 1964, he raped another teenaged boy. Committed to Menard Psychiatric Center in Freeport, court documents relate that "the Freeport police files indicated certain bizarre conduct with the young boy in question involving tying him up with ropes and a simulated hanging." A psychiatrist, John G. Graybill, warned that Lower was dangerous and should be kept in prison for as long as possible.

By 1973, he was free again and stalking paperboys. (Children who delivered news to residents in many cities were plagued by "chicken hawks," as they were called. Rape, molestation, and even murder was the common fare for young paperboys, most from poor backgrounds who worked to help their families survive.)

Beginning in 1973, Rockford police found a pattern in several bizarre sexual assaults of young boys. Court documents record the following unsolved cases: "On February 3, Scotty Johnston*, aged 12, had been assaulted while delivering his morning papers by a man who struck him, took him two blocks away to a church, took off his clothes and spray painted his groin area. Johnston described the man to the police as wearing a gold snowmobile suit with a face cover.

"On that same date, another paperboy, Ricky Alstott*, was followed persistently for several blocks while delivering his papers but he managed to elude the man who was following him. The man was also wearing a snowmobile suit...On April 12, 1974, Brett Dorset*, a paperboy, was abducted by a man while delivering his morning route. Dorset said the man jumped from behind a bush, placed a hood over his head and put him into the trunk of an automobile. He was then taken to a cemetery and suspended from a tree by ropes. He was then disrobed and tied to a post where he was sexually abused and then was forced to run in circles at the end of a rope tied to his wrist. He was left tied to the post with his face covered until he freed himself sometime later. His genitals were also painted..."

After Joey Didier disappeared, a massive search began. The Decatur Daily News reported "that police said Joseph's newspaper sack, with only four newspapers delivered, was found in the same block where, about two hours earlier, a woman reported hearing a scream and a car sped away. Near the sack, police said, there were footprints in the snow other than Joseph's."

For the next twelve days, hundreds of police and volunteers scoured the countryside for Joey. Ground and air searches produced no leads. Truckers banded together to hand out thousands of flyers to customers and local businesses. Cops spoke with every neighbor in the area, including known pedophiles, but still could not gather any solid clues.

Then, on March 24, 1975, The Daily Sentinel reported that "Robert Henry Lower, 36, is being held without bond for the murder of Joseph Didier, 15, son of Rockford Alderman Joseph Didier, Jr. He was arrested Friday while leaving his job as a truck driver for a Rockford firm and charged with murder and aggravated kidnapping."

Lower was swiftly moved to the Winnebago County Jail and surrounded by guards for his protection. Described as a loner and a snowmobile enthusiast, investigators said a tip led to his arrest.

Within hours, Lower had confessed to the kidnapping and murder, writing a four-page long statement. In his confession, he said Joey had begged Lower not to kill him. The kidnapper told his captive that he would have to kill him because Joey could identify him (Lower). Joey responded that he had a "bad memory" and could not remember who abducted him. As Lower walked outside the cabin to pull the rope, Joey uttered his last words.

In October, Lower was sentenced to 100 to 150 years in prison. Unfortunately, he would be eligible for parole after only 19 years. He was housed in the Menard State Prison, the same penitentiary where he had been imprisoned after raping an 11-year-old boy. Joey's father spoke to reporters, saying, "The hate I have for this man, I cannot express in any way."

On February 19, 2017, after a long illness, the infamous killer died in Graham Correctional Center. No one claimed his body and he is buried in the prison cemetery.

The Winnebago County State's Attorney's Office released the following statement: "Our thoughts and focus have always been and remain with the family of Joey Didier. They will continue to feel the loss of Joey as his life was cut short by Robert Lower's brutal and cold-blooded actions 42 years ago. For years, the State's Attorney's Office has joined together with the Didier's and this community to keep Lower in prison, and while it's comforting to know that this part of the fight is over, we will continue to grieve the loss of Joey and hope for continued healing for his family."

* Not their real names

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Sad Life of John Stith Pemberton, Inventor of Coca-Cola

A Pain with no End

By Robert A. Waters

What would it be like to become severely wounded during the last battle of a war that had already ended? Wounded so badly that the chronic pain lasts a lifetime. This happened to John Stith Pemberton and led to the invention of the most popular soft drink in the world: Coca-Cola.


