Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Dead Boys are not Desirable" by Robert A. Waters

Perception drives belief. It’s often asked why victims many times don’t try to escape from kidnappers. Could it be fear? Denial? Confusion? Whatever the case, many kidnappers are masters at manipulation. Billy Whitla’s story provides insight into how a victim can be made to comply

At 9:30 on the morning of March 18, 1909, in Sharon, Pennsylvania, eight-year-old Billy Whitla walked toward the chalkboard in his classroom. His teacher had asked him to write the daily class motto on the board. Suddenly, the school janitor opened the door and stated that Billy’s father had sent someone to take him out of school for the day. The teacher helped Billy put on his coat and cap.

Billy walked outside and saw a man sitting in a buggy. The stranger helped Billy into the seat and told the child to call him "Jonesy." A few blocks away, they stopped at a mailbox and he ordered Billy to drop a letter into the slot. Jonesy said the letter would tell his mother where he was going. (It was actually a ransom note.)

Billy later recalled: “When I mailed the letter I thought I was going to dad’s office, but the man said right away: 'Billy...I am not going to take you to your dad’s office. I’m taking care of you for your dad. You know there’s smallpox around, and you’ve been exposed, and your dad says doctors are after you to take you to a pesthouse.'”

Billy dreaded the pesthouse. He knew that people afflicted with incurable diseases such as tuberculosis were placed in the hostels to die. In fact, many had ponds on the grounds where the dead were pitched in and left to decay. Billy was also terrified of smallpox. A friend had contracted the disease and it had left his face badly scarred.

Jonesy stated that he would be taking Billy someplace to hide from the doctors. As they drove along, the abductor placed Billy beneath a robe and told him not to move. “I didn’t like that very well,” Billy later said. “It was no fun, all dark and stuffy, and I asked Jonesy if I could not get out a while but he said no, that I must act like a spy in war escaping, and dad had told Jonesy I could act like a regular spy.”

The man known as Jonesy drove to Warren and stopped at the train station. He learned that the train that was going to their destination, Cleveland, Ohio, had already left. It would be more than an hour before another one arrived. Jonesy walked with Billy to a nearby lumber yard and found a small opening (“like a cave”) in the stacks of lumber. He told Billy to stay there until he returned. The boy did as he was told. By now, Jonesy had convinced Billy that doctors were searching for him and that he would be taken to the dreaded pesthouse if he were caught. Billy was also convinced that his father had arranged his “flight” from the medical establishment.

Billy was a prescient youngster. He recalled so many details of his journey that he later helped authorities establish an ironclad case against the kidnappers. After getting on the train to Cleveland, he remembered seeing signs that read “Ashtabula” and “Painesville” and memorized many of the street signs they passed.

When they got to Cleveland, Jonesy took Billy to the “safe house.” Billy later stated, “Mrs. Jones...was a nurse and dressed in nurse’s clothes, with [an] all white apron and a white cap. [Jonesy] said, ‘Here’s a little Jones for you,’ and she laughed and asked how I was and took off my things.”

Billy was ordered not to look out the window of the little apartment, but across the street he observed the Thorpe Hotel and a big stone church. He also memorized the names on the streetcars that regularly passed. Billy was allowed to roam about the apartment most of the time, but had to hide when someone knocked on the door. Several times, he was told that visitors were doctors searching for him.

Billy described Mrs. Jones: “[She] seemed to have light hair, but sometimes she talked funny, so I would think she was French or something. She was tall and not fat. She had awful red marks on her face, and said my face would be like that if I got smallpox at the pesthouse.”

After four days in the apartment, Jonesy hustled Billy down the stairs and took him outside. It was dark, and they waited in an unlit corner until a streetcar arrived. Billy later related: “When the car got close, [Jonesy] said, ‘Now run and get on quick.’ A man and a lady got on there, and I got on, too, and just looked back and Jonesy had sneaked [off].”

When Billy got on the train, two teenagers recognized him (the abduction was national news—-his picture was everywhere) and guided him to the Hollenden Hotel where his father, attorney Jmaes Whitla, waited. Billy later recalled: “They took me into the hotel and there was an awful crowd, and dad hustled me upstairs. I was tired and went to bed...A doctor came to look at me, and I wasn’t sick at all.”