On April 12, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Boothe assassinated United States President Abraham Lincoln.

Since most telegraph wires in the war-torn South had been destroyed, Union Major General James H. Wilson didn’t know either of these events had occurred. Ordered to occupy the manufacturing town of Columbus, Georgia, he arrived around 2:00 in the afternoon on April 16. His 15,000 troops dwarfed those of the defenders of Columbus, which numbered about 3,500 soldiers and civilian volunteers. Shortly after Wilson arrived, his army attacked. states that “by April of 1865, Columbus was the last surviving industrial city in the South. A major center for military manufacturing, it was also the home of significant naval construction facilities where the new ironclad C.S.S. Jackson was nearing completion.”

Barricades at two bridges across the Chattahoochee River temporarily kept the invaders at bay. The Confederates blew up Dillingham Street Bridge to keep the Union army from advancing, but, as the battle began, they spared the 14th Street Bridge because many of their own soldiers were fighting Yankees on that span. The battle stormed on into the night, with the Federals finally taking the city.

Casualties were high, particularly for the Confederates who fought to the bitter end. One defender, John Stith Pemberton, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Third Cavalry Battalion of the Georgia State Guard, suffered a saber wound to his chest during the battle.

In The Civil War Roots of Coca-Cola in Columbus, Georgia, Richard Gardiner writes: “Pemberton served in the Confederate army for almost the entire duration of the Civil War. During the Battle of Columbus, Pemberton served as Colonel in the local mounted cavalry. [When the battle began], he rode out to the bank of the Chattahoochee where he encountered cavalry under the command of Union General Wilson.

“The weapon of choice in the cavalry was the saber. A musket was incredibly difficult to manage on horseback, especially the muzzle-loading variety. Most cavalrymen relied on their swords and pistols in battle. The pistols, which normally fired six shots, quickly became empty and useless in the midst of an engagement. Pemberton found himself in an equestrian sword-fight with Union cavalry. According to the closest eyewitness, Pemberton was both shot and slashed in that encounter. The wound from the saber to his torso was life-altering. It left a scar that he would carry for the rest of his life, though he grew weary of talking about it.”

The Pemberton lineage in America dated from 1680 when his family settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Phineas Pemberton, an ancestor, served as administrator for William Penn. Since he had been born and raised in Georgia, John Stith Pemberton fought for the Confederacy. Before the war, when he was just 19 years old, the young phenom graduated from Reform Medical College of Georgia in Macon. He later obtained a degree in pharmacy.

After the war, Pemberton continued to live in Columbus with his wife, Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis, and their son, Charles, in a four-bedroom home. There he set up his lab and began developing the concoction that would later become Coca-Cola. Pemberton, trying to alleviate the constant torment from his war wound, became addicted to morphine. As his body and mental state slowly deteriorated, he began trying to find a cure for his habit. (Morphine addiction became so common among former soldiers the medicine came to be called “Soldier’s Joy.”)

The Confederate veteran established Pemberton’s Eagle Drug and Chemical Company on Broad Street in Columbus. There he developed several draughts which he sold as medicine. For instance, “Globe Flower Cough Syrup” was described as being “free from opium” and helpful for stopping coughs. He also opened a wholesale and retail business “selling the raw materials for pharmaceutical remedies.”

Gardiner writes that “Pemberton’s [newspaper] advertisements from the era leave no question that he dispensed numerous soft-drink syrups at his drug store in Columbus. The significant elements in Pemberton’s most famous formula were the cocoa (coca) leaf and the kola nut. When and where Pemberton first mixed the world’s most famous formula has been debated.”

He called one of his inventions “French Wine Coca” which was similar to a French-based drink called “Vin Mariani.” About it, he stated “I am convinced from actual experiments that coca is the very best substitute for opium…It supplies the place of that drug, and the patient who will use it as means of a cure, may deliver himself from the pernicious habit.” It was not well- known at the time that coca (i.e., cocaine) was even more addictive and destructive than morphine.

In 1870, Pemberton moved to Atlanta. There he had some success selling a perfume called “Sweet Southern Bouquet.” He also served as a trustee for Atlanta Medical College (now Emory University Medical School). While in Atlanta, he formed a partnership with other investors.

After a slow start, Pemberton’s original “French Wine Coca” sold well. He continued to experiment with it, particularly after Atlanta’s city government banned alcoholic beverages. He removed wine from the formula and included damiana, said to contain aphrodisiac properties. His drinks were sold over the counter at various drug stores in Atlanta. Only after he added carbonation to the formula, and named it Coca-Cola (suggested by his bookkeeper, Frank Robinson) did he have the final product. reports that, after an unsuccessful first year, he used local advertisements to enhance sales: “Soon the product was spreading across the city, and Pemberton was convinced it was on its way to national popularity.”

He was right, but he would never see it, having developed stomach cancer. Suffering from excruciating pain and his seemingly endless addiction to morphine, “he progressively sold two-thirds of his interest in the company to other investors, including the transplanted Northern pharmacist Asa G. Chandler. He retained one-third for his son.” states that “Pemberton died on August 16, 1888, leaving his wife in a difficult financial situation. A struggle for control of Coca-Cola followed his death; the financial machinations that occurred were murky, with rights to both the name Coca-Cola and the formula for the drink under dispute, and it has never been entirely clear how Asa Candler, who was responsible for the growth of Coca-Cola in the 1890s, wrested control of the company from Charles Pemberton and the other investors.”

Tragedy often begets innovation, as it did with John Stith Pemberton. Had he not been wounded in war, he likely would never have invented the most popular soft drink in the history of mankind.

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Hidden Life of Nursery Rhymes

Secrets Kept from Children

By Robert A. Waters

Baa, baa black sheep, have you any wool?

Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.

One for my master, one for the dame,

One for the little boy who lives down the lane.

Hiding behind nursery rhyme lyrics are stories--old stories, stories of mystery and suspense, and sometimes stories of subtle resistance to tyranny. These poems and songs circulated among the peasants of olde England from the 1400s to the 1800s. No one knows who wrote them, they just appeared out of the dark.

For instance, the well-known nursery rhyme posted above chronicled a real event. Clemency Burton-Hill, in "The dark side of nursery rhymes," wrote that "Baa, Baa Black Sheep is about the medieval wool tax, imposed in the 13th century by King Edward I. Under the new rules, a third of the cost of a sack of wool went to him, another third went to the church and the last to the farmer. (In the original version, nothing was left for the little shepherd boy who lives down the lane.)"

The wool farmer ended up having to pay a suffocating sixty-six per cent of his earnings in taxes. Resentment led someone to come up with the jingle that we all know and love.

The nursery rhyme, "Oranges and Lemons," refers to a condemned man walking to his execution past famous churches in downtown London.

Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement's.

You owe me five farthings say the bells of St. Martin's.

When will you pay me say the bells of Old Bailey?

When I grow rich say the bells of Shoreditch.

And when will that be say the bells of Stepney.

Oh, I do not know say the great bells of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,

And here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Nursery rhymes are found in all cultures throughout the world. A compilation of English nursery rhymes was first published in 1744. Later editions, including Mother Goose, kept the poems alive. Many have been sanitized through the years until they became what we know today.

Nursery rhymes have been deemed important to the cognitive development of children. Infants-to-adults enjoy the rhymes, the music, and the rich tapestry of Medieval England. Yet, in the background behind a few words may exist murderous plots and deeds. For instance, "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" has a gruesome history.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row.

Burton-Hill writes that "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary may be about Bloody Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII and concerns the torture and murder of Protestants. Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and the 'garden' here is an allusion to the graveyards which were filling with Protestant martyrs. The 'silver bells' were thumbscrews; while 'cockleshells' are believed to be instruments of torture which were attached to male genitals."

The meanings of many nursery rhymes are unknown. For instance, "Humpty Dumpty" may refer to King Richard III, a humpback who was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1845. Or Humpty Dumpty could be a cannon ball, or some unknown king, an egg, or a dozen other things. We just don't know. Scholars make their guesses, right or wrong. 

Maybe it's just as well that we're kept in the dark. Meanwhile, children love to sing and recite these sometimes nonsensical tales. And that's good--it helps them to learn language skills.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a big fall.

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

In my opinion, those few words were written by a genius. I'll leave it at that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Serial Killer in Jacksonville?