Billy Whitla’s abduction made national news. His father, James, was a lawyer and Billy’s uncle was steel millionaire F. H. Buhl. On the same afternoon that he was taken, Billy’s mother received a ransom letter demanding $ 10,000 for the safe return of the child. She immediately contacted her husband who notified police.

The letter gave instructions on where to deliver the money. The final line was chilling. It read: “Dead boys are not desirable.” As soon as the newspapers received word of the kidnapping, reporters descended on the small town. After four days of negotiating with the kidnappers and dodging reporters, Billy's father delivered the money and the boy was freed.

The next day, police in Cleveland arrested James and Helen Boyle. They were in a “drinking establishment,” sotted to the gills and spending money like there was no tomorrow. When arrested, Mrs. Boyle had $ 9,790 sewn inside her skirt. The bank wrappers were still on the bills and the serial numbers matched those of the ransom money.

James Boyle was tried and sentenced to life in prison. He died while in confinement. Helen Boyle was given 25 years but was paroled after 10. She quickly descended into obscurity.

Billy Whitla became a lawyer. He married and had two children. Tragically, his life ended at 32 when he contracted influenza and died of complications.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Crime Can be a Tough Career"

The Right to Bear Arms
by Robert A. Waters

I love stories in which the intended victim fights back and wins. In this case, another violent offender is taken down by a law-abiding homeowner.

“I don’t take any joy in having to take a life,” 64-year-old Judith Kuntz said. “But that’s the kind of world we live in. You have to be prepared, and I’m glad we have a right to protect ourselves.”

Judith, who worked part-time as a nurse, lived in a three-bedroom home in Indialantic, Florida. Her husband had died several years before, and since his death, she'd kept a Rossi .38 Special Model 88 pistol under her pillow for protection.

On Sunday night, May 29, 2005, Judith was sound asleep when she heard a crash. She later said it sounded like a loud “bang,” and seemed to come from her back door. She awoke, not knowing that the banging was so loud that it was also heard by her stepson who lived in a house behind her.

Before she’d gone to bed, Judith had checked to make sure all the doors of the house were locked.

She pulled the revolver from beneath the pillow. Judith moved to the head of the bed and crouched down on the floor between the bed and the wall, facing the bedroom door where she could have an unobstructed view of the hall.

A police report of the incident stated, “Mrs. Kuntz could see the kitchen light come on and she could see the light from a flashlight coming towards her bedroom.”

An intruder walked down the hall as if he owned the place. He stopped at her bedroom door. Silhouetted by the flashlight, Judith saw him clearly. She didn’t know the man.

She raised the revolver to eye-level, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. As the shot rang through the room, the intruder yelled, then turned and raced back down the hall. He was still holding the flashlight—Judith watched it flashing off her walls as he fled.

As soon as he ran out the back door, Judith called 911.

“[Someone] broke into my house,” she told the dispatcher. “I think I shot him.”

“Where did you shoot him?”

“I don’t know,” Judith responded. “I shot at someone who was at my bedroom door. I don’t know. I’m not going to come out of my bedroom.”

In addition to the call made by Judith, her stepson also called 911 and came over to help. Within minutes, deputies arrived and found the body of a man lying face-down in the back yard. He was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes, but carried no identification. He had a sock on his left hand and the flashlight, still on, was clutched in his right hand.

A deputy turned him over and noticed a gunshot wound to the chest. Cops observed the tattoo of a cross on his right hand between his index finger and thumb. He also had a tattoo of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle on his left arm and the tattoos of four women on his right arm.

Backtracking, the deputy found the back door open and the door window lying on a cement patio leading into the house. Blood was found on the concrete. Entering the house, deputies found blood in the kitchen and the hall.

In an interview with detectives, Judith stated that after shooting, she placed the gun in a cabinet beside her bed.

Investigators from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office took fingerprints from the intruder. A day later, the FBI identified him as Jason Lewis Preston of Eagle Rapids, Michigan. He had a long criminal history, including convictions for burglary, drug offenses, and numerous assaults. He was currently on probation for assaulting his wife. “He had a violent history,” an Eaton Rapids police spokesperson said. “In fact, we were in the process of seeking another warrant for domestic violence against him.”