The Vanishings

By Robert A. Waters

Jacksonville, Florida. 1974. With a population of slightly more than 500,000 souls, murders were not rare, but the abduction and killing of pre-teen children was almost unheard of. Then, within the space of three months, as summer edged into fall, five children went missing. Two were later discovered deceased, three were never found. Cops had little evidence. Investigators couldn't figure out if there was one serial killer, two serial killers, or several random murderers. After nearly fifty years, the crimes have never been solved.

Kidnapped on a bicycle

It started with nine-year-old Jean “Jeanie” Marie Schoen. On July 21, 1974, the child walked to Hannah’s Food Store on the corner of Pearl Street and 19th Street, just two blocks from her home. Her uncle had given her money to buy him a pack of cigarettes. Jeanie sported blonde hair, green eyes, and a missing front tooth. She loved life and wore a perpetual smile. After Jeanie purchased the cigarettes, she decided to walk to "The Hangout," a nearby arcade store.

Once there, she found the manager mopping the floor. He directed her to leave until it dried. Jeanie found one of her playmates and they wandered to a nearby laundromat.

After fifteen minutes, her mother, concerned that Jeanie hadn’t returned, sent Jeanie's brother to locate her. He came back empty-handed, so she directed her own brother (the uncle who had sent her out for tobacco) to look for Jeanie. He also found no trace of the girl.

The family never saw Jeanie again.

At the laundromat, things spun out of control. Her friend claimed she saw a man grab Jeanie and force her into the rest room. She and the stranger came out a few minutes later and Jeanie was crying. The stranger then picked her up, propped her onto the seat of his bicycle, and pedaled off. Within seconds, the two had vanished.

Witnesses described the kidnapper as a white male, with blondish hair styled like Elvis Presley.

A weird story. Whoever heard of using a bicycle to abduct a child? Yet witnesses confirmed the incident.

Jeanie’s broken-hearted mother, Pam Schoen, searched for her lost child until she died. "I don’t have life or death," she told reporters. She stated that never knowing what happened to her baby was the hardest part of living. She died at age 57, still hoping…

Two sisters abducted from home

A week and a half later, on August 1, Lillian Annette Anderson, 11, and her sister, Mylette Josephine Anderson, 6, vanished from their residence, never to be seen again. Like the earlier abduction of Jeanie Schoen, bizarre elements of the case stymied detectives. Annette and Mylette had been left home alone while their mother and older sister went to check on a sick relative. Their father, Jack, a commercial fisherman, was at work.

Jack called the house at 7:00 p.m. and spoke to the girls. He told them his outboard had stopped working and he planned to fix it before coming home. Jack heard the dog barking in the background, but the girls told him everything was fine. Concerned, he called back at 7:20. However, his daughters did not answer. When he arrived home a few minutes later, the girls weren’t there.

Jack found the dog locked in a back bedroom. The only thing missing (other than the girls) was a doll Mylette carried everywhere. Detectives suspected the sisters were snatched in that 20-minute window between calls.

The Pumpkin Hill area where the Anderson family lived was rural. An old cemetery, dotted with washed-out gravestones, sat behind the house, but most of the area was wooded. Hundreds of searchers combed the surrounding forests and swamps for days, but never found a clue.

Jack and Elizabeth Anderson barely survived the aftermath. Grief, guilt, and loss tormented them until they died. They never found out what happened to their beloved daughters.

The "sexual pervert" theory

September 27, 1974. Virginia Suzanne Helm disappeared. On October 2, 1974, pine-cone hunters found her body partially buried in a wooded area near Beachwood and Beach Boulevard. Virginia had been shot in the head with a .22-caliber bullet. Although she wore only a blouse when found, the coroner stated he saw "no sign of rape." A sheriff's department spokesperson informed reporters that child molesters don't always rape their victims. He called it the "sexual pervert theory."

Virginia had walked to a convenience store to buy soap for her mother. The store was just two blocks from her home. She never returned.

Three days after Virginia disappeared, a couple driving on New King's Road spied a red Volkswagen bug beside the highway. They stopped to offer help and saw a disturbing sight. According to newspaper accounts, "The couple got out of the car to see if the man driving needed help. They noticed a young girl in the backseat of the car. The girl's knees were on the floorboard and her hands were on the seat as if she was trying to get up. Her pupils were dilated and she was looking back and forth rapidly and she appeared to be scared."

The car roared away so fast the couple could not get the license tag number. They contacted investigators and told them they were sure the girl was Virginia. Deputies flooded the area with patrol cars, but never found the red VW.