In an interview with relatives, investigators learned that a few days before, Preston had taken a bus to Indialantic to visit a cousin. During that time, he’d committed at least three burglaries in the neighborhood. (His loot was found hidden in the backyard of his cousin’s home.) For entertainment, Preston hung out at the nearby Hustler Bar.

Investigators determined that Preston had entered Judith’s home by pulling the window off the frame. Then he reached inside and unlocked the door.

Brevard County Homicide Agent Louis Heyn concluded that the shooting was justifiable. “The bottom line,” he said, “is that when somebody enters your home like that [and you shoot him], it’s self-defense. Breaking into the house obviously shows some intent.”

Judith continues to live in the home that she and her husband shared from more than twenty years. “I’m doing fine under the circumstances,” she said. “I don’t take any joy in somebody being dead. My self-preservation instinct took over. This has been a horrifying experience.”

Detective Heyn praised Judith for her defense of her home. “Occupied burglaries are rare,” he said. “This underscores that it is dangerous for the burglar and the homeowner. Crime can be a tough career.”

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Furnace Death

The Kidnapping of Norman Miller
by Robert A. Waters

At midnight on July 24, 1938, Norman Miller and his friend Sidney Lehrer left a movie house in Brooklyn, New York. As they climbed into Miller’s car, two men with guns jumped onto the running boards on each side.

“What’s the idea?” Miller asked.

“You’re wanted for a hit-and-run accident.”

Miller, a student at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, suspected he was about to be kidnapped. Since the 1932 passage of the Federal Kidnapping Act (popularly called the Lindbergh Law), abductions had not stopped--they had seemed to increase. Recently, a wealthy businessman named Arthur Fried had been snatched off the streets in nearby White Plains. After unsuccessfully attempting to collect a ransom, the kidnappers had broken off contact with the family. The mystery of what happened to Fried was still in the news when Miller was accosted.

He never hesitated. With his foot, he punched down the accelerator. The lurch of the car caused the assailant on the passenger side to fall to the ground. As the car screeched off, the other gunman jammed the barrel of a pistol into Miller’s ribs. “Stop or blow your brains out,” the man said.

Miller had no choice. As he pulled over, the second abductor huffed up to the car and ordered Lehrer out. “Tell his old man he’s been kidnapped for ransom,” the man told Lehrer, pointing to Miller. “We’ll be in touch.”

Miller’s mouth was taped and he was blindfolded, then forced into the back seat of a second car. As it raced away, he made up his mind to remember everything about the kidnappers. He knew his father, a hard-working businessman, would pay the ransom. If Miller was released, he determined to gather enough clues to catch the abductors.

Miller realized that the car had two jump-seats in the back. He listened as the tires left the pavement and crossed a long bridge. The only long bridge leading out of Brooklyn went to Manhattan. As the car roared along, the radio played Ella Fitzgerald: “A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket…”

Shortly after leaving the bridge, the abductors stopped. Miller estimated that the entire trip had taken twenty-five minutes. The captive was pulled out of the car and forced up a set of stairs. He counted the number of steps. Finally, he was placed in a room with a guard.

After an hour of silence, the man spoke. “I bet you wonder how we got into this racket,” he said.

“Yes, I do,” Miller responded. “But you know what happens to you if you get caught.”

“We’re careful.” The man paused for a moment, then said. “One a month isn’t bad.”

The college student filed everything in his mind. Outside, he heard church bells. In another room, there was the unmistakable sound of balls clicking on a pool table. At regular intervals, a street car passed by. Miller asked for food and it was quickly brought to him—restaurant food, no less. The bathroom he was allowed to use had four-pronged faucet handles.

Within twenty-four hours, Miller’s father had paid $ 13,000 to ransom his son. After collecting the cash, Miller was released.

When Miller returned home, he and his father contacted the FBI and reported the kidnapping. (Many wealthy families refused to seek the help of law enforcement. It was a widely-held belief that involving law enforcement in ransom kidnappings would put the victim in greater danger. In fact, the newly-passed “Lindbergh Law” was blamed by many for a spate of deaths victims had suffered at the hands of kidnappers.)

As the FBI agents heard Miller’s story, they were delighted. The kid remembered everything. On the other hand, the kidnapper's statement that the gang had committed one abduction a month was ominous. Was Arthur Fried one of their victims?

Agents determined from Miller’s description of the car that the abductors drove a Packard coupe. They traced hundreds of such cars in the area. They also felt that Miller had been kept in the social hall of a church in Manhattan. Agents fanned out and searched for churches that matched the description. After going to nearly two hundred churches, they came upon the Ukrainian Hall at 217 East Sixth Street.

Everything matched. A church stood nearby and pool tables were in a social hall. A streetcar could be heard two blocks away. The Commodore Theater was next door—that was the place where the ransom for Fried was to have been delivered before the deal soured. Agents learned that the Ukrainian Hall was owned by Denis Gula, who also owned a black Packard coupe similar to the one used by the abductors.

Four ex-cons were quickly arrested and charged with kidnapping. Demetrius Gula, the son of Denis, was the leader of the gang. William Jacknis, John Virga, and Joseph F. Sacoda were also collared by the feds. They confessed to three other abductions, including the kidnapping and murder of Arthur Fried.

The FBI issued the following statement: “This gang had intended to kidnap Fried’s brother, Hugo, but they made a mistake. They got a car and forced Arthur to the curb while he was driving to his mother’s home. The car was forced to the curb at Davis and Bolton Avenues, White Plains, by Joseph Sacoda and Gula.

“Gula got out and drove Fried’s car a few blocks. Fried was put into Gula’s car which Sacoda had been driving. They took Fried to 240 East 19th Street (New York City) where Joseph Sacoda had an apartment…

Fried was compelled to write to his brothers and sisters stating that a ransom of $ 200,000 was demanded. The ransom was never paid.”

Four days after the kidnapping, amid sensationalized media coverage, Fried was shot and killed by Sacoda. The gang took him to a fraternal lodge they had access to and placed Fried in the furnace, thus cremating him.

The gang had also abducted Benjamin Farber and George Mishkin, both coal dealers. Farber was ransomed by his family for $ 19,000—the kidnapping had never been reported to authorities. Mishkin paid an undetermined amount to the kidnappers and also did not report the crime.

In addition to kidnapping, the gang was also involved in extortion and armed robbery. Gula and Scaoda were convicted of kidnapping Fried (but were not convicted of murdering him because the body was never found). They were given the death penalty and executed at Sing Sing on January 11, 1940. They were the first to die under New York’s “Lindbergh Law.” John Virga was given 50 years to life and Willie Jacknis served 25 years in prison.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

All-American Girl

The Kidnapping of Dee Scofield
by Robert A. Waters

It was one o’clock on Thursday, July 22, 1976.

Highway 40 cut across the center of Florida and through the heart of a town that was quickly becoming a city. Ocala. Locally, the highway was called Silver Springs Boulevard. The Florida Highway Patrol station sat near the eastern edge of town, on the Boulevard. You couldn’t miss it—-an ugly red and white metal tower stood behind it, rising maybe two hundred feet into the sky.

Lena Scofield and her twelve-year-old daughter, Dorothy, nicknamed “Dee,” arrived a few minutes after noon. Lena needed to get her driver’s license renewed, and Dee had accompanied her mother. At four-feet-ten, and weighing nearly one hundred pounds, Dee was beginning to develop a figure. She wore blue jeans, a red blouse, and brown tennis shoes. She had brown braided hair and wore glasses with teardrop-shaped gold frames.

While in line, Dee asked to walk over to the J. M. Fields department store. She’d recently bought a pair of sandals there and wanted to exchange them. The store was about a football field’s-length from the Highway Patrol station.

According to an article in the Ocala Star-Banner, “Mrs. Schofield (sic) first indicated displeasure with the idea, but then relented, telling her daughter if she got through first, she was to return to the FHP station. In turn, Mrs. Schofield (sic) said if she got through with the test first, she would go to the shopping center and meet her daughter.”