After Virginia's remains were located, lawmen conducted a determined search of the area, hoping to locate the other missing children. Their searches came up empty.

Virginia's killer has never been identified.

The skeleton on the beach

On October 16, twelve-year-old Rebecca Ann Greene went missing after having walked to a neighborhood food store five blocks away from her home. A clerk told cops she had seen Rebecca purchase several soft drinks, then leave out a side door. On her way home, however, the auburn-haired, blue-eyed girl vanished into thin air.

Three years later, a skeleton washed up on the shore of Little St. George Island, in the mouth of the St. John's River. A picnicker spotted the remains among driftwood and seaweed. Duval County Medical Examiner Dr. Peter Lipkovic identified the remains as Rebecca. According to a story in the Fort Myers News-Press, "Lipkovic said he is still unable to determine the girl's cause of death. By the looks of the bones, he said, the girl had been dead for six months to several years."

The coroner scoured her remains for clues, finding a single foreign hair.

Like the parents of the other missing girls, Ed and Reba Greene were devastated by the loss of their daughter. They moved to Georgia but never stopped looking for her. The News-Press reported that "members of the Greene family were certain about a year ago they had located Rebecca when they were watching the telecast of a church revival in North Carolina and saw a girl in the audience who looked like Rebecca." Investigators determined the girl at the revival was not Rebecca.

Who murdered the five girls?

Throughout the decades, much speculation has centered on various suspects in these murders. 

A serial murderer named John Paul Knowles confessed to abducting and killing Mylette and Annette Anderson. While it has been confirmed that he committed at least 18 murders in the southeastern United States, cops said his confession to the sisters' killings was dubious since he did not know all the facts. A few years later, Knowles was shot to death during an escape attempt.

Theodore Bundy has been named as a possible suspect, but no evidence was ever found to corroborate his involvement.

In October of 1974, a man driving a pickup truck snatched a seven-year-old girl. He took the child to a remote area in the woods and fondled her. Then he severely beat her and left the girl for dead. Somehow, she survived and found her way out of the dark forest by following a power transmission line.

Earl Taylor Higginbotham was convicted of the kidnapping and assault of the young girl. Investigators did everything possible to connect their suspect to the five previous abductions and murders, but concluded he was innocent of those crimes. Higginbotham died in prison.

What happened during that murder season? 

Will we ever know?

Monday, December 12, 2022

Execution Date Set for Mississippi Killer Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr.

The Stranger

Written by Robert A. Waters

Note: Some content in this story is graphic. Just a warning!

On June 22, 2000, at 10:30 p.m., sixteen-year-old Leesa Marie Gray left Comer's Restaurant in Dorsey, Mississippi to drive home. A part-time waitress and high school junior, Leesa felt edgy. A strange man had come into the cafeteria around noon and tried flirting with her. He stood well over six feet tall, looked to be in his mid-to-late thirties, and had a hard face with weird-looking green eyes. Leesa ignored him, and after he ate a cheeseburger, the stranger left.

Unincorporated, the community of Dorsey lies in Itawamba County, Mississippi with a population of about 4,000. Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, is about 20 miles away.

At 9:00 that night, Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. returned to the restaurant and ordered another cheeseburger to go. The day before, he had driven from his home in Vicksburg to visit his ailing grandmother. Years before, Loden had grown up in Dorsey, attending the same high school as Leesa Marie.

As she left for the night, Leesa saw the strange man leaning against his two-tone green Ford Econoline van. He gave her the creeps, so she scurried into her car and sped off. Out on the highway, she suddenly felt and heard the tell-tale sign of a tire rim grinding against the asphalt. Oh no, she must have thought. A flat tire. Leesa pulled off the road, less than a half-mile from her home.

Court documents report that "when Leesa did not return home from work as expected, her mother, Wanda Marie Farris, became worried and began making phone calls in an attempt to locate her daughter. Mrs. Farris called Comer's Restaurant cook, Richard Tallant, who told her that as he was driving home, he had seen a car on the side of the road with hazard lights flashing. [After the call], Tallant immediately returned to the abandoned car, saw that it was Leesa's, and drove to Mrs. Farris' home. They discovered that one of the tires on the vehicle was flat, the doors were unlocked, and Leesa's purse and cell phone were inside the car. They called the Itawamba County Sheriff's Office, and an investigation began into Leesa's disappearance."