As the sun scorched the parking lot between the FHP station and J. M. Fields, Dee walked away, swinging her bag with the sandals.

By one o’clock, Lena was done. She drove over to Fields and began looking for her daughter. She spoke to several clerks who’d seen Dee in the store. At least one employee had noticed the girl leave through the double-doors at the store’s entrance.

Thinking that they’d missed each other, Lena drove back to the FHP station. When she couldn’t find her daughter, she reported Dee missing to the officer in charge.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers interviewed Lena. They learned that Dee was an honor student at Marion Middle School. During the summer, she’d been working at her parent’s barbecue restaurant. According to police, she was “obedient...from a close-knit family.”

An All-American girl, police didn’t believe she would have run away. Using the FHP station as a base, Joe and Lena Scofield waited for information. All Lena could do was cry and second-guess herself. How could someone just vanish from a crowded parking lot?

Joe was in shock. Marion County, he thought, is larger than some states. Much of it is rural. “You could go three or four miles from here,” Joe said, “and find thousands of places to hide somebody.”

The Ocala Police Department had jurisdiction, but troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol and deputies from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department helped in the search for Dee. A sales receipt confirmed that she’d been in the department store and had exchanged her sandals. A clerk remembered the girl browsing at the jewelry counter. Investigators and employees searched every inch of the store. Then they moved next door to a bowling alley that was under construction. They worked their way across the Boulevard to the Sears Town Plaza. Throughout the afternoon, police and volunteers combed the area.

There were few leads. In fact, investigators initially labeled the disappearance as a “missing persons case” because there was no solid evidence to show that Dee had been abducted.

Then they got the only clue they would ever get.

Nuby Shealey’s store is a landmark in Marion County. It sits at the intersection of Highway 40 and State Road Highway 314, less than a mile from the Ocala National Forest. It is a combination gas station and restaurant and bait shop. Locally, it has always been known as “Nuby’s.”

When the good old boys show up, one of the major topics is whether there’s a world record bass in one of the thousands of lakes and ponds that dot the Forest. They still laugh about the former chef who drove in from Mississippi and “guaranteed” that he would catch the record bass. He claimed to have a secret bait. Turns out he used wild eels, something unheard of among the locals. After a year of frustration, he gave up and went back to cooking.

The day after Dee vanished, detectives interviewed a clerk at Nuby’s. According to an article in the Star-Banner, “A woman employe (sic) at the store positively identified a young girl who had been in the store as the missing Schofield (sic) girl.” Sergeant Gordon Welch of the Ocala Police Department said the clerk “described the girl and clothing she was wearing before police presented her with a description.” The clerk said that the girl entered the store with two men--she was shaking and crying and looked uncomfortable.

Because of this tip, the search shifted to the Ocala National Forest. The Forest is huge. It consists of more than six hundred square miles of scrubland and swamp. Wild critters such as bears, alligators, coyotes, and bobcats roam the Forest. It’s a hunter’s delight, and every year hundreds of deer are bagged. Dozens of ten-pound bass are taken from Forest waters annually. Unfortunately, it’s also a good place to hide a body.

Police and volunteers fanned out, trudging through the rattlesnake-infested hills and slogging through cotton-mouth swamps. Hunting cabins were checked. A helicopter flew over the area for days, looking for any sign of the missing girl. The desperation of the searchers was evident when the cops turned to self-professed psychics for help. As usual, they offered only vague leads that came to nothing.

The Scofields offered a $ 1,000 reward, all they could afford. They moved into a trailer near the Forest. Dozens of family members from all over the country converged on the trailer. Lena and the women cooked all day and manned the phones while the men searched.

Day after day, the searchers went out fresh and hopeful, only to return filthy and exhausted and discouraged.

In the end, it was all a dead-end. The searchers went home, the cops gave up, and the case went cold.

It’s been more than 30 years since Dorothy “Dee” Scofield disappeared. Unless her abductor is still alive, no one knows what happened to her. During those early days of the search, Lena vocalized her frustration. “I just can’t imagine why they took her,” she said. “No, I can imagine a lot of reasons, but I don’t want to admit it to myself. [This] person has got to be sick.”