During questioning, Tallant stated that he had recognized Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. in the restaurant earlier that day. The cook informed detectives that Loden had driven 400 miles to visit his grandmother who owned a farm nearby. Loden, he said, had made inappropriate comments to the attractive blonde high schooler.

Detectives quickly drove to the home of Rena Loden, grandmother of the suspect. In the driveway, they noticed Loden's van and a beige Oldsmobile 88 Regency that belonged to Mrs. Loden. They learned the suspect was in the house asleep. At the time, they had no warrant to search the home or the vehicles, so they left. Investigators soon located two witnesses from the restaurant who identified Loden's van as the one seen on the premises that night.

Deputies returned shortly with a search warrant. In the house, investigators found a pair of shorts stained with blood. Inside the Olds, they located a "rope fashioned into a handcuff style knot."

Detectives towed the car and van to Highway Patrol Headquarters in New Albany.  There "Leesa's body was found pushed under a fold-down seat in Loden's van. Along with other evidence, a JVC camcorder was recovered from the van, and a VHS compact video cassette was removed from it. Footage from the video depicts Leesa Marie Gray being forced to engage in fellatio on Loden, Loden vaginally raping her, and anal penetration of Leesa with his fingers." In addition, the killer used a cucumber to repeatedly assault the teenager. According to court documents, "footage depicts Loden twisting the breast of an unconscious Leesa in an apparent attempt to bring her back to consciousness." *

The coroner ruled that Leesa's death had been caused by suffocation and manual strangulation.

Cops, stunned by the brutality of Loden's crimes, expanded their search for him.

In a bizarre twist to an already strange case, a passerby found Loden lying in a ditch beside the road and called 911. Using a broken beer bottle, the suspect had carved the words, "I'm sorry," across his chest. He also had superficial cuts to his wrists. After treatment for his injuries, detectives questioned Loden. He initially denied having murdered Leesa, but the evidence against him was so strong he later admitted he "may have" done it, although he claimed not to remember.

Loden had never had any serious run-ins with the law. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Marine Corps. He worked his way up to gunnery sergeant and at the time of his arrest had spent four years as a Marine Corps recruiter. He fought in Operation Desert Storm. Standing six-feet-four inches tall, and weighing nearly two hundred pounds, Loden could have easily subdued Leesa.

In an article form the AFA Journal, Rusty Benson writes, "Loden stepped outside [the restaurant], pretending to tend to something in his van. It was parked next to Leesa's 1992 opal green Honda Accord. A perfect plan and perfect execution, he must have thought, as he knelt down between his van and Leesa's car, out of view of anyone who might happen along. Then he buried the business end of a utility knife deep into Leesa's passenger side tire. The blade broke off. He probably figured she would be a few thousand feet down the road toward home before the tire completely deflated and forced her to stop. He was right." Investigators later found the blade wedged between the threads of the flat tire.

Addicted to hard core pornography, Loden had likely acted out a violent sexual fantasy on the innocent girl. Leesa Marie Gray had endured more than four hours of extreme sexual torture before being killed.

Pleading guilty to murder, rape, kidnapping and sexual battery of Leesa, the court sentenced Loden to death. For more than twenty years, he has fought justice through appeal after appeal, but Mississippi has now set a date for the killer's execution: December 14, 2022. 

It can't come too soon.

*(The court stated that a copy of the videotape had been placed in a vault to be protected from public scrutiny.)

NOTE: Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. was executed at 6:12 p.m. on December 15, 2022.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Richard Allen's Defense Team Releases Statement in the Delphi Murder Case

I don't know whether Richard Allen is guilty or innocent of the murders of Liberty German and Abigail Williams. But I do think the defense should have as much right to speak publicly about the case as the Sheriff and prosecutors. I'm publishing the recent defense press release for your information.


As Richard (Rick) Allen's attorneys, we have received multiple requests from local and national media for interviews and comment since the unsealing of the probable cause affidavit. It would be virtually impossible to comply with the requests and to continue to focus on the merits of Rick's defense. Therefore, we offer up these thoughts:

We do not want to try this case in the media and we intend to adhere to the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct that provide guidance on pretrial publicity. However, the police and prosecutor's office have conducted many press conferences over the five-plus years of this investigation and following our client's arrest. On the other hand, Rick's ability to assert his innocence has been reduced to only one short, post-hearing press conference. Accordingly, we feel it appropriate, necessary, and within the bounds of our rules of professional conduct to make a few comments concerning the probable cause affidavit and Rick's innocence.

*  Rick is a 50-year-old man who has never been arrested nor accused of any crime in his entire life. He is innocent and completely confused as to why he has been charged with these crimes.

*  The police did not contact Rick after Libby German and Abby Williams went missing, rather Rick contacted the police and voluntarily discussed being on the trail that day. Like many people in Delphi, Rick wanted to help in any way he could. Rick contacted the police to let them know that he had walked on the trail that day, as he often did. Without Rick coming forward, the police probably would not have had any way of knowing that he was on the trail that day.

* Rick volunteered to meet with a Conservation Officer outside of the local grocery store to offer up details of his trip to the trail on the day in question. Rick tried to assist with the investigation and told the police that he did recall seeing three younger girls on the trail that day. His contact with the girls was brief and of little significance. Rick does not recall if this interaction with the Conservation Officer was tape-recorded but believes that the Conservation Officer scribbled notes on a notepad as Rick spoke to him.

* After Rick shared this information with law enforcement officials, he went back to his job at the local CVS and didn't hear from the police for more than 5 years.

* The next time Rick heard from the police was in October, 2022. This was approximately two weeks before a contested Sheriff's election and within days of a federal lawsuit filed against the Carroll County Sheriff's Office by its former second in command, Michael Thomas.

* In the lawsuit, Thomas claims that he (Thomas) "had made suggestions and offered assistance in the investigation of a high-profile child homicide investigation" but those suggestions and offers were rejected by the Sheriff. Thomas further claimed that the Sheriff and others in the department feared the disagreements with Thomas would become publicized as a result of the political campaign for Sheriff.

* Thomas claims in the suit that he was ultimately demoted and replaced by Tony Liggett, who later won the 2022 election for Sheriff. Furthermore, Thomas feels he was also removed from high profile cases.

* Rick was ultimately arrested on or about October 28, 2022.

* In the 5+ years since Rick volunteered to provide information to the police, Rick did not get rid of his vehicle or his guns and did not throw out his clothing. He did not alter his appearance; he did not relocate himself to another community. He did what every innocent man would do and continued with his normal routine.

* The probable cause affidavit seems to suggest that a single magic bullet is proof of Rick's guilt. It is a bit premature to engage in any detailed discussions regarding the veracity of this evidence until more discovery in received, but it is safe to say that the discipline of tool-mark identification is anything but a science. The entire discipline has been under attack in courtrooms across the country as being unreliable and lacking scientific validity. We anticipate a vigorous legal and factual challenge to any claims by the prosecution of its conclusions concerning the single magic bullet.

* On Rick's behalf, we argued to have the PCA unsealed. Rick has nothing to hide. As importantly, we were hoping that we could receive tips that would assist us in proving up his innocence. Not surprisingly, we have been inundated with tips from a variety of sources, all of which will be vetted by our team. Although it is the burden of the prosecutor to prove Rick's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense team looks forward to conducting its own investigation concerning Rick's innocence. We appreciate those who have reached out to support his cause.

* The prosecutor mentioned, at the last hearing, his belief that others may have been involved in the killing (sic), yet there was no mention in the PCA about a suspect involved in the killing (sic). The defense is confused by such discrepancies in the investigation and will be in a better position to respond as more discovery is received.

* Rick Allen owned a Ford Focus in February of 2017. His Ford Focus is not, in any way, similar to the distinctive look of the PT Cruiser or Smart car that was described by the witnesses. It seems that CCSD is trying to bend facts to fit their narrative.

* At this point in time, we have received very limited information about this case and look forward to having something more to view than that which was offered in the sparse PCA.

Moving forward, it is our intent to scrutinize the discovery, as it is received, and give the necessary attention to the volumes of tips that we are receiving. To the extent we continue to discover information that points to Rick's innocence, we will offer up this information to the public, so long as we are not prohibited from doing so as a result of the recent request by the Prosecutor for a gag order or by the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.

Attorneys from the law firm of Hillis, Hillis, Rozzi and Dean published the briefing.